Monday, January 23, 2012

Let's Discuss The TSA

Unlike many people, I am not opposed to the TSA or their mission, as stated on their website. I see their value and necessity in the world we live in. I know several other countries that have similar programs and have for years. The reason the TSA and its foreign cousins are necessary is because crime, specifically terrorism, needs to be deterred.

US Citizens as well as our legal foreign tourists deserve to feel safe traveling within or from the US. If TSA follows their charter effectively, our skies become safer. People will feel more secure. I, for one, understand their primary mission and support it. It is more than just a good idea on paper. If you research similar programs in Germany, the UK, Israel, and other civilized countries, the deterrent is effective.

You can look at TSA's site and see some of the potential attacks they have stopped. They deserve your applause in doing so. Just to throw one such instance out to you, I will remind everybody of Jose Padilla. Google him. Don't worry, I'll address the story later. But TSA stopped Jose from committing a terrorist attack on a flight out of ORD (Chicago O'Hare).

Then, just today (23 JAN 12), TSA assisted the FBI in arresting another potential terrorist who was allegedly planning an attack. Jamshid Muhtorov was attempting to board a plane, at ORD, with the allegation of providing support to the Islamic Jihad Union, part of the Al Q'aeda umbrella.

TSA has an important role.

Conversely, there are thousands of stories on TSA corruption. There are several examples of the organization over-stepping its authority. They claim they do so in the name of "security". Many of their policies do not make much sense.

The US Army certified me in Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection (AT/FP). Every Soldier has to attend regular classes and briefings. However, I was certified to conduct that training, give those briefings, and advise commanders on how to best implement their plans to protect our Soldiers and their families. I was working in an intelligence position at the time and had access to information that further enabled my capabilities. So, I know a thing or two about the TSA's job.

First of all, TSA is a union job in most places. You can tell how influential unions are in a given area by the attitude and work ethic of TSA at the airport. For example, TSA in Atlanta is a lot less professional and civil than in Tucson or San Antonio. Texas and Arizona are both Right to Work states.

Let me give you an example of TSA in Atlanta. While traveling from Atlanta to Arizona returning from a post-deployment leave, TSA in Atlanta gave me a bit of an attitude. They looked at my ID card with a level of disdain. My carry-on went through additional checks. Being a Soldier, I was used to this illogical treatment already. In the process, my Kindle DX was thrown by a TSA thug, and broken. I had taken it out of my carry-on and placed it in its own bin, per the policy in that airport.

I will state here that policies on things like e-book readers vary from airport to airport. In Tucson and Peoria, the TSA people look at me strange when I pull my Kindle out, telling me "it's not necessary with e-book readers, sir". I'd rather not take the chance. It requires a few second to take it out and to put it away after the screening. This varying policy makes little sense to me. It should be uniform and published.

As my carry-on was brought to be screened, the TSA thug said "this is his Kindle" and threw it ten feet to the bin where my shoes and belt rested. The screen was cracked. I filed a damage claim. It took almost a year before I got a check to reimburse me. Even that was a bureaucratic mess of red tape.

If that security checkpoint were in Iraq and my Soldiers were running it, the Soldier responsible would have gotten in some trouble. The person whose items were damaged would have received a check for more than the value of the item within a month. I know about the hundreds of dollars handed out to repair doors we had to kick down in the process of our missions in Iraq.

A recent story came out regarding a husband and wife team in Miami. The couple work for TSA. They were stealing items such as laptop computers, tablet PCs (such as the iPad), iPods, digital cameras, and other high value items. Now, TSA as well as the airlines will suggest you have such items in your carry-on to reduce the propensity for damages incurred from baggage handlers. Yet you have this couple stealing from carry-on bags at the security checkpoints. This couple had been doing this for over a year. I am willing to bet they aren't the only ones.

I am not sure the airport. I am not sure if either of the couple was the thief. However, radio personality and author of The Fair Tax, Neal Boortz, relates his story quite often. Neal was returning home from a vacation. If I remember correctly, he took a trip, with his wife, to the Bahamas. Neal had knee replacement surgery some time ago. So his knee set off the metal detector. They took him off to a glass booth for a strip search. While he was being searched, he watched a TSA thug steal his laptop and digital camera, right before his eyes. He attempted to complain and was dismissed. The TSA refused to listen to him. They even claimed that he thug he described wasn't even working that day.

The reason I contrast the TSA with the military is that their job is similar. Military personnel are trained to do the same types of security screenings and searches. Military recruits go through a similar screening process before being hired. TSA requires a background check. It is a cursory check of national and local crime databases. It is not all that in-depth. It is not enough to qualify for a Secret clearance.

I bring up the background check for a reason. The unionized TSA workers are less likely to be fired, fined, or face administrative or Non-Judicial Punishment than a Soldier is. The union, as part of its benefits, provides legal counsel. In places where unions have influence, the bureaucracy doesn't want to face the union lawyers. If  the union were dissolved and TSA agents faced similar legal recourse to the military, such corruption and transgressions would become more rare.

In addition, that background check also enables TSA agents to receive unclassified threat briefings. They evidently get some such briefings. But they do not tailor their policies and measures by them on a regular basis. It seems that they aren't privy to regular updates and briefings. Given their charter and mission, they should receive one DAILY. Just like platoon leaders in the military, their shift leaders should receive a Secret-level briefing at least once a week. I am willing to bet that they don't.

In my research, I found no positions within the TSA for intelligence analysts. It appears they rely on ICE, FBI, and other LEOs intelligence personnel to inform them. The problem is that those agencies will only do so when they need TSA's assistance. Otherwise, they are stuck with the rather vague briefs that come out of the Department of Homeland Security. They need their own intelligence branch that will coordinate with local, state, and federal Law Enforcement Organizations (LEOs) as well as other intelligence activities in order to keep the agents properly informed. They do not need their own collectors. They just need analysts who understand the data and the briefings already done by the FBI, DIA, and other agencies. The analysts also need to be able to conduct their own OSINT.

Instead, the TSA just enacts what are called RAMPs, which are random measures used during more increased threat levels employed at seemingly random times in order to increase deterrence. They make sense if used properly and effectively. However, when they enact these RAMPs, they target those who are least likely to actually be a threat. It is like when they selected military and federal workers for their "random screenings". The CATO institute has their own study on this process. If you consider this, you can guess it is out of laziness and only serves to demonstrate a false sense of security instead of working as a true deterrent.

On anther trip I took, while still in uniform, I had a discussion with such a shift leader while I was getting dressed. Just after clearing the checkpoint, I received word my flight was delayed by at least an hour. That shift leader was taking his union-mandated break at about that time. I spent 20 minutes in his secure break room with him giving him an unclassified brief and opening his eyes to reality. He was surprised how little he and his agents were informed, and how much they were misinformed.

The subject of Jose Padilla came up. I was discussing profiling. If you notice, I said nothing about racial profiling. Jose had changed his name when he converted to Islam. So, his race had little to do with his affiliation to an Islamic terrorist organization. It had nothing to do with race. The profiling also has little to do with religion. Despite what some people will lead you to believe, most Muslims are not too fond of those terrorists who claim to act in the name of  their religion.

Let me interrupt you with a little known fact about "Jihad". While Jihad is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, it is not what most think. First of all, the pillar refers to the internal struggle to be good and resist temptation. It is not about waging war on "non-believers". The second part of the fact about "Jihad" is that "Great Jihad" (the external war against evildoers) is not all black and white. By the Q'uran, only G-d knows if such a war is just, sanctified, and a true Jihad. So, those who act in the name of Jihad risk their eternal soul in doing so. They won't know if they acted properly until they are judged by G-d.

Keeping that in mind, you can still see that there are those of a demographic that support terrorism. Those people can be of any race. However, there is a distinct and noticeable profile such people fit. TSA does not use that profile under the misconception that it violates the 14th Amendment and is racist.

To keep from giving off the perception of being "racist", for years, Soldiers traveling on leave or official orders were automatically "randomly selected" for "additional screening". The whole idea was to use fellow federal workers to project a deterrent, that didn't deter anything, and false sense of security. Meanwhile, you have those who fit the profile walking onto planes with just the routine checks.

Then you have TSA giving young ladies trouble for the decorations embroidered on their purses. Your average, law-abiding female NRA member American does NOT fit the profile.

To top it off, you have TSA acting as though the US Constitution does not apply to them. Well, their boss, our country's chief executive, believes the same. So does the Secretary of  Homeland Security. Article 1 Section 6 of the US Constitution prohibits TSA from delaying or detaining a member of congress from traveling to perform his/her duties, unless indicted for treason. Yet, today, at 10am local time, Senator Rand Paul was detained and delayed by TSA. "The Right Scoop" has this article that includes Sen Rand Paul's statement on the ordeal. The detention by TSA caused Rand from making a speech at the March For Life Rally in Washington, DC.

Senator Paul released this OP-ED in the Washington Times on January 24th. Then later, he appeared on Sean Hannity's TV show to tell more of the story. It appears Senator Paul shares my proposal that TSA agents attend regular security briefs and base their policies and actions upon facts, actual threat streams, and a little common sense. This demonstrates that TSA needs its own intelligence analysts, at least one at each airport, who can do the work and keep the agents properly informed.

So, the TSA clearly, under somebody's poor direction, oversteps its charter, mandate, and the US Constitution. Perhaps the union needs to go away. The TSA agents I have dealt with in Tucson, Peoria, and San Antonio have been highly professional, courteous, friendly, and a tribute, in my personal experience. Perhaps TSA needs to have a form of the UCMJ governing their conduct. Perhaps they need to fall under the DoD. I don't have the all the answers. I do know that they DO serve an important role. I do know I am happy we have such an organization. I also know that they need better leadership, direction, and education.