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No-Fly List Lawsuit

A lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Government with claims that the FBI is using the no-fly list as leverage. (Washington Post) A claim that the list is being used for extortion instead of aviation safety.

Awais Sajjad, who is a lawful U.S. citizen living in New York, learned that he was listed on the no-fly list, after he attempted to board a flight to Pakistan in September 2012. Then, FBI agents questioned him before he was released. In the conversation, they acknowledged knowing that Sajjad was a practicing Muslim. Then, the FBI made him an offer; In exchange for removing him from the no-fly list and provide him some compensation, he would need to work for them.

Sajjad refused to accept that offer. In response, the FBI kept him on the list “in order to coerce him to sacrifice his constitutionally-protected rights”. Hence, the lawsuit.

Human rights activists have been saying that the government has been improperly using the no-fly list and restricting travel without any connection to terrorism. In fact, some U.S. citizens have been stranded abroad and never told why they could not fly home. As to Sajjad, he was told that he should be willing to inform on the Muslim community in his area. The lawsuit raises the question of whether the FBI should have the right to use this threat as a means to providing national security… security determined by the government.

DID YOU KNOW that 15th century Chinese judges used glasses with darkened lenses, to hide their facial expressions in court?

And for pic o’ day, “Cats with heart”.

Heart Cat

TSA Mobile Security

An old Saturday Night Live skit used to tout a product called “Toast on a stick”. It was funny because it was so basic. A stick pushed through a piece of toast.

That came to mind when I read the “Mother Jones ” article on what the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has requested, as part of its government 2012 budget request.

Currently, TSA advises that it conducts over 8,000 unannounced screenings each year. They report that they have 25 teams that conduct screens in conjunction with Customs and Border Patrol. They don’t just do their “pat downs” at airport security,

On one hand, TSA makes a good point it needs more funding to prevent incidents like the Madrid train bombings. Plus, if you’ve ridden on a train recently, you’ve probably noticed that the security does seem a bit relaxed. Maybe that’s why Hollywood has train bombings in many of their movies.

In short, I basically am postulating (I finally got to use that word!) the concept of safety, versus how far do we allow the government to do mobile searches?

It’s clear that TSA wants the ability and funding to walk up to people at train stations, ferries, subways and other public transportation and perform searches or “pat downs”. Is it worth granting this funding and power for safety, or is this going to far in the encroachement on personal liberties?

One final thought might be to consider what Ben Franklin might have said to my blog. “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

You still might be trying to figure out the “toast on a stick analogy” because I did get a little distracted. Well, I just kinda imagined all the TSA uniformed government workers running around, doing their mobile scans with their wands. Seems to me that this is taking a simple idea of safety too far. What else? Are they going to push a mobile bucket in my face, for my shoes and keys?

Pat Down the Pilot

     When you go to a restaurant, don’t you feel better when you see the staff eating the food. Today I asked a hostess of a seafood restaurant to tell me her favorite meal. “oh” she said, “I don’t eat fish”. Maybe she just loads up on the hush puppies. Plus, that’s supposed to be comfort food anyway. 

     As I aimlessly blog toward a topic that must fit the title,  I  take you into the world of conspiracy again. I’m not talking about Prince William getting engaged in Kenya and President Obama being born in Kenya,  kind of conspiracy. No, I am returning us again to the world of airport scanners.

     Before you jump to a more exciting story like Kanye West versus Matt Lauer,  or the man who was impersonating a police officer and fooled no one…. because he wasn’t wearing shoes;  Just give me one indulgence to prove that this has a little bit of interest to us all.

     First, we see that the Boston Herald is reporting that Pilots do not want to go through scanners either. One recent pilot went through and had his butter knife taken away. The man can’t butter a good biscuit in the cockpit. Come on Man. (whoops, wrong blog).

     Famous pilot Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, complained about pilots being subjected to intrusive body searches and repeated radiation exposure.  His reason for voicing that pilots should not be subjected to this ramped up security is that  “Pilots are already the last line of defense for anyone who poses a threat…. We would like to think that we are trusted partners in that important security mission”.

     Then, after being assured that body scans are immediately destroyed, out comes a different story. In Orlando, over 100 “naked” images are leaked in response to a freedom of information request. Now, the crowd is getting riled up on the Internet and scheduling an “opt out”  rally against the scanning.   

     I could keep posting stories that all lead to the same conclusion. We want to be safe but there must be a better way. In a separate story, bike and shoe sales are up. Well, not really, I was just starting a separate transportation conspiracy.

A Baby Watch List

     Yogi Berra says that “you can observe a lot by watching”.  I guess that’s why I can’t help myself. I keep an eye on the Traffic Safety Administration because it seems that I keep seeing some amazing items pop up in the news. There is now another good reason to make sure that you are in a good mood when you travel.

      USA Today reports that  airline passengers who kick a wall, throw a suitcase or make some feisty remark to a security screener, could be placed on a little known Homeland Security database. Being “on the list” could subject them to more stringent future screening and cause them to be regularly pulled aside during future flying trips.  According to the uncontradicted report, the TSA is keeping record of people where screeners report some interaction that caused feeling of being threatened or  aggression.

     This “Baby Watch List”  can include names, birthdates, social security numbers, home addresses and phone numbers of those that are put on the list. The list was started in 2007, about the same time that screeners were outfitted with new uniforms that included police style badges pinned to the shirt, to convey authority. So far, no word on whether hats that look like a crewcut are in the making.

     The TSA says that the list does exist but that it really is for people that display violence or some form of verbal threat.  In their words, it is just meant “as a focus on prevention”.  Of course, it seems to me that it grants authority to any one screener who now has the power to put any person on this watch list, which can then be disseminated to other government agencies, airports, airlines, rail and bus systems. If they don’t like how you eye ball them, then you probably need to get used to those words, “Step aside”. Those words probably would start to sound like the policeman who says, as he hands the ticket, “Press hard, three copies”. 

     All states have unique laws on their books that date back many years. In many instances, no one really knows that they are still on the books or they simply have not gotten around to change, modify or remove those laws. For instance, in Oklahoma,  It is against the law to make “ugly faces” at dogs. Such action may subject the offender to fines or even being jailed. I guess you would be well advised to smile at all dogs in Oklahoma and continue to wear that smile to the airport.

Trust TSA?

     US Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced legislation last year,  that would ban the routine use of body scanners at airports, because he said that  “The images offer a disturbingly accurate view of a person’s body underneath clothing, even allowing Transportation Security Administration officials to distinguish gender or see the sweat on a person’s back.”  People such as  Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush,  ridiculed such thinking under the categorization of “privacy ideologues, for whom every security measure is unacceptable.”  We’re told to trust TSA.  

When the airport scanners came under more scrutiny over the way that images are transmitted and stored, the public was assured that these “revealing” images were only seen by an unknown Transportation Security Administration official, who was securely locked in a room. The fact that the machines were equipped with “10 selectable levels of privacy” was really related to training and the TSA quickly assured us that the operator in that locked room immediately deletes each image after seeing it. And, oh yea, each operator is forbidden to take a camera into these remote rooms. We’re told to trust the TSA.

     44 year old Rolando Negrin got in a fight with  co-employee Hugo Osomo at the Miami airport. Now, employees fighting among each other isn’t that unusual. However, this fight was between two employees of the Transportation Security Administration. The reason for the fight: Osomo was making fun of Negrin’s anatomy, as a result of the images taken during  full-body scanning machine training. We’re told to trust the TSA.

     As you make your way through security toward that plane tube, where you can pay an extra $20 for leg room, scrunch up in a seat made for a gymnast, or maybe even get some free stale pretzels, do you ever wonder what those TSA employees are thinking about? Are they happy about their job? Is every day interesting? Are they really just doing their job, as we are being led to believe?

     NPR reports that TSA officers are among the lowest paid of all Federal Workers. The starting salaries are reportedly $25,000 a year.  As one employee/father of two says, “You’re dealing with people’s lives every single day, and you have an officer sitting there worrying about how they’re going to pay their rent”. Now, we all know that these are the workers that are serving as the gate keepers.

     Knowing how much a starting TSA agent earns leads us to the story that just occurred on Tuesday.  A TSA agent surrendered to authorities after being charged with stealing $500 from a wheelchair-bound woman, who was passing through security at Newark Liberty International Airport. The agent allegedly took her bag to a table to inspect it as she was going through the ” wait, step through” area.

     Surveillance cameras at the airport show him removing one envelope  out of the main bag compartment and also sliding cash out of the side pocket. The woman went to her gate, noticed the money missing and came back to report it. The  TSA employee then claimed that he recognized her as she reported her missing money to another TSA agent, and “Mr Helper”  went to retrieve the money, “that he was holding for her”. The security tape proved otherwise.  In light of that, it’s relevant to note that since 2007, 23 TSA agents have been fired for stealing items from passengers. How about it TSA, should we trust you?

    I previously blogged on the security of the airport scanners. Apparently, not only should we be worried about the scanners, but also the employees. Now, it also gives me pause to think about whether TSA employees are really protecting us or too distracted or filled with other motives when it comes to providing security. I have always thought that they are as important as the pilots of the planes. How much trust would you have in flying, if you knew the pilots were earning 25K, fighting and making fun of each other, and going through your luggage and zippered pockets.  I’m sure there will be more blogging on this issue.

My Airport Scanner Idea

Airport scanners are becoming the battleground of Constitutional argument. Privacy is now being pitted against public safety.  Plus, scanners in the news is now a great idea for a fiction conspiracy.

If you google airport scanners, even the headlines will give you a quick idea as to why they are so controversial. One article discusses that “we are all porn stars“, thanks to airport security. Another tells us that in Manchester, it has been alleged that these scanners break child pornography laws.

I also just saw that the former head of Homeland Security, from the Bush Administration, is now part of the corporate management of an airport scanner company. Thus, if author Robert Ludlum was still around, I’m guessing that he would write a book about how some group sets up a homeless guy, to go through security and get caught with some item on him. It would get the country all riled up and Airport scanner companies would be begged to outfit all airports with their life saving technology. Wait a second; Is that happening right now?

All of us want to be safe. I want to get on a plane and know that no one is going to bring a flammable fluid, a body bomb or even a match and flammable pajamas. I go back and forth as to what I think about these airport scanners. I think that the public is willing to accept a certain amount of scrutiny at the airport, but there are clearly limits to what should be acceptable versus invasion of privacy. 

If you look at the airport scanner attachment, you will see several pictures of the results of these scanners. According to Homeland Security and all those who stand to profit from the sale of these machines, we have nothing to worry about. There is only one person, in an enclosed booth, who is looking at these from TSA. In addition, we are assured that these images are immediately destroyed. 

In conclusion, here is my security idea of the day. If they want to require these scanners at all airports, then all 435 House of Representatives; all 100 Senators; all cabinet members; the President and Vice President; and all their families should go through the scanner. The images should be stored. Then, if any image from any private citizen is ever released to the public, then all the governmental officials and their families will have their images released as well. That way, no director of Homeland Security will simply get up and say “we made a mistake and we’ll try to do better next time”. Now, if they are ready for that, bring on those scanners!

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