October 31, 2011
By Emma Haak
The Transportation Security Administration has spent $56.8 billion on air travel since 9/11. Here, a look at who’s getting a cut, and whether it’s really paying off.
Amount: $30 million for machines that puffed air onto travelers and “sniffed” them for explosive residue. Deployment stopped in 2006, after they were deemed slow and unreliable.
Amount: $1.2 billion to fund the Transportation Threat Assessment and Credentialing Program (since 2005), which includes employee background checks. Nonetheless, two TSA agents were busted in February for stealing $160,000 in cash from checked bags.
Amount: $13.5 billion to employ human screeners (since 2007), who have intercepted some 50 million carry-on dangers, including hacksaws, nunchucks, and alligators. The most popular excuse: “Someone else packed my bags for me.”
Amount: $2.8 billion for explosives-detection equipment (since 2007) from companies such as General Electric and L-3 Communications, which in July thwarted one man’s plan to fly with a half-ounce of C4.
Amount: $122 million for full-body scanners from Brijot Imaging Systems, L-3 Communications, Rapiscan Systems, and others. Although the x-ray images aren’t supposed to be stored or saved, 100 leaked onto the Internet last November.
June 27th, 2011
By: Lauren Sage Reinlie
A woman has filed a complaint with federal authorities over how her elderly mother was treated at Northwest Florida Regional Airport last weekend.
Jean Weber of Destin filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security after her 95-year-old mother was detained and extensively searched last Saturday while trying to board a plane to fly to Michigan to be with family members during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.
Her mother, who was in a wheelchair, was asked to remove an adult diaper in order to complete a pat-down search.
“It’s something I couldn’t imagine happening on American soil,” Weber said Friday. “Here is my mother, 95 years old, 105 pounds, barely able to stand, and then this.”
Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration in Miami, said she could not comment on specific cases to protect the privacy of those involved.
“The TSA works with passengers to resolve any security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner,” she said.
Weber’s mother entered the airport’s security checkpoint in a wheelchair because she was not stable enough to walk through, Weber said.
Wheelchairs trigger certain protocols, including pat-downs and possible swabbing for explosives, Koshetz said.
“During any part of the process, if there is an alarm, then we have to resolve that alarm,” she said.
Weber said she did not know whether her mother had triggered an alarm during the 45 minutes they were detained.
She said her mother was first pulled aside into a glass-partitioned area and patted down. Then she was taken to another room to protect her privacy during a more extensive search, Weber said.
Weber said she sat outside the room during the search.
She said security personnel then came out and told her they would need for her mother to remove her Depends diaper because it was soiled and was impeding their search.
Weber wheeled her mother into a bathroom, removed her diaper and returned. Her mother did not have another clean diaper with her, Weber said.
Weber said she wished there were less invasive search methods for an elderly person who is unable to walk through security gates.
“I don’t understand why they have to put them through that kind of procedure,” she said.
Koshetz said the procedures are the same for everyone to ensure national security.
“TSA cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability,” she said.
Weber filed a complaint through Northwest Florida Regional’s website. She said she received a response from a Homeland Security representative at the airport on Tuesday and spoke to that person on the phone Wednesday.
The representative told her that personnel had followed procedures during the search, Weber said.
“Then I thought, if you’re just following rules and regulations, then the rules and regulations need to be changed,” she said.
Weber said she plans to file additional complaints next week.
“I’m not one to make waves, but dadgummit, this is wrong. People need to know. Next time it could be you.”
February 28th, 2011
Wall Street Journal
By: Evan Perez
Federal agents charged a Saudi student in Texas with attempting to construct improvised explosives and compiling a list of possible targets, including the home of former President George W. Bush.
Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20 years old, was arrested and charged in a federal criminal complaint with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Mr. Aldawsari is in the U.S. on a 2008 student visa and is enrolled at South Plains College, near Lubbock, Texas.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have scrambled in recent weeks to determine whether Mr. Aldawsari has links to international terrorist groups and have found none, according to U.S. officials. Mr. Aldawsari is set to appear in federal court in Lubbock on Friday and faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
Attempts to contact Mr. Aldawsari’s attorney weren’t successful.
The FBI alleges that electronic surveillance and searches of Mr. Aldawsari’s apartment turned up Internet blog postings and a personal journal that expressed his desire for jihad and martyrdom.
An FBI affidavit filed in federal court says the investigation began Feb. 1 after a North Carolina company alerted law enforcement about suspicious purchases of the chemical phenol. The FBI says phenol has common legitimate uses but can be used to make trinitrophenol, an explosive also known as picric acid.
After the company’s shipping restrictions for the chemical thwarted the purchase, Mr. Aldawsari bought the chemical and other ingredients—including wiring, clocks and lab equipment to help make explosives—from other sources, including Amazon.com, according to the FBI affidavit.
In recent years, jihadi websites and articles published in the Yemeni al Qaeda affiliate’s magazine have urged Muslims living in Western countries to build improvised explosives from substances easily found in anyone’s kitchen. It isn’t clear whether Mr. Aldawsari viewed those websites.
Federal authorities have developed tripwires in the private sector that could alert them to terrorism suspects who are seeking to buy ingredients for explosives. For instance, companies that sell chemicals often used in hair products are required to maintain records and report suspicious customer purchases.
James T. Jacks, the U.S. attorney in Dallas, credited the information supplied by the public with thwarting Mr. Aldawsari.
Mr. Aldawsari’s alleged plot was derailed in part by what appear to be his own missteps. According to the FBI, he sent himself bomb recipes through email accounts that were monitored by investigators. He also allegedly maintained a personal journal, which FBI agents copied during searches of his apartment.
The criminal complaint alleges that Mr. Aldawsari emailed himself a list of possible targets for attack, including the Dallas address of former President Bush, reservoirs and dams in Colorado and California, nuclear-power plants and Dallas nightclubs.
Mr. Aldawsari also researched realistic-looking baby dolls, which the FBI alleges he considered using to hide explosives.
In one journal entry, the suspect said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks produced a “big change” in his thinking and that he was inspired by Osama bin Laden, according to the FBI.
Another journal entry cited by the FBI is alleged to read in Arabic: “I excelled in my studies in high school in order to take advantage of an opportunity for a scholarship to America, offered by the [Saudi] government and its companies….Now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives, and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad.”
December 28th, 2010
By: Roger Simon
On the day after Christmas, readers of The Washington Post were given a real treat: pictures of naked men.
The men in the pictures were fully clothed, but they were naked nonetheless, because the pictures came from airport full-body scanners.
The machines provided graphic pictures of the male anatomy. True, they were no more graphic than Michelangelo’s David or Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (that’s the naked guy with his arms and legs stuck out), but both of those were depictions, not actual people trying to heft their wheelie bags on the conveyor belt, take off their shoes and jackets, remove their laptops, take out their baggies full of fluids no more than 3 ounces in size, take the metal out of their pockets and somehow get through security before their planes take off.
According to the Post, by New Year’s Day, there will be 500 such machines in use nationwide and 1,000 by the end of 2011, or roughly one machine for every two security lanes in every airport in the land.
If the machines offend your sense of modesty or decency for yourself or your children, then you can request a pat-down where your naughty bits may be touched by a Transportation Security Administration screener rather than projected on a video screen.
Officials say 98 percent of people go through the machines rather than request a pat-down, which is not surprising: First, who likes to be touched by a stranger? And second, going through the machines is faster, and flying has becomes such a cumbersome and aggravating experience that most people will do anything to get it over with.
(There is a company called Flying Pasties, which claims to have a product that you slip inside your clothing to screen your private parts. “It’s simply not against the law to keep your private parts private,” the company says.)
Some parties are suing the government over the new machines, claiming an unreasonable invasion of privacy, while others claim the machines expose people to too much radiation, which the government denies.
Most people, however, accept it as just another agony associated with flying (along with fees to check baggage and crowded luggage bins).
And, after all, the machines are worth it because they detect explosives.
Except they don’t. As it turns out, the machines don’t detect explosives at all. They detect images on your body that shouldn’t belong on your body.
“It’s not an explosive detector; it’s an anomaly detector,” Clark Ervin, who runs the Homeland Security Program at the Aspen Institute, told the Post. “Someone has to notice that there’s something out of order.”
Which means those security employees who stare at the screens have to be sharp enough and well-trained enough to detect things that are abnormal. (And some experts think that if the explosives are flat and pancake-shaped and taped to your stomach, they could not be detected anyway, because the picture would look too normal.)
The machines cost $130,000 to $170,000 each, and by 2014, the federal government will have spent $234 million to $300 million for them.
Which would be a bargain if they actually did something besides embarrass people. In May, a TSA screener at Miami International Airport who went through a full-body screening as part of his training was arrested for beating a co-worker with a police baton after co-workers made fun of the size of his private parts.
The solution for passengers? Get used to it.
Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, was interviewed Sunday by CNN’s Candy Crowley, and Napolitano said nothing was going to change “for the foreseeable future.”
“You know, we’re always looking to improve systems and so forth,” Napolitano said. “But the new technology, the pat-downs, is just objectively safer for our traveling public.”
But Crowley decided to screen and pat down that assertion.
Citing an ABC report, Crowley said, “There are some major airports who had a 70 percent failure rate at detecting guns, knives, bombs, that they got through in your tests…. So how good can it be when you have major airports with a 70 percent fail rate?”
Napolitano dismissed those results as old and questionable and said, “Let’s set those aside.” One of the real successes of the machines and procedures, Napolitano said, is that they discourage terrorists from even trying to get on planes.
In other words, the machines keep us safe even if they don’t work at all.
“What we know is that you can’t measure [how] the devices … are deterring [terrorists] from going on a plane,” Napolitano said.
“Just people who just are discouraged, thinking they’d be found out,” said Crowley.
“Exactly,” said Napolitano.
In which case, we do not need machines that cost upward of $130,000 each.
All we need are archways made out of $30 or $40 worth of sheet metal that are labeled: “Official Destructo Machine — If You Are a Terrorist, This Machine Will Not Only Zap You, but Put a Picture of Your Private Parts on YouTube.”
That ought to do it.
November 22nd, 2010
NBC San Diego
By: R. Stickney
When a San Diego man opted out of security screening using the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) at Lindbergh Field Friday, he stripped down to his underwear in an attempt to avoid the pat-down procedures.
Samuel Wolanyk took the protest started Nov. 13 by Oceanside’s John Tyner to a whole new level.
While Tyner videotaped his refusal to be patted down, telling the agent “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested,” Wolanyk decided to give TSA a look at his body down to his Calvin Klein’s.
Through a statement released by his attorney Sunday night, Wolanyk said “TSA needs to see that I’m not carrying any weapons, explosives, or other prohibited substances, I refuse to have images of my naked body viewed by perfect strangers, and having been felt up for the first time by TSA the week prior (I travel frequently) I was not willing to be molested again.”
Wolanyk’s attorney said that TSA requested his client put his clothes on so he could be patted down properly but his client refused to put his clothes back on. He never refused a pat down, according to his attorney.
Wolanyk was arrested for refusing to complete the security process and for recording the incident on his iPhone, according to his attorney.
San Diego has played a central role in the debate over the need for AIT machines in our nation’s airports. From Tyner’s videotape and U.S. Rep. Bob Filner’s call for a Congressional hearing, to the parody song penned by Poway musician and Grammy-winner Steve Vaus. This Wednesday, one group is asking Americans to opt out of the AIT machines.
November 18th, 2010
By: Fran Golden
When you ask a friend to join you for a nice weekend cruise from Miami, you don’t expect the friend to be hauled away by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents into a private room where she says she was practically strip-searched. But that’s what happened at Logan International Airport in Boston.
I breezed through security, taking off my shoes, putting my stuff on the belt and walking through the traditional metal detector machine. The process took less than five minutes.
Then I looked over to the adjacent security line and saw to my horror my red-faced friend questioning TSA officers after she was chosen at random for, and refused to go through, a full body scanner.
My pal happens to be a Boston media personality and crime reporter, Michele McPhee. She is not a shy lady. When this tough blond makes up her mind she makes up her mind. There was no way she was going to be convinced to do a body scan if she didn’t want to.
So instead, she opted for a pat down and was whisked away, barefoot, by two women – a TSA officer and her supervisor – to a private room, where McPhee says a very intrusive body search was conducted.
“They run their hands inside your leg and under your bra strap and patted the front of my breasts,” she says. “If someone had done that to me at a nightclub I’d call the cops.”
McPhee says the officers were “nice and apologetic” and seemed to feel bad they couldn’t give her her shoes back until after the search, especially when she pointed out how dirty the floor of the terminal was. The whole process took about 15 minutes.
So why did she reject the full body scan? McPhee says her big issue is privacy when it comes to the images that are taken.
“I have questions about privacy. I don’t really trust the TSA to keep these things private,” she says.
McPhee says she’d also like to know who profits from the proliferation of the body scanner machines the TSA is rolling out.
With some grass roots groups calling for a boycott of full body scanners on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the busiest travel days of the year, McPhee says she’s all for it if it shakes things up.
“People need to know why we need body scanners,” she says. “The humiliation of walking across a crowded, dirty terminal in bare feet, escorted by two TSA agents, dragged into a room and essentially assaulted, I really did leave mad.”
The TSA maintains both pat downs and full body scans are designed to find dangerous items such as explosives and bomb parts that can be concealed on the body.
Coming back from Florida, at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, neither of us was asked to go through a body scanner or given a pat down.
September 30, 2010
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will urge 90 nations to heighten their aviation security measures today to include screening devices that could prevent terrorist from bringing plastic- or powder-based explosives onto the plane, according to USA Today.
Citing the inability of metal detectors to recognize unconventional explosives, Napolitano will emphasize the need to use advanced innovations such as body scanners to step up security processes at a Montreal meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“We need to move to the next stage of screening,” Napolitano told USA Today, adding that terrorists “have kind of figured out the magnetometer business.”
ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin told the newspaper that his organization – a United Nations arm responsible for determining international aviation standards – considered the matter “of the utmost significance.”
The hope is that improved security measures would prevent scenarios such as the December 2009 incident in which suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab smuggled powder explosives aboard an international flight by hiding them in his underwear.
Similar attempts have been made repeatedly with plastic: In 2004, Chechen rebels blew up two commercial airlines using explosives made of the material, and in 2001, al-Qaeda member Richard Reid ignited plastic explosives he had hidden in his shoes aboard a flight from Paris to Miami, though fellow passengers were successful in stopping him.
Benjamin said that under the terms of the ICAO’s heightened measures, airline passengers will be patted down or checked with a body scanner for non-metallic weapons.
May 5, 2010
by Sebastian Smith
New York officials say they could stop attacks like the attempted Times Square car bomb by expanding a controversial surveillance system so sensitive that it will pick up even suspicious behavior.
New York is already a heavily policed city, with 35,000 officers and a counterterrorism bureau — the first of its kind in the country — partnering the FBI.
But Saturday’s failed terrorist bomb in the Times Square tourist hot spot has provided the authorities with a new argument for expanding a sometimes controversial security blanket of cameras, sensors and analytical software.
The system “will greatly enhance our ability and the ability of the police to detect suspicious activity in real time, and disrupt possible attacks,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.
The high-tech system, modeled on the “ring of steel” in London’s financial district, is already in service in lower Manhattan, where Wall Street and the World Trade Center reconstruction site are located.
Headquartered at 55 Broadway, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative goes far beyond the traditional hodgepodge of police cameras, such as the 82 devices installed around Times Square.
Instead, an integrated system maintains an unblinking eye, not just watching, but constantly collecting license plate numbers and video of pedestrians and drivers, as well as detecting explosives and other weapons.
An important component of the program is coordination between the police network and private businesses’ cameras, something that has not been established in Times Square, causing detectives significant extra work.
Also, a separate, but similar program called Operation Sentinel plans to log every vehicle entering Manhattan island by scanning their license plates and checking for radiation.
Last October, Bloomberg announced plans to expand the lower Manhattan system into Midtown, including the Times Square area.
On Sunday, New York police chief Raymond Kelly reiterated the plan and used the occasion to press for more federal funding from Washington.
Kelly also gave details about the system, explaining how the aim is for “analytic software” allowing experts to make sense of raw information in real time.
For example, alarms would trigger when cameras noticed an unattended bag or a car circling a block too many times to be considered normal, Kelly said.
“This is a whole new area for us,” he told Fox News. “We’re very enthusiastic about it.”
Bloomberg said the city has budgeted “more than 110 million dollars to expanding the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and incorporating it with the Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative.”
That large-scale, yet simultaneously detailed intelligence gathering clearly pays in some terrorism investigations.
Officials point out that acquiring the ingredients for a bomb or weapons exposes plotters to precisely the kind of surveillance New York is promoting.
Kelly noted on Fox News that Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi found it “very difficult to get explosives” for his plan to bomb the New York subway system. A major piece of evidence against him was security camera footage of a shopping trip for chemicals in Colorado.
Similarly, although the Times Square bomber tried to disguise the car, it was still quickly traced, providing detectives with an important lead.
But while law enforcement officials tout a brave new world of security, rights groups fear a “big brother” presence violating fundamental privacy.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has sued the Department of Homeland Security in an attempt to extract more information about the Manhattan security system and to
know how the information will be used, shared and stored.
The irony is that the lowest tech responses can sometimes best the most sophisticated gizmo.
The misfiring of a device hidden in the underpants of a Nigerian passenger and the quick reaction by others on the US-bound flight prevented potential tragedy in a December 25 attempted airliner attack.
And in Times Square, a vigilant street vendor and nearby beat cop — not a computer — raised the alert on the suspicious vehicle.
“Think about the street vendor. Think about the passengers on the flight on Christmas Day,” said Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra.
“All of these people perhaps were the difference between a major disaster and actually what happened: a failed terrorist attack.”
February 12, 2010
Following in the footsteps of the US, the UK, The Netherlands and Canada, the Federal Government has announced that it will spend $28 million on full body scanners to be introduced at eight Australian airports next year.
The scanners, which look through a passenger’s clothes and create a three-dimensional image of their body to detect any concealed weapons or explosives, will be placed at screening points servicing international travellers.
Not only have there been there concerns that airport security staff will view naked images of people, including children, there has also been the matter of images being posted on the internet either by computer hackers or security staff.
There have also been concerns about health risks posed by the machines, particularly for frequent fliers or pregnant women, and the head of the Czech nuclear watchdog has stated that scanners that use X-rays (not all scanners do) are “too risky” because the exposure to radiation could cause cancer.
Chair of the NSW council for civil liberties Cameron Murphy, said he signed a letter with other civil liberties groups calling on federal infrastructure and transport minister Anthony Albanese to engage in meaningful debate before rolling out the scanners — to which he received no reply.
“The problem with this is that it goes too far and it goes too far by posing a health risk and a privacy risk and there simply isn’t the commensurate gain in security to warrant this,” he said.
“It’s clearly not worth the immense risk to people’s privacy and health, potential to risk their health, and clearly these systems don’t work.”
Civil rights had deteriorated in Australia since the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September 2001, Murphy said.
He added there was a potential danger, particularly to frequent travellers, that “being radiated every day” could pose a health or fertility risk.
“Extra measures are taken when someone has an X-ray … the doctor exits the room. We don’t know what risk this poses … we’re dealing with radiation here.”
Murphy said the scanners invade people’s privacy by producing a “crystal clear naked image”.
“The minister talks about it being a stick figure, well I’ve seen three different scanners that are used overseas, presumably one of those will be selected in Australia and the scanners showed a crystal clear image, software then airbrushes it, a modesty measure,” said Murphy, adding the scans he witnessed took six minutes, potentially causing lengthy airport delays.
“The problem of course is that the image is stored in a hard drive, it’s possible for it to be transferred to other places. It’s already happening in the UK and there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen here.
“People of all ages use airports, do you really want some security guard looking at an image of your naked 13-year-old daughter? I mean that’s what were talking about here.”
A spokeswoman from Albanese’s office said privacy issues would be considered before the roll-out. She said the scanner would produce a “stylised stick figure, not the person’s body”.
She said protocols that govern how the scanners will operate are yet to be drawn up and are currently being developed in consultation with the aviation industry.
And while Albanese has said the body scans would occur at random, his spokeswoman could not confirm whether children would be exempt from scanning, or whether, like some airports in the US, people would be given the option not to be scanned.
According to the physics professor who was the independent scientific advisor to the department of infrastructure for trials held at several airports in 2009, the health risks will depend on which machines the government purchases.
Professor Dudley Creagh from the University of Canberra said there would be no exposure to radiation unless the government purchased X-ray systems. But even then the radiological dose was low and could be compared to what a traveller would be exposed to on a long-distance flight, he said.
“A lot of people don’t realise that there’s a lot of background radiation coming in from extra terrestrial sources [on airplanes].
“The dosage is low compared to the natural radiation that the passenger would have experienced on a long distance trip.”
He said people had no need to worry about privacy because not only were the images distorted, but the operator of the scanner did not see the person in the portal.
“You get presented with a distorted image of a person. It’s a generalised, distorted shape onto which is mapped any deviation from normal.”
February 8, 2010
By Joseph Farah
Agents for Britain’s MI5 intelligence service have discovered that Muslim doctors trained at some of Britain’s leading teaching hospitals have returned to their own countries to fit surgical implants filled with explosives, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Women suicide bombers recruited by al-Qaida are known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery. The lethal explosives – usually PETN (pentaerythritol Tetrabitrate) – are inserted during the operation inside the plastic shapes. The breast is then sewn up.
Similar surgery has been performed on male suicide bombers. In their cases, the explosives are inserted in the appendix area or in a buttock. Both are parts of the body that diabetics use to inject themselves with their prescribed drugs.
The discovery of these methods was made after the London-educated Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab came close to blowing up an airliner on Christmas Day with explosives he had stuffed inside his underpants.
Hours after he had failed, GCHQ – Britain’s worldwide eavesdropping “spy in the sky” agency – began to pick up “chatter” emanating from Pakistan and Yemen that alerted MI5 to the creation of the lethal implants.
A hand-picked team was appointed by Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, to investigate the threat. He described it as “one that can circumvent our defense.”
Top surgeons who work in the National Health Service confirmed the feasibility of the explosive implants.
In a report to Evans, one said:
“Properly inserted the implant would be virtually impossible to detect by the usual airport scanning machines. You would need to subject a suspect to a sophisticated X-ray. Given that the explosive would be inserted in a sealed plastic sachet, and would be a small amount, would make it all the more impossible to spot it with the usual body scanner.”
Explosive experts at Britain’s Porton Down biological and chemical warfare research center told MI5 that a sachet containing as little as five ounces of PETN when activated would blow “a considerable hole” in an airline’s skin which would guarantee it would crash.