Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Former FBI counter-terrorism expert reveals the shocking facts about the TSA

Here are key excerpts from Steve Moore's analysis of the TSA:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed to ensure America’s freedom to travel. Instead, they have made air travel the most difficult means of mass transit in the United States, at the same time failing to make air travel any more secure.

TSA has never, (and I invite them to prove me wrong), foiled a terrorist plot or stopped an attack on an airliner. Ever. They crow about weapons found and insinuate that this means they stopped terrorism. They claim that they can’t comment due to “national security” implications. In fact, if they had foiled a plot, criminal charges would have to be filed. Ever hear of terrorism charges being filed because of something found during a TSA screening? No, because it’s never happened. Trust me, if TSA had ever foiled a terrorist plot, they would buy full-page ads in every newspaper in the United States to prove their importance and increase their budget.

I have a unique position from which to make these statements. For 25 years, as many of readers know, I was an FBI Special Agent, and for many of those years, I was a counter-terrorism specialist. I ran the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) Al Qaeda squad. I ran the JTTF’s Extra-territorial squad, which responded to terrorism against the United States or its interests throughout the world. I have investigated Al Qaeda cell operations in the United States, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, just to name a few. The FBI and the CIA provides the lion’s share of actionable intelligence on threats to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (the mother organization of TSA), so that they can tailor security screening to the actual threat.

I am, as I have said before, a political conservative, a law and order kind of guy and I get misty when the national anthem is played at a football game and jets fly over in salute. If anything, I am pre-disposed to support the United States government...

The entire TSA paradigm is flawed. It requires an impossibility for it to succeed. For the TSA model to work, every single possible means of causing danger to an aircraft or its passengers must be eliminated. This is an impossibility. While passengers are being frisked and digitally strip-searched a few dozen yards away, cooks and dish washers at the local concourse “Chili’s” are using and cleaning butcher knives.

While bomb-sniffing dogs are run past luggage, the beach at the departure end of LAX is largely unpatrolled, and anybody with a shoulder launched missile (you know the ones they regularly shoot down U.S. helicopters with in Afghanistan) could take out any plane of their choice. I am reticent to discuss anything further that would give anybody ideas. However, these two have had wide dissemination in the media but are by NO means the biggest threats...

I sometimes ruminate while standing in line waiting to take off my shoes, remove my belt, laptop, iPad, etc., etc., about the improvised weapons I saw in prisons and how hard they were to find. It’s fascinating what weapons prisoners can make out of plastic forks, newspapers and toothbrushes. Ask any prison guard if an inmate can make a weapon out of an everyday item, and how long it would take them. Approximately 99% of what the average traveler carries on a plane would be considered contraband in a maximum security prison, due to the fact that it can easily be converted into a weapon. Toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks, pens, pencils, anything with wire (iPod headset), any metal object which can be sharpened, etc., etc. is a potential weapon. Carried to its logical end, TSA policy would have to require passengers to travel naked or handcuffed. (Handcuffing is the required procedure for U.S. Marshalls transporting prisoners in government aircraft.)

TSA’s de facto policy to this point has been to react to the latest thing tried by a terrorist, which is invariably something that Al Qaeda identified as a technique not addressed by current screening. While this narrows Al Qaeda’s options, their list of attack ideas remains long and they are imaginative. Therefore, if TSA continues to react to each and every new thing tried, three things are certain:

1. Nothing Al Qaeda tries will be caught the first time because it was designed around gaps in TSA security.
2. It is impossible to eliminate all gaps in airline security.
3. Airline security screening based on eliminating every vulnerability will therefore fail because it is impossible. But it will by necessity become increasingly onerous and invasive on the travelers...

TSA screening, as it is now, is so predictable and known that Al Qaeda can know with absolute certainty what they can and cannot get through screening. That is valuable intelligence for them. In a word, TSA is predictable. This increases Al Qaeda’s chances of success....

Frankly, the professional experience I have had with TSA has frightened me. Once, when approaching screening for a flight on official FBI business, I showed my badge as I had done for decades in order to bypass screening. (You can be envious, but remember, I was one less person in line.) I was asked for my form which showed that I was unarmed. I was unarmed on this flight because my ultimate destination was a foreign country. I was told, "Then you have to be screened." This logic startled me, so I asked, "If I tell you I have a high-powered weapon, you will let me bypass screening, but if I tell you I'm unarmed, then I have to be screened?" The answer? "Yes. Exactly." Another time, I was bypassing screening (again on official FBI business) with my .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, and a TSA officer noticed the clip of my pocket knife. "You can't bring a knife on board," he said. I looked at him incredulously and asked, "The semi-automatic pistol is okay, but you don't trust me with a knife?" His response was equal parts predictable and frightening, "But knives are not allowed on the planes."...

Each time the TSA is publically called to account for their actions, they fight back with fear-based press releases which usually begin with “At a time like this….” Or “Al Qaeda is planning—at this moment …..” The tactic, of course, is to throw the spotlight off the fact that their policies are doing nothing to make America safer “at a time like this.” Sometimes doing the wrong thing is just as bad as doing nothing.

The TSA unions are now fighting against any reduction in staff, such as by implementation of more efficient protocols, hiring of contractors, or less draconian screening. It is simply not in their best interest for screening to get quicker or easier because that would require fewer screeners...

Just when I was getting to think that the backscatter x-ray images were humiliating, degrading or invasive, Susan Hallowell, Director of the TSA research lab eased my fear by consenting to have her backscatter image made public.

That’s Ms. Hallowell in the upper photo. And the two below--same day, same time. See? What’s invasive or embarrassing about those photos? Obviously, I’m overreacting. Several things about these photos struck me; first, I of course noticed that the backscatter x-ray has cleverly detected the gun on her hip (it’s the black object just above her thong in the far left picture). That the gun would have been found by magnetometers in service since the 1970’s is likely not something they would like us to dwell on. Secondarily, I am struck by the similarity of this demonstration to the fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In that tale, a king is swindled by tailors who create for him a suit of clothes that are invisible to incompetent people. Of course, nobody would admit that they didn’t see the clothes for fear of being branded unfit for their jobs, and certainly the king wasn’t going to say anything.

Looking at these photos, I wonder if something similar isn’t going on here. It is as if patriotic, loyal citizens who care about security and the United States of America and the lives of their fellow citizens will not see this as an abuse of power. Anybody who views these images as dehumanizing, humiliating, unnecessary or abusive are obviously not against terrorism and care little if airplanes filled with families fall to the ground. But in this situation, it is essential that we shout “the king (or in this case the queen) has no clothes!” Going along with the status quo is the exact opposite of protecting Americans, it is the opposite of saving lives, it is the opposite of preventing terrorism, and it is the opposite of freedom and personal rights.

Moore's full report is here.
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