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How Intelligence Drives Operations at TSA

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bloggers Note: Keith Kauffman heads up TSA’s Office of Intelligence. He is a 20-plus year veteran of the National Security Agency (NSA) and is a well-established and respected member of the Intelligence Community. He joined TSA in May 2007.

The Office of Intelligence (OI), which I lead, is part of the larger Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Enterprise and is responsible for integrating timely and actionable information into TSA's daily operations. We also use intelligence to educate and inform the TSA workforce, our partners in airports, airlines, mass transit, etc., and law enforcement on terrorist threats and the tactics, techniques and procedures used by our adversaries.

My office staffs a 24/7 watch operation, which receives intelligence information around the clock from a variety of sources. We have analytic personnel integrated into Intelligence Community organizations, which also gives us insight into evolving threats to U.S. transportation systems. In addition, first thing every morning, Kip Hawley, Mo McGowan (who leads our Office of Security Operations) and I, attend a daily meeting led by the National Counterrorism Center and all the major players in counterterrorism activities, which enables us to discuss and track emerging and ongoing threats.

My office briefs the TSA senior leadership team every morning on the intelligence we obtain and analyze. It's after these briefings that we discuss and use the information presented to make operational decisions. Intelligence we provide routinely results in decisions, such as determining which flights will be covered by our Federal Air Marshals (FAMs). Intelligence also leads to the development of new operational policies at the checkpoints. One recent example has to do with remote control (RC) toys . Our adversaries have been observed using RC toy components to help build, or to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices. The policy developed to help counter this threat in the aviation domain did not mandate prohibiting passengers from carrying RC toys on commercial airplanes. Rather, it educated our Transportation Security Officers about the potential threat from these devices and directed them to use their judgment in selecting passengers with RC cars for additional screening. We also made this information public at the same time—a first for us.

We also routinely use intelligence to inform our government and industry partners about threats we receive to their respective transportation modes, so they can take appropriate actions. We focus on threats to the U.S., but track and report on threats abroad as well.

For example, if we receive intelligence about threat to a foreign airport used by U.S. carriers, we make sure all the carriers providing service to that airport are aware and might also use that information to increase FAM coverage at those locations. We also work with foreign governments to increase security as needed. We also use intelligence to assist with operational exercises and joint exercises. Along with the Federal Aviation Administration in December, we used intelligence to design 13 realistic terrorism scenarios. Those scenarios, which were played out during the exercise, helped us and our FAA partners review and refine contingency plans and determine how best to work together, in the event that any of those or similar scenarios occur in the future.

I spent 24 years as a member of the Intelligence Community before coming to the TSA. Often, intelligence agency personnel don’t see the results of their efforts. It’s been incredibly rewarding personally, to see how the work done by the dedicated men and women of our agencies involved with the counterterrorism mission, is put to great use at TSA each day.

I also travel with my family and talk to my friends, some of whom have been know to grumble from time to time (and you know who you are!) about taking off their shoes, etc. I wanted to join this blog effort, so I could relay the same message to you that I’ve discussed with my family and friends. There really is a robust and dedicated intelligence effort in place at the TSA, that is well connected to the larger Intelligence Community and which drives everything we do on a daily basis, to protect our Nation’s transportation systems and those who use them for travel and commerce.

Keith Kauffman


Submitted by Anonymous on

So, are we supposed to be impressed with even more rabid attempts to justify the TSA's existence?

Doesn't do anything for me other than to confirm that the TSA is struggling against the ever-increasing numbers of people who just don't believe that it is doing anything worthwhile.

Each thread that is thrown up on this blog serves only to confirm that the TSA is fighting a losing battle to win the hearts and minds of the American people with all the good you keep telling us you are doing keeping us "safe."

I'm so sick and tired of hearing about terrorists. Let's spend the money we are throwing at the TSA on health insurance for the under or uninsured citizens of this country, on hunger and homelessness instead of throwing it away.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Please explain the national travesty and embarrassment that is the Do-Not-Fly list, which has been highlighted on such shows as 60 Minutes.

Submitted by DoogieSD on

Before you get too many

"you're a Fascist Nazi who's is stealing my civil liberties"


Thanks for what you (and your staff) do...

Remember most these folks are pissed they cant take their pot on vacation with them anymore and generally need something to bitch about over their pitiful existence and their mythical lost freedoms...This blog makes it easy for them...

Submitted by Dave Nelson on

Sir --

I've been in the IC for a lot longer than you, so, rest assured, I have read between the lines of your resume.

Although your expertise is in IT systems, much like my agency's CIO, I think you should explain for the readers, in the interests of being fair & balanced, your experience in areas of the business that I would expect of an agency head of intelligence:

1. How many entries (just a number will do) have you gotten all the way through to a PDB?
2. How much original analysis have you successfully completed and defended that was published in documents such as MIDs and NIEs? Please describe your experience as an NIO for a particular discipline.
3. What rotational assignments have you had to other IC organizations, which, as I'm sure you're aware, is a requirement for entry into the SES or SIS.

To be fair to the other blog readers, I feel it necessary to calibrate your portfolio with the following:

1. EVERY federal agency has a 24/7 intelligence watch. My guys read the same message traffic your guys read.

2. EVERY federal agency has morning briefings or a morning read file.

3. EVERY federal agency participates in "command post" exercises. Finished intelligence is how they build the scenarios.

Congratulations on your assignment, but, for the sake of the taxpayers who pay your salary, let's not overstate the case, OK?

Submitted by Christopher on

Okay Dave. You're in intel and so is Keith, we get it. That doesn't mean Keith is in intel to your detrement or you're better because you've written a President's Daily Brief (PDB for those not "in the know") I don't personally know if Keith has or not but we are confident enough in his abilities and experience that we've hired him and put him in charge of intel for us. We get it, you're smart too. Welcome to the blog.

We thought it would be interesting for the readers of this blog to know that TSA is part of the Intel Community and has an active intel shop. He's a guest on this blog and we're glad he took the time to explain what his shop does and how it fits in to the overall transportation security picture.

We're always looking for good folks to work with Keith and frequently post jobs on if you're interested. With your experience, you'd be a great fit here.

TSA Evolution Blog

Submitted by Anonymous on

Remember most these folks are pissed they cant take their pot on vacation with them anymore and generally need something to bitch about over their pitiful existence and their mythical lost freedoms...This blog makes it easy for them...


ah yes.

"If you question the witch hunt, then you're obviously a witch!"

(never smoked pot in my life)
(rarely drink)
(still thinks that the constitution is worth protecting)

Submitted by Trollkiller on

Dang Christopher I thought for sure you would have said "With your attitude, you'd be a great fit here."

Submitted by Anonymous on

I think Dave Nelson's comments are very valid. If what Keith is writing is accurate (and since it's on an official blog and I'm sure it was vetted by everyone up to Kip Hawley I believe that it is) TSA decisions are being made on the basis of the intelligence that he is bringing.

Now, the TSA continues on with stuff like the liquids ban and the removal of shoes. The intelligence behind these is classified. We're repeatedly told that we need to trust those in the TSA to know that there's really a method to the madness. Since you've made it impossible for us to evaluate you on the facts we have to evaluate the TSA on its personnel.

Keith has written a blog post that essentially says "I'm an expert, trust me, all the stuff you think is stupid has a real purpose." The only thing left to evaluate is whether or not Keith is an expert. Dave has asserted that he is also an expert and has said that Keith's description of his qualifications is inadequate for another expert to evaluate him and he should post some more. I think it's fair game.

There has to be some level of transparency in our government agencies. You work for the citizens of the United States - it's not the other way around. Assertions that the intelligence is classified and "just trust us" don't play so well anymore - it's a post WMD world nowadays. If you're going to assert that the intelligence is classified, expect to be challenged on your qualifications. If you don't like being evaluated on your qualifications then start looking for ways to share your actual data and decision making process.

Submitted by Tai_pan1 on

Christopher said..

We're always looking for good folks to work with Keith and frequently post jobs on if you're interested. With your experience, you'd be a great fit here.

You don't want him, he's arrogant with a self inflated ego and and an overwhelming sense of self importance.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"We get it, you're smart too. Welcome to the blog."

Christopher, you have an style that engages.

Please give "Bob" over in the BDO post some couseling on interpersonal dynamics in written communication.

I treasure the screaners who have your style. I get too many in the mold of "Bob", or worse.

Submitted by Anonymous on

re: doogiesd

I, and many others are concerned with the direction this country has taken during this administration. Its called a slippery slope.

I have watched as the country I have served has done things that I was taught to hate.

I was brought up to believe that govts that were not transparent, that appointed party members, apparatchicks, to impose party bliefs on others by threats, that suppresed scientific facts, that monitered the movemant and communiactions of people and that had gave petty officials great power over people were evil.

I was brought up to believe that these govts should be opposed. And I am watching my govt, my country, move in that direction.

If you don't think there is a problem, then you are symptomatic of the problem.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If your job is a joke, does it make any difference how qualified you are?

Submitted by Chance on

To Dave Nelson,

Chance here. Are you really suggesting that if Keith hasn't written an entry for a PDB, that somehow makes him less credible as an intelligence officer? The entire intelligence community doesn't revolve only around PDBs, and the vast majority of analysts will never write one. It has little to no bearing on his overall qualifications and credibility.

Chance - Evolution Blog Team Member

Submitted by Anonymous on

dave nelson, Sir please get over yourself. You sound like someone who applied for this position and didn't make the cut. I think that this whole blog site shows just exactly how this agency is trying to be transparent as possible and is taking the steps that the American people would like them to. I commend them in this endeavor and wish that the fringe element could get over their self-centered biases and stop being part of the problem, try as hard as possible to recommend ways to help them improve the way they do business, you know be part of the solution. This post 9/11 world we live in is not going to change overnight, unfortunately the trying times we live in calls for some drastic and unpleasent measure to combat those that wish to destroy our great country. Intelligence is by far and away the first line of defence. Keep up the great work, most Americans support the need for this, even if we don't like the process.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm a frequent critic of TSA security theater both on this blog and elsewhere, but I see some grounds for kudos and credit here.

First, a decent intelligence operation using good old-fashioned police work is far more likely to prevent bad guys from doing harm than confiscating toothpaste or making infants remove their shoes.

Second, I see a least a ray of hope that TSA dealt with the perceived RC-car threat using a technique other than prohibiting law-abiding citizens from carrying a harmless everyday item.

A question, though. It is widely-known that TSA and DHS knew about the perceived liquid-bomb threat for months before it was revealed. Yet there was an instant and knee-jerk ban of an entire state of matter. As soon as the "threat" was revealed, the war on water began. It seems ironic that you banned law-abiding citizens from carrying harmless, non-threatening items only after the plot had been disrupted. Please justify this behavior as something other than CYA or feel-good security-theater for the masses?

Come on, TSA. The idea that liquid explosives can be constructed airside from common liquids that will not alarm the ETD has been debunked. The idea that nitrated liquids (which will alarm the ETD) cannot be combined airside from allowed 100 mL containers to make an explosive has been debunked. And not even you believe that even a fraction of the liquid confiscated is harmful, or your screeners wouldn't aimless toss this "hazmat" into a bin next to the checkpoint with all the other "hazmat."

Surely your intelligence infrastructure realizes that conventional solid explosive are much more practical for the bad guys, and yet are still disturbingly easy to get by. Quit focusing on toothpaste and juice, and improve your catch rate for guns, large knives, and bombs. Redirect the effort wasted on toothpaste toward using the ETD and puffers more; they do a wonderful job catching solid and liquid explosive traces, and they are far less intrusive to passengers.

Banning an entire state of matter for nearly two years is just asinine. TSA's benefit-of-the-doubt on this issue ran out before the end of August 2006. It makes your front line guys, many of which seem to mean well, look like idiots with no credibility. What's next, making us fly naked when some wacko proposes weaving explosives into fabric? Banning non-threatening items is not the answer; good intelligence and police work is.

Unless TSA starts to focus more on the latter and less on the former, some day, Americans are going to wake up and stand up to this abusive agency. I just hope it's sooner rather than later.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm one those folks that regards the various court-decision-permitted exemptions to the 4th amendment as being ripe for abuse, and I think the TSA tends to abuse this authority.

I don't have so much a problem with dealing with items that are obvious contraband (drugs, child porn) as I do with the "petty bureaucrat on a power trip" mentality of the TSO's.

Some of the procedures would be a bit more palatable if they were carried out by TSO's acting more like security professionals and less like bullies looking for an excuse to throw their weight around.

If the TSO's get 120 hours of training on how to look for prohibited items, they need at least that much on how to treat people with civility and courtesy. They should also be evaluated on their customer service skills as frequently and intensively as they are evaluated for finding prohibited items.

Submitted by Sandra on

Anonymous said:

"Unless TSA starts to focus more on the latter and less on the former, some day, Americans are going to wake up and stand up to this abusive agency. I just hope it's sooner rather than later."

I submit that we are already there and proof of that is this very blog, wherein the TSA is trying desperately to justify all the many abuses perpetrated upon the flying public..

Submitted by Anonymous on

So now we have a representative of the "intelligence community" helpfully informing us that everything the TSA does that looks arbitrary and stupid to the uninformed public is actually a proper and necessary reaction to "robust and dedicated intelligence." He's proud to see the "results," which presumably include all the stuff with shoes and liquids as well as the bullying treatment of passengers.

The presumed inference here is that since we have an "intelligence" person telling us that it's all necessary, good, and effective, we should be convinced of the value of whatever the TSA does, cease our skepticism and criticism of it, and be grateful every time we have to take off our shoes and forfeit a small shampoo bottle that lacks a manufacturer's label. It's all in reaction to "intelligence."

I'm sorry, but thanks to "robust and dedicated intelligence" about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that fraudulently justified a costly and damaging war in Iraq, pronouncements from someone in "intelligence" deserve exactly the same skepticism as any other pronouncement from the TSA. But I'll give you half a mark for trying to make such a case.

The problem, I think, is that the TSA is dealing with Americans. Americans have a lengthy tradition of questioning and distrusting their government and generally not being easily persuaded by officials who say "trust me." The tradition apparently goes back to the days when a certain monarch named George played fast and loose with the rights of his colonial subjects.

Submitted by Bartlett on

You know, a lot of this is really silly.

For the record, I'm one of those guys who flies every week. I probably average six segments a week, most of them not connections. I get screened a LOT.

I've got to say that the overwhelming majority of the TSO's I deal with are professional, courteous, and in most cases downright friendly. I try to help the cause by not being stupid - the rules are what they are, and I don't argue with the guys on the front lines about bottles of liquid. I don't carry 'em anyway, or anything else that won't go through security easily.

It generally takes me about thirty seconds to go from packed to ready to screen, and about sixty the other way (gotta tie the shoes). If I get selected for additional screening (doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen) I grin and put up with the additional couple of minutes. Total screening time is always less than the total time I spend walking to the gate, and a lot less effort. Waiting can be painful, but over the past year the waits have gotten better all over the system.

I do carry a lot of junk in my bag, some of which (like the portable scanner) seems to be a little unusual, but I've never had more of a problem than an occasional bag check.

I don't run across very many TSOs on power trips. It's been YEARS since anyone official was personally rude to me. I don't doubt that other people's mileage varies, and every job has its misfits and losers, but I see way too much of the system from the perspective of an ordinary peon to believe that there's anything really systemically broken.

Now the civil liberty questions are real. Do I HAVE to give up this degree of autonomy? Is it good to build an area in society that is so rigid and controlled that it bears little resemblance to our historical roots? And is this a slippery slope or just a temporary setback for liberty? We did a lot worse in World War II, with arguably less justification, and yet the Republic survived somehow. I don't mind this discussion, but the fact is that the TSA is doing an unexpectedly good job at an impossible assignment, with a minimum of brain damage to those of us most directly affected. I appreciate it, and them, and I love the openness of the new blog.

Submitted by John on

Dave, Thanks for your service. I am in the IC too and I'm pretty sure that none of my analysis has made it to a PDB. That's because, like the TSA, I work at the operational level, not strategic. I assume by the haughty tone of your reply that you do work at a 3 letter agency who focuses on the strategic.

Christopher, to split hairs, TSA is not an independent member of the IC. It is a member through DHS. The only organization in DHS that is an independent member of the IC is CGI.

Submitted by Hawthorn on

Well, I'm one of those folks who is generally supportive of TSA and TSO's in particular, appreciates their thankless work, etc, and I also agree that Dave Nelson overstates his own case above...

but could someone over there please sit "christopher" down for a little talk on human relations? Senior TSA people spend hours writing reasonable explanations in hopes of nudging the public acceptance-meter over a couple of ticks - and he undoes half of it in two sentences.

As far as I am concerned, the standards of behavior for TSA representatives here in the blog should be the same as out on the airport floor: polite, respectful, calm, helpful. Anyone who cannot meet those standards should be given a back office job where they cannot embarrass the agency.

Submitted by MSPLEAD on

Bartlett you are the reason I do what I do everyday
And why I do it with a smile on my face. Thank you for appreciating it; more so thanks for your patience.

Submitted by Anonymous on

To the first anonymous - having lived and worked in New Orleans before and after Katrina.....just what we need....more money thrown at people, most of whom have been taught from day 1 the gov will provide all. Unless they are mentally challanged or physically unable how about stop throwing fuel on a never ending fire. I know, I have no compassion....I say I have lived it, and yes came from it. Encourage people to climb out not help them stay down with a meger gov. hand out.

As for the other regarding " Doesn't do anything for me other than to confirm that the TSA is struggling against the ever-increasing numbers of people who just don't believe that it is doing anything worthwhile." This same logic is used after you pay your insurance bill but had no accident during the year...what a waste of money". I would argue the best weapon we have is good intel. I wonder if those alive and well in the 1940's felt the code breakers in Britten and the US were a waste? I mean they could have had more fighting men on the front line but then again we would not have broken the Japanese code or the German Enigma. If not we would not have had orur navy positioned at Midway and the US/UK would not have known where the U-boats were then who knows what the outcome of the war might have been. Maybe we would be devided up and speaking either German or are so is just a waste.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjmin Franklin

Submitted by Ayn R Key on

If there is a robust and dedicated intelligence effort at the TSA and the parent agency DHS, howcome nobody involved in it has discovered that you cannot make an explosive out of liquids in mid-flight?

Submitted by Dave X The First on

Hey TSA, I get that there are threats, and that the IC can identify them. What looks like idiocy to me is that TSA does not seem effective at ameliorating them.

Take the stupid liquids ban. If a terrorist can disguise a $150 liquid bomb as a bottle of water and the most TSA does with it if they catch it is toss it in the trash can while waving the guy through, what prevents the guy from just trying again the next day?

If 20 terrorists tried to bring what looked like water onto 20 different planes, how many terrorists would have their 'water' taken from them? 80%?

Same thing for the penknives. If the 9/11 terrorists tried the same thing over again, how many knives would they carry through? More than 1 per plane? They'd get clobbered by the passengers before they could try to scratch open the armored cockpit door, but those improvements in are not due to TSA.

How are you not Security Theatre? You say 'Boo!" with things like "RC cars are weapons" and "liquids explode" and parade credentials and warnings, but the best you can catch are warrant offenders and nutty razor-hiding priests.

You are selling us intangible fear and providing no measurable benefit.

Submitted by Bob on
March 5, 2008 11:13 AM Sandra said...


I took the time to follow your link and started reading the article you suggested.

I have to admit I lost interest and stopped reading at the point where the author started comparing TSA checkpoint lines to the lines at NAZI gas chambers. I'm at a loss for words...


TSA Evolution Blog Team
Submitted by Sandra on

The author did not compare the TSA lines to Nazi gas chamber lines, he compared behaviors of the people in the lines.

This, in part, is what the article said:

"I'm ashamed of myself. I'm ashamed of all of us.

He appeared to be about 80 years old and disoriented. He was in a wheelchair, pushed along by a middle-aged man, himself disabled, who may have been his son....

The two men were pulled aside and searched. Not a cursory search, but an ongoing, interminable search of themselves and everything they brought with them, conducted by a team of stern-looking TSA agents who not only examined the contents of carry-on items but the contents of wallets. A search that lasted long enough to perhaps have caused the men to miss their flight. A search that you would consider abusive if it happened to you.

The other hundred or so of us in the line stood by and watched. There was visible disgust on some of the faces, but nobody said a word. If any of us had, our collective wisdom told us we would have gotten into trouble with the authorities and possibly have missed our own flights.

That is exactly how millions of people walked without protest into the gas chambers during the nightmare of the Nazi holocaust, many of them knowing full well what was to be their fate. Nobody said a word. If they had, they would have gotten into trouble with the authorities, and so they crowded, unspeaking, into eternity.

Oppressors do business that way. We're systematically being taught to be afraid. We're afraid of the shampoo and mouthwash in our carry-on luggage. We're afraid of our government.

Most sadly, we're afraid of each other. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, was not the cause. It was the excuse. Since then, every government excess, every billion dollars squandered, every personal right given up, every American military life lost, every no-bid contract awarded to a well-connected corporation, every American principle compromised has been for your own good, to protect you from The Terrorists.

Or so we've been told again and again, as though it were an advertising slogan. "Tastes great! Less filling! Let us run roughshod or The Terrorists will get you!" And quite literally, "Vote for me or The Terrorists will get you!"

The perpetual bogeyman lurking under the bed. Or, more truthfully, hiding in plain sight in Pakistan, where we're not even looking.

Many books have been written about human motivation, and the central lesson in most of them is that people are motivated by money, power, fame, sex and fear. In view of the drastic shortage of money, power, fame or sex coming our way from our government, it appears that fear is the high card.

We've bought their story, swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And so we're willing to stand by, disgusted but silent, while our government infringes our rights, at the same time invasively searching old men and infants. Because we're afraid not to let them.

It wouldn't have changed anything, but I wish that I … I wish that someone in that airport line … had felt enough outrage to summon the courage to say something."

Submitted by DoogieSD on
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety

Did you want to get the quote right?

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

The omission of those key qualifiers–”essential” and “little”– makes all the difference in the world.

Ben Franklin has been hijacked to endorse an untenable and deadly view that no sacrifice of any liberty for any amount of safety at any time should ever be made. Michelle Malkin
Submitted by Anonymous on

"March 5, 2008 11:13 AM Sandra said...


I took the time to follow your link and started reading the article you suggested.

I have to admit I lost interest and stopped reading at the point where the author started comparing TSA checkpoint lines to the lines at NAZI gas chambers. I'm at a loss for words...


Yup Bob, that article is exactly how many of us feel about the way some members of TSA act. You might not be Jack Booted Thugs, but hey, you strike the same chilling nerve. What you have is a customer service image problem. In great numbers of the posts on this blog people are telling you what their perception of your public relations problem is. Read the postings and apply I. F. Stone's method to find the truth. Please don't insult us by glossing it over. A 3 day old dead fish with a fresh coat of paint is still a dead fish...

Submitted by Ryan on

Recently read a news story discussing a pilot program that was being tested by TSA in a few US airports involving all electronics to be removed from carry on luggage. Apparently, the pilot program was discontinued. Just came through JFK, terminal 3 and was told by TSA agent that pretty much every electronic piece in my carry on needed to be taken out and scanned. I have never heard of that and have never experienced that until tonight. Is this a new policy? It seems that when "new" rules are put into effect, the traveling public is the last to know. I was told (unfortunately, rather rudely)that I should have read the sign outside the door (I did and it made no such mention of this rule). I have NO problem taking anything out of my bag if it's necessary. But it still seems as if there is alot of inconsistency among agents, airports, etc. I read the TSA web site travel guidelines and clearly, it states that large electronics (laptops, etc.) need to be removed while small and portable need not be removed. I was told tonight that my keyboard, etc. needed to be removed and scanned separately. Is this true or not true? A consistent policy would be helpful. As I travel alot with electronics, laptop and otherwise, knowing exactly what's expected would be a great help.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob may be at a loss for words, but I'm not. I read the whole article and think it has some good points, especially the one about manipulating the populace via fear.

I've experienced the yelling, shouting, barked orders and having myself and my fellow travelers treated sometimes like cattle and other times like criminals. Too often the TSO's makes it look like they get their interpersonal skills training by watching episodes of Lockdown.

While the comparison to Nazi guards may be extreme, the "do as I say or you'll live to regret it" mentality is obviously part and parcel of how the TSO's operate. How many posts do you see on this blog where a traveler's question has been met with "do you want to fly today", being ganged up on by multiple TSO's, the threat of arrest, or the actual summoning of law enforcement?

Where is the TSA's introspection to determine whether these heavy handed responses are necessary? Where is the accountability for unnecessary threats? Why doesn't the TSA place value on looking for ways to de-escalate a tense situation instead of making it worse?

The TSA has managed to alienate a lot of people with its unnecessarily heavy handed treatment of travelers, both individually and collectively. The TSO's act like they are above not only the law, but also ordinary civility. This mentality inspires a lot of resentment, and invites comparison to any of a variety of historical villains.

Any Star Wars fan knows Master Yoda's line "fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." The TSA needs to learn that managing the flying public by fear is not a sustainable.

Act more like responsible security personnel and less like villains, and there will be less opportunity to be compared to villains. Admit that the manner the TSA treats the flying public needs improvement, then do something to improve it.

Submitted by Alex on
Dave X the first said...

You are selling us intangible fear and providing no measurable benefit.

Dave, do you really feel that airports would be safer if TSA wasn't in place?

I need not make statements you will just deny, however, on a constructive note.

What can the TSA do better, security or customer service, to enhance the safety and happiness of the travelers without jeopardizing them?
Submitted by Anonymous on

I had a conversation with a former member of the British Intelligence Service a number of years ago about the United States approach to intelligence gathering. The British were appalled by the US reliance on satellite surveillance as opposed to on the ground local intelligence assets. The WMD Iraq fiasco and its ultimate cost, is an example of the bill of goods that we have been sold. It hasn’t done us a bit of good in capturing Bin Laden.
This blog is a free gold mine of intelligence information given to you by the public that the TSA serves. Please use it to correct your misguided mission profile.

Submitted by Anonymous on

While I believe the TSA is doing a great job, I think there could be some improvement in gathering intelligence. No one lives and works in a vacuum. Many of the terrorists are from neighborhoods that have thriving communities. As with those
upstate New York terrorists.

There should be a method of warning TSA of a potential terror threat. The no fly list is handy, but how long does it take to get a potential terrorist posted to the list?

I suggest that a toll-free anonymous tip line that could be used to build a more dynamic system of passenger intelligence. Suspected terrorists could be added to the database before they even arrive at an airport.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Dave, do you really feel that airports would be safer if TSA wasn't in place?"

I'm not Dave but will answer this question.

I don't think airports would be less safe without TSA.

Cargo is not inspected, workers are not cleared daily and problems of theft continue in the baggage handling areas with TSA present.
If someone can take something out of a bag then they can also place something in a bag.

Post one case of TSA catching a possible terrorist that went before the courts and was found guilty.

Submitted by Anonymous on

" was told by TSA agent that pretty much every electronic piece in my carry on needed to be taken out and scanned."

Hmmm. I ws starting to think this blog might serve the citizens. Silly me.

Dig back through the past postings. The bloggers boasted about stopping this type of search.

Guess it was just pro TSA propaganda.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"What can the TSA do better, security or customer service, to enhance the safety and happiness of the travelers without jeopardizing them?"

Alex, just like Christopher, I like your tone. It is engaging.

How about 2 very simple things?


And... Make your personell wear clearly visible ID where we can see it without risking them threatening us because we asked who they are.

They would be simple and cheap to implement.

Submitted by Chance on

Maybe I've just been lucky, but when I travel I've never had a problem like those described by the many people on this blog. I don't use my TSA ID, so it's doubtful I'm getting any special treatment.

However, one point I wanted to bring up, though I might have talked about this before, is that threat is only one part of the overall risk assessment TSA does. The other two parts of the equation are vulnerability and consequence. It may be possible to have a low threat in one area, yet have a high vulnerability and high consequence leading to a moderate to high risk. This works in the other direction as well; perhaps the threat is moderate to high, but the vulnerability is low, leading to a lowered overall risk.

So intelligence, while a valuable part of the equation, is still only one part. I can't tell you for any one specific policy which input had the most influence, but they all have some influence, as you might expect.

Chance - EoS blog Team member

Submitted by Chance on

To address the following points also brought up by Mr. Nelson earlier:

To be fair to the other blog readers, I feel it necessary to calibrate your portfolio with the following:

1. EVERY federal agency has a 24/7 intelligence watch. My guys read the same message traffic your guys read.

With due respect sir, they likely do not. The focus for every agency's watch is completely differant, depending on the mission of that agency. Your guys will have the same access to information ours do, but Not to mention thast there are a number of sources you have we don't, and vice versa. That's why sharing and collaboration is so important.

2. EVERY federal agency has morning briefings or a morning read file.

Mr. Kaufman never claimed otherwise. He was simply describing how our operations work to those who may be unfamiliar with the system.

3. EVERY federal agency participates in "command post" exercises. Finished intelligence is how they build the scenarios.

See above comment.

Chance - Eos Blog Team

Submitted by Chance on

To Sandra:
Wheelchair bomber kills top Iraqi policeman

In case the link doesn't work, here is the article:

SAMARRA, Iraq - A suicide bomber in a wheelchair killed a top policeman and wounded four others in an attack on the police operations centre in the Iraqi city of Samarra on Monday, police said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but it bore the hallmarks of Sunni Islamist Al Qaeda, which the US military says carries out most suicide attacks in Iraq.

The bomber entered the operations centre in Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, and asked to speak to assistant police chief Major-General Abdul-Jabbar Rabee Muttar, said Captain Luay Mohammed.

Mohammed, an official in the Samarra police chief’s office, said the bomber detonated explosives hidden in the wheelchair. The attacker had met Muttar previously but he did not know what they had spoken about.

‘I was with the assistant police chief and we went downstairs to meet him (the bomber) in the reception area. He said he wanted to talk to the assistant police chief alone so we moved a few metres away,’ Mohammed said.

‘Then we saw flames and an explosion. The assistant police chief was beheaded. There were pieces of flesh from the suicide bomber,’ said Mohammed, who was slightly wounded in the explosion.

So, while I certainly am sorry that we have to inconvienance people, especially people in wheelchairs, incidents like the one above (2 weeks ago no less) are evidence that we aren't just making up some imaginary threat.

Chance - EoS Blog Team member

Submitted by Anonymous on


If America was in the middle of a civil war with an active insurgency, then, perhaps, your comparison might be valid. However, we are not.

If you want to disagree with the commentary by Sandra, then do so. But please refrain from the dramatic hyperbole that draws any comparison with a wheelchair bomber in a horrific place like Iraq to a wheelchair-bound passenger in, say, Sacramento or Dayton.

Submitted by Sandra on

Yep, Chance, I just knew that would be your response!

Submitted by Joe Screener on

To: "Dave X the first"

You have stated elsewhere in this blog that you do not and will not fly as long as TSA is in operation. Yet you return to this blog over and over again, with the same unchanging message. In any other forum you would be called a "troll."

Screening at airports has been going on for thirty years. We are doing the same work the former commercial screeners were doing. We are just doing it vastly more thoroughly.

Submitted by Chance on

Last post for a while I swear, but I just had to point out that once again, Godwin's Law has been proven:

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."'s_law

Chance - EoS Blog Team member.

Submitted by Anonymous on
So, while I certainly am sorry that we have to inconvienance people, especially people in wheelchairs, incidents like the one above (2 weeks ago no less) are evidence that we aren't just making up some imaginary threat.

Chance - EoS Blog Team member

Okay, fair enough. There has been at least one homicide bomber who was wheelchair bound. There have also been cases of explosive devices strapped to a donkey. Enough levity as we can both find absurdities to support our positions. I look at the intense screening procedures given to some the handicapped as an effort to get them to stop flying altogether. It is difficult to properly screen them. It might be highly unpleasant for your screeners to come in contact with the disabled. That being the case, I propose that your screeners give the handicapped/ill the full treatment so as to drive them away from airports and the screening process. Humans are intelligent and when presented with a process that they know from past experiences will be highly unpleasant are less likely to do things that subject them to the same experience in the future.
Submitted by Dave X The First on

Alex: "Dave, do you really feel that airports would be safer if TSA wasn't in place?"

If the Transportation Security Administration cares about transportation safety, it has to balance the costs of pushing people into other modes of transport. Flying is safer than driving, and TSA makes flying more awkward and expensive The Impact of Post 9/11 Airport Security Measures on the Demand for Air Travel finds 100 excess traffic fatalities due to TSA's screening. There is a significant cost of TSA forcing 2,000,000 passengers per day to do the hokey-pokey, and it is measurable in lives.

On the benefits side of the risk-tradeoff equation, is TSA more effective at keeping planes in the air than the armored cockpit doors? With your detection rates of 25-80% finding thousands of knives each day, hundreds to thousands of knives are getting through undetected and aren't causing planes to fall out of the sky. How many terrorists are trying to fly? Are you catching them all? Are there any to catch? Would we be better off with 38,000 more clerks aiding cops and the FBI rather than 38,000 TSOs?

If we spent twice the time and money on TSA, how many more terrorists would you catch? Would we be measurably safer?

From the insurance perspective, what will TSA do if a terrorist brings a plane down? Say "no one could have foreseen that Bluetooth could be as dangerous as an RC toy", "100% is impossible", "that TSO was a bad apple", "I guess they evolved quicker than us," and other excuses before you double your budget? Insurance isn't protection, it is a bet that should make you whole if the bad thing happens. TSA won't be able to make people whole after a terrorist attack. There is an insurance scam that works like TSA -- take people's money for very improbable events and sell the sham of safety, it is called meteorite insurance. BDOs cause arrest rate of about 1 in a million, and those don't seem to be terrorists, just ordinary criminals. Maybe TSA thinks of itself as firemen, soldiers, or police, but firemen actually save lives from real fires, soldiers actually fight real enemies, and police actually arrest criminals. TSA scares people and takes some of their waterbottles and knives, and lets the local cops arrest the priests who want to hide razors in bibles.

If Al Qaida was dumb enough to try 9/11 over again, how many of their box cutters would TSA find and take before waving them on through? Would they only need another 20 or so low-risk accomplices in order to fully arm themselves with knives. Of course they'd get themselves beaten unconcious by the passengers while trying to scrape their way into the cockpit, but that save wouldn't be a credit to the TSA.

If you are seriously looking for constructive suggestions on how to better spend the extra travel hour of 2,000,000 passengers per day and the time of 38,000 employees for safety, I'd say dump the liquids and shoe bans, and spend the time offering courses in first aid and self defense. With the first aid course, you might offset the cost in lives of inconveniences demanded by the TSA. With the self defense course, you'd make it harder to take hostages anywhere, even off of airplanes. But that's just my opinion on how to better make use of 2.3 million person-hours per day to improve security.

There's always a tradeoff, and TSA has not made the case that its even examined the costs of its policies, nor that it is responsible for the safety we do have.

And Chance: SPI isn't Samarra. TSA should adapt to the local risks rather than assume one size fits all.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The disabled only get the 'treatment' because they are inconvenient to the screening process. Make enough invalids fear flying and you don't have to deal with them.