Tuesday, May 29, 2012

And from the TSA...

I am certain that the TSA has become very professional in sending out this form letter:


Thank you for your e-mail regarding your screening experience.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) seeks to provide a high level of security and customer service to those who pass through our screening checkpoints. Our policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers, regardless of their personal situations and needs, are treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy.

Every person and item must be screened before entering the secured area of an airport, and the manner in which the screening is conducted is important. Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) must conduct additional screening to resolve an alarm of the Walk-Through Metal Detector (WTMD) or to resolve an anomaly discovered during Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) screening. All TSOs are required to be considerate and thoughtful and are trained to explain what they are doing and what will happen next in the process. TSA regrets if this was not your experience.

In addition, passengers may request a private screening if additional screening is required or at any time during the screening process. A companion may accompany a passenger who needs assistance to the private screening after the companion clears screening. In addition, screeners should offer a private screening before beginning a patdown inspection that will require displacing or lifting clothing. Passengers may choose to remain in the public area rather than go to a private area for screening, however, passengers who refuse screening in the public or private area will not be permitted to enter the secured area.

Because your complaint concerns the conduct of TSOs at a specific airport we have forwarded a copy of your letter to the Customer Service Manager (CSM) at that location. Passengers may register a concern or complaint with security through the TSA CSM or TSA supervisory personnel at each airport. Customer Service Managers may be contacted via the “Talk to TSA” section of the TSA Web site at https: contact.tsa.dhs.gov talktotsa talktotsa.aspx.

TSA monitors the number and nature of complaints we receive in order to track trends and spot areas of concern that may require special attention. This ongoing process enables us to ensure prompt, corrective action whenever we determine that security screening policies need modification or specific employees or screener teams are the subjects of repeated complaints.

We consider your concerns to be a serious issue for our attention. TSA appreciates that you took the time to share your concerns with us. We are confident that through the concerns brought to us by the traveling public, we will be better able to address problem areas with corrective action.

We hope this information is helpful.

TSA Contact Center

A Senator's Response

I had hoped for more, but what was I thinking?  From the Honorable Lamar Alexander, Senior Senator from Tennessee.  At least he did reply.

Dear Todd,
Thanks very much for getting in touch with me and for letting me know what’s on your mind regarding the airport security.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a tough task: keeping flights safe while respecting Americans’ privacy. The agency doesn’t always strike the right balance, and the actions of individual TSA agents can seem misguided and demeaning at times. I have heard from many Tennesseans who have shared their concerns about airport security procedures, and I personally have been subjected to extra screening as an airline passenger. There have been congressional hearings on TSA screening procedures, and I’m sure that Congress will continue to show a lot of interest moving forward. TSA has already adjusted some procedures in response to concerns expressed by the public, and those procedures are subject to constant review in the face of ever-changing threats.
Many Americans have concerns about the “full body” scanners and “pat-down” screenings we’ve all heard about. Independent evaluations by various medical and scientific experts indicate that the health effects of x-rays from a full body scan are equivalent to the amount of radiation exposure faced by airline passengers during two minutes of flying at high altitudes, but Congress and TSA must carefully review any evidence suggesting the scanners aren’t safe. Congress also needs to conduct close oversight to ensure that privacy safeguards are truly protecting the American people if, in fact, these scanners are needed to keep us safe. All passengers who go through pat-downs have certain rights – such as requesting the pat-down be conducted in a private room and witnessed by a person of your choice – but we need to do more to ensure that such screenings are done in the most consistent, considerate, and discreet manner possible. Because pat-downs are very intrusive, we need to make sure they are only used in limited circumstances when alternative procedures are not sufficient.
Keeping Americans safe is TSA’s paramount mission, but I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to help TSA strike the right balance and avoid subjecting airline travelers to unnecessary and embarrassing procedures. These are important issues, and I’m glad you took the time to let me know where you stand. I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as airline security is discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee.


Monday, May 14, 2012

My 40 minutes from Hell

I am writing this account of my experience with the Transportation Security Administration on May 11, 2012 to bring about a change in the TSA and the Standard Operating Procedures that it employs.  This is an actual experience.  From reading on the internet and seeing videos on YouTube, this is a wider problem than I believed possible.  The actions by this government agency are not in keeping with any of the foundations on which the United States of America was built.  To the contrary, using the mantra of ‘safety’, this largely unprofessional police force has the ability to suspend the Bill of Rights and threaten all United States Citizens with arrest.

For information purposes, I am a 48 year old Caucasian man who travels via air for business between 70,000 and 110,000 miles per year.  I have been doing this since 2003.  While I have observed many issues with TSA during that time, this is the first situation that I have experienced this level of humiliation.  I am submitting this complaint to the TSA and Members of Congress with the expectation that to do so may result in retaliation by the TSA against me.

My 40 minutes from Hell

The incident began at approximately 11:40 am on Friday, May 11, 2012 at security checkpoint 10 (the back security gate) of Minneapolis St. Paul international airport, also known as MSP.

While I hold a TSA Global Entry ID Card, that makes me a 'trusted traveler' and eligible to go through reduced security as a ‘known traveler’ at checkpoint 4 at MSP, I elected to go through checkpoint 10 due to the proximity to Hertz Rental Car Return and my gate to Memphis, C26.

As I entered the checkpoint, there was a rush of 5-7 airline employees (pilots and flight attendants).  The line was already slow due to several travelers that did not know travel requirements as it pertains to going through the imaging device. 

Once these people proceeded through the scanner, I was cleared via the TSA Officer at the desk (checking my driver’s license and my electronic boarding pass).  I had already emptied my pants pockets into my jacket and removed my watch.  In order to expedite the process, I put my jacket and cell phone into a bin, and placed my liquids bag with my iPad in a 2nd bin.  I placed the bins on the belt, removed my shoes, placed my shoes between the bins, removed my belt, put it in one of the bins, and placed my suitcase and backpack (TSA Approved laptop backpack) on the belt.  This is the same procedure I do at least twice almost every week.

For clarity, at this point I had on my person: wedding ring, college ring, small crucifix necklace, Nike Bracelet, shirt, underwear, jeans and socks.

There was another TSA Officer pushing bags through the belt.  I waited until instructed, entered the imaging scanner, turned the correct way, held my hands up, waited, and stepped out when instructed.

I had just entered Hell.

(The following can be verified through video surveillance footage from the TSA)

I exited the scanner.

I held out my arm displaying the Nike bracelet (which was in plain sight) to allow the Officer to examine it.

I was immediately held.  The TSA Officer outside of the scanner called "male assist".  Then he said "clear the image".  I thought something had happened behind me.  I turned behind me, and noticed a screen on the backside of the scanner with a cartoon character on it - that immediately went dark.  In many times through these scanners, I had never seen that screen before.  Frankly, I thought nothing more about it.

At this point an unkempt TSA Officer came up to me and told me that there was an anomaly on the scanner image in my groin area and they had to pat me down.  I have been patted down before.  Initially, I was not concerned.  I was frustrated by the waste of time, but not concerned.  It was then further explained to me that because the anomaly was in my groin area, I would be subjected to a full body pat down in a secluded area.  I was stunned.  I knew what this meant.  I had heard about full body pat downs including genital holding, and seen the video clips of angry people.  I had thought those people in those videos were all over reacting and embellishing. 

I was wrong.

I was not allowed to touch my bags or any of my possessions.  I explained I was a known traveler and had a TSA approved identification.  It made no difference.  I asked for a supervisor, and I was told that this unkempt Officer was a supervisor.  I asked for another supervisor, that request was denied.  I wanted the Officer’s name, I was denied again.  I wanted to leave the checkpoint and go to checkpoint 4. I was told that would shut down the airport and I would be arrested.  I asked to see the image; I was told it was cleared from the system.

I was, completely powerless against an unnamed and unidentified assailant.  This is just a simple fact.  To say I was seething mad would be the understatement of the millennia.

I was taken to an enclosed room with this unkempt officer and another officer.  The 2nd officer appeared to have not bathed in several days.  At this point, I will confess I went on quite a cursing tirade.  I was not going to take this invasion for no reason lightly.  I was threatened by the Officer that if I was belligerent, he would call the Airport police.  I told him to do it.  There are not too many times I want to be in a room with 2 guys that look like this and agree to be violated.  For clarity, if the guys were Brad Pitt and George Clooney, this treatment would still be an outrage. 

He had to go through a litany of explanations as to what he was going to do.  I will put this in very simple terms.  He placed his hands on every part of my body, from the top of my head to the literal bottom of my feet.  He cupped my genitals in his hand while he felt up my thighs.  He gave me a verbal play by play of every action - so at least there was that.  I had to sit in a chair so he could feel the bottom of my feet. 

Honest to god, this is not a joke. 

Someday, I may make fun of this event, but not today. Recounting this story 90 minutes after the incident makes my skin crawl.  Thinking through it for three days changed nothing.  It was awful.  I firmly believe the way I got through it was clenching my teeth knowing I was going to find a way to change this over-reaching organization. 

The Officer left the room to have his gloves checked - I assume in the explosive sniffing device used by TSA, but I don't know.  He then said I could go.  It was around noon.

I voted no on leaving.  I told him to have the airport police come to the checkpoint and have the TSA head there as well.  They came.  I informed the Airport Police I wanted to file a sexual assault charge against the TSA officer.  I had no other option afforded to me.  I felt I was violated.  With deep respect to any woman who has ever been the victim of a true sex based crime, I cannot imagine how they endured the violation and humiliation.  Regardless of what I experienced with this TSA Officer, my humiliation does not compare to that.  But I was violated, none-the-less.

It's amazing what happens when you take a position like that.  Lots of people seemed interested in talking to me.  I was prepared to forgo my flight, trip home, and pay the price to get the warrant sworn out and see that bastard taken out in cuffs. 

What was the Officer’s excuse?  It's our SOP - Standard Operating Procedure.   Or in other words, I was ordered to do that.  Seems that was used in Germany from about 1939 to 1945.

The end is less dramatic.  The best Agent I have ever encountered from TSA came and talked to me for the next 20 minutes.  Or rather he listened.  This Agent did show me that there are a few good TSA people.  I don't believe there are many.  I didn't file the charges against the TSA officer at that time, although I wish now I had gone ahead and done it.  I will wish every day for the rest of my life that particular TSA Officer meets a painful and fiery end. There is no question in my mind that he should not be employed with TSA or any government agency.

I will tell you I thanked the multiple Airport Police officers for coming (must have been the best action of the day considering the number), and went to my gate.  It was 12:25.

After a few days of consideration, I will file a complaint with the TSA.  Initially, after a bit of cool down, I wasn't going to file a complaint for fear of retaliation and being put on a no fly list or something worse. But this is for my piece of mind.  It is for my wife and daughters.  This is for my friends.  No one should be subjected to these intrusive pat-downs.  

I do fly for my job, to lose that privilege would affect my employment. It sounds crazy, but the TSA has too much power and too many secrets.  I will appeal to my Congressional delegation.   I will do all of that, and I have complete faith not one thing will change with the TSA.

Flying the way that I do, I have had ample time to observe the TSA in multiple cities and airports.  I have joked at their procedures, but I have been thankful for the screening that allowed me to be a known traveler, just so I could keep on my shoes.  In order to have that privilege, I filed an application, had a background check done, and gave the TSA my biometrics – just in the name of wearing shoes. 

I have all kinds of cute comments floating in my head – anticipating friends reactions - like “maybe if it was Kate Uptown doing the pat down” or "heck Todd, you should have thanked the guy".  There is obviously some comment I should make about how I thought my wife was the only one who "had" to do that to me.

All I know is that I was violated.  TSA represents a facade of security and NOT real security. 

There is not enough oversight of the agency.  There is not enough power for people to object.  There is no way to really get results from issues.  There are countless complaints against the TSA everywhere.  There are so many complaints, I realize this compliant will just be more ‘noise’.  There is little action to correct.  The TSA had a budget of approximately $8.1 billion in 2011.  If we are spending that much money, I would advise to hire better people.  While there may be good people in TSA, the majority of the screeners seem to be unqualified, unintelligent, uninformed and unable to make a decision.

The situation with the TSA is so bad, that regardless of the calls by Members of Congress for the resignation of John Pistole (head of TSA) or for reform of TSA procedures, the TSA operates in ‘business as usual’ mode.  Bills are introduced in Congress to correct the issues – but they do not pass.  TSA Officers are enabled to hide from the public, not giving names, badge numbers, or any other information – while they can have all information on United States Citizens.  This is just wrong.

Somehow, I am reminded that freedom and liberty are usually not taken away in an instant.  Instead, the loss of freedom erodes over time.  One day you realize you are no longer free.  You have the illusions of some freedoms - you can vote.  You can move.  You can watch your big TV.  You live in a police state.  You are "safe".

I want to be free.  I want my friends and family to be safe.  But we have given up too much.  The terrorists are winning, because we are no longer free!  Our President can be in support of same sex marriage, but when will he support those whose rights are being violated by the very government he leads?

This is a call to Members of Congress.  Take Action.  You are our only hope.  Reel in the TSA.  Make these nameless officers accountable to the people they serve.  Save the freedoms so many had died to protect.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Swan's Speech

It seems I can never find the time ( or indeed make the time ) to go and see movies when they initially come out anymore.

The last exception to that was for "Star Trek", the fun version. That's the one that Bad Robot productions brought out in 2009. I did see that movie on opening weekend with my dad, my partner in Star Trek since William Shatner debuted as Captain Kirk in 1966.

So this weekend, when I found myself with a lot of seat time in a plane, I watched both "Black Swan" and "The King's Speech".

No doubt both were worth every bit of the acclaim granted to them by the Oscars.

Natalie Portman was terrifying as her sanity slipped away in the Black Swan. In fact, I too, was having trouble separating real from fantasy in her life - kudos to both the screen writers and Portman for that.

Prior to seeing the reviews, I had read how this was a break-out role for her, But neither Hollywood nor critics seldom write the truth. This time was different. In my opinion, Portman distinguished herself as one of top actresses of her generation.

As the second film in my sitting, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush we also great, but never had a chance against Portman. I was still twitchy from Black Swan, long after the King's Speech.

See them both, but one at a time. The King will thank you for it.

- YES! It is revolutionary. Posted using BlogPress from the INCREDIBLE iPad.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Acting like a Southern Gentleman

It has been a while since I had the privilege of traveling globally for my company. And yes, it is a privilege.

The best part about hitting the road to visit the cultures that are different from the good ole USA is to see the cultures that really are different.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to spend time in India, and frankly, became enthralled with the country and it's unique people.

This week, I find myself in a not to different from USA place, Brazil. Just so happens that I got lucky enough to find myself here at the exact same time as President Obama. He of course, is on his Latin American tour.

If you expect that the American President is coming will make any real difference for the average Brazilian, think again. While so many of our European friends think Barack Obama has 'rock star' status, our southern neighbors have a different thought. In reality, it is indifference.

And why shouldn't they?

We are a country that has largely ignored South America. Even when we have looked to the South, it has very often been with disdain.

Take for instance, Brazil. the largest democracy in the Americas, excluding the United States. For some reason, after 9/11, we established that every person entering the United States from Brazil must have a VISA and go through our typical "over the top" security measures. Not to be outdone, Brazil decided what's good for the goose, is good for them. So USA visitors to Brazil are subject to the same restrictions.

It's just plain dumb. President Obama did not create the issue nor has he fixed it.

This is not a President making history for his foreign policy, despite his Nobel Peace Prize.

President Obama will start his Southern Swing to promote the United States as partners, looking for American jobs created by demand from Brazil and other nations for American goods. Good for him. He is our President and he needs to be concerned with the job situation in the United States first.

Perhaps one move would be to take the VISA demands down on Brazilian citizens and acknowledge Brazil as a true friend and partner in 'American' democracy.

We might get a few more churrascarias in the US. By the way, I am writing this from Master Beef. I highly recommend it.

If the President can actually do this, maybe we can work on getting some Cuban Cigars in the United States as well, rather than opening a third front in the third World War. (I know we had to stop Qaddafi, but no one can feel good about another Muslim war for the United States. I sure do wish Big Ron had got that guy in 1986)

- YES! It is revolutionary. Posted using BlogPress from the INCREDIBLE iPad.

Location:Acesso para Rodovia SP-075,Indaiatuba,Brazil

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Cold War on the Northern Border

I spent part of this past week in Windsor, Ontario, which is just across the Detroit River from (surprise) Detroit, Michigan.

It was in the confined space of the 'no man's' land that is the border area between countries that I discovered that the United States of America is involved in another Cold War. The antagonist in this case is not the dreaded Evil Empire as President Ronald Reagan so aptly named the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but instead is our northern neighbor, those overly aggressive Canadians.

Yes, it is the Canucks that now hold a place in American History previously reserved for those nations of the former Soviet Bloc. I can see it will be a very short time before students in elementary schools begin to fear everything Canadian and run to hide at the very hint of the lyrics of "Oh Canada".

How did we come to such a place you might ask. That is indeed the question.

The reality is this. Over the course of 3 days and 4 border crossings, what I discovered was a policy of intimidation, contempt and general rudeness from none other than the officers of the United States Border Patrol.

I was both ashamed and appalled. There was not one person that I encountered as a countryman that I am proud to say represented my nation to those entering - not one.

No doubt the US forces were 'over the top' in their Black Uniforms and intimidating actions. There dress was more reminiscent of a police state than any other thing. Think about the jackbooted thugs depicted in futuristic movies crashing through your doors and yanking family members to some dark place while they beat the holy heck out of them for some trumped up charge. That kind of intimidation. Obviously, these people were trained in their jobs by watching the movie "Vendetta", but failed to recognize the bad guys.

Too much? Don't believe it? How about a young girl being detained for an hour without parents? How about Being pulled from you car simply because you drive up holding your passport and say "Nothing to declare". How about refusing a passport because it was not handed in with another passport?

I lived through September 11, 2001. I will never forget it. I also stood in fear for years, before I recognized that to be free means inherently we are not safe. There is a trade off. Police States are safe. I just don't want to live in one. And neither should other Americans.

So is all this brought on by a little rudeness at the Canadian border? Yes it is. For the last 197 years, the United States has been at PEACE with Canada. The last issue was during the War of 1812. I dare say no one remembers that. We share a common heritage with our neighbors to the North. But over the last 8 years, because of the large unprotected border, we have gone security crazy and now view anyone traveling through that border with disdain. AND CANADA IS OUR LARGEST TRADING PARTNER!

It is easier to cross between European Countries than Between the US and Canada. Something is wrong with that very sentence.

Ronald Reagan called America "The Shining City upon a hill". Today that city is less shining, and much darker. The policies of the past that have not been eradicated as yet, must be erased from our society. Only then will America return to the place envisioned by President Reagan.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Just starting out...

So this will not be interesting, but since I know so many that have started a blog, how could I be any different?