Misadventures in TSA Airport Screening

If you’re traveling internationally and don’t want to be labeled as a terrorist or drug runner by the secretive (albeit partially dysfunctional and inefficient) Department of Homeland Security (DHS) algorithms, you want to be careful what books and other reading material you bring to read on the plane. Records recently revealed to Wired.com reportedly show that the government has been selectively storing that type of information for years.

The records (the most current of which are from 2004) show that the government routinely records the race of people they pull aside for extra screening when they enter the country as well as the cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors regarding their purpose for traveling.

One record noted Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) co-founder John Gilmore’s choice of reading material and worry about the number of small flashlights he had packed for his trip. The records contain a lot of sensitive information and it appears that the DHS hasn’t exactly been forthright with U.S. citizens (the DHS has been caught lying more than once).

The Automated Targeting System (ATS) scrutinizes every passenger entering or leaving the country, telling agents who to give extra screening to. Records include airline-record collections and screening records mined for the controversial DHS passenger rating system.

The ATS mines intelligence data from law enforcement and regularatory databases, looking for “high-risk” targets not already on the terrorist watchlists.

Information is stored for years and usually includes destinations, phone and e-mail contact information, address, meal requests, special health requests, payment information and frequent-flyer numbers. Also included in some is the race of the passenger as well as phone numbers of overseas family members, and European flights booked seperately overseas from an international itinerary, not to mention inspection notes from earlier border inspections.

Federal Watch List Full Of Flaws

Aside from all the incorrect labeling and racial profiling done to regular U.S. citizens due to the dysfunctional data-mining programs by the federal government, the programs are also mistaking government employees and U.S. servicemen for foreign terrorists.

The records reportedly show that having high-level security clearances won’t keep you off the TSA terrorist watch list. Among others who have missed flights and been caught up in bureaucratic cluster you-know-whats, the list has caught:

  • A State Department diplomat who protested that “I fly 100,00 miles a year and am tired of getting hassled at Dulles airport — and airports worldwide — because my name apparently closely resembles that of a terrorist suspect.”
  • A person with an Energy Department security clearance.
  • An 82-year-old veteran who says he’s never even had a traffic ticket.
  • A technical director at a science and technology company who has been working with the Pentagon on chemical and biological weapons defense.
  • A U.S. Navy officer who has been enlisted since 1984.
  • A high-ranking government employee with a better-than-top-secret clearance who is also a U.S. Army Reserve major.
  • A federal employee traveling on government business who says the watch list matching “has resulted in ridiculous delays at the airports, despite my travel order, federal ID and even my federal passport.”
  • A high-level civil servant at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
  • An active-duty Army officer who had served four combat tours (including one in Afghanistan) and who holds a top-secret clearance.
  • A retired U.S. Army officer and antiterrorism/force-protection officer with expertise on weapons of mass destruction who was snared when he was put back on active-duty status while flying on a ticket paid for by the Army.
  • A former Pentagon employee and current security-cleared U.S. Postal Service contractor.
  • Also held up was a Continental Airlines flight-crew member traveling as a passenger, who complained to TSA, “If I am safe enough to work on a plane then I should be fine to be a passenger sleeping.”

Outcomes of the complaints from the incorrectly listed citizens was not recorded in the recently released reports.

Threatened While Trying to Get Off The Terrorist Watch List

In typical governmental fashion, getting on the watch list is a lot easier than getting removed from it. As it stands, if you want to clear your name, you need to submit several notarized copies of your identification. If you’re lucky, the TSA might check their databases against details in the classified database, add them to a cleared list and provide you with a letter attesting to your status.

A TSA spokeswoman said the system works. Since October 2005 (the most current figures available), more than 28,000 people have filed paperwork to clear their names. Due to ‘National Security’, the spokeswoman wouldn’t say how many of the 28,000 individuals were cleared.

Massachusetts resident Bethan Brome Lilja and her son continuously get selected for extra screening when they travel. After tiring of it, she called the TSA call center where she was told by an employee named Eva that the FBI was looking for someone with her name, and advised her to watch what she was saying since the call was recorded and was told that “some guys might come knocking on your door.” Her husband Jonathan never gets pulled aside for extra screening.

Links to More Information

U.S. Airport Screeners Are Watching What You Read article from Wired.com

Feds’ Watch List Eats Its Own article from Wired.com

DHS fudged test results, watchdog agency says article from CNET News

The Weird Russian Mind-Control Research Behind a DHS Contract article from Wired.com

Republicans pushed ‘bogus’ terror threat to expand FISA, lawmaker says article from Raw Story

When the Director of National Intelligence (Mike McConnell) misleads the Senate article and video from Crooks and Liars

Spy Master Admits Error – Intel czar Mike McConnell told Congress a new law helped bring down a terror plot. The facts say otherwise article from MSNBC News:

“In a new embarrassment for the Bush administration’s top spymaster, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is withdrawing an assertion he made to Congress this week that a recently passed electronic-surveillance law helped U.S. authorities foil a major terror plot in Germany.”

The lies of Alan Greenspan article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Alan Greenspan has come back from the tomb of history to correct the record. He did not make any mistakes in his 18-year tenure as Federal Reserve chairman. He did not endorse the regressive Bush tax cuts of 2001 that pumped up the federal deficits and aggravated inequalities. He did not cause the housing bubble that is now in collapse. He did not ignore the stock market bubble that subsequently melted away and cost investors $6 trillion. He did not say the Iraq war is “largely about oil.” Check the record. These are all lies.”

Daily Kos: Republicans Block Voting Machine Testing in Ohio article from Daily Kos

U.S. Is Paying Off Iraq’s Worst War Criminals in Attempt To Ward Off Attacks article and video from AlterNet

Lawyer takes legal look at war on terror article from the associated press

ISN Security Watch – The architects of Iraq article

Drift into war with Iran out of control, says UN article from the Guardian UK

Iraqis say U.S. should stop passing blame article from Yahoo! News

Terrorized by ‘War on Terror’ article from the Washington Post:

“The “war on terror” has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration’s elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America’s psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.”

Blackwater’s Wide Latitude In Iraq – Conflict in Iraq article from MSNBC News:

“Security firm held ‘untouchable’ status under State Department’s watch:

Blackwater USA, the private security company involved in a Baghdad shootout last weekend, operated under State Department authority that exempted the company from U.S. military regulations governing other security firms, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials and industry representatives.”

Another delay in returning Iraq to local control: Pentagon report highlights difficulties in developing Iraq police forces article from MSNBC News:

“In another sign of U.S. struggles in Iraq, the target date for putting Iraqi authorities in charge of security in all 18 provinces has slipped yet again, to at least July.”

The Daily Show: Goodbye to Gonzo article and video from Crooks and Liars

Bush inartfully suggests Saddam killed Mandela article and video from Think Progress:

“In a press conference this morning, President Bush tried to assert that Saddam’s brutal rule over Iraq wiped the country clean of potential democratic reformers — individuals who may have possessed leadership skills like former South African President Nelson Mandela. In doing so, Bush inartfully suggested Saddam killed Mandela:

I thought an interesting comment was made — somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, “Now, where’s Mandela?” Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.

For the record, Nelson Mandela is still alive while Saddam Hussein is dead.”

Did CIA kidnap vacationer? It’s a state secret article from the Christian Science Monitor

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