December 12, 2009

Just When I Thought That Maybe…

…I could, in any kind of conscience, leave one of my few pet peeves, that being the incompetence of the Transportation Safety Administration, by the wayside, along comes this item.

The Transportation Security Administration inadvertently revealed closely guarded secrets related to airport passenger screening practices when it posted online this spring a document as part of a contract solicitation, the agency confirmed Tuesday.

The 93-page TSA operating manual details procedures for screening passengers and checked baggage, such as technical settings used by X-ray machines and explosives detectors. It also includes pictures of credentials used by members of Congress, CIA employees and federal air marshals, and it identifies 12 countries whose passport holders are automatically subjected to added scrutiny.

TSA officials said that the manual was posted online in a redacted form on a federal procurement Web site, but that the digital redactions were inadequate. They allowed computer users to recover blacked-out passages by copying and pasting them into a new document or an e-mail.


Yeah, I know, in the past I posted quite a bit about TSA, about their incompetence and the dangers it poses, as a result, to the millions of people who fly out of U.S. airports annually.

The problem, as I’ve said before, is not that the rank and file employees of the TSA are lazy, don’t want to do their jobs or what have you, and not even that they, themselves, are as incompetent as their agency is, as a whole.

Like any government entity, the TSA is run not by people who should be running it, ie veteran industry professionals who have been around the block a few times, but by political appointees who, despite flowery resumes of administrative excellence and vast bureaucratic experience, don’t know diddly about the hands-on aspects of that which they purport to command.

This was true at TSA’s inception, and it’s true today.

It was true under the Bush Administration and it’s true under the Obama Administration, and it’ll probably still be the same under the next administration.


Because those who run your — our — government, Democrat and Republican alike, care more about the repayment of political favors than they do about your — our — lives. Period.

Stewart A. Baker, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said that the manual will become a textbook for those seeking to penetrate aviation security and that its leaking was serious.

“It increases the risk that terrorists will find a way through the defenses,” Baker said. “The problem is there are so many different holes that while [the TSA] can fix any one of them by changing procedures and making adjustments in the process . . . they can’t change everything about the way they operate.”

Of course there are “so many different holes” — what do you expect when you entrust policies to people who shouldn’t even be managing a security agency?

Another former DHS official, however, called the loss a public relations blunder but not a major risk, because TSA manuals are shared widely with airlines and airports and are available in the aviation community.

“While it’s certainly a type of document you would not want to be released . . . it’s not something a determined expert couldn’t find another way,” the official said.

A “public relations blunder” is certainly of more worry to a government agency than a risk to the lives of those that depend upon them for security.

As for it’s not something a determined expert couldn’t find another way, well, to say that such a statement should earn the official who uttered it an immediate date with a firing squad would be completely accurate in my book. A dedicated security professional would be looking for methods of preventing “a determined expert” from “finding it another way”.

The “former DHS official”, in my professional estimate, is a piece of shit who has no business in the Protection Industry, not even emptying the waste baskets of the folks actively engaged in doing the job at hand. But then again, look who’s running the Department of Homeland Security — Janet Napolitano, no real, hands-on security experience, instead, an infinitely more relevant qualification, political relevance.

This is a measure of how cavalier, in the name of self and party serving politics, the government can be with the safety of we, the people, whom they are sworn to protect and defend.

Of course, there’s the usual bland, butt covering form letter style malarkey from the TSA.

“TSA takes this matter very seriously and took swift action when this was discovered. A full review is now underway,” the agency said in a statement. “TSA has many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe and to constantly adapt to evolving threats. TSA is confident that screening procedures currently in place remain strong.”

To be perfectly blunt, what’s needed is management, from top to bottom, of the Transportation Safety Administration by purely meritoriously appointed or hired, experienced security professionals who have no political or other debts to anyone in the administration or anyplace else in government.

Such people would ensure the proper training and, in effect, that those trained in each specialty area have completely absorbed all of said training before they are deployed. That these employees are properly motivated. That their supervisory personnel are both responsible people and are experts themselves at their subordinates’ duties, “been there, done that”.

The incompetence at hand, as such, makes for a rather grim joke.

Employees at the Transportation Security Administration inadvertently exposed classified information about the agency’s security procedures because, apparently, they don’t know how PDF documents work.

Read on…

Trackback URL for this post:

14 Responses to “Just When I Thought That Maybe…”

  1. BB-Idaho Says:

    One ponders the efficacy of TSA airport operations. I see where morale is poor (one lady reported quitting after a couple years of keeping mothers from processing their infants through the x-ray unit). It is also reported that a few TSA experts cruise the hallways looking at travelers for ‘that look’ which is apparently different than the look of the desperately late folk, the pissed off flight cancelled look or the
    confused look of the old folk who used to crank start their model A’s. Our small airport installed an explosives detector. It was based on trace nitrous
    fume detection, which invariably sidelined travelers to and from our ammunition plant (including non English
    speakers from Interpol!) So good was the device that
    quench plumes from TNR production would set it off on
    days when the wind was westerly and over 5 mph. We got that settled; then a night flight came in over the ammo plant while we were testing tracer ammo: he radioed the tower that he was aborting landing and it looked like ‘Tan Son Nhat down there’. Being retired, I sort of miss the interesting phone calls. But, in defense of the TSA electronic slip-up, heck it happens. I one time received the entire cost rollout on a Titan missile when the guy in DC pressed my name rather than the corp. dude above me on the list accidently, and I won’t even go into the time I inadvertantly sent a message (in Runic, yet)to a line supervisor I didn’t even know. *sigh*

  2. Seth Says:

    BB –

    one lady reported quitting after a couple years of keeping mothers from processing their infants through the x-ray unit


    I suppose that’s what one would call prevention of “customer error”. :-)


    Sure, though, electronic slip-ups, like typos, happen.

    However, those entrusted with the security of others’ lives and property don’t — can’t have the same margin for error as those in other professions, just as you couldn’t allow for mistakes when it came down to the hands-on stuff with explosives, because a solitary mistake can cost that one commodity each of us possesses that, apart from theological considerations, is irretrievable.

    When a security organization of any kind permits anything other than perfection, or as close to perfection as is possible, in its employees, training and operational procedures, it is negligent. The fact that those responsible didn’t make absolutely sure where the information was going to end up and who would have access to it before they hit “enter”, so to speak, says it all: They either do not belong in the Protection Industry, or those responsible for their motivation and training do not belong.

    In the security business, “those responsible” include everybody, all the way up the chain of command to the guy/gal at the top…

    …well, whattaya know, ain’t Janet Napolitano part of that bunch?

  3. BB-Idaho Says:

    Napolitano inherited the organisation. Why, pshaw, ol
    J. Edgar Hoover would take awhile to get it right. Of course, he would want to stay on for another 50 years. :)

  4. Seth Says:

    BB –

    I hate to say it, even as I am a fan of sorts of Schlussel’s website, but I posted on that very same thing, I believe more than a year prior to the linked post, when it first began being talked up in my industry. Some ex-employees were even donating no longer needed uniforms or selling them to second hand shops.

    Leave it to the feds to be that far behind the community of career security professionals, timewise, before they discover the need to “investigate” a chink in our nation’s protective armor.

    Then again, we are talking TSA, and Ms. Schlussel is right on point in eliminating the “S” from TSA or, perhaps even more accurately, substituting it with Sh-t.

    Back to Napolitano, though: Given the very real gravity of the position she accepted and currently purports to do under the auspices of the Obama regime, the fact of her acceptance of the job shows her to be nothing more than just another unctuous, personally ambitious, sleazy politician.

    “Why?” You ask.

    “Because,” I reply, “I would say the same of a barroom sweep who agrees to perform open heart surgery on some poor, unsuspecting soul because the pay check is better or because being a surgeon carries more prestige, and it’s just too bad for the ill-fated patient; It’s only about the swamper, after all.”


    Of course, he would want to stay on for another 50 years.

    If those old rumors about the late FBI director are true, Napolitano could as well, and at less personal expense, since she’s already got the wardrobe. :-)

  5. BB-Idaho Says:

    I suspect that being so large
    and TSA being a recent ’scratchbuilt’ entity, they suffer the same hubris & ennui (not sure what those words mean, but I like em) as even large private companies do. One of my pet peeves in moving through
    our business system was the inefficiency, paralysis and lack of creativity which seemed proportional to
    corporate size. Not defending here, just observing…

  6. Seth Says:

    BB –

    Irregardless, as somebody or other used to say several decades ago, certain responsibilities cannot be performed on a trial and error basis, among those the protection of the unarmed and innocent.

    In my opinion, when the government denies citizens the right to supply their own protection, when the government assumes the responsibility of protecting its civilians, it does not have the luxury of giving anything but its omnipotent best, because when it screws up and someone gets killed, he or she is dead and therefore unable to hear the government’s apology for failing him/her. Ever.

    My point is that by appointing the Napolitanos of the world and the Napolitanos of the world appointing subordinates for political reasons rather than reasons of qualification for the job, because of politics, we are denying those the government has taken an oath to protect (and who pay taxes for same) anything even appraching the best protection.

    Anybody in any kind of policy making or field related supervisory position at DHS and at TSA should be a security professional by trade, not a career bureaucrat, an accomplished sycophant, or someone’s good for nothing son-in-law who needs a job.

    Unfortunately, this is far from the case.

  7. NH Meri Wido Says:

    OOH…now you’ve gone and finally done it!!!!…hit on one of my all time pet peeves….TSA (indeed a close second for proof that “Peter’s Principle” is alive and in full bloom). Seth, in my last life I wrote technical manuals both for the DOD an private sector. In fact, I was hired by a company called AS&E to write User Manuals for several devices that are currently being used by TSA and others for scanning parcels and persons as they prepare to travel by public transportation (planes, trains, and yes, even long distance buses). The instructions were clear enough for an 8 year old to comprehend (and to perform at a ‘Dog and Pony’ show for the clients)…just not a government trained TSA employee. I learned that the hard way a while back when a TSA (so called) specialist wanded a small, electronic device I carried. The wand setting was too high and as a result the young woman wielding the wand fried the mother board inside and destroyed the saved contents (much of which could never be replaced). After numerous complaints I was told to submit a bill and they would replace or reimburse me for it…that was the last I ever heard on the subject…and no! there was no replacement/reimbursement either. Fast forward to 2005…traveling from San Francisco to San Diego the TSA searched my luggage and ‘lifted’ a leatherman tool neatly leaving me a notice that they had searched my luggage. Again, I filed a complaint and was told that my small leatherman had posed a security issue and so had been removed from my luggage that was transported in the belly of the plane. What the TSA are really good at is stealing from travelers that comply with the security codes….and as for profiling…well I’ve been singled out on almost every flight I’ve been on since 2002…I guess the new terrorist is in his/her 60s, overweight, very pale in coloring, and an American born legal citizen. Interesting that isn’t it?

  8. Seth Says:

    NH Meri Wido –

    All the B.S. you’ve run into is simply par for the course with the entire badly coordinated quagmire that is TSA.

    Most of what we, the traveller, are exposed to is useless cosmetic idiocy geared toward making very sure that your garden variety 60s, overweight, very pale in coloring, American born legal citizen doesn’t stand a chance at hijacking an airplane, thereby leaving the job to the real pros who are trained in compounds in Syria and Lebanon and whose swarthy complexions guarantee them minimal scrutiny when boarding a flight upon which they intend mayhem.

    The only reason for this mess is, as I said, that the whole show is planned and run by political appointees and feckless academics, none of whom have an iota of real security experience.

    So we get what we have, unnecessary inconvenience for those whose hearts are pure while the not-so-pure-at-heart need only do a little research to find one or more of the many holes in the TSA’s dubious “armor”.

  9. Always On Watch Says:

    More government negligence and incompetency!

    Are we asking to be hit or what?

  10. Seth Says:

    AOW –

    We are begging to be hit.

    It’s not that the “powers that be” want us to suffer more terrorist attacks, it’s just that they prefer to gamble our security away as an issue that plays second fiddle to political considerations — resulting in blatantly unqualified DHS and TSA leadership and political correctness, in order to appease a minority voting block, as a substitute for reality based security measures… and then they sit there, fingers crossed, hoping that nobody hits us.

    For a more in-depth and somewhat alarming story on the issue than the one I linked in my post, there is this one from Homeland Security Today:

  11. Always On Watch Says:

    Close call yesterday with that Delta flight.

  12. Seth Says:

    AOW –

    Yes, and the Muz who tried to pull it off was apparently an untrained amateur, which doesn’t say much for security when the passenger boarded at Schiphol.

    He was, however, on a terrorist watch list and still got aboard the airplane, no problem, carrying both an explosive agent and a syringe full of whatever detonating compound he used to ignite the goodies he’d brought along.

    As usual, the response from Napolitano is the typical form-letter, closing the barn door kind of thing. “We’re going to do this and institute that, yadda yadda yadda…”

    Now, they say they’re going to vary passenger screening measures at different airports so as to be “unpredictable”.

    BTW, the agent he was reportedly carrying was PETN, a seriously dangerous explosive:

  13. GM Roper Says:

    “inadvertently revealed”

    I don’t know Seth, it seems to me to be part of their bowing and scraping to the islamofascists. Unfortunately, it will hurt an awful lot of Americans and other innocents.

  14. Seth Says:

    GM –

    What we have in place of any real security is, quite simply, a compromise with politics, which include political correctness — largely consisting of said bowing and scraping to Islamofascists — and, as I have said, one comprised more of cosmetic measures than anything else.

    Example: The Muz aboard the Delta flight the other day went to the lavatory awhile before before the flight landed, complaining of stomach pains.

    Now, among the measures being taken aboard some flights is not permitting passengers to leave their seats during the last hour in the air.

    This is pure cosmetics: The policy making know-nothings at TSA are simply doing something both useless and passenger-inconvenient, another placebo to falsely assure the passengers whose lives these bureaucrats are endangering on a day-to-day basis.

    It’s truly disconcerting that the government can have such contempt for the intelligence of the people it is supposed to be serving by foisting upon us both the useless product they serve up and the justifications they present for it.

    Perhaps this is what we, as a population, get when the politicians realize how gullible we are — what else would explain the voting public in a freedom loving country that would elect a Pelosi, a Reid or an Obama?