Time To Test our Might & Will
By Sibel Edmonds STAFF WRITER
The movement against TSA’s systematic degradation of our nation seems to be gaining a bit of momentum; long overdue. A few lawmakers are making some noise. Let’s hope it is not for show only.
Pilots and related organizations have been making a little headway. And we have more than a few citizens coming up with and organizing actionable plans and ideas. I hope none of this ends up settling for ‘little bones.’ By that I mean quasi cosmetic changes like: giving our CNN’s Fitzpatrick what she is asking for – a heads up and notice signs for coming violations at check points, or installing separate screening detectors for the pilots and flight attendants, or having the screener police touch and violate you using three fingers instead of their entire palm. We seem to have momentum.
I believe with solidarity and persistence, refusing to give up or give in to a few ‘bones’ we will succeed. Please watch out for ‘highly coincidental’ terror alerts that may start popping up. OK? After ten years of those interestingly timed and never-sourced possible terror alerts we should be wise enough to recognize our government’s ‘cry wolf’ practices. Also, get ready for a handful of questionable entities who try to blend in with the movement and engage in repulsive (highly offensive) actions to cause backlash for our movement. Our government highly depends on ‘this type’ and of course, our mainstream media loves to showcase them. I am just saying.
I’ve been going through hundreds of e-mails and comments on my previous post. First, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and suggestions both publicly in various forums and privately through your direct e-mails; your feedback gives me a sense of solidarity and revives my long-dimming hopes. Next, I am going to tell you a bit about myself and what I am prepared to do, however insignificant or little it may seem to some. So many of us either don’t do anything or say anything publicly because we as a nation have been long reduced to seeing ourselves and acting as insignificant and powerless subjects of those who govern. We are afraid of being ridiculed, or being rejected as feeble. That’s not the case here at Boiling Frogs Post, and I hope you’ll get that sense and keep your ideas and suggestions coming. You see, I am doing it despite my own set of reservations, and regardless of the ridicule I sometimes endure from the ‘elite academics & talk-and-write only mighty experts.’
Those of you who’ve been members here know that I usually don’t talk about, share, personal information. This is a slight exception, and you’ll see why:…
The Discretion Factor & TSA Black Hole (FROM JULY, 2009) www.boilingfrogspost.com
Around 1:00 p.m. on March 9, 2009 I stood in front of the US Air ticket counter in Ft Myers, Florida, and sighed with relief. I had just checked in two suitcases and had an hour and fifteen minutes before boarding my plane to Washington, DC. I was relieved because it is no simple task to make it this far with a teething seven month old baby, two suitcases, a carry on bag, and a diaper bag. However, I was counting my chickens too early.
I joined a fairly long line at the entrance of the TSA security screening station, and did a quick inventory of preparations needed to make it to the other side: My infant girl was securely nestled against my chest inside her baby carrier; I had no liquids in the diaper bag or elsewhere, and that included the bottled water I would need to fix her formula later while on the plane (I had enough time to purchase the water on the other side); I was wearing fairly easy to remove trainers, knowing the difficulty of removing shoes while carrying my infant and holding my boarding passes and drivers license…Basically, based on the Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA) posted rules, I was all set, or so I thought.
I bent over, removed my trainers and placed them on the screening belt. By this time I could sense my infant daughter’s tension from the way she was holding on to me. I couldn’t blame her; with the suffocating congestion of hassled and rushed people in the line closing in on her, the sound of screaming TSA officers reciting the rules at the security check point’s entrance ‘make sure you remove your shoes…’ ‘place all your liquid containers in clear plastic bags…,’ and with her mommy almost squashing her to bend over and remove my shoes, how could I blame her?!
As I approached the metal detector portal I looked ahead and sighed with relief one more time. A few more seconds, and I’d be there; among ‘the checked and let through’ on the other side; one of the lucky crowd who’d made it through.
My daughter and I went through the detector smoothly and silently – the darn thing didn’t blow it’s darn ear-scratching siren. However, waiting on the other side with hands on her plump hips was a badge wearing TSA officer. She pointed at me and sternly yelled, ‘Ma’am, go back again! Remove that baby carrier, put it on the belt, and come through the detector again.’
Confused, I looked at her and asked, ‘But why? I didn’t set off the detector! There are no metal pieces on this carrier, and as you see, it is fabric with no pockets or bags attached…’
The Badge-Woman yelled even louder, ‘Ma’am, you are holding up the line. Just go back and do as I say! We don’t allow wearable baby carriers through the detectors…’
I knew that was not true. I had traveled with my child several times and had gone through screening stations at several airports while carrying my child in the carrier attached in the front, same as here. But I didn’t want to hold up the lines and add hassle to the already hassled crowd waiting in line right behind me. Those of you who are parents and have traveled with infants don’t need me to tell you, but for those of you who have not experienced it let me put it this way, ‘it’s no easy task’! I tucked the boarding pass and my license under my chin. Next, I unbuckled the side-fasteners of the carrier, while watching carefully where I was stepping, because the tiled floor was smeared with some syrupy soda making it slippery. Then, I wiggled my daughter out if the carrier, tucked her under my left arm, while unfastening the rest of the carrier from my waist and shoulder…By this time my baby was wailing; from top of her lungs.
I passed through the detector again with the wailing baby tucked under my arm. Now I had to retrieve my shoes, my hand bag, my carryon, the baby carrier, the diaper bag, which were all piled up at the other end of the security screening belt. Have you ever done this while holding a baby? I don’t think I have to tell you what hell that is…
After I gathered my stuff, with sweat pouring from every pore, I turned around and made my way towards the badge-woman. I stopped right in front of her, looked her in the eye, and said,‘I would like to know why you put me through that when I was cleared first time through. I have gone through five airport security points with my child in a carrier, and no one ever asked me to remove the carrier. I believe TSA rules are supposed to be uniform.’
She snapped back ‘Move on. I don’t have to answer your question.’
I tried very hard to remain calm, and responded, ‘Yes you do. You need to provide me with a response; with an answer…’ She took out her hand-held radio and called her supervisor, ‘We have a big problem here. Someone is disrupting our procedure…’
In less than two minutes two female supervisors clad in suits showed up. The older one with hair glued in the air with two cans of hairspray and make-up two inches thick listened as I repeated my question, then she responded,
‘I am afraid we cannot provide you with an answer. We can’t share our security criteria with you. They are all classified.’
I almost gasped, ‘Why?’
She responded: ‘Because to announce our criteria, our rules, would tip off the terrorists.’
I countered that: ‘You have a list of rules at the check point entrance regarding liquid, shoes, lighters and matches…There is no section there referring to baby carriers. And, I have been through several airports, and none had any issue with the carriers. Are you saying there is a rule on carriers but it is considered secret and classified?’
She blinked several times with eyelashes bending downward from the weight of gunky mascara mud clumped on top of them. Next, with a voice raised about two notches higher she responded ‘Okay. It is not in the actual classified rules. We do things based on ‘Discretion.’ This is one of those. We have discretion.’
I asked again, ‘Okay. I would like to see the guidelines governing this discretion. That way I’ll know how to prepare for security in the future, as I did with your rules on shoes, water, liquid baby formula…’
She snapped back, ‘we have unlimited discretion. There are no rules. And we don’t have to answer your questions…’
I didn’t move, and I repeated my question, and added ‘Unlimited discretion? You mean you can also take us in and do a cavity search based on this discretion? This sounds like unlimited authority, and as a citizen, as a taxpayer, I have the right to know…’
At this point she took out her radio and called the airport police while I stood there looking and listening in disbelief. When two uniformed local airport police showed up, the TSA supervisor told them, ‘This lady insists on seeing our internal rules and classified procedures. I believe she poses a threat at this point and would like to have you either arrest her or keep her under observation until we decide to clear her for travel…’
That’s right. As a petite 5’4, 105 pound mother with an infant I was either being placed under arrest or observation as a security threat because I dared to question my rights and my government’s rules on security screening of its citizens.
The police officer, a gentlemanly young man, looked disgusted with the TSA supervisor. He turned to me and said,
‘Ma’am, why don’t you stop asking these questions and just proceed to your gate? We don’t want to be forced to act on this.’
I calmly responded, ‘Officer, I will proceed as soon as I am provided with an answer. If this is a cause for arrest now, and if you think you can back it up with probable cause, then please go ahead. You know and I know that this is not lawful.’
At the end of the security screening belt, as these events were unfolding, people were rushing past us towards their gates. Most of them were avoiding eye contact; maybe it was too much for them to actual see the reality and the state of their mobility on display before them. Some were shooting quick wondering glances. A very few brave ones actually slowed down or paused to whisper things like, ‘This is disgusting,’ or ‘they have no right to treat people like this,’ or, ‘this is a shame,’…
The TSA supervisor, seeing that her bluff did not have the desired effect and a bit nervously, changed her tune,
‘All we are doing is protecting you and everyone else from the terrorists. These procedures, these measures, are all for your own good; for your own safety.’
I repeated myself one more time, ‘And how do baby carriers pose a threat? How about the endangerment you caused my infant by having me walk across the slippery floor while holding her, handling my belongings…?’
She gave her best line of reasoning, ‘If I remember correctly some one, in some country, tried to hide explosives in a baby toy, or a baby stroller, or something like that…You know how the terrorists used airplanes and lack of airport security to blow up and kill thousands of our people…’
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this lame and irrational excuse, ‘Okay, in Bali and in India terrorists blew up resorts and hotels, and people got injured and killed. Does this mean we now have to stack up barriers in front of our hotels and resorts, and have government security agents march in front of them? The terrorists hit some fast food chain joint in Turkey; does this mean we now have to have metal detectors and guards in front of our restaurants? With this line of reasoning where will we stop? Will we ever stop?’
By this time I had already missed my plane. Disgustedly I walked towards the US Air counter to get my refund, go rent a car, and drive 20 hours back home. As I walked away with the two police officers accompanying me, the young male officer said sympathetically,‘Ma’am, I am so sorry for that. Even we can’t argue with these TSA guys. Now they are carrying badges and guns, and we see all sorts of abuses, dumb calls, but they are high with a sense of power…’
I don’t know how but I managed to smile, and said ‘I know. My organization has 50 or so DHS/TSA whistleblowers, and I’ve heard stories worse than this…They are able to assert these abusive powers and practices because most people, the majority, just like you, would rather back off and put up with their abuse of power…Does this sound American to you?’
Before I turned the corner I stopped, turned around, and looked at the line moving forward at the security check point. The imagery was almost symbolic. People stopping by the security belt; bending over humbly, as if before Roman Gods or Pharos, to remove their shoes. Then, like a herd of sheep, while holding up their IDs and boarding passes, they took little steps towards the detectors while looking at the other side, hoping soon they’d be ‘cleared’ and ‘allowed’ to join the others who’d ‘made’ it.
# # # #
The No Fly List, also called the terrorist watch list, is a secret list created and maintained by the US government of people who are not permitted to board a plane for travel in or out of the country. The list includes at least 1 million names as of now, up 32% since 2007 as reported by USA Today in March 2009. On September 11, 2001, the FBI’s ‘no transport’ list had the names of 16 people were considered to present a specific known or suspected threat to aviation.
Let’s look at TSA’s definition of No Fly and Selectee list from their own website:
- What are the watch lists? Historically, nine government agencies maintained watch lists with names of known or suspected terrorists and criminals. Two of these lists, the “No Fly” and “Selectee” lists were maintained by TSA. The “No Fly” list is a list of individuals who are prohibited from boarding an aircraft. The “Selectee” list is a list of individuals who must undergo additional security screening before being permitted to board an aircraft. After 9/11 the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) was created through a Presidential Directive to be administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Treasury, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. The purpose for the TSC is to consolidate terrorism based watch lists in one central database, the Terrorist Screening Center Database (TSDB), and make that data available for use in screening. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies nominate individuals to be put on the watch list based on established criteria, with the list maintained by the TSC. TSA’s “No-Fly” and “Selectee” lists are subsets of the TSDB and are maintained by the TSC.
According to a report issued by the General Accounting Office, the “no fly” list is just one of 12 terrorist and criminal watch lists maintained by the federal government.
In the sub header of this piece I refer to this list and the entire system as a ‘black hole’ because the list is sort of a secret, how you end up there is sort of a secret, their criteria for the list is sort of a secret, and if or how an innocent citizen can get off this list also happens to be a secret. Pay attention to the vague, ambigious definition by the TSA cited above. Go to and comb through their entire site and you’ll still come up empty handed as to how or why you may end up on their list, or how you can find out about it, or how you can get yourself off of their list.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) issued a report after it obtained limited information on the No Fly and Selectee lists through FOIA:
“Since the TSA took over, the watch list “has expanded almost daily as Intelligence Community agencies and the Office of Homeland Security continue to request the addition of individuals to the No-Fly and Selectee lists.” (TSA Watchlists memo) The names are approved for inclusion on the basis of a secret criteria. The Watchlists memo notes that “all individuals have been added or removed … based on the request of and information provided, almost exclusively by [redacted].”
There are two primary principles that guide the placement on the lists, but these principles have been withheld. The documents do not show whether there is a formal approval process where an independent third party entity is charged with verifying that the names are selected appropriately and that the information is accurate.”
As one of our readers, Jean Carbonneau, brought to our attention, one of the main reasons people don’t react as they should to such a Kafkaesque police system is that they don’t consider themselves ‘affected.’ They may get a bit grumpy at those long lines in the airports, or the patting and probing, but many consider it just ‘necessary added security,’ move on, and get used to it. When these people, the majority, read about these lists they brush it off as tools directed towards real criminals and terrorists suspects; you know, a tool to protect us against those darn hairy dark-skin foreigners who spend their lives planning to blow us up… They need to see and hear and read about tens if not hundreds of thousands of good ole Americans with spotless records who for one reason or another have ended up in the DHS’ black hole, and most likely due to some ‘discretion.’ Sure, the mainstream media has covered it a tiny bit; certainly not enough; at least not as much as they’ve been covering and exagerating the threats of vague terrorists and boogiemen.
If you come across those, which I am sure you do every single day, have them read the story of a Former US Diplomat John Graham, who actually received an award by the first President Bush for his NGO work, and who somehow ended up in the black hole. Let them read Graham’s own words:
“I’m being accused of a serious–even treasonous–criminal intent by a faceless bureaucracy, with no chance (that I can find) to refute any errors or false charges. (…) Whether it’s a mistake or whether somebody with the power to hassle me really thinks I am a threat, the stark absence of due process is unsettling. The worst of it is that being put on a list of America’s enemies seems to be permanent. The TSA form states: “the TSA clearance process will not remove a name from the Watch Lists. Instead this process distinguishes passengers from persons who are in fact on the Watch Lists by placing their names and identifying information in a cleared portion of the Lists” (which may or may not, the form continues, reduce the airport hassles).
In protecting ourselves, we can’t allow our leaders to continue to create a climate of fear and mistrust, to destroy our civil liberties and, in so doing, to change who we are as a nation. What a victory that would be for our enemies! And what a betrayal of real patriots, and to so many in the wider world who still remember this country as a source of inspiration and hope.”
…or have them check out many stories of US veterans, nuns, doctors, starred generals, librarians…who found themselves in this nightmare of being listed by their government, and learned that there isn’t much they can do to clear themselves:
Bill McDonald, 60, a retired Air Force colonel has a chest full of ribbons and enough frustration with the TSA to fill a bucket.
“With my two tours in Vietnam and active service in support of Desert Storm I find myself a terrorist suspect?,” McDonald says. “Seemingly not even my Top Secret, nuclear and satellite related clearances plus over 26 and half years of service mean much,” he says. “You can surely imagine my disgust at being identified on a terror watch list.”
Although McDonald has flown several times since 9/11, it wasn’t until just last year that he started having problems checking in. McDonald and his wife were fond of online check-in procedures but were rejected and told to report to the ticket counter. “That was our first clue something was wrong.”
When a ticket agent told McDonald he was on the watch list, he was stunned. He took out his military I.D. card that he always carries, but it was of little help. He missed that flight because of the added security.
“I was just kind of flabbergasted that I had to play this game, but decided that I wasn’t going to be reactive,” he said.
He has pulled together all the needed information to apply for clearance, but says he’s hesitating submitting the forms because of all the information they require.
“Somehow, hearing about the wrongful use of info by the TSA does not give me a comfort zone,” McDonald said. “I say this despite the fact that I know I am all over the data bases in the government.”
…or have them watch the following video of the TSA detention, harassment, and abuse of a Ron Paul organization official which was caught on tape at a St. Louis airport:
VIDEO REMOVED BY YOU TUBE
…tell these people that they or their family members or their friends can easily end up on a secret list for secret reasons by secret persons working behind the walls of their government secret’s agencies. And, that there ain’t a darn thing they can do, or anywhere or any person to go to, even if there were, they wouldn’t know about it, since that too would be secret.
Sibel Edmonds is the founder and publisher of Boiling Frogs Post, an online news, analysis, and weekly Podcast interview site covering select but significant blacked out stories and issues. Ms. Edmonds is also the founder and director of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, NSWBC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding national security whistleblowers. PEN American Center awarded Ms. Edmonds the 2006 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award for her “commitment to preserving the free flow of information in the United States in a time of growing international isolation and increasing government secrecy”. She is also the recipient of the 2004 Sam Adams Foundation Award. Ms. Edmonds has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, and a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University. She is certified as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and as an instructor for the Women’s Domestic Violence Program. She is fluent in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani.
She has appeared on national radio and TV as a commentator on matters related to whistleblowers, national security, and excessive secrecy & classification, and has been featured on CBS 60 Minutes, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and in the New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The American Conservative, and others.