Thursday, December 31, 2009

After the confusion, certainty!

“I really don’t think they thought this one through,” - Christopher Elliott

In the wake of the Flaming Undies Caper, our beloved protectors in the Transportation Safety Administration seemed unsure of what to do or even to say. New "security measures" were all over the place, on the ground and in the air.

But there's one thing the TSA, so typical of government bureaucracies everywhere, is absolutely sure of. "Don't you dare do anything that makes us look stupid. That's our job, and we're trained professionals." Earlier this month there was a bit of a "mistakes were made" moment when someone in the TSA sorta-kinda accidentally posted the entire screening manual on the Internet, with all the Top Secret bits redacted with what amounted to White-Out on the computer screen. But that was just an oopsie, you know, because they're so busy and well-meaning and stuff. Like the President, when they do it that means it's not illegal. That's just a mistake.

In the wake of Mr. Abdulmutallab sending his johnson to meet Allah, the TSA immediately sent a directive to its subordinates for tightened security restrictions in case the terrorist had friends. They send this directive to all their subordinates. Everywhere. In every airport, every airline, in the world. If this document was supposed to be secret, it sure as hell wouldn't be secret long.

Indeed, approximately 2.3 milliseconds after the first sheet of paper hit the first desk, travel bloggers were receiving e-mails concerning the directive from anonymous sources. Two of the bloggers who acted on those e-mails got an unpleasant surprise.

TSA Subpoenas Bloggers, Demands Names of Sources
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the government reviews how an alleged terrorist was able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.

TSA special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, demanding that they reveal who leaked the security directive to them. The government says the directive was not supposed to be disclosed to the public.
Well, that's okay, I suppose; you certainly wouldn't want another fiasco like the TSA Manual Affair to be perpetrated handled by anyone other than trained professionals. But they couldn't just go and ask nice, no. That would have been logical, even reasonable. I'm reminded of what Lou Grant said about Ted Baxter; "You know what I like about [the TSA]? He keeps you guessing. You know he's gonna put his foot in his mouth. But you never know how he's gonna get the other one in there with it."

Yeah, the TSA was embarrassed by what Abdulmutallab got away with, but they were infuriated by what Frischlinig and Elliott did. Niceness, logic and reasonableness were not called for. What was called for was some ham-handed Federal intimidation.

TSA Threatens Blogger Who Posted New Screening Directive
Frischling, a freelance travel writer and photographer in Connecticut who writes a blog for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, said the two agents who visited him arrived around 7 p.m. Tuesday, were armed and threatened him with a criminal search warrant if he didn’t provide the name of his source. They also threatened to get him fired from his KLM job and indicated they could get him designated a security risk, which would make it difficult for him to travel and do his job.

“They were indicating there would be significant ramifications if I didn’t cooperate,” said Frischling, who was home alone with his three children when the agents arrived. “It’s not hard to intimidate someone when they’re holding a 3-year-old [child] in their hands. My wife works at night. I go to jail, and my kids are here with nobody.”

Frischling, who described some of the details of the visit on his personal blog, told Threat Level that the two agents drove to his house in Connecticut from DHS offices in Massachusetts and New Jersey and didn’t mention a subpoena until an hour into their visit.

“They came to the door and immediately were asking, ‘Who gave you this document?, Why did you publish the document?’ and ‘I don’t think you know how much trouble you’re in.’ It was very much a hardball tactic,” he says.
Way to go, guys. I know I feel safer.

Meanwhile, the fact that the Department of Homeland Security and its Keystone Kops division the TSA had every reason to have known about Abdulmutallab before he ever got near an airplane is not going away. It has, of course, now become a matter of politics, and somebody's head must roll. In our next exciting episode, guess whose!

H/T to W for the blogger articles.

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