Friday, October 23, 2009

Response to “Bag Check” Cartoon

On the surface, this cartoon resonates with many passengers who’ve had to abandon their liquids or adjust their travel to adhere to TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid policy.

This cartoon compares the allowance of laptop batteries with a bottle of water. It leads the reader to believe batteries are more dangerous than the water. While that might be true, it leaves out the reasoning behind 3-1-1. The batteries may be more dangerous than a bottle of water, but they are not more dangerous than a water bottle filled with liquid explosives.

When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it. We’re developing the proper technology to allow us to expedite the screening of all liquids, but in the meantime, to screen everybody’s various types of liquids over 3.4 oz. would cause gridlock at the checkpoints.

Why is 3.4 oz. and below OK and what’s up with the baggies? To date, I think those questions were answered best in an interview with Ars Technica’s Jon Stokes. I highly suggest you read it to get the big picture of what lead to 3-1-1.

Additional information on Lithium (laptop) batteries: They’re permissible in checked and carry-on luggage when they’re in the devices they are intended for. Spare batteries are not permissible in checked baggage, but they can be transported in your carry-on luggage if they are packaged properly.

You can read more about the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules on traveling with batteries at the SafeTravel web page.

(Cartoon Courtesy of XKCD)


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Response to “My Daughter the Terror Suspect”

I came across a post yesterday about a cute little four year old girl who was believed to be on the No Fly List because every time she flies with her father, he has to check in at the ticket counter and can’t print tickets from home or from a kiosk. The author also described that even though his daughter had a nuclear meltdown at Target, she was by no means a terrorist.

I can relate to nuclear meltdowns at Target since my daughter had one there last year. I carried her out of the store like a sack of potatoes and she was screaming all the way. I really expected somebody would call the police, but they didn’t.

It may seem like semantics here, but first off, I wanted to let you know that your daughter is not on the No Fly List. It sounds as if her name is a match or similar match to an actual individual on the Selectee Watch List. You can’t obtain a boarding pass if you’re on the No Fly List. If you’re on the Selectee Watch List, you can fly after you’ve received additional screening.

Many have been misidentified as a match or possible match for the Selectee Watch List and the only thing they could do is work with the Redress Office to correct the problem.

But who is that I see? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, It’s Secure Flight! Airlines are beginning to ask for name, date of birth, and gender as it appears on the government ID you plan to use when traveling. This is a part of the Secure Flight program. The program will be in full effect for domestic airlines by the first quarter of 2010 and the rest of the airlines will be on board by the end of 2010. It will reduce mismatched names by 99.9%.

So, this will not be a problem in the future.

In the short term, individuals who have been misidentified as a match or possible match for a Watch List can work through the DHS Redress process to resolve the issue.

Secure Flight Related Posts on the TSA Blog


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why We Screen Wheelchairs Part II

Our officers work in what some have referred to as a large fishbowl. Everything they do is being observed by passengers. So, when they screen veterans & active military, children & seniors, and people in wheelchairs, people notice. It doesn’t sit well with them and we often hear about it. All wheelchairs must be screened and it's important to remember that some people, including terrorists are looking to sneak things through, by pretending to have a disability.

Lynn wrote the last “Why We Screen Wheelchairs” as a result of a passenger trying to smuggle two packages of cocaine onto a plane. Wherever you can hide drugs, you can hide bombs and other items, so we thought it was a good example to help explain why we screen people in wheelchairs.

In this most recent case, a gentleman came through the checkpoint at Milwaukee’s MKE airport in his wheelchair and whoops -what’s that??? Underneath the cushion of his wheelchair was not one, but two firearms. Our officers found the following:

- One 9mm loaded with 15 rounds and one chambered

- One 32 caliber loaded with seven rounds and one chambered

It turns out that the gentleman didn’t have any nefarious intentions(He forgot the guns were there) but it is yet again another example of why we screen wheelchairs and the people in them.

To help us better understand how to screen persons with disabilities (PWDs), TSA established a coalition of over 70 disability-related groups and organizations with disabilities and medical conditions. These groups have assisted TSA with writing our policies to help us thoroughly screen PWDs while ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect. Our officers are regularly trained on screening people with disabilities.

You can go to to read more about traveling when you have a disability.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, October 16, 2009

Response to "TSA Agents Took My Son"

A blog post has been circulating today from a woman who wrote a very emotional story about being separated from her child while traveling through a TSA check point. Two things went through my mind after reading her post.

  1. As a father of two small children, I empathized with her about the alleged circumstances.
  2. As a TSA employee and former TSO, I felt it could not be true -- especially since our policy is that TSA will not ask parents to do anything that would distance them from their children during the screening process.
TSA works daily to achieve the balance of effective security and passenger convenience. We diligently review claims of improper conduct. But when inaccurate passenger accounts are made either via media outlets or on the blogs, TSA works to resolve them and present both sides of the story. In this case, TSA has made the decision to post the CCTV video of the incident online to allow for transparency.

After watching the video footage, you'll see the video clearly shows that this individual was never separated from her baby by TSA. You'll also see that a lot of the other claims are also unfounded.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

***Update - 10/18/09 - 7:00 PM***

On Friday, TSA posted the video footage pertaining to the portion of the process where the individual said that TSA removed her child from her presence. There are 9 camera angles of the incident which were placed into sequence to show the time frame in question. For full transparency, TSA is posting the entirety of the footage from each camera of the entire time the passenger was within camera range at the checkpoint.

Part 1 - Entering Checkpoint

Part 2 - Loading Items on X-ray

Part 3 - Waiting to be Screened (Different Angle)

Part 4 - Waiting to be Screened

Part 5 - Walking to Screening Area

Part 6 - Security Screening

Part 7 - Security Screening (Different Angle)

Part 8 - Exiting Checkpoint

Part 9 - Exiting Checkpoint (Different Angle)

Also, TSA's Atlanta Federal Security Director and the TSA blog team reached out to the individual on behalf of TSA on more than one occasion regarding the incident and have not heard back.

The individual has also acknowledged on her blog that this is her in our CCTV footage.

Thanks ~ Blogger Bob

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grenades: A Refresher Course on Checkpoint Etiquette

Last July, Blogger Bob wrote a post: “Can I Take my Hand Grenade on the Plane?’ Some wondered aloud if we had to state such an obvious thing, because seriously, who would think they could take a grenade on a plane?


Over the weekend, a grenade was found in a passenger’s carry-on bag in Phoenix. At first, the passenger said he didn’t know the grenade was in his bag. Then he said he left it unattended curbside and someone could have put it in there. Later, while talking to law enforcement officers, he admitted it was given to him by his grandfather from WWII.

There’s been quite a few reports of grenades found at checkpoints lately, so I did some research to find out just how many had been caught by officers since Blogger Bob’s July post. The answer: 21.

Of the other 20 or so hand grenades found, here are some highlights:

One was found hidden in a stuffed animal. The passenger said the stuffed animal was a gift and had no idea anything was hidden in it. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving…

One was the popular gag-gift plaque that says: “Complaint Department: Take a Number.” Problem is, in the X-ray, the most notable part of the image is - you guessed it - the grenade.

A Pittsburgh passenger who packed an inert hand grenade in his bag as a present for his son said he has never flown before and had no idea he couldn’t take the inert grenade on the plane.

A law enforcement officer from Canada visiting the US for a convention had a pepper spray grenade, flash bang grenade and a smoke grenade in his bag.

A passenger who said he was previously a member of the military stated that the grenade found in his bag was a souvenir.

A military reservist said the grenade found in her bag was a gift for her brother.

The lesson to be learned here is that even if it’s a gift (gag or otherwise), souvenir or inert, putting a grenade in your carry-on or checked bag is a no-no. I would also suggest not packing the new novelty grenade MP3 player in your carry-on or checked bags. Not only will you be delayed and possibly miss your flight, but you could also end up spending some quality time with law enforcement officers.

As we like to say when giving packing advice, when in doubt, leave it out. And it can’t hurt to do a last minute double check of your bag to make sure there are no grenades, guns or other prohibited items in it.

Safe travels,


TSA Blog Team

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dakota to Chicago Via Virginia

Earlier this week, a 14 year old boy used his mother’s credit card to purchase a plane ticket and board a flight using his mother’s name, Virginia.

When asked at the checkpoint, the boy told the TSA officer that his name was indeed Virginia. With names like Moon Unit, Apple, etc., I’m not shocked by anyone’s name anymore. There are many names out there that can be gender neutral. For example, his real name is Dakota, a name given to both males and females.

Minors under the age of 18 are not required to show ID. Regardless of age, everyone who goes through a security checkpoint is screened. The boy was screened and had nothing dangerous on him.

TSA’s mission is to protect the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. At the end of the day, we did just that. No dangerous items made it onto the plane.

We’re glad Dakota’s family was able to locate him and bring him home safely.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

TSA to Receive $355 Million for Airport Security Projects

(DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano recently announced that TSA will receive $355 million for more than a dozen airport security projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The $355 million is going to be used for a lot of really nifty improvements to aviation security including:

Inline Baggage Screening Systems: Inline baggage screening systems help keep transportation safe. $254 million will be spent on inline baggage handling systems at six airports—including Washington Dulles International Airport, Mineta San Jose International Airport, San Antonio International Airport, Portland (Maine) International Jetport, Port Columbus International Airport, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Watch this video about inline baggage screening at ATL.

CCTV: $38 million will be spent to support new and enhanced closed circuit television (CCTV) systems at six airports, including Chicago Midway International Airport, Little Rock National Airport/Adams Field, Kansas City International Airport, Omaha Eppley Airfield, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Tampa International Airport.

Backscatter Advanced Imaging Units: Backscatter machines use advanced imaging technology that allow our officers to better detect a wide range of threats in a matter of seconds, including explosives. More than $25 million will fund the purchase and deployment of approximately 150 backscatter advanced imaging units to airports across the nation. This deployment follows a successful pilot phase, during which 46 imaging technology units were deployed at 23 airports and passengers opted to use imaging technology for primary screening 98 percent of the time. It is important to note that this technology is always optional to passengers.

Next Generation Explosives Trace Detection: If you’ve seen our officers swabbing passengers and luggage with white swabs, that is our Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) machines. ETDs can detect even the smallest traces of explosives and are a very important part of our layers of security. $15 million will be spent on Next Generation Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) units.

Next Generation Bottled Liquid Scanners: $22 million will be spent on Bottled Liquid Scanners (BLS), a technology that screens medically necessary liquids such as infant formula and liquid medications to ensure they do not contain a threat.

Also, be sure to check out Tom Frank’s USA Today article on TSA’s purchase of 150 backscatter machines.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, October 2, 2009

Did Newark’s Mayor Really Add Conan O’Brien to the No Fly List?

Conan O’Brien recently included the following in his monologue: “The Mayor of Newark, NJ wants to set up a city wide program to improve resident’s health. The health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.”

Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, responded with this humorous video and jokingly informed Conan he’d been added to the No Fly list for Newark’s EWR airport.

I knew right away this was a joke, (a pretty funny one I thought) but after reading some comments around the blogosphere, it seems that some are buying this gag. First off, airports don’t operate on individual No Fly lists. The No Fly list encompasses all airports.

Also, the mayor of Newark – or any elected official for that matter - cannot add somebody to the No Fly list. It is a much more stringent process. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center has to add you to their Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), and they can’t do that unless you are known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB per the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6. (HSPD-6.)

So, if you’re not familiar with the No Fly list, you’re probably wondering what it’s all about.

From the TSA FAQ Section: 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.”

The terror watch lists keep legitimate terror threats off of airplanes every day, all over the world. According to the GAO, terror watch lists have "helped combat terrorism" and "enhanced U.S. counterterrorism effort."

If you think you are on the No Fly list, let me ask you this question: Have you obtained a boarding pass? If so, you are not on the No Fly list. If you obtained a boarding pass and an airline employee told you that you were are on the list, they were mistaken. Your name was probably a match or a similar match to the name of somebody actually on the list. Have you flown? You would not be allowed on a flight if you were on the No Fly list.

This is a good opportunity for me to segue into Secure Flight. Secure Flight is a behind the scenes program that streamlines the watch list matching process. It will improve the travel experience for all passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past. In fact, Secure flight will reduce mismatched names by 99.9%.

Contrary to popular belief, Conan regulars Eyeballs O'Shaughnessy, Todd the Tiny Guy, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and La Bamba, are not on the No Fly list.

Key Takeaways:

-Mayor Booker was joking and did not place Conan on the No Fly list

-If you are able to obtain a boarding pass, you are not on the No Fly list

-Secure Flight will reduce mismatched watch list names by 99.9%


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team