Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 28, 2011

Absolute security as the minimum adequate security

Filed under: Aviation Security,General Homeland Security,Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on June 28, 2011

Andrew Bacevich described (in this video) what happened when the United States lost its nuclear monopoly in 1949, and faced the possibility it would be completely destroyed by the Soviet Union:

“Policymakers reacted in panic….  [This] possibility came to be seen as something that was intolerable.  And from that time down to the present … there has been a theme in US national policy that posits absolute security as the minimum adequate security.”


The woman in the picture is 95 years old.  She weighs about 100 pounds.  She uses a wheelchair because she has difficulty standing.

According to a story in the Northwest Florida Daily News, written by Lauren Sage Reinlie, the woman was detained, searched, and asked to remove her soiled adult diaper.  The TSA screener had to complete the pat down search before the woman would be permitted “to fly to Michigan to be with family members during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.”

The familiar and predictable outrage the incident generated was balanced by the familiar and predictable response from TSA:

The TSA works with passengers to resolve any security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner….

During any part of the process, if there is an alarm, then we have to resolve that alarm….

[T]he procedures are the same for everyone to ensure national security.

TSA cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability….

While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner.

We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure.

The woman’s daughter thought about the official response:

“[If] you’re just following rules and regulations, then the rules and regulations need to be changed….  I’m not one to make waves, but dadgummit, this is wrong. People need to know. Next time it could be you.”


I think Bacevich’s observation is important.  Absolute security ought not be the minimum level of adequate security.

The woman’s observation is also important, “Dadgummit, this is wrong.”

Congress and TSA know this.

As Kelley Vlahos’ article in the June issue of Homeland Security Today summarizes, the future of airport security screening is supposed to be a shift from “no one is exempt” to an approach driven more by intelligence and risk.

Congressman Mike Rogers agrees with this vision.  But — like some DHS leaders and many fliers — Rogers is impatient:

I don’t think [TSA has] to explain to people that it’s potentially dangerous to fly … with terrorists continuing to target Americans, but we have to be reasonable in our efforts.  When American’s see intrusive practices that don’t seem to be intelligence-driven or smart, it drives them nuts….  I think [TSA] wants to get there, but we need to do it tomorrow and not three years from now.”

Absolute security takes a very long time to achieve.  Adequate security may take even longer.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 28, 2011 @ 9:33 am

Return TSA to DOT!

Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 28, 2011 @ 11:48 am

So is this TSA’s fault or our fault?

Seriously, what has our expectation become? We want pristine lives with no ripples. We want perfect flights with no inconvenience. We are put out when they search and put out when they don’t….basically we’re always put out.

Whether it’s an outcropping of the affects of entitlement or just the way it is… in either case we’re missing the boat. That woman was about as threatening as a stuffed animal…wait, the stuffed animal may be loaded with semtex or even still, a wet, firm substance that cannot be identified. And you don’t hear anyone saying they made a mistake; just simply following procedures.

We have legislated away judgment. The ability to judge to make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion: a man of sound judgment. The demonstration or exercise of such ability or capacity. The forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind. These used to be leadership axioms… now they’re policies and doctrine. Our overly litigious government and citizenry has once again reared its head. We fear people making judgments or decisions because it empowers people and also holds people accountable.

There was no exercise in judgment, simply an adherence to policy… and that’s what we have created.

Weber filed a complaint through Northwest Florida Regional’s website. She said she received a response from a Homeland Security representative at the airport on Tuesday and spoke to that person on the phone Wednesday. The representative told her that personnel had followed procedures during the search, Weber said.

“Then I thought, if you’re just following rules and regulations, then the rules and regulations need to be changed,” she said.

What’s the TSA front line personnel supposed to do? They are unable to discern; to assess; to judge. Why? Because of stuff like this; Thirty-six Transportation Security Administration workers at Honolulu Airport, including the top director, were given termination notices today, and 12 more were suspended because they allegedly were not screening checked-in baggage for explosives as their jobs require. Whether its pressure from airports, airlines, or whomever, people took short cuts… and now they’re unemployed.

Unions, legislators, airlines, profit margins, security etc, etc. The 95 year old woman didn’t have to remove her undergarment…unless she wanted to fly.

Comment by HGRATTAN

June 28, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

TSA should have a service guide for screeners. NYPD’s principle instruction is the NYPD Patrol Guide. NYPD academy recruits are told the Guide is a guide and subject to the real-world.

Having just taught TSA students Homeland Security classes as part of a college initiative, I had the opportunity to converse with many TSA screeners first hand and to read their undergraduate papers and exams. Comprehensively, the TSA front-line employees said they are given strict rules that do not afford common-sense remedies to real-world scenarios. Moreover, TSA provides little in the way of intelligence to front line officers.

TSA needs common-sense guidelines.

Comment by An Enemy From Within and Outside Not To Be Taken Lightly

June 29, 2011 @ 3:45 am

While I have been subjected to rather intense scrutiny at least from my perspective when boarding my flights, I have seen TSA employeees subject a passenger (me) to an appreciative look-me-all-over nd each time and whatever the airport.

I have been subjected to such with the utmost professionalism, never subjected to anything more than appropriate. After such thorough inquiry and search, at least I know fellow passengers seeing me undergo the routine getting pulled from the line each and every time, know I am a safe passeneger to seat next to!

One does not have to be an esteemed employee at NSA to understand how intent the enemy of US and western Europe is in their willingness to kill in cold blood for who the hell flies commercial aircraft into buildings – the enemy of humanity, killing “infidels” their own among the dead as well! How many of our youth have lost their legs and arms, never mind their precious Life to the hands of the Iranians and bombs with Iranian markings, our enemy, the “Brutes of Tehran” as I refer to them, the culprits, the kid on the block whose bullying gets really little notice given the hand they play far from their own border.

Keep an eye on Hezbollah and Hamas and their increased activities per the directive of Tehran in adding pressure on the west and mustering up trouble as Egypt makes transition to a more fundamentalist governing, despite many in the population seeking moderation.

….Yes AQ and even the local Taliban, we see their agenda and com’on, for generations this hatred has cost the lives of how many? Read your history! Is the issue of hatred towards especially towards the Hebrew whose special covenant with our Creator anything new – com’on, We here in America are a Judeo-Christian nation, that’s the bottom line and I don’t care if it is a 95 year old or a three month old, if you want to fly or engage in any transportation, understand that the west, especially Europe is at War and we are all subject to policy which I hope is carried out in the manner it should be to assure passengers that their flight is safe – including baggage! Certain parameters must be followed, yet screening all passengers is necessary.

Unfortunately, it is obvious to at least a handful that far much more uncertainty is global peace (and economic security) is upon us and while the “Brutes of Tehran” are left to put its pieces on its pozzle board into play withut hindrance by the indifference and powerless west, their actions in play each and every day without a price and until Winston Churchill reappears, let’s continue to watch the Middle East Spring fling w/supposed cries for Democracy turn into a global Winter Night! We are crippled by the “beltway bandits” who prefer to send pictures of their crotch to young women or disregard their oath and pledge to the people, board a flight from Chalestown, SC and rendevous w/a mistress in S. America strolling along w/lover in hand while the wonderful folks of SC have no one at the helm w/example and more example daily, folks keep a close eye on Egypt especially this fall when Islamic fundamentalists gain a firm grip on matters at hand….

….watch the German led EU, the Vatican and Iran begin to really throw the punches – We here, watch the television and see the Obama’s on another Vineyard vacation soon to be on CNN and Fox News as we see the Barry and Michelle taking bike rides on tne Vineyard, stroking w/his golf clubs in the same mediocre flair as he portrays as Commanfer in Chief, a handicap which is to the enemies’ advantage! A President – whether Democrat or Republican – who promised jobs, jbs, jobs and Americans are being foreclosed on as Mr. Barney and his pals get cozy up on the Ogunquit beach – and the bankers with their bonus checks spend the 4th of July at the Hamptons!

God Bless America, a Republic which is waning so quickly for Democracy and bombs bursting away are the only way We can protect ourselves from an enemy throughout history who has taken sword and with thirst for blood has slain tens of thousands at a time, read the history books as you are living it every day and never disregard Lucifer for one does not have to be at NSA listening to chatter and understanding the capability of those adverse to our way of Life…for the unrest in the daily quest for control over Jerusalem, the ultimate prize for Christian and Muslim certainly did not begin with the intent to slaughter Jew by surrounding it in ’67 only to see God’s hand protect a land with covenant assigned to it, read your history as the quest for Jerusalem began many generations ago and in every dusfunctional manner continues today as Germany and its new fast deployment Army and the Vatican also mount the last crusade….shock and awe, watch the skies over the Middle East…history repeats itself – the veil of evil shall once again revisit humanity as it did less than 100 years ago when so much death and destruction was seen…WWII and how so many have forgotten as ell as the soup lines in ’29-’34 on Main Street USA! Keep a weary eye on the financial markets – why did the “Brutes of Tehran” stash their gold in safekeeping in Asia?

Wake up, whether 95 years of age or three months old, within certain parameters, get to the airport or other transportation hub in plenty of time before scheduled departure. I will close by saying that as far as this specific 95 year old’s case, before she was subjected to the unthinkable, there were other procedures, questions, interrogation format which may have exempted her from such a close look over, however as a fellow passenger thses days, every fellw passenger is to be questioned for We are at War, besieged from with by ineptness from the highest level in government to the local and from outside by the most devious, intent on carrying out the most dastradly acts towards humnanity!

Unfortunately when I even go to my local comcast station listing to see what is on television in the next hour, even Comcast cares little for our children willing to place in full view for even our ten and twelve year old the fact that on station 441 for instance,instead of a listing and designating an “Adult” choice, no Comcast’s executive management in proclaiming its responsibility to the community prefers listing for our kids view as well, “Hot Milfs” plainly on the venue – when at a neighbor’s home the other day overhearing a kid ask his parents, what is MILF? Comcast cannot find a software developer to write a progran and alter its station listings to say at least “Adult” – we are a perverse nation which obviously begins at the corporate level, insensitive to the responsibilities we owe to a society which affords such opportunity, even our kids, each of them to be given their lessons in sex education at nine and ten years of age by having to hear about “Billy the President” who has engaged in sex at the White House, damn’t it all, demand more from Washington, dsemand more from Comcast and such providers bring television into the home, demand more from a government intervening in every way into your Life and family affairs for this nation will never survive nor will humanity without a sense of respnsibility in giving a damn about itself and its integrity and what is commonsense and by the way, increasing a debt ceiling without major cutbacks, well, look at Greece, shame on its goverment without transparency and shame of those so willing to place blinders on and selfishly portray disregard of the future ramifications of their actions – governments must be downsized and corporate greed and the selfishness of individual must be addressed….time is of the essence….

God Bless America and God Bless Jerusalem, especially East Jeruslam for neither Christian or Muslim in their quest to control this sacred city will ever sit on the throne for the City has only one King who will sit upon the hill and put a stop to such unruly and disgusting portryals of selfish disregard for the other, willing to pick up sword rather than to respect one another and yes, respect the differences among men for there are many more similarities among you than even you understand!

God Bless us all! We have lost our way….

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

Comment by Nick Catrantzos

June 29, 2011 @ 8:41 am

Absolute security exists only in theory. In reality, the only way to impose it is to paralyze one’s capacity to act. Thus, if you want a building to be absolutely secure, you must seal it off not only at all the obvious points, but also from the top and bottom. And don’t forget shielding from electronic emanations. Somehow, though, a sealed building clad in lead and rendered impenetrable ceases to be a place of business – unless you are a dying pharaoh seeking certain terminal reassurances.

This is why frontline security practitioners who remain citizens of the real world regard fugues on “absolute security” akin to rants about like snowflakes, ursine defecations in the wilderness, and doubts over the Pope’s religious affiliation.

Perhaps the short path to excellence is to start assigning the top leadership roles in security organizations to people who demonstrate actual leadership and security competencies. There is no smart way to be stupid. More on this theme in the fullness of time.

Nick Catrantzos

Comment by HGRATTAN

June 29, 2011 @ 10:21 am


To dovetail your leadership theme. Top leadership needs to spend considerable time in the trenches. The frontline TSA employees and their customers desperately need this. I perceive that much of that leadership is hiding in cubicles telling people how things are and should be. Tacit knowledge is best gained from direct experience. TSA leadership needs to not only know (from being told) to feeling and touching and truly understanding what is happening on the front lines. The all too typical Washington-centric in the rear with the gear and I know best is not and WILL NOT work.

There is a smart way to be smart -get out there and do the job.

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July 5, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

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Comment by Donald Quixote

August 4, 2011 @ 11:57 am

TSA’s Oversight of the Airport Badging Process Needs Improvement

Executive Summary

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for protecting the Nation’s transportation systems. This includes ensuring that employees working in secured airport areas are properly vetted and badged. The agency relies on designated airport operator employees to perform the badging application process. Our objective was to determine whether the TSA provides effective oversight for the issuance of airport security

Individuals who pose a threat may obtain airport badges and gain access to secured airport areas. We analyzed vetting data from 359 airport badging offices and identified XXXX badge holder records with omissions or inaccuracies pertaining to security threat assessment status, birthdates, and birthplaces. For example, XXXX of the badges were issued to individuals without a complete security threat assessment. These problems exist because TSA has designed and implemented only limited oversight of the application process. Specifically, the agency did not:

Ensure that airport operators have quality assurance
procedures for the badging application process;

Ensure that airport operators provide training and tools todesignated badge office employees; and

Require its Transportation Security Inspectors to verify the airport data during their reviews.

Consequently, the safety of airport workers, passengers, and aircraft is at risk due to the potential of inappropriate individuals obtaining
airport badges. TSA concurred with five recommendations and partially concurred with one that will improve the effectiveness of safeguards over the badging process.


Comment by Donald Quixote

December 29, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

Another interesting perspective:


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