Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 24, 2012

Detaining a United States Senator to help make America safe

Filed under: Aviation Security,Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on January 24, 2012

Here is a 10 minute CNN interview with Senator Rand Paul, as he discusses his side of what happened at the Nashville airport on Monday.  Senator Paul says he was detained by TSA because he wanted to walk through the body imaging machine a second  time after the machine apparently showed he had something on his leg.  Senator Paul wanted to lift his pant leg and show there was nothing there.  TSA, apparently, insisted on patting down the United States Senator. Senator Paul declined and was not allowed to travel on that particular flight.

Here is a link to the Transportation Security Administration’s blog telling their side of the story.  One part of that post includes this explanation:

When a passenger or bag alarms in screening technology at a TSA checkpoint, the alarm has to be resolved before the passenger can enter the secure area past the checkpoint.  Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process can’t be granted access to the secure area. TSA notifies law enforcement when this happens, and law enforcement officers can escort them out of the checkpoint.  This isn’t done to punish the passenger– it’s done to ensure that every person who gets on a plane is screened appropriately.

The White House press secretary had this to say about Paul’s claim he was detained:

“Let’s just be clear… the passenger was not detained. The passenger triggered an alarm during routine airport screening, but refused to complete the screening process in order to resolve the issue. Passengers, as in this case, who refuse to comply with security procedures are denied access to the secure gate area. In this case, the passenger was escorted out of the screening area by local law enforcement. It’s my understanding he has now rebooked and passed through security without incident, and that has resolved itself.”

Senator Paul said: he certainly felt like he was detained.

“If you’re told you can’t leave, does that count as detention?” Paul asked. “I tried to leave the cubicle to speak to one of the TSA people and I was barked at: ‘Do not leave the cubicle!’ So, that, to me sounds like I’m being asked not to leave the cubicle. It sounds a little bit like I’m being detained.”


I heard TSA Administrator Pistole a few weeks ago talking about wanting to move TSA away from looking for dangerous objects and toward looking for dangerous intent.

I think that is a worthwhile objective.

To implement that idea,  Pistole (and yes, it is pronounced “pistol”) noted in a speech last month, TSA has :

… begun implementing additional risk-based security measures at numerous airports [to] expedite the screening process for travelers we know and trust the most, and travelers who are willing to voluntarily share information with us before they travel.

This initiative includes easing access for the military:

U.S. service members are entrusted to protect citizens with their lives and as such, TSA is recognizing that these members pose very little risk to security.

In the decade TSA has been in business, the agency’s employees have:

screened more than five billion passengers and detected thousands of firearms among countless prohibited items discovered and prevented those weapons from entering the cabin of an aircraft.

I have not seen or read evidence or anecdotes to suggest any – repeat – any of the TSA-screened passengers caught with prohibited items planned to commit a terrorist act.  And that includes Sergeant 1st Class Trey Scott Atwater, the man who reportedly brought C4 explosives with him in his carry on baggage last December.  (Earlier this month, Atwater was released on a 50,000 dollar unsecured bond.)

I do not have access to classified information. Maybe TSA has prevented  or displaced terrorist aviation-related attacks.  I want to grant the agency the benefit of the doubt here.  But I am willing to bet, say, $10,000 none of those possible attacks was perpetrated by a United States Senator.


People can be — and are — stupid, criminal, sneaky and forgetful when it comes to bringing things onto an aircraft.  (I am not without sin here.)  But at what point do we start actually doing risk-informed, risk-based, risk-whatever decision making with passenger screening?

Unless TSA’s continuously evolving risk-based security model seeks to achieve zero risk, why does it take so long to develop discretionary policies “for travelers we know and trust the most,” for people who a reasonable person would consider not to be a risk?

During Monday’s Republican debate in Florida, Newt Gingrich used the phrase “huge institutional barriers against doing the right thing.”  Is that what’s going on here? Is it congress, the administration, TSA, the airline industry who intends to take another decade to get this worked out?  Who is calling the timing shots here? What is the delay?

I do not ask this to be snarky.  I’d really like to know why a nation-wide trusted flyer program cannot be put into place before the summer arrives.

I would be more than happy to make space available on this blog to help clarify why this is taking so long.


Some flyers may experience a tinge of Schadenfreude at Senator Paul’s experience. But something is deeply wrong when TSA employees are not given — by law, or policy, or doctrine, or procedure, or whatever —  the discretion to treat a United States Senator with some common sense.

Senator Paul did not have “dangerous intent.”  He was not planning to bring the plane down.

If he wanted to destroy America he has access to a much more powerful device.



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Comment by Philip J. Palin

January 24, 2012 @ 6:24 am

You ask about what is impeding broad implementation of a trusted-flyer program.

I hope others will be able to address the political and procedural challenges.

A comment on a possible cultural impediment: Over the last half-century (more?) we have tended to replace the notion of the “reasonable person” with “zero tolerance.”

A reasonable person standard was (is) always sensitive to context. A zero tolerance standard ignores context.

You are arguing, reasonably to me, for some individual calibration to context. Others will argue this produces inequitable (and unsafe?) variance. Context requires attention and judgment may require explanation. Enforcing a zero tolerance regulation is a weird sort of expedient.

I am sure this is not the only cause, but I expect this is one consequence of applying Taylorism far beyond the factory floor.

Comment by Ben

January 24, 2012 @ 9:14 am

I’m of the opinion that the makers of law must be treated exactly the same as the rest of us who are subject to the law. Hopefully this incident will renew some of the scrutiny on the TSA.

Just so we are clear here, I think that the TSA has done exactly two things to make air travel safer. The first is requiring that cockpit doors be reinforced and locked during flight, and the second is to rigorously screen checked luggage.

Everything else is security theater. If you want proof, look at the history of airline bombings and hijacking.

In the entire history of commercial aviation, I am aware of 86 cases worldwide in which a bomb was confirmed or suspected to have been placed on a commercial aircraft. Of those, 53 (62%) resulted in fatalities. If we confine our search to flights taking off or landing on US soil, we find that there were 3 bombings in the 70s, 3 bombings in the 80s, 1 bombing in the 90s, and two bombings since 2000. Let me be perfectly clear: bombings are extremely rare events, have been extremely rare for the last twenty years, and if we divide these numbers by the number of flights per decade, the odds of being on a flight to, from, or within the US with a bomb are roughly one in 48 million. More Americans die from heart disease every day than were ever killed in airline bombings.

Data on hijackings is harder to come-by, partially because widely publicized hijacking attempts tend to provoke more attempts. However, between 1988 and 1997, the worldwide rate appears to have been approximately 18 hijackings per year. I note with irony that a large number of the hijackings that occurred between 1968 and the mid-1970s appear to have been state sponsored, and a substantial fraction of those appear to have involved the Central Intelligence Agency.

The feasibility of hijacking changed substantially after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Before that, cockpit doors were frequently unsecured and in the event of a hijacking, flight crews were taught to encourage the passengers to sit quietly and wait for resolution. Now, cockpits are secured and passengers are wary – indeed, passengers (not enhanced screening) are responsible for the failures of the bombing plots by Mr. Reid and Mr. Abdulmutallab. As a result of these changes, I am not aware of a single successful hijacking attempt on a commercial flight since 2001.

And yet, American citizens are being subjected to all manner of new indignities in the name of airline security. Let’s be perfectly honest – when it comes to credible threats, the TSA has been less than proactive. People have been joking about how security screenings would change if someone carried a bomb aboard in their underwear since Mr. Reid tried to ignite his shoes. Now we find that our worst fears have come to pass: we get nude pictures taken by scanners, or we have the option of undergoing something that would be considered sexual assault in anywhere else in America.

In the contest between the terrorists and the citizens of the United States, the terrorists have a tremendous ally, though I hope an unwitting one, in the TSA and their attitude that security is the first and only priority. All a terrorist needs to do is suggest to a group of fanatics that they to try to find a binary liquid explosive, and the TSA attempts to ban all liquids from planes. Another fanatic is sent onto an airplane with a rudimentary bomb in his pants, and the TSA starts looking for any way to make a strip search palatable to the public. I have news for you: Someday, someone is going to try to sneak a bomb onto an airplane their rectum, vagina, or stomach. No “enhanced” pat-down (groin check notwithstanding) or strip search (virtual or not) is going to detect that. The propensity of our politicians to play on these fears for their own ends does not help the situation – if they are going to force this measures upon us as the public, they should be subject to the same indignities.

Oh, one more thing. If the TSA wants to trump that they have stopped thousands of guns from getting on airplanes they should recall that we had passenger screening long before the TSA that also stopped thousands of guns from getting on planes.

Comment by Sally Chapman

January 24, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

We all are confounded by what we perceive to be ‘stupid’ rules and those of us in public service encounter no end of them. Senator Paul had an opportunity to show himself as a leader by simply cooperating and moving through. Instead, he decided to be the prima dona. I don’t necessarily want to give TSA a pass, but after all, we have placed the onerous duty of absolute safety on flights to them. Should another plane be blown up, can we blame the Senator?

Comment by Publius

January 24, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

Equality under the law is a crucial principle. It does not, I perceive, disallow attention to context.

Each person is unique, each situation particular, good judgment (a reasonable person?) will reflect this reality.

As a father I did not treat each of our children the same. They soon learned to not complain about fairness because they could absolutely predict this would result in an extended discussion regarding how justice is different than fairness. While not necessarily well-received by twelve year olds, this has helped produced independent, critically thinking citizens.

In my sixty-some years we have become a more equitable society. This is to be celebrated. Along the way we deployed the equality principle as a blunt instrument. It is time to sharpen it… in the security line and elsewhere.

I am using a pseudonymn because I don’t want to deal with the potential hassles of suggesting that equality is only one of several comparable values. The values are sometimes in tension. Trade-offs, thoughtfully(or not)chosen, are often required.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

January 24, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

Or perhaps he demonstrated leadership by not complying. Since when is leadership demonstrated by simply cooperating? It’s more than that.

Its been covered in theme in commentary; intent. Clearly, the SENATOR did not have intent.

And lets be candid and not caught up in rhetoric; He’s a Senator, not just another guy and the rules are different.

Unfortunately, its a situation that shows no sign of abating. The screeners are over empowered and at the same time given no latitude in exercising discretion… a no win situation.

Perhaps its as simple as manners and disposition that would make this less onerous.

And just to add flavor to the debate; I fly often. I recently provided my Government issue, highly controlled Identification card. Why? Because its what I had available.

The screener carefully screened it with her lights and other devices.

It was then she declared; This is not a valid ID for screening, its not covered in my SOP”. I laughed.

Then I was selected for additional screening…

Comment by Donald Quixote

January 24, 2012 @ 11:44 pm

Thank goodness United States Senators are being added to the list of threatening subjects, joining those other significant, imminent threats of commercial airline pilots, infants or grandmothers with replacement hips. If elected officials are permitted to by-pass or obtain modified screening at all airports (other than DCA and IAD), then the thousands of people hired and billions of dollars expended shall be much harder to justify and expand to reduce the unemployment rate and procure additional detection systems during an election year. Where are our priorities? How can we stop fighting the last war? Is anyone watching the British on the anniversary of the War of 1812 to prepare for that previous war again?

P.S. If you work at an airport, you may have a very different perspective of the TSA rigorously screening checked luggage with their technology.

Comment by TSA & Terrorism; The Charade: Depression and War!

January 25, 2012 @ 9:30 am

While certainly not a US Senator, yet having given serious consideration and even pulling “papers” to gather voter signatures to allow my name to be placed on the ballot against dear ‘ol “Mr. Barney” and deciding I would be out of place among these “beltway thieves” as merely “Citizen Joe” from “Main Street USA” — I experienced a rather intense search during a flight to Washington to see a US official w/professional inquiry.

I found TSA to conduct their search and questions of me as well as my question to four security personnel hovering close checking even the stitching of my leathger briefcase and opening my cell telephone and looking for whatever they are supposed to look for and being asked if I am comfoortable during this search and my asking – how many passengers are subjeted to such an extensive search – w/their reply as “less than 1/2 of 1%” …. Well, passing the bomb sniffing device and the other TSA extensive search I was subjected to, yes, I went on to Washington, asked my questions and derived the expected answer political in every way….

Whether a US Senator or merely just me, “Citizen Joe” once so proud of my (our) beloved Republic, like so many other Americans who Respect and appreciate all those who came before us and toiled so diligently to create what was once the – beacon of hope to so many oppressed – to convey their insight even against government from within – by structuring the principles of a Judeo-Christian nation and gifting us with the most precious US Constitution and laws (including and applicable to immigration), special interests groups, lobbyists, Congressional members on both sides of the aisle and a President of the United States who hides behind passport and other and so chooses to embrace – smug-smiled Pelosi – and others so contrary to the principles of this nation whose youth have spilled their blood on distant shore to rid the world of evil….

Whether “Citizen Joe” from “Main Street USA” or a US Senator such as Rand Paul, TSA has been mandated to keep our passengers and skies safe from many who seek our demise and as long as such questioning and searchs and policy is within a certain parameter, each of us are to be subjected to a process implemented to keep us safe and no one should be treated any differently even if their rank and seriel number are given. When I approached TSA to booard my flight, I presented that day, my most precious document, my US Passport, a passport which when travelling abroad is often looked at with disrespect and as an American, sometimes accosted for my nationality, yet I am willing to give my Life up for my country as so many have done and so many of our first responders and others daily pursue the real terrorists and criminals including illegal immigrants who should be deported, not given tuition and food stamps…for Senator Rand Paul, it is an honor to be a US Senator and above all, whether you or your colleagues who abuse so many of the “Rules” and feel that after taking ooath and pledge to serve – We the People – you are above the law and should be treated differently, You, Sir, well you chose to make your campaign promises and pledge yourself as a mentor and the next time I fly to Washington and advised that I must be subjected to a “Pat Down” – should I say “No, for Senator Rand thinks it is above him and since He and his colleagues work for all of us – Citizen Joes – no way”

Listen, We have so many woes presently, a deficit spending President and his Congressional members whoo want to subject – We the People – to a more imposing government of intimidation and stripping us of our Rights from the Second Amendment, to the fourth to disrespecting us so in not providing simple documents to prove citizenship and placing one as an elitist with his Brother, the Cambridge H’vard Professor and directly interfere with the Cambridge Police and play a charade later offering a “beer on the WH lawn” – another elitist who nothing more than one who meets you and puts out his hand and calls you, “Brother” and like you Senator Rand, believes you are somehow subject to different laws than those….like Barry Obama as well swore before the wonderful and most charitable American people…to uphold rather than be abusive in power with all I remind you, God is Witness to all!

God Bless America!

We shall be standing first at the polls and will hurriedly cast our precious vote for anyone of you who choose to deface America. Term limits are shouted from even the Super Bowl…We know how bad it is Senator Rand for the “change” Barry Obama had promised has surely taken every last penny from our pockets and Brother, We are outraged not at TSA, however at fellas like you, not very different at all..Mitt Romney making a $10,000 bet like he was tossing a dime…another Massachusetts politician who has tasted the water at the State House and drams of the WH when in fact, like Barry Obama, your elitist manners are well noted and subject to change on election day!

It is time We hear ABC television network and television stations and radio stations begin playing patriotic songs and yes, Barry, with bombs bursting as this freedm we partake in every day has rules and it has not come easy and it is WE – Barry Obama – who will not return to the King’s tyranny! For those of you who We “entrusted” you by precious vote to take leadership roles and afforded – golden parachutes – We as “Citizen Joe” will bet you and every elitist in the beltway as I refer to as the “good ‘ol beltway bandits” with you banker pals stepping to the microphone and lie to us and tell us the stimulus monies have been lost…it will be You who will be cast aside on election day for like Abraham Lincoln, Barry Obama, you can’t fool the People as you believe you can as yu do your utmst to strip us of our Constitution and our Judeo-Christian values –

Look yonder..beware of the Germans (Assyrians) and its ever powerful and so corrupt partmer in crime, the Vatican who will downsize to ten (10) nations and rid itself of every other and position itself against the “Brutes of Tehran” who have mistakingly focused on the US with its aging aircraft, Navy vessels in disrepair and overused w/fewer and fewer Federal Reserve Notes to build new vessels…hey, why don’t we China to build our vessels as well….for after all, their attack submarines are now in the Pacific and Atlantic waters, however don’t fret because unlike the lawyers and bankers pulling our chains, the leadership in China is comprised of scientists and engineers and they clearly see the charade being played in Washington and even in these Republican debates…They like the American people and while they have accumulated every commodity possible and stockpiled every thread and needle to assure their future and their aging people who they treate with such Respect, they will nly put up w/this charade only so far…

The Chinese see the growing influence of a German-led EU and while all talk of recession in Europe, Brussels has other plans and again, it is Not israel r the Brits or the US who will challenge the Iranians, but the Germans and their new faqst deployment Army and shiny new vessels sailing in the Meditarannean…We are headed for War in the Middle East and while We in the West look for Winston Churchill and he is gone, We are worried for the “KGB Putinites” have their hand again in the stirring pot and damn it, get the pipeline from Canada in place as oil in the next weeks and months will soar and We here on “Main Street USA” do not have time to worry about you Rand Paul challenging the TSA who is mandated to even scrutinize the – elitists – but the course our great Nation is on and We are alarned by the fact that after eight sitting Republican and Democratic Presidents and so many Congressional meetings..We do Not have a US Energy Policy in place and when gasoline reaches $3.80 per gallon – shortly -even those Americans wh have a few dollars in their pockets will begin to see a slowing US economyu at 1.8% growth at best….Despite Hank Paul et al, We are in Recession and withut doubt, Depression and outright anguish will again be the veil pulled over humanity as a result of such self-serving and dysfunctional individuals who are above the law and whose power we have afforded by vote will be our demise!

God be with us….

Christopher Tingus
“Main Street USA”
PO Box 1612
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645 USA

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 26, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

Okay floating an opinion based on long observation. Members of Congress should somehow be flying on non-scheduled airlines with adequate security. Technically all of the Executive Branch has to use the airlines and the lowest category of service. There is a security exception.

Okay I want my members of congress to be able to perform at their best any time of day or night including after International Travel. This does NOT mean that their staff should get the same service. It is a false economy to put these guys and gals on scheduled airline flights. So far we (USA) have been lucky with these folks flying scheduled airlines. And perhaps surprisingly I would not allow them to have flights paid for by lobbyists in any way. There could be a Member airline fund to which tax deductible contributions could be made helping to offset official travel cost generically.

Comment by Donald Quixote

January 27, 2012 @ 9:02 am

Ron Paul raises campaign cash to “end the TSA”

January 26, 2012
USA Today

Ron Paul appears headed toward reaching his latest fundraising goal: $250,000 to help end the Transportation Security Administration.

The GOP presidential candidate began a “money bomb” shortly after his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, got stopped at the Nashville airport on Monday after setting off an alarm on a body-scanning machine. The younger Paul declined a pat-down search by the TSA but was allowed to board a later flight.

As of 11 a.m. ET today, Ron Paul had raised more than $226,000 toward his goal to “end the TSA now,” as he says on his campaign website.

Both Pauls are frequent critics of the TSA. After the Rand Paul incident, Ron Paul decried a “police state” in the country that “gropes and grabs our children.”
The Metro Airport Authority in Nashville released the security video of Rand Paul, according to The Tennessean newspaper. In that video, the freshman senator does not appear to be “irate,” as police said in an incident report.

The elder Paul will participate in the latest GOP presidential debate tonight at 8 p.m. ET in Florida. He’s not campaigning much in the Sunshine State because its delegates are awarded winner-take-all.
Paul announced he will campaign tomorrow and Saturday in Maine, where Republicans are being encouraged to caucus Feb. 4-11.


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