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Headlines, the TSA, the Scientist and Me

Paula Gordon   |   October 9, 2015    4:52 PM ET

I'm about to travel through five major U.S. airports, four of them hubs. Recent headlines screaming about the TSA's 95 percent failure rate would worry me if a.) I thought "screaming headlines" were a reliable source of information or, b.) I had much regard for the ill-conceived and badly executed actions of Congress and the Bush White House panicked by 9/11 or, c.) I thought that airborne terrorists were more of a personal threat than deranged gun owners or falling satellites. Fortunately other publications (e.g., The Guardian and The Atlantic) have taken more balanced views.

For a reality check, I contacted Paul Ekman, the scientific consultant to Pixar's movie about the emotions, Inside, Out, and one of the world's leading scientists on the facial expression of emotions. Dr. Ekman played a central role in the development of TSA's SPOT (Screening Passengers with Observational Techniques) system, though the current version has moved away from his contributions. Naturally, Dr. Ekman is not an unbiased observer. Unlike much of what has been reported, however, he actually knows what he's talking about. Contrary to the scare headlines, the TSA's SPOT method is working and there's data* to support that conclusion. Whence the headlines? The tests of TSA's effectiveness were themselves ineffective. Dr. Ekman elaborated:

TSA personnel in the SPOT program have come under repeated, unjustified criticism. Their failure to catch people pretending to be bad guys is totally irrelevant to whether they will actually catch the real bad guys. Let's get back to the real world. Money smugglers, weapons smugglers, and much more rarely, a terrorist try to get through airport security and not get SPOTted. My research and the research of many other scientists found that when there's a lot to lose (death or imprisonment) emotions are generated which are very hard to conceal and often leak out in what I call micro-expressions. The SPOT personnel are trained to identify these and many other signs of emotional overload.

When there is not only the threat of dire punishment for failure but great reward promised for success whether it be money or 72 virgins it puts a lot of pressure on peoples' ability to think, producing cognitive overload, subtle changes in speech. The SPOT people are trained to detect the subtle signs of emotional and cognitive overload.

Of course they didn't catch the play-actors. They had nothing to lose and nothing to gain if their "bombs" were detected. There was no cognitive or emotional overload. I am all for testing it, but let's not do it in such a shoddy, half-baked, invalid fashion. That only wastes government money and smears a valid, needed layer of airport security.

In a never publicly released study** by the American Institute of Research, people identified by the TSA SPOTters were fifty (50) times more likely to be wanted felons or smugglers than those selected at random. The evidence is in, the system is working, let's be grateful for this layer of security.

The lessons from this? Headlines rarely provide real intelligence about what has actually occurred. And, frequently those headlines represent only one group or even one individual's self-interest.

If the subject matters to you, read past the headlines, find other sources and, most importantly, follow the story beyond the media's gnat-like attention span.

• • •

* The Department of Homeland Security commissioned a report on SPOT from the American Institute of Research. While Dr. Ekman was not a part of that report, he did testify at the same time the muzzled results were brought before the House's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Activities of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

** Why were the findings never made public? Good question (see "self-interest" above). The TSA is budgeted to spend $6.3 B in fiscal 2016. Perhaps your senator or representative can tell you what you'll get for that.

How Much Money Everyone Who Works at the Airport Makes

Thrillist   |   October 7, 2015   10:27 AM ET

By: Matt Meltzer

Credit: Shuttershock

We've all done it. After sitting in traffic for an hour while driving to the airport, standing in line behind 14 families with 25 bags to check your one suitcase, shuffling through security and seeing your plane delayed three times, you just snap. And that poor guy behind the Starbucks counter who spelled your name with one too many E's is now bearing the brunt of your air-rage.

And it's unfortunate, because most of the men and women who make your local airport run don't earn enough cash to deal with your crap. To prove it, we used data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics,, and to compile the AVERAGE* annual salary for a bunch of airport jobs across the United States. From shuttle van driver to airplane pilot -- and everyone else you encounter along the way -- here's who's taking home what from the airport.

*Again, these are AVERAGE salaries. We realize that some people in each job will make more, others will make less.

More: The World's Top 20 Cities, According to That Dude Who Visited Every Country

Credit: Shuttershock

Flight attendant
Average annual income: $42,750
Think about THAT number the next time you want to press the call button to request another copy of SkyMall or a pillow.

Average annual income: $118,435
It's a lot easier to be chipper when saying, "We're going to be on the tarmac at least another hour while they come and replace this toilet" when you're making six figures.

Cargo handler
Average annual income: $35,016
They probably handle large containers leaving from Miami every day that are worth more than they'll make in a lifetime.

Average annual income: $25,893
If people realized $5 a bag is a bargain compared to waiting in that 400-person line at the Southwest counter, skycaps would take home a lot more money.

Credit: Flickr/ResoluteSupportMedia

Air traffic controller
Average annual income: $109,308
You'd think the guys who keep planes from crashing into each other would make a little more than a Peter Luger's waiter. Ronald Reagan would not.

Airport manager
Average annual income: $49,416
According to, running an ENTIRE AIRPORT only makes you about $400 a year more than managing a local Chili's. Then again, worrying about everybody's chips and salsa refill can be stressful AF.

The cop screaming at you to move your car
Average annual income: $54,817
They may be the best-paid people on the planet who ride Segways.

Credit: Carolina K. Smith MD/

TSA agent
Average annual income: $40,452
Contrary to popular belief, there are no bonuses for confiscating the most 4oz containers of facial cream and souvenir cheese knives.

Baggage handler
Average annual income: $35,457
Before you start calling them "tossers," find the nearest 50lb object. Now lift it. Put it down. Lift it. Put it down. Now do that for the whole day and tell us whether it's worth $16 an hour, before taxes.

The lady who sells the newspaper and "I Heart NY" shotglasses
Average annual income: $19,406
Perhaps you should buy some candy or gum.

To find out how much 10 other airport careers make, get the full story at!

More from Thrillist:

6 Airport Wi-Fi Hacks You Need to Know Before You Fly

The Least-Visited States in America, and Why You Should Go to Each

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Also on HuffPost:

Marina Fang   |   September 27, 2015    4:08 PM ET

Sept 27 (Reuters) - U.S. airport security agents discovered a record 67 firearms in luggage passengers intended to carry on to airplanes during one week in September, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Of the 67 firearms found during the week ended Sept. 17, 56 were loaded and 26 had a round in the chamber, the TSA reported. The tally set a new weekly record. The prior record was 65 firearms found during a week in May 2013, TSA said.

For the most recent week, ending Sept. 24, TSA said it found 64 firearms in carry-on bags at airports. Of those, 55 were loaded and 22 had a round chambered, TSA said.

In July, new TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told a congressional panel that his top priority would be to close security gaps at airport checkpoints.

Lawmakers opened a U.S. House of Representatives hearing after a Department of Homeland Security report that found TSA airport screeners did not detect banned weapons in 67 of 70 tests at dozens of airport checkpoints.

Guns in airplane luggage have been found all around the country. TSA said its agents stopped a man Thursday at a Greater Rochester International Airport checkpoint in New York when they detected a gun in his carry-on bag. A day prior, on Sept. 23, TSA found a loaded firearm in a passenger's carry-on bag at the Des Moines International Airport in Iowa.

Nationwide, TSA officers have found more than 2,000 firearms at airport security checkpoints so far this year.

Weapons, including firearms, firearm parts and ammunition, are banned from carry-on bags, but can be transported in checked bags if they are unloaded, and declared to the airline. Passengers who bring firearms to the checkpoint face possible criminal charges and civil penalties up to $11,000.

(Reporting By Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Kira Brekke   |   September 24, 2015    4:36 PM ET

Shadi Petosky, a transgender woman, took to social media earlier this week to divulge the horrifying details of harassment she faced by TSA agents at the Orlando airport. But this deeply upsetting narrative is not unique to Petosky, according to Jen Richards, a transgender woman who spoke with HuffPost Live on Thursday.

Richards, a writer and activist who is also friends with Petosky, told host Josh Zepps that she felt "empathetic horror" for her friend and described her own similarly "mortifying" experience at the Chicago Midway Airport in 2013. She said she was repeatedly asked to go through the body screener by an "apologetic" TSA agent who pointed out an "anomaly" over her genitals. Richards tried to explain the situation but said she was eventually detained in an entirely different part of the airport for a full body search. 

"I explained to them what the anomaly is, and they say that, 'Oh, well, then [we] have to go get male screeners,'" Richards said. "And I have to explain to them that, 'No, I'm legally female and that I request female screeners.' You know, I almost missed my flight, too. It's an inconvenience, it's mortifying and it's extraordinarily common."

Want more HuffPost Live? Listen on the go with free downloads of our best interviews on iTunes here, and subscribe here for our morning email to guarantee you won't miss our buzziest conversations. 

Also on HuffPost:

David Lohr   |   September 22, 2015    5:14 PM ET

A transgender woman live-tweeted her embarrassment when TSA agents subjected her to heightened scrutiny after a body scanner flagged an "anomaly."

"I am being held by the TSA in Orlando because of an 'anomaly' -- my penis," Shadi Petosky tweeted Monday afternoon.

According to, body scan machine operators must select a gender-specific computer algorithm when they are screening passengers. If a passenger has body characteristics of more than one gender, unexpected body shapes can be registered as anomalies that may be considered potential threats that prompt additional screening.

Petosky, a Los Angeles based writer and producer, was attempting to board a flight to Minneapolis when the TSA agents pulled her aside.

"That's my penis," Petosky told a male TSA agent, explaining that she was transgender, reported.

Petosky reportedly refused to re-enter the scanner after it was calibrated for a male and was subjected to a 40-minute pat-down, which caused her to miss her flight.

"The TSA at the Orlando Airport told me I couldn't take photos but this is denigrating," Petosky tweeted, along with an emotional selfie. "I have missed my flight."

Petosky was eventually cleared and allowed to leave and rebook another flight.

Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, told his office has received numerous complaints about TSA agents mistreating transgender passengers.

In a statement to The Los Angeles Times, the TSA said that upon reviewing security footage, they "determined that the evidence shows our officers followed TSA's strict guidelines."

Petosky, meanwhile, says the TSA needs to revamp their system for transgender passengers.

"The TSA may think they are trained and following strict guidelines, but if the guidelines include flagging my genitals, they need to change," she tweeted.

The No-Fly Follies

Rebecca Gordon   |   September 20, 2015    7:53 PM ET

How to Censor Yourself Before the Government Even Has the Chance

Cross-posted with

It was August 2002. My partner Jan Adams and I were just beginning our annual pilgrimage to Massachusetts to visit my father and stepmother. At the check-in line at San Francisco International Airport, we handed over our driver’s licenses and waited for the airline ticket agent to find our flight and reservation. Suddenly, she got a funny look on her face. “There’s something wrong with the computer,” she said. “I need to talk to my supervisor.”

So began a day of confusion and fear, followed by several years of indignation, frustration, and litigation, as we struggled to find out why -- as the agent’s supervisor soon informed us with a similarly strange look on her face -- we’d both “turned up on the FBI’s no-fly list.” Her eyes grew wide as she looked us over. “I don’t understand it,” she said. “You don’t fit the profile.”

She was right, of course. A pair of middle-aged, middle-class, white lesbians did not fit the profile of the “Arab terrorists” she expected the no-fly list to contain. What she didn’t know was that our suitcases held hundreds of copies of War Times/Tiempo de guerras, a free, bilingual antiwar tabloid we’d helped start. Could aging pacifists have fit the danger-to-America profile?

You might think that the no-fly list is old news, a relic of the panicked early days following the 9/11 attacks. In fact, as recently as 2012, there were still more than 21,000 names on the list, and it seems unlikely to have gotten any shorter since then, though we do know of at least four names that, with some legal prodding from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), were recently removed from it: Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari, and Awais Sajjad. All four men were American citizens or permanent residents who ended up on the list as retaliation for refusing to become FBI informers and tell tales on their neighbors and others in Muslim communities in this country. For years, they could not visit wives, children, or ailing relatives in countries like Pakistan and Yemen.

According to a suit filed by the CCR in 2014, as reported by Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic, Jameel Algibhah’s troubles began in 2009, when he refused the FBI’s request to infiltrate a mosque in Queens, New York. The legal complaint continues:

“When Mr. Algibhah declined to do so, the agents then asked Mr. Algibhah to participate in certain online Islamic forums and ‘act like an extremist.’ When Mr. Algibhah again declined, the agents asked Mr. Algibhah to inform on his community in his neighborhood. The FBI agents offered Mr. Algibhah money and told him that they could bring his family from Yemen to the United States very quickly if he became an informant. Mr. Algibhah again told the FBI agents that he would not become an informant.”

So the FBI retaliated. Since 2010, Jameel Algibhah has been unable to visit his wife and three daughters in Yemen. Not content with preventing Algibhah and the other three from flying, the FBI began interviewing their friends, family, acquaintances, and employers, generating suspicion about them. “They lost jobs, were stigmatized within their communities, and suffered severe financial and emotional distress,” reports the CCR.

In June 2015, just before their case was to go to court, the men received letters from the government officially informing them that their names had been removed from the list. The CCR believes that "the letters are a de facto acknowledgment that the men never posed a security threat of any kind and that the FBI only listed them to coerce them into spying on their faith community."

The letters restored the men’s right to fly, but they didn’t make up for years of stigma and distress. So the four continued their litigation, but on September 3rd, a federal judge dismissed their suit, which means that they will not get any recompense for the damage done to their lives. In June 2015, the Associated Press reported that Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Blain argued the case should not continue, in part for reasons of “national security” and because “neither the law nor the evidence supported finding the agents personally liable for violating the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.” In fact, the government’s original motion to dismiss the suit argued that “there is no constitutional right not to become an informant.” That’s right. Your government says that if it wants to make you a snitch, you have no right to refuse.

Given that these four men without criminal records or any other obvious reason for government suspicion were, like my partner and me, put on the no-fly list leads me to wonder about the other 21,000 people on that list, including at least 500 Americans. (In fact the overall number could turn out to be as high as 44,000, according to “60 Minutes,” or even 48,000, according to the Associated Press.  We just don’t know because, like so much else in our new post-9/11 world, information about the list remains classified.)

What did all those other people on the list do or refuse to do? How have their lives been damaged? And how dangerous are they really? My partner and I certainly had no intention of turning our airplane into a terrorist weapon. What are the odds that any of the other 21,000 or 44,000 or 48,000 people did? And if potential airplane bombers or hijackers do exist, what are the odds that any of them are actually on the FBI’s list? After all, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” wasn’t. Neither was the infamous “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. All this list-making has been marked by an odd -- and dangerous -- combination of intrusion and incompetence.

The National Insecurity State

In our case, even though we didn’t fit “the profile,” the agent, a little shakily, followed her protocol. She called the San Francisco Police, who have an airport substation. Three armed members of the city’s finest arrived a few minutes later to stand guard over us and our luggage in the middle of the lobby, while they waited to hear from headquarters about whether we were on what they called the “master list.” No one ever told us what this “master list” was, or how it was different from the list the airline’s computer was consulting. As I pondered the master list, and our chances of appearing on it, my mind kept wandering to those copies of War Times sitting a yard away from the officers’ feet. Suppose they asked to open our luggage? How would they react when they saw those papers?

To be honest, both of us figured that two white U.S. citizens with plenty of class privilege were not going to suffer anything much worse than a missed flight, and it turned out that we didn’t even miss our flight. After about 20 minutes, however, I was getting antsy -- and thirsty.

“Would one of you officers walk over there with me, so I can get a drink?” I asked, pointing to a water fountain across the way.

“No. We’re going to stay right here until we hear from headquarters,” came the reply.

The initial sense of fear was slowly draining away as the minutes ticked by and passengers boarded the flight we now feared they were never going to let us get on. I knew it was time to draw on my dramatic chops. (Sometimes it helps to have an actor for a father.) Putting on my best Frightened Little Woman voice, I asked, “Suppose we are on this master list? Then what? Are you going to arrest us?”

“We wouldn’t arrest you, but we’ll have to detain you until the FBI gets here and decides what they want to do with you,” came the answer.

We were probably all relieved when, a few minutes later, the lead officer’s walkie-talkie crackled to life with news from headquarters. We weren’t, it seemed, on the “master list.” So the officers marked our boarding passes with a big red “S” -- which we learned years later stands for “selectee” -- put our luggage through a special X-ray machine (but never opened it), and escorted us past security to our gate, with the airline agent in tow. There, they saw us onto our flight.

I turned to the agent.  “Is this going to happen every time we fly?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, “but if I were you, I’d get to the airport early.”

To our surprise, more police met us at our stopover in Chicago, where we changed planes, perhaps in case we decided to blow up the airport.  They then escorted us to the next gate, waiting with us until we boarded.

Once in Boston, we continued our journey unhassled by bus and boat to Martha’s Vineyard. However, on either that trip or a later one -- my memory fails me -- our ferry to the island was escorted out of Woods Hole harbor by two 50-foot Coast Guard Zodiac boats, each sporting a 50mm machine gun on the bow -- as if we might be attacked in the coastal waters of Massachusetts, and by an enemy capable of being defeated by a machine gun. Once we got to deep water, where such an attack would be more likely, however, our escorts turned around and left us defenseless. I promptly burst out laughing.

“Well, I don’t know about you,” growled a well-dressed guy standing beside me on the deck, “but it makes me feel more secure.”

A lot of unlikely things made many Americans feel more secure in those days and still do. Maybe it was because we were then -- and remain today -- frightened in a way that bears no relation to any actual threat we face. That fear, however, feeds the desire of the national security state to maintain its centrality in our lives. Among the curious things that added to our sense of “security” in those years: the rounding up of 600 Muslims living in this country in the days following 9/11, who were then tortured and held incommunicado in a Brooklyn detention center for six months; the suggestion from a liberal columnist in Newsweek that it was “time to think about torture”; or to mention just a couple of no-fly follies -- putting Senator Teddy Kennedy on the list, along with at least one nun, and until 2008, Nelson Mandela. (That was also the year he was finally taken off the U.S. terrorism watch list.) Oh yes, and don’t forget a couple of no-name peace activists.

As it happens, at the time we had our experience at San Francisco airport, my stepmother’s brother was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, the guy the Chron had assigned to the Unabomber story some years before. When he got her email about our run-in with the national security state, he was on the phone to her immediately. Did she think we would be willing to talk to a reporter? Oh, yes, my stepmom assured him, we definitely would. And thus began perhaps the longest-running “story” I’ve ever been part of. Three years later, we were still getting requests from German and Dutch television stations to reenact the event at the airport. While we in this country settled into the new normal, it turned out that Europeans remained shocked by U.S. government doings.

As it happened -- the FBI really had done a lousy job of vetting us -- my partner was then consulting for the Northern California ACLU. When she told them about our experience, they wondered: Would we be willing to let them file a Freedom of Information Act request on our behalf to try to figure out how this had happened? We agreed in hopes that the documentation we got our hands on would help us understand how we’d gotten on the no-fly list in the first place and -- far more important to us at that moment -- whether or not we’d been removed. We also shared the ACLU’s more general concern that this list was fast becoming a tool of government fear mongering and coercion. That concern turned out to be well founded.

But we were, of course, living in the post-9/11 United States, in an era in which the government seems to have given up pretending that it has to obey the law when it comes to anything that falls under the category of “national security.” So we didn’t even get a reply to our FOIA request (although in theory the government was obligated to respond to it) -- at least not until the ACLU sued. By this time I’m sure you won’t be shocked to discover that the pro bono attorney working on the case for them also found himself on the no-fly list.

Eventually, the ACLU’s suit did bring us about 300 pages of paper from the feds. But most of what was written on those 300 pages had been redacted -- completely blacked out. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer (brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer) was not amused. He made the feds show him privately every document they wouldn’t allow us to see and required them to explain the rationale for each redaction. But we never saw the unredacted material ourselves. Who knows what those 300 pages contained, and how much of it was about us personally? Judge Breyer did at least award the ACLU $200,000 in court costs for their efforts. But we never found out why we were on the list in the first place. That was a secret he allowed the feds to keep, presumably to prevent prospective terrorists from figuring out how to avoid getting listed. Here’s a hint: don’t publish an antiwar newspaper.

The only time we’ve had trouble flying since then was when my partner took the same airline to Chicago for a United for Peace and Justice conference. Apparently, some people are only dangerous on some airlines.

Winners and Losers

When I told our no-fly story to an ethics class of mine recently, one of my students asked, “So who won, you or the government?” I had to stop and think about that. After all, while the ACLU got their expenses back, which was a moral win, but we never found out why we were on the list, or even whether we’d been removed.

Then I remembered something else: just how afraid I was that day simply because we were carrying multiple copies of a perfectly legal antiwar paper in a perfectly legal manner. I remembered as well how frightened I later became after one of the pages that the ACLU shook loose from the government suggested that our names might have been sent as potential terrorists to U.S. embassies and agencies all over the world. (This may have been as part of another example of what seems to be endless post-9/11 government list gathering: the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System, known as “CLASS.”)  

And I thought about those four Muslim Americans on the no-fly list because they refused to become FBI informants, and about Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian student studying at Stanford University who ended up on the list because an FBI agent checked the wrong box on a form. Nine years later, she finally won her suit to get off the list, only to find that the U.S. embassy in Malaysia had revoked her student visa -- because she’d ended up on the CLASS list, as a result of the same original error. I thought about all the nuns, babies, and people with the misfortune to be named Mohammed who ended up on the list in error. And I was struck by the fact that, for 14 years, the national security state has been serving up a uniquely pernicious stew of incompetence and intransigence.

Finally, I thought about the times I’ve quietly chosen not to carry a particular book, or wear a particular T-shirt or button, when travelling by air. No reason to give the Transportation Security Administration any more excuses to pay me special attention. It’s easier, safer, just to conform. So did my partner and I win our suit? When so many of us become frightened enough of our own government to do its censoring for it, I’d say that we’ve all lost.

Rebecca Gordon teaches in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and the forthcoming American Nuremberg: The Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post 9/11 War Crimes (Hot Books, 2016).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Andy Campbell   |   September 4, 2015    2:54 PM ET

It's another black eye week for the Transportation Security Administration, as a New York-based agent was busted for stealing a diamond-encrusted watch and a newly released video showed a Denver agent groping a passenger. 

TSA screener Margo Louree-Grant, 41, was arrested Wednesday after she allegedly stole a $7,000 luxury watch left behind by a passenger at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the New York Daily News reported

Port Authority police said she snatched the watch after a passenger left it in a screening bin. She reportedly took it to a bathroom, but became nervous when she saw other TSA agents searching for it and so she destroyed it. Louree-Grant was charged with grand larceny and official misconduct. 

Meanwhile, newly released footage from a Feb. 9 incident at Denver International Airport shows agent Ty Spicha, 27, fondling male passengers, officials told CBS.

Spicha colluded with a fellow agent, Yasmeen Shafi, 22, who manipulated scanning machines so that male travelers who Spicha found attractive would be identified as female. The scanner would then pick up abnormalities in the passenger's genital region, giving Spicha justification to pat them down.

Shafi reportedly admitted to altering the scans of 10 passengers, and both employees were fired in April for their misconduct. The Denver District Attorney’s office was “unable to corroborate the victims' claims with any additional facts,” and dropped the criminal case against the pair in July, allowing for the release of the video, according to the Daily News.

Officials said victimized passengers could still come forward and sue the pair.  

Michael McLaughlin   |   August 28, 2015    7:09 PM ET

A Transportation Security Administration agent at New York's LaGuardia Airport was arrested after being accused of luring a woman to an airport bathroom under the pretense of a security search and molesting her, authorities said on Friday.

The suspect, identified by officials as Maxie Oquendo, 40, was wearing a TSA uniform when he brought the 22-year-old traveler to an upstairs bathroom and molested her on Tuesday night, according to Joe Pentangelo, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"Supposedly he took her into another area using his official position, being in uniform, and she thought it was a part of his official duty," Pentangelo said

Port Authority police arrested Oquendo on Thursday on charges of forcible touching, official misconduct and unlawful imprisonment, he said.

Oquendo has since been fired by the Transportation Security Administration, officials said on Friday.

An attorney for Oquendo could not be immediately identified.

"TSA is working in close partnership with the Port Authority Police Department in support of this investigation," TSA administrator Peter Neffenger said in a statement.


(Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)

7 Things TSA Wants You To Know About Airport Security

U.S. News Travel   |   August 4, 2015   10:12 AM ET

The Transportation Security Agency was created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in an effort to strengthen airport security and prevent similar events in the future. Flash forward to present day: Security checkpoint lines can be endless, inexperienced travelers can slow things down and screaming children can turn the process into a nightmare. But while some travelers view it as an inconvenience or just another obstacle in the way of their next vacation, airport security is a serious matter.

To get the scoop on what a job in airport security entails and everything travelers should know to keep their security screenings quick and painless, U.S. News spoke with TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein, Anthony Hutchinson, a Transportation Security Officer at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and William Covieo, a TSO at Washington Dulles International Airport.

See: How to Fly Through Airport Security

TSA agents' skills are tested regularly

In addition to undergoing several weeks of training prior to starting their jobs, plus another month or so of on-the-job training with an officer, TSA agents are tested on a daily basis, according to Hutchinson. He said advanced technology forces them to keep their skills sharp and their eyes peeled for threats.

"On the X-ray machine, there's a program that's built in to the system that allows us to be tested ... to make sure we're looking at the screens," said Hutchinson, who's worked as a TSA agent at Reagan National Airport for nearly 11 years. "We never know when [the alert] is coming through, which is a great thing because it keeps us on our toes."

TSA offers tools to help you breeze through security

The TSA provides seasonal checklists travelers can consult to prepare themselves before arriving at the airport. For example, the summer checklist implores fliers to make sure any luggage locks are TSA compatible, to not pack fireworks in checked or carry-on luggage as they are not permitted, and to have an ID and boarding pass ready for inspection before entering the TSA checkpoint, among other tips.

The free My TSA app for smartphones also offers numerous features to aid in a smoother security screening process. Fellow travelers can input security line wait times and you can check to see if there are general airport delays ahead of time. Plus, the "Can I Bring ..." search function allows you to type in an item and "right away you can figure out if you can put it in your checked bag, your carry-on bag, either or neither," Farbstein said.

Knowing and following the 3-1-1 rule will make your life easier

The 3-1-1 rule refers to the amount of liquid, gel, aerosol, cream or paste (most often travelers' toiletries) allowed in a carry-on bag: it's 3.4 ounces or less per container, placed in one quart-sized clear plastic zipped baggie. Remember: this rule applies to various items of the same consistency, not just toiletries. One of the most common items people don't realize they can't bring through airport security? Peanut butter.

"When we're talking about liquids and gels, if you can spread it, smear it, spray it, spill it, pump it or pour it, then you should put it in your checked bag," Farbstein said.

They don't want to slow you down

"We really don't want to have you there sitting at the checkpoint with us, we want to see you for that two to five minutes ... and we want you to be done," said Hutchinson.

Travelers who typically don't prepare before coming to the airport are often culprits for slowing down security lines, according to Hutchinson. Making sure you're a prepared flier, including wearing easily removable shoes, arriving at the airport early, using the TSA checklists and following the airport advisements, will help you speed through security and on to your final destination.

See: 10 Airports with Awesome Amenities

You can decide what to do with your prohibited item

In the event that you have a prohibited item like a pocket knife in your carry-on bag, the TSA officers don't take it from you or throw it away. According to Farbstein, fliers have a few options.

Travelers can put prohibited items back in their cars, in their checked bags or give them to a nontraveling companion. An issue many passengers face, though, is whether they have enough time to do so and make their flights. "Your final choice is to voluntarily surrender it to TSA," Farbstein said. (Note: Some prohibited items are illegal in certain states, and can be confiscated by police.) Consult the TSA's website for more information on prohibited items.

The TSA runs an extensive lost and found operation

TSA officers across the country interact with about 2 million travelers on a daily basis, some of whom are rushing to catch a plane or a bite to eat before their flight takes off. Stressed fliers often leave belongings behind at security checkpoints and some may not realize the TSA collects and catalogues all of those abandoned items. Sunglasses, belts, loose change, jackets and hats are some of the more common things people forget to grab after going through security screenings. But Farbstein and Covieo said they've seen some pretty incredible items, such as a guitar, laptops and tablets, a blueprint of casino plans and even a diamond encrusted watch, get left behind or lost in the travel shuffle.

TSA agents collect the abandoned items, tag them by the checkpoint they were left at and the date, and organize them by item type and by month in hopes of making them easy to locate when a traveler inquires about a lost object. Items are held for 30 days, after which the state picks them up and either takes the items to general surplus facilities or sells them online. The only thing the TSA gets to keep is the loose change, which adds up. In 2014, TSA collected more than $670,000 in unclaimed money, which goes directly back to TSA to use for aviation security operations.

If there's a chance you may have left something in an airport at a TSA checkpoint, visit the TSA's contact list to find the best way to get in touch with that airport's TSA lost and found. Covieo asks about travel dates and has travelers provide a detailed description of lost items and where they were left to determine if TSA would have them, before checking the stockpile. If it's not something left at security but rather in the airport or at the gate, he directs people to the airport or airline's lost and found.

TSA officers encounter challenges ... and deal with them

Some of the challenges TSA officers face include everything from handling an influx of travelers around the holidays to dealing with kids frightening passengers by continuously yelling "that's the bomb," all while staying focused on screening for potential threats.

"We've got to be right all the time. And that's one big thing about our job people probably don't understand ... there's not one time we can be wrong," Hutchinson said.

One of the most difficult parts of the job is helping people who don't travel frequently, Hutchinson said, adding that officers have to figure out a way to move these travelers through security quickly and efficiently without slowing down other passengers.

"It adds frustration on the frequent fliers to get through the checkpoint, so it's hard to try to keep that calm," he said. "Because the one thing we love is to have a calm environment ... it helps us to see bad people when they are coming through."

Hutchinson's best overall advice for travelers? "Relax. The one thing that happens a lot is people get agitated when they travel. Relax and understand we're there to help you, we're not there to be in your way."

See: 11 Wild Things Left Behind at TSA Checkpoints in Dulles Airport

Erin Shields is a Travel Editor at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, circle her on Google+ or email her at

Also on HuffPost:

Paige Lavender   |   July 29, 2015    8:33 AM ET

WASHINGTON, July 29 (Reuters) - The Transportation Security Administration plans to retrain thousands of airport screeners to detect weapons better, scale back a pre-clearance program and more closely monitor security badges, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Peter V. Neffenger, the agency's new administrator, told the newspaper in an interview those measures would be part of reforms to address recent security lapses. The agency was criticized for emphasizing speed over security after the lapses.

"Efficiency and getting people through airport security lines cannot be our sole reason that makes you take your eyes off the reason for the mission," Neffenger was quoted as saying in the newspaper.

A report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general found that airport screeners, who are TSA employees, did not detect banned weapons in 67 of 70 tests at dozens of airports, ABC News said in June, citing officials briefed on it.

Neffenger, a former Coast Guard vice admiral, was to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.

After the report, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reassigned acting TSA administrator Melvin Carraway and said there would be more random covert testing at checkpoints. (Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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The American Police State from A to Z

John W. Whitehead   |   July 14, 2015    1:39 PM ET

For those who haven't been attention, here is an A-to-Z, back-to-the-basics primer of what life in the United States of America is really all about.

A is for the AMERICAN POLICE STATE. As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, a police state "is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions."

B is for our battered BILL OF RIGHTS. In the cop culture that is America today, where you can be kicked, punched, tasered, shot, intimidated, harassed, stripped, searched, brutalized, terrorized, wrongfully arrested, and even killed by a police officer, and that officer is rarely held accountable for violating your rights, the Bill of Rights doesn't amount to much.

C is for CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE, a practice wherein the police seize and keep private property they "suspect" may be connected to criminal activity, whether or not any crime was actually committed.

D is for DRONES. At least 30,000 drones will be airborne in American airspace by 2020, part of an $80 billion industry. Although some drones will be used for benevolent purposes, many will also be equipped with lasers, tasers and scanning devices.

E is for the ELECTRONIC CONCENTRATION CAMP a.k.a. the surveillance state, in which all aspects of a person's life are policed by government agents and all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, and their communications spied upon.

F is for FUSION CENTERS, data collecting agencies spread throughout the country that serve as a clearinghouse for information shared between state, local and federal agencies. These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails.

G is for GRENADE LAUNCHERS. The federal government has distributed more than $18 billion worth of battlefield-appropriate military weapons, vehicles and equipment such as drones, tanks, and grenade launchers to domestic police departments across the country. As a result, most small-town police forces now have enough firepower to render any citizen resistance futile.

H is for HOLLOW-POINT BULLETS. The government's efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration stockpiling millions of lethal hollow-point bullets, in violation of international law.

I is for the INTERNET OF THINGS, in which internet-connected "things" will monitor your home, your health and your habits. This "connected" industry propels us closer to a future where police apprehend virtually anyone if the government "thinks" they may commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person's biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

J is for JAILING FOR PROFIT. Having outsourced their inmate population to prisons run by private corporations, increasing numbers of states have adopted a profit-driven form of mass punishment that requires them to keep their privately run prisons full by jailing large numbers of Americans for inane crimes.

K is for KENTUCKY V. KING. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers can break into homes, without a warrant, even if it's the wrong home as long as they think they have a reason to do so, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by law enforcement officials.

L is for LICENSE PLATE READERS, which enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country. This data collected on tens of thousands of innocent people is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies.

M is for MAIN CORE. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. This database, "Main Core," is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

N is for NO-KNOCK RAIDS. SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for routine police matters. In fact, more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year.

O is for OVERCRIMINALIZATION. It's estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. As a result of this overcriminalization, we're seeing an uptick in Americans being arrested and jailed for such absurd "violations" as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room.

P is for PATHOCRACY. When our own government treats us as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, mistreated, and then jailed in profit-driven private prisons if we dare step out of line, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which "operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups."

Q is for QUALIFIED IMMUNITY, which allows officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing.

R is for ROADSIDE STRIP SEARCHES and BLOOD DRAWS. The courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government officials--especially the police--vast discretion in carrying out strip searches, blood draws, and even anal probes for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense.

S is for the SURVEILLANCE STATE. On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears.

T is for TASERS. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns and rubber pellets, used as weapons of compliance, enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. A Taser Shockwave, for instance, can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button.

U is for UNARMED CITIZENS SHOT BY POLICE. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, often attributed to a fear for their safety. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

V is for VIPR SQUADS. So-called "soft target" security inspections, carried out by roving VIPR task forces are taking place whenever and wherever the government deems appropriate, without needing the justification of a particular threat.

W is for WHOLE-BODY SCANNERS. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, scanning devices are being used not only to "see" through your clothes but government mobile units can drive by your home and spy on you within the privacy of your home.

X is for X-KEYSCORE. One of the many spying programs carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA) that targets every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. This top-secret program "allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals."

Y is for YOU-NESS. Using your face, mannerisms, social media and "you-ness" against you, you can now be tracked based on what you buy, where you go, what you do in public, and how you do what you do. Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business.

Z is for ZERO TOLERANCE. Young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, often for engaging in little more than childish behavior.

As you can see, the warning signs are all around us. The question is whether you will organize, take a stand and fight for freedom, or will you, like so many clueless Americans, freely walk into the slaughterhouse?

Seating Company Patents Fresh Hell for Economy Flyers

Van Winkle's   |   July 9, 2015    3:50 PM ET

I’m that guy who doesn’t mind flying. Not just being up in the air, but the whole process. I don’t mind airports. I don’t get angry with the TSA; I don’t snarl back at the surly ground crew. By and large, I accept the indignities with a smile and good grace. The world doesn’t need more bitching about the inevitable, unfixable shitshow that is modern air travel.

It’s partly my nature to not moan, but I’ve also learned how to hack flights to my liking. For starters, always spring for Economy Plus. Yes, it’s an act of consumer fuckery that airlines have successfully placed a premium on two more inches of legroom in the front of the cabin. But that’s the new reality. You’re welcome to sit in the back of the plane, choking on bathroom fumes and fighting for overhead space. Those of us in the first few rows enjoy a more civilized flight.

Second, for the love of all that’s holy in the skies, check your goddamn luggage. Checked-bag fees are another new reality not worth bitching about. Unless you’re a single person traveling with a small weekender, just pony up and sit down with fewer hassles. Okay, you don’t want to wait at baggage claim — I get that. But jesus, stop being such a crybaby about it. Just pay the fee and move on. Or, get an airline-backed credit card and watch those fees magically disappear.

Finally, medicate yourself. My formula for happiness is 5 mg. of hydrocodone plus two mini-bottles of red. Even on long-haul flights, crammed into a chair designed to cause blood clots, it will never let me down.

That is, as long as Zodiac Seats France doesn’t make good on its threat to introduce “Economy Class Cabin Hexagon” seating:

Zodiac Seats France Hexagon Passenger Map

According to the provisional patent, this configuration seeks to “increase cabin density while also creating seat units that increase the space available at the shoulder and arm area by creating an overlap in the shoulder areas of adjacent seats.”

In other words, Zodiac wants to sit passengers in a mile-high version of sleeping head-to-foot. For those of us who enthusiastically refuse to chit-chat with fellow passengers, the Hexagon is a game-changing hell.

What about seat-back trays and in-flight entertainment? Zodiac has thought of this, sort of. From their patent application:

“In some embodiments, the at least one forward-facing seat and the at least one aft-facing seat each comprise a seat back comprising a receptacle for removably mounting a tray table. The at least one forward-facing seat and the at least one aft-facing seat may each comprise a seat back comprising a receptacle for removably mounting a personal electronic device.”


As Wired noted, this groundbreaking new seating technology is but a patented pipedream. To reach market, the configuration “would have to pass a battery of tests, including passengers’ ability to quickly evacuate, and the seats’ capacity to withstand 16g forces in the event of a crash.”

Let’s hope the Hexagon fails those tests.

-- Jeff Koyen

Read more at Van Winkle's

TSA Tweets Photo Of Luggage Filled With Cold, Hard Cash

Carly Ledbetter   |   July 1, 2015   11:43 AM ET

It seems "TSA" may stand for "tweeting savings account," after the agency's public affairs spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tweeted a photo of a passenger's cash-stuffed luggage Tuesday afternoon.

Along with sending the photo of what she said was $75,000 in a suitcase to her 1,700-plus followers, Farbstein even revealed the location of the incident by using the hashtag #RIC for Richmond International Airport.

While it isn't unusual for the TSA to tweet or Instagram photos of weapons or explosives found in people's luggage, Farbstein's tweet caused many people who saw the photo to argue that it was a clear invasion of this passenger's privacy.

Farbstein, who has been with the TSA since 2011, is "part of an external media team that works to place positive stories in the media with a focus on the agency’s counterterrorism mission," according to profile written in 2013 on the TSA website.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Farbstein refused to answer any questions regarding potential privacy issues, instead telling the Post, "the carry-on bag of the passenger alarmed because of the large unknown bulk in his carry-on bag. When TSA officers opened the bag to determine what had caused the alarm, the money was sitting inside. Quite unusual. TSA alerted the airport police, who were investigating."

Richmond International Airport spokesperson Troy Bell corroborated Farbstein's statements when he spoke with The Huffington Post. Bell said the TSA did indeed alert airport police, who then notified federal agents of the stash of cash. Now, he says, the money becomes part of an asset forfeiture case, which Bell says is not uncommon at airports, but also not an everyday thing.

"If you're traveling with a large amount of cash with no real explanation as to why, it can be seized, which was the case here," he said. As you might expect, the asset forfeiture program that allows police to seize large amounts of cash found on people has long been the subject of intense scrutiny.

Bell said that so far, the money is a part of an "ongoing investigation" and has not been returned to the passenger, though the traveler wasn't issued a citation and was allowed to continue with his journey. And even though Farbstein tweeted out an amount of $75,000, Bell said the money had not even been counted yet, as that's a responsibility left to federal agents.

When asked if he thought the photo was an invasion of the passenger's privacy, Bell said, "We were surprised to see the tweet, simply because we wouldn't take a photo of an ongoing investigation. Would we do the same? No."

The Huffington Post has reached out to both the TSA and Farbstein and will update this post accordingly.

H/T Boarding Area

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Ann Brenoff   |   June 27, 2015    6:26 AM ET

Summers of our youth were carefree and easy, at least in our memories of them they were. But now we worry about things we never had to before. Here are five things about summer that have changed:

1. Our relationship to the sun.

The sun used to be our friend. We would lie out in it for eight hours a day, vying for the title of "Teen With The Best Tan." Here's how it would go down: Pour baby oil over every inch of your body, head to the beach never spending a single minute under a sun umbrella, and fry your skin to a crisp. It would burn, peel and then tan -- mission accomplished. This was repeated every chance you had.

Compare that to going outside in the summer today. We wear special fabric clothing that offers UV protection. We don't leave the house without sunscreen on every exposed part of our bodies. And if we do go to the beach, it's equipped with a shade umbrella or tarp, a wide-brim hat, and we spend most of the time reminding one another to put sunblock on our earlobes and toes.

2. The way we travel.

Airplane travel used to be a big deal. Your family saved and scrimped and maybe once every few years got to board a big bird in the sky. For the weeks leading up to the trip, your Mom would point to the sky and say things like, "just think, in 63 more days, that will be you up there!" On the Big Day, you would get dressed up in your church clothes and arrive hours early to the airport just to watch the planes take-off and land. It was thrilling. Airlines even used to roll out a special welcome for kids instead of trying to ghettoize them on the plane. The stewardess (yes, that's what she was called) would give every kid a little pin of an airplane that they could keep and show their friends. And if a kid asked really nicely, he might even get to say hello to the captain in the cockpit.

Today, if you so much as look at the cockpit door, three air marshals will tackle you to the ground.

And as for looking forward to air travel nowadays? Sure, maybe if you are a sardine or enjoy being packaged as one.

3. TSA screening.

Arguably, the single most-demeaning aspect of flying today is going through the TSA security screening, where they will take away your water (so that you can buy more at double the price on the other side of the checkpoint). They will also limit you to three ounces of shampoo for your two-week vacation and make you remove your shoes and walk barefoot on floors that feel like they haven't been washed in a half-century. All this is being done in the name of your safety, of course -- but if you'd like to skip the humiliation and keep your shoes on, you can pay $85 to apply for that privilege and apparently we can all still be safe.

4. The fact that many of us don't get enough time off work to do both something and nothing.

Work today means longer hours and fewer breaks. Work stress is real and many of us are afraid or unable to get away from the computer for a long weekend. Long live Austria with its 35 paid days off a year! That's civilization, folks, not the lousy two weeks off Americans get. As a result, we over-schedule ourselves when we travel and jam our days and nights with things to do. We say things like "we'll never be here again," and then run around like headless chickens. The end result is that we return from vacation anything but relaxed. We are exhausted.

And then there is the other side of that coin. The side where we decide to just stay home and relax -- sleep late, catch up on Netflix, read a few books. Except that for the most part, staycations leave us feeling like we didn't get a real break. They degenerate into working around the house and running errands. If you can still check emails, you will.

We need more time off.

5. The abundance of information.
Go ahead and just try to book a hotel room online. A few zillion websites will pop up offering reviews and varying prices to book it. Seriously varying prices. Same thing for airline flights and car rentals. It used to be simple: You bought a copy of Frommer's Europe on $5 a Day and you earmarked the important pages. Now, there is just too much information to process and it seems to change hourly.

Everything can be done online, which is both good and bad. While we like to hear others' opinions of places, sometimes we don't know how much weight to give them since the "others" are strangers. And while we'd personally like to thank the TripAdvisor Forum poster who told us precisely how to use public transportation to get from the cruise ship docked in Pireaus to the Acropolis -- part of the joy of travel is the joy of discovery. That poster denied us the chance to get lost, wind up somewhere else, and then have a story to laugh at for years to come. Note: I'm still thanking him.

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