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Fear of ISIS Isn't Exaggerated -- It's the Best Way to Defeat Them

Lynda Bekore   |   September 17, 2014    6:28 PM ET

What is the difference between paranoia and fear? When it comes to ISIS, the New York Times and others seem to think that all fear is irrational.

In a stunningly naïve and short-sighted op-ed this week, the Times' Thomas Friedman leads with the declaration that he's afraid Obama's decision to re-enter Iraq is "being done in response to some deliberately exaggerated fears... and fear that ISIS is coming to a mall near you."

He goes on to quote Stratfor chairman George Friedman, who asks, "Is ISIS really a problem for the United States?"

Who Thought al-Qaeda Was a Threat?
The short answer is, "Yes." But perhaps a better answer is really a question: In 1998, when Director of National Intelligence George Tenet advised President Clinton that al-Qaeda was planning U.S. attacks, did anyone think al-Qaeda was a serious problem?

Apparently not, given the horrific 9/11 aftermath of that very short-sightedness. Messrs. Friedman and too many others like them seem to suffer from a malady credited to philosopher George Santayana: "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." If we persist in downplaying the threat of ISIS to America, we become victims, not just of potential harm to ourselves and loved ones, but of our own stupidity.

This week, NBC News reported that messages on Arab language Internet sites called for attacks on Times Square and other high-profile U.S. areas. NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton responded, ""We are quite concerned, as you would expect, with the capabilities of ISIS, much more than al-Qaida."

Two weeks ago, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia cautioned that ISIS was coming for Europe in a month, and the U.S. in two months. While it's easy, and reasonable, to attribute Saudi Arabia's dire warning to a more cynical desire to further draw the U.S. into a fight that Saudi Arabia should be fighting itself, it's also a warning that shouldn't be taken lightly. As history continually teaches us, what starts as a regional conflict -- ISIS' declared intentions of a caliphate across the Levant -- very easily becomes an international crisis.

All Politics Is Personal
Keep in mind the lesson of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was initially formed in response to the 10-year Soviet presence in Afghanistan. It grew much more powerful, however, after Osama bin Laden became angry that Saudi Arabia rejected his offer to help protect that country from Sadaam Hussein. Bin Laden fled to Sudan and then Afghanistan, where he enjoyed the limitless protection of the Taliban, and grew increasingly angry not just at the personal Saudi slight against him, but at the continued American presence in "holy" Islamic lands. The inevitable result of this ignored, simmering power became, of course, 9/11.

Friedman also asks, "How did we start getting so afraid again so fast? Didn't we build a Department of Homeland Security?"

Would that be the same Department of Homeland Security that gave us "Fast and Furious," or the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants pouring over our southern borders? Is it the same DHS that runs the Keystone Cops, aka the TSA, which does such a bang-up job (excuse the pun) at airport security that they had to fire or suspend 43 agents who failed to check carry-on bags for explosives? Or perhaps it's the same DHS that allowed Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarneav into the country, despite repeated warnings from Russian intelligence.

Fear Isn't the Same as Panic
Americans' fears of terrorism are legitimate and credible, not irrational or panic-driven. Critics like to throw around statistics that tout the low rate of terrorist attacks since 9/11, as though that proves that the jihadists have pretty much given up. On the contrary, the low rate of terrorism on U.S. soil is directly attributable to the very rational concerns and actions of our law enforcement agents in the FBI and police, who have worked diligently and successfully to thwart such attacks.

ISIS can be degraded and destroyed, but only if we all fight the urge to think, "Not our problem. It's only happening over there, far away."

As someone famously said, the world is flat, and things tend to move a whole lot faster on a flat surface. "Over there" is more frequently becoming "over here," and taking a deep breath and slowing down is bad advice when someone is rushing at you with the intent to kill.

13 Years On, Our Choice Is Between America and Fear

Robin Koerner   |   September 11, 2014    8:49 AM ET

Lights at WTC

The politics of our nation since 9/11 have been the politics of fear.

Because of fear that one of us is a terrorist, we've allowed our intelligence services to listen into our private conversations; because of fear of terrorists from abroad, we have killed innocent people in foreign nations (supposedly to protect ourselves here); because of fear that our planes will get blown up, we let government agents put their hands on our children's crotches and look at our naked bodies, and because of fear that the economy will implode, we've given trillions of dollars to organizations that have brought us to that point.

None of it feels very brave or free. None of it feels very American.

Nations confident of their strength don't seek fights. The most powerful nations win without firing a shot. Nations confident of their security and the ability of their agents to maintain it don't compromise the dignity or legal rights of its citizens. Nations confident that the innovativeness and entrepreneurism of its people can provide prosperity don't reward bad custodians of financial resources to "save the system."

America has surely been a great nation. But with true greatness -- true power -- comes self-confidence. What has happened to the America that the world used to love, even if in some quarters, grudgingly? It was always American self-confidence, justified largely by the examples we set regarding the treatment of our people and, during our grander historical moments, other people, on which our leadership depended. We were respected and powerful to the extent that other nations wanted to be like us -- to have our prosperity, our freedom and our openness.

Thirteen years after 9/11, who have we become and who do we appear to be?

Minimizing risk at reasonable cost is the action of a sensible man or nation. Trying to eliminate all risk at any cost -- not only financial, but also of principle -- is the action of a man or nation that has become obsessive, compulsive, scared, or all three.

A few years ago, a friend of mine returned from a tour in Iraq as a proud American soldier to be required at Seattle airport to remove his shoes and equipment and be screened in the full fashion. The treatment shocked him as it was his first encounter with it and gave the lie to what he believed was his purpose a day earlier on the streets of Baghdad. Simply, how could he have been fighting over there to protect American liberties and values if they were being compromised away with so little fight at home?

The rest of us might ask how we so easily take away the Fourth Amendment right of that soldier, who a day earlier had put his life on the line for our Fourth Amendment (and other) right(s). We could ask a similar question about the First Amendment right of a Vietnam vet who is now a member of the tea party and is on a government agency list as a potential troublemaker for that reason, or, to push the point further, the inalienable right of the small businessman to pursue happiness and be treated equally with all others if his taxes are being used to bail out the bank that holds his mortgage but made poorer business decisions than he did.

The use of force -- whether legal or military -- always reveals a failure of some other, preferable means. If our sons and daughters in uniform are truly fighting for American freedoms, then those freedoms must all still exist at home uncompromised: inasmuch as we give them up at home, those men and women cannot be fighting to protect them, just as a matter of simple logic. Those of us who are fortunate enough to stay at home while our soldiers fight abroad, demean their service if we are too lazy not to speak out in opposition when our leaders compromise our Constitutional rights (always for our own good). And if, worse, we support those compromises out of our own fear, then we meet our soldiers' bravery with our own cowardice.

In the last century, America led the free world by being the indispensable nation that others sought to emulate. But obsessive, scared nations, like obsessive scared people, are not models for anyone. America had led the free world by persuasion, based on a moral authority that came with the rights and prosperity that its legal and economic systems provided for its people. As our nation has ceased to trust in those rights and the system that has provided its prosperity, we have given up moral authority and persuasive power. That is why so many of our attempts to make ourselves safer will fail in their stated purpose.

Thirteen years on from 9/11, we can afford to take a deep breath. If anyone attacks us, we'll still be able to respond with the greatest military force in the history of the world. If anyone should infiltrate us, we have some of the most honorable men and women and the best technological means to find them, and a justice system, older than the country itself, to deal with them. If we have a recession, we can take our losses and come back with the ingenuity and effort of an entrepreneurial and serious population. If another nation should grow its economy in leaps and bounds, we can say "good luck" to them, because we know we can do that too.

We call our country the land of the free and the home of the brave. But who, honestly, is feeling brave and free today?

I want America to get its swagger back -- for the good of the world, let alone ourselves.

Becoming America again is a choice. We can swagger without shouting. We can carry the big stick and not be the first to use it. And we can instinctively say "Hell, no" each time anyone would take it upon themselves to take even one of our liberties away to make us "safer" or for any other purpose.

I wonder how many Americans would voluntarily fly in a commercial jet in which passengers did not go through today's imaging scanners or the full pat-down at the airport, but went only through the security procedures that were in place on Sept. 10, 2001? All passengers would know, along with any potential terrorist, that our flight is marginally less secure.

The risk of attack would, I suppose, be marginally higher than it would be on those planes whose passengers had gone through today's procedures. But since it is probably nine times less than the risk of dying by suffocation in my own bed, I would take the odds to make the statement that as an American, following Franklin, I will not give up my liberty for my safety; that I want America back; that I would rather have the Bill of Rights than the extra 0.0001 percent reduction in the probability of being blown out of the sky. I bet there would be millions like me.

There is no such thing as certainty. If you don't want uncertainty, then you don't want life. Americans have always embraced uncertainty and taken life by the scruff of the neck. The real question is, "if I am to take a risk, for what is the risk worth taking?"

If the government is going to protect my life, it must first leave my life full of the liberties that make it worth protecting. And in the USA, when those two things are in tension (and they rarely are, despite what we are told), it should be up to the individual to decide on the balance.

If we so choose, we have the power to make the last 13 years of fear, wars, invasions of privacy, bailouts etc. the exception to the rule of American history, rather than the new normal. It would be the choice to be changed by not what comes at us but what comes from us.

9/11 was a historically unprecedented shock and we acted accordingly. We were shaken. No shame in that. But a decade or so later, we can take stock at what we have collectively done to our great nation and determine whether it has served us and will serve our children. We may disagree on what we find but I'd wager that many will say that we have compromised away more of our own identity than any terrorist attack ever did take or ever could take.

The terrorists took over 3,000 lives. The loss was severe; we should learn its lessons of sensible precaution and humility. Each one of those lost souls was -- is -- an infinity, and we should never forget them. It goes without saying that the relevant agencies should be fully resourced to protect us, and their work supported - right up to the point that America is in danger of no longer being American.

Yet, fewer lives were taken on 9/11 than are lost in one month on American roads. Everything else that we may have lost since then, we have consented to lose.

In fear and shock, we may have given the terrorists more of what they really wanted, by making ourselves poorer in both treasure and liberty.

Bin Laden said,

"All we have to do is send two mujaheddin ... to raise a small piece of cloth on which is written 'al-Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses."

While some of the expenditures of treasure may have been wise, were all of those of liberty, too?

To remain the land of the free and the home of the brave, let us actively choose to be America again. Indeed, to honor the memories of our countrymen lost on 9/11, we must choose to become more truly American than we have ever been.

How will we know when we've done that? At the very least, we will have more civil liberties than we did on 10 Sept 2001 -- not fewer; and we will be less frightened -- not more.

God bless America, and all who lost kin or kith on Sept. 11, 2001.

Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which One Is Right for You?

Fodor's   |   August 27, 2014   10:49 AM ET

If you travel frequently, streamlining the process is essential to getting in and out of airports (and to wherever you're going) as quickly as possible. For domestic and international travelers, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck have made clearing security and customs much easier, allowing you to skip the lines at both. Here's what you need to know about the two programs and how to get them.

Global Entry is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and allows "pre-approved, low risk" travelers an expedited means of clearing customs upon reentering the country. Travelers with Global Entry use kiosks that read their passports, fingerprints, and customs declarations, allowing them to bypass the customs official and the accompanying line. Though this is primarily to benefit travelers coming into the country, some international customs authorities recognize Global Entry in some capacity.

TSA PreCheck is another Trusted Traveler Program designed to make clearing security at airports much easier. Simply put, Global Entry is designed to expedite the customs process, while TSA PreCheck does the same for the security screening process.

Note: Global Entry travelers are automatically qualified for TSA PreCheck, but the reverse is not true.

You must be a U.S. Citizen, lawful permanent resident, Dutch citizen, South Korean citizen, or Mexican national to be eligible for Global Entry. (Canadian citizens can access the same benefits through the NEXUS program). Applicants cannot have been convicted of a criminal offense or found in violation of any customs regulations in any country. A machine-readable passport or a U.S. permanent resident card is also required. See the full list of eligibility requirements here. Global Entry is valid for five years, after which you can renew it.

You must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, and cannot be on any terrorist watchlists, have been convicted of a criminal offense, or currently be under indictment.

Begin by filling out the online application (there is a $100 application fee). After you have undergone a thorough background check, assuming there are no problems, you will be issued a letter asking you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center, most of which are housed in airports around the country. During the interview, a U.S. Customs Border Protection officer will ask you questions, take your picture, and scan all 10 fingerprints. Be sure to bring two forms of ID to the interview. You will then be issued a Global Entry ID card.

The process is basically identical to that of Global Entry. Fill out on online application (fee is $85) and once you have been notified that your application has been accepted, schedule an interview at a TSA PreCheck application center.

When clearing customs at a U.S. international airport and some Canadian airports (see the full list here), proceed to one of the Global Entry kiosks and skip the lines for the customs officials.

Note: Global Entry travelers cannot bring other passengers (children, spouses, etc.) through the fast-track line if they are not also Global Entry cardholders.

First, ensure that your boarding pass has the green TSA PreCheck icon. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck participants will be issued a Trusted Traveler number, so be sure to enter this when booking your tickets to be sure your boarding pass lists you as pre-approved. Then, look for the designated line at the security checkpoint (see list of participating airports here). You'll still have to show your boarding pass and ID, but you will be able to keep your shoes and belt on, and will not be required to remove your laptop or liquids from your carry-on (though you still must place your liquids in a 1-quart sized bag). Global Entry travelers can also use this option. Unlike Global Entry, TSA PreCheck permits travelers to bring non-TSA PreCheck passengers through the fast-track line.

The Consensus: Unless you never travel outside the U.S. and have no plans to do so in the next five years, opt for Global Entry. The additional $15 will be well worth it, though if you often travel with other people, you will want them to be Global Entry members as well.

More by Abbey Chase, Fodor's Editor

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Big Rail Cites Bin Laden, Al Qaeda to Fight Oil-by-Rail Route Transparency

Steve Horn   |   August 20, 2014   11:31 AM ET

Co-Written with Justin Mikulka; Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

While many states around the U.S. have released information to the public about the frequency and routes of trains carrying oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, holdouts still remain. 

Why the delay? Homeland security concerns, claim some companies. 

Photo Credit: Justin Mikulka | DeSmogBlog

In an ongoing Maryland court case over the issue of transparency for in-state oil-by-rail routes, a July 23 affidavit from Carl E. Carbaugh -- director of infrastructure security for Norfolk Southern -- goes into extensive detail about the supposed risk presented by terrorism attacks on "Bomb Trains." 

In so doing, Carbaugh mentions Al-Qaeda. 

"The most recent edition of Inspire magazine, March 2014, the online, English-language propaganda publication of [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], presents a full-page collage depicting varied order to construct an explosive device," reads Carbaugh's affidavit

"Among these images are a derailed passenger train and a partly covered note paper listing cities in the [U.S.] as well as the terms 'Dakota' and 'Train crude oil.'" 

Carbaugh also cited Osama bin Laden, the late Al-Qaeda international ring-leader, in his affidavit.

"Among the materials seized in the May 1, 2011, raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were notes indicating interest in 'tipping' or 'toppling' trains -- that is causing their derailment," Carbaugh wrote.

Osama Bin Laden Compound Diagram; Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Jay Apperson, director of communications for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), told DeSmogBlog that no hearing date has been set yet for Norfolk Southern's legal complaint nor the companion complaint filed by CSX Corporation

In its lawsuit filed against the Maryland environment department, CSX deployed similar arguments.

Apperson says both lawsuits were redundant because "we reiterated [to both companies] that we would not release the documents under state open records law until the court challenge is resolved."

MDE filed a response arguing such in July 25 legal motions issued to CSX and Norfolk Southern.

CSX, according to its website, does not even have any oil-by-rail lines running through Maryland. 

Like Old Dominion, Like Garden State

Big Rail has used a similar approach in New Jersey, another state that has not yet publicly-disclosed oil-by-rail route information. 

Lee Moore, a New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety spokesman, explained why to The Record

"Releasing all of the records, which include the rail lines on which Bakken crude oil is being transported, would pose a homeland security risk," said Moore.

"Clocks and Windows"

William Larkin Jr., a Republican member of the New York Senate, believes the argument put forward in both Maryland and New Jersey is flawed on its face. 

Photo Credit: Office of NY Sen. William J. Larkin, Jr. (R)

"I feel that both the U.S. Department of Transportation and a number of critics seemed to have missed the point, at least the larger point," Larkin Jr. told the Poughkeepsie Journal on July 20"[People] already know which rail lines oil companies are utilizing. Clocks and windows provide this information."

As reported on DeSmogBlog, Big Rail has historically shored up exemptions from "right to know" laws and they have pushed hard to keep it that way

Security Concerns: Holes in the Story

If the rail companies have serious concerns about terrorism threats to Bakken oil trains, their recent actions call such concerns into question. 

Prior to the release of the new proposed oil-by-rail regulations, Big Rail lobbied against any regulations requiring the trains to be attended at all timesAnd they were successful, as this is not included in the proposed regulations.

Further, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF-- owned by Warren Buffet, a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama -- is currently in the midst of a stand-off against organized labor. The battle centers around BNSF's push for single person train operation, trains driven by a one-man 'crew' rather than the traditional two member crews.

Warren Buffet (L), President Barack Obama (R); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Other ways experts have suggested to reduce risks of oil trains include lowering speed limits and stripping volatility of the oil prior to shipping via a process called stabilization

However, prior to the release of the new proposed DOT regulations, the American Association of Railroads and the American Petroleum Institute both said two things should be off the table: train speeds and mandatory stabilization

"Citizens for Rail Security"

Despite holes in its narrative about national security risks associated with disclosure of oil-by-rail routes, one measure some companies have taken is to create citizen volunteer security groups.

They appear to be modeled after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "If you see something, say something" program. 

Norfolk Southern has a website called "Protect the Line," in which they ask citizens to "Join the Force." And BNSF has "Citizens for Rail Security," which declares, "Communities play a key role in ensuring America's rail network remains safe from terrorism and criminal activity."

Photo Credit: "Citizens for Rail Security" Website Screenshot 

The contradiction is readily apparent: communities can volunteer to keep the railroads safe, but they are not allowed to get information from the railroads about what they are keeping their communities safe from in the first place. 

TSA: Asleep at the Wheel

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) oversees and implements rail safety as it pertains to preventing terrorist threats and attacks.

However, records obtained via a recent Freedom of Information request by EnergyWire reveal TSA is asleep at the wheel in this sphere. Worse, it has been for years. 

"[A] Freedom of Information Act request from EnergyWire revealed that the agency never followed through with regulations despite an August 2008 deadline," explains the story. "That means TSA neither keeps railroads' security plans on file nor reviews them in any standardized fashion."

It all comes down to priorities. According to EnergyWire's investigation, a major funding gap exists between security for surface transportation (like rail) and aviation security. 

"TSA's budget for fiscal 2012 set aside $5.25 billion for aviation security, while devoting $135 million to surface transportation security across all modes," wrote EnergyWire.

When looked at on the whole, a sober reality arises. 

That is, while Big Rail trumpets terrorism threat risks in the legal arena to skirt transparency, the industry has concurrently done little to halt the very terrorism threats it claims a desire to stop.

Macrina Cooper-White   |   August 19, 2014    2:45 PM ET

Anyone who flies even occasionally knows the drill: You present your boarding pass and photo ID to airport security, and the agent eyes your photo to make sure you are who you claim to be.

Seems like a pretty reliable system right? Actually, a rather scary new study suggests that even specially trained officers are no better than the rest of us at spotting a fake ID -- and that finding doesn't augur too well for efforts to keep planes safe and prevent bad guys from crossing our borders.

“At Heathrow Airport alone, millions of people attempt to enter the U.K. every year," study co-author Dr. Rob Jenkins, a psychologist at the University of York in England, said in a written statement. "At this scale, an error rate of 15 percent would correspond to the admittance of several thousand travelers bearing fake passports.


For the study, 49 staff members from the Australian Passport office and 38 university students were asked to complete face-matching tasks. In one task, people posing as passport applicants presented their IDs to the officers and students, who were asked to determine whether the ID matched the person standing in front of them. In a separate task, the officers and students looked at sets of photos and determined whether the photos were of the same person.

Just how hard is it to make the correct determination? See for yourself: is the young man shown on the left (see below) the same as the man on the right? And what about the young woman?

passport identification

If you guessed that the photos showed different people in both cases, congratulations. You got it right.

The passport officers in the study didn't do so well despite the fact that they had been given special training in facial recognition. They performed at the same level as the untrained university students. The officers missed the "fake IDs" about 15 percent of the time, and in the photo matching task, they erred about 20 percent of the time.

So what can be done to boost the chances that fraudulent documents will be spotted? The researchers said it might help to redesign the format of IDs to include multiple photos taken from different angles. Other possible solutions, they said, include incorporating computer technology into the security process, and making sure that only individuals with a natural aptitude for facial recognition get hired as officers.

"We should be looking at the selection process and potentially employing tests such as the ones we conducted in the study to help us recruit people who are innately better at this process," study co-author Dr. Mike Burton, a psychologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said in the statement.

The research was published online August 18 in the journal PLOS ONE.

  |   August 17, 2014   10:24 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A stowaway who was recently ordered to spend 117 days in jail for violating probation by returning to Los Angeles International Airport served a fraction of her sentence when she was released Saturday because of overcrowding.

Marilyn Jean Hartman, 62, was released from the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California, shortly after 6 p.m., according to jail records.

A Cautionary Tale About Shower Gel

Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson   |   August 13, 2014   10:53 AM ET

I consider myself an international travel expert. As the co-host of the travel television series Grannies on Safari, my journeys have taken me from Beijing to Morocco. So when I make appearances, people often ask me for advice. I am quick to share my travel expertise, and when it comes to packing, I consider myself an expert.

But on a recent trip to Namibia, I failed to heed my own advice. "Make sure you only have items in your carry-on luggage that comply with international carry-on regulations." Unfortunately, I paid the price for failing to remember this simple tip, which is not only common sense but also a very basic rule of airline security. Surprisingly, I committed this faux pas in two countries during the same trip.

Back home in Chicago, while packing for my 20-day trip to Namibia, I decided at the last minute to take my pricey Ahava shower gel recently purchased during my visit to Israel. I knew I had a long layover in London's Heathrow Airport before boarding my 10-hour flight to Johannesburg. With plans to freshen up during my layover, I also packed a change of clothes and looked forward to being clean for the next leg of this very long trip.

I made it safely from Chicago to London. During my eight-hour layover, I stayed at a hotel where I was able to rest, shower, and change clothes. Everything went well, except for one small detail -- I forgot to repack my shower gel into my large suitcase. Mistakenly, I put the bottle into my carry-on instead. This was the beginning of a frustrating chain of events.

While waiting to have my carry-on checked through security, there was a problem with the scanning machines in all the lines. Security personnel were sending all carry-ons to be hand-checked. Nearly two hours later, although I was cleared to go, there was one small problem. My shower gel container, which I thought was three ounces, was deemed to be oversized and was confiscated! I explained to the security agent that the bottle was within the required regulation size for a carry-on container, and the shower gel itself was very expensive. But when we both read the fine print, I saw that the bottle contained 3.5 ounces. The maximum amount for a carry-on liquid is three ounces. I was shocked, but a rule is a rule. Disappointed, I told the security agent it was such nice shower gel that he should keep it and give it to his wife.

I was a little unhappy as I entered the duty free area, but then I remembered Heathrow had one of the biggest and nicest duty-free shops in the world. I hotfooted it to the nearest Boots store (a European company that produces some of the finest body products in the world). Heck, no need to worry; I could just replace my shower gel while waiting for my flight to Johannesburg! Soooo clever. After making my purchase, I quickly put the bottle in my carry-on luggage and went on my happy way. Problem solved.

After we arrived in Johannesburg, I transitioned from the secure arrivals area to the secure departing area for my next flight to Windhoek, Namibia. We were directed through security again. And to my surprise, the security agent confiscated my new bottle of Boots shower gel! I informed the agent that the bottle was regulation size, and I had been previously cleared through security. Explaining with lots of energy that I had just purchased the gel in the duty-free area of Heathrow, I was told it didn't matter where it was purchased. The item contained a liquid of more than three ounces. In disbelief, I finally noticed that the measurement on the bottle was in liters! I forgot to convert the measurement to ounces, which is used by airline officials to measure liquids. Not happy at all, I gave it up.

By the time we landed into Namibia, I was sweaty and smelly. I really needed a bath. One hour later, I finally arrived at our game lodge where I immediately went to the bathroom to take a shower. But to my surprise, there was no shower gel -- only bars of soap. I hate soap bars. They make my skin feel itchy and dry. After a very uncomfortable night, I was able to purchase a nice botanical shower gel in Windhoek the next day. Hooray!

As a travel expert, I confess that I am a little embarrassed to even write this blog about something that I always preach and encourage travelers to do -- THINK! Consider the important questions. Where am I going? What do I need? Know the permitted carry-on items and baggage restrictions when traveling by air and plan accordingly. I know the regulations. However, in my haste and by packing at the last minute without a list, I suffered preventable consequences. My high-quality products were confiscated. I spent more money than necessary. And for a portion of my travels, I smelled like one of the animals you see on safari.

I realize it can be confusing when you pass through airport security lines in other countries. Many places have different customs and regulations. These rules are not always the same. While I was in India, they used gender specific lines, separating the women from the men. Many countries do not ask you to remove your shoes. Others require that you do so. And these regulations change -- for example, in the U.K., you may soon be able to board a plane with certain liquids, due to the use of a new screening device.

Be informed before you travel, so you won't be surprised or disappointed and lose your shower gel like I did -- or some other treasured item. To avoid any delays or problems with security, read content labels carefully, and make the conversion with measurements when necessary.

Being a savvy traveler makes the travel experience so much better.

Regina Fraser
Grannies on Safari
Home and feeling fresh with my own shower gel!



I Got Through Airport Security With Someone Else's Plane Ticket

Rebecca Adams   |   July 31, 2014    8:03 AM ET

I honestly didn't plan to put the airport security system to the test. I was just really tired and didn't notice that the name on the ticket wasn't mine -- it wasn't even female. But I unwittingly managed to find a chink in the TSA armor last weekend.

My father had booked me a last-minute ticket to Houston on Friday for my sister's bridal shower on Sunday using his frequent flyer miles. Somehow his name ended up on the reservation -- not mine -- but neither of us noticed amid hectic workdays and a pretty quick flight turnaround time. I woke up the next morning, made it to LaGuardia Airport by 6am to catch my 7:15am flight and breezed through my self-check-in, since I wasn't checking a bag.

Even security was quick. The first TSA agent who checked my ID with my ticket handed me a TSA pre-check waiver before getting into the security line. I got this waiver, because my father, whose name was on the ticket, receives expedited check-in. He travels so frequently for work that he signed up for Global Entry, so he's what they categorize as a "known traveler"... yet they didn't seem to notice it was me and not my "known traveler" father, Robert Adams.


I got to skip to the front of the line, where a second TSA agent checked my ticket and ID again, circling various items on the ticket, as per usual. She then told me that I didn't have to take off my shoes or my jacket and that I could forgo that body scanner thing altogether -- not per usual. I'm not an expert in frequent flyer miles or any of the perks that come with them, so I figured that maybe that was part of the deal? Or maybe I was just particularly non-threatening-looking that day? Either way, I got to keep my shoes on, so I thought, Who cares?

I landed in Houston a few minutes before my scheduled arrival time, still oblivious to the fact that I'd managed to travel across the country using a plane ticket meant for someone else.

It was only when I was at the airport in Houston for my return flight that airport security noticed. On Sunday evening, I checked in and made it past the first TSA agent, receiving that handy pre-check waiver. (What luck! I get to keep my shoes on again!) When I reached the last TSA agent before the actual security checkpoint, that's when somebody finally noticed I had been using a ticket with a name that wasn't mine.

The agent was shocked to find out that I'd made it this far at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and practically gobsmacked that I'd made it through LaGuardia security for the first leg of my roundtrip. She promptly sent me out of the line, and I managed to catch a later flight with a ticket for me, Rebecca -- not to be confused with Robert -- Adams.

It wasn't so easy to get a new flight, though. My wrong-name ticket was essentially useless, unless my dad wanted to take an impromptu trip to New York (he didn't). The agents at the airport can't do a thing when it comes to frequent flyer miles, so by the time it was all straightened out, the only flight I could make that night was one that got me to Newark Liberty International Airport at 1:30am. I suppose this was my punishment for failing to notice the error earlier. (Any Brooklyn-dwelling New Yorker can commiserate with me about the pain-in-the-ass factor getting to and from Newark adds.)

OK, so maybe I can't be too critical -- hey, neither I nor my father noticed the mix-up. Plus, our names are kind of similar-looking, despite the difference in genders. But what this says about the alertness of our TSA agents, the very people who are supposed to be safeguarding us during air travel, isn't good. I'm not the first person, by any means, to slip past the not-quite-hawk eyes of the TSA either. Even fake bombs and loaded guns can make it passed airport security these days. [Ed. note: Holy shit.]

Perhaps theses TSA agents are overworked: I can imagine that long hours at a podium performing a single task for passenger after passenger after passenger can be mind-numbing. Clearly, something needs to change when it comes to airport security, though, because all of the awkward full-body scanners and annoying liquid restrictions in the world can't prevent the most simple human error: matching the name on the ticket with the passenger's ID.

WATCH: Toward A Risk-Based Approach To Aviation Security

Elena Kaufman   |   July 24, 2014   11:48 AM ET

Watch Live at 10:00 - 11:00am MDT (12:00 - 1:00pm EST).

This session will examine threats to the aviation sector and how the Transportation Security Administration is responding to these threats with a risk-based approach, as opposed to the post-9/11 “one size fits all” assumption that each traveler is as likely as the next to be a terrorist.


Catherine Herridge, Chief Intelligence Correspondent, Fox News

Special Guest:

John Pistole, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration

Ryan Grenoble   |   July 15, 2014    4:37 PM ET

It seems our nation's capital is giving TSA agents some difficulty.

A TSA agent at the Orlando International Airport demanded to see the passport of Justin Gray, a Washington, D.C., correspondent for central Florida's WFTV news. According to WFTV, the agent was not familiar with the District of Columbia, and therefore could not accept Gray's D.C. driver's license as a valid form of ID.

Fortunately, Gray was able to pass through security, ultimately notifying the supervisor on duty of the odd problem.

According to a later tweet from Gray, the TSA has responded by showing every Orlando agent a picture of a D.C. license.

Perhaps surprisingly, this wasn't an isolated incident. In February, a TSA agent in Phoenix delayed a D.C. resident because the traveler couldn't present a "state-issued" ID.

At the time, a TSA representative told The Huffington Post that licenses from Washington, D.C., should pose no problem for its agents: "A valid Washington, D.C., driver's license is an acceptable form of identification at all TSA checkpoints. When issues arise at the checkpoint, TSA officers work to make sure facts are gathered and quickly resolved to avoid future confusion."

New Electronics Security Rule Confuses Both Brits And Americans

Cheapflights   |   July 14, 2014    9:53 AM ET

Less than Half of Americans in the Know About the Rule Think It Will Make Air Travel Safer

Confused or feeling in the dark about a TSA rule that will require some travelers flying to the United States to power up all their electronic devices as a security check? You aren't alone. An online survey of 1,222 Brits and Americans by, the online leader in finding and publishing travel deals, found that only 39.5 percent of respondents were aware of the new mandate and 47 percent said it was not clear to them.

Of the 542 Americans who were surveyed, 51 percent were aware of the new rule. That doesn't mean, however, they all found it understandable. A full 25 percent of those who had heard about the rule said it wasn't clear cut to them. The rule did add a sense of security to about half of those who knew about it -- 51 percent said it will make them "feel safer." By contrast, only 46.5 percent of the same respondents said they think it will "actually make air travel safer." And 63 percent of those who were aware of the new rule believed that it will cause "major delays in the travel process."

"Change is always a bit hard to handle," said Melisse Hinkle, site editor at "When it's added to an already complicated and tedious process -- and targets everyone's favorite tech toys as well -- it creates the potential for chaos. While traveler safety is, of course, paramount, so too is managing the roll out of new rule and striking an effective balancing act between passenger security and passenger sanity."

Cheapflights also asked about the overall security process. Results from the 1,200-plus respondents showed that the most annoying security measures they face getting at the airport are: "separately packing liquids in small bottles" (35 percent), "shoes off" (25.5 percent) and "body scan" (10 percent).

The net result is that nearly 20 percent of both Americans and Brits surveyed think airport security has reached the point where it will keep them from flying. Of course this does mean more than 80 percent will continue to take to the skies, even if they may have to "power up."

TSA Fee Hike Will Raise Prices On All U.S. Flights

SmarterTravel   |   July 8, 2014    3:21 PM ET

Read More: tsa, travel, Travel Tips


(Photo: Departure Gates via Shutterstock)

Your plane tickets are about to get a little more expensive.

A TSA fee hike goes into effect at the end of this month. In a few weeks, the September 11 Security Fee will rise from $2.50 for one-way flights (with a cap at $10 roundtrip) and $5 each way for trips with connections, to $5.60 per one-way flight. The cap will be no more.

Under the new rule, fees for direct round-trip flights will jump from $5 to $11.20.

The way the TSA applies the fees to airfares will get slightly more complex, too. For domestic flights, the TSA will charge $5.60 for each flight leg that occurs more than four hours following a previous leg. For international flights and flights to Hawaii and Alaska, the same rule applies for legs that are 12 hours apart. This means that flights with long layovers, which would have previously counted as single one-way trips, will get taxed doubly. So a round-trip flight with two four-hour connections would cost an additional $22.40 in security fees.

These changes were enacted in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and they officially go into effect at 12 a.m. Eastern Time on July 21. But if you buy your tickets before July 21, you won't have to pay the higher fees, no matter when you're flying.

Annoyed? Angry? Happy to foot the bill for backscatters and pat-downs? No matter what you're thinking, you still have time to give the government your two cents. According to the Federal Register notice on the rule:

"You may submit comments, identified by the TSA docket number to this rulemaking, to the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS), a government-wide, electronic docket management system, using any one of the following methods: Electronically: You may submit comments through the Federal eRulemaking portal at"

Americans have until August 19 to sound off.

Read the original story: TSA Fee Hike Set to Raise Prices on All U.S. Flights by Caroline Costello, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

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WILL LESTER   |   July 6, 2014    3:59 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Passengers at some overseas airports that offer U.S.-bound flights will be required to power on their electronic devices in order to board their flights, the Transportation Security Administration said Sunday.

The TSA said it is requiring some overseas airports to have passengers turn on devices such as cellphones before boarding. It says devices that won't power up won't be allowed on planes, and those travelers may have to undergo additional screening.

Celebrating the Fourth of July with Airport Profiling

Narinder Singh   |   July 4, 2014    5:51 PM ET

I knew it was going to happen. I'd already written this piece in my head by the time I got to the airport. Instead of spending the morning thinking about the barbecue I was going to, the fireworks display that has become a family tradition, or how thankful I was that my father immigrated to the only country i've ever called home -- I thought about how I was going to get profiled at Newark airport.

It's nothing new, but it's also something you never quite get used to. A public display telling you no matter what you feel or the actions you take, some will prefer to irrationally judge you. But today my words are not to convey how profiling is wrong or widespread (according to the data in the Sikh Coalition Fly Rights App Newark airport is the worst in the country). It's to show how when we place prejudice over practicality we leave ourselves more vulnerable to physical attack and attack what we celebrate on Independence Day.

As I entered the airport today I wore a turban, a required article of the Sikh faith. I also wore the tired look of a traveler who has traveled millions of miles over the last two decades of work. When you fly that much, you look for every opportunity to shave a few minutes or headache from your travel. For me that meant enrolling in the Global Entry program -- a brilliant program where you pay to voluntarily submit to additional screening and an in-person interview. In exchange you receive an expedited path through the airport. When TSA Pre is present, you've been "pre-checked," keep your shoes on, laptops in the case, pass successfully through the metal detector and breeze through security.

Many of the gates at Newark don't have TSA Pre, but they have a half-way measure called expedited screening. In this case you have to remove your laptop, but you still keep your shoes on and (theoretically) breeze through the metal detector. Except of course, if you are wearing a turban. Then even after you go through the metal detector they pull you aside for secondary screening to test your hands for explosive residue after you pat down your own turban. Now i know some of you are thinking, "hey, if we have to profile a few people like you who look like those people to keep everyone safe, it's worth it." But even if you believe in profiling, you're doing it wrong!

First of all, they tested my turban, but I walked through without even a second glance towards my shoes. Shoes which have been one of the most common ways for terrorists to attempt to attack us. Richard Reid, a white englishman known as the shoe bomber, being the most well-known. Second, the scenario is predictable. In every instance I have ever experienced that resembled this one (over 30) they tested my turban, not my shoes. This predictability plays into the hands of those who would wish to do us harm.

At a higher level, think of all the things the airport knows about us before making the decision to pay more attention to me over others. My flight details, payment methods, phone number, flight history and patterns, Global Entry enrollment and many more factors are immediately available. Expanding just a bit gets them to all my social information. Biasing instead towards these very small physical factors systematically harms our security and faith in the system. It becomes security theater. Is it any surprise that Newark Airport, the airport that had the most instances of profiling also just had a TSA officer breeze through its security with a fake bomb?

The wonder that is America has a long celebrated freedom and protection of individual liberties. It's also a land of opportunity and possibility. American ingenuity has again and again delivered innovation that has bettered lives across the world. We can do better than primitive and poorly applied stereotypes as a means of securing ourselves. We have real and ever-evolving challenges to take on in security and we need that ingenuity to drive how we approach problems. It will make us safer, and as Abraham Lincoln noted at his first inaugural address, lead us towards the better angels of our nature.

One of the things I cherish most about America is our never-ending quest to be better. Others hide their nation's shortcomings in order to present a one-sided image to the world. Here we acknowledge and debate our challenges openly because we know only in the light can we see them clearly and take action. It's that America that I choose to celebrate on this Independence Day.