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Prisons Without Walls: We're All Inmates in the American Police State

John W. Whitehead   |   June 16, 2015    3:44 PM ET

"Free worlders" is prison slang for those who are not incarcerated behind prison walls. Supposedly, those fortunate souls live in the "free world." However, appearances can be deceiving.

"As I got closer to retiring from the Federal Bureau of Prisons," writes former prison employee Marlon Brock, "it began to dawn on me that the security practices we used in the prison system were being implemented outside those walls." In fact, if Brock is right, then we "free worlders" do live in a prison--albeit, one without visible walls.

In federal prisons, cameras are everywhere in order to maintain "security" and keep track of the prisoners. Likewise, the "free world" is populated with video surveillance and tracking devices. From surveillance cameras in stores and street corners to license plate readers (with the ability to log some 1,800 license plates per hour) on police cars, our movements are being tracked virtually everywhere. With this increasing use of iris scanners and facial recognition software--which drones are equipped with--there would seem to be nowhere to hide.

Detection and confiscation of weapons (or whatever the warden deems "dangerous") in prison is routine. The inmates must be disarmed. Pat downs, checkpoints, and random searches are second nature in ferreting out contraband.

Sound familiar?

Metal detectors are now in virtually all government buildings. There are the TSA scanning devices and metal detectors we all have to go through in airports. Police road blocks and checkpoints are used to perform warrantless searches for contraband. Those searched at road blocks can be searched for contraband regardless of their objections--just like in prison. And there are federal road blocks on American roads in the southwestern United States. Many of them are permanent and located up to 100 miles from the border.

Stop and frisk searches are taking place daily across the country. Some of them even involve anal and/or vaginal searches. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved strip searches even if you are arrested for a misdemeanor--such as a traffic stop. Just like a prison inmate.

Prison officials open, search and read every piece of mail sent to inmates. This is true of those who reside outside prison walls, as well. In fact, "the United States Postal Service uses a 'Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program' to create a permanent record of who is corresponding with each other via snail mail." Believe it or not, each piece of physical mail received by the Postal Service is photographed and stored in a database. Approximately 160 billion pieces of mail sent out by average Americans are recorded each year and the police and other government agents have access to this information.

Prison officials also monitor outgoing phone calls made by inmates. This is similar to what the NSA, the telecommunication corporation, and various government agencies do continually to American citizens. The NSA also downloads our text messages, emails, Facebook posts, and so on while watching everything we do.

Then there are the crowd control tactics: helmets, face shields, batons, knee guards, tear gas, wedge formations, half steps, full steps, pinning tactics, armored vehicles, and assault weapons. Most of these phrases are associated with prison crowd control because they were perfected by prisons.

Finally, when a prison has its daily operations disturbed, often times it results in a lockdown. What we saw with the "free world" lockdowns following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the melees in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, mirror a federal prison lockdown.

These are just some of the similarities between the worlds inhabited by locked-up inmates and those of us who roam about in the so-called "free world."

Is there any real difference?

To those of us who see the prison that's being erected around us, it's a bit easier to realize what's coming up ahead, and it's not pretty. However, what most Americans perceive as life in the United States of America is a far cry from reality.

This state of denial and rejection of reality is the essential plot of John Carpenter's 1988 film They Live, where a group of homeless men discover that people have been, in effect, so hypnotized by media distractions that they do not see their prison environment and the real nature of those who control them--that is, an oligarchic elite.

Caught up in subliminal messages such as "obey" and "conform," among others, beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards, and the like, people are unaware of the elite controlling their lives. As such, they exist, as media analyst Marshall McLuhan once wrote, in "prisons without walls." And of course, any resistance is met with police aggression.

A key moment in the film occurs when John Nada, a homeless drifter, discovers a handful of cheap-looking sunglasses, referred to as Hoffman lenses. Grabbing a pair and exiting the church, he starts walking down a busy urban street. Sliding the sunglasses on his face, Nada is shocked to see a society bombarded and controlled on every side by subliminal messages beamed at them from every direction. Billboards are transformed into authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is replaced with the words "MARRY AND REPRODUCE." Magazine racks scream "CONSUME" and "OBEY." A wad of dollar bills in a vendor's hand proclaims, "THIS IS YOUR GOD."

This is the subtle message of They Live, an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state. These things are in plain sight, but from the time we are born until the time we die, we are indoctrinated into believing that those who rule us do it for our good. The truth, far different, is that those who rule us don't really see us as human beings with dignity and worth. They see us as if "we're livestock."

It's only once Nada's eyes have been opened that he is able to see the truth. Disillusioned and fed up with the lies and distortions, Nada is finally ready to fight back. What about you?

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the warning signs have been cautioning us for decades. Oblivious to what lies ahead, most have ignored the obvious. We've been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that's never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

The message: take the warning signs seriously. And take action because the paths to destruction are well disguised by those in control.

This is the lesson of history.

11 Interesting Sights In The Kingdom of Bahrain

Janice S. Lintz   |   June 15, 2015    1:47 PM ET


When I recently visited Bahrain, the TSA agent reviewing my passport looked at me curiously and asked me, "Why did you visit Bahrain?" Simple answer: The Kingdom of Bahrain is a great extension to a Dubai or an Abu Dhabi trip. The flights are inexpensive and under an hour.

A visa can easily be obtained online for American visitors. Double-check to confirm that the visa to Bahrain is purchased from the government site versus an unnecessary and overpriced expeditor.

Manama, its capital city, isn't as glitzy as some of its Gulf neighbors, but it's rapidly evolving. The Four Seasons Bahrain Bay opened in March, joining the Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa Hotel and The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel & Spa as Manama's premier properties.

The tourist infrastructure is expanding. There is massive construction everywhere. The sites are relatively close together, but a car is needed to travel between them. My recommended sights are:

1.The Oil Museum And Oil Well
Bahrain's former economy was based on pearl diving until the discovery of local oil. Bahrain and oil are now synonymous. This is an industry town. Oil rigs and pipes appear to line the roads.


The one room Oil Museum details the discovery of oil and its drilling process. Bahrain was the site of the first oil well in the Arabian Gulf, which is adjacent to the museum. The well is basically a hole in the ground. But how can you not see the first one?


2.The King Fahad Causeway
Visiting Saudi Arabia is complicated, but you can see its modern skyline from the Causeway that links Bahrain with Saudi Arabia. This has to be the most dignified entrance into a country. A man wearing black trousers and a white shirt with a vest greets dignitaries at their car with a silver tea pot of Arabic coffee and bottles of water as they enter or exit Bahrain. Can you imagine this service by the Canadian or Mexican border?


3. Bahrain Architecture
Bahrain's skyline is maintaining a traditional Arabic while building a new modern skyline thanks to innovative architecture by leading starchitects. Buildings with jarring angles and twists like licorice populate the Manama Corniche.


4. Bahrain And Riffa Forts

Bahrain Fort also known as Qalat al-Bahrain is now an archeological dig. The former Dilmun capital is the country's first UNESCO World Heritage site and a "must see."

Riff Fort was initially a fortress, it later became the home for Shaikh Salman Bin Ahmed Al Fateh. Panoramic views are visible from the overhanging seating area behind the Saffron Café.


5. Al Fateh Mosque
Named for the conqueror of Bahrain, it is the largest mosque in Bahrain and one of the largest in the world. The finest global craftsmen contributed to its construction. The vast white structure gives it a similar feel to the Taj Mahal.

6.The Royal Camel Farm
There is no charge for an up-close look at King Sheikh Mohammed's private camel collection. Feeding the camels seems to be permissible despite clear notices requesting they not be fed.


7. The Bahrain National Museum
Bahrain's history and nomadic culture are described through archeological artifacts, dioramas and manuscripts. Exhibits cover Bahraini life and the pearl trade. Their Dilmun Burial mounds display was under renovation. The museum also showcases temporary exhibits.

Don't miss the iconic Bahrain National Theater adjacent to the museum. It is one of the largest theaters in the Arab world. The golden roof shimmers into the adjoining sea.


8. The Dilmun Burial Mounds
The prehistoric cemetery dates back to ancient times. A new Welcome Center is on the drawing board. Detailed descriptions are currently only available in The Bahrain National Museum, although the exhibit was under construction.


9. The Manama Souk
This the center of Manama and Bahraini life with a mix of old and new shops selling everything from spices to textiles. Visitors can sample local specialties or just peer into a shop and watch a man having a thawb, an ankle length garment altered.


10. The Traditional Houses Of Muharraq
The old homes that line the narrow and winding streets were restored. The buildings are dedicated to various aspects of Bahrain's cultural life including poetry, the press or music.

11. The Tree Of Life
It is the sole tree in the middle of the desert that attracts visitors from around the world. The tree is believed to be four centuries old. The water source is unknown. Each person who arrived at the tree, while I was there, looked at it and said, "Yes, it is a tree."


A nearby sun dial was more compelling. The sunlight casts a shadow on the time when you stand on the current month.


Why I Hate the TSA (But Not All the Agents)

Tristan Higgins   |   June 8, 2015    2:16 PM ET


I've just had another experience with the TSA. This time, I am in Detroit and headed home from a business trip. I am tired and ready to go home. I miss my wife, who is home in Scotland for awhile. I got to the airport in plenty of time to not be rushed, which turned out to be a good thing today.

The first piece that I wrote for Huffington Post was titled "Why I Hate the TSA." In that post I railed against the gender conforming system and lack of training. I wondered why -- when so many people do not match gender stereotypes -- we have a system involving a pink and blue button. Why the millimeter wave machine has been programmed to raise alarm whenever someone's body doesn't match up just right with the database. I filed a complaint with the TSA, following all their stated procedures, and I followed up several months later to ask about the complaint (they still have not replied).

My experience this morning was even more involved and invasive than my painful experience several years ago, but it was quite different, and I think it makes sense to share that.

I walked into the machine after carefully removing everything required. I even pulled up my jeans because recently there have been several rescans since I do not have a penis and the machine has called this out in some alarm. When the agents handle this well, it makes me laugh. I understand that when one's jeans are baggy, the machine has more trouble, so I hike them up on my waist. I step into the machine and raise my arms. The male agent says "ma'am" so I am confident that he will push the pink button. "Please wait here a moment." Yup, I know the drill.

The female agent standing between me and my flight looks with concern at the machine so I turn around to see what she sees. There on the screen are several yellow boxes of alarm: one on my wrist (a watch), one on the center of my chest (my necklace), and a big box on my groin. I laugh a bit and ask her if it was because I don't have a penis. "I'm not even packing," I joked. She seemed to understand and smiled at me. I go through the machine again but the yellow boxes remain. There is some discussion between her, the male agent and the supervisor. I will need to have an extensive pat down because they could not clear the "anomaly." We are just waiting for a second female agent. It took a few minutes.

I notice that the agent handling the bag scanner is searching my briefcase. I politely ask him what he is looking for, and joke that I lost my multi-tool last week when I forgot and left it in my bag; so I know there's nothing like that in there. He doesn't answer but says he needs to scan it again. Seems odd, but certainly within their procedures. My bag gets scanned again, and the female agent collects my things from him. The scanning agent catches her as we are walking away to hand over my tablet, which he had taken out to scan. This causes me concern as to what else might have been removed and not collected. Nothing else, he says.

The second female agent joins us and we walk to the dreaded private screening room. Now, I am a law-abiding American. As a rule follower, I know I have nothing to fear, but still private rooms in airports have always scared me. They seem like places -- at least in the movies -- where you go in, bad things happen to you, and you stay a long time without any family or counsel. I have never been in such a room until today. They close the door and lock it. All the while, the agents are explaining to me what is happening.

They describe exactly how the extensive pat-down will go. How I am to stand (arms out, palms up, feet more than shoulder length apart), how she will touch me, in what order, and where. I am instructed to turn around and face the table in the proper position. The comic inside my head (read this as coping mechanism) jokes silently that in a different situation this could be hot, but it is not hot. Not at all. Neither is it scary, because they were so careful to tell me what to expect, and even as she was conducting the pat-down, she kept a running narration of what she was doing to me. I tried to keep it light and joked that I'd like them not to mess up my hair. She kindly followed along and said something about trying not to while she patted down my head. Next my collar, shoulders, arms, wrists, palms, armpits, back, and side. I had to lift my shirt for my waistband to be felt. This was followed by her patting down, squeezing, or running her hands down my legs, butt, and groin, and then I turned around. She went through the same routine for the front of my body.

I have had the standard (quite personal) pat-down on several occasions, but never this extensive one. I won't say that it was pleasant, but they were so professional that it was business-like. Albeit the business of violating my privacy, but still they were business-like. It is a very odd feeling to have someone touch all of the parts of you. Parts no one touches but my wife. When was the last time someone touched your thigh or side? Just think how you feel when a stranger bumps into you, or you accidentally touch someone in a shop or on the street.

The second agent went to scan my shoes. While she was gone I commented to the first agent that it is very frustrating as a person who does not conform to gender stereotypes to deal with this. I told her that I fly all the time, and that I have to be rescanned about half the time. I wondered out loud what she would have done if I had been packing or if I was transitioning. She understood and said that sometimes it is hard -- especially when someone has had facial surgery. We had an interesting discussion about people in transition, or packing. She was clearly aware. She understood, at least in part, what I was dealing with as a gender non-conforming person, and I understood, at least in part, that she is an agent trying to do her job and be respectful of people like me with whom she comes in contact.

My shoes came back fine as did my bag and my person, of course, and I was free to go. The whole experience was so odd. I made sure to thank them both for being professional, and they were both very appreciative of my friendly attitude. I am not exactly sure what my take away from this experience is. Maybe that even when a system is flawed and ignores gender non-conforming people like me, that the people who are in charge of enforcing and using that system can still make a connection and keep our experience from being too painful. Is that too sunshine and rainbows? You tell me.

Be Butch.

Week to Week News Quiz for 6/5/15

John Zipperer   |   June 5, 2015    1:12 PM ET

Sometimes, it feels as if you're the only person not running for president. Take our latest Week to Week news quiz and see if you know enough to throw your hat in the ring.

Here are some random, but real, hints: Facebook will win the war, Rand Paul's victory, that's practically a rounding error, and he only served it to guests. Answers are below the quiz.

1. What did the Labor Department's report for May show?
a. Zero net job growth
b. Decrease of 75,000 jobs
c. Increase of 280,000 jobs
d. Increase of 150,000 jobs

2. Which one of the following is a real headline?
a. ISIS troops within 1 mile of U.S. Embassy in Baghdad
b. 'Moron' terrorist takes a selfie in front of ISIS headquarters, Air Force bombs it 22 hours later
c. Iraqi forces repulse ISIS from Baghdad suburbs
d. Iran, U.S. troops team up for Syria attack

3. What did former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee say the U.S. should do if he's elected president?
a. Defeat ISIS within nine months
b. Join the metric system
c. Land a man or woman on the moon before the end of the decade
d. Ensure there's a chicken in every pot, and pot in every chicken

4. What expired at midnight last Sunday after the U.S. Senate failed to renew it?
a. The federal school lunch program
b. The 19th Amendment
c. The PATRIOT Act
d. The Affordable Care Act

5. The Air Force looks set to join the Army in making it more difficult to discharge whom?
a. Four-star generals
b. Service members over the age of 40
c. Transgender service members
d. Atheists

6. Who is Sepp Blatter?
a. The head of the international soccer federation FIFA who says he will resign
b. The new hero of the seventh Star Wars film, to be released later this year
c. Moesha Blatter's son
d. The latest Republican senator to announce his presidential candidacy

7. In tests at major U.S. airports, what was the success rate of the TSA at catching smuggled weapons, explosives, and other contraband?
a. 50%
b. 100%
c. 5%
d. 65%

8. What magazine cover features former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner and the words "Call me Caitlyn"?
a. Sports Illustrated
b. Vanity Fair
c. National Review
d. People

9. Why was Della Curry, a kitchen manager at a Colorado elementary school, fired?
a. She poisoned the Taco Tuesday special
b. She refused to serve anything that wasn't vegan
c. She wrote a letter threatening armed insurrection against the federal government
d. She gave free food to kids who couldn't afford to pay for it

10. After its bombshell indictments of world soccer authorities, how did the FBI follow up this week?
a. It is investigating the NFL for tax evasion
b. It has indicted Major League Baseball executives for running a cartel
c. It is investigating the awarding of the World Cup to Russia and Qatar
d. It has accused the International Olympic Committee of taking bribes

BONUS. What World War II relics have been found after lying undiscovered for 76 years?
a. Fifty-three undetonated U.S. bombs underneath the streets of Berlin's toniest shopping street, der Kurfürstendamm
b. Priceless 15th-century Flemish paintings looted by Nazi troops from Belgian and French museums
c. A 1939 birthday card from Joseph Stalin to Adolf Hitler
d. Adolf Hitler's stash of champagne and cognac

1) c.
2) b.
3) b.
4) c.
5) c.
6) a.
7) c.
8) b.
9) d.
10) c.

Want the live news quiz experience? Join us Monday, June 8 in downtown San Francisco for our next live Week to Week political roundtable with a news quiz and a social hour at The Commonwealth Club of California. Panelists include CBS SF's Melissa Griffin Caen, KCBS Radio's Doug Sovern, and Hoover Institution's Carson Bruno.

Explanations of the hints: Facebook will win the war: our military doesn't need the NSA to monitor the social media posts of terrorists who are dumb enough to post photos of themselves bragging about their locations; Rand Paul's victory: Senator Paul led the fight against the PATRIOT Act; that's practically a rounding error: yes, just 5% of the attempts to smuggle dangerous things was detected; and he only served it to guests: the Nazi leader himself wasn't a drinker, but he nonetheless had a hoard of the good stuff.

LOU KESTEN   |   June 1, 2015   10:37 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Monday reassigned the leader of the Transportation Security Administration and directed the agency to revise airport security procedures, retrain officers and retest screening equipment in airports across the country.

The TSA's acting administrator, Melvin Carraway, is being reassigned to a different job in the Department of Homeland Security. Acting Deputy Director Mark Hatfield will lead the agency until a new administrator is appointed.

Andy Campbell   |   June 1, 2015    2:07 PM ET

As thorough as the Transportation Security Administration screeners may be as they rifle through your belongings, the agency isn't performing where it counts.

In a series of trials, the Department of Homeland Security was able to smuggle fake explosives, weapons and other contraband past airport screeners in major cities across the country, according to ABC News. Officials briefed on the Homeland Security Inspector General's investigation told the station that the TSA failed 67 out of 70 tests conducted by the department's Red Teams -- undercover passengers tasked with identifying weaknesses in the screening process, reports.

During the tests, DHS agents each tried to bring a banned item past TSA screeners. They succeeded 95 percent of the time.

The internal investigation was designed to find the TSA's most egregious vulnerabilities. The TSA has said Red Team agents are "super terrorists" who “push the boundaries of our people, processes, and technology,” but DHS officials told ABC the test results were frustrating at the very least.

ABC reports:

In one test an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer, but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down.

Officials would not divulge the exact time period of the testing other than to say it concluded recently.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was apparently so frustrated by the findings he sought a detailed briefing on them last week at TSA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, according to sources. U.S. officials insisted changes have already been made at airports to address vulnerabilities identified by the latest tests.

The TSA referred all questions to the DHS. A DHS spokesman told The Huffington Post that "Red Team testing of the aviation security network has been part of TSA's mission advancement for 13 years."

"The numbers in these reports never look good out of context, but they are a critical element in the continual evolution of our aviation security," the statement continued. "Upon learning the initial findings of the Office of Inspector General's report, Secretary Johnson immediately directed TSA to implement a series of actions, several of which are now in place, to address the issues raised in the report. These actions are in addition to a number of security enhancements the Secretary has directed TSA to implement to our aviation and airport security since the beginning of his tenure."

The administration still touts its dedication to safety and security. In a weekly report published May 29, TSA officials said they found 45 firearms and continue to discover inert grenades and other weapons "on a weekly basis." Many of the guns were found in carry-on luggage and had rounds in the chamber.

"Unfortunately these sorts of occurrences are all too frequent which is why we talk about these finds," TSA officials wrote in the report. "Sure, it’s great to share the things that our officers are finding, but at the same time, each time we find a dangerous item, the line is slowed down and a passenger that likely had no ill intent ends up with a citation or in some cases is even arrested."

In 2014, the TSA confiscated 2,212 firearms at 224 airports, after screening 653 million passengers.

UPDATE: Top TSA administrator Melvin Carraway has been reassigned, Johnson announced on Monday evening. Johnson also ordered TSA to take measures to reform security by revising protocol, retraining staff, retesting airport screening equipment and conducting more random testing at checkpoints.

Ed Mazza   |   April 14, 2015   11:20 PM ET

Two Transportation Security Administration agents at Denver International Airport have been fired for allegedly conspiring to grope male passengers in an elaborate plot that involved hand signals and the manipulation of the settings on a full-body scanner so that more thorough pat-downs could be conducted on men found attractive.

One agent, a man, would allegedly signal to a female coworker when a male passenger he found attractive was coming through the scanner, according to The Denver Post, which cited a police report.

The female agent would then allegedly press a button on the touchscreen that would change the gender of the passenger to female, thus triggering an alert for an anomaly detected in the passenger's crotch. That would lead to a physical pat-down of the groin, conducted by the male TSA agent.

The agency received an anonymous tip about the alleged gropings from an employee in November, according to KUSA-TV in Denver.

However, the agency reportedly did not look into the allegation until February, when an investigator stood in the screening area, watched the scheme unfold firsthand and reported it to Denver police.

The investigator witnessed the male screener giving the signal and the female agent changing the gender setting, before the male agent conducted "a pat down of the passenger's front groin and buttocks area with the palms of his hands, which is contradictory to TSA searching policy," according to a police report cited by KUSA.

When questioned, the female screener admitted to doing this at least 10 other times, according to FOX31 Denver.

Neither of the fired screeners has been publicly named.

CBS4 in Denver, which first broke the story, said the TSA has refused to release documents and videos related to the case, saying they are part of an ongoing investigation.

The TSA released a statement saying "these alleged acts are egregious and intolerable," per KUSA. The agency said all misconduct accusations are investigated "and when substantiated, employees are held accountable.”

Ryan Grenoble   |   April 7, 2015    6:47 PM ET

Next time you pass through airport security, double-check your pockets. It's just common cents.

On Monday, the Transportation Security Administration released its 2014 fiscal year report, which disclosed the government agency collected almost $675,000 in loose change left behind by travelers in 2014 -- and it gets to keep every penny.

"TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed," TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday. "Unclaimed money, typically consisting of loose coins passengers remove from their pockets, is documented and turned into the TSA financial office."

Last year's haul of $674,841.06 is only the latest in a steady increase of yearly collections: In 2008, the TSA collected a "mere" $383,413.79.

In a followup to the report, Feinstein added the airport with the most loose change last year was New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where passengers left behind $42,550 in spare change at the security checkpoint.

Last year's other top grossers include Los Angeles International Airport ($41,506) and San Francisco International Airport ($34,889). Here are the top 20:

loose change tsa airports

TSA Says It Will Stop Touching So Many Black Women's Hair

Julia Craven   |   April 3, 2015    3:13 PM ET

No, you cannot touch my hair -- but it isn’t as if the woman had asked for my permission.

An agent of the Transportation Security Administration is running her fingers across my scalp. Again. It feels dehumanizing as she pats my head. She needed to check my hair for weapons, she said. It feels gross. I feel like "the other."

But all I can do is stand there, endure the stares and pray her latex gloves don’t cause my ends to break off.

As I wait for the unwanted scalp massage to end, I look at the women who have gone through the checkpoint before me. The agent hadn’t checked their hair. Some wear ponytails or buns. Some have hair much thicker than my curly afro. Plenty of room to stash a knife or a grenade or whatever.

But none of them are natural-haired black women.

This uninvited hair fondling apparently occurs across the nation, and the TSA has finally promised to do something about it. Earlier this year, the agency agreed to clarify its policy on patting down people’s hair following an April 2014 complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California that black women were being targeted. Later this month, an ACLU staff attorney told HuffPost, the TSA begins its new improved training at Los Angeles International Airport, one of the airports named in the complaint.

“Racial profiling is not tolerated by TSA,” said an agency statement provided to The Hill. “Not only is racial profiling prohibited under [Department of Homeland Security] and agency policy, but it is also an ineffective security tactic.”

Well, they got that right. It’s doubtful that the sisterlocks sported by Malaika Singleton -- the woman at the center of the ACLU complaint -- constituted one of those worrisome “anomalies” on the scanner that TSA agents must investigate further. It’s doubtful that a TSA agent squeezing her locks did anything to make the plane safer.

“The humiliating experience of countless black women who are routinely targeted for hair pat-downs because their hair is 'different' is not only wrong, but also a great misuse of TSA agents' time and resources,” Novella Coleman, the staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement last week.

Targeting black women's hair for extra scrutiny isn’t new for the TSA. The New York Times noted the problem as far back as 2011, and the ACLU of Northern California pointed out in its complaint about Singleton's treatment that it had raised the issue before.

When singer Solange Knowles had her afro searched in 2012, a TSA spokeswoman said the agency didn’t have a policy that targeted afros for searches.

"If someone is passing through the advanced imaging technology machine, it shows an outline of an individual, the same for every single person," the spokeswoman told CNN. "If the hair area is highlighted, the machine may have picked up an anomaly or a possible threat in the head area."

Anomalies may be such things as bobby pins, hair clips, extensions, ponytail holders and headscarves, CNN wrote at the time.

But as the ACLU statement said this month, the Constitution prohibits both "unreasonable searches and selective enforcement of the law based on race." Moreover, the group wrote, a search must be “tailored to detect threats to security.”

"We have not received clear guidelines from TSA about what their policies up to this point have been for searching passengers' hair," Coleman told HuffPost. She said the ACLU has received different explanations for what sparks a hair pat-down, including the so-called abnormalities, hair extensions and an agent's inability to see the passenger's scalp.

"We have identified these as problematic because they're all subjective criteria that allow racial bias to operate," Coleman said. "When we attend the training [at LAX], we will be looking for more clear and objective guidelines going forward."

I wasn’t wearing anything in my hair when I was searched, and the agent never explained to me why she thought I might be hiding weapons even though my full body scan was clean.

So I wondered: Why is thick, kinky, puffy black hair such a perceived threat?

No one has a definite answer here -- especially not the TSA. A good place to start, however, could be with historical perceptions of kinky hair.

Lots of black people rocked afros in the 1960s in order to “actively define their newly politicized racial identity,” to quote an essay in Women & Therapy. The following decade, afros were donned by black folks who wanted to proclaim their blackness and upset the status quo. Or, as Steven Thrasher put it for BuzzFeed, the 'fro was “a cultural symbol of black ass-kicking.”

Black people choosing to wear their hair natural is an unmistakable challenge to Eurocentric beauty standards and culture. So it isn’t shocking that black hair is seen as something scary, distracting or militant. Just look at the controversial cover of The New Yorker from 2008 portraying Michelle Obama as an afro’d revolutionary.

Nonetheless, the TSA’s agreement to improve its employee training and to specifically track future complaints about hair pat-downs for discriminatory impact is a step in the right direction.

"I hope that this agreement and the proposed trainings will lead to a more equitable treatment of all travelers throughout the U.S., regardless of their ethnic or cultural background and or how they wear their hair," Singleton said in the ACLU statement.

Me too, girl. Me too.

Rahel Gebreyes   |   March 31, 2015    4:52 PM ET

Accusations of racially selective airport searches by the Transportation Security Administration have prompted officials to deem the practice discriminatory. This comes years after Solange Knowles spoke out about her own experience with airport "Discrim-FRO-nation" on Twitter but it appears as though black women are still receiving routine hair searches.

ACLU staff attorney Novella Coleman joined HuffPost Live on Monday and described how she was singled out for "subjective" and "racially discriminatory" searches by the TSA on three separate occasions. She explained:

The first time it happened to me, I was completely caught off guard. I went through the full body scanner at the airport. I turned around and looked at the screen, nothing unusual was on it. And then the TSA agent next to me said, 'Now I need to search your hair.' And then she proceeded to grab my hair and just squeeze it from top to bottom. And then she found nothing. … The two white women that I was with from work went through. Nothing happened. They weren't searched.

When Coleman pressed the TSA agent to explain why she was inspected, she received a multitude of responses. First she was told the TSA's policy is to search passengers' hair if it has extensions. Then the agent widened the policy to include extensions or "abnormalities." Then after Coleman asked again, a manager rephrased the policy once more, stating that they will search a passenger's hair if they cannot see her scalp.

Coleman, who wears her hair in dreadlocks, said that her experience with the "intrusive" searches is not unique.

"I noticed that there was a pattern among black women, particularly those with their hair in a natural style, being singled out for these discriminatory and intrusive hair searches," she told host Alyona Minkovski.

Coleman and her client Malaika Singleton, who has also spoken out about racial profiling in airport security protocols, have reached an agreement with the TSA to ensure that all passengers are treated with "respect and dignity."

Per that agreement, TSA agents at Los Angeles International Airport will undergo training to emphasize racially neutral practices, and the agency will "specifically track" complaints "to assess whether a discriminatory impact may be occurring."

Learn more about accusations of racial profiling in TSA searches in the video above.

Sign up here for Live Today, HuffPost Live's new morning email that will let you know the newsmakers, celebrities and politicians joining us that day and give you the best clips from the day before!

Carly Ledbetter   |   March 31, 2015    7:00 AM ET

Thanks to the TSA's incredible Instagram account and some general knowledge about flying, we know what's not allowed on planes. Don't bring liquids above 3.4 ounces in your carry-on, leave the fireworks at home, and definitely don't pack your brass knuckles.

While there is a long lists of things you shouldn't pack in your luggage, there is also a long list of weird things you actually can bring. Take a look at what we discovered you can bring, and always make sure to check before you fly, as rules could change in a jiffy.

1. Antlers
Though this might be surprising for non-hunters, bringing antlers on a plane is allowed on almost all American airline carriers. Most usually charge a small fee (anywhere from $20 to $200) and ask that the antlers be cleaned and properly wrapped to the best of your ability.

2. Kayaks and bikes
Many airlines let you pack sporting equipment like kayaks, bikes, snowboards and surfboards. It's worth doing some research before you lug it to the airport, as not all airlines allow all types of items, and certain airlines will make you break down equipment (like your bike) and pack it a certain way.

3. Lighters
One lighter is approved for carry-on luggage, but two lighters or more with fluid must be checked in Department of Transportation-approved cases. People traveling with lighters without fluid may bring as many as they want in the checked luggage.

4. Fishing rods
The TSA says fishing rods are allowed on as either carry-on or checked luggage, but ultimately the decision rests with your airline carrier. So before you trek that fishing gear all the way to the airport, just make sure you can actually bring it on the plane.

5. Human remains
According to a TSA rule, cremated human remains are allowed onboard or in checked baggage. Some airlines do not allow crematory remains as checked baggage, so be sure to check with your airline before flying. For carry on, crematory remains should be placed in a wood, cardboard or plastic container, as metal urns might not be allowed through security.

6. Parachutes
You can bring a parachute in your carry-on or checked luggage. Just make sure the rig is separated from other parts of your luggage, and arrive half an hour early in case the TSA wants to ask you some questions.

7. Pie and cake
Yep, you can bring your pie or cake through security, though it might require a little additional screening.

8. Ice skates and rollerblades
Yep, ice skates and rollerblades are TSA-approved items for either carry-on or checked bags. So whether you're going to Canada or Florida, you'll be prepared.

9. Wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers
Make sure your tools are less than 7 inches long, and you can bring them onboard or check them with your luggage.

10. Knitting needles
As long you don't bring circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade through security, the TSA says you can bring knitting needles on the plane. If you do happen to have thread cutters or needles with blades, just make sure those go in your checked luggage.

11. Wrapped gifts
If you're bringing them as your carry-on (which is totally allowed), just note that TSA agents might have to unwrap the gift if they think they see something suspicious. So while you can bring it on the plane, it might be best to wrap it at your final destination.

Happy travels!

Sharon Bernstein   |   March 27, 2015   12:42 PM ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 26 (Reuters) - Two black women who said their hairstyles made them targets for airport security pat-downs said on Thursday the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had agreed to stop singling out women for screening based solely on their "sisterlocks."

Malaika Singleton, a neuroscientist based in Sacramento, said she was on her way to London last year for an academic conference on dementia when a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport began pulling and squeezing her hair.

"I was going through the screening procedures like we all do, and after I stepped out of the full body scanner, the agent said, 'OK, now I'm going to check your hair,'" Singleton said on Thursday.

The same thing happened when she passed through the Minneapolis airport on her way back home, Singleton said.

She contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, and it turned out that one of the lawyers there, a black woman who also wears the tiny, stylized form of dreadlocks known as sisterlocks had the same experience - twice.

Novella Coleman, the ACLU attorney, had already filed a complaint about the practice in 2012, to no avail, Coleman said on Thursday. She filed another complaint based on Singleton's experience, and on Thursday the two women said that the agency had agreed to conduct anti-discrimination training sessions with its officers to avoid what they called racial profiling of hair.

"The first time I was on a trip with colleagues, some other attorneys who were white and Latina," said Novella Coleman, the ACLU lawyer who filed the complaint.

"The woman said, 'I need to search your hair now,' and she just started grabbing my hair and squeezing it from top to bottom," Coleman said. Her white and Latina colleagues underwent no such searches, she said.

Asked the reason for the search, Coleman said she was given a variety of explanations. One officer said all passengers with hair extensions were searched, but Coleman wasn't wearing extensions. Another said people are searched if they have "abnormalities" in their hair, she said.

Other black women have had similar experiences, she said.

David A. Castelveter, a spokesman for the TSA, said the agency had no immediate comment on Thursday night.

Coleman said it was not immediately clear what kind of training the TSA planned for its staff.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler)

  |   March 27, 2015   11:01 AM ET

Fidgeting, whistling, sweaty palms. Add one point each. Arrogance, a cold penetrating stare, and rigid posture, two points.

The 6 Freakiest Things Smuggled Through Airport Security

Conde Nast Traveler   |   March 19, 2015    2:35 PM ET

by Caitlin Morton

Human remains? Live animals? The TSA blog is a treasure trove of weird things uncovered at security checkpoints over the years. Here are some of the strangest findings.

One of several live snakes found in a man's pants in 2011. | Photo: Courtesy The TSA Blog

The TSA was all over the news last week after a chihuahua was discovered in a checked bag at New York's LaGuardia Airport. The dog ended up returning home unharmed, but not before the TSA issued an important reminder on Instagram: "It's always important to double check your bags before traveling, especially to make sure your chihuahua hasn't stowed away inside."

While this particular incident was the result of a wanderlust-filled pup (it snuck into the owner's suitcase when she wasn't looking), people try to sneak contraband items through security every day. The TSA's blog writes updates reviewing the various items they've found at security checkpoints each week, from concealed weapons to, yes, live animals. We delved into the blog's archives to find the standout reports--here are some of the strangest things people have tried to bring onto planes with them:


In 2011 at Miami International Airport, a man was discovered with seven snakes hidden very...unusually. Each snake was wrapped in hosiery and each reptilian bundle was stored in the man's pants, along with several small turtles. The animals were picked up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the passenger was arrested, and Samuel L. Jackson got to take the rest of the day off.


Also filed under the "men stuffing things in their pants" category is the story of a passenger landing at Melbourne in 2009 with two completely live pigeons down his trousers. The man was stopped after arriving from Dubai -- a 10-hour flight -- with one pigeon hiding in each sock, and also wrapped in padded envelopes for extra "protection." The birds miraculously made it out alive. The man was arrested on the scene.


While TSA agents were checking baggage at Fort Lauderdale in 2013, they came across clay pots containing fragments of an actual human skull. While the passengers in question claimed they had no idea of the pots' macabre contents, the security lines were slowed down tremendously as the area had to be treated as a crime scene.

Fragments of a human skull were discovered at Fort Lauderdale. | Photo: Courtesy The TSA Blog


What if we had metal detectors in the Middle Ages? All that armor... Anyway, in 2012 a body scanner detected a metal chastity belt on a passenger, who was eventually allowed to pass through and board the plane. No word on where she packed the key.


In 2012, one Denver International Airport passenger thought the best way to sneak marijuana through airport security was to hide it in a fake explosive--which wouldn't be allowed on a plane anyway. The TSA said it best: "We're not looking for drugs, but you can guarantee the odds are in our favor of finding them if they're stuffed in a grenade."

A knife attached to a walker at JFK International Airport. | Photo: Courtesy The TSA Blog


The TSA has tons of stories of intricately concealed items, be it knives disguised as hair combs or drugs stuffed in jars of peanut butter. But no story is quite as unusual as that of an elderly JFK International Airport passenger who attached a metal blade to his walker. "Usually, the only attachments you see on walkers are tennis balls," the TSA blog quipped.

See 5 more of the freakiest things smuggled through airport security on

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