Bumbling Feds Fight Al-Qaeda Threat With Interrogations Of Travel Bloggers

The United States government might not have been able to connect the dots and identify Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a security threat to international air travel in time to keep him from bringing a bomb on a Christmas Day Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, but in the wake of Abdulmutallab’s near-miss terrorist attack they’re moving with lightning speed to get to the bottom of another threat.

From travel bloggers, that is.

The publishers of two travel blogs which had posted a leaked security directive from the Transportation Security Administration were visited by TSA agents bearing subpoenas yesterday. TSA is on the warpath searching for the leaker of this SD from TSA, which went out immediately after the Abdulmutallab attack:

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Transportation Security Administration

Aviation Security Directive

Subject: Security Directive
Number: SD 1544-09-06
Date: December 25, 2009

EXPIRATION: 0200Z on December 30, 2009

This Security Directive (SD) must be implemented immediately. The measures contained in this SD are in addition to all other SDs currently in effect for your operations.

INFORMATION: On December 25, 2009, a terrorist attack was attempted against a flight traveling to the United States. TSA has identified security measures to be implemented by airports, aircraft operators, and foreign air carriers to mitigate potential threats to flights.

APPLICABILITY: THIS SD APPLIES TO AIRCRAFT OPERATORS THAT CARRY OUT A SECURITY PROGRAM REGULATED UNDER 49 CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS (CFR)1544.101(a).

ACTIONS REQUIRED: If you conduct scheduled and/or public charter flight operations under a Full Program under 49 CFR 1544.101(a) departing from any foreign location to the United States (including its territories and possessions), you must immediately implement all measures in this SD for each such flight.

1. BOARDING GATE

1. The aircraft operator or authorized air carrier representative must ensure all passengers are screened at the boarding gate during the boarding process using the following procedures. These procedures are in addition to the screening of all passengers at the screening checkpoint.

1. Perform thorough pat-down of all passengers at boarding gate prior to boarding, concentrating on upper legs and torso.
2. Physically inspect 100 percent of all passenger accessible property at the boarding gate prior to boarding, with focus on syringes being transported along with powders and/or liquids.
3. Ensure the liquids, aerosols, and gels restrictions are strictly adhered to in accordance with SD 1544-06-02E.

2. During the boarding process, the air carrier may exempt passengers who are Heads of State or Heads of Government from the measures outlined in Section I.A. of this SD, including the following who are traveling with the Head of State or Head of Government:

1. Spouse and children, or
2. One other individual (chosen by the Head of State or Head of Government)

3. For the purposes of Section I.B., the following definitions apply:

1. Head of State: An individual serving as the chief public representative of a monarchic or republican nation-state, federation, commonwealth, or any other political state (for example, King, Queen, and President).

2. Head of Government: The chief officer of the executive branch of a government presiding over a cabinet (for example, Prime Minister, Premier, President, and Monarch).

2. IN FLIGHT

1. During flight, the aircraft operator must ensure that the following procedures are followed:

1. Passengers must remain in seats beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
2. Passenger access to carry-on baggage is prohibited beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
3. Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.
4. While over U.S. airspace, flight crew may not make any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks.
5. Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.

AIRCRAFT OPERATOR ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The aircraft operator must immediately provide written confirmation to its assigned PSI indicating receipt of this SD.

AIRCRAFT OPERATOR dissemination required: The aircraft operator must immediately pass the information and directives set forth in this SD to all stations affected, and provide written confirmation to its PSI, indicating that all stations affected have acknowledged receipt of the information and directives set forth in this SD. The aircraft operator must disseminate this information to its senior management personnel, ground security coordinators, and supervisory security personnel at all affected locations. All aircraft operator personnel implementing this SD must be briefed by the aircraft operator on its content and the restrictions governing dissemination. No other dissemination may be made without prior approval of the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration. Unauthorized dissemination of this document or information contained herein is prohibited by 49 CFR Part 1520 (see 69 Fed. Reg. 28066 (May 18, 2004).

APPROVAL OF ALTERNATIVE MEASURES: With respect to the provisions of this SD, as stated in 49 CFR 1544.305(d), the aircraft operator may submit in writing to its PSI proposed alternative measures and the basis for submitting the alternative measures for approval by the Assistant Administrator for Transportation Sector Network Management. The aircraft operator must immediately notify its PSI whenever any procedure in this SD cannot be carried out by a government authority charged with performing security procedures.

FOR TSA ACTION ONLY: The TSA must issue this SD immediately to the corporate security element of all affected U.S. aircraft operators.

FOR STATE DEPARTMENT: Retransmittal to appropriate foreign posts is authorized. Post must refer to STATE 162917, 201826Z Sep 01, Subject: FAA Security Directives and Information Circulars: Definitions and Handling, for specific guidance and dissemination.

Gale Rossides
Acting Administrator

The release of the security directive, which expired yesterday, provoked a rather strong reaction from an American public already fed up with the nonsensical and ineffective rules already in place from TSA; jokes and criticisms of a policy which would make airline blankets and pillows contraband, criminalize bathroom trips in the last hour of a flight and blinker passengers to landmarks commercial jets fly over have been legion. None of the restrictions on air travel promulgated by the quintessentially named TSA Security Directive 1544-09-06 would prevent the next Mutallab from carrying out a bombing of a commercial flight; all would make a flying experience for an innocent passenger less enjoyable and strip value from a plane ticket (which damages an already-troubled airline industry even further).

As a result, TSA seems bent on smoking out the dissident leaker of its memo. Chris Elliott and Stephen Frischling had similar stories to tell; both were visited by TSA agents and subpoena’ed, both were told TSA wants to find out who leaked the directive to the media – which is ridiculous to the point of insanity given that the directive was disseminated to all the airlines, making it anything but a secret.

One can only hope that in the wake of the Christmas Day attack on Flight 253 the TSA is as hard at work identifying and rooting out terrorists as they are journalists who inform the public of their idiotic rules. When 7th-century barbarians in the Yemeni desert continuously humiliate our government’s bureaucrats and manipulate them into harrassing and inconveniencing American citizens, at some point you have to question whether anything the Feds are doing on airline security is worth the money we’re borrowing to fund them.

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