Thursday, December 31, 2009

TSA Drops Subpoenas Against 2 Bloggers

The TSA has now dropped subpoenas against two bloggers who were among many who published the infamous security directive the agency issued right after the Christmas Day terrorist bombing attempt on a Delta/Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

The agency had sent its agents to the homes of two travel bloggers, Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, to serve them with subpoenas demanding they tell the TSA where they got copies of the directive the agency sent out widely to airlines and others on Christmas Day after the dimwitted Underpants Bomber failed in his attempt to blow up the flight as it was about to land in Detroit.

Sending agents to these two guys' homes was yet another recent remarkable act by the agency, which had been deeply embarrassed by the hostile public reaction to the rules outlined in the directive. You know, the ones that said that on international flights into the U.S., everybody had to stay seated for the last hour of the flight, with no personal possessions of any kind in hand or on lap.

The Underpants Bomber had scarcely stopped smoldering before the ridicule over that directive was reverberating all over the Internet. The directive was promptly revised.

The agency, as I noted last week, before the media finally woke up to this amazing fact, is still being run by Bush appointees, some of whom, like Gale Rossides, the acting director, have been with TSA since the very beginning. President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano dilly-dallied and took till August to come up with a nominee to head the agency, Erroll Southers. Southers is a former FBI agent and Santa Monica cop, a well-known scholar in terrorist risk-management, and the head of terrorism intelligence and Homeland Security liaison at Los Angeles International Airport. The Southers nomination finally went to Congress in September.

At which point one of those Republican super-patriots, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, put a "hold" on the Southern nomination that has kept it in limbo ever since. DeMint, who comes to his current expertise in international counter-terrorism from his distinguished life experience as a corporate market researcher, believes that Southers might be insufficiently hostile to the idea that the TSA work-force might become unionized. And labor unions, in a state like South Carolina, are evidently seen as a grave danger (despite the fact that most law-enforcement agencies, including the best in the world, the New York Police Department, are heavily unionized).

Anyway, here we are. Our air-travel security remains in the hands of an agency still run by Bush appointees, almost a year after the new administration took office. An agency whose management seems to be flailing, at a very dangerous time. An agency that has now insulted the First Amendment by sending its agents to the homes of journalists to intimidate them in front of their families.

And don't forget: That knee-jerk security directive of Dec. 25 was not exactly the Pentagon Papers. It was readily available online and via e-mail to anyone who looked for it, and to many who did not. Within hours after it was evidently rashly issued to airlines, it was rocketing around online faster than a Nigerian (hmmmmm) lottery scam.

In backing off the ill-advised subpoenas today, the TSA issued a strange "never mind" statement that, my guess is, does not end this matter. After all, someone at the agency thought it was a good idea to send its cops to these guys' houses and even seize one of their laptops. The question now is, who made that call?

Here's the TSA statement:

"TSA takes any breach in security very seriously. In light of the posting of sensitive security information on the web, TSA sought to identify where the information came from. The investigation is nearing a successful conclusion and the subpoenas are no longer in effect."

My follow-up question, which I have conveyed to the TSA, is this: "Who specifically at the TSA decided to send the agents to these two bloggers' homes, and in one case seize a laptop, and was that decision approved by Acting Director Rossides?"

UPDATE, Jan. 7, 2010 -- Hmmm. Still no response from the TSA on the question of whose idea it was to send two agents to the homes of those two bloggers. I'd say the TSA would just as soon we all forget about that particular dumb stunt.


1 comment:

Mister G said...

The actions of DHS have created a chilling effect with bloggers. While journalists working for media are afforded the protections of in-house attorneys when challenged on legalities, bloggers (most of who don't earn anything for their efforts) have to pay big bucks out-of-pocket to defend themselves. A good article on this issue can be found here: In the gig economy, who protects journalist bloggers?.

As though this wasn't enough of a concern, there's also the matter of possibly being sued by a foreign government for hurt sensitivities as you are being by the country of Brazil (Justice David Eady and the Threat to Free Speech).

Being a blogger suddenly seems to be a bit more ominous of an endeavor.