a view from the inside

Old Jan 12, 12, 10:31 am
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a view from the inside

ive been working for just over 4 years as a TSO. Ive worked at 2 seperate airports, one that was federally operated and another that was under the Private Screening Program. So im not some random jerk, ive got alot of background on issues of transportation security.



im not sure how much longer i can keep doing it. The money is decent. Federal pension and benefits are great. But the BS is just out of control. Where to begin... I know alot of the Frequent Flier types think all TSA agents are just government robots, but the fact is a good chunk of us hear your frustrations and agree with you guys 100% and really would LOVE to see the program fixed so its more efficient and effective... But stuffy management types and washington beaurecrats that are under pressure from lobbyists arent in any rush to change things, even though Mr. Pistole is trying...

So... how could the system be improved... Realistically wed all like a system that 1)keeps us safe EFFECTIVELY 2)is efficient and 3)minimizes hassle for travelers. lets break it down:

1. PEOPLE-

Recruitment: They need to stop recruiting people out of welfare offices and off pizza boxes. I know plenty of people sitting on college degrees or veterans just returning from OIF/OEF who would much rather be working for TSA than working in the resturant and construction jobs theyre stuck in. Instead of hiring anything with a pulse, they should spend time at college and veteran's job fairs. At least then, you get people who have half a brain and have some work experience. The requirements should be raised from just a GED, to at least SOME college and previous work experience in security or transportation. Of course hiring better people means paying more. But if you hire better people, and train them well, you need ALOT fewer people. so it doesnt make a difference if you pay them a little more.

Selection Process: The current selection proccess is a joke. A trained monkey could more than likely pass the computer based test. The background check was probably the shortest ive ever gone through... ive even heard cases of people being employed for a year or more before their background was even done because of the backlog. Drug test yeah they do it once when you get hired, but after that its never done again. The Fitness test is a joke. You pick up some weights and walk from one room to the other. Half the people they hire have back/shoulder/hip conditions that prevent them from lifting baggage or doing much of any serious labor. How to fix it? Well for starters, make the initial testing serious instead of a joke. The background check should be the real deal that CBP and every other fed agency puts its people through, complete with a psychological evaluation. That would weed out alot of the "i have a badge so im god" types. Everyone should be required to achieve and maintain a minimum of secret clearance, so that TSO's would actually have access to the intelligence information that would help them perform their jobs effectiveley. Drug testing should be recurrent. While the physical demands of the job arent all that high, the physical test should be a little more stringent. Theres too many overweight, unkempt and unhealthy people working the checkpoints. whose more of a deterrent to a would be terrorist? a 28 year old in good shape with a spiffy uniform and a tight haircut, or a 400lb 60 year old who hasnt shaved in a month and cant even tuck his shirt in? Looks go a long ways towards deterrence, which is half the point of the checkpoints. If you hired smarter, younger, more capable people you would need half as many people to do the same amount of work.

Training: The current training process is insufficient. Theres not enough on the job training, the OJT instructors arent the top notch people they should be. The classroom training consists of a bunch of poorly constructed powerpoint presentations and some crappy computer learning modules. Realistically, the most serious threat to aviation is the IED, yet the IED training module was kinda dated. IED technology and concealment tactics have changed significantly since then. OJT and classroom training needs to be longer. Training should consist of far more in depth review of certain topics, specifically the legalities of administrative searches, people skills and IED's. A HUGE portion of the training should be dedicated to IED's, as its the most serious threat, yet the most difficult to detect. The TSA should work closely with the Military and Law Enforcement when developing the IED training curriculum. The Military has more experience and expertise on the topic than anyone. Alot could be learned about IED's and IED detection from what has been seen in Iraq/Astan.

Just as much time should be devoted to training people how to carry themselves and interact with people professionally. Im not saying homeland security is the same as customer service. But theres something to be learned from some major companies (disney anyone?) about how to deal with people on a person-person level. TSO's need better training on how to defuse tense situations rather than just argue and escalate things. The Verbal Judo program is a good start. Its a simple thing really... the nicer you are to people who are totally innocent, the more likely they are to 1) cooperate with you and 2) report people who actually are doing something nefarious. Its Community Policing 101. A "thank you" and "sir" go along way in gaining people's cooperation. Barking orders when working the front of the lane people not only pisses people off more and makes them tune you out, it also distracts the .... out of the x-ray operators.

Additionally, better training means more confident x-ray techs. That means fewer unecessary bag searches. That means fewer search officers are required. Fewer people means saving the taxpayers money. Lines will move faster too. If X-ray operators had the best training, it wouldnt be necessary to pull laptops out of suitcases. a good operator would be able to determine theres no IED concealed in a laptop 90% of the time without the need to have the laptop removed. Better training also means better security... more threat items being kept off planes. Its a win-win for everyone involved.


2. Policies/Procedures
Liquids: This is probably my biggest gripe. The liquid rule is a joke. First off, what makes 4 3oz bottles okay, but a single 12oz bottle a threat? Theres no difference so why is one allowed but the other isnt?. The liquid limitations means a rediculous amount of bag searches being done on people who are completely harmless. It increases the amount of manpower required, slows the lines down and costs the taxpayers money. The airlines love it because they rake in the fees people pay to keep checking bags. I understand explosives can be liquid... but powders and plastics are more common and we havent banned those from carryon luggage... So how do we fix the liquid problem... how do we improve the ability to detect liquid threats, while decreasing the amount of liquids/gels/pastes getting thrown out, hassle to passengers and costs to taxpayers?

easy... start letting officer's use their own discretion. I cant count how many times ive pulled a 6oz tube of toothpaste out of a bag, unrolled it, felt that there was about 1/2oz left in it, and then have had the boss tell me the container is over 3.4oz so it cant go. It makes me look stupid, its a waste of limited resources to have me spending my time on such a harmless thing and it sucks for the person whose gotta go buy new toiletries or get scammed into paying $25 to check a bag. Let officers decide on their own, if your people are good enough and trained well enough, you should be able to trust their judgement. If somethings dangerous or flammable, fine, prohibit it. If it isnt, run it through the Bottle Liquid Scanner and be done with it. If it clears the BLS test its no threat and theres not really any grounds for prohibiting it. The current war against liquid just is a strain overall, on the airlines for having to deal with people checking more bags, for the TSO's who have to waste time digging through grandma's bag to take away her denture paste while theres better things to look for and for the passengers who get inconvinienced by this crap. Not to mention, the taxpayers who foot the bill for all the extra staff that is required to keep up with the bag checks on all the liquids...

Set a guideline of what might indicate a liquid is a threat...ingredients, packaging etc... Use the technology availible, ETD, BLS testing etc... and with that let officer's determine if a liquid should be allowed or not, just like we do with powders. If a mother shows up with bottles of milk, and everything seems kosher, it probably is. most mothers carry bottles of milk. Its the stuff that is out of the ordinary that should be of concern. IF a passenger drinks the liquid in front of the TSO, it should automatically be assumed non-threatening and be permitted.

Ticket/ID checking: This is the one area where MAJOR improvements in security can be made with minimal hassle to the passengers. For starters, all boarding passes should be scanned. Its way to easy to photoshop a fake boarding pass. Secondly, all ID's should be scanned. You can easily fake whats visible on an ID. Its hard to fake the information on it. most people caught with fake passports crossing the border are caught because the name encoded on the Machine readable zone doesnt match the name printed on the face of the passport. Additionally, the no-fly/SSSS list could be loaded onto the ID and ticket scanners and should sound a tone when a match is made, so TSO's would no longer miss the SSSS markings on boarding passes and the airline wouldnt be involved with watchlist matching anymore. We have better technology than the stupid blue lights and magnifying glasses...why arent we utilizing it... To scan and ID and a Ticket with a machine reader would be alot quicker than staring at it with a magnifying glass. Lines would move quicker.

Also, anyone who comes up to the TDC without proper documentation should recieve a BDO interview and have their info run by LEO's. I cant count how many times people come up to the TDC, claim they dont have their ID, show a credit card and an old fishing license to a supervisor and are allowed through the checkpoint, only for CBP or Cops to grab them on the other side because they have outstanding warrants. If someone drove to the airport, and had no problem showing their ID to the airline, and now suddenly they dont have an ID or wont show an ID, chances are theres a reason why. If someone ran the 9/11 hijacker's passports or visas on 9/11, they all would have come up as overstayers and would have been detained. Generally, WAY more time and technology should be spent at the TDC than is spent on phsyical screening. We should be looking for bad guys. Not wasting our time taking away toothpaste from soldiers and denture cream from granny's. If you did a better job with the TDC/ID stuff, you could probably lax up alot on the physical screening. Though, with the Pre-Check thing, it seems thats the direction they want to take things. Hopefully they speed that thing along.

Crew:Screening crew is pointless and illogical. If the pilots want to bring the flight down, they dont need a weapon. Half of them are armed anyways. Crew should have their Credentials checked, ideally through a computer system or thumbprint or something, and be sent around the checkpoint. Screening crew is a waste of TSA resources and a hassle to the crew, on top of being pointless. Theyve all had more thorough backgrounds than most TSA employees have had anyways.

AIT/Body Scanners: Should be reserved for people who fit into high risk categories. Really freakin old people who can barely walk, kids, businessmen that fly a trillion miles a year safely, soldiers in uniform, etc should all undergo regular screening with a metal detector. Ideally, people between 16-40, specifically those who exhibit behavior or travel patterns that would make them higher risk, should be sent through the AIT. Those with metal knees/hip would be sent through the AIT. it saves us and them time. All AIT units should be brought up to auto-recognition standard.

The Private companies: I worked for one in the midwest. Their performance is just as poor as the federal people are. They have just as many grumpy old farts working for em. In fact where i worked issues of management and scheduling were ALOT WORSE than it is on the federal side. Also, despite the rumor, starting pay is actually lower, and theres no benefits as far as insurance/pension like TSA gets. in turn you get a really high turnover rate, which means fewer experienced people, which negatively effects security.


Overall, TSA needs to take a step back and look at how ineffective and inefficient its operation is rather than plugging its ears and pretending everything is wonderful. Common sense needs to be injected into the process in a big way. IF they would start looking more at WHO is coming through the checkpoint instead of WHAT, if they started hiring better people and training them better and if all TSO's started to interact with passengers in a professional, friendly way, the process would become more secure, more efficient and economical, and less of a hassle for the travelers and the TSA agents... Most of us just want to keep the flyers safe and get them through there as quickly as possible. Unforunately its hard to do it when we have procedures in place that are ineffective and inefficient, we have supervisors who are old and stuffy and refuse to embrace any sort of change, and a select bunch of TSO's who think that because they have a badge it gives them an excuse to be a jerk.

anyways, just though id vent my frustrations, give my suggestions, and acknowledge the frustrations everyone else who flies has with us... hopefully if more people on the inside start taking on a mentality of working WITH the traveling public to better protect them, instead of this lingering us vs. them mentality, then perhaps things will start to change for the better, and it will benefit everyone... more secure, cheaper for the taxpayers, and less hassle for the 95% of passengers that are of low risk..

id be happy to try an give the inside perspective on security and answer questions, but bare in mind i wont be able to answer any questions relating directly to procedure or technology, as its protected information, not to mention id rather not give away help to the bad guys.

Last edited by spacev1986; Jan 12, 12 at 12:30 pm
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Old Jan 12, 12, 10:58 am
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Ever heard of "equal employment"? Here goes your suggestion.
BTW, what is "high risk"? Is a bigger size guy like myself in that group? It seems I am. What about arabic or so looking people? Are they more dangerous than me? Or less? Who is going to decide? And btw, the constitution is still there and discrimination is prohibited.
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Old Jan 12, 12, 11:19 am
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Originally Posted by MAMOHT View Post
Ever heard of "equal employment"? Here goes your suggestion.
BTW, what is "high risk"? Is a bigger size guy like myself in that group? It seems I am. What about arabic or so looking people? Are they more dangerous than me? Or less? Who is going to decide? And btw, the constitution is still there and discrimination is prohibited.
Determining risk wouldnt consider race...Rather it would be fairly easy to concoct a race/gender neutral statistical system that consider other factors- how the person paid, how many bags they checked, travel history, age, travelling companions, watchlist status, etc. Not to mention behaviorial considerations.

As for equal employment, dont get me started. Employment should be based on merit and experience alone. Efforts to purposely hire whatever minority group even if they are less qualified just because the employer fears a lawsuit is just bad for business.
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Old Jan 12, 12, 11:21 am
  #4  
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Why should ID's be scanned and people with questionable ID's be refered to police?

If these people are screened properly what threat do they present?
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Old Jan 12, 12, 11:37 am
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Originally Posted by Boggie Dog View Post
Why should ID's be scanned and people with questionable ID's be refered to police?

If these people are screened properly what threat do they present?
part of being "screened" is being run against no-fly/selectee and a few other databases. Without proper ID, theres no way to do that. Actually, id say watchlist matching is probably the MOST important part of screening. it keeps the REALLY bad guys off planes.

Even if everyones screened to the same level, someone hell bent on destroying everyone else is going to fasten a weapon out of something. you cant prohibit everything.

As for ID's being scanned, for 1 it would be quicker than that magnifying glass nonsense. For 2, its a better way to determine its real (which is important. Watchlist matching only works if the person matched against the watchlist is actually who they say they are. veryifying they are who they say they are, is the only way to do this)
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Old Jan 12, 12, 11:38 am
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Originally Posted by spacev1986 View Post

Also, anyone who comes up to the TDC without proper documentation should recieve a BDO interview and have their info run by LEO's. I cant count how many times people come up to the TDC, claim they dont have their ID, show a credit card and an old fishing license to a supervisor and are allowed through the checkpoint, only for CBP or Cops to grab them on the other side because they have outstanding warrants. If someone drove to the airport, and had no problem showing their ID to the airline, and now suddenly they dont have an ID or wont show an ID, chances are theres a reason why.
A lot of what you say makes sense, but I've got to take issue with this. What you describe would bring a TSA checkpoint a giant leap toward being exactly the type of internal checkpoint that was common behind the Iron Curtain where you have to submit your "papers please" in order to proceed. This is a way to control who can and cannot travel, and nothing more.

Sure you might catch some bad guys by doing warrant checks. But you might catch some bad guys by doing warrant checks on the streetcorner in your hometown or at the shopping mall. That doesn't make it right or constitutional. There's a lot of good reasons why we do not allow the police to arbitrarily demand papers of anyone on the street and run a warrant check on them for no reason. Failing to present papers is neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed.

And a BDO interview, seriously? I haven't had to face these clowns yet at BOS, but when I do, I intend to exercise my right to remain silent. There is nothing in any regulation or law, let alone the Constitution, that requires me to speak to a government agent as a pre-condition of freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. When one of your colleagues eventually screws up and denies access to the gate to a silent passenger, I hope there's going to be a rain of judgement from the courts like none TSA has seen before. If the person they ban happens to be sympathetic (disabled, old, child, mom with baby/toddler, ethnic minority), the media and public will join in the hate fest.

Your BDO colleagues at BOS have already interrogated a coworker of mine about his employment, education, home ownership, time at his current address, family, etc., in ways that were completely inappropriate. And there are other stories of the same thing happening.

But, you'll likely say, what about enforcing the no fly list? Well, for one, it is completely un-American to maintain a secret blacklist of people who cannot engage in air travel but have no effective means of redress or due process. DHS Trip is not redress; a public courtroom is. If you're on the list, you can't find out why and can't get off it. How is that right? And it doesn't even help security. If someone is truly so dangerous that they should not be allowed to fly, then surely they 1) are also too dangerous to let roam the streets, and 2) have committed some crime that indicates they are so dangerous. So instead of a secret blacklist, these people should be arrested via good old-fashioned police and intelligence work, tried in a criminal court, and given all of the due process rights afforded to people on US soil. If the US wants to maintain a list of non-citizens who are blacklisted from traveling to the US, that's fine, but that should be enforced by CBP not TSA, and it should have no impact on domestic USA flights.

If you know anyone who lived or experienced life behind the Iron Curtain, you really should have a chat with them about internal controls, state security, etc. I have a friend whose parents literally ran out of Czechoslovakia under gunfire from the internal border guards; I have the utmost respect for those sort of brave folks. I was also fortunate enough to visit East Berlin for a single day before the Wall came down and get a glimpse of what life was like there. In that context, TSA's program of acclimatizing citizens to "screening," papers checks, and being submissive to authority, scares the h**k out of me.
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Old Jan 12, 12, 11:39 am
  #7  
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Spacev1986, welcome to FT. I expect that your employer will coming looking for you soon with a not-so-gentle suggestion that you cease posting here.

In the meantime, thanks for be willing to put yourself on the line.
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Old Jan 12, 12, 11:46 am
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If you're on the list, you can't find out why
My best guess would be because doing so would compromise whatever intelligence source landed you on the list... i agree 100% that the DHS trip thing is screwey and they should have a way better redress system.

and i really dont think anyone i work for would care about me posting on here, so long as no secrets are getting spilled...
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Old Jan 12, 12, 12:00 pm
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Originally Posted by spacev1986 View Post
My best guess would be because doing so would compromise whatever intelligence source landed you on the list...
Yeah, and the "intelligence source" (i.e., DHS apologist) who placed CNN reporter Drew Griffin on the No Fly List after he wrote an article critical of DHS/TSA definitely deserves protection.
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Old Jan 12, 12, 12:01 pm
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Originally Posted by studentff View Post
Yeah, and the "intelligence source" (i.e., DHS apologist) who placed CNN reporter Drew Griffin on the No Fly List after he wrote an article critical of DHS/TSA definitely deserves protection.
easy, i agree with you 100%... The only people on these lists should be people that are legitamately tied to terrorism. and there shouldnt be 90 year old people on the lists. or little kids. thats stupid.

Last edited by spacev1986; Jan 12, 12 at 12:33 pm
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Old Jan 12, 12, 12:22 pm
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You mentioned, "
Originally Posted by spacev1986 View Post
easy... start letting officer's [sic] use their own discretion.
"

I am not sure if that is a good idea. I have run into a lot of issues with medicines because an officer used their own discretion. The rules and regulations are illogical enough as they are, and if you leave it up to an officer's interpretation, you often multiply the idiocy and level of frustration you have to deal with.

Last edited by essxjay; Jan 17, 12 at 5:52 pm Reason: English tutoring not necessary
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Old Jan 12, 12, 12:31 pm
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Spacev1986, first welcome to these treacherous waters know as TS/S. A bold move for sure. I like what you stated and you seem to have a firm grasp of what common sense should be. Something the TSA is sorely lacking in most cases. Is there any way you go to Washington and take over for Pistole?
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Old Jan 12, 12, 12:32 pm
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Originally Posted by spacev1986 View Post
My best guess would be because doing so would compromise whatever intelligence source landed you on the list... i agree 100% that the DHS trip thing is screwey and they should have a way better redress system.

and i really dont think anyone i work for would care about me posting on here, so long as no secrets are getting spilled...
Recognize this phrase:

nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
or this one:

the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
The use of secret blacklists and other such devices to deny freedoms to citizens is just wrong. Especially since the level of care necessary to place someone on the list, and the soundex-type matching that's used result in false-positives. Or situations like Drew Griffin. Secrecy enables abuse.
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Old Jan 12, 12, 12:33 pm
  #14  
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Originally Posted by dimramon View Post
For starters, I welcome some of your ideas. However, if you want to tout your academic background and knowledge, I would expect a foundational knowledge of grammar and punctuation.

You mentioned, ""

I am not sure if that is a good idea. I have run into a lot of issues with medicines because an officer used their own discretion. The rules and regulations are illogical enough as they are, and if you leave it up to an officer's interpretation, you often multiply the idiocy and level of frustration you have to deal with.
You cant let people start using discretion as long as you have idiots with poor judgement working for you. Start hiring better people and training them better...ONLY then can you allow staff to use their own discretion. Given the current workforce dynamic, it wouldnt work so well.
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Old Jan 12, 12, 12:34 pm
  #15  
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Originally Posted by spacev1986 View Post
part of being "screened" is being run against no-fly/selectee and a few other databases. Without proper ID, theres no way to do that. Actually, id say watchlist matching is probably the MOST important part of screening. it keeps the REALLY bad guys off planes.

Even if everyones screened to the same level, someone hell bent on destroying everyone else is going to fasten a weapon out of something. you cant prohibit everything.

As for ID's being scanned, for 1 it would be quicker than that magnifying glass nonsense. For 2, its a better way to determine its real (which is important. Watchlist matching only works if the person matched against the watchlist is actually who they say they are. veryifying they are who they say they are, is the only way to do this)
And you think the real bad guys wouldn't have the resources to have real ID's made?

Verification of ID adds zip to the security effort.
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