The Transportation Security Administration cares deeply about privacy. Just not yours. While we are subject to invasive searches bordering on gynecological exams, the TSA has spent years defending its own privacy and successfully evading Freedom of Information Act requests.
After Annie Jacobsen’s series of articles detailing her experience on Northwest Airlines flight #327, several whistleblowers came forward to report on TSA’s sham security procedures. One whistleblower, former Federal Air Marshal P. Jeffrey Black, testified before the House Judiciary Committee about prospective terrorists conducting “dry runs” and serious security problems which were reported even before 9/11 and continue to exist today. The TSA has repeatedly been caught tipping off screeners prior to security evaluations. And even though the screeners were warned, the results were still abysmal. The security failure rate for some airports was up to 70%. Much of what Black reported to Congress was included in the movie “Please Remove Your Shoes,” a documentary about the TSA.
The TSA’s response to Black was swift and severe, just as it has been for Chris Liu, Bogdan Dzakovic, Robert MacLean and others who incur the agency’s wrath. He noted, “The Whistleblower Protection Act did not protect me in any way from retaliation, and the TSA managers knew they would not be restricted from, or held accountable for, any unlawful actions to retaliate against me.”
Black filed complaints as early as 2004 regarding the government’s retaliation toward him, and filed his first Freedom of Information Act to acquire documentation about the retaliation in 2007. After multiple filings and years of governmental roadblocks, including the claim that they were unable to verify Black’s identity in spite of the fact that he was at that time a federal air marshal, demands for exorbitant fees, and simply ignoring him, on November 29th Black finally resorted to filing a lawsuit to get the information. The Department of Homeland Security is required to respond to it by the end of January.
Given Black’s experience, the outlook for Chris Liu and future whistleblowers is not good. As the TSA expands it's reach to include passenger searches on buses, subways, trains, and even hotels and malls, it would be nice if they responded to criticism by actually fixing the problems instead of hiding them and persecuting the messengers.