Pilot who posted security flaw video online is punished by the TSA

by Christopher Elliott on December 23, 2010

An airline pilot who posted a series of videos online that exposed shortcomings in airport security has been punished by the Transportation Security Administration, which included a visit to his home by federal agents and sheriff’s deputies.

Sound familiar? It does to me.

The videos, which have since been deleted, show that thousands of airport employees are allowed to skip security every day at San Francisco International Airport. Here’s the full report from the San Francisco ABC affiliate and the station that broke the story, News 10 in Sacramento.

The pilot, whose name was not given, had his gun confiscated and a deputy sheriff asked him to surrender his state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon. The pilot’s status as a Federal Flight Deck Officer, a volunteer position, is being reviewed, he was told.

Among the security gaps the video exposed:

• The “irony” of flight crews being forced to go through TSA screening while ground crew who service the aircraft are able to access secure areas simply by swiping a card.

• The fact that pilots have access to a dangerous-looking ax on the flight deck — used for emergencies — once they’re done being screened by the TSA.

• Various elements of airports that are completely unscreened, such as luggage carts.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the report comes when aviation consultant Ron Wilson, a former SFO employee, admits on camera that the whistleblowing pilot is right. All a terrorist needs to do to penetrate security is to get an ID, which is relatively easy, he suggests.

“I still have mine,” he says, brandishing his old ID.

The pilot’s attorney, Don Werno, says the feds sent six people to the pilot’s house to send a message.

“And the message was you’ve angered us by telling the truth and by showing America that there are major security problems, despite the fact that we’ve spent billions of dollars allegedly to improve airline safety,” he told ABC.

None of this should surprise you. We’ve already covered the many exceptions to TSA’s porous security, including the fact that airport volunteers can often slip right through the unguarded doors.

We also know that TSA’s response can be heavy-handed. Not only did an agent show up on my doorstep with a subpoena last year, but they also went after a colleague who had posted a security directive on his site and took his computer. (Both subpoenas were eventually withdrawn.)

The pilot who posted these videos did the right thing. The absurdities and flaws in airport security must be exposed in order to improve them, and, as is painfully obvious to anyone who covers aviation security, the current system isn’t working. It’s harming tourism and air travel, leaving passengers with a false sense of security, and paving the way for an inevitable re-run of 9/11.

There has to be a better way.

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  • Kris

    This just proves that the TSA is all about the ILLUSION of security. An organization with integrity would have thanked him for pointing out the flaws and fixed them.

  • John M

    So according to the letter, he’s guilty of what? He isn’t inhibiting the TSA from doing what they do and since most folks don’t have any confidence in the TSA, to start with, he really isn’t doing anything to damage the public’s confidence in the TSA.

  • Hapgood

    He is guilty of the unpardonable offense of documenting on video the truly diminutive size of the naked emperor’s genitalia. While both the nudity and the deficiencies are readily visible to the public, it is the duty of every loyal patriotic citizen to practice responsible self-censorship. The majority of travelers are diligent in their duty, reflexively closing their eyes when the enter an airport. That way, they and their fellow sheep can enjoy the comforting Belief that the TSA screeners not only wear the finest of raiment, but are doing a superb job of protecting aviation with an impenetrable fortress made of numerous unfathomable layers.

    So of course the TSA would deploy the Full Force of Law Enforcement to punish anyone who dares to undermine the Belief and Faith that so many patriotic sheep have in the TSA. For the eyes of Believers are rudely opened, and they begin to doubt the TSA, the comforting reassurance that the TSA’s security theatre provides for so many travelers will be undermined. And that consequences of that would be unthinkably horrible.

    And that’s one of the biggest problems with the TSA. An agency that actually cared about providing real security would regard this sort of scrutiny as an opportunity to correct their deficiencies and improve security. Generalissimo Pistole would hold a press conference acknowledging the holes and setting forth a plan to correct a problem that has surely existed longer than the TSA itself.

    But of course the TSA doesn’t do that. Instead, they send in the police to punish the perpetrator. The TSA relies on maintaining an illusion of infallibility. They never admit to making mistakes, since the people behind the curtain of secrecy believe themselves incapable of error. Rather than taking corrective action, they take defensive action, and punish those who reveal flaws as enemies, even when the flaws are visible, obvious, and probably already well known to actual terrorists. We need only have unshakable confidence that when those terrorists do exploit the flaws, the TSA will immediately institute new intrusive hassles that punish every traveler while reassuring us of the TSA’s ability to react decisively whenever something happens!

    Maintaining the illusion of infallibility is what matters, so the sheep who stand shoeless in queues waiting to be strip searched will continue to have pure and unquestioning Faith that the TSA is keeping them safe. Generalissimo Pistole and his heroic staff owe it to the sheep to make it very clear that any attempt to cast doubt on that Faith will not be tolerated.

  • Joel Wechsler

    @Hapgood Amen! Brilliant, as usual.

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