In Which I "Strongly Caution" The TSA To Snort My Taint, And Probably Get On The No-Fly List

Politics & Current Events

When I heard someone was suggesting that the TSA — a favorite subject here at Popehat – was hip-deep in junk science, I was not exactly surprised. After all, the TSA has a history of flirtation with junk science, which perhaps should not surprise us, given that the agency may or may not be recruiting its technological experts via pizza box advertisements.

The junk science in question relates to the TSA's much-discussed full-body-scanners, which are supposed to help detect hidden weapons, with the side benefit of providing a relatively safe form of release for incipient sex offenders and short bursts of self-esteem to the pathologically socially handicapped. Blogger Jonathan Corbett, who is engaged in litigation with the TSA, claims that the expensive and intrusive scanners can be defeated by the complicated method of attaching metal objects to your side rather than your back or front. The TSA says that it can't really discuss it, but don't worry and trust them.

This post is not about whether Corbett is right about the scanners. My point is about the TSA's reaction. Today, Corbett reported that in the course of being interviewed by reporters about his claims, he learned that a TSA spokesperson “strongly cautioned” a reporter not to cover the story. He didn't identify the reporter. In the comments to his post, someone claiming to be a reporter from Smarter Travel asserted that they, too, were "strongly cautioned not to cover the story." The post asserted the TSA spokesperson in question was one Sari Koshetz.

Now, I don't find it even a little hard to believe that someone from the TSA would threaten the media, either subtly or unsubtly. This is, after all, the agency that launches criminal investigations of critics, calls reciting the Fourth Amendment "disorderly conduct," and wants to criminalize use of its logo.

But I recognized that this was merely a claim on a blog, a blog of someone in litigation with the TSA, with anonymous or semi-anonymous claims attributed to other folks. So, even though I am reliably informed that I am not a journalist, I decided it behooved me to do something journalisty. I asked myself the question emblazoned upon the entrance to the Columbia School of Journalism, the question drilled daily into the minds of journalists from the rawest local-paper-recruit to the loftiest anchor: how can I make this story more about ME?

So. I Googled Sari Koshetz, the name dropped in the blog post, and determined that she is indeed a TSA spokesperson. I guessed at her government email, Googled it to confirm it, and then drafted an email to her to seek confirmation and comment on the story.

Here's what I sent her. As you can see, my aim was to determine whether she really did "strongly caution" people against writing the story, and to determine if that was meant to be a threat, and if so what the legal basis for it was.

Dear Ms. Koshetz:

I write for a modestly-trafficked blog that frequently discusses TSA issues.

I write to request a comment on a report regarding your conduct. Specifically, two reporters have now asserted that you "strongly cautioned" them against reporting on the allegations of litigant and blogger Jonathan Corbett regarding TSA scanners.

Specifically:

1. Did you (or other TSA spokespersons) in fact "caution" journalists against reporting on the story?

2. Was your caution meant to convey that journalists who report on the issue could face some sort of governmental action?

3. What was the legal or factual basis of your caution?

4. Is there any other comment you would like to make?

Thank you,

etc.

I got a rather prompt response, if a brief one:

Any guidance provided is to caution reporters not to generalize that our technology doesn't work or print something without all the facts, based on an inconclusive YouTube video.

I must confess, this shocked me. I expected the TSA might ignore me. I expected the TSA might say "no, you idiot, we didn't strongly caution anyone against reporting a story, and we didn't imply a threat to anyone."

I did not expect a weak semi/non-denial that seems to corroborate that reporters were, in fact, "cautioned." In fact, an uncharitable reader might note that Ms. Koshetz didn't specifically deny making implicit threats, didn't specifically deny strongly cautioning journalists against reporting a story, and in fact only made an ambiguous statement that could be read several different ways, some of them ominous.

You know, if I were the spokesperson for a controversial and unpopular government agency frequently accused of infringing upon the civil rights of Americans, I think that I would go out of my way, when asked, to emphasize that I hadn't meant any threats against journalists and that I didn't intend anything I said to be threatening.

Unless, of course, I meant to be threatening.

As I've said recently, ambiguity in threats is the hallmark of bullshit thuggery. Until I see a clarification from the TSA, that's how I interpret this incident: as a deliberate attempt by the TSA to chill journalists from writing about whether its intrusive full-body scanners are worthless.

So. Allow me to offer my response to the TSA and its spokespersons: snort my taint, thugs.

There. Now I'll probably get on the no-fly list. Though more typical TSA behavior would be to grope my junk and then threaten to sue me if I complain.

Hat Tip: Amy Alkon. Subsequently spotted at BoingBoing.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

49 Comments

45 Comments

  1. BL1Y  •  Mar 8, 2012 @8:31 pm

    They can takes our lives, but they can never take our free–

    Wait? Our lives are at stake? Hm…what do we have to trade? Will they take freedom instead?

    No? Well, just give them our freedom and see if that appeases them anyways.

  2. goober  •  Mar 8, 2012 @8:33 pm

    Ken, I swear, you must have to drive a one ton dually pickup with a crewcab in order to haul your huge brass balls around. I am not worthy.

  3. Mike  •  Mar 8, 2012 @8:34 pm

    You are just running things man. Love the recent work!

  4. Trevor Putnam  •  Mar 8, 2012 @8:38 pm

    Welp, you're my internet hero, Ken. I have never "Strongly Cautioned" anyone to snort my taint before, let alone an agency as pervasively evil as the TSA – but I think my co-workers will be acquainted with this phase, and your article, first thing tomorrow.

  5. Jonthan Corbett  •  Mar 8, 2012 @10:38 pm

    lol :) Thank you for investigating this and for being so eloquent! –Jon

  6. EH  •  Mar 8, 2012 @11:51 pm

    I see this possibly becoming a campaign promise from someone that is subsequently forgotten.

  7. Mr. Pulitzer  •  Mar 9, 2012 @12:19 am

    How ironic. Ms. Koshetz is a grad of the very J-school you cite, class of '79.

  8. PubDef  •  Mar 9, 2012 @12:21 am

    I suspect a TSA employee is the wrong person to invite to snort your taint. Not only will it get snorted, it will get groped, photographed, X-rayed and quite possibly nibbled the next time you try to fly somewhere. And then the SWAT team will show up with a taint-snorting dog.

    Note: No budget money was spent training the dog. Dogs already know how to do this.

  9. kahr40  •  Mar 9, 2012 @1:15 am

    She was a TSA spokes person or will cease to be soon. Not because she threatened reporters but responded to your email. i suspect her superiors and the TSA lawyers are going batshit about now.

  10. TJIC  •  Mar 9, 2012 @6:09 am

    > There. Now I'll probably get on the no-fly list.

    It turns out that you can make a joke about shooting senators and their staffs (staves ?) and still be allowed to fly.

    #I_have_learned

  11. TJIC  •  Mar 9, 2012 @6:10 am

    @PubDef:
    > And then the SWAT team will show up with a taint-snorting dog.

    The comment thread has been won.

  12. SPQR  •  Mar 9, 2012 @8:28 am

    Not really. "Taint snorting dog" is redundant.

  13. Tam  •  Mar 9, 2012 @9:00 am

    Heh. Given my long track record of Love-Speech for the TSA, I was actually pleasantly surprised to actually be allowed to board the plane when I flew out east a couple years ago.

  14. Tam  •  Mar 9, 2012 @9:02 am

    Walking into the kitchen for more Tabasco Slim Jims in the middle of a sentence will cause one to include a redundant occurrence of "actually", I see.

  15. Goober  •  Mar 9, 2012 @9:10 am

    Yes, Tam, but for Tabasco Slim Jims it is totally worth it, amiright?

  16. Thomas Ferraro  •  Mar 9, 2012 @9:28 am

    In my experience with gov't sources, they often "caution" against reporting something when they want to say you should doubt the veracity of a story without being more specific about why.

    Not that I wouldn't put a more sinister "caution" past anyone in TSA, or that they are trying to sow FUD, but honestly it sounds to me like they are trying to saying "I can't give details on why this is crap, but it is."

  17. Bill  •  Mar 9, 2012 @9:39 am

    Kudos to Popehat. Here's my bit of support: http://www.williamgryan.mobi/?p=195

  18. Jeff  •  Mar 9, 2012 @9:47 am

    I have an idea.. What if you published her email address so that we can all send her a caution letter… After all… Fair is Fair!

  19. Bill  •  Mar 9, 2012 @11:10 am

    Jeff, 10 dollars says its's Sari.Koshetz@dhs.gov

  20. Bill  •  Mar 9, 2012 @11:11 am
  21. Ken  •  Mar 9, 2012 @11:14 am

    Any communications should be professional, not abusive. Be the good guys.

  22. Ken  •  Mar 9, 2012 @5:43 pm

    The more I think about this, the more her response to me makes me think that someone probably did "strongly caution" reporters not to report on this, and that the intent was to intimidate.

    Consider this: say you write me an email saying, "Ken, I have just heard very concerning reports that you have been telling people not to eat my soup because you shat in it. Ken, did you shit in my soup?" And say I respond "Well, one should certainly avoid eating any soup that has been shat in." Would you eat the soup?

  23. VPJ  •  Mar 9, 2012 @6:27 pm

    "Well, one should certainly avoid eating any soup that has been shat in."

    Hrmmmm… I have to say that sounds very much like standard bureaucratic, ass-covering, say-nothing-while-talking-a-bunch bullshit. Given that Ms. Koshetz probably spends all day coming up with long, rambling answers to simple questions, I would say that there's a good chance that this is just habitual bullshit. She simply can't help herself.

  24. VPJ  •  Mar 9, 2012 @6:30 pm

    To be clear. Yes, I know I quoted Ken and not Sari Koshetz. Her response was just as bullshit, and I was too lazy to scroll up, so I used Ken's example.

  25. Jb  •  Mar 9, 2012 @7:02 pm

    If they're shitting in your soup, that certainly calls for ass-covering one way or another.

  26. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Mar 9, 2012 @9:38 pm

    Dear Sir,

    What concerns me is that, given their known propensities, if you tell them to snort your taint, they may try. Eww!

  27. AlphaCentauri  •  Mar 9, 2012 @10:17 pm

    The Jonathan Corbett video includes the recommendation that the TSA function be privatized. You know that contract would end up going to Halliburton, Diebolt, or Blackwater. Seems like it would be out of the frying pan, into the fire.

  28. Tam  •  Mar 10, 2012 @8:23 am

    AlphaCentauri,

    Careful that knee doesn't jerk too hard. I realize that those are the only companies people who get their news from HuffPo know, but:

    1) Privatization would result in individual airports contracting their own security. You know, like they used to.

    2) Security would be handled by security companies, not the Evil Trinity of Liberal Bogeymen you referenced (one of which doesn't even exist anymore.) Think G4S (nee Wackenhut), Garda, and Securitas. They're already guarding your nuke plants, so I reckon they can man an X-ray machine as well as the next kid, because…

    3) The only real security is in hardened cockpit doors and FAMs. The rest is theater to make gullible people think that they're all safely swaddled in mommy's arms.

  29. SPQR  •  Mar 10, 2012 @1:20 pm

    What Tam said.

  30. Not Sari Koshetz  •  Mar 10, 2012 @1:52 pm

    I will not cite my sources, but I should warn you that I have heard from reliable persons that inviting the TSA to snort your taint is dealt with very seriously by agencies not to be named.

  31. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Mar 10, 2012 @3:57 pm

    Adding my voice to Tam's; why do I suspect that it would be easier to get satisfaction out of overstepping private security than it will out of armed "public servants"?

  32. VPJ  •  Mar 10, 2012 @6:00 pm

    …inviting the TSA to snort your taint is dealt with very seriously by agencies not to be named.
    The Pacific Halibut Commission?

  33. Dan Weber  •  Mar 10, 2012 @7:21 pm

    Lock the cockpit doors and otherwise we'd be fine with year-2000-era security.

    The harder you make our safest mode of travel, the less people will take it, and the more people will die.

  34. AlphaCentauri  •  Mar 10, 2012 @8:23 pm

    "Adding my voice to Tam's; why do I suspect that it would be easier to get satisfaction out of overstepping private security than it will out of armed 'public servants?'"

    I wish that were true, but given the precedent of providing immunity to contractors in Iraq, any security service with an iota of sense will want that protection included in a contract for bodyscanning American travelers.

  35. Elizabeth Conley  •  Mar 11, 2012 @6:03 am

    Oh Noes! Spank you very much for that punchline. I spewed coffee all over a 2 yard radius when I read that. Warn a girl!

  36. DPirate  •  Mar 11, 2012 @10:29 am

    I guess someone informed her that courts have ruled that news outlets don't need to ascertain facts and can, if they choose, willfully lie.

  37. Tam  •  Mar 12, 2012 @8:52 am

    "I wish that were true, but given the precedent of providing immunity to contractors in Iraq, any security service with an iota of sense will want that protection included in a contract for bodyscanning American travelers."

    They're not immune to prosecution in any other government security contract they handle on US soil, so why would this be an exception? (Further, the contracts would be with the municipal boards that actually run the airports, not with fed.gov. You know, let a thousand flowers bloom, and all….)

  38. D  •  Mar 12, 2012 @12:02 pm

    Though I welcome this level of invective against Federal thuggery and nincompoopery, I am now somewhat concerned about taint-snorting-instruction inflation.

  39. Joe  •  Mar 12, 2012 @9:00 pm

    "not to generalize that our technology doesn't work" Yep except that it doesn't and that's been proven over and over. Oh wait yes it does – it shows boobs (I mean bombs) in graphic glorious detail. Oh geesh she must be bonking TSA Bob from the TSA blog.

  40. Jess  •  Mar 13, 2012 @7:14 pm

    I'll make a deal with them – I won't generalize that their technology doesn't work (despite all conclusive evidence supporting that it doesn't) if they won't generalize that every US born American citizen might be a terrorist and must therefore be either irradiated or groped.
    Don't get me started on the fact I just paid $100 for a GOES (global entry) card that involves a deep background check – US Citizen passport #, SSN, DL#, work and address history, blood of your first unborn child, etc. So, this GOES system shares data with the TSA trusted traveler program. Does this matter to the TSA? Hell no. So showing the card if you go through a checkpoint that doesn’t have their little special thingy machine that can tell the card is real (even though it is clearly hard to duplicate with all the cool 3D holograms) you will STILL get asked to be irradiated or groped. So I basically just spent $100 to get screwed by the TSA – again. There are seriously no words to express the sheer stupidity of this federal agency. BTW I didn’t run into any of this nonsense in Ben Gurion Airport on a recent trip to Israel.

  41. Hasdrubal  •  Mar 14, 2012 @9:18 am

    Not that I wouldn't put a more sinister "caution" past anyone in TSA, or that they are trying to sow FUD, but honestly it sounds to me like they are trying to saying "I can't give details on why this is crap, but it is."

    But, in this case, if it were crap wouldn't it actually improve security to encourage reporters to run with the story? After all, if they're talking about a security loophole that doesn't exist, that just makes security's job a little bit easier by pointing would be bad guys away from real security loopholes.

  42. SnallaBolaget  •  Mar 15, 2012 @10:24 am

    We've also taken the liberty of sending an email to Sari, based on the one you sent (we hope you don't mind). No response as of yet, but Sari's inbox is probably pretty full by now… :)

  43. SnallaBolaget  •  Mar 21, 2012 @3:07 pm

    I realize I'm a little late to the party, but we got an email from Sari today, when we asked just about the same q's as mr. Popehat:

    Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2012 14:49:36 -0400 [01:49:36 PM CDT]
    From: Koshetz, Sari
    To: contact@ snallabolaget.com
    Subject: Your note to TSA
    TSA has communicated that we believe the video is not a fair
    interpretation. That said, for obvious security reasons, TSA can't
    discuss our technology's detection capabilities in detail. That is why
    TSA has indicated that the accuracy of the coverage on this story
    matters and has pointed out that certain security information will not
    be shared publicly or with the media. The fact that TSA does not share
    this information publicly, does not mean that AIT fails to identify
    anomalies consistent with the individual's claims in his video.
    ————–
    Just thought ya'll would be interested in seeing how many words the TSA can use to say absolutely f**k-all.

  44. Joe  •  Apr 18, 2012 @11:54 am

    Well the TSA scope creep is creeping yet again. TSA VIPR teams take over Houston bus stops. Now planning to have TSA agents riding undercover on buses. Mark Bennett picked this up over the weekend.

    http://blog.bennettandbennett.com/2012/04/tsa-takes-over-a-bus-stop.html

    Coming soon to a bus stop, highway, mall, etc. near you.

  45. AlphaCentauri  •  Apr 19, 2012 @7:45 pm

    If a terrorist really wanted to create havoc in Texas, he'd hit a sports stadium, not a bus shelter.

    I think the main reason that hasn't happened is that terrorists are as interested in hitting some impressively phallic symbol of American power as they are in racking up a body count. Stadiums are just too round and concave to fit the bill.

4 Trackbacks