TRAVEL TERRORISM, THE TSA AND US
By Joe Brancatelli
I have never traveled in a time when terrorism wasn't an issue. When I began flying frequently on business in the 1980s, all sorts of groups were going after planes on Europe routes operated by Pan Am and TWA, our then flag carriers.
Terrorism is different since 9/11, of course. Every flight and every hotel and anyplace we gather everywhere in the world is a potential target. The Transportation Security Administration has changed how we approach our daily routine. It's all a part of the business-travel fabric. As the bad guys change tactics, we adjust--or at least tell ourselves that we do. And as threats wax and wane, our focus sometimes wanders.
But the possibility is always there. The threat never goes away for long. And it colors how we look at our lives on the road. Exactly how we act and react is detailed in the collection of columns below. And it makes me sad that I've pushed so many nouns against verbs to cover such an unhappy topic.
Worst of all, this is hardly a complete list of columns about terrorism, security and the TSA. It's just a selective compilation of thoughts, opinions and ideas. Sadly, terrorism colors virtually everything I've written from the first time I stepped on a plane to do business.
April 28, 2016: TEED OFF AT THE TSA
Missed a flight lately because of a TSA delay? Stood in a long, long checkpoint lines even with PreCheck? You're not alone. Delays are piling up, queues are lengthening, tempers are fraying, the Transportation Security Administration is alibiing. And, of course, it's all the TSA's fault.
March 24, 2016: HARD TRUTHS ABOUT 'SOFT' TARGETS
The only surprise about the attacks in Brussels is that some supposed "experts" were surprised terrorists targeted the airport's public areas and the city's mass-transit system. If you watched TV coverage after the bombing of a check-in area at Brussels Zaventem Airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station, you'd think terrorists had invented a clever and devious new method of wreaking havoc on civilized society. But soft targets like public areas of airports are easy to hit and, frankly, there's very little we can do to harden them.
December 3, 2015: THE NEW FACE OF TRAVEL TERRORISM
Welcome to the even more frightening new face of terrorism in the 21st century. There are only so many places you can "harden" and protect and terrorists have learned that their future "successes" are rooted in attacks against "soft targets," places such as lightly guarded hotels, malls, restaurants and just about any place people mingle and linger. Business travelers will have to adjust accordingly.
November 12, 2015: WHY THE EGYPT CRASH MATTERS
Most of us, surprisingly, have ignored the crash of a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai desert. But what happened in Egypt is profound. We either have a plane coming apart in mid-flight or a terrorist attack. Either way, our lives on the road will change dramatically and attention must be paid.
September 10, 2015: 14 YEARS AFTER 9/11, TIME TO OVERHAUL THE TSA
One of the lasting legacies of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is the TSA, the dysfunctional federal agency that can't do its job and makes it miserable for us as we try to do ours. The TSA's incompetence and arrogance are unquestioned. We must fix the agency--and it can be fixed. Here are six ways to make it better, not that the TSA is listening.
June 4, 2015: HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE THE TSA?
The news this week that the TSA failed to detect mock weapons and explosives in 95 percent of tests run by the Homeland Security Department pretty much confirms what we already know. The government agency is an abject failure. But here's the problem. Private airport security was a failure, too. Looks like we'll be flying between a political rock and a privatized hard space for the rest of our lives.
September 11, 2014: LOSING THE WAR AFTER 13 YEARS
Thirteen years after the 2001 terrorism attacks downed four passenger aircraft and slaughtered nearly 3,000 people, it is hard not to conclude that the terrorists have won. And that's not just because another president went on television last night to give another speech about another crisis that requires America to fight another amorphous terrorist group that poses another existential threat to our way of life.
June 12, 2014: HOW THE TSA IS DESTROYING PRECHECK
Welcome to PreCheck, the TSA's bloated and bureaucratic approach to providing frequent fliers with fast passage through airport security. The plan--fatally flawed at birth, but initially free if you were qualified--now groans under the weight of the TSA's arrogance and its flailing efforts to peddle membership for $85.
December 13, 2013: IS THE TSA RUINING PRECHECK?
The TSA opened its first public enrollment center for PreCheck last week, but more qualified flyers isn't a problem. What IS a problem is the TSA dumping inexperienced, unprepared flyers into the PreCheck lane and making them virtually useless. Of course, the TSA doesn't see it that way. They live in a separate reality.
December 14, 2011: THE BACKSCATTER BACKSTORY
Now that full-body scanners have won legal clearance and the public outrage over privacy has subsided, the argument has moved to safety. Despite repeated TSA claims to the contrary, a lot of flyers (and a lot of medical types) think the so-called backscatter scanners aren't safe. The argument: No one is monitoring the machines and they emit a kind of radiation that messes with your DNA. It all sounds like an episode of The Outer Limits that scared me as a kid.
October 5, 2011: THE TSA PROGRAM DOOMED AT TAKE-OFF
PreCheck, the TSA's new known traveler plan, launched this week and it has none of the benefits an honest attempt at a "trusted traveler" program would offer the nation's elite frequent flyers. The TSA has made it so conditional, and it offers so little in the way of consistent benefits, that there's virtually no chance the pilot could ever logically be deemed a success.
September 7, 2011: 10 THOUGHTS ABOUT TRAVEL SINCE 9/11
The very first column I wrote after 9/11 was widely praised and reprinted. No one will remember this column or want to reprint it. It will not inspire confidence or defiance. Because when you have 10 thoughts about travel since 9/11, none of them are happy and none are particularly hopeful. The world in general, and the world of travel in particular, hasn't fared well since 9/11.
May 4, 2011: FEAR, LOATHING (& FATIGUE) ON TRAVEL TERRORISM
What makes us so blasé about terrorism in 2011 that the topic seems stale? Are our attention spans so short and our sense of personal safety so dulled that we simply don't care anymore? Is September 11 too long ago, the transit attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005) too far away, the terrorism in Mumbai (2008), Moscow (in January) and Marrakech (last month) too exotic? Some thoughts on why each new alert makes us less interested.
May 1, 2011: WHAT BIN LADEN'S DEATH MEANS TO US
President Obama has just announced that the United States has captured and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. That will change our safety and security outlook in the short term. Here's what to expect--and how to protect yourself--on the road in the next few days.
March 23, 2011: WHAT MIGHT GADDAFI DO?
Regardless of how they feel about U.S. military action in Libya, smart business travelers know one thing: If Muammar Gaddafi survives and holds on to power, our lives on the road will get uglier--and deadlier. Alone among crazy dictators, Gaddafi has planned and applauded terrorism against travelers. Here are some commonsense thoughts about what might come if Gaddafi doesn't leave.
February 23, 2011: THE TSA PACKS A PISTOLE
Observers were expecting a kinder, gentle Transportation Security Administration under the Obama Administration. Instead, we got John Pistole, who has adopted the mantra of his Bush Administration predecessor: The TSA is above the law, accountable to no one, disinterested in any security scenario that does not serve the bureaucracy and oblivious to political realities.
November 24, 2010: X-RAYS, BODY SCANS AND THE TSA
Since everyone else seems to be yelling and screaming and venting about the TSA's graphic new full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs, I figured it was wise to lower the volume. So here's my primer on the TSA and its practices and how airport security got this way. You make your own decisions. I trust ya.
January 27, 2010: HOTEL INSECURITY
Never has the conventional wisdom about hotel security made less sense or seemed more unwise. Every good notion about how to travel in a dangerous (or even just an unfamiliar) place is refuted by a new attack or a contradictory bit of advice. It's my job to bring order to this chaos, but believe me when I tell you that the chaos has consumed any notion of order. Why the old wisdom doesn't work and how we need to think going forward.
January 6, 2010: THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVEL IN A TIME OF TERROR
There is a foolproof way to end terrorism against travelers: Ground the planes. Facetious as it sounds, the suggestion underlines an undeniable truth about traveling in a time of terror. The only air-travel system that is guaranteed to be secure is the one in which planes never fly. Anytime an airline puts a plane full of passengers in the sky, a complex web of political, financial, social, and governmental compromises have been made.
April 7. 2009: THE SECURITY SWAMP
Secure Flight, the latest bit of data mining by the TSA, kicked in last week in typical style: suddenly, with virtually no public discussion and even fewer details about its implementation. Soon, if you don't give the agency your date of birth and gender and the name on your ticket doesn't exactly match the name on your ID, you don't fly.
December 9, 2008: TOURISM AND TERRORISM
Put aside your fear and loathing for a moment, because we need to discuss the business of travel terrorism. Like it or not, acts of terror aimed at travelers and the places they frequent are very good business tactics indeed.
September 30, 2008: FLYING THE UNFRIENDLY SKIES
The nation's financial upheaval has sucked so much oxygen out of the media room that we've barely gotten coverage of a horrific bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. But we know what this stuff means to our lives on the road. We have a playbook, a set of time-tested rules honed during a generation of terrorism aimed at travelers in general and U.S. business travelers in specific.
September 11, 2007: THE ENEMY WITHIN?
Six years after 9/11, business travelers wrestle with an ugly reality: Our most intractable foe may be the federal bureaucracy we created to keep our airports and airplanes safe. The Transportation Security Administration treats us like terrorists until we're proven innocent. And while it vigilantly protects us from breast-feeding moms, frequent flyers with biometric IDs, and Ozzie and Harriet’s son, there's no sign that we're actually any safer from terrorism.
January 15, 2004: TIN STARS IN THE SKIES
As we learned at Dulles Airport this week, trying to keep the skies safe by proactively pre-screening passengers before they board a flight doesn't work. Isn't time to get rid of all the X-ray machines, the security screeners and all the other stuff? Instead, let's put a couple of armed, uniformed marshals on every flight and let them police a plane like they police a city street.
October 16, 2003: THE SELF-EVIDENT TRUTH ABOUT CAPPS II
I hold this truth to be self-evident: It is none of the government's business where I fly. I am an American citizen. It is my God-given right to travel in this country without any interference from the government. I have not and will not grant the government the right to profile me as I travel from one place to another in this country. I have not and will never grant the government the right to decide, based solely on random statistics and irrelevant data, whether I am permitted to fly. And neither should you.
June 19, 2003: I LIKE THE TSA, BUT I HATE CAPPS II
Someone needs to step up and defend the Transportation Security Administration and I'm happy to do it because I think the TSA has done a great job under impossible circumstances. But I wish someone over there would read the Bill of Rights again because its temporarily derailed CAPPS II passenger-screening plan is despicably intrusive.
July 11, 2002: EVERYTHING'S ALRIGHT AT AIRPORT SECURITY
Ten months after September 11 changed their lives, average Americans want more airport security, not less. They don't want looser deadlines and self-serving bean counting. They figure they're paying for the extra security with their time and their tax dollars and they want more action, not less.
February 21, 2002: GOOD RIDDANCE TO BAD SECURITY POLICY
The Transportation Security Administration has abolished special security lines for elite frequent flyers and premium-class travelers. Good riddance to bad security policy. The government, which now runs airport security, must not discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, sex, ethnic origin--or your personal business relationship with a privately owned airline.
October 11, 2001: TWO WORDS ABOUT SECURITY: TOM DELAY
Want to know why we are no safer in the skies today than we were 30 days ago? Two words: Tom DeLay. The Republican majority whip of the House, DeLay is standing in the metaphorical schoolhouse door and refusing to consider legislation that would federalize airport security. Thirty days after this nightmare began, DeLay doesn't think the federal government should secure the nation's airports and airlines.
October 4, 2001: TALKING SENSE ABOUT SECURITY
The talking heads have talked. The politicians have postured. The so-called experts have babbled and blustered. Now, we need to cut through the drivel and talk some sense about airline security. What you will read is the truth, but it is not pretty. It is not ready for prime time--or even cable. It also has the distinct disadvantage of being uncomfortable and disagreeable. But it is the truth and it needs to be said because, if nothing else, we need to talk truth amongst ourselves.
April 1, 1989: WHAT WE CAN DO TO KEEP TRAVEL SAFE NOW
This should have been about Paris. You know, April in Paris. It could’ve been about the cherry blossoms in Washington,. Or what to do when you finally get to Turkey or Santa Fe this summer. Unfortunately, this story has to be about making travel more secure. That’s because instead of dreaming of Paris or London or Rome, Americans are getting nervous about their safety abroad again. We’re feeling like targets again.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.