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Transportation Nation

Sen. Paul: TSA "Clueless" on Passenger Pat-downs

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) lashed out once again at the Transportation Security Administration Wednesday, calling the agency "clueless" when it comes to its often-ridiculed policy of random pat-downs.

Paul told TSA administrator John Pistole in Senate hearings that his agency was "wasting its time" by using random pat-downs at airport security checkpoints instead of using more intelligence-drive risk-based methods of passenger screening.

Paul objects to the pat-down policy both on privacy and efficiency grounds. He recalled the case of Selena Drexel, a 6-year-old who in April was patted down by TSA agents before boarding a flight in New Orleans. Drexels's parents, who live in Kentucky, video-taped the pat-down and posted the video online. After it went viral, and the parents appeared on Good Morning America and elsewhere, they Selena became the poster child for TSA reform among privacy advocates and libertarians.

On Wednesday, Paul said the Drexel case is symbolic of what he sees as lacking at TSA. "It makes me think you guys are clueless that you think she's going to attack our country and you're not doing your research on the people who would attack our country."

Paul argued the "police work" would be a more effective security tool than random pat-downs, which he decried as a "politically correct" attempt to be fair to all travelers. He noted that Faisal Shazad, the accused Times Square bomber was allowed to board a flight at New York's JFK airport despite being on a terrorist watch-list.

"I think you ought to get rid of the random pat-downs. The American public is unhappy with them. They’re unhappy with the invasiveness of them, the Internet's full of jokes about the invaseiveness of your pat-down searches. And we ought (to) really just consider, is this what we’re willing to do," Paul said.

Pistole, who was on the Hill to testify on rail and mass transit security in front of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told Paul that the Drexels' much-publicized search was not really random at all.

"This of course is something that is done based on intelligence gathering from around the world,” he said. Pistole stressed that the search of Drexel had nothing to do with the 6-year-old in particular but with concerns that children could be used by adults as unwitting weapons. "Unfortunately we know that terrorists have used children under 12 years old as suicide bombers,”  he said.

Pistole said TSA and the Department of Homeland Security are working on a program using passenger manifests and other voluntarily-provided information to speed passenger screening and to let agents reduce their focus on non-threatening travelers.

Paul called for a privately-run frequent traveler program to speed screenings. “Lets turn it over. Lets have a frequent flyer program you can voluntarity participate in," he said.

In 2009 TSA terminated a private frequent traveler program that operated in 19 airports. It has not sought to renew the program.

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The Takeaway

Privacy Concerns Over New FBI Manual

Monday, June 13, 2011

The FBI has amended its guidelines, giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them to do investigations without oversight. The new guidelines allow FBI agents to go through household trash, use surveillance and search databases. Former FBI agent, Michael German, who is now a lawyer for the ACLU in Washington DC says that the new guidelines are very concerning. "At the same time the FBI is using more and more secret powers, they're removing the standards and the oversight necessary to make sure that they're only focused on people who are doing bad things rather than people that they don't like for some other reason," says German.

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The Takeaway

US Faces Looming Deadline on Iraq Withdrawal

Monday, June 13, 2011

At Senate confirmation hearings last Thursday, Secretary of Defense designate Leon Panetta said he expects the Iraqi government to request that some U.S. troops stay in Iraq. Combat operations in Iraq ended nearly one year ago but 47,000 U.S. troops remain in the country. In the coming weeks, the U.S. military will begin turning off the lights on the Iraq mission, and the logistical and political implications could be profound. 

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The Takeaway

NYPD Nab Terror Suspects in Plot

Friday, May 13, 2011

Two men have been caught conspiring to bomb synagogues in Manhattan in an undercover sting. The New York Police Department, who led the operation, say Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh purchased weapons and an inert hand grenade from undercover officers, after saying that they were planning a terror attack. There is no indication the two are affiliated with a terrorist organization. Joining The Takeaway is Robert Hennelly, senior reporter for our flagship station, WNYC.

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WNYC News

NYPD Top Cop: Obama Was Right Not to Release bin Laden Photos

Thursday, May 05, 2011

WNYC

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said he supports President Barack Obama's decision not to release grisly photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Underreported: The Chiquita Papers

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It has long been known that Chiquita Brands International made controversial payments to violent guerilla and paramilitary groups in Columbia in the 1990s and 2000s. The company was fined $25 million dollars in a 2007 plea-agreement for making payments to AUC, which was designated as a terrorist group by the US State Department in 2001. Michael Evans, chief researcher on Colombia at the National Security Archive, explains that a newly released trove of internal Chiquita memos obtained by the National Security Archive suggest that, contrary to company claims that the money was extorted, the payments often resulted in direct benefits for the banana giant.

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WNYC News

Financial 411: Hackers Steal Names, Email Addresses

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

You've got mail. But it might be from someone trying to steal your personal information. We'll talk about a massive security breach that has companies trying to reassure customers that their private info is is safe.

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The Takeaway

US and El Salvador's Deep, Not Always Friendly Ties

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

El Salvador is the last stop on President Obama's three-nation tour of Latin America. Mr. Obama's stops in Brazil and Chile were largely overshadowed by events in Libya, but his reasons for visiting the strategically important South American nations were clear: with their galloping economies, Brazil and Chile are emerging as power players in the region and in the world. However, his reasons for visiting El Salvador are less obvious.

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WNYC News

MTA Anti-Terror Efforts Have Been Slow And Costly, Says Comptroller

Monday, March 07, 2011

WNYC

New York’s mass transit system remains "inherently vulnerable" to terrorist attacks, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli charges in a new report.

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Transportation Nation

NY State Comptroller: MTA Late, Over-Budget on Anti-Terror Projects

Monday, March 07, 2011

Security monitors in the Essex St station on the J/M/Z subway lines. (Photo by Amy Groark - Flckr / Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says in a new report that New York's mass transit system remains "inherently vulnerable" to terrorist attacks.  The report criticizes the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority for falling behind and going over-budget on projects to reinforce bridges, tunnels and train stations--and add electronic surveillance and ventilation systems to the subway.

DiNapoli said the work is four years behind schedule and 44% over-budget, with an expected final price tab of $851 million dollars. He also pointed out that the authority had planned to have the first phase of its security upgrades completed by 2008; that date has now been pushed back to 2012.

The report did credit the NYC MTA for picking up the pace of construction over the past two years. For example, the authority says it has added 1,400 security cameras in the past year alone, with 600 feeding directly into the New York Police Department’s command center.

NYC MTA's response to the report said, "We have increased the number of security personnel, hardened our system, and work remains on track to complete remaining projects within the current budget."

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Transportation Nation

Retired Military Leaders: Federal Transportation Policy Should Focus on Reducing Oil Consumption

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) UPDATED with DOT response

A group composed of business leaders and retired four-star generals released a report today that says "oil dependence represents a profound threat to American economic and national security."

Simply put, the main message is "use less oil."

The group, called the Energy Security Leadership Council, has taken on various aspects of energy policy before, but this is the first time it's turned its attention to the transportation sector. Its "Transportation Policies for America's Future" report, which is timed to coincide with the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, paints a stark picture:

"The majority of this oil is produced in hostile nations and unstable regions. Its price is increasingly volatile. As a result, the economy is left at the mercy of events and actors beyond U.S. control."

The report includes a broad swath of recommendations (some which require action from the DOT; some which require congressional approval) to reduce oil consumption, including:

  • Create a new federal formula program focused on improving system performance in urban areas using pricing strategies and single-occupancy vehicle alternatives
  • Create a competitive program that makes funds available for congestion-mitigation proposals that seek to deploy dynamic tolling, performance-based technological improvements, transit solutions, and Travel Demand Management (TDM) initiatives. In other words, use federal funds to encourage carpooling, transit, and other relatively low-energy forms of transportation.
  • Establish a program to fund nationally-significant projects that improve the efficiency of freight and goods movement, and have a substantial impact on interstate commerce
  • Remove federal legal restrictions on tolling road capacity that could bring about congestion relief
  • Promote the long-term deployment of a comprehensive, privacy-protective Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fee
  • Pilot approaches to pre-development regulations for projects expected to achieve sustainable oil savings

The ESLC says that implementing these could save the country as much as seven billion (cumulative) barrels of oil by the year 2035.

Also today: the House Appropriations Committee released its list of $74 billion worth of budget cuts--including an almost $900 million reduction to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

We reached out to the Department of Transportation and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica for reaction to the report, and heard this from the DOT:

"The Obama Administration is already working to reduce our oil dependence by investing in more sustainable forms of transportation, such as high speed passenger rail and transit opportunities, and by working with EPA to increase fuel economy standards. The Department of Transportation has also been working with HUD and EPA to make coordinated investments in sustainable communities that put affordable housing within reach of good public transportation services and economic opportunities."

No word yet from Mica's office. In the meantime, you can find the ESLC's full report here.

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It's A Free Blog

Leaked Cables Demonstrate Guantanamo Dilemma

Thursday, December 02, 2010

This week’s explosive Wikileaks story includes a bevy of cables related to Gitmo. Were the camp closed, these might be the least interesting of all. As the camp is still in operation, however, the Guantanamo cables made the front page of The New York Times and reignited the debate about when, and indeed whether, the detention center will ever be shuttered.

In case you somehow missed it (or got bogged down in the details of the 291 documents published on Sunday), we’re not talking about generalities in the cables related to the Gitmo prisoners. We’re talking about specific discussions between various countries on whether they would take detainees released from the detention facility.  If you believe what you read, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati is offered millions of dollars of incentives; Slovenia is actually offered the chance to meet President Obama if it takes a prisoner; Brussels is told that taking prisoners could be "a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”

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It's A Free Blog

Wikileaks Is No Watchdog

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

We seek transparency from our government to expose wrongdoing. However, the content in the WikiLeaks so far does not expose any thing done wrong by U.S, officials. The only thing that WikiLeaks has accomplished is to put diplomatic communications at risk.

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It's A Free Blog

This Time, I'm Pro Pat-Down

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Since 9/11, I have been one of those who has, almost always, argued for liberty over security. This is one instance, however, where we have to give up a little freedom in the interest of greater security.

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The Takeaway

Share Your Stories from the Airport

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

If you're one of the estimated 24 million people flying over the Thanksgiving holiday period, there's a chance you may get to experience the TSA's new security measures. If you encounter the full-body scanners or receive the "enhanced" pat-down, we want to hear from you.

Text your airport story to 69866 with the word SCAN in the message. And if you have an iPhone, snap a photo for us with our app.

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The Takeaway

North Korea Bombs South Korean Island

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Both countries claim that the other started it; but the lengthy exchange of artillery fire between the two countries has left two South Korean soldiers dead, 15 wounded. South Korea says the trouble started when the North fired shells at a small fishing island in the Yellow Sea. Some 1600 residents of the island — reportedly mostly fishermen — are fleeing or entering bomb shelters. South Korea has declared a state of emergency and the U.S. has declared its support. What really started the fight?  

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The Takeaway

TSA Scanners and Pat-Downs: A Takeaway Listener's Review

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We've been hearing from listeners since last week about the TSA's new security procedures, from full-body scans to thorough pat-downs. In this segment we speak with one, who asked only to be called by her first name. Layla is a Takeaway listener from Detroit, who just flew from her home to San Diego and back. 

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The Takeaway

North Korea Bombs South Korea: For What?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Korea has reportedly fired 200 rounds of artillery shells at a military base on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea. South Korea apparently returned fire, (North Korea says they fired first), scrambled fighter jets and declared an emergency in the country. Two South Korean soldiers are dead, 15 injured, and the some 1,600 residents of the island are either fleeing or heading into local bomb shelters. Some analysts have suggested the reported North Korean attack is an attempt at gaining a strategic foothold in demanding more aid, while people in South Korea are wondering if it's the beginning of long-anticipated war.   

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The Takeaway

Top of the Hour: Turbulence on Korean Border, Morning Headlines

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Korea kills South Korean soldiers after firing artillery shells at an island in the Yellow Sea, and South Korea has declared an emergency. 

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The Takeaway

This Week's Agenda: TSA, Black Friday, Haiti

Monday, November 22, 2010

With Thanksgiving approaching, how many notches you'll have to relax that belt buckle won't be the only question people will be asking. Much of the focus will be on air safety and retail sales. Many travelers are not happy about the latest security measures the TSA is using for secondary screening, including full-body scans and thorough pat-downs. Many see both as extremely invasive, but the TSA says that both measures will stay. Callie Crossley, host of "The Callie Crossley Show" at WGBH in Boston, will see if any changes will come as Thanksgiving quickly approaches.

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