Dec 16 2009

He’s got a little list (and we’re on it)

TSA Acting Administrator Gail Rossides testified today before the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House Homeland Security Committee.  You can watch the archived video from the public portion of the hearing yourself; a closed subcommittee “executive session” with Acting Administrator Rossides followed. In addition to the anticipated spat over the TSA’s refusal to show the SOP to the members of the Congressional Committee, as the law requires, here are some things we thought were noteworthy:

  • Rossides claimed that the unredacted version of the TSA’s Screening Management Standard Operating Procedures was “removed within hours” after the TSA learned last Sunday, December 6th, that it had been posted on a federal website at That’s not true: it was available on the same site, although at a slightly more obscure URL, for several more days.
  • Rossides mentioned that the TSA has “12 other SOPs”.  We’ve already filed a FOIA request for the two other SOPs whose names we now know (the “Checkpoint Screening SOP” and the “Checked Baggage Screening SOP”).  We’re following up with a FOIA request for all TSA SOPs regardless of what they are called. We’ll ask for the other ten by name as soon as we learn their names.  If you know, and you’d like to play, “Name that SOP”, leave a comment or send us a message.
  • Rossides claimed that there had been “6 updates that had very significant changes” to the Screening Management SOP since the version that was posted.  But she wasn’t asked about, and didn’t repeat under oath, the TSA’s earlier claims that the version they posted (which matched the version number, date, and text of the redacted excerpts they sent us in response to our earlier FOIA request) “was neither implemented nor issued to the workforce”, or if that was true, why it posted or provided to us. We’re currently waiting for the TSA to act on our appeal of their stonewalling of our FOIA request for the most recent version of the Screening Management SOP, so that we can compare it.
  • Rossides said she had “asked that we not release any other SOPs until we’ve completed a review.”  It wasn’t clear who she was referring to, but the only current effort to have any SOPs released are our and others’ similar FOIA requests.  In that context, Rossides appears to have been describing a directive, from the top, to stonewall those requests — which is exactly what seems to have been happening.  Rossides’ testimony could come back to haunt her, and the TSA, if the “good faith” and/or “diligence” of the TSA’s processing of FOIA requests for the SOPs becomes an issue in FOIA litigation.  If Rossides’ legal advisors know what’s good for the agency, they’ll have her issue a prompt, public disavowal of this statement, and a public overriding directive to the TSA FOIA office to process requests for the SOPs, like all other requests, in accordance with the law.
  • The blatant discrimination in the SOP wasn’t mentioned by anyone.
  • In response to a specific question about whether any effort was being made to identify who had downloaded the documents posted by the TSA, Rossides said that, “I believe that is part of what the [DHS] Inspector General is looking at…. The Inspector General has a list of those who have downloaded it and have it on their websites. We do know that.”  Rossides wasn’t asked, and didn’t say, what, if anything, the TSA or IG might do with that list.  But since we’re on that list — in good company with many others, of course — we’d love to know.

There’s more about the hearing on Flyertalk, where the unredacted SOP first came to light, and from a Flyertalk regular and blogger who spread the news further afield, and attended today’s hearing.

Dec 16 2009

TSA won’t tell Congress what its procedures are

Today the Acting Director of the TSA is scheduled to appear before a Congressional subcommittee to testify about the posting of an unredacted version of the TSA’s “Screning Management Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)” on a government website.   (Confirmation of President Obama’s nominee for TSA Director has been held up by questions about whether he would allow TSA screeners to unionize.)

Members of the Committee have already asked questions about whether the TSA will ignore the First Amendment and prosecute people who legally reposted the information released by the government. On the other hand, we doubt that they will ask about the blatantly discriminatory and illegal provisions in the SOP, even though we’ve discussed our complaint with the subcommittee’s staff and made sure they had a copy.

We had to fight to get even censored excerpts from the Screening Management SOP in response to our earlier FOIA requests and appeals, and we’re not surprised that the TSA is stonewalling our current appeal for the complete current version. This morning, the Washington Times reports that the TSA is resisting showing the current SOP even to Congress:

[W]hen Gale Rossides, acting administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), testifies before a House panel Wednesday, key members say they will press for a copy of what the government says is a newer, more secretive manual to examine for themselves.

Rep. Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania Republican and ranking member of the House of Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security and infrastructure protection, along with Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republican and ranking member of the investigations and oversight subcommittee, asked for a copy of the current version in a letter to Ms. Rossides on Friday.

But the agency is stonewalling and allowed only select committee staffers to review the new manual and its half-dozen revisions for one hour on Monday.

Mr. Dent questions whether the revisions are as substantial as the TSA claims, why mitigation efforts are being put in place if there are no new risks exposed by the leak, and why Congress can’t have a copy.

Today’s hearing will be webcast, and we’ll be watching with interest.