TSA Continues to Violate Filming Rights of Passengers – Inaction & Shocking Behavior Show Contempt for Travelling Public

FreeinFreedom broke the story last week of how the TSA stalls in protecting passengers rights at checkpoints.  There is a whole slew of such videos at http://tsasecuritytheater.tumblr.com.

There are more developments and it is not pretty and culminates in an ugly and repulsive act by an on-duty TSA agent to a passenger.  To illustrate the TSA’s behavior, let’s take the case of reader submitted videos of TSA Officer McFadden who usually works the TSA Charlotte Airport A Checkpoint.

First Interaction with McFadden – Roughly six weeks ago, McFadden challenged a passenger who was filming the checkpoint asking the passenger as a “personal person” to not film him.

Freeinfreedom inquired with the TSA about the restraint of filming the TSA Checkpoints and received this response from Jim McKinney, TSA Public Affairs spokesman:

TSA informs FreeinFreedom Filming is allowed at the checkpoint as long as you are not impeding the screening process and not filming the x-ray monitors. TSA says to speak to Supervisor when there is a conflict.

So the conclusion with this interaction with McFadden?  Filming is OK, don’t impede the screening process, and get a supervisor of the TSA agent may be misinformed about screening.  This validates what is written for the public on the TSA website.

Second Interaction with McFadden – Roughly one month ago a passenger was again filming McFadden at the Charlotte TSA A Checkpoint.  He was standing in the public hallway outside of the TSA Checkpoint and not filming the screening monitors.  McFadden complained about this to a supervisor, TSA 3-Stripe Veteran Monroe who unequivocally informed the passenger filming was not allowed at TSA checkpoints.  He was “positive”.

This was in direct contradiction with what Jim McKinney TSA Public Affairs spokesman said to do in such a situation.  It is one thing to have a TSA Agent violate your rights, another to be told to get a Supervisor who will make it right and the Supervisor double downs on the incorrect TSA Agent!  TSA Supervisor Monroe called in TSA Airport Director Omar Reece to the scene.  Director Reece confirmed filming the checkpoints is allowed if one is not impeding the screening process and not filming the x-ray monitors.  It is clear the passenger was doing neither.  Director Reece told the passenger corrective actions and training would be taken with Agent McFadden and Supervisor Monroe.

It is worth noting that during the interaction with Director Reece, Supervisor Monroe pulled out his personal camera phone while on the job and started taking photos of the passenger and Director Reece.

The passenger continuing filming McFadden in view of Supervisor Monroe and Director Reece.  When McFadden continued to protest this, Director Reece comes over to McFadden, puts his arm around him and informs him, to his dismay, that the passenger is within his right to film.


After this interaction with Agent McFadden, Supervisor Monroe, and Director Reece, FreeinFreedom inquired again with Jim McKinney and submitted a complaint to “Talk to TSA”:

TSA Public Affairs Spokesman Jim McKinney suggesting to provide data about the scene to “Talk to TSA”

Stonewall by “Talk to TSA” regarding TSA Veteran Monroe being wrong about filming TSA checkpoints.  The “Talk to TSA” is operated by private company Senture.

Research performed by FreeinFreedom notes that the “Talk to TSA” is actually outsourced to a complaints management private company, Senture.  It is Senture agents actually providing such a meager response on behalf of the TSA.

TSA Public Affiars Spokesman Jim McKinney was pressed again for comment about the situation in Charlotte where TSA Agents and Supervisors were depriving customers of their right to photograph the checkpoint.  Here is his response:

“TSA does not prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at the checkpoint as long as you do not interfere with the screening process. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors. Remember, it is at the officer’s discretion if you are interfering with his or her duties. If you disagree with the officers request to cease taking photos/video, please ask for a supervisor to resolve the situation.

While taking photos or video near a checkpoint, you may be approached by TSA or airport police, inquiring what you are doing. While the TSA does not prohibit photographs at screening locations, local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances might. “

“TSA takes all complaints seriously and has taken appropriate action.”

McKinney added (emphasis mine):

Policies on taking photos and video were reiterated with staff at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

“Passengers following the TSA policy and not interfering with screening operations are able to take video and photos, although the final decision is made by the officers at the checkpoint.”

By this point the assurances by McKinney that policies on taking photos and video were reiterated with staff at Charlotte airport and Director Reece getting involved to take the appropriate action would make one think that they now have their act together in Charlotte.  During the interaction with Director Reece, the passenger inquired of how Internal Audit performance was at the Charlotte airport given the incorrect Agent and Supervisor actions he had noted on film.  Director Reece informed him that Charlotte had some of the highest Internal Audit scores of any airport in the region.

Third and final (thus far) interaction with McFadden – Roughly one week ago a passenger was again filming McFadden at the Charlotte TSA A Checkpoint.  By this point the passenger had received reassurances given to FreeinFreedom at Tocqueville Miles & Points from TSA Public Affairs Spokesman Jim McKinney and TSA Airport Director Reece that staff in Charlotte were equipped to handle situations where passengers were filming appropriately.  It is quite clear from the interactions noted above.

The passenger was filming McFadden in direct view of another TSA 3-stripe Supervisor, whose name was not obtained.  That supervisor informed the passenger that he could film the checkpoint as long as he was not interfering with the screening process.  As the passenger continued filming McFadden, McFadden began acting strangely.  McFadden was in the process of screening a female passenger’s backpack full of shoes.  When he saw the filming was going on, he immediately stopped screening the passengers shoes and started hiding his face behind an American flag.  He then exclaimed to the unnamed Supervisor, “He is an idiot”, referring to the passenger.  Shockingly, McFadden continues to pick up the corners of the entire American flag and wrap himself entirely within it.  While cloaked in the American flag, McFadden sticks out his middle finger at the passenger, flicking him off!  The irony could not be more incredible.  All while on duty.  All within view of the Charlotte Airport Checkpoint A Supervisor.  And after multiple reassurances to the passenger that he was within his rights to film at a TSA checkpoint.  The incredible video:

Who could imagine a Federal government official exhibiting such lack of professionalism and treating a passenger with contempt, calling him an idiot and giving him his middle finger.  While wrapped in the American flag he has taken an oath to protect!  And after this specific airport and checkpoint has been coached multiple times on passenger filming rights.  Truly remarkable and surprising even by the TSA’s already low standards of employee conduct and passenger respect of rights.

 The passenger then filed a complaint with “Talk to TSA”, a passenger’s main method of recourse according to McKinney.  The passenger asked for a formal apology from McFadden for calling him an idiot and giving him the middle finger and from the TSA for allowing this to happen.  The response from outsourced contact center company Senture:

TSA's response to passenger complaint and apology request for TSA Agent McFadden's behavior while on duty

TSA’s response to passenger complaint and apology request for TSA Agent McFadden’s behavior while on duty

No apology from the TSA.  Only a notation that “we have forwarded a copy of your letter to the appropriate Customer Service Manager.”  No compassion from Senture, just a canned response.  And based on how the local Charlotte management team has taken inaction based on comments provided to them, the passenger will probably never get an apology from the TSA nor McFadden.

So based on the three interactions over six weeks with a single airport and single checkpoint it is clear the TSA is incompetent at defending the passengers rights they supposedly are protecting.  Even worse, when they are coached on doing so, they show even more disrespect for the passengers.  The TSA posts its Mission and Core Values on its website for the public and staff to review.  It states:

Core Values

To enhance mission performance and achieve our shared goals, we are committed to promoting a culture founded on these values:


  • Respect and care for others and protect the information we handle.
  • Conduct ourselves in an honest, trustworthy and ethical manner at all times.
  • Gain strength from the diversity in our cultures.


  • Embrace and stand ready for change.
  • Courageous and willing to take on new challenges.
  • Have an enterprising spirit, striving for innovation and accepting the risk-taking that comes with it.

Team Spirit

  • Open, respectful and dedicated to making others better.
  • Have a passion for challenge, success and being on a winning team.
  • Build teams around our strengths.

Workforce Expectations

Hard work, professionalism and integrity in everything we do.

It is clear agent McFadden is in violation of the Integrity, Team Spirit, and Workforce Expectations components of the core values.  Monroe’s lack of knowledge of core TSA filming rules and commencement of filming a passenger while on duty demonstrates a lack of the same core values.

It remains to be seen what action the TSA will take next.  To what extent will these agents be terminated of employment with the TSA for multiple, repeated, and egregious violations of TSA values?  Based on how this organization struggles in adequately communicating simple updates and protections of passenger rights from headquarters in Washington, their outsourced contact center with Senture, and their direction supervision at checkpoints, readers and journalism rights advocates should not hold their breath.

12-Year TSA Veteran Monroe Caught on Video Prohibiting Legal Filming at Airport Checkpoint; “AskTSA” Stonewalls

12-year Veteran of TSA and 3-stripe Supevisor Monroe at Charlotte Airport

12-year Veteran of TSA and 3-stripe Supervisor Monroe at Charlotte Airport moments before telling a passenger that it is “positively” against the rules to film the TSA “his” airport checkpoints.


Tocqueville Miles & Points has always been an advocate of the natural rights and the  Rights noted in the US Constitution and its first ten amendments, The Bill of Rights.  Recently, readers have sent Tocqueville many examples of the TSA infringing on those rights.  We have already published a generalized article on why the TSA is immoral, illegal, and nothing more than Security Theater.  And the “TSA Security Theater” Tumblr continues to receive frequent posts.  However, there are new developments to report in the TSA’s infringement of citizens rights.

Filming and videotaping when on public property is free speech.  There is no federal law prohibiting this and the First Amendment validates that Congress shall pass no law that infringes on the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Press.  What is interesting, as pointed out by Judge Andrew Napolitano, is that the founders chose to use the word “the“.  “The Freedom of Speech”.  “The Freedom of Press”.  This demonstrates that these freedoms, like the other natural rights, existed before the US government existed.  They were already there, and Congress is not to mess with them.  The entire purpose of our government is to ensure that no individual, entity, or the government itself infringes on such rights.    The “Know Your Rights: Photographers” section of the American Civil Liberties Union outlines this:

Your rights as a photographer:

  • When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.

  • When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).

  • Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).

  • Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.

  • Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.

  • Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.

This brings us to the TSA.  Courts have ruled that TSA checkpoints are public places.  I believe this is mainly because by ruling them “public”, it grants the authority, rightly or wrongly, to conduct searches and screenings on the general public.  To me this violates the 4th amendment right to be left alone (another natural right), after all, where are the warrants?  Why can’t I decline consent to a search and still travel freely on my way as an honest citizen?  And what is the value of the natural right to travel in public freely without having a “papers please” checkpoint?  However, as many readers have pointed out, the TSA hates being filmed by the private citizens they are screening.  Which is ironic since they are filmed 100% of the time by surveillance cameras by the local government.  But it is the private citizens for which the TSA has disdain.  Countless examples have been posted on the internet of the TSA telling private citizens to turn off their camera or to respond aggressively to these citizens.  Just a few captured by the TSA Security Theater blog or reposts onto YouTube here, here, and here.

Filming the TSA is all the more important especially given the thefts and contempt they show for passengers rights and property.  This has been recently showcased in the TSA Agent’s Confessional, “Dear America, Yes I saw you naked, and yes we were laughing”.  Who will watch these watchmen?

Tocqueville Miles & Points has solicited comment from the TSA about the chilling of free speech demanded by these TSA agents asking or demanding that cameras be turned off.  We have contacted Jim McKinney via twitter (@TSAMedia_JimM), TSA Public Affairs spokesperson.  After sharing with him some of the videos linked above, McKinney said to tell our readers to always ask to speak to a supervisor if you feel you are being asked to turn off your camera inappropriately.  Here is the exact Twitter dialogue:

Jim McKinney, TSA Public Affairs, responds to inquiries of citizens being told not to film by TSA

Jim McKinney, TSA Public Affairs, responds to inquiries of citizens being told not to film by TSA

This brings us to a recent reader submission from a reader who wishes to share their story anonymously.  They have been making photos and video intermittently at the Charlotte TSA Terminal A checkpoint.  The anonymous reader claims he never disrupts the screening process and is not filming the x-ray monitors or other passenger personal information.  His videos that Tocqueville Miles & Points has reviewed validates he is neither interfering with the screening or capturing TSA security monitors.  The TSA’s own rules validate that this is the correct approach to film the screening checkpoints.  In a TSA website post entitled, “Taking Pictures at the Checkpoint” the TSA notes:

TSA does not prohibit the public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping or filming at security checkpoints, as long as the screening process is not interfered with or slowed down. We do ask you to not film or take pictures of the monitors. While the TSA does not prohibit photographs at screening locations, local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances might.

Taking photographs may also prompt airport police or a TSA official to ask what your purpose is. It is recommended that you use the Talk To TSA program on tsa.gov to contact the Customer Support Manager at the airport to determine its specific policy. Or, if you are a member of the press, you should contact the TSA Office of Public Affairs.

About a month ago, he captured video of Charlotte TSA Agent McFadden screening a passengers bag.  TSA Agent McFadden asked him to stop filming as a “personal, person”.  The anonymous reader declined to stop filming to the frustration of Agent McFadden who said “The LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers) are on their way.”  The reader waited but no police ever arrived so he left the scene.


Last week this same reader was again filming agent McFadden at the TSA checkpoint.  The reader had already cleared security and was standing outside of the security checkpoint in the Concourse A hallway next to a trash can while filming.  Agent McFadden pointed the reader was filming and immediately got the attention of his supervisor, 12-year Veteran and TSA 3-Stripe Supervisor Monroe.  This reader, noting McKinney’s response to “always request a supervisor if needed” expected Supervisor Monroe to validate that the reader was allowed to film the TSA checkpoint and agent McFadden since he was neither impeding with the screening process nor filming the x-ray monitors or personal information. The 30 seconds of dialogue is captured here: http://tsasecuritytheater.tumblr.com/post/77699726140/cant-video-tape-says-monroe-clt-a-checkpoint

As seen from the video, agent Monroe first asks, “Why are you videotaping my checkpoint?”  The reader asks, “Can’t you videotape in a public place?”.  Monroe, responds, “no”.  The reader further inquiries, “So it is against TSA rules for me to be filming right now?”  Monroe, “yes”.  Reader: “Are you certain?”  Monroe, “positive”.  The reader then notes Monroe’s name and the checkpoint location while Monroe tries to block the camera from capturing his name and/or badge number information.  Not seen on camera Monroe later, while on duty, actually pulls out his camera to take a personal picture of the anonymous reader in retaliation.

Immediately afterwards, the reader has informed Tocqueville Miles & Points that he then showed a print-out of the TSA’s “Taking Pictures of the Checkpoint” document from the website to Monroe as part of his request to continue to film.  Monroe responded, “I don’t care what it says”.

The Charlotte Airport TSA Director, Omar Reece, was then called to the scene.  He validated to the reader that it was indeed legal for the reader to film the TSA checkpoints as long as the reader was not impeding the screening process and not capturing “SSI” information.  It was encouraging to see at least the TSA Airport Director understood the TSA’s own rules.  Let it also be noted that the reader claims while filming he noticed people dressed in plain-clothes being screened by the TSA agents every so often, including pat-down procedures.  These plain-clothes people, however, after being screened didn’t go on their way like most passengers, but stuck around and chatted with the agents at length.  The reader asked TSA Director Reece if these were his employees just doing drills or routines in plain clothes. Reece responded that, “they are not TSA Officers from Charlotte airport, I don’t recognize them.  If they are TSA they are from Washington.”  The reader asked Reece, “could they be agents from a different government bureau like the FBI, DHS, or CIA?”  Reece responded, “yes”.  So let it be noted that there are now plain clothes government agents participating in the TSA screening as props, running drills, or doing intelligence gathering on private citizens.  Other sources at the Charlotte TSA also noted to the reader that Monroe has been on the job since 2002 and that he started as a standard screener and worked his way up to supervisor.  Monroe never apologized to the reader, even in the presence of Director Reece, for being so categorically wrong about the prohibitions of filming the airport checkpoint.

After capturing the video of Monroe informing this private citizen unequivocally that he could not film at the TSA checkpoint (which is certainly in violation of the citizen’s free speech, free press rights and also puts the TSA at liability for infringing on the rights of citizens under the color of the law) the reader shared it with us.  We went back to TSA Public Affairs spokesperson McKinney with the video.  Here is the correspondence, including his response:

Twitter correspondence TSA Public Affairs Spokesperson Jim McKinney

Twitter correspondence TSA Public Affairs Spokesperson Jim McKinney

What a challenging web for private citizens to follow just to enjoy their natural rights at the hands of government checkpoints.  During the first interaction with McFadden, McKinney instructs Tocqueville Miles & Points to ask for a supervisor should his readers feel like they are being asked to stop filming inappropriately.  During the next interaction as documented by members of the reader base, the reader asks for a Supervisor, gets 3-stripe 12 year veteran Monroe and his told categorically that he cannot film at his checkpoint.  When this is shown to McKinney, he suggests the next step in the escalation process is to contact the TSA formally via their “Talk to TSA” webform.

It is at this point one might expect as appropriate and professional an apology from the TSA, or even agent Monroe.  After all, he, on videotape, clearly is not familiar with the TSA’s own rules and regulations as it pertains to passenger rights.

The response was disheartening:

Official response from TSA headquarters when inquiring about the appropriateness of agent Monroe saying not to film at his checkpoint.

Official response from TSA headquarters when inquiring about the appropriateness of agent Monroe saying not to film at his checkpoint.

Nowhere in this response does the TSA admit guilt, show remorse, seem apologetic, or show concern for passengers rights’ infringement.  It is a classic stonewall, “nothing to see here, move on citizen”.  If this were a private company and the company made a mistake, it would profusely apologize to make it right to not lose a customer of have its reputation tarnished leaving it in a less competitive situation.  However, the TSA has no competitors and it is unlikely this reader will ever get an apology from the TSA or Agent Monroe.  Will Agent Monroe face disciplinary action?  According to Charlotte TSA Director Reece via the anonymous reader, “disciplinary action will be taken”.  This remains to be seen.  Will this be a slap on the wrist?  Or will the TSA take violations of citizens natural rights to be an egregious offense?  Regrettably our instincts tell us there will be no fundamental change in the behavior of the TSA.

TSA Spokesman McKinney has not yet been solicited by Tocqueville Miles & Points for his next suggested recourse since his suggested actions of “appealing to a Supervisor” and “submitting a complaint to Talk to TSA” don’t seem to be yielding any progress.  Yes it is good that the Supervisor’s Supervisor, Omar Reece from Charlotte Airport, affirmed filming is allowed.  But what to do when agents continually tell you that you cannot film?  Is it civil disobedience to violate an order from a federal agent that you feel is unjust?  We will share any response from McKinney as we receive it.

All this begs the question, if the TSA doesn’t prevent filming in a public place, why do so many of their supervisors and line staff immediately respond to these interactions with “TURN YOUR CAMERA OFF?”  One reader brought to our attention four examples he or she personally filmed of the TSA instructing him to turn the camera off in less than one month’s period.  When will it change?  Will it ever change?

Tocqueville Miles & Points will continue to follow incidents of citizens having their rights and dignity violated by the TSA and will report back here any updates.

Finally, here is ways that you can do your part to help ensure you hold on to your remaining freedoms which have not yet been infringed out while enduring the TSA screening process:

  • Always be polite and courteous.  Just because the TSA gives you ugly stares, threatens you, or gives commands which violate your rights doesn’t mean you should be ugly back.  Be professional and courteous.  Doing so will make them look all the more vile and evil in the eyes of the public.  Readers have reported that when filming their voice gets jittery, their hands unsteady, and they get nervous.  This is your body’s natural reaction when facing a threat.  Some may choose to not continue to film due to this visceral reaction.  Doing so in a peaceful way provides good practice for handling these situations, or for unexpected more grave “fight or flight” situations outside of the airport in the future.
  • Know the State or City Laws.  The vast majority of states and cities do not prohibit your natural right to videotape or be a journalist at an airport.  However there are a few exceptions which operate in a Constitutional grey area.  This CNN article is a great reference.  We have had dozens of reader submissions of filming the TSA checkpoint and not once has a reader been detained by police or not been able to leave the scene and go about his or her business when he or she wished to.  With that said, it sadly only takes one bad apple TSA agent or LEO on a power trip make your day difficult.
  • Film just AFTER you’ve completed the screening process.  You have every right to begin filming the TSA at any point in the screening process.  The problem is, if you start right off the bat, say at the ID checkpoint, or before going through the metal detector, the TSA can immorally and easily ruin your day.  They can say you were a security threat and prevent you from going through the screening process and therefore getting on the plane.  The TSA cannot legally detain you in any circumstance, they can call the police who potentially could, and make you miss your flight.  Therefore clear the screening process.  And as you are finishing repacking your bag then begin to make your films and video.  At this point you have successfully passed the screening process and film away.  The TSA has no more “power” over you to screen you.  We suggested standing in the public hallways where it is crystal clear your camera or the surveillance cameras can see you are not blocking or impeding the screening process.  Don’t film the x-ray machines or the private rooms.
  • Film often.  The individual TSA agents to which we have spoken truly dislike it when you film them even though they are being filmed at all times by surveillance cameras.  Much of this reason is that people value their privacy, even if they don’t have an expectation of privacy when you take a job that serves or works in public like Police and TSA.  Point out the irony to them that they value their privacy just like you value your ability to travel in public without an unconstitutional search and seizure of of your 6 oz contact lens solution.  We have many readers now who pull out their camera phone every time they complete a TSA screening just to capture the scene or see what interest interactions happen with agents.
  • Film as recourse.  If an agent was particularly rude to you, maybe barking orders loudly, not showing courtesy or sensitivity to your needs, or giving you a very intrusive enhanced-pat down, pull out your phone and take his or her picture!  They will hate it, it is your right, and you may be able to warn other travelers of this agent or help get him noticed by the TSA so they can take corrective action.  Don’t forget to submit your pictures and video to: http://tsasecuritytheater.tumblr.com.
  • Ask Good, Open-Ended Questions.  If a TSA agent engages you in a conversation at the checkpoint, ask questions as your responses.  For example, if they say “Why are you filming at my checkpoint?”, you could respond with, “To what extent am I allowed to film at a TSA checkpoint, a public place?” or “why do you ask, do you have something to hide?”.  Or if you wish to turn their own game back at them, you could say, “I am filming because there have been some safety and security threats at the airport.  Your safety is my priority.  To what extent are you concerned about these threats?”  Once seasoned or confident, you could continue (although no longer open-ended, the effect and irony will be there in the response), “Since there have been reports in the area of thefts of passenger belongings, for your safety and security I’d like to screen you by giving you a pat-down.  Do you consent?”

TSA Now Stopping Citizens to Screen for Bitcoin

The below is scary because if the TSA follows through with this they can stop anybody at anytime anywhere to ask questions of them about this virtual currency which can exist everywhere and nowhere all at once.

From the Daily Anarchist “The TSA is looking for Bitcoin”:


Posted: 24 Feb 2014 09:02 AM PST

It seems like every time I fly I have an interesting interaction with the TSA. I make it a point to always opt out, and if possible always strike up a conversation with the man molesting me. But yesterday was by far the most frightening, as well as cautionary for Bitcoin users. I’m going to begin simply by relaying the facts as observed, including some that will seem insignificant at first. Then I will provide some analysis, as well as speculation what’s going on here. What’s absolutely clear is that the TSA is looking for Bitcoin, and Bitcoin users need to be conscious when they travel, especially internationally.

I was flying out of Manchester, on my way home from the New Hampshire Liberty Forum. By coincidence I ran into Bill Buppert from ZeroGov.com  and his wife while checking my luggage. And we happened to be taking the same flight. I met Bill last week at the Freedom Summit in Arizona, spent time with him again at Liberty Forum, and we have become fast friends. Without his help, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.

I was wearing my Bitcoin Not Bombs hoodie which features an image of a B17 bomber dropping Bitcoin from its bomb bay doors. The sweatshirt does not feature the words “Bitcoin Not Bombs” only the image.

We approached the TSA screening and began to put our things in the gray bins. My things required two bins. One for my backpack and shoes, and the other for my laptop and phone. I asked the greeting officer to point me to the opt-out line. Bill immediately told the agent that he would also like to opt-out, and he thanked me for making that choice.

Bill went first, but I was told to stand right beside him. Bill’s strategy is very simple, and effective. He plainly told the officer, “I understand, but please don’t touch my dick.” This immediately perturbed the agent, a man named Tinker, which was the only name badge I saw clearly. Tinker immediately called over a superior officer.

Bill continued to converse with Tinker, however I could not make out the conversation as my pat down had begun. His name began with a Y, and looked Russian in origin, but I cannot say with certainty what it was. Y asked me to identify my property in the gray bins, then he placed it right in front of me and asked me to keep an eye on it for my own peace of mind. He emphasized watching my property three times, which they don’t usually do. I appreciate that, but I didn’t say so. I try to say as little as possible.

A moment later a plump female agent told me she had to pull my backpack aside for further inspection. She asked if I would like to be present for that inspection. I said, “If I have a choice, of course I would like to be present when you search my belongings.” She replied “Of course you have a choice” which struck me as odd, since I had virtually no choices during most of my molestation. She picked up my backpack and began to leave with it.

I protested. “Wait! The other agent instructed me to keep an eye on my property. How can I do that if you put it in two different places?” The choices ended there. She informed me that she would watch my backpack while I was patted down, and I could watch her inspect it when Y was finished.

Y began to give me the standards speech he is required to give by law. I said I didn’t want a private screening, to which he responded, “If you are uncomfortable in any way, at any time we can stop and move to a private screening.” Apparently being made uncomfortable in private is somehow better.

When he explained that he was going to put his hands on my inner leg and move upward toward my torso until he “met resistance” I said, “If that’s all it takes I’m ready to resist now.” He paused, but only repeated the line finishing with “Believe me, I am as uncomfortable with this as you are.” That was my hook. I always prefer an appeal to humanity over an appeal to law. When an agent reveals something human about himself that is the area I like to explore. Y was uncomfortable. So, I asked him why he was uncomfortable. He said, “Why would anyone be comfortable doing this?” I replied, “I just find it interesting. I’ve never heard an agent say that before.” He said, “Well, we’re not all part of the security club around here.” The term struck me as strange, “the security club.”

He continued for a bit. Putting his hands in my pants and cupping my butt. Then I asked, “Did you work here before they implemented this policy?” He said no, that he had only been there a short time. He had been training to become a pilot, but that the government sequester meant that this was the only job available to him in aviation. He hoped to get out as soon as he found another opening. I wish I could remember this part of the conversation more specifically, but the names of the licenses and agencies that contributed to him being stuck in this job went by very quickly. The next thing I clearly remember is him saying, “There are a lot of us who are not on the security track. There’s a girl here waiting to be chemist.” Another interesting term, “the security track.”

I decided not give him any more flak. I thanked him for sharing with me, and wished him the best of luck becoming a pilot. He responded by wishing me luck in whatever my pursuits were, and after checking the swabs for chemical explosives, he cleared me for my enhanced backpack inspection.

The plump woman was very nice. She explained that there was a lot of metal in my bag and she needed to confirm what it was. I was carrying a few hundred metal lapel pins from ShinyBadges.com that I’d been selling at the conference. She began to remove my inventory, which was stored in clear plastic tubes each containing about 50 pins. 5 tubes in all, plus a blue display case with about another 50 pins. The pins were clearly visible without opening these cases with the exception of one. I had an opaque white plastic container which held about 100 pins. I had used it to deliver custom pins to Mandrik from Blockchain.info, and he returned it when he was finished. It had the Blockchain “B” logo drawn on the outside, which is similar to the common Bitcoin “B” logo, but not the same. I had no visible bitcoin pins anywhere in my inventory. I sold out of them at the conference, and had only a small quantity of Blockchain pins in the opaque container. I also had no Bitcoin related flyers in my bag. I had given them all to other activists to bring home to their Bitcoin meetups.

The plump agent put all my containers in a separate gray bin to be screened again. She asked “Do you have any coins in these?” I replied, “No, why?” and she answered, “I just want to make sure you don’t have anything valuable.” Actually,” I replied “those are all valuable to me.”

She took both the bin with my backpack, and the bin with my inventory back to the front of the TSA screening area. I attempted to follow her, but was quickly cut off another male agent with a large imposing figure. “You can’t go that way. Stay here.” I protested, “The other agent instructed me to keep an eye on my property.” The plump woman continued out of sight and and large agent told me I could stand in the area where people were putting their shoes back on. I could not see my property from there.

The plump woman returned, swabbed the inside of my backpack for chemical explosives, and said I was clear to leave. She offered to help repack my bag, but I said I’d rather do it myself.

Bill and his wife were sitting on a bench in the terminal waiting for me as I approached them. Then two men stepped between us, both wearing dress shirts, one orange and one blue. The orange shirt asked where I was traveling to. I replied “Earth.” This was not intended to be antagonistic. I usually reply that way when asked where I am from. It’s a product of my love for science fiction. He asked me to be more specific and I said, “The Northern part.” Admittedly snarky, but still not malicious. I didn’t know who these men were. I had already been cleared by security, and based on their attire and their forwardness I thought they might be other attendees of the conference on their way home. I was joking with them, like I do with most equals.

Then blue shirt said, “Just answer the question.”

Full stop. State speech is hate speech. I then noticed their name badges, but I didn’t have the forethought to commit them to memory. I responded, “Are you conducting some kind of an investigation, or do you have reason to suspect me of something?”

They identified themselves as “managers” and the orange shirt said he was obligated to inquire whether or not I was traveling internationally, which was not an answer to my question. I replied, “Am I obligated to answer your questions?” He replied, “If you are traveling internationally you are.” I replied, “Do you have any reason to suspect that I’m traveling internationally?” The orange shirt said “We’re the ones asking the questions here” and the the blue shirt asked to search my bag for my boarding pass. I told him that my bag was already inspected and didn’t contain anything dangerous, and that I didn’t consent to another search. He said until I was cleared by security he was free to search. I said I was cleared by security.

I was about to ask for my attorney, who happens to be my wife, when the orange shirt said, “What about Bitcoin?” I was flabbergasted. This was above and beyond any scrutiny I had ever received from the TSA, and a little frightening that they were looking for Bitcoin. I said I didn’t understand the question. He continued, “We saw Bitcoin in your bag and need to check.” I was incredulous, and asked, “Do you have a superior officer because I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” The blue shirt replied by repeating that they were “managers,” but if I didn’t answer his questions he could call law enforcement and have me taken into custody. I asked, “Aren’t you law enforcement?” and he replied, “No we’re with the TSA.”

I turned back to the orange shirt and asked “What did the Bitcoin look like?” Bill chimed in and told the agent that what he was saying was impossible because Bitcoin is digital and doesn’t have have any physical manifestation. You can’t “see” Bitcoin. The orange shirt said they looked like medallions or tokens. I said I didn’t understand what he was talking about, and he simply repeated, in a child like way, that Bitcoins are like metal tokens. I told him that I didn’t have any tokens.

At this point I was beginning to panic and looking for a way out. Then the orange shirt said they needed to determine whether or not I was carrying more than $10,000, to which I asked how much cash he suspected I was carrying. I had about $300 in my wallet, 1.2 oz of silver in my pocket, and 4.20 Bitcoin accessible from, but not actually on my phone. I told them none of this. The orange shirt replied, “It depends how much Bitcoin you have.” I asked him what he thought a Bitcoin was worth, and he replied, “It fluctuates all the time.”

I was out of ideas. At that point I was certain I didn’t want to say another word. I thought they were ready to concoct some kind of money laundering charge. I began running scenarios in my head where I refused to unlock my phone for fear that they would construe my 4.20 Bitcoin as somehow worth more than $10,000. That’s when the blue shirt turned to Bill and his wife. He asked them if I was traveling internationally, to which Bill’s wife replied, “Not that I know of.” Then they turned and disappeared just as quickly as they had appeared.

I was shaking, and grateful that Bill and his wife were there, even just to bear witness. There were also other attendees from Liberty Forum in the terminal who came to observe, including one wearing a Bitcoin Not Bombs t-shirt. Once we reached our gate, and I calmed down, I began an audio recording as Bill and I recounted the events as best we could remember. During that time the orange shirt walked by appearing to be looking for me, Tinker, the agent who patted down Bill, was stationed away from the TSA screening area and was clearly keeping an eye on me, and two police officers with black flak jackets and sidearms were hovering around the gate until we boarded.

I didn’t fully relax until we were in the air, because I’ve seen cases of security pulling passengers right out of their seat.

There is so much to say about this encounter. It really was a kind of perfect storm. If I wasn’t wearing the hoodie it probably wouldn’t have happened. If I wasn’t carrying my Shiny Badges inventory it probably wouldn’t have happened. And if I wasn’t such a snarky sci-fi geek it probably wouldn’t have happened. But all these things came together to reveal something spooky about TSA policy.

Briefly, with regard to the pat downs, it’s interesting that Tinker would call an superior in response to Bill, when he knew full well that his procedure would not change, and could not change. I suspect he was seeking an authority figure to absolve him of responsibility, as the Milgram experiment suggests. It’s also interesting that Y would suggest that agents within the TSA are factionalized. A “security club” of people on the “security track” who are distinct from those eagerly seeking other work, because they are uncomfortable molesting people.

Things really began getting weird when the plump agent asked if I had any coins. It seemed innocuous at the time, because I’m accustomed to TSA agents asking me to empty coins out of my pockets, but this was different. The baggage x-ray machines aren’t intended to detect coins, and US coins aren’t terribly valuable anyway. If she was looking for valuables “coin” is a strange word to use. The word “coin” is very tricky in legal tender land. I learned from the Liberty Dollar case that the word “coin” holds some kind of special magic in the eyes of the State, and to avoid running afoul of legal tender laws silver rounds should be referred to as “tokens” or “medallions.” Interesting too that those are the exact words the agent in the orange shirt used. Also “coin” has become the emerging standards for all crypto-currency. To a diabolical mind, this could be quite an entrapping question. In the future I won’t be answering it.

I gave the worst possible answer, no coins, but still very valuable. My thinking at the time was that everything I own is too valuable to be molested by a bureaucrat. Why would I carry something that wasn’t valuable to me? Value is, after all, subjective. In hindsight I should have said nothing. My standard position of saying nothing to a bureaucrat I don’t have to had been compromised by my desire for theater in the screening process. This was foolish. This question of hers, “Do you have any coins” was, in my opinion, a carefully crafted gotcha question, and not the idle banter it seemed at the time. I had forgotten the central tenant that everything a bureaucrat does or says is against you. Every question you answer is a weapon against you. I should have said nothing.

If my answers to, and questions of the “managers” sounded needlessly evasive to you, understand simply that for me the theater was over, and that I had reverted to my standard position. I do not answer the questions of bureaucrats without an attorney present, and neither should you. The moment I realized the managers were part of the security apparatus, and they had taken an interest in me, I was going to give them nothing I was not threatened into giving, and neither should you. Because every question you answer is a weapon against you. Any statement which turns out to be false, even by mistake, can be construed as a serious crime. And any statement which turns out to be true, even if seemingly insignificant, can be construed as evidence against you. Making any statement of fact is an unnecessary risk. In hindsight I should not have said that I didn’t have any tokens. If this turned out to be false due to some lapse in memory I would have been in more serious trouble, just as if my statement that I didn’t have any coins would have. But I was ready for this to be over, and looking for a way out.

Telling them that I was not traveling internationally was the way out, although I didn’t know that at the time. At least for now this $10,000 limit only applies to international travel. Once they realized I was not traveling internationally they lost all legal basis to continue their investigation, but they clearly still regarded me as a criminal. Otherwise, why would they continue to monitor me? They were searching for another legal basis to harass me.

Here’s what I think happened from their perspective. Obviously, the TSA has been trained, although poorly, to look for Bitcoin. They are apparently now trying to catch money launderers in addition to terrorists, and large tubes of tooth paste. My hoodie is probably what caught their attention, and everything after that received extra attention. When they saw all the metal lapel pins in my bag they probably thought they hit the jackpot on a stockpile of Casascius coins. Whatever training they had it probably included that stock photo of brass tokens everyone uses. My evasiveness only quickened their blood lust, as they imagined a big bust, and possibly a promotion down the security track.

It was an open faced lie when they said they “saw” Bitcoins in my bag. Always remember bureaucrats can legally lie to you, but lying to them, even by mistake is a serious crime they’ll use as leverage to coerce further cooperation. They didn’t inquire about my phone, or my laptop, or my USB drive, which makes me think their Bitcoin training wasn’t very good, or that these particular bureaucrats didn’t pay very close attention. But, if the TSA is going to be looking for Bitcoin, they can use that pretense to search any person, at any time, to any degree. It’s entirely possible that a traveler could be carrying thousands of Casascius coins which are not loaded, and worth little more their value in brass. It’s also possible that a traveler could be carrying one Casascius coin that has been loaded with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin. Technologically speaking the private key to a Bitcoin wallet could be embedded in virtually any object, including the brain of the traveler. It could be argued, in fact I would, that the Bitcoin is already on both sides of the check point, and carrying any kind of physical wallet is no different from carrying a debit card, or a pin number. It would even be possible for a traveler outside the TSA screening area to send any amount of bitcoin directly to a traveler already inside the terminal, and there’s nothing the TSA can do to prevent that.

In the end it’s important for Bitcoin users to be aware of these Stasi tactics being used by the TSA. Maybe some Bitcoin users want to confront it directly with some kind of civil disobedience or demonstration. Maybe others will want to take extra steps to ensure they don’t face this added scrutiny. But this is what FINCEN meant when they said that Bitcoin could be regulated under existing law. They meant that the policy toward Bitcoin will be decided in secret, outside the legislature, by law enforcement bureaucrats reinterpreting old laws in new ways, to be enforced arbitrarily and inconsistently to evoke to greatest degree of doubt, confusion, and alarm.

The TSA is laughing at you and your naked image: Confessions of a TSA Agent


Really Saying

Definitions in “The Insider’s TSA Dictionary” taken from James Harrington’s blog, “Taking Sense Away.”
10-100: Originally, CB radio lingo for a bathroom break. This is what some TSA officers say when they’re tired of their co-workers.

Alfalfa: TSA malespeak for an attractive female passenger.

Baby-shower-opt-out: When a woman opts out of the full body scanner and accidentally lets slip the explanation: “I don’t want to go through the scanner. I’m pregnant,” evoking a shriek from her fellow traveling companions, “Why didn’t you tell us, Becky? OH EM GEE!?” A mini celebration then takes place right there in the line. It is one of the few heartwarming things that ever come about due to the full body scanners.

BBC: Bogus Bag Check, or Bullshit Bag Check. What happens when a not-too-bright x-ray operator decides to call a bag search.

Bin Loader: What a TSA employee is for the first month of his or her employment.

Code Red: Officer malespeak. Denotes an attractive female passenger wearing red.

Fanny Pack, Lane 2: Code for an attractive female passenger.

Jif Peanut Butter: One of the main things you’ll be saving the world from in your day-to-day activities as a sworn federal security officer devoted to protecting the nation from the existential terrorist threat.

Opt out: A smart passenger.

Retaliatory wait time: What happens when a TSA officer doesn’t like your attitude. There are all sorts of ways a TSA officer can subtly make you wait longer to get through security, citing imaginary alarms, going “above the SOP” for “a more thorough screening,” pretending that something in your bag or on your full body image needs to be resolved—the punitive possibilities are endless, and there are many tricks in the screener’s bag.

Run the Cat Through the X-Ray (idiomatic): Denotes a passenger, usually someone from out of country, who is so unfamiliar and lost in U.S. airport security that they are likely to make significant errors, such as running their cats through the x-ray tunnel. Ex: “We need an officer to go out and help that flustered gentleman out front before he runs the cat through the x-ray.”

Suitcase Surgeon: Informal term for a TSA employee, derived from the blue gloves they wear. Used ironically, because it’s not like what the TSA ever does requires anything remotely approaching the mental capacity of a surgical procedure anyway, even though you may feel as though you’ve undergone a surgical procedure after they’re done with you.

TSA Baby: Officer slang for the result of procreation between two TSA officers. This is not advised, because statistics show that the likelihood of a TSA baby turning out to be a mediocrity who reflexively snatches and cries incessantly about people’s liquids, gels, creams and aerosols and who tells airplane pilots that they are not allowed to bring Swiss army knives on the plane because they may use it to hijack the plane are substantially high.

White Shirt: A TSA employee who still believes his or her job is a matter of national security.

Xray Xray Xray!: Code for an attractive female passenger, general.

Yellow Alert: Code for an attractive female passenger, yellow clothing.

Ziptop baggie: A magical thing that renders liquids safe for airplanes.