Lawmakers slam agency for treating Americans like “prisoners” and “cattle”

Source: Steve Watson

The TSA ensured that a leading security expert, who has been vocally critical of the agency’s screening methods, was barred from speaking before a Congressional hearing yesterday.

The hearing, before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was held Monday in an effort to evaluate the agency’s performance and address concerns raised by lawmakers, experts in the field, and members of the public.

Bruce Schneier, an internationally renowned security technologist and author, was scheduled to testify regarding the TSA’s security screening initiatives, but was “formally uninvited” at the last minute following a complaint by the agency.

“On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list,” Schneier wrote on his blogMonday.

“The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner programme. But it’s pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it’s easier for them to do that if I’m not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them.” he added.

Schneier’s name appears on the official page for the hearing, but it has been crossed out.

Schneier, who coined the term “security theater”, has previously presented evidence that the full body scanners used by the TSA are easily defeated. He is currently involved in the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) ongoing lawsuit aimed at discontinuing the use of the machines in airports.

The congressional panel told Schneier that committee staffers would try to invite him back for another hearing in the near future.

“I was looking forward to sitting next to a TSA person and challenging some of their statements. That would have been interesting,” Schneier told The Register. “The request to appear came from the committee itself, because they’d been reading my stuff on this and thought it would be interesting.”

With Schneier’s removal from the panel, the only witnesses giving testimony were all representatives of the Obama administration. Two were TSA officials, One was an admiral from the Coast Guard, and the final witness was a member of the Government Accountability Office.

“I think the TSA has really painted themselves into a corner over this,” Schneier commented. “They’ve said the scanners were absolutely necessary for security, and made the pat downs you can have as an alternatives so unpleasant. It’s going to be really hard for them to back down, if indeed they can.”

The TSA did not respond to enquiries regarding the matter.

The TSA has a long record of avoiding scrutiny before the House. Last year, the agency refused to participate in a similar hearing, for the same reason – namely that a representative of EPIC was present at the meeting.

At the time, subcommittee chairman Jason Chaffetz slammed the agency, forcing TSA representatives to appear on a separate panel following the other scheduled testimony.

Despite Schneier’s absence, yesterday’s hearing did see the TSA held to account by Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight Committee, who read out loud a selection of some 350 public complaints against the agency, including accounts of groping and public humiliation.

Issa also noted that the agency has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars developing equipment that does not work, leaving in its wake “a dire picture of ineffectiveness.”

Other members of the House from both parties slammed the TSA as “ineffective” and “rude”.

Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., said that the TSA treats traveling Americans “like prisoners.”

“Please and thank you would really go a long way with the public,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia. “I wish I could say that everybody remembers that but, you know, we’re not cattle and we are citizens and we’re not to be presumed guilty of anything and barking orders like people are cattle is not appropriate.”

The chairman of the Transportation Committee, Republican John Mica of Florida, also took aim at the TSA body scanners, noting that faulty equipment was hauled away from a storage site “as our investigators were appearing on the scene.”

Watch Darrell Issa’s comments on the TSA at the hearing: