Thursday, May 18, 2006

A New Tack for Airport Screening: Behave Yourself

Airport screeners plan to shift tactics, focusing less on scissors and more on passenger behavior

In the four years since it was created, the Transportation Security Administration has been trying — and often failing — to find dangerous things that passengers might bring onto an aircraft. Now the TSA is aiming to become less obsessed with scissors and cigarette lighters and focusing more on passenger behavior. Government sources tell TIME that the agency will announce in the next few weeks that it will introduce a race-neutral profiling program at the country's busiest airports, among them New York's John F. Kennedy, Los Angeles International and Chicago's O'Hare. The program has an awkward title, Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, but a clever acronym, SPOT. It has been tested over the last three years at several airports in the northeast, including Boston's Logan Airport, where two of the 9/11 hijacking teams launched their operations.

Unlike the TSA's troubled and controversial use of computer databases to scan for individuals whose names occur on passenger "watch lists," SPOT is based on observing passenger behavior. George Naccara, the TSA's Federal Security Director who has been overseeing the SPOT program in Boston, is a big booster. "This system is conducted by trained personnel and closely monitored by supervisors," he says. "It provides another significant layer of security."

Here's how it works: Select TSA employees will be trained to identify suspicious individuals who raise red flags by exhibiting unusual or anxious behavior, which can be as simple as changes in mannerisms, excessive sweating on a cool day, or changes in the pitch of a person's voice. Racial or ethnic factors are not a criterion for singling out people, TSA officials say. Those who are identified as suspicious will be examined more thoroughly; for some, the agency will bring in local police to conduct face-to-face interviews and perhaps run the person's name against national criminal databases and determine whether any threat exists. If such inquiries turn up other issues countries with terrorist connections, police officers can pursue the questioning or alert Federal counterterrorism agents. And of course the full retinue of baggage x-rays, magnatometers and other checks for weapons will continue.

So far, the results for SPOT have been encouraging. According to Naccara, the SPOT program has resulted in the arrest of more than 50 people for having fake IDs, entering the country illegally or drug possession. It also has caught one of its own: several months ago a representative from the Department of Homeland Security tested the system by trying to get a fake weapon through the screening checkpoint; he was successfully stopped by a STOP screener. The TSA will also consider deploying SPOT teams to other transportation systems like train and bus stations.

The SPOT program comes none too soon, since the current TSA system of screening for threats on airplanes has been, well, spotty. Earlier this month TSA screeners not trained in the SPOT program pulled over three Marines in dress uniform for special screening. After being patted down and scrutinized closely, the Marines were finally let go and allowed to continue their duties — escorting the body of one of their colleagues killed in Iraq.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Transportation Security Administration Slogans

Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

Doing a job RIGHT the first time gets the job done. Doing the job WRONG fourteen times gives you job security.

Rome did not create a great empire by having meetings, they did it by killing all those who opposed them.

We put the "k" in "kwality."

If something doesn't feel right, you're not feeling the right thing.

Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity.

A person who smiles in the face of adversity...probably has a scapegoat.

If at first you don't succeed, try management.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can avoid altogether.

TEAMWORK...means never having to take all the blame yourself.

Never underestimate the power of very stupid people in large groups.

We waste time, so you don't have to.

Hang in there, retirement is only thirty years away!

Go the extra mile. It makes your boss look like an incompetent slacker.

When the going gets tough, the tough take a smoke break.


Succeed in spite of management.

Aim Low, Reach Your Goals, Avoid Disappointment.

We waste more time by 8:00 in the morning than other companies do all day.

Work: It isn't just for sleeping anymore.
Prostitution Alleged In Homeland Security Contract Award

Federal authorities are investigating allegations that a California defense contractor arranged for a Washington area limousine company to provide prostitutes to convicted former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and possibly other lawmakers, sources familiar with the probe said yesterday.

In recent weeks, investigators have focused on possible dealings between Christopher D. Baker, president of Shirlington Limousine and Transportation Inc., and Brent R. Wilkes, a San Diego businessman who is under investigation for bribing Cunningham in return for millions of dollars in federal contracts, said one source, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Baker has a criminal record and has experienced financial difficulties, public records show. Last fall, his company was awarded a $21 million contract with the Department of Homeland Security to provide transportation, including limo service for senior officials. Baker and his lawyer declined to comment yesterday.

The Cunningham investigation's latest twist came after Mitchell J. Wade, a defense contractor who has admitted bribing the former congressman, told prosecutors that Wilkes had an arrangement with Shirlington Limousine, which in turn had an arrangement with at least one escort service, one source said. Wade said limos would pick up Cunningham and a prostitute and bring them to suites Wilkes maintained at the Watergate Hotel and the Westin Grand in Washington, the source said.

Cunningham resigned from Congress after pleading guilty last November to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from four co-conspirators, including Wilkes and Wade. The former lawmaker was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison. Wade pleaded guilty to his part in the scheme in February and is cooperating with investigators. Wilkes has not been charged.

The allegations about prostitutes were reported this week by the Wall Street Journal. Asked yesterday about the allegations, Wilkes's attorney, Michael Lipman of San Diego, said: "My client denies any involvement in that conduct." Cunningham's lawyer, K. Lee Blalack II, declined to comment.

The San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday cited a letter from Baker's lawyer, Bobby Stafford, saying that Baker "provided limousine services for Mr. Wilkes for whatever entertainment he had in the Watergate" from the company's founding in 1990 through the early 2000s. The letter also stated that Baker was "never in attendance in any party where any women were being used for prostitution purposes." Reached by telephone yesterday, Stafford would not comment on the letter.

Before starting Shirlington Limousine, public records show, Baker compiled a lengthy criminal record. Between 1979 and 1989, he was convicted on several misdemeanor charges, including drug possession and attempted petty larceny, as well as two felony charges for attempted robbery and car theft, according to D.C. Superior Court records.

The Internal Revenue Service filed a tax lien against Baker in 1996. He lost his house in 1998, and he filed for personal bankruptcy protection in 1998 and again in 1999.

Although Baker's company began receiving small federal contracts in 1998, it also fell into debt, records show. In early 2002, Arlington County Circuit Court ordered Shirlington Limousine to pay American Express Travel Related Services Co. $55,292.

That summer, Howard University terminated a contract with Shirlington Limousine to supply shuttle bus service, citing poor service and other problems.

In 2003 and again in 2004, the company received eviction notices for an office it maintained in a luxury D.C. apartment building. And in September 2004, the company was sued in D.C. Superior Court for $1.8 million, for failing to make payments on buses it bought for the Howard contract. The case was settled last month, with Shirlington Limousine agreeing to pay $300,000.

During these financial troubles, Baker's company won a contract worth $3.8 million with the Department of Homeland Security in April 2004. It appears from federal records that Shirlington Limousine was the only bidder. The contract was awarded under a program that limited competition to businesses in poor neighborhoods.

Baker was able to close his bankruptcy case last April after he made nearly $125,000 in payments to creditors, according to court records.

The Homeland Security Department said it awarded Shirlington Limousine, one of three bidders, another one-year contract for $21.2 million in October.

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie said the department does not routinely conduct background checks on its contractors. Instead, it relies on a list the government keeps of vendors who have had serious problems with federal contracts, he said.

In Shirlington Limousine's case, only the drivers were subject to criminal background checks, he said.

Past performance is one key factor the government weighs in awarding a contract, Orluskie said. But he said he did not know whether contract officers checked with Howard University before awarding Shirlington Limousine its first contract.

He stressed that Shirlington Limousine has performed well, saying: "We have not had any problems with this service -- we don't question whether they can deliver because they are delivering."

Steven L. Schooner, an associate professor and contracting expert at George Washington University Law School, said that although there is no explicit prohibition against giving contracts to felons or people with poor business histories, the government is obligated to ensure that potential vendors have a satisfactory record of business ethics and integrity, and that they have the financial resources to meet contractual obligations.

"There's a fundamental government responsibility to investigate," he said.