The Fallout From SD-1544-09-06 : The Feds At My Door

30/12/2009 – The Fallout From SD-1544-09-06 : The Feds At My Door

Yesterday evening was like most other nights, until around 6:30pm when I received a phone call from Chris Elliot. Chris is a travel journalist, who happens to be National Geographic Traveler’s Reader Advocate, writes a regular column for The Washington Post, produce a weekly segment for MSNBC…and Chris is the other journalist who received and published a copy of the TSA’s Security Directive SD-1544-09-06

Chris and I have conversed many times before, however this phone call began by him asking me if any Federal Agents had visited me from the Department of Homeland Security this evening, as he had just been visited by a TSA Special Agent.

Moments after my call with Chris ended a sedan pulled in front of my house and two US Transportation Security Administration Special Agents were at my door with some questions and paperwork for me. I sent two of my kids upstairs, and like Chris I was served a subpoena by the Department of Homeland Security to disclose who sent me the contents of SD-1544-09-06 (you can read Chris’ subpoena HERE)

The two Special Agents were at my house for more than two hours speaking with me as I held my youngest son in my arms most of the time. When the agent left they said they’d see me again tomorrow morning, and hopefully we come to a resolution.

First let me say this, the two agents were polite and professional. I understand they have their job to do. I understand these agents have been given a task to investigate and that what they will do. I would expect nothing less. I have repeatedly written about positive TSA experiences on Flying With Fish. I am not an apologist or looking to gain favour, I simply believe the vast majority of those in the TSA are serious professionals and these two agents acted in a manner that upheld this belief.

The DHS & TSA are taking this matter seriously, and that tells me that they are paying attention to security in detail. Their issue is not that the Security Directive expires tomorrow, or even that I posted SD-1544-09-06 but that someone within the TSA sent this sensitive document outside of the agency. I understand why the TSA wants to find the person leaking this information and I wish I had a long intertwined story about how I got the document, but I don’t.

I received it, I read it, I posted it. Why did I post it? Because following the failed terrorist attack on the 25th of December there was a lot of confusion and speculation surrounding changes in airline & airport security procedures.

We are a free society, knowledge is power and informing the masses allows for public conversation and collective understanding. You can agree or disagree, but you need information to know if you want to agree or disagree. My goal is to inform and help people better understand what is happening, as well as allow them to form their own opinions.

While I sort out what happens next in this situation, and keep my opinions to myself to protect my family from the potential ramifications, I will continue working to keep travellers informed.

Hopefully this is resolved in an amicable way so that we can all move forward and focus on the greater good of servicing the public’s best interest.

Happy Flying!


  1. […] Here’s Frischling’s post. He says he received the document from an anonymous source known to be a TSA employee, who uses a gmail account (will Google be subpoenaed?). “I received it, I read it, I posted it. Why did I post it? Because following the failed terrorist attack on the 25th of December there was a lot of confusion and speculation surrounding changes in airline & airport security procedures.” […]

  2. […] A.P. reports that “another travel blogger who received a subpoena, Steve Frischling, said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning, when he was forced to hand over his laptop computer.” Frischling (who, like Elliott, posted the TSA security directive on Sunday) told A.P. “the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn’t cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.” His account of receiving the subpoena is here. […]


  1. You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t worry. If they do try to cause you grief with any sort of lawsuit, you can counter-sue — and win — on the basis of their bringing about a frivolous suit! However intimidating they may appear to be, rest assured that everything will be alright. You did the right thing by disclosing the document. Just play it cool and lay low on this matter until it blows over, like you’re doing. Keep up the great work!

  2. It seems crazy that a travel writer is not protected from threats from police? Is this accurate, or is this what the TSA told you?

  3. Also, people who come to your door yelling:

    ‘Who gave you this document?, Why did you publish the document?’ and ‘I don’t think you know how much trouble you’re in.’

    and then threatening to ransack your house while you are alone with 3 kids? That’s hardly “professional”.

  4. The TSA is generally made up of uneducated thugs. They have a huge budget while they have made flying tantamount to being booked into jail. I urge you to retain aggressive and competent legal counsel. You are a member of the press and should not be subjected to intimidation by these so-called Special Agents. The only thing “special” about them is that they abuse their authority.
    Good citizens realize what is a security risk and will cooperate with law enforcement but to submit to intimidation is an abuse of authority by Federal bureaucrats and a good citizen will fight this in a court of law.
    I expect that a Federal Judge might just quash these subpoenas.
    Good luck and thank you for your patriotism.

    Bobby Mims
    Criminal Defense Attorney
    Tyler, Texas

  5. People should be less worried about that idiot who put an incompetent bomb in his undies than the butt bomber in Saudi Arabia. You know, the guy that had a pound of high explosives up his butt with a cell phone detonator that was used in an assasination attempt of a Saudi prince. He didn’t have enough explosives to succeed, but you can be sure that the next one will. A bomb like that is completely undetectable except by x-raying the entire body. Expect to be x-rayed when you board a plane. It will be like the old days, when you stood behind the doctor’s fluoroscope so he could see your insides. It will be really tough on frequent flyers, though. The accumulated radiation dose will be horiffic.

  6. Steve,

    I dont think you were wrong in what you did. TSA was wrong to leak it. They are looking to direct their newfound ‘increased’ security.

    Keep up the good work. Your blog is excellent, especially about overseas travel and different airlines baggage requirements.

    Funny how they always go after the little ‘fish’.

  7. Question 1:

    Why did you answer the door? There is no law that states you must open your door for anyone, including law enforcement. Once you let the gestapo in your house you gave them jurisdiction over you.

    Question 2:

    Why on earth did you speak with law enforcement without an attorney present? There is no law requiring you to speak with law enforcement about anything. Never, ever talk with law enforcement, you have the right to remain silent, I suggest you use this right.

  8. If TSA expected to distribute a document unsecured to 10,000 different people internationally and NOT have it leak, they are NOT professionals, they ar idiots. The fact that they are going after bloggers for posting it shows they are in full-fledged CYA mode and looking for someone to string up to “make an example” of them. You will do as a goat to scape.
    GET A LAWYER and do not speak directly to these people. Do not surrender your civil rights, you will never get them back.

  9. I’m very sorry that you cooperated with those bozos in any way. They may have been “polite and professional” but they’re still government thugs who have no right to demand anything from you. As for your laptop, you should wipe its hard drive and start from scratch.

    This country will get back on track only when citizens are willing to stand up for their rights.

  10. What was the date and time of the subpoena? News states that it is dated (the subpoena) on Dec 25th. Just wondering about the timeline for what happened to you in relation to the attempted bombing incident.

  11. “First let me say this, the two agents were polite and professional. I understand they have their job to do.”

    Yeah, and Nazi SS agents were usally polite… until you refused to COMPLY, and they were just ‘doing their jobs’ as well. They could afford to be ‘polite’.

    Look folks, the Gov’t does NOT want you to intefere with their terrorists. That’s why they floated the idea of keeping you in your seat the last hour…

    i.e. It’s harder to STEAL MORE OF OUR LIBERTIES when common citizens thwart an ‘attack’ and thus, a U.S. Gov’t excuse to herd us into the NWO.

  12. Was the original information you received as a scanned PDF or just the text? If it was a scanned PDF, the issue is cut and dry – was it labeled NOFORN, SECRET or TOP SECRET? If it was, you are in very big trouble. If not, you really don’t have anything to worry about.

    If it was just the text of the document, it is more complicated. If the original document was classified or not, you really don’t know.

    Go seek out the EFF.

  13. I’m sure you are busy so I will keep this brief.

    If the TSA and the DHS take security seriously, they will have e-mail logs. Even if such logs to not contain the text of the e-mail messages, they will have a log of the source and destination e-mail addresses, the subject line, and the time the e-mail was sent.

    If the they really want to investigate, give them this information and suggest they investigate (search) their own e-mail logs to find out who sent the e-mail.

    If they don’t have such logs, I’m sure there is a US Gov’t security law they must be breaking. 🙂

    Donald McLachlan

  14. If Bush II was still in office you’d be feted by the media and this incident would be a cause celebre.

    However, for the partisans of the media, “their guy” is in charge so this story is of no use to them.

  15. Simply put, when you are served a subpoena, accept it, close the door and call your lawyer. If it wasn’t a warrant, the subpoena generally has a time-frame to comply before you’ll be likely charged (civilly) for contempt.

    DON’T OFFER anything or things like ruining your MacBook will happen. If you volunteer even one iota of information it was freely given, not compelled. I hope by now you have lawyered up.

  16. Steven,

    I wish you the best in your difficult situation. It sounds like you are acting wisely in terms of the legal situation… refraining from comment and heeding the advice of your attorneys.

    I’ll add a bit of advice of my own, if I may, that may or may not have been addressed by your attorneys…

    If they have had access to your laptop without your oversight or oversight by someone representing you, especially if work performed was by TSA rather than by an independent computer technician or company with responsibilities (and experience) to properly protect the chain-of-evidence and to refrain from accessing information on your laptop that was not within the purview of the subpoena, I strongly advise you to refrain from any and all access to, and use of, the laptop.

    You need to preserve any evidence on the laptop, not only anything that may be of use to the TSA, but any evidence of over-reaching or inappropriate behavior by the TSA investigators that accessed your laptop. While another poster’s suggestion of the TSA installing a keylogger may be a bit far-reaching, it is not impossible… I can certainly see some individuals justifying such an action as within the interests of an ongoing TSA investigation by saying that you might receive further contact by the individual that initially provided you with the TSA directive; I can also see them justifying the action by saying that your release of the laptop to them constituted your permission to install such a device. They may also have received a secret warrant to do so, just as they would in the case of a wiretap. Even more likely, however, is that they have over-reached in terms of the information that they have accessed. While that would be hard to detect if they merely duplicated your drive and performed all operations on the duplicate drive, they may not have actually been so circumspect. Depending on your possible future decisions or need to take legal action against any possible over-reaching by the TSA, you need to protect any and all evidence.

    I strongly suggest that you provide your laptop to your attorneys for safekeeping. If you have information that you need from the laptop, have your attorneys hire a competent computer security professional to provide them with a duplicate of your drive in a secure fashion that preserves all information now on the drive (subsequent to the TSA’s handling of the laptop) and have them secure the duplicate as evidence. Then you can take possession of and use your laptop, but if you are concerned about any possible keyloggers, etc., either have a competent computer technician backup all non-executable content from your drive and then securely wipe the drive and reinstall the software, or use the backed up non-executable files on another machine, keep the laptop off the net, and give it to your kids to use as a stand-alone, non-networked computer. I would suggest the latter, since even wiping or replacing the drive will not be sufficient if the TSA has gone so far as to re-flash your BIOS and the keylogger is installed in the BIOS.

    Good luck to you, Steven.

  17. If the TSA is honestly looking to secure leaks and not just intimidate bloggers, perhaps they need to focus their attention on their own network servers and email clients to see who their employees are contacting and why.

  18. You know with all the people that got this document it is sure to get out to give me a break. Another issue TSA is not looking at is the people that serve food to you after you set screened. Do you think their might be a few muslims working in food service that could be convinced to join the “cause”

    The next time you have to post something do it the smart way and use this: then let jackbooted stormtroopers storm them. unfortunately they are off line until jan 6. I need to send them some money as they need it more than

  19. Fish,

    Hope all is well. Thanks for the post. Be careful, and I am sure you are, when talking to the Feds.

    Typical mid level government employees looking for headlines after the crime was committed. The only thing government employees care about is saving their cake jobs and retirement benefits.

    They should have at least had the decency to call on you during normal hours.

    I do not speak with anyone from the government without my lawyer. They were not there to serve you or the general public.



  20. Why would you post a TSA directive that said THIS?:

    “No other dissemination may be made without prior approval of the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration. Unauthorized dissemination of this document or information contained herein is prohibited by 49 CFR Part 1520 (see 69 Fed. Reg. 28066 (May 18, 2004).”

    It’s obvious that the directive was put out immediately in order to thwart any other attacks that might have been planned to execute at the same time the Detroit attack occurred. Why would you do anything that might enable a terrorist to bypass security measures?

  21. When will you people on the wacky left relize we are at war? We are not playing cops and robbers….. Recall the phrase and poster from WW II; “Loose lips sinks ships”? Well, guess what….it still applies today. Think people, think!

  22. What I find interesting is why they came at night? My only reason thinking this is for a “fear factor” or intimidation. That stuck out of your article the most to me. I totally understand investigating. I agree they are taking it serious and I am sure while they are talking to you they are also tracking down the people who make threats and those that are really targeted by the TSA. I’ve not had a bad experience with TSA except for some arrogance or snotty nosed people and I just think that is people with badge heavy issues, not the TSA in sorts.

    I’m anxious to see what the resolves are if you will be able to share them and I thank you for your posts that help me keep up to date on how to travel and with what I can!


  23. I just called up Special Agent Flaherty to register my disappointment that TSA is attempting to stifle free speech. His phone number is on the subpoena. He’ll probably still be picking up until 5pm when the subpoena expires. If someone could find Dan Kuntz’ phone number, concerned citizens defending free speech can call him too.

    This is an important issue that demands the attention of citizens who live in a democracy with a bill of rights.


  24. TSA & DHS are a bunch of bunglers. Obama’s popularity rating is on the line over the Christmas incident. Lets hope some good comes from this incident and all the lackeys are fired and replaced with competent profesionals

  25. A democracy with secrets is no democracy. You did the right thing to publish it. You’d be right to fight it. The likely result is that it will come to light that the directive was already prepared prior to when the incident took place — which should raise some very important questions.

  26. Anna,

    There is nothing in the Directive that was not known to passengers immediately upon entering the gate area and at the 1hr to landing mark for an in bound US international flight. The actual restrictions themselves were posted on line by carriers such as Air Canada.

    The document was not classified and was transmitted ‘in the clear’ to airports and airlines around the word, outside of the TSA’s control.

    Happy Flying!


  27. Tim

    I have an attorney and have been consulting with an attorney.

    Thanks for popping in…hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

    Happy Flying!


  28. I never thought of flashing the BIOS thanks for the suggestion.

    My laptop was returned to me with some significant issues it did not have when it went out, such as a lot of bad sectors, Operating System errors, the inability to back it up in Time Machine, external audio is not functioning.

    I think the machine needs to be replaced, the repair cost from Apple itsself is similar to replacing the MacBook.

    Happy Flying!


  29. What’s interesting is that they’re making such a big deal about “leaking” a policy that by definition would eventually be fully known to the public… for it has to be implemented on air passengers.

    It’s no State secret what that document specifies… it’s the rules that all the poor air travelers will have to suffer under.

    This is about politics, “loyalty”, showing the rabble in the TSA who the boss in the White House is.

  30. other poster above said:
    Why would you post a TSA directive that said THIS?:
    “No other dissemination may be made without prior approval of the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration. Unauthorized dissemination of this document or information contained herein is prohibited by 49 CFR Part 1520 (see 69 Fed. Reg. 28066 (May 18, 2004).”
    As I see it you did not violate part 1520 as 1520.7 makes this whole part not applicable to you. § 1520.7 “Covered persons. Persons subject to the requirements of part 1520 are:….” (not you as I understand the situation and read the code)

  31. As usual, they are barking up the wrong tree! How about going after the real bad people! The muslim terrorists!!!!!!

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