Ian Freeman, the co-host of Free Talk Live, a national libertarian political talk radio show broadcast on more than 100 radio stations, and four television stations, and candidate for State Representative from Keene, New Hampshire, makes an interesting claim … he claims he is on a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Super Secret Special Searched list. Mr. Freeman believes that as a result of being on the TSA’s Super Secret Special Searched list he is subject to being searched every time he travels because he speaks out regularly against the TSA … but this is not actually the case.
This morning as Mr. Freeman was boarding United Airlines Flight 4191, at Newark Liberty Airport’s Gate 109, around 7:45am, he was stopped by a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) and physically searched along with a search of his carry-on baggage.
According to Mr. Freeman’s co-host, Mark Edge, who was traveling with him, Mr. Freeman has received four secondary screenings in four flights over the past few days and this screening at the gate followed a TSA BDO asking him how is day was and him remarking something to the effect of ‘It would be better if I wasn’t on some TSA list.’ Mr. Freeman’s search at Gate 109 took such a long that missed his flight home to Manchester Boston Regional Airport. Mr. Freeman’s remark to the TSA BDO may have caused the longer the usual gate screening … which if it is the case is an issue. Screening of passengers at a gate, or anywhere, should be based on legitimate threat assessments rather than personal feelings towards a passenger for any reason, including passenger remarks.
While the TSA has largely phased out “Secondary Security Screening Selection” (SSSS), it does still appear at times on the boarding passes of some travelers … one of these travelers is regularly Ian Freeman. What does SSSS mean for a traveler? It means that you will be pulled aside after passing through a TSA checkpoint, while still in the checkpoint area, for a pat down and a physical search of your carry-on baggage.
The TSA claims that SSSS is triggered by an algorithm that is considered Sensitive Security Information (SSI), but it is based on travel patterns and threat assessment information. Digging further into Mr. Freeman’s situation, of being stopped nearly every time he travels, I sought the insight of a TSA Deputy Federal Security Director and Software Program Analyst and learned an interesting trigger to Mr. Freeman repeatedly being subject to TSA secondary screening.
Mr. Freeman’s SSSS experience is not a secret list, or a conspiracy … it is his legal record. In 2008 Mr. Freeman was found to be in Contempt of Court a staggering three times in a single day, racking up a 90 day jail sentence, plus an additional 10 days for refusing to pay a fine for, of all things, having a couch on his lawn. In addition to Mr. Freeman’s 2008 legal troubles, he was arrested in August of 2010 for obstruction of justice, as he prevented a police officer from placing someone else under arrest, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail in August of 2011. Along with Mr. Freeman’s legal issues, that pop up in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) system, he has an aggressive history with the TSA, not a physical aggressiveness with the TSA … but an aggressiveness such as challenging a TSA BDO this morning about being in a secret list. Verbal altercations with TSA personnel may be logged at times, although neither the agency, nor the two people I spoke with regarding Mr. Freeman would definitively acknowledge this.
There are constantly rumors of the TSA having a secret list, but there is not. I am certain there is no secret list, because if there were, I’d be on it. With my own personal history of having two TSA Special Agents, from the Office of Law Enforcement, at my house three times in two days, having published multiple TSA SSI security directives (including one before it was released), having been detained by the TSA’s Office of Law Enfrocement at an airport, and taking the agency on in an aggressive manner frequently … if such a list existed, I’d be stopped every single time I entered an airport. While I have had SSSS on my boarding pass at times, I know why I had it each time with unusual travel patterns … but the fact is that the TSA and DHS security systems look for specific information to determine a potential threat.
The DHS systems for threat assessment work in a very specific manner, working a complex combination of pieces of information, that is far from perfect. For some reason Mr. Freeman’s record over the past few years triggers SSSS in the agency’s threat assessment system. Unfortunately Mr. Freeman cannot do anything to change what is in place as the TSA and DHS will not acknowledge how its threat assessment system works and there are no mechanisms to alter what the system sees in regard to Mr. Freeman.
Happy Flying … although I don’t think Mr. Freeman has much fun right now.