Another bonehead screwup by the TSA: trashing a kora

Well, we know the TSA is run by idiots, but this is a new low. NBC News reports on this completely inexcusable gaffe of TSA agents dismantling a custom-made Malian kora belonging to well-known musician Ballaké Sissoko. From the article:

“Normally they just open the flight case because of the strange shape of the instrument and case,” [Ballaké] said. “This time, they disassembled and broke it.”

Calling it a “terrible situation,” he added that he hoped “to get an apology at some point.”

And the story goes on to report this absolutely tone-deaf, bonehead move by the TSA agent responsible:

The case was accompanied by a note in Spanish from the TSA, which said: “Smart security saves time.”

A note about smart security. Right after an agent working for the agency makes the TSA look even worse than they normally look, by making an absolutely, positively, galactically stupid move.

I’m not going to quote the article but Ballaké mentions having to go back to Mali (specifically, the capital and I would assume major city, Bamako) to get replacement parts for the instrument. It would not surprise me for the TSA to tell him he’s on his own for paying for that trip and the parts, though it would be refreshing to see them own up to it and pay up to make things right.

I get that we need security at our airports. But am I really asking much for the people in charge of it not to be total screw-ups? Especially when it comes to one-of-a-kind, custom music instruments? Is the same IQ limit for ordinary law enforcement also in place for TSA agents, I wonder? Are these the same kind of people that mistake an AriZona iced tea for a beer?

Aggressive, hardball censorship threats by the TSA

Continuing on with the airport security theme, even though the holiday travel season has came and went:’s Threat Level blog reports on an attempt by the TSA to censor two bloggers who posted a TSA document describing screening procedures, sent to many major airports worldwide (not just in the US). According to one of these blogers, Steven Frischling, “they’re looking for information about a security document sent to 10,000-plus people internationally. You can’t have a right to expect privacy after that.”

The TSA agents who visited Steven at his home the evening of 2009-12-29 aggressively questioned him about the source of the document as well as threatened him with the loss of his job and a “security risk designation”– something which may be a mere annoyance for people like me who don’t fly very often, but which carries far greater ramifications for someone who works for an airline as Steven does.

It’s a pretty low blow to aggresively and mercilessly threaten an airline employee while he is holding his three-year-old daughter (as Steven was). This is a huge abuse of Steven’s civil liberties, and it is alarming to me that the TSA would use a subpoena in a similar manner to a search warrant. The two are not the same thing.

Shame on you, TSA agents who did this. How disgraceful, cold, thoughtless, and unkind of you.

For those of you out there who find yourself in a similar spot, be aware of the difference between a subpoena and a search warrant. It’s a good idea to have contact information for the local office of organizations like the ACLU and the EFF handy, especially for bloggers who write about issues the least bit controversial. (And let’s face it, blogs without a little controversy once in a while tend to get a bit boring.)