Airport security part 5: Snakes on planes? Check. Marshalls on planes? Nope.

Airport security part 5: Snakes on planes? Check. Marshalls on planes? Nope.

Summary: Update: TSA has commented on the CNN story on their website.From our good friend Dave Lewis from Liquidmatrix Security Digest, and memorable quotes from Samuel L.

TOPICS: Privacy

Snakes on a Plane

Update: TSA has commented on the CNN story on their website.

From our good friend Dave Lewis from Liquidmatrix Security Digest, and memorable quotes from Samuel L. Jackson, apparently we can draw the conclusion that we have snakes on planes, but not Federal Air Marshals (FAMs). Dave covered a story that a whistle blower inside of TSA talked to CNN and leaked the fact that these days there are rarely ever FAMs on flights. Dave's article says:

So, what did they do? Did they put more air marshals in service? Not sure.

Did they say, “our bad, we’ll get right on it”. Nope.

They decided to launch an internal hunt for the leak whistle blower.

From CNN:

The Transportation Security Administration rejected as a “myth” CNN’s report that less than 1 percent of the nation’s daily flights carry armed federal air marshals. Now the agency is conducting an investigation into who talked to CNN and who encouraged other agents to do the same.

A spokesman for the TSA confirmed the investigation.

Spokesman Christopher White said a TSA investigator is looking into the “possible unauthorized release of sensitive and classified information to the news media by covered parties.”

A rational response. Sigh. The TSA refutes the story but, they don’t offer anything to back their version. Rather they claim it as classified information. The marshal in question has asked for anonymity due to fear of reprisals from the TSA. Yeah, the internal investigation won’t validate his position at all will it? (yes, that’s sarcasm)

So, how does one resolve this? Does the TSA come clean? Or do we continue to suffer the pat on the head as they tell us to go play in traffic?

This is pretty concerning. Defense in depth should be the approach, and I'm worried about the fact that TSA is horribly concerned with toothpaste, but apparently not interested in putting real physical protection onto planes. The TSA's many blunders and strange decisions have been pretty heavily covered here and other blogs, yet TSA continues to make suspect decisions regarding our security and privacy. For more on this subject, see:

Thinking back on the many things I've written on the TSA, I've come to the conclusion that it seems most of the security that TSA provides for us is an optical illusion, designed to make us feel safer in the wake of 9/11, but not necessarily providing us any real security. I can say that having FAMs on planes makes me feel safer and it feels like real security. TSA actually discusses FAMs increasing roll post 9/11 on their website stating:

Federal Air Marshals have an ever expanding role in homeland security and work closely with other law enforcement agencies to accomplish their mission.

[poll id=15]

[Image courtesy of]


Topic: Privacy

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  • You misspelled 'Knew'

    on your poll ;-)

    Happy Monday!
  • And used "roll" instead of "role" in the post

    "TSA actually discusses FAMs increasing roll post 9/11..."

    From this statement, I would guess that the TSA is somehow increasing their spin? ;)
  • RE: Airport security part 5: Snakes on planes? Check. Marshalls on planes? Nope.

    Looking for who "leaked" the information that FAM's are only on a tiny fraction of airline flights is like looking for who "leaked" who is buried in Grants tomb. To anyone with 1/2 a brain (and I know that leaves out 75% of the "Joe Sixpack" American public and most federal employees) that "leak" was common knowledge.
  • Regular Bunch of Spelling Bee Champions Today

    Good for you guys, you're making positive change in the world by catching my spelling mistakes.

    Can we get back on topic now?


    Happy Monday indeed.
    • Regular Bunch of Spelling Bee Champions Today

      Not spelling errors, you made wrong word choices and the ones you used are common errors.

      But, I guess you new that in your roll as a blogger. At leased you didn't loose site of your topic.

      You clearly have great expertise in Security, but as a writer.... I ran Word Spell/Grammar checker on the above paragraph and it caught most of the word choice errors. Try it before you publish, your cedibility is put at risk when you aren't more careful.

      Thanks for the entire series about Airport Security, very interesting.
      • WordPress

        We use wordpress, and I use their spell check feature. Perhaps I should pull it all out and put this into Microsoft Word before I post. I just don't see how that changes my credibility at all. I'm a security researcher first, blogger second.

        BUT, seeing as it apparently is such a big issue to everyone I'll put it through MS Word.

        • A big part of Research is the Report!

          It's OK to have grammar and spelling errors in emails to peers in your draft reports, or emergency reports.

          Care should be taken in public reporting. More credence is given to the better prepared report! If I see 2 papers with the same information, I do believe the one with correct spelling and grammar to be more credible.

          And I'd be more likely to hire that person, or contract that service!
          I am Gorby
          • Sorry! That sounded condescending.

            I, in no way meant to disparage your knowledge or skills.

            I went through High School in the 70's. I was a science major. Physics, Chem, as much Math as I could get. And as little English as I could get away with. I went to University and again took no language courses. My first job was in IT. In those early days documentation was the last thing done, and often bypassed. Over the years things change. I've even taken night classes in public speaking and writing.

            Nowadays people still want the knowledgeable nerd, but want him, or her, to be able to communicate effectively to a broad audience. That means people outside of IT.

            just my 2c
            I am Gorby
          • It did, but that's ok

            Honestly, I fashion myself as a pretty solid writer. These grammatical errors are going to come up in a situation where you aren't heavily edited and you can't invest a ton of time combing over what you've written. When it comes to communication skills, I'm sure you could ask Jeff Moss about my capability there, and he'd mention how well received my presentation at Black Hat Japan was.

            The end result is, it's a difference in scope. I don't have a ton of time to comb over these stories and find small issues like that, and if it becomes what I need to do to make readers happy, then I think I'm speaking to the wrong audience.

          • The difference is

            This is not a report, it's a blog entry. There's a big difference in amount of effort and time to release. I think we should all just relax it back a bit and realize that this is a blog, stories come out fast, I'm human and I will make spelling and grammar errors.

            I'd say if it's a simple grammar issue, keep it to yourself, unless you see me repeat it over and over and it's really bothering you.

            If you challenge the technical content of my articles, then the talkbacks are an effective place to make those arguments.

          • Point taken in both responses!

            I enjoy your articles.

            I gave up worrying too much about spelling and grammar in blogs ages ago. There are a few that annoy me, like then instead of than and "rediculous".
            Note: You DO NOT make these mistakes.

            I got caught up in the mob psychology of the "grammar attack". :)
            I hope it won't happen again ;)
            I am Gorby
          • No worries

            I mean, I really want my readers to be happy. I just see the flaws as very minor, they don't reduce the accuracy of the story (hopefully this is always true, at least it is in most cases). I will keep eye out though, at this point I've become tired of fighting the grammar battle.

            My feeling is, if this was a white paper, something I'd spent tons of time on, then yes, blast away. These, however, are stories that move very fast, and I post them throughout the day while I do other work. These things will happen in that case.

      • Not a problem

        I read the comment as the TSA is increasing its spin rate, but that is not really news is it.
        • Hahaha

          Very nice.

      • I have to agree with you...

        ...professional writers are supposed to have a tight grasp on both the English language & correct grammatical usage. To publish anything less does damage credibility. Unfortunately, most of what is passed off as "professional commentary" has become almost unbearable to read. Credit our wonderful educational system...
  • Why is this a Fed responsibility?

    Airliners are private property, so why should the Fed provide security on board? I don't see why the airlines couldn't provide their own security, starting with training the people already on the planes. Beyond that, retired police and military people could fill in, with proper training, of course.
    • That's crazy

      Of course the government should have a hand, we're talking about a matter of national security.

      • Have a hand, perhaps

        As you say, they are not providing many air marshals, anyway. Let them watch the flights they think are critical, but I see no reason why the airlines can't fill in the gaps.
        • It's a good point

          I'm not sure how it works, who funds it, why it is Federal Air Marshals as opposed to something else, or if Federal Air Marshal even means gov't employee (it might just be a title that one has to achieve for that role). Either way, it would be nice to know there's protection there, gov't, private, whatever.

          • ....

            [url=]Information first...[/url]

            AS to why Air Marshall's are Federal is due to licensing for transportation of a loaded weapon across multiple state lines in some cases into foreign nations. I don't understand or know all the regulations that go into weapons transportation, especially with armed members that are NOT military.

            But I do know that they are pretty strict. Also the ONLY agencies that have authority across the United States are Federal agents. Regardless which segment of the Federal Government. So these are some reasons for why Federal Air Marshall's are used. ]:)
            Linux User 147560