A Blogspot for Airport Security
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Last month, the Transportation Security Administration, the TSA, took a step in a new direction and it launched a blog called the evolution of security and it didn't take long for them to get some comments. Here's one of them. The TSA liquid policy is ludicrous and indefensible wrote one commenter who called himself Doctor Anonymous. Another comment began, quote, "Dear fear mongering air Gestapo." Ouch.
So is this a great way for a government agency to reach out to people or is it the last sign that blogging has officially jumped the shark? Joining us now to shed some light on the life of a TSA blogger is Bob Burns. He's a master behavioral detection officer at Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport and one of the TSA's main bloggers. Hey, Bob.
Mr. BOB BURNS (Master Behavioral Detection Officer, Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport; Blogger): How are you doing?
MARTIN: So you're a blog kind of guy. You consume this kind of media in your own personal life?
Mr. BURNS: Yes. I like reading - listening to music blogs like stereo or pitchfork. I like to read a lot about music.
MARTIN: And you were a musician, right, in your former life?
Mr. BURNS: Yes. Prior to the TSA, I was a musician for about seven years. I had always wanted to be a musician and I just decided to - you know, at the time I was working for UPS and going to college and I just decided to quit everything and follow my passion. And it worked out for about seven years that, you know, unfortunately, it just wasn't paying the bills.
MARTIN: There are personal bios online on the blog for yourself and the other bloggers. I mean for example, right on there is the fact that you were in this band that you have a German shepherd named Clarence. Do you get to blog about personal things as well or is it only related to TSA?
Mr. BURNS: Well, it's mainly related to TSA, but I'm sure that, you know, if it came up, I could relay personal experiences. I just haven't yet. But, you know, I haven't been told not to. So that is a good - actually a good idea. I probably will in the future.
MARTIN: And you are now what's called a behavioral detection officer. What is that job?
Mr. BURNS: We observe the behaviors of passengers, obviously, and research has proven that when somebody's trying to hide something, trying to conceal something, they display certain behaviors. And we've been trained to spot those behaviors. And when we find the certain behaviors we're looking for, we have procedures and next steps. Basically, what we do is we just keep an eye out for people who look like they're up to something.
MARTIN: So getting back to the blog. What kind of comments do you get? What are people chiming in about?
Mr. BURNS: We get lots of comments from why do you screen the military and why do I have to put my liquids in baggies and why do you screen the elderly and small children. Even a lot of people who don't agree with our mission respect us for putting the blog out there because if they've read the blog, they've seen that we're posting everything pretty much, works and all. And the only kind of step that we're holding back is that is there's any personal information listed, inappropriate posts, you know, such as any kind of racial comments or threats. Things of that nature, we moderate. And that's the reason we do moderate the blog is to keep that kind of stuff off of there. But a lot of people haven't had a chance to vent and this is their chance.
MARTIN: And it does get people riled up. You see people waiting in those airport lines and, including myself, I have to admit, it doesn't make people happy.
Mr. BURNS: Right. And it's funny you mentioned the lines because that's one thing a lot of people vent about. And right now, the main page of the blog is a story about the Black Diamond Program where they're approaching a kind of like or exactly like ski lines where you have a beginner line, an intermediate line and an expert line. And they're actually trying that out right now at Denver and Salt Lake City.
MARTIN: Which are ski towns so that makes sense I guess.
Mr. BURNS: Yeah. So they're actually what we're talking about. But the reason for the whole thing is, you know, you got your black diamond travelers who can be through a lane in 60 seconds. And sometimes they're getting stuck behind people who have children, you know, a family. It's like being in a grocery store in the express line and you walk up and somebody's in front of you with a cart full of groceries and you got a pack of bubble gum.
MARTIN: Do you ever commiserate with people and say hey, I know what you're talking about. This annoys me too.
Mr. BURNS: Oh, yeah, yeah. In fact, there's lot of not official TSA bloggers because a lot of full chapter that are posting that aren't transportation security officers that are chiming in and saying, hey, you know, I realize that there are a lot of TSOs out there who might not be perfect and, you know, they annoy me just as much as they annoy.
MARTIN: And we should say those TSOs, those are Transportation Security Officers - baggage security, right?
Mr. BURNS: Yes, correct. Correct.
MARTIN: And have there been any concrete changes to TSA policy, Bob, as a result of something that was first brought up on the blog?
Mr. BURNS: Actually, yes. There was - turns out, we found out on the blog that several airports around the country were - had started their own pilot program to have all electronics removed from their bag - from passengers bags. And that's including - that's not the normal thing where you have to take out laptops or cameras. That was actually - they were having them take out BlackBerries and cables and everything. Anything that could be plugged in or takes a battery, they were having them take out of bags. And they started reading - the headquarters started reading about this on the blog and thought, well, that's news to us. We didn't know this pilot is going on. And they kind of reached out this field and found out where it was happening and stopped it. And based on that comment on the blog, you know, that was the first - pretty much the first success for the bloggers.
MARTIN: What do you personally get out of doing this?
Mr. BURNS: What I get out of doing this is that I'm a communications person. It's one of my passions. I like for everyone to understand what's going on and I found it in the past that one of the problems of the TSA and the public is we have all these procedures that they don't necessarily understand because we can't tell them why we do them. But if we can tell them as much as we can and have some open communication on a thing such as a blog, I really think that's going to help our relationships in the future. I know there's a long way to go, but I feel I'm doing my part to open up communications.
MARTIN: And finally, I can't let you go without asking you about your time as an airport screener. You were one of these TSOs. What was the most frustrating thing about that job?
Mr. BURNS: Actually, just the fact that the job we're in, as we get intelligence, the job changes. You may learn something and get it down path one week and come to work the next week and it's changed. And that is one of the most frustrating things, that's one of the things you have to learn to live with as a TSO. And it's actually kind of nice because you're not stuck doing the same thing all the time. But I'd say the other most frustrating thing is, you know, sometimes you go out there and you really try to put on a friendly face and do a good job and there's just that core group of folks who's no matter what you do aren't going to respect you. And I kind of, you know, you kind of have to have thick skin to be a TSO and get passed to a lot of that.
MARTIN: TSA blogger Bob Burns. He's a master behavioral detection officer at Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport. Hey Bob, thanks very much
Mr. BURNS: Hey, thanks for having me.
STEWART: Okay, I'm on the TSA blog right now here, Rachel. The hot topics today, shoes, liquid, inconsistencies, lighter, nail clippers and lithium batteries and gripes and grims(ph).
STEWART: Just so you know.
MARTIN: How topics.
STEWART: Hot topics.
MARTIN: Foot fungus. I clicked on that. Shoes are - hot topic and people are concerned about whether or not they're getting foot fungus when they go through those thing. I think that's a very important concern.
STEWART: Check it out, tsa.gov/blog. Coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, a ramble through pages six through 13 of today's news. Yup, rambles coming up. And a conversation with a young man named Jake Sasseville.
STEWART: He is sassy. He's in a quest to be America's next top late night talk show host, take a listen.
Mr. JAKE SASSEVILLE (Host, "The Edge with Jake Sasseville"): It's as much about a late night talk show as it is about how in a heck a 22 year old sort of puts together finances who produces his own show. And why that's so important is that I think that, my generation, when I was putting together this show, I really wanted to brand myself as a voice to the generation. And so I thought, my gosh, I need to be able to embody what this generation is all about which is just doing it on your own terms, starting things, making it happen, moving forward, and hustle it up.
STEWART: Yep. A little hustle, a little Sasseville next on the BPP.
MARTIN: Bold gold. Stay with us. From NPR studios at Sasseville Park in mid-town Manhattan, this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.