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Armed TSA Agents Threaten Travel Journalist

TSA shows up at the door of a Connecticut blogger, demands he relinquish his laptop, and says "we could make this difficult for you."

by
Annie Jacobsen

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December 31, 2009 - 11:38 am
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At 7:00 p.m. on December 29, armed TSA agents banged on the door of photojournalist and KLM Airlines blogger Steven Frischling’s Connecticut home. “They threatened me with a criminal search warrant and suggested they’d call up my clients and say I was a security risk if I didn’t turn over my computer to them. They said ‘we could make this difficult for you,’” Frischling told me in a telephone interview the following afternoon. By then, TSA had removed Frischling’s computer from his home, made a copy of his hard drive, and returned the computer to him.

The federal agents, dispatched form the Transportation Security Administration’s Office of Inspection, had wanted Frischling, a respected travel journalist, to name names. They wanted Frischling to tell them who had given him “TSA Security Directive SD-1544-09-06,” which Frischling and another blogger had posted online three days earlier.

“It was a double-edged sword for me because I did not know who sent me the document. And it was absurd because that document had been seen by approximately 10,000 airline personnel around the world, including personnel in Islamabad, Riyadh, and Nigeria, so the idea that it was somehow in their control” was false, Frischling said.

Frischling explained that he posted the document because he wanted people to be able to read it and form their own opinions and ideas about it. The document was not marked “classified,” and it had already apparently been posted on some airline websites. The email had been sent to him anonymously from someone with a gmail address. TSA believed it was one of their own and wanted to know who, exactly.

For Frischling, thinking beyond the immediate safety of his three children — alone with him in the house — was difficult. His wife works at night and was already gone.

“I stood talking to the agents with my three-year-old in my arms,” Frischling told me.

While the agents were intimidating him, he feared if he were to be arrested then his children would be left without a parent present. He telephoned an attorney, who suggested he cooperate with TSA since there was no federal shield law to protect him in matters deemed national security threats. Besides, the agents “made it clear that if I said ‘no’ to letting them have my hard drive, they were going to come back with a search warrant,” Frischling explained.

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