In a spectacular snafu, the Transportation Security Administration stupidly posted an entire airport screening procedures manual on a government website. The 93-page document included details on special screening rules for diplomats, CIA and law enforcement officers; a list of items for which screening is not required (like wheelchairs, casts, orthopedic shoes); and the fun fact that during peak travel times, TSA screeners who check IDs only use black lights to authenticate 25% of documents. Some of these secrets were revealed because, apparently, somebody erroneously believed they were redacted. But The Wandering Aramean blog, which discovered the oopsy, explains why that didn't work:
They apparently don’t understand how redaction works in the electronic document world. See, rather than actually removing the offending text from the document they just drew a black box on top of it. Turns out that PDF documents don’t really care about the black box like that and the actual content of the document is still in the file.
Yup, their crack legal staff managed to screw this one up pretty badly. Want to know which twelve passports will instantly get you shunted over for secondary screening, simply by showing them to the ID-checking agent? Check out Section 2A-2 (C) (1) (b) (iv). Want to know the procedure for CIA-escorted passengers to be processed through the checkpoint? That’s in the document, too. Details on the calibration process of the metal detectors is in there. So is the procedure for screening foreign dignitaries.
The aforementioned passport-holders automatically targeted for secondary "selective" screening are, by the way, from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen or Algeria. The manual, which was posted on FedBizOpps, a government clearinghouse that lists federal contracting opportunities for vendors, is no longer on that site, but the whistleblower site Cryptome has it for download, with the formerly-redacted portions highlighted in red boxes.
The document, dated May 28, 2008, features this warning: "NO PART OF THIS RECORD MAY BE DISCLOSED TO PERSONS WITHOUT A 'NEED TO KNOW." A TSA spokesperson says the agency "took swift action when this was discovered" and "a full review" is underway. But the TSA also downplayed the leak's severity, noting that the document was an "outdated version" of its operating procedures. That excuse doesn't fly with Robert MacLean, a former Federal Air Marshal who was fired for revealing holes in TSA's security after the 9/11 attacks. He tells ABC: "Screening is like a big puzzle and this SOP gives you directions on putting the puzzle together. How much in screening procedure changes in 17 months? It's a one-dimensional process."