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TSA strong-arms bloggers who published new airport procedures

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Transport agency ‘more aggressive with this reporter’ than with alleged bomber, fmr. official says

The Transportation Security Administration threatened two travel bloggers with jail if they didn’t reveal the source who provided them with temporary screening procedures issued in the aftermath of the Flight 253 incident, the bloggers and news sources say.

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Christopher Elliott, who runs the Elliott.org blog and is a contributor to the Washington Post and MSNBC, and Steven Frischling, who writes for the official blog of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as well as his own blog, were both visited by TSA agents Tuesday night and served with subpoenas ordering them to identify the source who provided them with the TSA’s new security directive.

Wired.com reports:

Frischling … said the two agents who visited him arrived around 7 p.m. Tuesday, were armed and threatened him with a criminal search warrant if he didn’t provide the name of his source. They also threatened to get him fired from his KLM job and indicated they could get him designated a security risk, which would make it difficult for him to travel and do his job.

“They were indicating there would be significant ramifications if I didn’t cooperate,” said Frischling, who was home alone with his three children when the agents arrived. “It’s not hard to intimidate someone when they’re holding a 3-year-old [child] in their hands. My wife works at night. I go to jail, and my kids are here with nobody.”

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Frischling, who also said that the TSA demanded and got a copy of his computer’s hard drive, told Wired that he didn’t see the harm in publishing the directive because it was sent to thousands of air travel security officials worldwide.

“They’re saying it’s a security document but it was sent to every airport and airline,” he said. “It was sent to Islamabad, to Riyadh and to Nigeria. So 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 other blogger, Christopher Elliott, wrote on his blog that he published the TSA directive “since the government has been unresponsive to my requests to clarify its new security measures.” The full text of the security directive, designated SD 1544-09-06, was still available on Elliott’s Web site as of Wednesday evening.

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Some of the changes to air security outlined in the directive — which was designed to expire on Dec. 30 in any case — have since become widely-disseminated public information, including a requirement to pat down all travelers boarding planes bound for the United States, as well as a requirement that passengers on US-bound flights must remain seated for the last hour of the flight. Another rule in the document states that flight crew cannot announce the plane’s flight path or point out landmarks once over US airspace.

But, in the end, Elliott and Frischling may have little to give the TSA in its apparent effort to find out who inside the federal agency leaked the document. Frischling told Wired that he received the directive from an unidentified email account, the name on which stated only “Mike,” followed by a series of numbers and letters.

According to an unnamed former federal prosecutor who talked to Wired, the TSA’s investigation into the leak has been mishandled.

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“It strikes me that someone at TSA is apoplectic that somehow there’s a sense that they’re not doing their job right,” the former prosecutor said. “To go into this one reporter’s house and copy his computer files and threaten him, it strikes me that they’re more aggressive with this reporter than with the guy who got on this flight.”

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

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