Billions for Fashion Police, but Not One Cent for Tribute Bands!

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Woo hoo! I feel so much safer! The TSA reports, “Transportation Security Officers SPOT Passenger in Fake Military Uniform at Florida Airport.” Picture at right is my foofification of the picture on the TSA site.

Our brave protectors write:

A TSA behavior detection team at a Florida airport helped catch a passenger allegedly impersonating a member of the military on May 10 as he went through the security checkpoint.

The passenger, who was en route to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, exhibited suspicious behavior that caught the attention of officers. In addition, he was in a military uniform but had long hair, which is not consistent with military regulations, and had conflicting rank insignias on the uniform.

When officers asked for his military identification, the passenger said he had none. He was then questioned about the irregularities of his uniform. The passenger first claimed that the uniform was his brother’s, and later, that it was his nephew’s.

TSA contacted law enforcement partners at the airport who interviewed the passenger. The passenger was arrested on a state charge of impersonating a U.S. soldier.

Behavior detection officers are trained to focus on behavior and not physical characteristics as part of TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program.

I have questions:

  • What exactly constitutes “impersonating” a soldier? If it were me, and I saw a guy with long hair and “conflicting rank insignias,” I would presume that it’s a fashion statement, not “impersonation.”
  • Did he try to use military status to get a discount at Starbucks, or a freebie into the Admiral’s Club, or was he just called out? It appears the latter.
  • Did he have boots and everything, or was it just shirt and pants? Were they the black ones that should go with green camo, or did he wear the desert tan?
  • Was he carrying more than 100ml of liquids outside of a one-quart baggie?

Based solely on the information above, it does not appear that he actually impersonated a soldier. It appears that he was walking around with irregular bits of regalia, and someone called him on it, and he got nervous. Many people get nervous when confronted with authorities like police or TSA, and actually, the better a person you are, the more likely it is that you’ll say “brother” when you meant “brother’s kid.”

I got this courtesy of Bruce, who advocates procedures like “SPOT” which look for “hinky” behavior.

I agree with Bruce, that it’s better to look for hinky than rip apart every laptop bag, but the TSA needs to look at this as a failure, even if this guy was actually guilty of a crime worthy of punishment stronger than an afternoon with Carson Kressley. This ain’t what we’re paying you for.

Let me finish with an anecdote. Like many people in this industry, I have clothing with NSA logos on it, or embroidery that says, “National Security Agency.” The NSA sells them in the gift shop of the National Cryptologic Museum as part of their widows-and-orphans fund.

A few Defcons ago, I was wearing such a shirt as I checked out of my hotel. The doorman pointed at the logo as he was getting me a cab and asked, “Do you work for them?”

I met his gaze, smiled and replied, “If I did, I wouldn’t be able to answer that question, would I?”

I locked my eyes to his as he went compute-bound for a good three seconds, which is a long time when someone’s not flinching. He finally nodded sharply, said, “Right,” and pulled my cab over.

Here are some essay questions:

  1. I consider it ipso-facto not impersonating a soldier, if you’re obviously irregular. The TSA obviously disagrees. If you refuse to confirm nor deny that you work for the NSA, is that impersonating a spy? If so, does being a smartass mitigate the crime, or is it worse — “Aggravated Denial” or “Equivocation with Intent to Confuse” or something else like that? Can we tack on a charge of using steganography? Discuss. Extra credit will be awarded for high towers of compounded paradox.
  2. If wearing contradictory insignia is impersonation, especially with long hair, how many pieces of a uniform does it take to make it impersonation? Can you make it no longer impersonation if you wear a uniform and other things, too? For example, if you had a “uniform” and a Ramones leather jacket over it, does that make it better or worse? What about a Groucho mask? What if you’re just a customer and wear an “Army Mom” t-shirt and it’s your step-kid?
  3. Does this only apply to the US armed forces? What about The Coalition of the Willing? NATO? National Guard? State Militias? Colbert Nation?
  4. Would the TSA benefit by some training in Brattleboro, VT? Would Brattleboro?

5 thoughts on “Billions for Fashion Police, but Not One Cent for Tribute Bands!

  1. I don’t know about the states, but where I live impersonating soldiers is certainly a crime and prosecuted.
    Wearing combat uniform, or cloths that can be mistaken for uniform, outside the time you are on duty or traveling to/from your ship/base is certainly illegal. It’s illegal to produce or sell cloths that can be mistaken for the uniforms.
    Actually, it is the same thing with police uniforms, coastal guard uniforms and customs uniforms.
    While uniforms are certainly not a perfect sort of ID they are a powerful one. Most people do recognize the uniforms and acts accordingly. Therefor making sure people don’t wear uniforms they don’t belong in is a good idea.

  2. Another countermeasure against the threat of impersonation is to have a healthy skepticism about anything said by someone in a uniform unless and until they establish their bona fides.

  3. Army “uniforms” are sold all of the place. They have lots of pockets, they hold up well to washing, and appeal to assorted people’s fashion senses. Fashion statements are, like many other things, protected speech under the First Amendment in this country.
    The reason that impersonating, say, a police officer, is a crime is that, presumably, members of the general public may be fooled into following the orders of the “police officer” including handing over the wallets.
    In the civilian United States, soldiers – whether legitimate or not – do not hold such power. Here’s some more background on the terribly serious crime of “impersonating a soldier.” Note that there’s a modifier – impersonating a DECORATED soldier – not “being some guy with long hair in a uniform that has some insignias on it:”
    Don’t Impersonate a Soldier or Sha Na Na This Weekend
    Posted by Peter Lattman
    We knew it was illegal to impersonate a police officer. But we didn’t know about these two interesting “impersonation??? criminal statutes that came across our desk this week:
    From [http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/05/11/dont-impersonate-a-soldier-or-sha-na-na-this-weekend/]
    Under the Stolen Valor Act (18 U.S.C. Section 704), signed into law by President Bush last December, “anyone who knowingly wears, manufactures, or sells any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the U.S. armed forces, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.???
    On April 30, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan arrested Lowell Craig McGuinn for wearing service medals and badges, including the silver cross, purple heart, and silver star, that he did not earn. He pleaded not guilty. Here’s the government’s complaint and the story from the Daily News. The News says that McGuinn is the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under the new law, which broadens the provisions of a federal law that only covered the Medal of Honor.

  4. Student, I’m not supporting impersonating soldiers. In fact, I think it’s bad, and should be a crime.
    Let me note before I say anything that we don’t know a lot of facts about the case, and I admit that I am surmising and speaking from ignorance. However, the main thing I am ridiculing is the TSA being the agents of policing that. They are supposed to be checking for terrorists, not con men or wannabes.
    The other thing I’m ridiculing to is the proud commentary of, “ooo, look how good we are.” If you put bearded, ponytailed rock star in a uniform, he wouldn’t look like a soldier. He would, to my mind, defintionally not be impersonating a soldier because part of the “uniform” is in fact that your hair, bearing, etc. matches.
    However, if said rock star in a uniform tried to get the soldier’s discount, that would be a bad impersonation.
    Here is the US, we have also had cases where con men prey upon vulnerable ex-soldiers and their families by pretending to be a decorated soldier so as you worm their way into confidence. This is not good.
    This is, however, not the same thing as having the TSA be general police. If the TSA had decided that this guy looked “hinky” and ran through all his luggage because they didn’t like the fact that he’s got a uniform with mismatched insignia, that wouldn’t be unreasonable. When they call the cops and look for a crime to charge him with, they’ve gone too far.
    Con men are bad. I don’t like con men. However, it is not the job of the TSA to be pulling them out of a crowd at an airport. They’re supposed to be looking for threats to the safety of aviation.

  5. But since they’re not able to do that very well, at least they can arrest people for dressing funny, talking funny, praying the wrong way, reading books with weird titles, etc.

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