TSA ends journalist subpoenas over leaked memo

AP News
Posted: Dec 31, 2009 8:24 PM

The Transportation Security Administration on Thursday dropped its subpoenas it had issued to two Internet writers in its effort to find the leaker of an airline security directive.

The subpoenas were criticized by a leading journalism organization.

The TSA said the investigation is "nearing a successful conclusion and the subpoenas are no longer in effect."

The security directive, which ordered extra measures after a Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, quickly became known to passengers at screening lines and aboard their flights. Nonetheless, the passenger screening agency said it "takes any breach in security very seriously."

One subpoena went to Internet travel writer Chris Elliott, who obtained an attorney and did not immediately comply.

Elliott, from Winter Springs, Fla., said TSA agents had showed up at his house, demanding that he reveal who leaked the security directive.

The administrative subpoena _ a demand for information issued without a judge's approval _ is a civil, not a criminal document.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said her organization is supporting Elliott.

Another travel blogger who received a subpoena, Steve Frischling, said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his laptop computer.

Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn't cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.

Dalglish said she was not speaking for Frischling, but added there's nothing to challenge if he already handed over his computer.

Dalglish said she could not remember the last time an administrative subpoena had been served on a reporter in last decade.

The TSA directive outlined new screening measures that went into effect the same day as the airliner incident at Detroit. It included many procedures that would be apparent to the traveling public, such as screening at boarding gates, patting down the upper legs and torso, physically inspecting all travelers' belongings, looking carefully at syringes with powders and liquids, requiring that passengers remain in their seats one hour before landing, and disabling all onboard communications systems, including what is provided by the airline.

It also listed people who would be exempted from these screening procedures such as heads of state and their families.


On the Net: Information on Elliott's subpoena at http://www.elliott.org/blog/full-text-of-my-subpoena-from-the-department-of-homeland-security/

Information on Frischling's subpoena at http://boardingarea.com/blogs/flyingwithfish/2009/12/30/the-fallout-from-sd%20-1544-09-06-the-feds-at-my-door/