Did TSA ghost-write @FlyingWithFish tweet? Twitter coercion?
UPDATE: Less than an hour after posting this story below, a source familiar with aspects of the TSA investigation confirms Tnooz speculation that TSA agents were in Frischling’s home on the evening of Dec. 29 when he tweeted a request to the source of the leaked security directive to contact him.
The agents allegedly wrote the tweet on Frischling’s Blackberry, handed it to him and then asked the blogger to send it, according to the source.
“That way, they could deny that they [the TSA] sent the tweet,” the source says.
The original post follows:
Steven Frischling, one of the two travel bloggers subpoenaed by the Dept. of Homeland Security and visited by TSA agents after publishing a security directive, tweeted Jan. 2 that he can’t comment on the “author” of a controversial tweet, issued from his account, at 10:05 p.m. on Dec. 29.
While two TSA agents likely were in his home at the time and allegedly were threatening to terminate Frischling’s ability to work with the airline industry unless he divulged the source of the security-directive leak, the Dec. 29 tweet from the FlyingWithFish Twitter account said the following:
“To the gentleman who sent Flying With Fish the TSA Security Directive … Thank You! Can you drop me an email?I have a question. Thanks-Fish.”
The tweet, from Frischling’s Blackberry, had a 7:05 p.m. time-stamp on Dec. 29.
Frischling stated publicly four days later, when he declined to comment on the author of that tweet — which seems so stylistically different from his other 13,042 tweets — that his Blackberry was set to Pacific Time so the tweet actually was made at 10:05 p.m. EST.
He’ also tweeted today, Jan. 2: “The TSA Special Agents arrived before 7:00pm [on Dec. 29], left around 9:00pm, returned around 10:00pm for a while.”
So that timing, which admittedly is imprecise, might have put the TSA agents by Frischling’s side when the tweet went out from his Twitter account, publicly asking the source to contact him again.
If the source had contacted Frischling again at that juncture, it seems likely the TSA would have obtained the e-mail right then and there.
Frischling invited me on Twitter to “speculate all you’d like on the author of the tweet sent from this account…”
Before I start speculating, I asked DHS via phone and e-mail if the TSA agents actually authored the tweet and pressured Frischling to tweet it, in the agents’ quest to hunt down the source of the leaked document. I also asked whether the TSA has identified the anonymous leaker and taken any actions.
A DHS spokeswoman Jan. 2 says: “I’ve shared your emails with HQ for Monday. If we can back to you before then, we will, but with the investigation ongoing, there’s not much we are able to comment on publicly.”
So, can you think of any good reason — other than legal repercussions or fear of retribution — why Frischling wouldn’t comment on who actually authored the tweet?
Might someone other than Frischling have drafted the words for the tweet and then pressured Frischling to hit the send button on his Blackberry?
Might the authors have been one or both of the TSA agents or possibly their superiors?
Is Twitter now becoming an investigative tool for governmental authorities? Or maybe the more appropriate question is, how much of an investigative tool is Twitter becoming for law enforcement agencies?
Identifying the author of the tweet is important because Frischling argues that he acted appropriately in facing the TSA onslaught. Frishling says he doesn’t know the identity of the source of the leaked document and did nothing to assist investigators in corralling the source when he agreed, under pressure, to let the TSA examine his computer hard drive.
But, the Dec. 29 tweet from Frischling’s account makes it appear that he became part of the hunt to help the TSA identify the source of the leaked document because the tweet asked the “gentleman who sent Flying With Fish the TSA Security Directive … Thank You! Can you drop me an email?I have a question…”
But, if the TSA actually wrote that controversial tweet and coerced Frischling to tweet it, then that puts a different slant on the tweet and Frischling’s role.
Frischling and I have been going back and forth on Twitter and in the comments section of this post about whether the stance he took and tactics he used, when the TSA was badgering him for his source, were appropriate.
The TSA withdrew the subpoenas against Frischling and Chris Elliott on the evening of Dec. 31 after an outcry on social media networks and in the press. The story of the two travel bloggers getting subpoenaed got tremendous press coverage, with many people arguing that in the wake of the Christmas Day attempted terrorist incident onboard Northwest Airlines flight 253, the TSA might have better focused on improving security than using precious resources to harass two journalists.
Frischling consented to let the TSA examine his computer because he says he didn’t know the identity of the source and had nothing to hide.
Elliott, who might have faced a somewhat different set of circumstances, resisted the TSA’s efforts and didn’t provide the agency with any information about sources.
I tweeted and stated previously that Frischling’s Dec. 29 tweet, which seemed to be a not-very-veiled effort to find the source of the leak, appeared to ratchet up a notch his role in the investigation.
The fact that Frischling won’t comment on the “author” of that tweet, and the curious timing about when the tweet was published, makes me scratch my head and wonder whether or not this would be one of the first publicly discussed cases of Twitter coercion.
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.