8 years ago

Did TSA ghost-write @FlyingWithFish tweet? Twitter coercion?

fishtweet2UPDATE: 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.

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Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.



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  1. More of the TSA subpoena story vs 2 prominent travel bloggers. | Chipcinnati

    […] Did TSA ghost-write @FlyingWithFish tweet? Twitter coersion? | Tnooz […]

  2. Harry Reid

    Saw your blog bookmarked on Delicious.

  3. James Connor

    I thought this was going to be another long boring blog post, but I was pleasantly suprised. I will be posting a backlink on my blog, as I am quite sure my readers will find this more than interesting.

  4. hate to be you because

    More power to you.i have actually bookmarked it to show some of my friends

  5. links for 2010-01-02 : The ChipCast || by Chip Mahaney

    […] Did TSA ghost-write @FlyingWithFish tweet? Twitter coersion? | Tnooz More of the TSA subpoena story vs 2 prominent travel bloggers. (tags: Media&Journalism legal subpoena TSA blog) […]

  6. VS bedreigen KLM-blogger na bom-Nigeriaan « Cops in cyberspace

    […] van Frischling, waarin hij de anonieme bron oproept via e-mail met hem contact op te nemen. Een insider zegt dat de TSA-agent de tweet intikte en Frischling vroeg om op de knop ´verzenden´ te klikken. […]

  7. Introducing Rules of Engagement — Happy Hotelier

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  8. AZKenReid

    Yep, it’s getting scarier every day. Michael Yon was arrested today at the Seattle airport for not revealing his annual income. Unbelievable.


  9. Steven

    Don’t fly much, but the behavior of the TSA is beginning to scare the bejeesus out of me.

  10. Blogger’s Twitter Account Implicated in TSA Leak Hunt | Left to chance

    […] blogger named Dennis Schaal speculated on Saturday that the TSA might have written the tweet message and asked Frischling about the timestamp on the […]

  11. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    AZ: I agree. The proper response for a journalist is to be polite and to tell the agents that you must speak with your lawyer before taking any action.

  12. AZKenReid

    None of this should ever have happened in the first place. Subpoenas are answered in court. A subpoena does not give any law enforcement agent permission to enter a private residence. Steven’s answer should have been “come back with a warrant”.

  13. Dennis Schaal

    Happy Hotelier: Very über.

  14. Happy Hotelier

    It’s becoming ueber kafkaesk

  15. Amy DeMeo

    To my mind it’s not that important what Frishling did or did not do. That’s for him to look himself in the mirror with. And for his fellow bloggers to hold his reputation accountable if need be.

    What’s truly important here is that I believe we’re talking about coersion. I don’t think it has anything to do with security! I think this happened because TSA & HS were embarrassed as hell at the reaction to their idiotic & laughable new policies. In other words, I think they spent our resources & dollars to salvage their egos. This is an agregious matter if you ask me!

  16. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    SamIM: In an earlier post, I wrote about how the tweet in question didn’t resemble Steven’s style, at all. Maybe the agents aren’t too Twitter-literate.

    But I couldn’t understand the rest of your comment.

  17. SamIM

    Before writing the post the TSA’er who wrote the post or “directed the composition” should have paid attention to Fish’s tweet syntax/style and tried to emulate it better than this weak attempt. I could be wrong (a very small chance of it), but Big Flyer (we have Big Kahuna) didn’t write the tweet highlighted in the article David posted.

  18. Steven Frischling

    Lucky Strike,

    Not to get into it…but your facts on my monthly traffic are way off. You also miss that over the past few years due to expertise in this areas I’ve appeared on Good Morning America, a number of national radio shows in the US and Canada, been quoted in the New York Times, Forbes, CFO, MSNBC (in fact by Chris Elliot) and many other well established outlets.

    But you are correct, I do not have the following that Chris Elliot has. I have never claimed to have the same following that Chris Elliot has, nor do I expect to have the same following as someone who writes regularly for National Geographic, The Washington Post and MSNBC.

    My maintaining of Flying With Fish is not my job. It was originally a by-product of my job and has allowed me to shift career directions, but it is still not my job.

    -Steven Frischling

  19. Lucky Strike

    I think everyone is overlooking the much more obvious reason behind all of this- Steven may never actually received the directive.

    He possibly copied it directly from Elliott. His cryptic Twitter message, his buckling under the TSA pressure and his general attitude make it obvious that he was never a recipient of the message. He himself said he “received it, then checked to see whether Elliott received it, so he could verify its authenticity”.

    Fact of the matter is, Fish has nowhere near the industry respect that Elliott has, so there is absolutely no way a TSA employee would pick Elliott (who writes for MSNBC, NatGeo and more), along with some self proclaimed industry strategy specialist with 1000 visitors a month.

    Steven dug a very deep hole for himself here, and instead of coming clean, he dug deeper and deeper. He just got in too deep before he realized what he was doing, we’ll never know.

    [NB: Edited for legal reasons]

  20. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by denschaal: Did TSA ghost-write @FlyingWithFish tweet to source? Twitter coercion? #TSA (Tnooz) http://ping.fm/iaTxj

  21. Tweets that mention Did TSA ghost-write @FlyingWithFish tweet? Twitter coersion? | Tnooz -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dennis Schaal, Kevin May. Kevin May said: OMG!!! Did TSA ghost-write @FlyingWithFish tweet? Twitter coersion? | Tnooz http://bit.ly/4u6Y3U […]


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