Video: Happy Halloween From The Department Of Homeland Security

So it’s Saturday night, and I’m sitting here surfing the interweb looking for a scary, travel-themed video to post. You know, because it’s almost Halloween (and my social life is a bit lacking, apparently). Here’s what popped up on Google, courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security. It certainly scared the crap out of me.

Is the United States a booming travel market for North Korea?!

International relations may be strained, but that’s not stopping the tourists. According to Yonhap News Agency, the number of North Koreans visiting the United States in the first half of 2011 surged more than 50 percent from the same period in 2010. The report cites data from the Department of Homeland Security, which puts the number of visitors in the first six months of the year at 139. In the first half of 2010, only 89 people visited the United States from North Korea.

Interestingly, this comes even as official contacts between the two governments fell off, not to mention a “general cooling off in bilateral relations.”

Of course, the visits weren’t strictly recreational. A delegation of scientists came over from North Korea in February, with an economic delegation following in March. In June, 17 martial arts folks visited three states on the east coast.


Photo by yeowatzup via Flickr

Terrorist threat goes after veggies in hotels

Should you really eat your vegetables? It’s a fair question, according to the latest from CBS News. The latest terrorist threat, it seems, is to poison food in hotels and restaurants at several locations in a coordinated, single-weekend attack. The threat has been called “credible,” according to CBS News’ sources, and the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture and the FDA have been talking to hotels and restaurants about it.

The people involved are believed to be involved with the same guys who tried to bomb cargo planes back in October – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Ricin and cyanide are said to have been the poisons of choice.

CBS News continues:

On Monday Dept. of Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said, “We are not going to comment on reports of specific terrorist planning. However, the counterterrorism and homeland security communities have engaged in extensive efforts for many years to guard against all types of terrorist attacks, including unconventional attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. Indeed, Al-Qa’ida has publicly stated its intention to try to carry out unconventional attacks for well over a decade, and AQAP propaganda in the past year has made similar reference.

So, there appear to be two alternatives: (1) eat steak and stay safe and (2) eat vegetables or the terrorists win. Frankly, I think broccoli rocks, and I’m not giving it up.

CBS notes: “The fact remains the government and hospitality industries are on alert.”

[photo by ilovebutter via Flickr]

Full body scanners arrive at JFK – TSA head doesn’t want to use them

Earlier this week, JFK Airport in New York plugged in their first batch of full body imaging machines. The director of the Department of Homeland Security had many good things to say about them, but when the time came to actually show them off to the media, she handed the floor to some brave volunteers. In a real case of “do as I say, not as I do”, Janet Napolitano really only wanted to talk about them, not actually use them.

The new scanners will be used for all passengers selected for secondary screening, but those passengers can decline and be subjected to an enhanced pat-down. Ever since the first scanners were implemented, passengers have been told over and over again that the images will never be misused, and that images won’t be stored. With those rules in place, I’m not entirely sure why the head of the department that installed them wouldn’t want to show them off herself.

Of course, it could have something to do with the real fear that the radiation is considered unsafe, or that her colleagues working the monitors may see a side of her she doesn’t really feel comfortable sharing. She wouldn’t be the first government employee to be mocked for something shown on the revealing images.

Now they are showing up at more and more airports, you may have been asked to go through a virtual strip show -were you comfortable with that?


[Photo credit: Getty Images]

Travel lobbying: Cuba, medical leave cost $305,000

Money may be tight in the travel business, but there’s always some pocket change hanging around for lobbyists. In the first quarter of 2010, the American Hotel & Lodging Association shelled out $305,000 on federal lobbying. Cuba was one of the top items, along with labor issues such as family medical leave and health insurance for small businesses in the industry.

Shocked at the number? I am, too. I figured it would be a tad higher. Given the strain on the travel industry as a result of prevailing economic conditions, I had a feeling that the industry would be lobbying hard for flexibility to save some cash and add a little more to the till.

The organization’s lobbying targets included Congress and the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Homeland Security.