Steamship Authority changes course on video

TSA finds footage from August cable incident on transfer bridge may be released.

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Crane and salvage personnel assist the Steamship Authority in rigging a submerged set of counterweights to be hoisted aloft by a crane. — Rich Saltzberg

The Steamship Authority has reversed its denial of a Martha’s Vineyard Times request for video that captures a transfer bridge accident. The video dates from August, when a cable broke at the Slip 1 transfer bridge in Vineyard Haven, and sent tons of counterweights into the harbor. The SSA blamed a truck for the cable incident. The Times was blocked when it tried to verify the SSA’s account through terminal footage. The SSA refused to release any video associated with the incident, claiming it was sensitive security information (SSI) that is restricted under federal law. 

Following an appeal to the Supervisor of Records, the SSA was ordered to provide the footage for state review. Instead of doing that, the SSA consulted the U.S. Coast Guard and TSA. SSA general counsel Terence Kenneally told The Times this was to ascertain if it was lawful to allow the Supervisor to review the footage. The Coast Guard subsequently told The Times it has no jurisdiction in evaluating whether or not the state could review the footage. TSA didn’t respond to a Times request for comment. However, in a Nov. 4 letter, Kenneally indicated TSA had gone further than weighing in on whether the state could review the footage. TSA found the footage didn’t harbor SSI. As a result, the SSA is in the process of providing The Times with the footage. 

“Recently, the authority received responses from TSA concerning its review of three (3) security videos that meet the criteria of your original Sept. 7, 2022, request for information,” Kenneally wrote. “TSA found that none of the three (3) videos in its review contained SSI. Accordingly, we are mailing a DVD with copies of the three (3) videos to your office.”

The records fight produced a bonus benefit — a new avenue for evaluating the sensitivity and releasability of future footage requests. Kenneally wrote that TSA will be tapped to review similar requests. “The authority will process any future requests for information that may be deemed SSI in the same manner as it managed this request,” Kenneally wrote.

SSI, per a TSA training brief provided to The Times by the SSA, is “information obtained or developed which, if released publicly, would be detrimental to transportation security.”

Some of the 16 examples TSA gives are:

  • Maritime Vessel Operator Security Program
  • Port Security Program
  • TSA intelligence products

 

TSA’s brief also describes SSI as information helpful to a bad actor trying to attack a transportation system. TSA states the following are not SSI:

  • Safety information is not SSI
  • Fire evacuation plans are not SSI
  • Construction plans are not SSI
  • Training materials for employees on safety measures are not SSI
  • Safety inspections of infrastructure are not SSI

 

Kenneally also wrote that the SSA might have been subject to fines if it had improperly conveyed SSI. “The authority is required to comply with its Security Plan and federal law, and avoid fines for improper disclosures of SSI,” he wrote.

On Friday, the same day it received Kenneally’s letter, The Times requested footage from a May 2020 transfer bridge accident, footage the SSA previously refused to provide based on the same SSI reasoning. That incident also involved a set of counterweights dropping into Vineyard Haven Harbor.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good work, Mr Salzberg. Will there be any consequences for the SSA employees who tried to hide the facts involved? Does the owner of the truck have any recourse for damages resulting from the SSA coverup? “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost” -Thomas Jefferson, 1786

  2. Hello friends, I live the next island over that the ssa takes care of! I don’t seem to understand what the big cover-up is all about? When I first read the article it’s only a brief note of it I didn’t understand why the steamship authority would deny at all. Could someone please explain or have a good article in the inky mirror so we can understand what’s going on.

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