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March 7, 2012 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Body scanners attacked again as US blogger Jon Corbett who blogs for TSA Out of Our Pants! exposes how to beat the body scanners, carrying a metal box in a secret shirt pocket through security at two airports.

The TSA's body scanner programme is no stranger to criticism. Undeterred, the TSA intends to expand the programme to train stations and other domestic locations. This despite ongoing controversy and charges of impropriety.
posted by nickrussell (130 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
These scanners are stupid and all, but this exploit can easily be "patched" my simply making people turn around while in them, yes?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:06 AM on March 7, 2012


That seems to mean four scans instead of two when there's already concerns about the radiation levels, eh?
posted by nickrussell at 7:08 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


As well as twice the amount of time to get through the process.
posted by scolbath at 7:10 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


So these scanners fail when metal detectors would work - and the conclusion is the TSA should turn the scanners off and metal detectors back on? Rather than turning metal detectors back on and still using the scanners?
I don't follow.
posted by edd at 7:10 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every one has a "secret" pocket that will totally defeat pornoscanners because they only scan skin deep. A pocket that'll hold a pound of plastic explosive with ease.
posted by Mitheral at 7:15 AM on March 7, 2012 [26 favorites]


That seems to mean four scans instead of two when there's already concerns about the radiation levels, eh?

As well as twice the amount of time to get through the process.


Neither of these are concerns held by the TSA.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:15 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


edd, it was TSA's decision to use the pornoscanners as the primary method of screening, not us. The WTMDs are all still standing right there. It's a perfect indication of how none of this is driven by science, risk analysis, or rational thought processes.
posted by scolbath at 7:17 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's a perfect indication of how none of this is driven by science, risk analysis, or rational thought processes.

Oh, there's a rational thought process there alright - the guys at L3 Communications and Rapiscan Technologies who sell these things are making fat bundles of money, and this is perfectly rational for them.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:27 AM on March 7, 2012 [24 favorites]


you forgot the security theater tag.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:29 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


are making fat bundles of money

Rapiscan's parent company earnings-per-share almost tripled from 2009 ($.63) to 2011 ($1.71). The stock price doubled as well. Of course, one of their biggest risks is cited as:

If operators of, or algorithms installed in, our security and inspection systems fail to detect weapons, explosives or other devices that are used to commit a terrorist act, we could be exposed to product and professional liability and related claims for which we may not have adequate insurance coverage.

As of this news yesterday, their stock is starting a gentle float downward...
posted by nickrussell at 7:38 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyone who calls these devices "pornoscanners" must have a truly disturbing porn stash.
posted by yoink at 7:43 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every one has a "secret" pocket that will totally defeat pornoscanners because they only scan skin deep. A pocket that'll hold a pound of plastic explosive with ease.

That's what she said!

She's kind of weird.
posted by swift at 7:44 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm totally with you on the scanners, but this dude's kind of an ass. From his blog on Sunday, presumably referencing the blistering revelation in the FPP:

Guys, I have really exciting news to share with you no later than Tuesday. I do believe this will be the end of the nude body scanner program. If you’re not already following/subscribed, now is the time to do so.

Seems unlikely. Also, the solicitation for donations on the grounds that his case against the TSA is "headed to the U.S. Supreme Court" is really obnoxious and dishonest.
posted by eugenen at 7:46 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's also worth noting that if you put anything in the container, gravity would pull it down closer to the body--thus defeating the exploit. The claim that he could smuggle a firearm that way is transparent BS.
posted by yoink at 7:47 AM on March 7, 2012


Can't they just change the background to white?
posted by Jehan at 7:48 AM on March 7, 2012


I don't think the issue is metallic objects here, because those can be detected by a metal detector. The issue is ceramic and non-metallic objects that could be used as weapons. When held against the body, those will show up on the nude scanners where they wouldn't be detected by metal detectors. Things like putty explosives. Which is why one of the ways to defeat this scanning is to pancake the putty to your sides so that you just look a bit thinner.
posted by PigAlien at 7:51 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait a minute. From the first link on this guy's WordPress:

The TSA is worse than ineffective: they are an epic fail placing us all in danger. Beyond the scanners, Demand of your legislators and presidential candidates that they get rid of this $8B a year waste known as the TSA and privatize airport security.

Are you fucking kidding me? He thinks the solution to the pointless billion-dollar giveaway to private body scanner company is.... letting private firms control airport security?

Jesus Christ, he's not even a useful idiot.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:53 AM on March 7, 2012 [34 favorites]


The claim that he could smuggle a firearm that way is transparent BS.

Maybe. Unfortunately the real reveal of this video is subtle enough to make it hard to campaign on: most of us have 0 faith in the TSA and whether they've really tested the efficacy of these devices. Or even their methods.

I think we have good reason to question whether they have done so - they resist external validation at every turn. When they're subjected to it they often fail. Blind tests - which they do their best to avoid releasing the results of - have them fail to detect threats the majority of the time.

So yeah, I watch this video and think that I'm not inclined to believe this is an accurate test of the detection method. But I'm also thinking that I have no faith in the TSA's self-policing or that their policies are intelligently designed. Their failures and their obsession with pointless checks - verification that an ID matches a printout from a home laser printer - make me disinclined to believe them.

If the TSA would respond to this video with a reach out to the guy to come do his best and videotape it and they'd provide transparency - provided he allowed them an empargo period to address the weaknesses they might discover - it would be a different story. But nobody believes they'll do that.
posted by phearlez at 7:56 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dude you're goin to Gitmo.
posted by gyc at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is people like this that bring down legitimate debate about the ineffectiveness of the TSA's tactics.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:02 AM on March 7, 2012


I had a chance to fly last week, the first time since the introduction of the scanners. I was amazed at how many people just did what they were told, and went on through the scanner. I, on the other hand, with mucho time to kill before my flights, opted out, and got to go through the pat down...

With a smug smile on my face as I watched the sheeple heading through the RADIATION BEAMZ!
posted by Windopaene at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2012


Okay, yeah, this is ridiculous. I fucking HATE the TSA and the screeners and security theatre and I have personally opted out and had to deal with the patdown--twice, but this guy is a whiner who is trying to deliberately provoke extreme situations for the purpose of complaining about the extreme situations. Here he is writing about how he went to Newark Airport last November, pretty much intending to get into a fight with the TSA from the getgo.

This is the thing that really annoys me: as a young male, I understand that people who aren't me may have stronger and more sensitive feelings about the TSA pat down. Both times I had to do it, I can assure you that the only person who was more annoyed about having to briefly run a gloved hand near my buttocks was the guy who was being paid seven dollars an hour to do it. It sucks. It's invasive. It's unnecessary. It's not "being sexually violated," you whiny, over-privileged asshat. You are why no one listens to the serious people.

I would really, really love if there were resources about this legitimate problem that weren't from he viewpoint of a crazy asshole. But sadly that's what you get most of the times.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would really, really love if there were resources about this legitimate problem that weren't from he viewpoint of a crazy asshole.

As opposed to anecdotes from a young male about how he wasn't sexual violated in particular so ya'll should stop whining?
posted by hellphish at 8:15 AM on March 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


Are you fucking kidding me? He thinks the solution to the pointless billion-dollar giveaway to private body scanner company is.... letting private firms control airport security?

A few airports already do. SFO is completely private security.

I think the point is to get the cost of pointless security theatre off the public purse. It's easy to demand billions be spent on airport security when only 20% of the cost of it is being built into the price of your ticket.
posted by Talez at 8:18 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I admire their willingness to stand up for what is right, but do these guys just plan on never flying again or what?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:23 AM on March 7, 2012


"Anything to declare?"
"Yeah, don't go to America."
posted by Meatbomb at 8:25 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


That seems to mean four scans instead of two when there's already concerns about the radiation levels, eh?

It seems a bit overwrought to complain about being "forced" to expose yourself to radiation from these machines as a precondition to flying when the act of flying itself exposes you to a much, much larger increase in the level of radiation of exposure.

Indeed, the website politifact confirms that "as little as three minutes of air travel produces the equivalent amount of radiation as one TSA body scan."

In other words, science does not support the validity of this complaint.
posted by three blind mice at 8:33 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the point is to get the cost of pointless security theatre off the public purse. It's easy to demand billions be spent on airport security when only 20% of the cost of it is being built into the price of your ticket.

Now that's a form of privatization I can endorse.
posted by maniabug at 8:33 AM on March 7, 2012


As opposed to anecdotes from a young male about how he wasn't sexual violated in particular so ya'll should stop whining?

Oh ho ho, you certainly showed me! Oh, I guess except for where I didn't actually say that. No, I wasn't sexually violated by the TSA, but I am not telling "y'all" to stop whining: I'm telling this other young male who was also not sexually violated that he should stop, you know, saying that the TSA is sexually violating him, because it makes him sound like a crazy person.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the point is to get the cost of pointless security theatre off the public purse. It's easy to demand billions be spent on airport security when only 20% of the cost of it is being built into the price of your ticket.

Then who, exactly, would pay for private airport security firms? If it's the government (that, you know, regulates the airport) then it's still your tax dollars. If it's the airlines, then, guess what--ticket charges are going up.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:37 AM on March 7, 2012


The only thing that will change the TSA is when people realize that planes by themselves really aren't that big of a target for terrorists and that the small risk of a few people dying on a plane is not worth the enormous time and expense to prevent it.

(Would the shoe bomber have tried it if the nation weren't in the middle of a freakout about airline security? Did Batman create the Joker?)
posted by straight at 8:41 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I admire their willingness to stand up for what is right, but do these guys just plan on never flying again or what?

I haven't flown since New Year's Day 2000 on the way back from Widespread Panic's NYE show, and I have absolutely no intention of ever flying again.

I drive the 24 hours to get to DisneyWorld, and I enjoy every minute of it.
posted by mikelieman at 8:42 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, and the plastic explosives we need the pornoscanners for? It's useless without the detonators which the metal detector finds just fine.
posted by mikelieman at 8:43 AM on March 7, 2012


The TSA bought those scanners as a corporate gift.
It was a boondoggle - not a safety program.
posted by Flood at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2012


It seems a bit overwrought to complain about being "forced" to expose yourself to radiation from these machines as a precondition to flying

Personally, I have no problem with the backscatter scanners. I've never been through one and I fly routinely, always opting for the intimate pat-down. The last one I had in LA was like a complimentary massage from an ex-military guy with some serious hand-strength. He was nice enough and I certainly didn't feel any more violated than on the Tube at rush-hour, or in the packed pit area of a concert.

The fact that Europe has banned the scanners, and America uses them despire health concerns goes to the European sensibility, "you can do it if it's legal", where as the American sensibility is "you can do it if it's not illegal." America will use them until they're proven dangerous. Europeans will not use them until they're proven safe.

As long as they offer the opt-out, I don't think they're forced on anyone -- not at an airport I have seen.
posted by nickrussell at 8:46 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems a bit overwrought to complain about being "forced" to expose yourself to radiation from these machines as a precondition to flying when the act of flying itself exposes you to a much, much larger increase in the level of radiation of exposure.

Assuming the machines are properly programmed, installed, maintained, calibrated and operated, which, I think is one whopper of an assumption.
posted by mikelieman at 8:46 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


If it's the airlines, then, guess what--ticket charges are going up.
I believe that's Talez's point--bury the cost in taxes, folks will roll with it; show the passengers the true cost of these theatrics, and the passengers will start advocating for change.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:48 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


letting private firms control airport security?

Airport security was privatized, in that it was done by the airports themselves, which tend to be either private companies, or public/private partnerships where the private side handles day-to-day management, in the pre-TSA world. It actually worked quite well.

There was no reason to federalize airport security in the first place -- it was all post-9/11 ineffective scaremongering -- so it makes a certain amount of sense to return to the way things were.

The problem with airport security in general is that the correct action to take immediately after 9/11 -- do absolutely nothing, because what happened on 9/11 couldn't happen again, starting at about 9:30AM that morning -- was politically impossible at the time. Something had to be done, creating the TSA was something, therefore the TSA had to be created.

Now that we've had time to think things over, it doesn't seem unreasonable to roll back to what we had before. Having a Federalized, overtly militarized presence in every airport isn't necessarily a good thing, and privatization with adequate oversight seems like it might be worth discussing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:50 AM on March 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is the thing that really annoys me: as a young male, I understand that people who aren't me may have stronger and more sensitive feelings about the TSA pat down. Both times I had to do it, I can assure you that the only person who was more annoyed about having to briefly run a gloved hand near my buttocks was the guy who was being paid seven dollars an hour to do it. It sucks. It's invasive. It's unnecessary. It's not "being sexually violated," you whiny, over-privileged asshat. You are why no one listens to the serious people.
It's "overprivalaged" to not want people to touch your genitals now? My impression was that the people who were most sensitive to it were the ones who had actually been victims of sexual assault in the past, not "young males", because how is it that you can say you're somehow less privileged then a woman who's actually been the victim of sexual abuse?
posted by delmoi at 8:56 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Airport security was privatized, in that it was done by the airports themselves, which tend to be either private companies, or public/private partnerships where the private side handles day-to-day management, in the pre-TSA world. It actually worked quite well.

I wonder how many other topics there are which could generate a Metafilter thread where the prevailing sentiment would be for privatizing (and, no doubt, union-busting) a job performed by government workers. Not many, I imagine.
posted by yoink at 9:02 AM on March 7, 2012


Body cavities, people, body cavities.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:02 AM on March 7, 2012


I'm sorry, I haven't been following this that closely from the get-go, but why are we calling it a pornoscanner when its actual name seems to be RAPISCANNER????
posted by teekat at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look folks, TSA hasn't found shit. It hasn't foiled one attempt in the millions and millions of searches and scans it's done. Who still believes it has any impact whatsoever on our security? There is serious denial going on in those folks who believe all of this theater is making us safer.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's "overprivalaged" to not want people to touch your genitals now? My impression was that the people who were most sensitive to it were the ones who had actually been victims of sexual assault in the past, not "young males", because how is it that you can say you're somehow less privileged then a woman who's actually been the victim of sexual abuse?

That is why he specifies that he is a young male talking about another young male. You know, because he's specifically not talking about the "people who aren't me" who "may have stronger and more sensitive feelings about the TSA pat down."

Which pretty much makes your entire comment beside the point.
posted by yoink at 9:07 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


why are we calling it a pornoscanner when its actual name seems to be RAPISCANNER????

Yes, I am sure the CEO is aware of this and wrote a memo:

"Dear Marketing, upon further reflection, I now really do think we should have left that "d" in there."
posted by nickrussell at 9:08 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the point is to get the cost of pointless security theatre off the public purse. It's easy to demand billions be spent on airport security when only 20% of the cost of it is being built into the price of your ticket.

Privatizing it doesn't remotely do that, though. It just puts the public purse in the hands of private parties with less oversight.

Truth is, it was the private sector's influence (in the form of security firm lobbyists) that got these damn scanners and much of this security theater installed in the first place. Just giving them the whole hog, now that they've already nibbled up as much as they could at the edges, isn't going to improve the situation. Not in the slightest.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:09 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Look folks, TSA hasn't found shit. It hasn't foiled one attempt in the millions and millions of searches and scans it's done. Who still believes it has any impact whatsoever on our security?

The point of the TSA's security protocols is not to "catch" attacks, it is to deter attacks. There are legitimate criticisms to make of the TSA, but this is not one of them. It's like saying that the spiked wall you built around your estate is clearly ineffective because you don't find any bodies impaled on the spikes. Or, less colorfully, it's like saying that those reflective arrow signs they put up on tight curves on certain roads are obviously a waste of money if cars stop overshooting the curve after you put them up.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Now that we've had time to think things over, it doesn't seem unreasonable to roll back to what we had before. Having a Federalized, overtly militarized presence in every airport isn't necessarily a good thing, and privatization with adequate oversight seems like it might be worth discussing.

That's not how it would happen now, though, and you know it. Politically, no one is going to say there should be no public spending on airport security in the after-math of 9/11. So what will happen now if there's privatization is that the costs will still be paid by the public, but private contractors will be hired to do the actual security theater. Privatization now that there are so many public dollars in the mix would just be an even higher-degree of boondoggle.

If by privatization you mean take the public dollars out completely and make airports solely responsible for their own security again, then sure, that might work. But that's not how privatization is likely to be done here, now that there's public money in the game and armies of lobbyists with their eyes on the prize.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:15 AM on March 7, 2012


Indeed, the website politifact confirms that "as little as three minutes of air travel produces the equivalent amount of radiation as one TSA body scan."

In other words, science does not support the validity of this complaint.


The question with all radiation exposure, though, is what benefit am I getting for it. For example:

--Medical or dental x-ray: better diagnosis. Totally worth it.

--Extra radiation from altitude associated with passenger air travel: arrive more quickly and safely at distant destination. Worth it.

--Nude-o-scope: none, as they are ineffective, and negative once you include the privacy aspects. End this now, please.

So it's not that the plane ride gets you more radiation exposure than the security line, it's that the security line gets you more unnecessary exposure.
posted by stevis23 at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


That is why he specifies that he is a young male talking about another young male. You know, because he's specifically not talking about the "people who aren't me" who "may have stronger and more sensitive feelings about the TSA pat down."

Sooo... what is he talking about again? Because if he, a young white male, thinks that the pat downs are barely an inconvenience, and he presumably thinks other young white males who object to the pat downs are "whiny, over-privileged asshat[s]" and should shut up about it, where does that leave, you know, "people who aren't [him]"? Which, by the way, presumably includes young white men who may have a history of abuse.

As a queer woman with a history of abuse, I'm actually rather tired of having to be the one who speaks up about things that bother me but don't necessarily bother young white men. Especially when those things are the right to travel without being put through a potentially harmful and definitely dehumanizing scanner or being subjected to a potentially invasive and definitely triggering pat down.
posted by lydhre at 9:18 AM on March 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Therac-25 was supposed to be unable to deliver a fatal dose of radiation too.
posted by dibblda at 9:22 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Eh, the main issue I have with the TSA is I feel like they're locking the barn door after all the animals have gotten out. I mean, seriously - hijacking an airplane is so last decade, and they've already done the most effective thing they could have done: they put a lock on the pilot's door. Easy and effective.

Scanners, X-Rays and pat downs? Economic stimulus masquerading as security theater.
posted by Mooski at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point of the TSA's security protocols is not to "catch" attacks, it is to deter attacks. There are legitimate criticisms to make of the TSA, but this is not one of them. It's like saying that the spiked wall you built around your estate is clearly ineffective because you don't find any bodies impaled on the spikes. Or, less colorfully, it's like saying that those reflective arrow signs they put up on tight curves on certain roads are obviously a waste of money if cars stop overshooting the curve after you put them up.

What proof is there that the TSA has even deterred attacks? Or has the government also underinvested in tiger-warding rocks?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know where the TSA is extra nuts? Sky Harbor Airport. Those beuracrats probably take their lunch break in the body scanners just for fun.
posted by quadog at 9:39 AM on March 7, 2012


I'd like to point out a little clip by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame. He occasionally leaves things from work in his pockets by accident. Sometimes he forgets to check his pockets before going to the airport. Some of these things should NOT go on planes.
posted by Canageek at 9:43 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get to fly much anymore, but I'm considering a trip to Hawaii later on this year. My question is this: can I get a cute woman to do my pat down?, or do I have to let a guy do it? I'm not homophobic, but I am going on a vacation, and I'd like to have a good time.

Last time I flew, it was to see my son in Denver, and I had to let this guy sniff my shoes, which I thought was sort of creepy.

Please get back to on this before July.
posted by mule98J at 9:46 AM on March 7, 2012


What proof is there that the TSA has even deterred attacks? Or has the government also underinvested in tiger-warding rocks?

Gosh, what an amazingly original and never-before-heard joke.

Look, there can be no successful deterrent program that is not vulnerable to this criticism. If you successfully deter attacks then the attacks won't occur. Endlessly repeating the joke about the rock that wards off tigers or the newspapers that keep away the elephants doesn't actually challenge the logic of deterrence. The issue is "how much of a threat to tigers realistically pose." Obviously if you're holding your magic rock in the middle of Times Square, then the magic rock is not what is keeping you safe from tiger attack. If you're holding your magic rock in the middle of San Francisco zoo's tiger enclosure and the tigers are leaving you alone then it's a pretty good bet that your magic rock is actually magic.

So the interesting and relevant question is whether, with respect to terrorists, we're like the man in Times Square or the man in the middle of San Francisco Zoo's tiger enclosure with respect to tigers. That question is not answered in any way at all by pointing out that the TSA has not caught any terrorists in the act.
posted by yoink at 9:47 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Look, there can be no successful deterrent program that is not vulnerable to this criticism.

Nope. We can examine car accident injuries and fatalities before and after seat belt and airbag mandates, and so on. We can examine how terrorists seeking to hurt people in the US have changed their plans and tactics before and after the existence of the TSA.

The issue is "how much of a threat to tigers realistically pose."

In the US? About the same as terrorists on airplanes.

That question is not answered in any way at all by pointing out that the TSA has not caught any terrorists in the act.

But my point wasn't about the TSA capturing terrorists. It was about the failure of the TSA's proponents to show that the TSA has been any more effective at deterring terrorists than the previous security regime.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:54 AM on March 7, 2012


There are serious concerns that all the radiation form the TSA scanners concentrates in the skin, while the radiation from flying, an xrays, etc. disperse throughout the body.

Do you realize that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime and one dies of melanoma every hour?

Imho, you should all insist upon being groped instead of irradiated when confronting the TSA.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:00 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is my understanding that the number of skyjackings has declined since the institution of this "security theater". Assuming this is correct is this a valid way to quantify the impact of these measures? Also is the underlying data correct.
posted by humanfont at 10:01 AM on March 7, 2012


Sooo... what is he talking about again? Because if he, a young white male, thinks that the pat downs are barely an inconvenience, and he presumably thinks other young white males who object to the pat downs are "whiny, over-privileged asshat[s]" and should shut up about it, where does that leave, you know, "people who aren't [him]"? Which, by the way, presumably includes young white men who may have a history of abuse.

I'm really sorry more than one person has now taken a single earlier response to my first comment and decided, quite incorrectly, that without question I was saying that "pat downs are barely an inconvenience" and you "should shut up about it" because they feel those are words that are better for their argument that ones I actually wrote.

It's actually pretty disheartening, in the sense that this entire issue is about the result of unthinking, simplistic conclusions, and responses like this are the likewise result of taking the narrowest interpretation of a comment possible. I imagine we'll accomplish as much about the matter with this tone as this blogger will at this point.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:01 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


We can examine car accident injuries and fatalities before and after seat belt and airbag mandates,

A deterred terrorist attack is nothing like a survived car accident. It's not as if there are thousands of "let's blow up a plane" meetings every year that get right to the verge of implementation before someone says "wait--they don't still have those scanner thingies do they? Oh, drat."

In the US? About the same as terrorists on airplanes.

Yes, you've already made this claim when you trotted out the oh-so-tired tiger joke. My entire point, however, was that you're just assuming your conclusion. Restating your conclusion doesn't further the argument. Would you care to show me your evidence that terrorists seeking to get bombs onto planes is a negligible threat and that removing the current security apparatus would lead to no increase in such attacks?

And no, "well, how many attacks have there been since 9/11" is not evidence for your position.
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


We can't tell if the theatre is causing the reduced hijackings. The door lock and the idea that passengers will no longer be passive has pretty much put an end to the idea IMO but there are many factors. There have still been bombing attempts, but we all know there are easier and more effective places to bomb than planes.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm always so grateful when someone broadcasts a method for defeating a safety valve of any kind.
posted by jefficator at 10:11 AM on March 7, 2012


It's not "being sexually violated," you whiny, over-privileged asshat. You are why no one listens to the serious people.

When we are talking about nude photos or groping, I think we can allow people to set their own standards about what they feel those things constitute. You may think this guy is just an asshat, but you don't know his past. Maybe there is abuse there. Maybe he just has a gut feeling it's wrong, I know I do. Assault, maybe not, but I can see how you can get there even without having your own past.

In the end though, I do know that if someone is telling you they feel sexually assaulted you should try and err on the side of taking their word on it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:13 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


mikelieman: "Assuming the machines are properly programmed, installed, maintained, calibrated and operated, which, I think is one whopper of an assumption."

dibblda: "Therac-25 was supposed to be unable to deliver a fatal dose of radiation too."

A few things here: Firstly, the I'm going to presume that the backscatter x-ray machines presumably don't contain a beta emitter powerful enough to cause serious harm, even if you tried. The amount of radiation delivered in a normal dose is at least two orders of magnitude less than the safe exposure limit, and several orders of magnitude less than what you'd need to do to cause any serious harm.

It's incorrect to assume that any device capable of emitting x-rays can be turned into a death ray. I don't know the specifics, but it seems really unlikely that they'd put a strong radiation source in any of these machines; there's absolutely no reason for it.

Secondly, we learned lessons from the Therac-25 (which was a machine that was explicitly designed to be able to deliver very high doses of radiation), and all radiation-emitting devices now require multiple hardware interlockings and independent alarm systems that should prevent a software or hardware glitch from delivering an unsafe dose of radiation. The TSA requires that these safety systems be checked and inspected by a certified third-party.

Finally, millimeter-wave scanners produce better images, and do not emit any ionizing radiation. We should be using those instead.

Simply put, there are legitimate points to be made in this argument, but I seriously don't think that radiation is one of them.
posted by schmod at 10:14 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are legitimate criticisms to make of the TSA, but this is not one of them. It's like saying that the spiked wall you built around your estate is clearly ineffective because you don't find any bodies impaled on the spikes. Or, less colorfully, it's like saying that those reflective arrow signs they put up on tight curves on certain roads are obviously a waste of money if cars stop overshooting the curve after you put them up.

This totally mischaracterizes how TSA screening is supposed to work. The idea is that if someone tries to sneak something dandgerous on board. The premise is that there are terrorists out there who would dearly love to do so and that this will detect their attempts. They failed to detect the two incidents we've had since they were put in place. No incidents have originated within the US, and we have ample evidence that they are easy to defeat. None of these factor into the two very poor analogies you made.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:17 AM on March 7, 2012


Plus, need I say again, body cavities.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:17 AM on March 7, 2012


The sad and scary thing is, the next time an attack defeats the TSA's ridiculous security theater, they'll crack down twice as hard.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:19 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, you've already made this claim when you trotted out the oh-so-tired tiger joke. My entire point, however, was that you're just assuming your conclusion. Restating your conclusion doesn't further the argument. Would you care to show me your evidence that terrorists seeking to get bombs onto planes is a negligible threat and that removing the current security apparatus would lead to no increase in such attacks?

Why do you care that the tiger joke is "tired"? It's only tired because it has to be so often broken out. Imagine if you had kept rolling over children in combines, and people told you to stop doing that because it was stupid and cruel, but then you respond by simply sneering, "OH, STUPID AND CRUEL? LIKE I'VE NEVER HEARD THAT BEFORE." Repetition is not fallacious.

And yes, terrorists sneaking bombs onto airplanes is a relatively negligible threat which had been handled well enough before the TSA rolled around. It's just not a common occurrence at all, especially not with Al Qaeda as an even more defanged organization/idea than it ever was. You just don't see this deployment of resources and security theater for much, much, much more common occurrences.

If you would like to argue that they are more than a negligible threat, and that the TSA has improved the safety regime of the US, then by all means make that case, or be happy with those claims being unsupported.

And no, "well, how many attacks have there been since 9/11" is not evidence for your position.

So, rarity of plans and attacks is not evidence for the rarity of plans and attacks? What? Play devil's advocate for me for a sec: what would you consider to be valid evidence to present, since evidence of these plans' and attacks' rarity is apparently not acceptable?

It's easy to fall into the trap of treating the catastrophe as the normal - that since 9/11 happened, that 9/11s must frequently be on the edge of happening - but this is unmoored from reality. The problem is, once you start ramping up the security theater, it's almost impossible to ramp them down, because someone will always perceive a realistic, effective, and, yes, more limited security plan with one that is weaker.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:27 AM on March 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


This totally mischaracterizes how TSA screening is supposed to work. The idea is that if someone tries to sneak something dandgerous on board. The premise is that there are terrorists out there who would dearly love to do so and that this will detect their attempts.

Yeah--that's why the screenings are kept secret--because they're hoping they can lure terrorists into coming to the airport so they can catch them!

Sorry, no. They make as much of a song-and-dance about their security measures precisely because they're hoping that people will simply abandon plans to bring bombs onto planes. They know perfectly well that the vast majority of suspicious items that they find will be innocent mistakes. That's part of the reason that people going on about false negatives (the knife you forgot in your backpack that the screeners missed) are utterly missing the point. The point of the machine is to make you think "eh, shoving a knife in my backpack probably won't work"--not to ensure that no knives ever make it through screening.

we all know there are easier and more effective places to bomb than planes

This is true to a point, but we also know that blowing up a plane is the "gold standard" for terrorist nutjobs. For whatever reason, planes attract bombers in a way that your local supermarket or movie theater doesn't. (Here's a fairly comprehensive history of airline bombings--you can see the pretty dramatic fall-off that occurs when airport security screening becomes ubiquitous around the world.) To some extent, of course, this is a game-theory problem from hell: we've made "blowing up an airplane" a terrorist trophy precisely because we've worked hardest at preventing people from blowing up airplanes--by blowing up an airplane you send a signal that you've defeated the might of the government's security apparatus, whereas by blowing up a bus you've just proven that you can walk onto a bus. But the history of bombings on commercial flights in the days before large scale airline security systems also shows that there is simply something symbolically resonant about planes that attracts attack.
posted by yoink at 10:29 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


They failed to detect the two incidents we've had since they were put in place. No incidents have originated within the US, and we have ample evidence that they are easy to defeat.

This is it exactly. All the stunts that show how ineffective the TSA is are pretty good proof that there are no terrorists in the USA who see airplanes as a high-priority target. If they did, they could have blown one up by now.

But 9/11 wasn't about killing 100 people on an airplane. There are literally millions of more dramatic, traumatic, vulnerable targets in the USA than an airplane. Lots of targets that would kill lots more people or that would make more of a dramatic political statement than downing an airplane.

The TSA is like responding to 9/11 with a federal ban on box cutters.
posted by straight at 10:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I encountered my first scanner recently and opted for the pat down. It was a pain to wait for a female agent. I wish everyone would ask for one and slow things down to a crawl. The woman was very nice and explained what she was going to do and how she was going to touch me but she did whisper to me that the scanner was safe and didn't emit much radiation.

Last week I had a meeting with an airline client and had to go through security. The airline employee that accompanied me went through security and was allowed to go through the metal detector. I was supposed to go through the scanner and opted, once again, for the pat down. It was a little awkward and I think the client might have thought I was an ass.

I'm going to continue to choose the pat down but I will have to allow more time at the airport since I'm usually rushing to be on time.

I do think my name is being added to some list somewhere.
posted by shoesietart at 10:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is true to a point, but we also know that blowing up a plane is the "gold standard" for terrorist nutjobs. For whatever reason, planes attract bombers in a way that your local supermarket or movie theater doesn't. (Here's a fairly comprehensive history of airline bombings--you can see the pretty dramatic fall-off that occurs when airport security screening becomes ubiquitous around the world.)

The fall-off happens around 1990, 12 years before the TSA existed.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:33 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, rarity of plans and attacks is not evidence for the rarity of plans and attacks?

Good lord. I hope you're only pretending to be incapable of understanding the point.

Rarity of plans and attacks is great evidence of the rarity of plans and attacks. What it is not in any way evidence for is that those plans and attacks would be just as rare in the absence of the security systems that are currently in place. It does not prove that the plans and attacks are rare because no one has any interest in carrying out such plans. In other words both the "there aren't really any terrorists" hypothesis and the "comprehensive security deters attacks" hypothesis would predict exactly the same thing: a relative paucity of plans that proceed far enough to leave any record and a relative paucity of actual attempts.

The fact that no one has made a serious attempt to assassinate President Obama in the last four years does no prove that the Secret Service security is a waste of time. The fact that no one has broken into the vault at your local bank in the last few years doesn't prove that leaving the money in a pile in the middle of the lobby would be secure. The fact that you haven't spun out on slick roads in your shiny new car doesn't prove that the automatic traction control system installed in it is a waste of money etc. etc. etc.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


they'll crack down twice as hard

At this point I think that's actually the only way to move forward. People need to keep defeating the "security" and making them ratchet it up, until it's completely impossible to travel by air. It's only when the TSA is seriously at risk of destroying the airline industry that there will be enough opposition, from the right sort of deep-pocketed interests, to make a difference.

What I'd love to see is someone performing some sort of security breach via General Aviation, so that even the rich fuckers traveling by corporate jet have to go through the pornoscanners and pat-downs. The fact that the wealthy and elite political classes don't have to pass through the TSA checkpoints with the rest of us is probably one large reason for their entrenchment.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:37 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Look, if terrorists really wanted to disrupt airline travel by only killing in the hundreds, they would detonate a suicide vest in the huge pile-up of people conveniently assembled for them by the TSA at the security checkpoint. The place to prevent terrorism is well before any perpetrator gets dropped off on the departure level. Any money invested in the TSA is an opportunity lost to invest in real police work.

The TSA has proven that they cannot do the job they set out to do and that they bring misery to many travelers. As Stitcherbeast points out, the needed improvements to passenger screening predate them. The MO from 9/11 lost viability in a field in Pennsylvania that very morning. We'd be just as safe if we reverted to the pre-TSA standards for screening (keeping the better cockpit door security, natch.)
posted by stevis23 at 10:40 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


The fall-off happens around 1990, 12 years before the TSA existed.

Yeah, sure. So? The vast majority of what the TSA does is what was already being done before it was created.

If your point is "taking your shoes off for the scanner probably doesn't represent a significant increase in total security" I'm right there with you. But apart from the shoes, the laptop and the baggie-o-liquids, none of which strike me as more than minor irritations at best, the experience of passing the security checkpoint post-TSA is pretty much the same as it was pre-TSA.
posted by yoink at 10:43 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good lord. I hope you're only pretending to be incapable of understanding the point.

This attitude is inappropriate.

What it is not in any way evidence for is that those plans and attacks would be just as rare in the absence of the security systems that are currently in place.

Rarity of plans and attacks both before and after the TSA's existence would go pretty far here. Examining the nature of the plans which went further, or the nature of the attacks which happened outside of the TSA's jurisdiction, would also be of help here.

For example, the Nigerian underwear bomber simply found a way to get into the US without going through a TSA patdown, if he had even been avoiding such a patdown, and he also was able to fly just fine to American despite being on the much-vaunted terrorist watch list. So, on one aspect, he found a way around the system, and he was also able to get through because the system failed to prevent his entry. Not only was he able to enter the US from a mechanical standpoint, he was utterly undeterred from a fear standpoint.

It does not prove that the plans and attacks are rare because no one has any interest in carrying out such plans. In other words both the "there aren't really any terrorists" hypothesis and the "comprehensive security deters attacks" hypothesis would predict exactly the same thing: a relative paucity of plans that proceed far enough to leave any record and a relative paucity of actual attempts.

And these attempts paucity look so equal before and after the TSA's formation!

The fact that no one has made a serious attempt to assassinate President Obama in the last four years does no prove that the Secret Service security is a waste of time.

Dissimilar. The Secret Service, as it applies to the President, does not have an onerous effect on our lives and does not cost an extreme amount of money for the amount of utility it provides.

The fact that no one has broken into the vault at your local bank in the last few years doesn't prove that leaving the money in a pile in the middle of the lobby would be secure.

This is an especially poor straw man.

The fact that you haven't spun out on slick roads in your shiny new car doesn't prove that the automatic traction control system installed in it is a waste of money etc. etc. etc.

There are actually numerous tests which go into deciding which safety measures are installed into cars.

posted by Sticherbeast at 10:45 AM on March 7, 2012


Look, if terrorists really wanted to disrupt airline travel by only killing in the hundreds, they would detonate a suicide vest in the huge pile-up of people conveniently assembled for them by the TSA at the security checkpoint.

And, again, if it were true that terrorists simply measured success in terms of the numbers of people killed planes would not ever have become favorite targets. Clearly there is a symbolic value to blowing up a plane that is incommensurate with the number of people killed. Long before airline security became systematic planes were a disproportionate target for terrorist (and other) bombing. The public reacts far more strongly to plane fatalities than it does to equivalent terrestrial fatalities, whether from terrorism or from accidents. That is why people have a wholly disproportionate sense of the risk of air travel relative to road travel. Terrorists understand that symbolic power (because terrorism is a wholly symbolic tactic) just as well as everyone else.
posted by yoink at 10:47 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


But apart from the shoes, the laptop and the baggie-o-liquids, none of which strike me as more than minor irritations at best, the experience of passing the security checkpoint post-TSA is pretty much the same as it was pre-TSA.

I have an insulin pump. It's delicate electronics; can't be irradiated. I have to choose the grope in every single airport that has an nude-o-scope installed. (Well, the mm-wave scanner should be fine, but I listen to the manufacturer that honors the warranty when they tell me to not go through that either.)

The experience is significantly worse on my end. Glad you don't mind disassembling half your luggage and going barefoot, though.
posted by stevis23 at 10:48 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, sure. So? The vast majority of what the TSA does is what was already being done before it was created.

This would show that the TSA adopted what had already been working. It does not illustrate that the TSA has introduced any helpful innovations beyond that.

If your point is "taking your shoes off for the scanner probably doesn't represent a significant increase in total security" I'm right there with you. But apart from the shoes, the laptop and the baggie-o-liquids, none of which strike me as more than minor irritations at best, the experience of passing the security checkpoint post-TSA is pretty much the same as it was pre-TSA.

I agree that the TSA has not introduced anything particularly new, helpful, or effective to air travel. What worked before was fine. I don't know if the TSA had been behind the decision to lock the cabin doors, but if they were, then that was their one good innovation.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:49 AM on March 7, 2012


(because terrorism is a wholly symbolic tactic)

The TSA is a wholly symbolic response. Wait...now I get it.
posted by stevis23 at 10:49 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that no one has made a serious attempt to assassinate President Obama in the last four years does no prove that the Secret Service security is a waste of time.

Except for the guy who shot through the windows of the White House last year, you mean. Or the several people who have made credible assassination attempts on previous presidents.


This is true to a point, but we also know that blowing up a plane is the "gold standard" for terrorist nutjobs. For whatever reason, planes attract bombers in a way that your local supermarket or movie theater doesn't.
Clearly there is a symbolic value to blowing up a plane that is incommensurate with the number of people killed. Long before airline security became systematic planes were a disproportionate target for terrorist (and other) bombing.


And yet, in Israel, where airport security is highly effective, terrorist nutjobs have settled for blowing up food markets and entertainment venues with great regularity during times of high terrorist activity.

The public reacts far more strongly to plane fatalities than it does to equivalent terrestrial fatalities, whether from terrorism or from accidents.

Well, you certainly seem to be reacting very strongly to the threat of plane fatalities. The public reacts strongly on a variety of issues; there was a strong public reaction that Obama was a secret Kenyan Muslim. Should that drive policy?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:52 AM on March 7, 2012


For example, the Nigerian underwear bomber simply found a way to get into the US without going through a TSA patdown, if he had even been avoiding such a patdown, and he also was able to fly just fine to American despite being on the much-vaunted terrorist watch list. So, on one aspect, he found a way around the system, and he was also able to get through because the system failed to prevent his entry. Not only was he able to enter the US from a mechanical standpoint, he was utterly undeterred from a fear standpoint.

Pointing to someone who did not go through TSA security as evidence of the inadequacy of TSA security is a pretty bizarre argument.

But let's consider the underpant bomber for a moment.
A) had he had to go through a backscatter scanner or a millimeter-wave scanner, he would almost certainly have been caught. That hardly seems evidence of their inutility.
B) Had he known that he had to go through such a scanner, he would, presumably, have aborted the plan and we would never have found out about that aborted plan. That is a good example of the kind of "invisible deterrence" I'm talking about.
C) He is good proof of the deterrence effect of known security measures in operation. The only reason he tried to stuff explosives into his underwear is because he feared they would be detected if he put them in his carry on luggage. Had he not had to worry about having his bag scanned he would have been easily able to bring a far more effective explosive device on board and would almost certainly have succeeded in his attempt.

The underpant bomber seems very clearly to be an argument in favor of airport security, not against it.
posted by yoink at 10:56 AM on March 7, 2012


Terrorists understand that symbolic power (because terrorism is a wholly symbolic tactic) just as well as everyone else.

They are idiots. Blow up a high school football game in Texas instead. Easier, potential for more death, will provoke massive panic reaction.

Here's the thing though, I don't think Al Qaeda thought purely in terms of symbolism. On 9/11 the targets they chose were the Pentagon, the White House or Capitol, and the Pentagon. They wanted to physically decapitate the leadership of the US, the economy of the US, and the military of the US. It was a practical military attack and most Al Qaeda attacks before and since have been against military or government targets.

I think they avoid planes now because they don't serve any practical purpose when they can't be used as weapons and because most of the people who came up with these strategies were hunted down and killed.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


*and the WTC.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:58 AM on March 7, 2012


they would detonate a suicide vest in the huge pile-up of people conveniently assembled for them by the TSA at the security checkpoint

Wouldn't even need to be a suicide bomb; it could easily be a conventional command-detonated bomb placed into one of the many handy trash containers left in the security-line areas for our nail clippers, pocket knives, cigarette lighters, and other dangerous contraband. You could easily put five pounds of PETN and a lot of shrapnel into a fast food bag and toss it in a trash can, then proceed through the security line, onto a flight, and be long gone before it went off. (You could sort of mitigate this with a reinforced trash can, like those used in many subway systems, but those can be defeated by detonating the bomb when it's moved suddenly, i.e. when the trash can is being emptied.)

This strikes me as a pretty likely scenario as, in talking to some people who actually deal with real terrorists (mostly in Israel) as opposed to the TSA's hypothetical ones, apparently it's quite difficult to recruit suicide bombers who won't back out at the last minute, and are mentally competent enough to handle the job.* If you can require a suicide bomber in order to successfully execute an attack, you have just made the task an order of magnitude harder for a would-be terrorist; if you can do it with a drop-off bomb, it's a lot easier.

The TSA checkpoints, insofar as they create a chokepoint and a large gathering of people in a small space, may have actually made passengers less safer, since they are suddenly vulnerable to threats that don't require a suicide bomber.

* The reality of suicide bombings (at least in Israel) is quite sad; a good number of 'bombers' are depressed teens, who aren't even given control of the bomb they're wearing. They're walked to the target by a non-suicidal handler, who keeps them from backing out, then walks away from them and blows them up by cellphone. There isn't a large talent pool of would-be suicide bombers, and the terrorist groups don't waste much in the way of training resources on them. 9/11-style sleeper agents are the exception, not the rule; they're like the Delta Force of terrorists and there aren't many of them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except for the guy who shot through the windows of the White House last year, you mean. Or the several people who have made credible assassination attempts on previous presidents.

No, someone who randomly shot at a window of the White House was not making a "serious assassination attempt." Please note the word "serious" in my comment. And the existence of prior assassination attempts on Presidents is exactly parallel to the existence of prior terrorist attacks on planes.
posted by yoink at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2012


Schmod, there were failures of safety protocols and dosage calibrations as recently as 2009. Medical machines are run by highly trained competent staff. The machines also are used for legitimately life threatening situations.

I admittedly don't know how the back scatter machines generate x-rays but if it involves a connection to a high voltage source, computer control of power, focusing, and calibration, then it really isn't worth it. There are less invasive ways to get the same information that have a proven safety record.
posted by dibblda at 11:03 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pointing to someone who did not go through TSA security as evidence of the inadequacy of TSA security is a pretty bizarre argument.

Not bizarre at all. He (or his handler) found a trivially easy way to get into an American airplane, without going through the TSA security theater.

That he went outside the TSA is not a point in the TSA's favor. Thinking so would be Maginot Line thinking. Remember, the Maginot Line itself wasn't defective, with regard to what it was planned to do. It was just trivially overridden by people who had other plans.

But let's consider the underpant bomber for a moment.
A) had he had to go through a backscatter scanner or a millimeter-wave scanner, he would almost certainly have been caught. That hardly seems evidence of their inutility.


He could have opted for a patdown, for the evasion of which plastic explosives are almost ideal.

B) Had he known that he had to go through such a scanner, he would, presumably, have aborted the plan and we would never have found out about that aborted plan. That is a good example of the kind of "invisible deterrence" I'm talking about.

See above. Also, the fact that he did it anyway is not the best example of invisible deterrence.

C) He is good proof of the deterrence effect of known security measures in operation. The only reason he tried to stuff explosives into his underwear is because he feared they would be detected if he put them in his carry on luggage. Had he not had to worry about having his bag scanned he would have been easily able to bring a far more effective explosive device on board and would almost certainly have succeeded in his attempt.

Bags were scanned a long time before the TSA rolled around.

The underpant bomber seems very clearly to be an argument in favor of airport security, not against it.

The TSA is not equivalent to airport security in general.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:05 AM on March 7, 2012


Here's the thing though, I don't think Al Qaeda thought purely in terms of symbolism. On 9/11 the targets they chose were the Pentagon, the White House or Capitol, and the Pentagon. They wanted to physically decapitate the leadership of the US, the economy of the US, and the military of the US. It was a practical military attack and most Al Qaeda attacks before and since have been against military or government targets.

Only a child would think that running a plane into the Pentagon would "decapitate the US military" or that running a plane into the WTC would "decapitate the economy of the US." Heck, they didn't even have any reason to believe that the planes that hit the WTC would bring those buildings down.

We're not talking about some bunch of isolated, uneducated simpletons who couldn't even manage to Google the WTC to find out that it wasn't, actually, the world headquarters of "World Trade." They chose these targets because they were symbolic, sure--but in no way at all was this a "practical military attack."

The one possible partial exception to this is the plane that they possibly intended to fly into the White House. Do note that we do not know that the White House was the target, and that the Capitol seems a far easier target to crash a plane into. Still, it is conceivably that they actually hoped to get lucky and kill the President. They would have known perfectly well, though, that that would be a stroke of luck.
posted by yoink at 11:10 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


an American airplane

(sorry - America-bound airplane)
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:11 AM on March 7, 2012


He could have opted for a patdown, for the evasion of which plastic explosives are almost ideal.

And yet, when you first brought him up you were praising his cunning at avoiding the "TSA patdown."

Underpants full of plastic explosives are precisely the kind of thing the patdown is designed to find. It is absurd to think that the underpant bomber would have gone through with his plan if he had known that his alternatives were scanners or a patdown.
posted by yoink at 11:12 AM on March 7, 2012


And yet, when you first brought him up you were praising his cunning at avoiding the "TSA patdown."

Yep. I think he could have evaded detection through a patdown, just as I think that the plan to simply evade the patdown altogether was wilier.

Underpants full of plastic explosives are precisely the kind of thing the patdown is designed to find.

Designed to, but do they? It all depends. The TSA's use of the terrorist watch list was supposed to prevent people like him from flying, but that didn't work.

It is absurd to think that the underpant bomber would have gone through with his plan if he had known that his alternatives were scanners or a patdown.

But the point is that he still had other alternatives, no matter what the TSA did.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:16 AM on March 7, 2012


Truly a rational actor, that one.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:17 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


We can just agree to disagree if you think it's sufficient for TSA practices to be (supposedly) effective as a symbolic/deterrent gesture even though they have a (demonstrably) better than 50% failure rate when tested.

Pointing to someone who did not go through TSA security as evidence of the inadequacy of TSA security is a pretty bizarre argument.

Everyone goes through TSA security when they get into the airport. It just happens that the TSA chooses not to apply a consistent standard of security to everyone/thing that comes into the airport. I watched a (supposed) plain-clothes Marshall walk up to the out door in MIA last week, flash a badge, and walk through. That's TSA security. I may think it's BAD security policy, but TSA decided to set that level. If they're supposed to get credit for creating some sort of perception value then they need to get the blame for the areas where they choose to apply inadequate security as well.

Which is the issue I have with them in total, and which most sensible folks do. There may be folks claiming it should all be thrown out the window but most folks I speak to just want an effective system which sensibly weights the costs against the benefits and which has credibility when it makes those choices.

The TSA as it stands does not have that credibility. We're told these scanners are vitally important but not so much that staff isn't free to wave people through the fall-back metal detector when the line gets long - as has happened to me twice in the last few months. I didn't get a fall-back pat-down, I just went through while my wife was scanned and while hundreds of airport staffers were bused onto the ground without going through any security.
posted by phearlez at 11:20 AM on March 7, 2012


Again, body cavities. If there were hordes of terrorists just yearning to blow up an airplane, by this time at least one would have inserted plastic explosives into his or her rectum to get through security and attempted to detonate it on board. I'm not sure why anyone would think this would escape them as a ploy.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2012


dibblda: "Schmod, there were failures of safety protocols and dosage calibrations as recently as 2009. Medical machines are run by highly trained competent staff. The machines also are used for legitimately life threatening situations.

I admittedly don't know how the back scatter machines generate x-rays but if it involves a connection to a high voltage source, computer control of power, focusing, and calibration, then it really isn't worth it. There are less invasive ways to get the same information that have a proven safety record.
"

Those incidents resulted in chemotherapy patients receiving 50% more than their prescribed dosage.

Now, clearly this is bad, and I honestly don't know why these machines have no sort of confidence checking mechanism, where an operator can see the exact amount of radiation coming out of the machine, but I digress.

The Therac-25 incidents resulted in massive and completely insane doses of radiation being delivered to patients. However, because it's a highly specialized medical instrument, there wasn't necessarily anything wrong with the fact that the machine was capable of that sort of output. By definition, radiation therapy equipment needs to be able to produce hazardous and potentially lethal doses of radiation.

There was something wrong with the lack of hardware interlockings that didn't shut the machine off when the machine started putting out enough radiation to put a hole in the side of a building, but again, I digress. A 50% overdose is bad, but not even on the same level as what happened with the Therac-25 (where patients received at least a 10000% overdose).

Now, the backscatter machines don't produce anywhere nearly as much radiation as a chemotherapy machine, or even a traditional medical X-Ray. If one of the machines went haywire, and started dosing passengers with 100 times the normal dose, it would be bad, but still well within safe limits.

I'm also not sure that the Backscatter machines require very advanced control of their beta emitter. I'd wager a guess that each passenger receives the exact same dose, and that the number of parameters being controlled is far less than what one would encounter on sophisticated medical radiation therapy equipment; the machine has one purpose, and very few variables. You could also throw a fuse (or equivalent) in series with that high-voltage power source, and have some additional insurance against accidental overdoses, since the emitter should presumably never require enough power to deliver a hazardous dose.

I hate these things as much as everyone else, but I really don't think that extensive cynicism is necessary here.
posted by schmod at 11:37 AM on March 7, 2012


throw a fuse (or equivalent) in series with that high-voltage power source

.. and let 'er rip! Step right up folks!
posted by kuatto at 11:42 AM on March 7, 2012


Assuming the risk is not zero, is it still 'safe' if the statistical risk is doubled or tripled because the machines are unregulated, uncertified, unmaintained and operated by nitwits? How many more cases of cancer are we talking about if the sample size in the hundreds of thousands if not millions?

And how do you explain that it's 'safe' to the extra people who wouldn't have gotten sick otherwise?
posted by mikelieman at 11:43 AM on March 7, 2012


mikelieman: "Assuming the risk is not zero, is it still 'safe' if the statistical risk is doubled or tripled because the machines are unregulated, uncertified, unmaintained and operated by nitwits"

That's a faulty assumption. The machines are regulated and certified by an independent 3rd-party, and I believe that training, routine re-certifications, and maintenance are a part of those regulations.

If you have concerns with the government's ability to actually abide by this sort of regulation, you probably shouldn't be walking through the scanners, and definitely shouldn't be getting into the airplane on the other side. Probably best to avoid any bridges or overpasses on the way to the airport as well.
posted by schmod at 11:53 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you have concerns with the government's ability to actually abide by this sort of regulation, you probably shouldn't be walking through the scanners, and definitely shouldn't be getting into the airplane on the other side. Probably best to avoid any bridges or overpasses on the way to the airport as well.

"The government" isn't a monolithic entity, and outside of know-nothing ("gubmint") circles, I think most people understand that. I might trust the FDA to regulate the X-ray machine that's used down at the local hospital, while completely distrusting the TSA to self-regulate the pornoscanners used at a checkpoint.

Not all governmental regulatory bodies are created equal, and I think ignoring this borders on arguing in bad faith. It's entirely possible -- quite likely, in reality -- that one part of the government might be bought-and-paid-for by industry, corrupt to the hilt, while some other agency might be more or less going on and doing its job correctly.

If I saw what appeared to be a concerted effort by bridge manufacturers to get a previously-unheard-of and basically untested type of bridge installed all over the country without any oversight, safety trials, or transparent testing, I'd probably be wary of driving over them. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case, although I suppose we shouldn't say that too loud, lest the evil geniuses at L3 decide to go into the bridge business.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:11 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did you miss the part where I haven't gotten on a plane since 2000-01-01 and haven't missed it?

There's no scientific evidence that the new protocols are any more effective than the old, less intrusive ones at satisfying the EXEMPTION TO THE 4TH AMENDMENT permitted by the court, for the express reason of securing the airplane from DANGEROUS WEAPONS.

And since we're talking about an exemption to a guaranteed right for a specific purpose, it's the government's responsibility to use the least intrusive, provable measure which prevent dangerous weapons from getting onboard.

Stand there and let everyone stare at your tits for a moment ain't it.
posted by mikelieman at 12:21 PM on March 7, 2012


Here's the thing though, I don't think Al Qaeda thought purely in terms of symbolism. On 9/11 the targets they chose were the Pentagon, the White House or Capitol, and the Pentagon. They wanted to physically decapitate the leadership of the US, the economy of the US, and the military of the US. It was a practical military attack and most Al Qaeda attacks before and since have been against military or government targets.

I imagine they read a Tom Clancy novel or two. (I have to met I never slogged through those books to figure out what the motivation of the guy crashing into the Capitol was, though.)

I always assumed multiple targets were decent planning, not 'the plan', if that makes sense and that they got lucky.
posted by hoyland at 12:32 PM on March 7, 2012


Be glad you stopped there. It got freaky. Bad Freaky. You're just better off not knowing anything about it.
posted by mikelieman at 12:35 PM on March 7, 2012


...stopped reading there.
posted by mikelieman at 12:36 PM on March 7, 2012


Still, it is conceivably that they actually hoped to get lucky and kill the President.

Who wasn't there. It would be silly to assume the President is at home in the White House on any given day. Congress seems like a safer bet if you actually care about killing American leaders.

But for the terrorist purposes, blowing up the White House would get the exact same results whether the president is killed or not.
posted by straight at 1:10 PM on March 7, 2012


No, someone who randomly shot at a window of the White House was not making a "serious assassination attempt." Please note the word "serious" in my comment.

Arguably, someone trying to detonate less than 100 grams of homebrew PETN is not making a "serious" attempt to down an airliner. (Just the test.) So why are we talking about Captain Underpants or taking our shoes off? And don't get me started on the even less likely liquid bombers.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:36 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arguably, someone trying to detonate less than 100 grams of homebrew PETN is not making yt a "serious" attempt to down an airliner.

Even harder since even the old screening kept out the actual detonators which these high explosives require.
posted by mikelieman at 1:45 PM on March 7, 2012


Female Passengers Say They Were Targeted for TSA Body Scanners
posted by homunculus at 1:51 PM on March 7, 2012


What I'd love to see is someone performing some sort of security breach via General Aviation, so that even the rich fuckers traveling by corporate jet have to go through the pornoscanners and pat-downs. The fact that the wealthy and elite political classes don't have to pass through the TSA checkpoints with the rest of us is probably one large reason for their entrenchment.

The vast majority of users of GA users are not rich fuckers, so don't pick on us!
posted by amorphatist at 1:59 PM on March 7, 2012


Can't they just change the background to white?

What, do you think they're professionals or something?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:59 PM on March 7, 2012


Does The TSA Have A Breast Fixation?
posted by homunculus at 2:03 PM on March 7, 2012


Would you care to show me your evidence that terrorists seeking to get bombs onto planes is a negligible threat and that removing the current security apparatus would lead to no increase in such attacks?

I would argue that it's the burden of those in favor of spending billions of taxpayer dollars to prove that their expenditures have accomplished anything at all.

I CAN argue effectively that getting weapons on board isn't that hard, and that the fear of a liquid bomb are ridiculously overblown.

Further, I can point to the episode that started all this: 9/11. You'll recall that 2 things allowed that to happen:

1) Cockpit doors were easily opened.
2) Passengers believed that they would be safe if the acquiesced.

Neither of these is true any longer.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:32 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The TSA has responded to the video.
I watched the video and it is a crude attempt to allegedly show how to circumvent TSA screening procedures.
Notably absent from the response, in my opinion, is the phrase "this simply will not work." In fairness, since I do not trust the TSA and believe they have inadequate oversight, I wouldn't take such a statement at face value anyway. So perhaps saying it would have been pointless.
posted by phearlez at 2:42 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will just point out that there are strong allegations from security experts that the body scanning tech would not have detected the December 2009 underwear bomber.

Further, the US Government Accountability Office said as follows in this 2010 report:
“While officials said AITs (Advanced Imaging Technology devices) performed as well as physical pat down in operational tests, it remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident based on the preliminary information GAO has received”
The 2009 incident was the trigger and the justification for introducing body scans. I personally think it is beyond doubt that the body scanning technology was implemented on shaky grounds, and without sufficent justification or analysis.

There's plenty more to say against body scanners, and I frankly can't be bothered, so I shall leave it to my go-to-guy on air travel security, Bruce Schneier.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:28 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Notably absent from the response, in my opinion, is the phrase "this simply will not work."

That blog response is the epitome of the type of dysfunctional, condescending, insular and frankly just fucking stupid government America has. This is on the official TSA.GOV website, for fuck's sake. The people who take naked pictures of you and protect you from terrorists:
A video is making its way around the interwebs this morning from some guy claiming he figured out a way to beat our body scanners (imaging technology)
Wow, this guy must be really dumb. Just some dumb American, pointing out what he thought was a glaring defect in our important security state, but it's not actually a defect, is it, casual blog dude?
For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology's detection capability in detail...
But surely you can at least describe in general terms how your technology can detect objects hidden in the third dimension from the front/back two-dimensional images you take?
however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field. Imaging technology has been extremely effective in the field and has found things artfully concealed on passengers as large as a gun or nonmetallic weapons, on down to a tiny pill or tiny baggies of drugs. It’s one of the best tools available to detect metallic and non-metallic items, such as… you know… things that go BOOM.
Things that go BOOM? I thought on 9/11 the guys brought box-cutters, and it was the planes that went BOOM. So, no answer, actually? But the prose just drips with the assholely confidence you know, that dude, from high school
With all that said, it is one layer of our 20 layers of security (Behavior Detection, Explosives Detection Canines, Federal Air Marshals, , etc.) and is not a machine that has all the tools we need in one handy device. We’ve never claimed it’s the end all be all.
Since the video shows the entire process from him entering the airport to being cleared to the gate, that would just confirm that actually all 20 security layers (are they stacked?) failed

And then some non-sequitur reassurance about the safety of these non-functioning security devices: it will not detect metallic objects on the side of your body *or* give your cancer! There's *nothing* this hundred-thousand dollar scanner won't do!

This is why Americans hate their government, and can often can be convinced to try to dismantle it. Or as it used to be said on everything2, people like that blogger are the reason why monkeys throw their poop
posted by crayz at 3:42 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the TSA's 'Blogger Bob' persona is just a raging, condescending arsehole. He is universally despised - just look at the comments. I honestly don't know why they bother.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2012


For me, the security theatre makes it pointless to fly unless its an emergency. We're driving cross country this summer. It'll take 18 hours to drive where I want to go, and 10 if I fly, counting the time to drive to the airport 2 hours before the flight, go thru security, wait for plane delays, fly 4 hours, wait for luggage and hope.nothing was stolen, rent a car and drive the two hours to final destination. Seriously, at that point, it just makes more sense to drive, and see all the groovy stuff along the way.
posted by dejah420 at 4:58 PM on March 7, 2012


It’s one of the best tools available to detect metallic and non-metallic items, such as… you know… things that go BOOM.

ARGHHH! ME STUPID AMERICAN, ME SCARED OF LOUD BOOM NOISES!!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:00 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


For note, this blog story seems to have knocked $28.5M off the value of the company in the last 48 hours -- $594k per hour.

Talk about the high price of bad press...
posted by nickrussell at 5:20 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sort of surprised nobody has brought up airport security in Israel yet. Here is a short little article about how a country that's surrounded by terrorists! manages to keep airplanes safe without having passengers stand in lines to go through rapiscanners.
posted by meows at 7:49 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm confident the TSA's scanners afford no additional protection for travelers.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:51 PM on March 7, 2012


Kadin2048: " People need to keep defeating the "security" and making them ratchet it up, until it's completely impossible to travel by air."

They've already proposed all passengers wearing shock bracelets.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:47 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


That is why he specifies that he is a young male talking about another young male. You know, because he's specifically not talking about the "people who aren't me" who "may have stronger and more sensitive feelings about the TSA pat down."

Which pretty much makes your entire comment beside the point.
That's not true at all, he didn't specifically exclude them, he just said he acknowledged they existed and then just ignored them and said it wasn't sexual assault and anyone who thought it was was an over-privileged asshat.

Which is just absolutely mind-boggling to me that it's apparently a sign of "privilege" not to want government employees touching your genitals as a mater of ordinary daily activity.

Especially when the comment is coming from someone who obviously is privileged at least in the sense the term is normally used.

And secondly, why are we assuming that young males haven't been victims of real sexual assault in the past?

So what is his comment even saying: Something like if you are a young male and you have a problem with the government requiring you to submit to a patdown if their scanner doesn't work, you're a whiny over-privileged asshat. If, on the other you are a victim of sexual abuse, well, sucks to be you but I don't really care and and I'm just not going to consider your situation at all so I can insult people who are like me and have a problem with it?
A few things here: Firstly, the I'm going to presume that the backscatter x-ray machines presumably don't contain a beta emitter powerful enough to cause serious harm, even if you tried.
They actually do use a much more powerful x-ray emitter, and then they have a filter to reduce the total amount that leaves the machine. The millimeter wave machines are much safer. I don't see why the government doesn't get rid of the x-ray machines.

Also, yoink in this thread is totally conflating the idea of having no airline security at all with simply rolling back to the pre-9/11 system, or even just rolling back to a pre-backscatter era. No evidence has been presented that we are actually at risk for another 9/11 style attack since the passengers will fight back, and there certainly isn't any evidence that adding backscatter devices and requiring these patdowns is really necessary.

On the other hand, what would happen if AQ was able to round up another 40 hijackers. Couldn't they put all 40 hijackers on a single plane? It seems like they would be able to do a pretty good job of taking it down, even without needing to smuggle a bunch of stuff on the plane, past the TSA.
Yeah, sure. So? The vast majority of what the TSA does is what was already being done before it was created.
Right... which is why we don't need it. Duh.
posted by delmoi at 3:20 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sort of surprised nobody has brought up airport security in Israel yet. Here is a short little article about how a country that's surrounded by terrorists! manages to keep airplanes safe without having passengers stand in lines to go through rapiscanners.
There is only one major airport in the country, you can get from anywhere to anywhere else internally by driving, so the airport is just for international travel. And it takes hours to go through security if you're not the right ethnicity/religion.
posted by delmoi at 3:22 AM on March 8, 2012


There was a slashdot post that pointed out that Corbett's video is mostly corroboration of an 2010 article in the Journal of Transportation Security (pdf), but nevertheless the TSA threatening mainstream media against covering the story.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:22 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know it is late and no one is reading the comments anymore, but what if the TSA is the US governments way of reducing CO2 emissions? They can't publicly get everyone onside, but cry terrorism and you can inconvenience people so much that they will stop flying.

:D It is a nice tought, though we all know it isn't true.
posted by Canageek at 6:39 PM on March 10, 2012


Nothing says truthy like an infographic.
posted by phearlez at 8:37 AM on March 14, 2012


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