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December 5, 2004 11:00 PM   Subscribe

French police on Sunday ended their practice of hiding plastic explosives in air passengers' luggage to train bomb-sniffing dogs after one such bag got lost, possibly ending up on a flight out of Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.
WTF were they thinking? Isn't there a better way to train the dogs without making innocent people unwittingly carry plastique?
posted by Vidiot (34 comments total)

 
Non!
posted by Down10 at 11:01 PM on December 5, 2004


Do they practice their marksmanship by having Chirac stand between the targets so they can make sure they won't hit him?
posted by Vidiot at 11:03 PM on December 5, 2004


FADE IN:

A TRANQUIL LATE FALL DAY IN SUBURBAN ATLANTA, GEORGIA.

CAMERA PANS FROM HOUSE TO STREET, TO BLACKENED HOLE IN GROUND, AND SETTLES ON MAN WITH CLIPBOARD
.

STATE FARM INSURANCE AGENT:
Sir, can you be any more specific, please.

CAMERA PANS TO BEWILDERED RESIDENT, SITTING ON GRASS.

BEWILDERED RESIDENT:
Well, I just thought I'd melt some cheese my wife bought in Paris, and I was stepping out on the patio to answer the cordless and that's the last thing I remember.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:22 PM on December 5, 2004


Bad dog, no tummy rub.
posted by StephenV at 11:34 PM on December 5, 2004


Just imagine the scene when the passenger picked up their luggage at the other end and get's pulled over by customs

'I'm sorry officer, I've got no idea how the ingredients for the bomb got into my case'
posted by lloyder at 1:00 AM on December 6, 2004


I guess that they inserted one luggage among others, not plastic into one specific passenger luggage ; it could be that the two disciplined officers wanted to make it "more realistic" and took one passenger luggage and stuffed it with plastic, idiocy isn't any nation exclusive privilege.

Anyway what's really interesting is that the luggage with plastic wasn't detected at any gate or is still in some storage compartment or airplane. While there's no risk of detonation one wonders were all the billions spent in "sekurity" went to...while people bother calling each other political names.
posted by elpapacito at 1:38 AM on December 6, 2004


elpapacito - the explosive was placed inside a passenger's luggage, according to the story.

What's scary is that explosives leave a detectable residue, so the passenger could get marked at a later date as suspect after the explosive is removed. Image if he/she got put on the no-fly because of this.
posted by Meridian at 2:21 AM on December 6, 2004


You would think, that while planting explosives in passengers' luggage, the least they could do is make note of who's it is and where it's headed. You know, just in case their dogs were suffering from head colds that day and failed the test.
posted by Orb at 2:23 AM on December 6, 2004


I was imagining if this person was arab and going to the USA.
"Officer, I have no idea how that C-4 got in my bag!"
"Yeah sure, tell it to Allah, bub."
[free trip to cuba ensues]
posted by Iax at 2:35 AM on December 6, 2004


French airport officials promise lifetime supply of wine and cheese if the person who has their plastique returns it asap!
posted by fshgrl at 3:12 AM on December 6, 2004


Having lived there I've seen the French pull some seriously dumb stunts - this one takes the biscuit. I think it's now well over 24 hrs since this happened and still no news. Maybe the French got lucky and happened to put it into the luggage of an islamic terrorist so at least the C4 won't be wasted.
Bloody idiots
posted by Cancergiggles at 4:33 AM on December 6, 2004


So, that's what that funny looking stuff was in my luggage!
I was going to make a flower pot with it.
I'm going fishing!
posted by nofundy at 5:00 AM on December 6, 2004


The lead baggage handler at de Gaulle airport was unavailable for comment.
posted by ElvisJesus at 5:38 AM on December 6, 2004


It's a screwup but at least the French seriously train and test their airport security.
posted by srboisvert at 5:45 AM on December 6, 2004


Plastique? Plastique? Oooh la la, Mr Frenchman...
posted by jon_kill at 6:11 AM on December 6, 2004


You know, there's a well-known (apocryphal?) story of Russians training dogs (strapped with explosives) to run at German tanks in WW2. And in battle, the training paid off - the dogs ran straight for the (familiar) Russian tanks and blew them up.

If you want to train a dog to sniff out explosives, you gotta use real explosives. They don't do "pretend" stuff very successfully.

So I don't quite get this post. This is standard training procedure; has been for years (for drugs and explosives). And situations like this do happen from time to time. Not really something to get worked up about.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:45 AM on December 6, 2004


I'm guessing from the story that the passenger who owns the luggage is not informed beforehand, so they have no reason to suspect anything until they get home and discover this five pound lump of "Playdoh" in their bag. Unless, of course, it got misrouted. Then it's sitting in some lost luggage office somewhere, waiting for someone to claim it. But I was under the impression that lost luggage was targeted for search, so it shouldn't be too long before someone finds it.

All things considered, the whole procedure has a sort of haphazard feel to it. I hope they come up with a better method for training their dogs that isn't so dependent on luck.
posted by tommasz at 6:57 AM on December 6, 2004


why is it that i'm replaying the "le resistance" musical bit from "south park : the movie" in my head? ;-)
posted by muppetboy at 7:39 AM on December 6, 2004


"If you want to train a dog to sniff out explosives, you gotta use real explosives."

yes. but you don't have to do it on unwitting passengers in a real airport!!!
posted by muppetboy at 7:41 AM on December 6, 2004


It's a screwup but at least the French seriously train and test their airport security.

Good point, srboisvert. From what I can tell, US airport security is just so much "security theater", as Bruce Schneier calls it.

If you want to train a dog to sniff out explosives, you gotta use real explosives. They don't do "pretend" stuff very successfully.

So I don't quite get this post. This is standard training procedure; has been for years (for drugs and explosives). And situations like this do happen from time to time. Not really something to get worked up about.


Oh, yeah, give the dog real explosives to sniff. But put it inside a dummy bag, not one belonging to an innocent person. Put a luggage tag on the bag that would minimize the chances of it accidentally being routed onto a plane. That way, when the inevitable screwup happens, the system should be resilient enough to keep it from being a huge security breach.

And as Meridian and Iax note, the failure of their dogs to detect the explosive has serious real-world effects that the gendarmes are ignoring. If ICE or TSA finds plastic explosive in my bag, I'm going to be under the jail (or the recipient of a one-way ticket to Gitmo) before I know what's happened. And even if I did manage to make them believe that airport security put the explosive in my bag (which is pretty damn doubtful given all the security FUD in the air lately), I'm pretty sure I'd be on a no-fly list for the rest of my days.

By all means, train the dogs with the real stuff. But do it in a way that won't make innocent people guilty of serious crimes.
posted by Vidiot at 7:51 AM on December 6, 2004


I have no problem with them using real explosives... still, there MUST be ways to do this that ensure that the F*CKING EXPLOSIVE AGENT in question does not get LOST.

I'm just saying...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 7:59 AM on December 6, 2004


[vidiot] But do it in a way that won't make innocent people guilty of serious crimes.

[fingers_of_fire]...there MUST be ways to do this that ensure that the F*CKING EXPLOSIVE AGENT in question does not get LOST.


You want a guarantee that something involving humans won't somehow get screwed up sometime? Really? And how long have you known and actually worked with humans? We find innovative ways to screw up the most basic actions every single day.

Problems happen. Mistakes are made. Not all outcomes are forseeable. And sometimes, they have unfortunate consequences. You do your best to minimize them, but there's no way you'll get it right every time. And for that reason you should make sure you plan on mistakes happening (like dealing with an innocent passenger, for example).

It would be nice if you could mock up an airport baggage handling area, complete with thousands of bags with a rotating variety of smells so the dogs don't grow accustomed to the familiarity of them (in a closed environment every bag would end up smelling of plastique eventually). I can't imagine what that would cost to set up and run, however.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:31 AM on December 6, 2004


Oh, dear gods. At first I was convinced that no security professional could be so stupid and irresponsible as to slip explosive substances into an innocent person's luggage, and assumed that they had just added their own tainted bag into the pile. I was going to cite relevant phrases from the article to support this, but then I hit passages like these:

...susceptible to making the relevant passenger run a risk in the eyes of foreign authorities...

...deliberately placed the plastic explosives into a passenger's luggage...

No, the gendarmes actually put explosives in passengers' own personal bags. Jesus Christ. Iax and Vidiot et. al. are correct. The owner of this bag might never see the light of day again.

I'm just stunned.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:34 AM on December 6, 2004



"If you want to train a dog to sniff out explosives, you gotta use real explosives."

yes. but you don't have to do it on unwitting passengers in a real airport!!!


Also you don't want your "terrorist" telegraphing that they are carrying a bomb. From an animal training point of view this makes a lot of sense. From a security and PR point of view not so much.
posted by Mitheral at 8:57 AM on December 6, 2004


NB that the guy in charge of this branch of the gendarmes claims that this is an "exceptional procedure" - although he also explains why it's needed, which is a little odd...
posted by paul! at 9:43 AM on December 6, 2004


You want a guarantee that something involving humans won't somehow get screwed up sometime? Really? And how long have you known and actually worked with humans?

Of course mistakes get made, people drop the ball, and shit happens. The key is designing a system that recognizes this, that has several layers of response. Or, as I said above, "when the inevitable screwup happens, the system should be resilient enough to keep it from being a huge security breach."

But, as I noted above, there are easy ways to train the dogs, at CDG, that don't involve making innocent people carry highly illegal and dangerous items without their knowledge or consent. Put the explosive in a dummy bag, one that doesn't belong to a passenger. Tag it with a bogus flight number or some other code that will minimize the chances of it being loaded onto an airliner. (The one time I was behind the scenes in an airport baggage-handling facility, bags with codes that were illegible or otherwise erroneous were automatically kicked out of the system so a human could deal with them, rather than being automatically sent to a particular plane. And that was years and years ago.)
posted by Vidiot at 10:08 AM on December 6, 2004


Having just gone through a second security screening in Boston on my way back west, I can say that the stereotypes of the US airport security folks are incorrect. The security people who dealt with us were informed, courteous and did their job with a minimum of hassle (though I'm still walking a little funny).

That said, isn't "training" supposed to take place somewhere far away from the actual airport? Dummy up a terminal and train there where mistakes don't involve internation incidents, lots of dead people and massive investigations.

This scares the crap out of me and is part of the reason I want to get my pilot's license so I can fly my family where ever I want to without having to worry about idiots putting my life in incredible danger for training purposes.

If I'd been a passenger on that flight, I would be talking with my lawyer now.
posted by fenriq at 10:18 AM on December 6, 2004


I don't know that plastic explosive is really that dangerous: a buddy of mine told me of a training experience in the combat engineers (US army). The instructor took a block and lit the corner, saying "ignition alone will not set it off", then proceeds to pound on another block with a hammer (much to the pupils alarm) and says "impact alone will not set it off". He then explains that you need a combination of heat and impact it set it off (blasting cap). Dynamite is the same way, I've heard that people have burned dynamite in campfires as emergency fuel. As far as falling into the wrong hands, if you wanted, you could just go to a gun store and buy a couple cans of smokeless gunpowder ($15-30 a pound).
posted by 445supermag at 12:45 PM on December 6, 2004


Too bad they weren't drug dogs...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:59 PM on December 6, 2004


>The owner of this bag might never see the light of day again.

Imagine if this bag belong to an arab and how the police, interrogators, etc would do to him once they got their hands on him. I also wonder how much of Abu Graihb involved, "Tell us where the WMD are!"

I really dont like it when bad dystopian story ideas end up being real and make headlines.
posted by skallas at 2:40 PM on December 6, 2004


I don't know that plastic explosive is really that dangerous:

You're right, of course, but the article specified that the plastique didn't have a detonator, so it's not the safety issue that's got us all up in arms. It's what happens to the poor person who discovers a lump of potentially explosive, controlled substance in his or her suitcase, or more to the point, when the lump is discovered by airport security.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:04 PM on December 6, 2004


It isn't a biggie.

My mother had a gun planted in her hand luggage at Baltimore to test a newly-appointed customs officer. I think that is just as bad... to back up 'Faint of Butt's point, the plastic explosive in question would require a fairly sophisticated trigger for it to cause any damage.

Sorry I said back up faint of butt.
posted by catchmurray at 3:43 PM on December 6, 2004




It's Sellers the Sleuth... and there's nothing he won't do to track down a body -- dead or alive!
posted by buggybuy at 7:22 AM on December 7, 2004


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