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TSA busts myths, too!
June 18, 2007 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Last week, a woman at DC's Reagan Airport was detained because of water in her son's sippy cup. In an unusual step, the TSA has posted their own Mythbusters site where they show the security footage and the official incident report. Here is BoingBoing's take on the video. And a security/security technology blogger posts about the larger lesson that people readily side against the TSA "because there's no accountability or transparency in the DHS."
posted by spec80 (253 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Stay classy, TSA.
posted by boo_radley at 10:31 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


A pilot walks into a bar and yells, "All TSA agents are assholes!" A guy at the end of the bar yells back, "Hey I resent that comment." The pilot asks, "Are you an agent?" The guy replies, "No, I'm an asshole!"
posted by rolypolyman at 10:32 AM on June 18, 2007 [17 favorites]


Also hoping for thoughts here on TSA's appropriation of the Mythbusters name.
posted by boo_radley at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2007


In all fairness, what if the sippy cup HAD contained a liquid bomb? Giving the terrorist complete control over the disposal of said bomb....would still be a bad idea.
posted by DU at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2007


I think, in general, that is a bigger problem than people realize. Not just with the TSA but almost all forms of authority in the States are now under constant suspicion. Cops, doctors, judges, priests, politicians... you name it. Everyone we are suppose to trust to operate for the common good is under suspicion. Part of the problem is a perception of different levels of accountability, part of the problem is high profile cases of abuse of power. There is no easy fix, but I can't help think it poisons our society.
posted by edgeways at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2007 [10 favorites]


Hmmm, it does look like she poured the water on the floor.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:38 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


The woman originally claimed that she spilled water while trying to drink it. But in the video she doesn't try, maybe just dumped it on the ground.

So the scenario I'm seeing is:

1) TSA asks her to dispose of the liquid
2) Lady gets all pissy and dumps it on the ground
3) TSA gets more pissy and makes her clean it up.

There are people who react inappropriately to Airport security warnings, and basically think rules don't apply to them. How could anyone not know about the liquids Ban? My sister ended up losing a $15 bottle of lotion she'd gotten as a wedding gift the last time she flew, almost everyone knows about it.

So why did the woman try to bring liquids on the plane? And why did she get upset about it? Why did she dump it?

I think the liquids ban is preposterous, but that's the rule, and it seems like this woman just didn't think the rules applied to her. And they made her clean up the water that she'd spilled oh it's so horrible. Come on.

Plus she apparently lied about what actually happened (claiming that she tried to drink it)
posted by delmoi at 10:38 AM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


My opinion of the TSA is officially documented, but honestly, exaggerated accounts of their actions only end up helping them, in the long run.
posted by jonson at 10:39 AM on June 18, 2007


Big detail from that last link: She was a Secret Service agent and thought she deserved special treatment. Assholery all around.
posted by ao4047 at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure the issue here is that normal people just trying to get on a goddamned plane are now under constant suspicion. Scrutiny of authority figures who have life and death control over the lives of their fellow men isn't poison, isn't common sense.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


So, a passenger inconvenienced by a silly regulation may not have told the story from an unbiased POV. And selectively released footage / documents may not tell the whole story either. I'm willing to assume that the guys who declared nail clippers a security threat are probably more wrong. On preview, yes, some people react badly to power trips, inducing further power tripping.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2007


...isn't common sense...it's...um...SUPER common sense!

No, not really. It's just common sense. As is using the preview feature before posting. Oops.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2007


I've had to do this before. One adult and one child trying to handle a flight is difficult at best. Most of the passengers/TSA folks were failry sympathetic and ran me throught the "special needs" line where I think they handle families/handicap/person's of interest. So maybe someone would scream "profiling" or preferential treatment, but honestly it makes sense.

They should have a line for parents with small kids, handicap folks, and other types that hold up the lines for everybody else. In those shoes it would make life a bit easier for them as they could put better folks with these potential problems (and a negative PR potential). The bonus would be for the regular passangers and the other TSA folks as it would streamline the lines and lessen the aggrevation.

I just can't see why issues like this come up, but then I think I have too much faith in the average person.
posted by Numenorian at 10:43 AM on June 18, 2007


I watched the video and read the report. Then I went back and read what she said in the Nowpublic post.

Seemed fairly clear to me that she intentionally poured the water on the ground. As a father with experience with sippy cups, they are designed not to open easily, so I have doubt that she did it accidentally.

I am no fan of the TSA rules, but IMHO the woman is to blame for causing her own problem her. It is made exceedingly clear that liquids passing through will not be allowed.

As an ex-government agent, she should have even a better understanding of the reason behind enforcing rules equally than most citizens.

As a result, I side with the TSA on this one.
posted by Argyle at 10:43 AM on June 18, 2007


So the TSA selectively posts their surveillance camera footage, then? I can't believe they would post video showing agents behaving badly on their website.

It seems to me that, if they can use footage to vindicate themselves, that the public should have similar access to demonstrate the validity of complaints.

Not that it will ever happen, but I can dream... I'm sure "national security" would be mentioned in any sort of FOIA request.
posted by lalas at 10:44 AM on June 18, 2007 [6 favorites]


I feel like yeah, that society is becoming increasingly totalitarian and oppressive. But in this case the "punishment" fits the "crime". She dumped water on the floor, and she was forced to clean it up. Thats the kind of punishment children get. How fucking spoiled is this woman? She has to clean up some water and then she goes crying and screaming about it on the internet, goes on TV. Sheesh.

I guess they shouldn't have threatened her with detention. They could have told her that they wouldn't let her through until she cleaned up her mess, and maybe that's all that happened. We don't know, because the woman already lied about some other things.
posted by delmoi at 10:44 AM on June 18, 2007


Upon reviewing the video a second time it looks like she is trying to get the lid/cap off of the cup and it spills. To me it looks like an acident and not intentional dumping.
posted by Numenorian at 10:45 AM on June 18, 2007


My sister ended up losing a $15 bottle of lotion she'd gotten as a wedding gift the last time she flew, almost everyone knows about it.
Actually this is the first time I've heard about it. That is pretty crappy though.
posted by Flashman at 10:46 AM on June 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


What I want to see is if the TSA will post the video when they're wrong.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:46 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


delmoi: I think the liquids ban is preposterous, but that's the rule, and it seems like this woman just didn't think the rules applied to her. And they made her clean up the water that she'd spilled oh it's so horrible. Come on.

I think you outlined the two problems most people have with this case:

A. It's a ridiculously stupid rule.
B. The rudeness of the TSA agent, who knows damn well he's not going to answer for anything he does short of shooting someone.

I mean, come on, we're not letting a parent board a plane with a sippy cup of water. That's probably the most pathetically cowardly thing I've even seen or heard of. Meanwhile, there are still approximately a billion ways a terrorist could cause damage equivalent to taking down a plane without alerting any form of security, anywhere.

You can not fight terrorism with a million stupid rules enforced without judgment or intelligence.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:46 AM on June 18, 2007 [7 favorites]


Aviation expert Jim Tilmon on the incident.
posted by ericb at 10:47 AM on June 18, 2007


I'm not sure that wanting to be free of small-minded bureaucrats and tinpot dictators is really "spoiled".
posted by DU at 10:47 AM on June 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


Ex-Secret Service agents carry Secret Service badges? What's with that?
posted by amro at 10:50 AM on June 18, 2007


I said this in another thread, but I'll repeat it here, because it bears repeating. While there may have been multiple asshats involved here, sometimes, an asshat is just an asshat. It's not always evidence that an asshat conspiracy is afoot.
posted by frogan at 10:52 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I love how even when faced with videotaped evidence, BoingBoing remains physically incapable of suggesting the government may not actually be doing something evil at a given point in time.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:53 AM on June 18, 2007 [9 favorites]


DU, I disagree.

As a frequent traveler, I am often inconvenienced by people that don't obey the rules, think they can get around them, or are plainly ignorant.

The rules are made clear about liquids, shoes, etc. Personally I disagree with them, but the decision is not made by the local TSA staff on what to enforce. Those rules are set elsewhere. They are asinine, but they are the rules.

When I have to wait for someone to argue about their lotion or shoes or luggage size, while I should be getting through security, that person is being selfish.

The woman in the story felt that the rules didn't apply to her and appears to have thrown a tantrum and then was held accountable. This was not a legitimate protest aimed at effecting change. An actual protest might be acceptable even if it inconvenienced me.

Further, she was acting 'spoiled' by referring to her previous job as a government agent, expecting special treatment due to her former status. This is the height of arrogance.
posted by Argyle at 10:57 AM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Upon reviewing the video a second time it looks like she is trying to get the lid/cap off of the cup and it spills. To me it looks like an acident and not intentional dumping.

Look again. Immediately after the spill, she gives the cup a shake or two -- it looks like she wanted to make sure the cup was empty.

Also notice 34 seconds in one TSA agent threatens to beat another with a screening wand. This is how TSA employees flirt.
posted by eddydamascene at 10:58 AM on June 18, 2007


paging asavage - surely we can't the TSA get away with invoking the Mythbusters for so foul a purpose.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:00 AM on June 18, 2007


Also, YouTube link in case the TSA site is too slow for you.
posted by eddydamascene at 11:04 AM on June 18, 2007


For every good TSA officer, there's at least 6 other shitheels waiting to make your trip through the airport a living hell.
posted by smackwich at 11:08 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


...there's at least 6 other shitheels waiting to make your trip through the airport a living hell.

Do you mean TSA officers or other passengers?
posted by hydrophonic at 11:12 AM on June 18, 2007


Everyone we are suppose to trust to operate for the common good is under suspicion. Part of the problem is a perception of different levels of accountability, part of the problem is high profile cases of abuse of power.

In the case of the TSA, I suspect the problem is neither of those things. Rather, it's that people don't view the TSA as a helpful, important, on-the-level security agency, they view it as a theater troupe that forces air travelers to participate in a kabuki show about how safe we all are now. To be fair to the agents, they can't control the implementation of stupid rules, but it's not just the stupid rules that make the whole thing seem like a joke.
posted by aaronetc at 11:14 AM on June 18, 2007 [14 favorites]


The last time I flew, I forgot about my water bottle. I volunteered to drink the water right there (it was a dribble). No, I couldn't. I had to go outside the screening area to drink it, sir, because the screeners couldn't know that it wasn't going to make me swell up and explode.

The rules are stupid, and encouraging a theater of security in which we pretend we are safe diminishes our ablity to investigate and evaluate actual threats.
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 AM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think the liquids ban is preposterous, but that's the rule

Honestly, though, what line did America cross to become a bunch of wussies? A sippy cup? Seriously?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:23 AM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


...there's at least 6 other shitheels waiting to make your trip through the airport a living hell.

Do you mean TSA officers or other passengers?


Or gate attendants, or wait staff in crappy lounges, or luggage cart drivers or....

The whole experience is so unpleasant that I would rather drive ten hours than fly for one. And I actually enjoy being in an airplane and still have a sense of wonder that we can transport that many people so quickly miles above the earth.
posted by TedW at 11:24 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


So the TSA selectively posts their surveillance camera footage, then? I can't believe they would post video showing agents behaving badly on their website.

The conclusion is simple. Whenever the TSA doesn't post exculpatory evidence, believe the worst.
posted by grouse at 11:30 AM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Whether Monica Emmerson was "pissy," an "asshat," "selfish," or "arrogant" is completely irrelevant. The TSA's ban on liquids and gels has no scientific basis and does not improve the security of airline passengers one iota. To accept the TSA's actions in this context is to accept creeping totalitarianism.
posted by jonp72 at 11:30 AM on June 18, 2007 [7 favorites]


While the rules may be stupid, and I think the TSA folks can be real assholes, they seem to have handled that really well. The woman spills or pours water on a high traffic slick floor and they ask her to clean it up. It never looks like anyone got pissy with her, while it looks like she got plenty pissy with them. (I know, she's traveling with a toddler, but, in fairness, the TSA folks have to deal with people acting like toddlers all day long.)

The BoingBoing write-up is just embarrassing. I usually tend to think that Mark F. is a level-headed guy, but I read the write-up before watching the entire video, and then as I watched, the guy he characterizes (incredibly condescendingly) as directing traffic with his sign because it's going to be something he tells his grandchildren, actually only moves the sign when a flight lets out and he sees there are a bunch of people coming. He's trying to keep someone from breaking their neck, for christ's sake.
posted by OmieWise at 11:30 AM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


delmoi: How could anyone not know about the liquids Ban?
I'm not a frequent flyer, but I've done a lot of flying in the past few weeks. And I goofed up on the liquid thing, even though I knew all about it. Sometimes you're packing in a rush and whatnot, and it doesn't occur to you that TSA will have a problem with your eyedrops (or whatever).

When rushing to catch that cab to the airport, even a seasoned traveller may not be thinking about the TSA. And really, should he/she be? Should a mother with a toddler in tow be giving the TSA her undivided attention? If a passenger's confusion, ignorance, or unfamiliarity with the inhumane maw of the security machine really causes delays, does it make sense to blame the passenger?

I wonder how long this rule would stand if every single passenger in the continental US decided to break it for a week.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:32 AM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I flew on an airplane last Sunday, out of San Diego. I was the next person in line to go through the security line, when screening was halted. There was something weird on the belt. I was standing 6 or so feet from the x-ray machine- I could see the bag in reflection of the screen on to plastic divider. We all stood there for 15 minutes, while security stared at the screen at the mysterious contents of this bag. Nobody suggested, asked or ordered me to move away. Finally, screening started again and I walked through. I overheard the owner of the bag say, I don't know what they're looking at, all I've got in there is dirty magazines. The theater of security is alive and well, but I certainly would not have been if that bag had contained a bomb.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:32 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


The level of hostility towards TSA officers here is remarkable. So i'm going to remark on it.

Are the current rules regaring luggage screening, liquids, etc. draconian and ridiculous? Yes. I travel a lot and have often cursed these rules for the needless inconvenience they cause.

But every time I travel I also think about how these rules put TSA officers in the unenviable position of having to enforce silly regulations while doing their jobs - jobs which are difficult and extraordinarily important. Do you ever have to deal with someone who is hurried, harried, self-important, and in a bad mood when you are on the job? The TSA folks have to deal with it 8 hours a day (or however long they work), often while doing boring, repetitive tasks. I grit my teeth every time I'm stuck in the security line behind one single person who, ignoring the myriad posted warnings on the walls around them, thinks that somehow the rules do not apply to them. I cannot imagine what it would be like having to deal with dozens upon dozens of these people while maintaining a level of professional courtesy and decency.

And the kicker is that if they fuck up, there is a very small but not insignificant possibility that people will be killed or seriously injured. I seriously wonder if, the next time there is a security lapse of some sort at an airport, we won't see the same folks in here castigating TSA folks for incompetence.

I personally can't pass judgment on this particular incident based on a few minutes of soundless video and some blog posts. But it seems to me that saying this is the result of a few TSA dolts being petty tyrants is just a bit premature.
posted by googly at 11:34 AM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


How could anyone not know about the liquids Ban?

Easy. It's not like the TSA banned nail clippers. It's like the TSA banned an entire state of matter. After the TSA bans solids and gases, airplane passengers will be forced to limit their carry-on luggage to plasma and antimatter.
posted by jonp72 at 11:37 AM on June 18, 2007 [31 favorites]


The whole experience is so unpleasant that I would rather drive ten hours than fly for one.

Word. TSA has never given me a hard time, but their ridiculous OCD rules and regs slow down traffic SO fucking much that I have often spent longer getting on an airplane than actually flying in it. Long lines and slow-slow-SLOW service tend to put everyone in a bad mood, and generally I have come to see the airport as a place best avoided.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:39 AM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


The BoingBoing write-up is just embarrassing. I usually tend to think that Mark F. is a level-headed guy, but I read the write-up before watching the entire video, and then as I watched, the guy he characterizes (incredibly condescendingly) as directing traffic with his sign because it's going to be something he tells his grandchildren, actually only moves the sign when a flight lets out and he sees there are a bunch of people coming. He's trying to keep someone from breaking their neck, for christ's sake.

Exactly. I'm a BoingBoing fan, but the condescension towards people with difficult, low-paying jobs in that writeup was cringeworthy.
posted by googly at 11:41 AM on June 18, 2007


grouse writes "The conclusion is simple. Whenever the TSA doesn't post exculpatory evidence, believe the worst."

The real question is: is it appropriate for a government policing agency to post videos online of incidents to clear their name with the public? Is this a worthwhile use of their time and our money? Or is a more formal review process with citizen representatives more appropriate?
posted by krinklyfig at 11:42 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


The TSA's ban on liquids and gels has no scientific basis

Yes, because clearly, no explosive ever has ever been made out of a liquid or a gel.

It's one thing to rail against stupid regulations. It's another to toss around comments like "no scientific basis."

To accept the TSA's actions in this context is to accept creeping totalitarianism.

Again with the catastrophic language. One man's "creeping totalitarianism" is another man's "Hey slippery slope guy, chill out."

I promise you guys ... when the brownshirts show up, you'll get to say, "I told you so."
posted by frogan at 11:43 AM on June 18, 2007


The level of hostility towards TSA officers here is remarkable.

Not really. Just a reflection of hte hosilityof the TSA towards airplane passengers.

And the kicker is that if they fuck up, there is a very small but not insignificant possibility that people will be killed or seriously injured.

Hmm. But isn't the point that the greater majority of what they do is completely irrelevant to that? Harrasing moms for sippy cuts is Security theatre and nothing more.
posted by Artw at 11:45 AM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


Yes, because clearly, no explosive ever has ever been made out of a liquid or a gel.

Not on a plane, that's for sure.
posted by Artw at 11:46 AM on June 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


TSA Security Training.
posted by ColdChef at 11:47 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


The last time I went on a plane, I was flying out of Austin and had completely forgotten about the idiotic rule about the size of personal toiletries. I had stuck a full tube of toothpaste in my carry-on and they went through and found it. Luckily, the TSA guy just let me go through and I made sure that I just put the silly thing in my checked baggage on my flight back.

However, in the end, all these rules that the TSA is adding on are pointless and ridiculous. If someone really, really wanted to attack an airport, an airplane or anything else in this nation, they could do it. All it requires is the mentality that nothing is enough, nothing is too much. If you are deranged enough to think that other people deserve to die and you're willing to sacrifice your own life in doing it, there's nothing anyone can do to stop you. Period.
posted by jennybaxter at 11:47 AM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?

Ah, memories --

In March 2000 "[a] videotape captures [Rhode Island Rep. Patrick] Kennedy pushing a 58-year-old airport security guard backward and bumping the metal detector archway at Los Angeles International Airport. The catalyst apparently was that his luggage was too big for carry-on and he was disturbed the guard did not recognize him."*
posted by ericb at 11:48 AM on June 18, 2007


...it's that people don't view the TSA as a helpful, important, on-the-level security agency, they view it as a theater troupe that forces air travelers to participate in a kabuki show about how safe we all are now.

It is a dog-and-pony show to make us all scrape and take off our shoes, etc, to defened against a dubious threat when fundamental, known effective
methods continue to sail through. TSA serves to maintain paranoia and overall hysteria and I feel little safer today than I did back pre-9/11.

It should be mentioned that 9/11 wasn't about crazy Goldbergian devices created out of smuggled bits and pieces but a failure of procedures that had been in place for years: knives + open cockpits == bad times since about forever.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:52 AM on June 18, 2007 [6 favorites]


I am not a psychologist or any sort of behavioral analyst, but what I saw didn't look like someone accidentally spilling something and then being hassled in some nightmarish bureaucratic assault. Without analyzing what the dumping action seemed to be, here's how I'd imagine someone who accidentally dumped the water would behave:

*accidentally drops water*
woman: oh shit. I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. It just slipped while I was trying to drink it.
*stays long enough to hear from the agent whether it's ok or if she's in some kind of trouble.*

here's how the video looks to me (assuming she didn't intentionally dump the water on the ground):

*accidentally drops water, tries to hustle away from the scene, ignoring agent. when stopped by agent, immediately reaches into bag to produce old secret service badge.*

I mean, ignoring the fact that sippy cups are designed not to spill (the cap could have come off for one reason or another) and ignoring the extra shakes she gives the cup before putting it back in the stroller (that motion could possibly be something more innocent.) and giving her a highly questionable benefit of the doubt that her spill was accidental, the reaction she has just doesn't quite jive. I mean, if you're going to try to bully your way past an accident you have, can you really blame an agent for saying "woah woah woah," and when you then personally escalate the situation yourself where's the surprise that more people were called in and the whole thing took longer than you'd have liked?

that said, I agree with TPS and lalas that there should be puclic access to all TSA videos involved in disputes, cause this is a pretty bullshit move.
posted by shmegegge at 11:52 AM on June 18, 2007


also, I strongly believe that a free society needs voices on either extreme of the spectrum to be truly free, but god DAMN boingboing would be a more credible source of opinion and interpretation if I couldn't predict their responses to things like this word for word every time.
posted by shmegegge at 11:55 AM on June 18, 2007


An actual protest might be acceptable even if it inconvenienced me.

Wow. That's like the epitaph for Generation X. It at least needs to be emblazoned on a t-shirt. Or something.
posted by oncogenesis at 11:58 AM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


Not really. Just a reflection of hte hosilityof the TSA towards airplane passengers.

I think that calling the TSA "hostile" towards passengers is a bit of an overstatement. But regardless, my point was that the lowest-level TSA employees have tough jobs, because they have to simultaneously enforce regulations that most of us agree are necessary (no firearms or pressurized gases on planes), and regulations that most of us think are useless and silly (zero-tolerance policy on liquids). I agree with you that some TSA policies are ridiculous and theatrical. But that doesn't mean I immediately assume that individual TSA employees I see on a videotape are thoughtless goons.
posted by googly at 11:59 AM on June 18, 2007


amro - ex-SS agents, as well as those of the FBI, DEA etc. often carry their badges still - they have a big fat red stamp across the middle of them saying "RETIRED" (or leastways they used to). This allows the carrier to get off parking tickets/discounts at the video shop as and when required. It's a bit like being a mason.

I'm actually quite surprised at the lack of professional courtesy from the written descriptions. Feds can be dicks to normal folk but I'm almost shocked to see them fucking with each other to this degree. Wasn't so long back that all FBI agents were allowed to carry loaded firearms on their person on national flights (not sure if this has changed recently but I imagine it has changed to carried in luggage unloaded etc. The TSA doesn't want to share the "glory" of shooting a Turkish saxophonist with light sensitivity* with others).

*No - don't google it - it hasn't happened yet but the next guy shot on an aircraft will be a Turkish saxophonist with light sensitivity. I'll bet $5 on it.
posted by longbaugh at 12:00 PM on June 18, 2007


"In all fairness, what if the sippy cup HAD contained a liquid bomb?"

So.. what's the probability of that? Does it have fewer than 8 zeros in it? The people involved probably had a few orders of magnitude higher chance of dying of a heart attack from the confrontation than being blown up. But by all means, continue basing security on feelings rather than real risks, I'm sure that'll be just as effective.

(What's gonna happen when they work out you can make explosives out of solids? zomg!)
posted by Freaky at 12:00 PM on June 18, 2007


Yes, because clearly, no explosive ever has ever been made out of a liquid or a gel.

Not on a plane, that's for sure.
posted by Artw at 2:46 PM on June 18 [+] [!]


I can't tell if this is meant to be a joke or not!
posted by shmegegge at 12:01 PM on June 18, 2007


I'm not clear on something:

How the hell could she spill the contents of a sippy cup? The whole point of a sippy cup is "easy to drink, hard to spill". She says she spilled it trying to open the lid? Wha? That's like removing the panes of glass from an open window in order to let some light into the room.
posted by Bugbread at 12:04 PM on June 18, 2007


What liquid explosive are you thinking of, frogan?
posted by anthill at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2007


Further, she was acting 'spoiled' by referring to her previous job as a government agent, expecting special treatment due to her former status. This is the height of arrogance.

Bruce Scheiner made a good point about that. If we wanted to make it so that certain people, (cops, government agents, people with security clearance, etc) through security without being checked, then you run into the whole problem of authenticating those people. There's no global database of everyone with clearance, or every cop, or even every federal agent for all the agencies, and to try to pull those all together would be an IT nightmare. And then you have to have a secure ID that can't be forged or duplicated. In the end you do a ton of work to make life slightly easier for a few people, and without noticeably making things any more secure or speeding things up (since so few passengers would benefit) The money would be much better spent somewhere else, so security checks for all really is the most reasonable method for dealing with this.

Honestly, though, what line did America cross to become a bunch of wussies? A sippy cup? Seriously?

Some point before November, 2004. Yes, it's stupid. But this woman was acting like the rules shouldn't apply to her. That's what's so obnoxious about it. Yes the rules are dumb but everyone has to deal with 'em.
posted by delmoi at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2007


This has a lot less to do with whether or not this was an individual over-reaction, or a case of poor management by the authorities. Or whether any of these tactics are justified. It is more a question of what the market will bear. If you look at the degree of autonomy that is offered to people in every other aspect of society - here's a website for your doctor, here's a website so you don't have to wait in line at traffic court, here's a website where you can rent any dvd ever and it will come in the mail the next day - you'll quickly realize that in terms of "doing business", certain policies backed by the american government are destined to implode. "Forcing democracy on Iraqis" being the one that takes the cake. Point being we don't have the philosophical resources to justify these actions. But, we live in a world where the ends justify the means. The question of whether you want to live in this kind of world is not up for debate.

You don't even have to go past the airline industry to see this duplicity.

Choose your flight! See the prices of other flights the same day! Change your flight with no penalty! Just show up with your ID at the airport and get an e-ticket! Just this print out and you're off to Hawaii!

Now shut up and bend over.
posted by phaedon at 12:07 PM on June 18, 2007


the condescension towards people with difficult, low-paying jobs in that writeup was cringeworthy.

This isn't the first time Mark Frauenfelder has acted this way:

I don't understand why garbage men always seem angry? What's to be angry about? They are well paid, have no deadlines or stress, never have to get their butt out of their seat, get excellent health benefits, paid vacation, and so on.

He's got links to some nifty stuff, but I suspect he's a kind of a dick.
posted by hifiparasol at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2007


I've talked about this issue before, but it all bears re-examination. First, the lady was obviously irritated and acting out. Whether or not she flashed a badge and demanded or expected special treatment, she was just being a jerk. Nothing to see here; people are jerks all the time, and the TSA/airport screening process seems to bring out the jerk in the nicest of people, anyway.

Second, the TSA agents were being jerks. Holding her up for 45 minutes? Making her clean the floor, and pointing out spots she missed? Making her go through security again after all that, knowing pretty damn well it was going to cause her to miss her flight? Come on. Government agent on a power trip, it's as simple as that.

NO ONE acted right here.

The fact is, the ban on liquids is ridiculous. Making people take off their shoes is ridiculous. Having multiple agents paw through your luggage, walking around in your sock feet trying to put your belt back on before your pants fall down, explaining your toiletries, having your nail clippers confiscated - my god. The security checkpoint at any airport these days looks like a refugee camp. It's goddamn ridiculous, and I hate it. BUT, and this is a huge BUT - it is what it is. Roll your eyes if you must, but take off your shoes. Take off your belt. Put everything you don't want a TSA agent pawing at in checked baggage. Don't bring food and water with you. Put your bag on the belt, your keys and change in the bowl, and just do what they tell you and it'll all go a lot faster. Unless you want to actually change it from the ground up, throwing a fit and refusing to comply at the gate isn't going to do anything but make you miss your flight and piss off everyone in line behind you.

As this woman found out. She could have used this incident to make a legitimate protest and a good point, and she blew it. She could have pointed out how stupid the whole thing was, tried to do something about it reasonably, and instead she threw a temper tantrum and then tried to spin the story. Now they all look like assholes and we still have to justify water bottles.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:11 PM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


NB: calling Schneier 'a security blogger' is like calling Einstein 'a physicist.'
posted by louie at 12:11 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


What liquid explosive are you thinking of, frogan?

Uh, I hope you realize that there is more then one explosive substance out there. More then one liquid one, even. Nitroglycerin is a liquid at room temperature, for example.
posted by delmoi at 12:13 PM on June 18, 2007


If you have a problem with the ban, the line at the airport is NOT the place to contest it. Jesus Christ. I have never seen a TSA agent mess with someone unprovoked, but I have seen oh-so-many people think the rules don't apply to them and argue like it's going to accomplish anything.

Before I go to the airport I read up on what restrictions there might be. Isn't this common sense? I swear to God some people just show up at the airport and don't even know how they got there.
posted by erikharmon at 12:13 PM on June 18, 2007


Yes, because clearly, no explosive ever has ever been made out of a liquid or a gel.

It's one thing to rail against stupid regulations. It's another to toss around comments like "no scientific basis."


That's right. I said "no scientific basis." And when I say "no scientific basis," I mean that any reasonably intelligent high school chemistry teacher should be able to see more holes in this stupid policy than in a plate of Swiss cheese. A couple of chemists and security experts also agree with me. The gist is that any liquid or gel-based explosive would be too unstable to synthesize on a crowded commercial passenger airplane, because you typically need ice baths or special equipment you'd only find in a college or industrial chemistry lab. If a would-be bomber did try to synthesize the liquid bomb in the bathroom (and we make the highly dubious assumption that none of the other passengers notice), the amount that could be smuggled aboard would be so small that the most likely result is that it would injure or blow up the bomber without doing any damage to the plane.
posted by jonp72 at 12:17 PM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


Well yeah I do think making her go back through the security line again was over the top, though.
posted by delmoi at 12:17 PM on June 18, 2007


jonp72 writes "It's like the TSA banned an entire state of matter."

Little known pro-tip: if you need toothpaste, hair gel, or any other liquids while on the plane, store your luggage in a freezer overnight! When you go through security, they will all be solids, but by mid-flight, they will all have reverted to liquid state.
posted by Bugbread at 12:19 PM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


amro - ex-SS agents . . . often carry their badges still - they have a big fat red stamp across the middle of them saying "RETIRED"

Thanks for the info, longbaugh.
posted by amro at 12:19 PM on June 18, 2007


The rule against liquids in containers of a certain volume may be stupid, but hell, almost every job I've had has something stupid that employees have to do. Bitch and moan about the ban all you want, but don't take it out on the person who is following orders that must be followed to keep his job.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:19 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nitroglycerin: you can't be serious. Anyone that manages to smuggle a useful quantity of that aboard an aircraft practically deserves to succeed.
posted by aramaic at 12:20 PM on June 18, 2007


googly writes "Do you ever have to deal with someone who is hurried, harried, self-important, and in a bad mood when you are on the job?"

Yes, I do tech support for an independent ISP. If I am rude to our customers, I can get fired. If our customers are rude to me, I have to smile and take it.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:21 PM on June 18, 2007


shmegegge writes "I can't tell if this is meant to be a joke or not!"

Translation into non-sarcasm:

Jonp72: The TSA's ban on liquids and gels has no scientific basis.

Frogan: I disagree. Explosives have sometimes been made out of liquids or gels.

Artw: True, but not on a plane.
posted by Bugbread at 12:22 PM on June 18, 2007


I was on a cruise, talking to an old lady who complained, loudly, that she and her husband had been held up for over an hour at the airport. I was about to sympathize that some asshat had postponed their vacation when she said, indignantly, "And all because my husband had toenail-clippers with blades that were too long!"

My natural reaction to this is, "Seriously, you need to bring TOENAIL CLIPPERS on a week-long cruise? What are you, Bigfoot?"

I don't care how stupid the laws are or how ridiculous taking your shoes off or emptying your bottles makes you feel. Acting like a self-righteous asshat while you are holding up the line doesn't do anyone any good.

And frankly, if I were a terrorist, I'd probably think a sippy cup was a darn good place to put my liquid explosive, since Americans are such sappy sentimentalists.

Note to FAA, TSA and DOHS: I am NOT, nor have I ever been, a terrorist, okay?
posted by misha at 12:23 PM on June 18, 2007


23skidoo writes "Bitch and moan about the ban all you want, but don't take it out on the person who is following orders that must be followed to keep his job."

Those people are there to serve the public, not the other way around. It doesn't mean anyone can abuse them, but that goes both ways.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:23 PM on June 18, 2007


Yes, because clearly, no explosive ever has ever been made out of a liquid or a gel.


Yeah, because by that rationale gases and solids shouldn't be allowed either. And if you can't have oxygen aboard a plane, the only ones flying should be the undead.
posted by juv3nal at 12:27 PM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Acting like a self-righteous asshat while you are holding up the line doesn't do anyone any good.

There are more important things in this country than whether you are delayed in line.
posted by jonp72 at 12:27 PM on June 18, 2007


And they made her clean up the water that she'd spilled oh it's so horrible. Come on.

Plus she apparently lied about what actually happened (claiming that she tried to drink it)


Youre missing the point. Youre not a loud-mouth sci-fi aging hipster who has made it his life's mission to whine about the TSA on his unrelated pop-web culture blog. (complaints about airport security? whats next? white guys walk like this and black guys walk like that?) Facts be damned.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:29 PM on June 18, 2007


misha writes "I don't care how stupid the laws are or how ridiculous taking your shoes off or emptying your bottles makes you feel. Acting like a self-righteous asshat while you are holding up the line doesn't do anyone any good."

What has been repeatedly mentioned is that this type of security theater results in these situations. People do not respect the system because they know it does no good, and TSA has not earned a good reputation in the meantime. People can grin and bear it, but that only goes so far. Sooner or later, simple psychology and the law of averages says you'll get a difficult customer. It's up to TSA to anticipate and deal with it. I agree, asshats are a drag, but you're bound to find one somewhere in an airport. We can't really put the onus on the customers to act polite, given the circumstances. That's not their job. This will continue to be a problem until we implement meaningful security.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:31 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Atrolite is another liquid explosive that could be used. Probably very hard to get a hold of, but possibly more stable then Nitroglycerin.

I'm not saying the rules make any sense. I think it would make more sense to try to detect these substances then ban all liquids, but the idea that there are no liquid that could possibly be used is kind of silly.
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on June 18, 2007


Here's the thing:

If the TSA can post this video in response to a complaint, they should be able to post all other security videos in response to all other complaints.

Why haven't they done this before? If I were to collect a list of all complaints against TSA security and file a FOIA request for the relevant videos, how far do you think I'd get?
posted by empath at 12:34 PM on June 18, 2007


I watched the video and read the report. Then I went back and read what she said in the Nowpublic post.

Seemed fairly clear to me that she intentionally poured the water on the ground.


Unless there's a version of the video with sound, I don't think there's anything "fairly clear" about the woman's intentions. It's highly possible that she deliberately poured out the water, but that she did so because the TSA agents told her to do so. If TSA is constantly telling people to get rid of liquids, and there's no receptacle to pour them into, you shouldn't be surprised that at least one person spills it on the floor.
posted by jonp72 at 12:35 PM on June 18, 2007


Nitroglycerin: you can't be serious. Anyone that manages to smuggle a useful quantity of that aboard an aircraft practically deserves to succeed.

Well, just freeze it and let it thaw on the plane.
posted by delmoi at 12:36 PM on June 18, 2007


If we wanted to make it so that certain people...through security without being checked, then you run into the whole problem of authenticating those people....And then you have to have a secure ID that can't be forged or duplicated.

There's the Registered Traveler Program which provides for "expedited security screening for passengers who volunteer to undergo a TSA-conducted security threat assessment (STA) in order to confirm that they do not pose or are not suspected of posing a threat to transportation or national security."

The FlyClear program is available at nine U.S. airports and is rolling out elsewhere this summer.
posted by ericb at 12:36 PM on June 18, 2007


I can't help but see a pretty strong "blaming the victim" vibe in a lot of the comments here. Yeah, sure, people who hold up the line are a pain in the ass, but aren't they pains in the ass who are being enabled by a system that almost seems designed to provoke people?

I think we all more or less agree on the fact that the no-liquids and no-toenail-clipper rules are little more than bread and circus, and provide no real security. And kudos to the folks on this thread who sympathize with the TSA screeners -- whose job security depends on enforcing stupid rules and occasionally having to exibit unreasonable, irrational douchebaggery in the face of people whose argument makes a lot more sense than your own.

But to say that people complaining about having to give up their toothpaste and cuticle scissors are somehow exibiting a sense of entitlement is... well, it's correct, actually, but not in the sense that people think. In truth, we're all entitled to freely travel with necessities like toileries, and to have those necessities easily accessible (and less likely to be lost -- a carry-on bag never got accidentally rerouted to Wichita). The people who complain about it in line are a little hard to take at times when we're all tired and frustrated, but to say they should just shut the fuck up and take their lumps like the rest of us is defeatist and (yeah, I'll say it) un-American.
posted by hifiparasol at 12:37 PM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


Uh - for those who keep saying the write-up on the TSA video was done "by" BoingBoing, maybe y'all should go back and check the text.

Frauenfelder clearly noted that the Daily-Showesque write-up was contributed by reader "Steven", and was providing it as an amusing follow-up to his post on he original story.
posted by batmonkey at 12:39 PM on June 18, 2007


10 hours of driving is better than a one hour flight? What the hell?
posted by smackfu at 12:42 PM on June 18, 2007


Monkeys. My face is red. The fella pointed out that "Steven's" quotes ended just after "TSA is denying the whole incident.

Pardon moi!
posted by batmonkey at 12:43 PM on June 18, 2007


The FlyClear program is available

How much does it cost to become a Clear member?
Clear is available for $99.95 per year (includes a $28.00 TSA vetting fee). Your Clear card will work at any US airport with a registered traveler program at no additional cost.
Really great.
posted by nervousfritz at 12:45 PM on June 18, 2007


True enough, batmonkey -- but I think the bad attitude toward TSA screeners sort of fits in with Frau's personality. I think XQ's comment also still stands pretty well.
posted by hifiparasol at 12:45 PM on June 18, 2007


Even if you buy the liquid ban in general, it is crap that kids' water is banned. We experienced this very thing when travelling with our infant. We had two bottles - one with breastmilk and one with water. The breastmilk got through but they made us throw away the water. They said if it was juice we could have kept it. (TSA.gov agrees - "milk, formula or juice" are okay, no mention of water). Given the arguments against juice for babies, forcing juice instead of water seems a particularly arbitrary - even harmful - exclusion.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:46 PM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I mean that any reasonably intelligent high school chemistry teacher should be able to see more holes in this stupid policy than in a plate of Swiss cheese.

Obligatory SNL skit.

Crazy big URL. I make no promises it will actually work.

Or a gel...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:47 PM on June 18, 2007


Nitroglycerin: you can't be serious. Anyone that manages to smuggle a useful quantity of that aboard an aircraft practically deserves to succeed.

There are several ways to stabilize nitro. Besides, do you think someone who plans to go down in the plane they blow up really cares about safety beforehand?
posted by IronLizard at 12:47 PM on June 18, 2007


Yeah, OK, batmonkey, now my face is even redder, because I conceded your point when I could have taken the opportunity to buffet you about the head with your faux pas, in the true style of the Internets.
posted by hifiparasol at 12:47 PM on June 18, 2007


Obligatory SNL skit.

That'd be a double (see above). ; )
posted by ericb at 12:50 PM on June 18, 2007


In January, I flew out of San Diego coming back from a tradeshow. I had what's called a knitter's loom with me, in its original box, which is open on top. Said piece of equipment is chock full of dangerous, spiky, could-put-your-eye-out stuff. It was with me as a carry-on.

I got pulled out of line, hardly surprising.

THEY LEFT THE POINTY METALLIC STUFF ALONE, while rifling through the deepest depths of my bag to find a tiny Kiehl's squeezy-style lip balm I didn't even know was there.

And you're telling me the TSA has even an ounce of sense? Screw that.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:56 PM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think, in general, that is a bigger problem than people realize. Not just with the TSA but almost all forms of authority in the States are now under constant suspicion. Cops, doctors, judges, priests, politicians... you name it. Everyone we are suppose to trust to operate for the common good is under suspicion. Part of the problem is a perception of different levels of accountability, part of the problem is high profile cases of abuse of power. There is no easy fix, but I can't help think it poisons our society.

The reason people are distrustful of cops, politicians, and TSA agents is not because of the individual cop or politician or agent but because (especially in the case of police officers) those individuals represent a power structure that many people feel is not to be trusted. I don't mind the cop on the beat - in fact, I'm grateful that he or she is out there protecting me and mine. At the same time, when one also recognizes that the police officer is the most visible agent of the state's capacity for violence, a certain wariness is more than reasonable.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 12:57 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I confess to not having flown since Sept.11 for several reasons, not the least of which is the TSA idiocy at airports that I hear about day after day after day. Part of my resistance is due to the fact that even before Sept.11, I was frequently singled out to have my purse searched after going through the metal detector.

I would start out asking nicely why, be fed the line that it was just a random choice, to which I would reply that if I was searched every single time I went through, it was no longer random.

Finally one screener told me that there was indeed a list.

Why I would be on it was never explained. I've traveled to the Middle East a couple of times, but also to Mexico and to London. Why would I be picked out? No one could explain why a white, middle-aged woman with a regular Anglo-Saxon name would raise suspicions. (And no, I'm not saying that having a different name SHOULD merit extra scrutiny).

But I don't cope well with crap and stupid-assed bureaucracy, so I've done my best to avoid having to do so.

I have had a metal pin in my neck from a car acccident though that doesn't seem to have affected anything in the old days. And now I have a metal screw in my ankle from surgery, so I'm sure I'll set something off.

I have a coupleof really basic questions, though:

I thought thh nail clipper rule had been tossed out?

EVERYONE removes shoes, regardless?

I have to put a kid on a plane in a few days and want to make sure she's ready.
posted by etaoin at 1:00 PM on June 18, 2007


That's right. I said "no scientific basis." And when I say "no scientific basis," I mean that any reasonably intelligent high school ...

... rhetoric teacher will tell you that you're conflating the issues into a useless munge. I didn't say there weren't holes in the policy. There are. Holes big enough to drive a truck through. But you said there's no scientific basis for a ban, as if never, ever, ever could there be an explosive made to look like toothpaste or hidden in a shampoo bottle.

Catastrophic, all-or-nothing language like "no scientific basis" doesn't help anyone.

Rail against the policy. Hell, I'll help you. Just don't try to beam sunshine up everyone's asses that there's an army of truthful Galileo's out there being oppressed by the Pope of TSA.
posted by frogan at 1:06 PM on June 18, 2007


10 hours of driving is better than a one hour flight? What the hell?

Where I live we have a really shitty airport, with frequent delays aand/or lost luggage; very few people use it uless absolutely necessary. That means a 1 hour drive to the next nearest airport, another hour at the airport before the plane leaves, since there are few direct flights another hour in the air and another hour layover in Atlanta, then you can finally get to your destination, where you will spend an hour getting your baggage and a rental car; so 6 hours spent so far, assuming no foul-ups along the way. Meanwhile I could be driving, stopping whenever I want, with whatever baggage I want immediately accessible and have transportation with me to use at my destination. Throw in the added hassles of flying versus driving with a toddler as well as the expense and inflexiblilty (e.g. the only flight to my destination doesn't leave until 1 PM but I could be driving at 8 AM) and our recent trips to Maine and Chicago from GA via car make a lot more sense.
posted by TedW at 1:07 PM on June 18, 2007


Finally one screener told me that there was indeed a list.

More Than 500,000 Names On FBI Terror Watch List .

Even Senator Ted Kennedy is on the list and has been "flagged" by the secret "no-fly" list.
posted by ericb at 1:08 PM on June 18, 2007


frogan - ahem. the alledged threat isn't a liquid explosive. The alledged threat is a liquid explosive mixed on the plane form seemingly innocuous liquids. That's your scientific imposibility right there.
posted by Artw at 1:09 PM on June 18, 2007


Rail against the policy. Hell, I'll help you. Just don't try to beam sunshine up everyone's asses that there's an army of truthful Galileo's out there being oppressed by the Pope of TSA.

Dude, you're being a deliberately obtuse troll, here. I'm perfectly happy to say that there is "no reasonable scientific basis" instead of "no scientific basis" if that will satisfy you. I thought that the word "reasonable" was implied when I said "no scientific basis." Your rhetoric about Galileos and the Pope of TSA is just a whole lot of straw men, smoke, and mirrors.
posted by jonp72 at 1:12 PM on June 18, 2007


CBS News | 60 Minutes: Unlikely Terrorists On No Fly List -- "Steve Kroft Reports List Includes President Of Bolivia, Dead 9/11 Hijackers." [video]
posted by ericb at 1:16 PM on June 18, 2007


I think the ban is nonsense too- in fact I seem to recall on MeFi we addressed how virtually impossible it would be to carry any reasonable quantity of liquid material onto a plane in a way that it could discretely be used as an explosive that could bring the plane down (start a fire, make lots of painful smoke, yes, but blow up the plane, no).

That said, I really think the people watching from the internet have a lack of perspective here. When I'm on a line at the airport a hundred people deep, and it's taking longer because someone's bitching with the TSA about the size of their hair gel bottle, the TSA person isn't the guy I want to strangle at that moment.

I don't understand how and why we live in a culture where people gets instantly pissed off at people doing shitty jobs and we cheer on the abusers instead of sympathize with the target of that person's personal stress. Yeah, there are shitty TSA employees- but they also have a terrible job. And most often they do it because they have to- we won't and they can't do ours, but no matter why I doubt any of them woke up one morning and thought, "man, I really want to scan luggage for a living."

They have to deal with this eight, ten hours a day in shifts that start at four in the morning. The government refused to make them union or give them extra for overtime (which is forced- in fact, they have to work extra on weekends, nights, and holidays to help all of us trying to see our families), and they are paid shit- I mean, literally, a handful of Republicans in Congress tried to see if they could just be paid in feces. ("what do you mean you need money? Do you WANT terrorists to kill us?")

And as this thread shows, they are among a unique culture of workers who, like McDonald's cashiers, meter maids, bank tellers, and if you're in some really elite Republican circles, public school teachers, have the "people person" part of the job defined by meeting a couple thousand people a day who hate them- almost always because they are doing their job- which is to follow the instructions given by the people who actually made the rules, but you'll never meet because unlike the TSA worker, they can afford first-class tickets.

I dunno, maybe just once I'd like to see a stand-up comic do a routine about what the deal is with the people who write the employee training manual, but I guess I'll keep dreaming.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:16 PM on June 18, 2007 [9 favorites]


By the way, if some terrorist malcontent wanted to do a replay of 9/11, all he would have to do is buy a private plane (which is often unregulated), load it up with chemicals and explosives purchased from chemical supply houses and other commercial sources (which is also often unregulated), and then fly the plane into an unsecured chemical plant in a high-population area (which often goes unregulated because of the Bush Administration's reluctance to regulate the chemical industry). No interactions with TSA security personnel would be necessary for a terrorist to pull this off, which makes much of our debate in this thread almost totally beside the point.
posted by jonp72 at 1:19 PM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't know what it is about my looks or maybe my demeanor, but I'm always That Guy who's getting double- and triple-checked by sixteen levels of bureaucracy. I'm used to it, it doesn't even phase me anymore and you can be damn sure that there's nothing even remotely eyebrow-raising on my person 100% of the time. (I've been told that It's my don't-ask-me-for-directions face)

As such, I get checked at the airport every time. I'm unfailingly polite and courteous to those doing the checking, I know the drill and keep my hands visible, make eye contact (but not too much eye contact!), speak slowly and carefully, no sudden movements, etc. I could defend a dissertation on dealing with The Man. Generally, once the cops realize that I'm not going to panic and bolt to keep from having my joint or whatever discovered, they're equally nice and we go through the motions together with no stress or raised voices.

The NYPD/Port Authority PD, cops in bad parts of Jersey City, "Random" bag screenings in the subway, paranoid guards at federal buildings, speeding tickets, even getting ticketed for "jumping" the turnstile and never anything but a businesslike transaction. Somehow, the TSA (and whatever subempire of DHS is in charge of land border crossings today) are unfailingly the most unkind, looking-for-trouble asshats I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with.

It can't be the "stress" of having potentially lethal consequences of failure, the screeners at other high-traffic international airports manage it. The thing it puts me in mind of is a visa clerk at the French embassy in NYC. After standing on line for a few hours, I was next on line. Eagerly, I stepped forward and provided him with all the required, signed in triplicate documentation that was required. He took it in the grumpy manner of civil servants everywhere, leafed through it for a bit, and proceeded to pick up the cellphone and make a personal call (In French, but even I could follow it). I can't think of another way to interpret that interaction except that he was begging me to get angry so he could turn me away. Maybe there's a lot of paperwork involved in a student visa, maybe his wife left him.

That's the attitude I see from, literally, 100% of my interactions with the TSA. It's because they're in charge of security theater, we know it and they know it. Their job is to keep mothers from bringing sippy cups on planes, and there's no pretending they're not full of shit. (The rules, not the sippy cups). When no right thinking person will judge a rule to be sane, no right thinking person will respect it, and how could you respect yourself enforcing such a rule?
posted by Skorgu at 1:24 PM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying the rules make any sense. I think it would make more sense to try to detect these substances then ban all liquids, but the idea that there are no liquid that could possibly be used is kind of silly.

Nitroglycerin and other liquid explosives have been banned from planes for as long as there's been airport security. Gaseous, solid, liquid -- no explosives on the plane. It's pretty simple. They even have machines now to detect trace explosives on materials. This is not what the liquid ban is about.

The liquid ban was put in place specifically when it emerged that some people in Great Britain were planning on bringing stable liquids on a plane, then combining them in flight to make an explosive. As many people have pointed out, this is nearly impossible.

You're right -- it would make much more sense to try to detece the explosives substances and let everything else on. That's how it worked before mid-August of last summer.
posted by one_bean at 1:26 PM on June 18, 2007


Finally one screener told me that there was indeed a list.

More Than 500,000 Names On FBI Terror Watch List .

Even Senator Ted Kennedy is on the list and has been "flagged" by the secret "no-fly" list.
posted by ericb at 4:08 PM on June 18 [+] [!]



I'm talking about BEFORE Sept.11. And here's another question: If there's a watch list, why aren't the people on the list getting hauled into police stations for questioning? If they're so dangerous they shouldn't fly, shouldn't something more be done about them? Only slightly facetious.
posted by etaoin at 1:30 PM on June 18, 2007


The government refused to make them union or give them extra for overtime (which is forced- in fact, they have to work extra on weekends, nights, and holidays to help all of us trying to see our families), and they are paid shit-

I think this is a great point, but we also have to emphasize that the poor working conditions of TSA workers are actually a threat to security and not just an issue of labor solidarity. It isn't just the lack of collective bargaining that's a problem; it's the total lack of whistleblower protection for TSA workers, even if they "blow the whistle" on practices harmful to our security. In addition, if TSA workers were unionized, we might have TSA workers who were more well-trained and less understaffed, because staffing and training are two major issues that unions in service industries have experience dealing with.
posted by jonp72 at 1:31 PM on June 18, 2007


Scene: Pre-9/11
A shivering man exits an armored truck and very cautiously approaches a security checkpoint, stinking from 40 feet away like ammonia and sharply refined manure, eyes tearing, lips cracked and nose bleeding, eyes threatening constantly to roll back into a seizure. A chemical shimmer pours out of the top of his remarkably thick non-metal “coffee cup.”
Man: “Hi, I’d like to get on this plane with my cup of ‘coffee.’”
Security guard (suddenly eyes tearing, skin burning): “Sure, go ahead.”
*cough cough* whoops! *BOOM*
----

Seriously though, y’know, there is workable security for aircraft. The TSA isn’t it. Most of it devolves into this type of crap. Any competant security officer wouldn’t waste their time with some woman like this.
But by the same token, what incentive do TSA officers have NOT to waste their time and actually look for probable threats? What motivates those individuals (apparently) is having a job with a uniform, not actually catching bad guys. You can incentivize the behavior you want, but obviously there has been no real desire to form a professional corp of airline security personnel. (Except for, y’know, people with money and bigwig government folks).
Costs too much, apparently. So you get this garbage on the ground.
On the other hand, they can’t all be El Al: undercover onboard agents, steel cockpit door that never opens, frequent schedule changes, questioning, locking the zippers on suitcases with plastic ties, no unaccompanied bags, luggage put in armored box that pressurizes before it’s put on the plane to detonate explosives, etc. etc.
Costs too much, so they make you throw out your bottled water and pretend it’s working.
I think she was being an idiot, but I don’t think being egalitarian is reason enough to follow rules that are stupid - nor do I think the fact that everyone does/should follow the same rules legitimizes them in some respect, particularly when this security theater is being done on the cheap so there’s no real need to actually try to save anyone’s lives. Really, it seems, it’s only there to mollify the lawyers and the insurance companies.
Theater so the insurance company can tell your survivors “Well, we had security in place” and don’t have to pay you as though they were being truly negligent.
Which, in trying to convince us that terrorists are movie cliches and use Die Hard style Hollywood liquid explosives, they are bein negligent in terms of the real threat.
It’s pure fiction. So they don’t have to spend the money to actually protect you. Meanwhile they let the dolts play their little games to keep them happy arguing over scraps of dignity and power and the sword of damocles continues to go unchecked.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:31 PM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


That video is laughable.

Four security individuals responsible for the safety of hundreds of people, waste 11 minutes on a mother and her 19 month old baby's sippy cup.

The incident is about humiliation, plain and simple. It's about humiliating a mom, desperate to make her flight by repeatedly getting down on her hands and knees and wipe up the floor when a janitor with a mop, could've de-escalated the situation in 30 seconds. But no that would've involved maturity, common sense and decency.
posted by Skygazer at 1:35 PM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


buy a private plane (which is often unregulated), load it up with chemicals and explosives

Hello, FBI Agent Brier, we seem to have a possible incident over at MetaFilter. Check it out. Username is jonp72, stated name is "John Pennington," likely birth year: 1972, likely location: Arlington, VA, right in our backyard. Get me Langley on the line. Over-and-out.

Judge Orders Domestic Surveillance Documents Public.
"The April request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked the FBI to turn over documents related to its misuse of National Security Letters, self-issued subpoenas that don’t need a judge’s approval and which can get financial, phone and internet records. Recipients of the letters are forbidden by law from ever telling anyone other than their lawyer that they received the request. Though initially warned initially to use this power sparingly, FBI agents issued more than 47,000 in 2005, more than half of which targeted Americans. Information obtained from the requests, which need only be certified by the agency to be 'relevant' to an investigation, are dumped into a data-mining warehouse for perpetuity."
posted by ericb at 1:37 PM on June 18, 2007


I'm talking about BEFORE Sept.11.

Very interesting. By any chance did you ever piss-off Richard Nixon? ; )

BTW -- the Watergate break-in was 35-years ago yesterday!
posted by ericb at 1:39 PM on June 18, 2007


I'm talking about BEFORE Sept.11.

etaoin, I'm a bit skeptical of your story. It seems like what you're suggesting is that before 9/11 you would go through security and you would get stopped all the time for a more extensive check. Ok, but then you go on to say that you were told there was some list that was making you get checked. At what point would the screener check this list that they had? Did they have your name and face memorized?
posted by OmieWise at 1:40 PM on June 18, 2007


trying to convince us that terrorists are movie cliches and use Die Hard style Hollywood liquid explosives

I sometimes wonder if the only thing needed to be a TSA/DoHS honcho is excessive consumption of action films.

Seriously.
posted by aramaic at 1:41 PM on June 18, 2007


But no that would've involved maturity, common sense and decency.

Purposefully making messes and then lying about it involves no maturity, common sense or decency, either.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:47 PM on June 18, 2007


They even have machines now to detect trace explosives on materials.

Boston's Logan International Airport testing new handheld liquid-explosives detection scanning system made by ICX Technologies Inc.
posted by ericb at 1:48 PM on June 18, 2007


Awesome post on mid-air explosive mixing
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on June 18, 2007


Dude, you're being a deliberately obtuse troll, here. I'm perfectly happy to say that there is "no reasonable scientific basis" instead of "no scientific basis" if that will satisfy you.

Well reasonable scientific basis for what? The claim that you couldn't bring down a plane with some gel or paste? Even if you had access to a world class lab an any substances you wanted? that seems really implausible.

in fact I seem to recall on MeFi we addressed how virtually impossible it would be to carry any reasonable quantity of liquid material onto a plane in a way that it could discretely be used as an explosive that could bring the plane down

That was in discussion of a specific plot that wouldn't have worked. And I think it would be hard to synthesize an explosive from liquids on a plane. But that doesn't mean you couldn't bring some liquid or gel with you. That already had explosive properties. I bet you could pack Semtex in a toothpaste bottle, for example. I don't think it's a realistic scenario, or that the ban is a worthwhile idea, but to claim it's "scientifically impossible" to bring down a plane with a liquid or gel seems wrong. The specific London plot probably wouldn't work, but that doesn’t mean all gels or liquids wouldn't theoretically work.

You're right -- it would make much more sense to try to detece the explosives substances and let everything else on. That's how it worked before mid-August of last summer.

Yup. The rule is stupid but lets not get carried away about what's "scientifically impossible"
posted by delmoi at 1:52 PM on June 18, 2007


23skidoo writes "Purposefully making messes and then lying about it involves no maturity, common sense or decency, either."

Right, the woman was out of line. But the TSA guards should act professionally. They treat the incident like a tit-for-tat personal exchange; they should be focusing on doing their jobs. This woman was clearly not a security threat, and there was no good reason for devoting as many resources to her as were devoted. Four security personnel? Seriously?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:56 PM on June 18, 2007


So, basically, I get the idea from this thread that sanity < holding up a line.

Let's not pretend like these people aren't assholes. But let's also not forget that these regulations are a terrible affront to freedom, and that allowing them to exist is allowing America to slip further into the ever-advancing shadow of tyranny.

You can't fight totalitarianism at the airport x-ray machine, especially against TSA employees who are just trying to do their job. But that doesn't excuse any of this. One woman being a bitch about her sippy cup does not excuse us from the responsibility of being indignant about the absurd restrictions that have been placed upon what is supposed to be the most "free" nation on the planet.
posted by borkingchikapa at 1:59 PM on June 18, 2007


The rule is stupid but lets not get carried away about what's "scientifically impossible"

All security is based on cost-benefit analysis. You shouldn't make decisions based on threats that are "scientifically possible" in the most narrow, theoretical, non-practical sense of the term, but on actual, plausible threats that exist in the real world. Basing a policy on some sci-fi scenario about a liquid bomb made MacGyver-style out of Gatorade and shampoo takes resources away from implementing other policies that actually could enhance people's security.
posted by jonp72 at 2:00 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I thought that the word "reasonable" was implied when I said "no scientific basis."

Funny, when he called you on it the first time, you stamped your little foot and said, "That's right. I said "no scientific basis."'

So which one is the obtuse one here? Where's my scorecard...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:02 PM on June 18, 2007


It's one thing to rail against stupid regulations. It's another to toss around comments like "no scientific basis."

Except that there isn't a scientific basis for fearing that someone could make explosives out of innocuous chemicals in the lavatory of a moving airplane without suffocating themselves first.

Steve Kroft Reports List Includes President Of Bolivia, Dead 9/11 Hijackers

Clearly, al-Qaeda is just waiting to spring its secret weapon on us: zombie Atta!
posted by oaf at 2:03 PM on June 18, 2007


Well, yeah, 23skidoo, but she’s not the one in the position of responsibility here. Certainly we should expect some degree of it from her (being ex secret service apparently) but it’s not her job to keep things moving, nor does she have that power in this circumstance. Whether she’s a hero or villian here is largely irrelevent, the TSA folks have all the cards and control the situation. They chose to spend their time confronting this challenge to their authority rather than using that authority in a more efficient and appropriate manner.
Her actions as a passenger aren’t codified nor do they - by intent - control the actions of other passengers. Indeed, the TSA and other airport officials are vested with authority precisely to prevent unruly passengers from disrupting order. If she chooses to be disruptive, she’s an idiot, not all passengers. It doesn’t lead us to question whether any passenger should ever be allowed to fly. If however the TSA officials choose to allow disruption and abuse their authority it affects all TSA officials everywhere and leads to a questioning of that authority. And clearly one can question: what exactly are theirgoals here?
Their actions don’t seem to be aligned with maintaining either security or order, but in fact inflicting their will on this particular individual. And indeed, she might deserve a kick in the ass, but it’s not their job to give it to her.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:04 PM on June 18, 2007


etaoin, I'm a bit skeptical of your story. It seems like what you're suggesting is that before 9/11 you would go through security and you would get stopped all the time for a more extensive check. Ok, but then you go on to say that you were told there was some list that was making you get checked. At what point would the screener check this list that they had? Did they have your name and face memorized?

I can't speak to her situation, but after 9/11 I was always pulled aside as a result of a code that was printed on my boarding pass. This code "told" the clearing agent to put me through extra-screening. And - I'd always be one of those pulled aside when they were doing the "second screening" at the airline gate, just as passengers were boarding. I eventually asked and a United Airlines gate agent (likely improperly) pointed out the "code" to me and suggested that my travel profile (i.e. numerous and frequent trips to/from Europe, the Middle East, etc. -- particularly in 2001/2002) and other information were probably factors for my being on a list and "flagged." In the past few years, though, I have no longer been singled out for extra screening.
posted by ericb at 2:04 PM on June 18, 2007


As for the toothpaste tube full of toothpaste - I thought this was already detectable? Hence the need for MacGuyver style tactics?
posted by Artw at 2:05 PM on June 18, 2007


Purposefully making messes and then lying about it involves no maturity, common sense or decency, either.

First, we don't know whether the word "purposefully" applies because we don't have sound on the video. Second, the sippy cup held about 6 to 8 ounces of water. That's not exactly a major mess.
posted by jonp72 at 2:05 PM on June 18, 2007


You would be surprised how much 8 oz of water is.
posted by smackfu at 2:08 PM on June 18, 2007


Funny, when he called you on it the first time, you stamped your little foot and said, "That's right. I said "no scientific basis."'

Tell you what. Put up or shut up. Find me a chemistry Ph.D. from an accredited university who can show me exactly how a terrorist can set off a bomb in an airplane lavatory with tiny little packets of liquid in 6 ounce increments, and I will say "I stand corrected." I'm not holding my breath.
posted by jonp72 at 2:11 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


You would be surprised how much 8 oz of water is.

It's not anything that couldn't be cleaned up with some paper towels.
posted by jonp72 at 2:14 PM on June 18, 2007


Right, the woman was out of line. But the TSA guards should act professionally.

I can't think of a profession whose members don't push the boundaries of what they can get away with when faced with people who are making trouble and trying to get away with not following rules. People who act all surprised and uppity that folks with power will use it when you are acting uppity confuse me. If I asked 100 people "What would happen to you if, when asked to give up a bottle of water at airport security, you dumped it on the floor instead of giving it up," I think most people would think that their advancement would the be slowed down. I doubt most people would answer "I would be allowed to proceed to my gate while a janitor was called to clean up my mess, because my behavior, while rude, was no threat to the security of the airport."
posted by 23skidoo at 2:14 PM on June 18, 2007


23skidoo ...I'd also post edited videos of the incident on the interwebs when I got home, too.
posted by Artw at 2:17 PM on June 18, 2007


I'm not holding my breath.

...since I expect the TSA to ban gaseous oxygen in relatively short order, you may want to reconsider this decision. Gasping is so unseemly compared to nice, prim, asphyxiation.
posted by aramaic at 2:22 PM on June 18, 2007


People who act all surprised and uppity that folks with power will use it when you are acting uppity confuse me.

Uppity? What is this? Mississippi in 1952? Should Ms. Emmerson have done a Stepin Fetchit dance while she was mopping up the floot, too?
posted by jonp72 at 2:22 PM on June 18, 2007


Uppity? What is this? Mississippi in 1952? Should Ms. Emmerson have done a Stepin Fetchit dance while she was mopping up the floot, too?

No one said that.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:23 PM on June 18, 2007


First, we don't know whether the word "purposefully" applies because we don't have sound on the video. Second, the sippy cup held about 6 to 8 ounces of water. That's not exactly a major mess.

What if you had a plane full of mothers with children holding sippy cups?! That would be like 911 times a million, or nine hundred and eleven million!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:24 PM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


For god's sake don't tell the TSA about Aunt Jemima then.

"...One of the interesting sabotage devices developed by the OSS was an explosive nicknamed "Aunt Jemima." This was what is called a "plastic explosive," meaning it can be formed into different shapes. What was interesting about this explosive is that not only did it look something like flour, but also it could actually be baked into different shapes. Aunt Jemima would not explode without blasting caps, a type of trigger device, to set it off. Unfortunately, in at least one case a cook ate an Aunt Jemima muffin, and almost died..."

Sure they have chemical detection for high explosive but does that count if it's baked into cookie/muffin format?
posted by longbaugh at 2:31 PM on June 18, 2007


You know who else was uppity and was making trouble and trying to get away with not following rules?

The Jews killed by: Hitler


/It’s not that she was singled out, it’s that security is supposed to be doing other things. Certainly some people in power use it to do some things within their personal interest, but they’re not supposed to. A cop could detain you for 24 hours just because he doesn’t like you and likely get away with it. And indeed, worse. He’s not supposed to however. The more power an individual has, the more restraint and caution they must use in its exercise. I think ‘accountability’ is the exactly appropriate word here.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:34 PM on June 18, 2007


Wow. Reading this is pretty amazing.

Has anyone here actually read about The Bojinka Plot and the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434? Or are you all just talking out of your asses? Just for those who missed it: IT IS AN ACTUAL INCIDENT WHERE LIQUID EXPLOSIVES WERE USED, ON A PLANE. Which part of this is "impossible" or "unlikely"?

And it is possible to put explosives in your shoes too. The question isn't what is possible, the question is what price do you want to pay (in dollars, freedom, convience, and lots of other things) to be safe? Everyone likes to go one about "this is a threat' or 'that is not a threat' but few like to talk about the core issue.

Bah to the lot of ya. Well almost.

My apologies if someone actual got near the facts in the above mess.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:35 PM on June 18, 2007


Oh, just an add on ... "it was just a sippy of water". Well, duh, if they had absolute verification it was water, probably wouldn't be a problem, now would it? The whole point is that they DON'T KNOW.

Now me, I'd rather take the risk to be allowed to take some toiletries; I think it is a worthwhile trade off. But I won't deny it is a risk.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:37 PM on June 18, 2007


Tell you what. Put up or shut up. Find me a chemistry Ph.D. from an accredited university who can show me exactly how a terrorist can set off a bomb in an airplane lavatory with tiny little packets of liquid in 6 ounce increments, and I will say "I stand corrected." I'm not holding my breath.

Well, this wasn't very difficult at all...

Google search on "binary explosive." Second link.

I think it would be tremendously easy to mix this in the airport bathroom, after going through security, but before getting on the plane.

I guess everyone will wait here for the "I stand corrected." Yes? No? Maybe?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:44 PM on June 18, 2007


Bovine Love, you might want to read your link before you claim it as your proof, it has to do with plain old liquid nitro, no binary chemicals mixed on board. He merely assembled the physical elements in the bathroom, no chemical mixing required.

Cool Papa Bell, the same issues of noxious gas production during the mixing, happens in the airport bathroom as the airplane bathroom. In your scenario, the terrorist has to somehow keep everyone else using the bathroom with him, from passing out from the fumes.
posted by nomisxid at 2:53 PM on June 18, 2007


Yeah, but that watermelon was fucking toast. As long as they don't start making planes out of the same stuff they made the post out of we totally have to ban pens.
posted by Artw at 2:56 PM on June 18, 2007


The Jews killed by: Hitler

G'night everybody! Thanks for coming!
posted by hifiparasol at 2:58 PM on June 18, 2007


23skidoo: "Purposefully making messes and then lying about it involves no maturity, common sense or decency, either."

Look, getting on a plane is a stressful situation. It puts you in a helpless state not far removed from going in for surgery. You put your faith in a team of highly trained professionals and their skills and equipment and hope that you come out okay on the other side.

TSA workers are a crucial element of that group of professionals, and as such, the responsibility is upon them to deal with situations that might arise with efficiency and knowledge and understanding. They should know that people are not in the best state before getting on a plane whether they're nervous or tired or trying to not miss a flight etc... This woman had the added stress of taking care of a baby, Airplane flights dehydrate the fuck out of people, especially small children and maybe she was just caring for her kid, so yeah, she might get a little bit freaked out that someone might get in her face about some water and try and drink the, water or spill it or whatever...it doesn't matter whether she did it intentionally or not. She was clearly not a threat. It's not her job to know all the ins and outs of an airport and getting on a plane, but it is very much the job of a TSA worker. A professional does not complicate a situation by calling back up and bullying a harried almost hysterical mother. That's just some sort of cowardly Bullsh*t. They deal and they focus on what's important.

But let's put that aside for a second and humor the notion that perhaps the mother deserved what she had coming to her. To spend 11 minutes on it and compromising a whole layer of security and the time and attentions of yourself and three other security persons while hundreds of potential threats are walking by is criminal negligence. There is a clear and cut case to be made here against the TSA/DHS and it's all right there on a video on their own site. Those passengers who went through that area were deprived of important oversight and protection and the fact that the TSA doesn't even have the ability to see that negligence would be terrifying if it wasn't so jaw droppingly incompetent.
posted by Skygazer at 3:02 PM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


nomisxid, I read it and am aware that it was not binary. Are they only dangerous if they are binary?

I am aware that some of the discussion was restricted to binary, but a heck of a lot of it was about liquid explosives in general. Binary or not, they are pretty damn dangerous. IMO, the binary thing is a red herring.
posted by Bovine Love at 3:03 PM on June 18, 2007


Doh, why can't I learn to use preview and check the links I leave out????
posted by Bovine Love at 3:04 PM on June 18, 2007


Problem with the ‘net - lots of presupposition regarding scenario going on. Yes you can smuggle enough of a liquid explosive onto a plane for it to be a problem. Define problem.
If you want to scare people - sure. If you want to take the plane down or otherwise cause mass casualties - no, not really. There are far more efficient explosives to blow up a plane but a lot of that is being very closely looked at.
But do the terrorists need to destroy an aircraft to create terror? No. *

(How much bang you need becomes a matter of diminishing returns in terms of detection. Powerful explosives tend to create their own giant red flags. Nitroglycerine would be one of the most innocuous in those terms. But not so stable tho, so you have to carry a very small amount. But if it’s that small an amount it’s less of a viable threat. El Al f’rinstance lets you carry on contact lenses with some liquid, but no bottle, diaper cream but in a small tube, but also baby food and baby milk in a baby bottle, etc - but basically stuff you can proof by drinking it.)

*Corollary to that is what is done to limit the spread of that terror - not the threat itself, but the unreasonable fear of terrorist attack.
Does the TSA do a good job of that? No. Quite the opposite.

There’s more of a sense that terrorism legitimates the TSA’s jobs, that they’re exploiting that, than the sense you get from El Al security that they’re seriously looking to fuck you up if you’re a terrorist and if you’re not they want to get you out of the way as swiftly as possible.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:21 PM on June 18, 2007


But let's put that aside for a second and humor the notion that perhaps the mother deserved what she had coming to her.

If you want to say that it's a waste of manpower to have security guards make sure that spills get cleaned up that's a fine and arguable point, but everyone who spills things on the floor deserves to clean them up.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:24 PM on June 18, 2007


Has anyone here actually read about The Bojinka Plot and the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434?

I've read about them and posted links to them in previous MetaFilter discussions. That was in 1995. So for about 10 years either security measures changed to mitigate the liquid explosive threat, it wasn't that viable of a threat, or it was a threat and the security people are incompetent.

Steve Kroft Reports List Includes...Dead 9/11 Hijackers

Those horses will never get through the barn door.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:25 PM on June 18, 2007


The TSA Hates Your Vibrator

posted by homunculus at 3:30 PM on June 18, 2007


Smedley: There’s more of a sense that terrorism legitimates the TSA’s jobs, that they’re exploiting that, than the sense you get from El Al security that they’re seriously looking to fuck you up if you’re a terrorist and if you’re not they want to get you out of the way as swiftly as possible.

Exactly. The TSA and DHS has a vested interest in fear and terrorism. Without it they'd be out of a job. (You know... like Bush and Cheney.) Their number one goal isn't stopping terrorism, but justifying their existence, their infrastructure and their massive budget. So what you get is not a focus on practical solutions, but convenient solutions looking for a problem.
posted by Skygazer at 3:37 PM on June 18, 2007


Well, this wasn't very difficult at all...

Google search on "binary explosive." Second link.

I think it would be tremendously easy to mix this in the airport bathroom, after going through security, but before getting on the plane.

I guess everyone will wait here for the "I stand corrected." Yes? No? Maybe?


Your link is a film of somebody exploding a watermelon on Metacafe.com, while "scary" synthesizer music tinkles in the background. The actual chemicals used in the film are not named. In addition, it's not clear whether the person mixing the "chemicals" has to wear special protective equipment or whether they can mix the chemicals in their everyday street clothes. The film claims that a binary explosive "vaporized" a watermelon, but that could just as easily be creative editing. And wouldn't it be more likely that the explosive would splatter watermelon all over the place?

In addition, when the liquid explosive was mixed together in the film, the drop of "explosive" and a fuse were put in a simple ballpoint pen. Even if you accept the potentially highly dubious premises of this unattributed, unsourced video, the explosive can be smuggled in a ballpoint pen. And if that's the case, why aren't we banning ballpoint pens instead of Gatorade, shampoo, etc. etc.?

I would be happy to accept it when I'm proven wrong, but come on.
posted by jonp72 at 3:39 PM on June 18, 2007


You know who used to spill things on the floor and make Himmler clean them up?
*beingajackassfilter*
posted by Smedleyman at 3:46 PM on June 18, 2007


Has anyone here actually read about The Bojinka Plot and the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434? Or are you all just talking out of your asses? Just for those who missed it: IT IS AN ACTUAL INCIDENT WHERE LIQUID EXPLOSIVES WERE USED, ON A PLANE. Which part of this is "impossible" or "unlikely"?

I can read Wikipedia links too. The Bojinka plot was never brought to fruition. In the case of Phillippine Airlines Flight 434, there was one death when a bomb exploded under a passenger's seat. (I'm not sure whether the passenger was killed because of the explosion or because he got sucked out of a hole in the plane.) The rest of the passengers survived without injuries after the pilot made an emergency landing.

In other words, there has been one death in 12 years of worldwide airplane travel attributable to a liquid explosive. This still does not legitimize the TSA's current ban on liquid toiletries in carry-on luggage, yet allowing these liquids in checked baggage.
posted by jonp72 at 3:48 PM on June 18, 2007


kirkaracha: So for about 10 years either security measures changed to mitigate the liquid explosive threat, it wasn't that viable of a threat, or it was a threat and the security people are incompetent.

You state "viable" as if it was a binary state. Threat-risk analysis is not a yes/no outcome, and when balanced against cost, political outcomes, etc. it gets very complicated. You leave out the very real possibility that they considered a risk worth taking. In 10 years our society has become much more risk adverse. Given the same event today, I think the crack-down and panic would be much more severe. So incompetence or lack of viability or even mitigation (although I suspect there was some of that, but it isn't clear how) are not the only possibilities.

As to quantity, the amount required to bring down an aircraft seems to be a bit of a crap shoot. Some aircraft seem to have been brought down by quite small amounts (Lockerbie comes to mind); others have had major structural damage (by non-explosive means) and landed safely, more or less. It seems some luck, skill or both are required for small amounts.

Again, in working so hard to make the threat negligible, we miss the real point of balancing threat and all the other factors.
posted by Bovine Love at 3:49 PM on June 18, 2007




I'm talking about BEFORE Sept.11.

etaoin, I'm a bit skeptical of your story. It seems like what you're suggesting is that before 9/11 you would go through security and you would get stopped all the time for a more extensive check. Ok, but then you go on to say that you were told there was some list that was making you get checked. At what point would the screener check this list that they had? Did they have your name and face memorized?
posted by OmieWise at 4:40 PM on June 18 [+] [!]


Hi, I'm not saying that there was a list; I'm simply saying that that's what a supervisor--who looked to be about 120 years old-- told me. This conversation occurred at JFK in the spring of 2001. It makes no sense but neither does getting stopped all the time. It happened regularly when I was flying fairly often for business. When I started flying occasionally with my kid, it stopped and then started again. Someone above said something about having a stone face or angry or something and I've been told that I have one, too. Maybe I look ready to tangle and thus a threat, I don't know. I do know that when I flew El Al a few years ago, I was asked a zillion questions*, just like everyone else, and somehow, that didn't seem offensive. But to have a rent a cop ask to go through my purse every single time, well, that pissed me off.
* my favorite was, "what are your feelings about the Holy Land?" and when I sloughed it off with a "I don't really have any" the guy really started prodding for an answer. But always very polite, very professional, which is not what you get from that TSA video. Really, making her mop up the floor and then miss the flight? I say BULLSHIT.
posted by etaoin at 3:50 PM on June 18, 2007


I love that they also apply the liquid ban to pilots. To pilots. So that they can't blow up the plane. The plane they sit at the controls of.
posted by bonaldi at 3:52 PM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


In other words, there has been one death in 12 years of worldwide airplane travel attributable to a liquid explosive. This still does not legitimize the TSA's current ban on liquid toiletries in carry-on luggage, yet allowing these liquids in checked baggage.

Then that is the discussion we should be having, not whether it is possible. It is political, not factual that is the question. Factually, it has been done. The TSA will always have that in their pocket.
posted by Bovine Love at 3:52 PM on June 18, 2007


Lockerbie = 1lb (450g) of explosives, in case anyone else had the urge to look it up on Wikipedia.
posted by Artw at 3:56 PM on June 18, 2007



How could anyone not know about the liquids Ban?


I flew a month or so ago, and while I knew about the ban I didn't know exactly how many ounces were OK. I figured I'd see at the airport. Guess what? NO SIGNS at the airport, at all, about the liquids. I had no clue what the allowed amount was, and as a result had to stop up the line at the detector rather than being to handle it earlier. had to throw away stuff, too.

It was just absurd throwing away something that was literally A) a package size of .04 oz over the limit, and B) had well under an oz left in the container.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:56 PM on June 18, 2007


Where are the goddamn terrorists? They've been extremely quiet since 9/11. It's almost like the "sandpaper" principle is working. God forbid.
posted by longbaugh at 3:58 PM on June 18, 2007


In other words, there has been one death in 12 years of worldwide airplane travel attributable to a liquid explosive. This still does not legitimize the TSA's current ban on liquid toiletries in carry-on luggage, yet allowing these liquids in checked baggage.

Then that is the discussion we should be having, not whether it is possible. It is political, not factual that is the question. Factually, it has been done. The TSA will always have that in their pocket.


That's cool. I see your point here. One thing that I've always wondered is why you can't bring in your own liquid toiletries, but you can buy as many liquid toiletries as you want before you get to your gate. If we were really serious about airline security, why do we have any vendors at all in airports selling non-essential items like snack foods, John Grisham novels, and girlie magazines? Why do we have to have Chili's and Starbucks and TGI Friday's in airports if it really is a matter of personal and national security? Or why don't we nationalize the vendors who sell stuff behind the security checkpoints at airports? (Not that I'm a big proponent of nationalizing industry, but hey, are we serious about security or not?) I suspect the answer has more to do with the fact that Congress fears lobbyists from Chili's/Starbucks/TGI Friday's etc. etc. more than they fear their pissed-off constituents who have to deal with the everyday inanities of TSA's security regulations.
posted by jonp72 at 4:04 PM on June 18, 2007


jonp72, I guess I just don't really understand you. You're trying real hard to overlay "it can't happen, can't, can't, can't" on top of "it sucks to have to surrender my bottle of Pert Plus."

Yes, it sucks. But your assertions don't mix well together. You end up sounding like a guy that hates bureaucracy just for the sake of hating bureaucracy. Fucking 'eh, get in line.

Your rant just seems awfully ... hysterical? Lacking in nuance? Inert? It's like your fingers are in your ears and you're going "la-la-la-TSA-sucks-la-la-la-TSA-sucks."

What is the logical conclusion to a TSA sucks rant? Amend it? How? Abolish it? And replace it with what?

If you're really that concerned about misplaced TSA priorities, that you fear these priorities are more than just wasteful, that they're actually counter-productive, just say it. But tossing around "it can't happen" is just inane. Saying, "it was only ONE death in 12 years" is just bush league.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:16 PM on June 18, 2007


One thing that I've always wondered is why you can't bring in your own liquid toiletries, but you can buy as many liquid toiletries as you want before you get to your gate.

The easy answer is ... we can be more sure of the integrity of the vendors than we can with John Q. Public.

Why do we have to have Chili's and Starbucks and TGI Friday's in airports if it really is a matter of personal and national security?

Then you make some sense...

I suspect the answer has more to do with the fact that Congress fears lobbyists from Chili's/Starbucks/TGI Friday's etc. etc. more than they fear their pissed-off constituents who have to deal with the everyday inanities of TSA's security regulations.

... but then you reach for the hysterical again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:20 PM on June 18, 2007


Except that there isn't a scientific basis for fearing that someone could make explosives out of innocuous chemicals in the lavatory of a moving airplane without suffocating themselves first.

*sigh*. How many times do I have to say this? You're probably right that setting up a chem. lab in an airplane bathroom and synthesizing explosive is not realistic. What is scientifically possible is for a well-funded terrorist group to produce some liquid-state explosive and sneaking it on board. It's not any more of a risk then a solid-state explosive and I don't think it's a good idea to ban a state of matter over it.

By the way, I mentioned up thread that my sister had to dump her wedding gift. In fact, she had two bags, and the second was full of all sorts of creams and gels. But they didn't check the second bag and they didn't notice any of them on the x-ray. So if you pack liquids you have a pretty good chance of getting them through. And if you pack bombs? Who knows. The liquids ban lets everyone play security auditor and find out just how failable it actually is. It's a fucking joke, the whole thing is.

What bugged me about this woman is that she was a liar, for one, and couldn't deal with the bullshit rules. Yeah, their bullshit, but screaming at the TSA guy isn't going to help anyone.

I guess what pisses me off about this attitude that the rules just apply to her.

Tell you what. Put up or shut up. Find me a chemistry Ph.D. from an accredited university who can show me exactly how a terrorist can set off a bomb in an airplane lavatory with tiny little packets of liquid in 6 ounce increments, and I will say "I stand corrected." I'm not holding my breath.

Why don't you find a chem. PhD that says you can't do it, mr. Science.

T IS AN ACTUAL INCIDENT WHERE LIQUID EXPLOSIVES WERE USED, ON A PLANE.

Oh come on. It killed one guy. Who cares? We're talking about bringing down an aircraft. For all their effort it would have been more effective to just drop a bomb in a trash bin at the airport.

Well, this wasn't very difficult at all...

Oh come on. We have no idea how that was edited, or what was already inside the watermelon, etc. The video is simply not credible.

Where are the goddamn terrorists? They've been extremely quiet since 9/11. It's almost like the "sandpaper" principle is working. God forbid.

You wouldn't think so if you lived in Spain.
posted by delmoi at 4:27 PM on June 18, 2007


Your link is a film of somebody exploding a watermelon on Metacafe.com

Gallagher offers a more effective way to "explode watermelons."
posted by ericb at 4:29 PM on June 18, 2007


I work at the US Capitol building in D.C. Routinely, I pass through security through out the day as part of my job, and watch visitors do so.

Food and drink is prohibited for visitors. They are told this when they get a ticket for a tour (handed a sheet), there is a large brown sign that says this before going to the screening facility, and on top of this, a police officer who steps out and clearly states this.

And yet...people still try and smuggle food and drink through the security screening, only to cry either outrage or surprise when the police see the four bottles of water, the seven apples, and bag of chips, in the backpack going through the x-ray machine.

Course, the entitlement issues also go for staffers working for various congressmen.

But yes, at the US Capitol, if a child has a sippy cup, guess what? He's going in. :)
posted by Atreides at 4:34 PM on June 18, 2007


If, due to all of these security restrictions, I actually felt safer, I wouldn't mind it so much.

But it doesn't make me feel safer from "the terrorists."

It does make me not want to travel much and avoid the headaches.

There are a lot of smart people on these boards, and I bet any number of people - if they really wanted to - could figure out a way to either bring a plane down or send a ripple of terror through the veins of the western world.

If there really are big, bad booga-booga terrorists out there, and they really want to "kill us all" as badly as the government wants us to believe, then all of these precautions are doing little more than forestalling the inevitable.

The greater the span of time between attacks, combined with the fact that the root causes of those attacks are either not addressed or, in fact, acerbated, the end result will be turning a lot of little attacks into one gigantic attack.
posted by rougy at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2007


Course, the entitlement issues also go for staffers working for various congressmen.

Heaven forbid a staffer tries to carry a firearm into the Capitol building on your behalf.
posted by ericb at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2007


delmoi:
IT IS AN ACTUAL INCIDENT WHERE LIQUID EXPLOSIVES WERE USED, ON A PLANE.
Oh come on. It killed one guy. Who cares? We're talking about bringing down an aircraft. For all their effort it would have been more effective to just drop a bomb in a trash bin at the airport.


Oh come on yourself. I have read a lot of your postings and you can be stubborn, but you're not dumb. If you can't make the very small leap from a proof-of-concept bomb to something a little larger (and not much larger in the aluminum cans we call planes which don't require a great deal of surface disruption to make them very significantly weaker) to kill lots of people, then you're either trolling or being intentionally obtuse.

And since when did terrorism become about how many, anyway? Killing people is easy. Making them really scared used to be difficult.

As a footnote, I think the restrictions are largely a poor tradeoff. But denying there is a risk is, well, just denial.
posted by Bovine Love at 5:03 PM on June 18, 2007


The TSA goons know the rules are bogus. They know we know the rules are bogus. They also know their jobs depend on this bogosity. This makes them angry.

I'd also like to point out that I was allowed to carry my iBook G4 onto the plane as carry-on.

That's one of many laptops that has a battery that may explode.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:31 PM on June 18, 2007


I bet any number of people - if they really wanted to - could figure out a way to either bring a plane down.

Book a seat over the wing or at an emergency door.

Pack one's colon with as much C4 as will fit up there. Toss the igniter up there, too.

Shit it out into your hand in the toilet. Shape, then insert igniter.

Return to your seat. Place the charge and say goodbye.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:37 PM on June 18, 2007


Pack one's colon with as much C4 as will fit up there. Toss the igniter up there, too.

I really didn't need that imagery. At least I'm not eating.
posted by oaf at 5:42 PM on June 18, 2007


I bet any number of people - if they really wanted to - could figure out a way to either bring a plane down.

You don't need explosive.

Fill a large Apple 16-24oz juice bottle with gasoline. Open it mid flight and splash it over seats and people. Toss a match. Even if the plane doesn't crash most of the passengers are dying.

This is why I have always been against passengers bringing containers of liquids on airplanes. Long before 9/11.
posted by tkchrist at 6:20 PM on June 18, 2007


Pack one's colon with as much C4 as will fit up there. Toss the igniter up there, too.

Look, airline food is bad, but let's not fall prey to that slippery slope fallacy, or the terrarists have won!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:24 PM on June 18, 2007


The weird thing about this story to me is that as I read the rules on the TSA website, you are allowed to bring whatever food or drink you think is necessary for your infant or toddler---so she could have thought that bringing the sippy cup of water was ok. The last two or three times I've flown with my toddler daughter, we brought through security containers of milk and a sippy cup full of water and no one cared. (Philadelphia and Memphis, most recently---and they aren't marking the over-3 oz. containers of things like Triaminic any more on the tickets, either.) So I think these TSA agents were being especially vigilant/jerky, take your pick.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2007


There are a lot of easily frightened people in this thread. Kinda sad.
posted by maxwelton at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2007


Fill a large Apple 16-24oz juice bottle with gasoline. Open it mid flight and splash it over seats and people. Toss a match. Even if the plane doesn't crash most of the passengers are dying.

Unless, you know, somebody punches you in the face as soon as you start splashing shit all over everybody.
posted by aaronetc at 6:33 PM on June 18, 2007


Terrorism is primarily about disrupting the system, and if it's hard to disrupt that system by orchestrating a suicide attack on a jet plane, then all the terrorist has to do is focus on a different point in the system.

There are many vulnerable points in our system.

Since no significant attacks on this system have transpired for many years now, certainly none on the scale that would justify a "global war on terror" I can only conclude that the heightened security has a different objective in mind.

Security industries such as the TSA will probably never subside in my lifetime - they will only grow larger and more complex.

Furthermore, the terrorists know that each successful attack only makes the Bush administration, and his supporters, stronger.

Bush knows that, too.
posted by rougy at 6:38 PM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of easily frightened people in this thread. Kinda sad.

We're now a nation of big, scared pussies. History will look back and say the US deserved its fascist fate.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:40 PM on June 18, 2007


"Again, in working so hard to make the threat negligible, we miss the real point of balancing threat and all the other factors." -posted by Bovine Love

I'd agree with that. But it's a matter of skill - a small well placed shaped charge can do more damage than a large blob tossed into the middle of the plane.
In essence: method is more dangerous than material (and when it comes to detonators, two is one, one is none).

Don't get me started on Lockerbie, probably semtex.

But - the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon was destroyed using compressed flammable gas.
The USS Cole was attacked with 300kg of CompC4.
Planet Hollywood in Cape Town - about 50kg of c4 2 killed, about 25 injured.
And in 1998 - U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania were destroyed with about 100kg (of a kind of plastique - dunno if there were any chemical tags). 224 dead - 4600 injured.
So less than hit the Cole, only twice as much as at Planet Hollywood, but way way more casualties.

Method.

The U.S. (up until fairly recently) had some pretty lax (comparatively) laws around high explosive procurement (seen "Heat"? Yeah. Not much anymore tho).
But the annual production of high explosives made for legal commercial uses is by comparison to the amount used in illegal bombings - extremely extremely small.
Still, the makers (although they've introduced taggs) don't have the Feds up their asses every time they want to go somewhere.
You want to talk lobbying? Mining, chemical and construction.

So policy measures to address the illegal uses of high ex have been weighed and measured with an eye toward how they affect legitimate commerical uses.
(Your liberty? Not so much.)

So the focus off the making of explosives (and indeed, the control of UXO - on battlefields sure, but hell, head out to Ft. Bragg on the test range you can go home with armfuls of stuff...oh, sure, it's a little dangerous, but you're a fanatic) the focus is on detection.
So - IDing the source - you've got chemical markers (such as in C4 and Semtex - dmnb - whcih has a low vapor pressure,thus a long shelf life, but good enough for
detection and is easier to detect than nitroglycerine) which leave residual ID tagging for forensic evidence so they can figure out where you got the stuff. Not much of a lead, but a start.
And that and dogs and x-rays, etc, through three basic narrowing scenarios (involving people at airports) - portal scenario thru a monitored checkpoint, suspicious package scenario (figuring out whether the bomb exists), and the bomb threat scenario where you think a bomb might exist.
The TSA front line is mostly just trained for #1 24/7. Which is a waste of resources, if you're going to train someone you should want to retain them. If you're going to retain them, train them more so they'll be better at their job and have a diverse set of skills (politeness among them) and can deal with scenarios #2 and #3 autonomously - so whomever catches the threat is on point so you don't spend 20 minutes running up the chain to explain to a supervisor what the situation is.
Which is why those people in that video reacted and work the way they do. That's how their organization is set to run.
Stupid, but more cost effective. (Er, to them, not for you).

Now, 90 percent of deaths from terrorist explosives occur outside of locations where screening exists.
Why all the focus on screening?
It's not realistic to expect to prevent all bombings, a more realistic goal is to make it more difficult for bomb makers to operate and increase the chances they will get caught.
The way to do that is through investigation. Method. From the portal to the threat.
But the TSA treats their people like material - just throw a bunch of hands at the problem.
Little wonder they treat their clients the same way.

/And indeed, doubtless that you'd get this self-assertion in this form (Do you know who I am!?)
//Yeah, a lot of people assert their identities as though they don't have to follow the rules. But that trait often develops in a people under certain sets of circumstances. Argue with an older Russian, you get a lot of that. Talk to someone's grandfather who's been in the U.S. a while - he doesn't feel he has to assert his importance because he expects everyone to be treated equally.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:11 PM on June 18, 2007


I really didn't need that imagery [colonic C4]. At least I'm not eating.

As I can't resist, "Tough Shit." Hardee-har-har.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:40 PM on June 18, 2007


The whole experience is so unpleasant that I would rather drive ten hours than fly for one

I'm taking a 1.5hr flight to Vegas this week. If it were just myself, I'd DRIVE the 400 miles, gladly, rather than undergo the 20 minutes of pointlessly quasi-arbitrary Gestapo treatment in the airport.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:42 PM on June 18, 2007


surprisingly, nobody's brought up XDR-TB man. he got on a plane, international, several times. he was more of a threat than all the banned toiletries, liquids put together. my point is we can ban every fucking substance and STILL not be safe.
posted by brandz at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2007


I think we're all missing the point. There is no such thing as 100% safe. There is NO SUCH THING. Banning toothpaste and toenail clippers isn't going to keep "terrorists" from trying to terrorize. Because why? BECAUSE THEY ALREADY ARE, AND IT'S WORKING. Forcing us to take off half our clothes and get felt up by a TSA agent behind a flimsy screen while our fellow passengers look on because we had the lack of foresight to wear an underwire bra on the fucking GREYHOUND BUS that is a commercial jet, what do you think that is? It's forcing us to change our lives due to the actions of a select few. This is what I've tried to say and never been able to get it out just right. My point is, the main goal of "terrorists" is NOT to blow up planes or buildings. The main goal of "terrorists" is to terrorize and force us to change our policies as a direct result of their actions. And we're doing it. So it's working.

The fact is, this is a much larger issue than one pissed off mom and a bunch of ineffectual dumbass TSA agents. We've touched on all the issues; how our government likes to keep us scared so we agree to be bound by bullshit rules and regs. How the TSA is dependent upon that fear to keep their jobs. How America's actions around the world DIRECTLY contribute to all this crap, and how the solution is not easy. We are so busy getting pissed off that we can't take our shampoo on board that we're missing the much bigger picture. The terrorists have already won (to use a Dubya phrase), because we have fundamentally changed the way we do things in this country as a direct result of the actions of a few people. THAT is the problem, not that some really determined dude might be able to figure out how to mix some liquids together in a porta-potty to blow up a plane.

And what makes everyone think that blowing up a plane is Job One? There are all kinds of things someone can do to bring this country down. Think about if someone decided to, oh, I don't know, drive a semi full of C4 into downtown Manhattan. Or blow up a courthouse in Oklahoma City. Or aim a few nuclear weapons at key cities around the country. These things are all just as possible as blowing up a few civilians on a plane, and in my mind, a whole fuck of a lot more likely.

So I'll take off my shoes, get felt up, have my purse pawed through, have my luggage searched, have the clippers from the manicure set I just got from my future mother-in-law for Christmas confiscated, drop trou, whatever, because we've already rolled over and let our government fuck us all over in the name of "safety" and "national security." And harping on and on and ON about the TSA is keeping us from thinking about what got us here in the first place. And it ain't that a few guys flew planes into the World Trade Center, or stuck plastic explosives in a shoe.
posted by jennaratrix at 7:44 PM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


Oh, I don't think all of us are missing the point.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:54 PM on June 18, 2007


another thing that pisses me off: Canada's doing the same stupid theatrical security. I thought we had more sense than that!

The last time I flew, a month or two ago, I noticed a sign that said knives are okay now. My bottle of Aquafina, on the other hand, was strictly verboten.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:54 PM on June 18, 2007


the fucking GREYHOUND BUS that is a commercial jet

Someone's been flying a certain Texas airline...
posted by oaf at 8:28 PM on June 18, 2007


Gestapo treatment in the airport

Does "totalitarian" count as a Godwin? I'm counting three "totalitarian" sorta-Godwins, one jokey Godwin and one real Godwin. Someone check my math.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:29 PM on June 18, 2007


I think there are two rather important differences between saying that there is no scientific basis for banning liquids to prevent bombings, and saying that it is scientifically impossible to make bombs from liquids.

First, when you claim that there is no scientific basis for banning liquids, the "science" in question would be statistics and threat analysis to determine if banning or limiting liquids was likely to provide increased security, which is a much wider question than the possibility of liquid explosives.

The second difference is more fundamental: Saying that there is no scientific basis for something is in no way a statement of scientific possibility. I would assume that if a scientific basis was established, the poster would be satisfied.

I think the most important point brought up in this thread is that in a situation where it is generally agreed that the rules are stupid and ineffective, there will be increased tension between the people subjected to them and the people enforcing them. (It would be interesting to study how arbitrary rules are used intentionally to create stress and tension in, for example, prisons.) Most of us can deal with stupid rules most of the time, and not have a problem. But with millions of people flying, problems are bound to happen.
posted by Nothing at 8:54 PM on June 18, 2007


Someone check my math.

No. Godwin accusations are lazy. Do your own homework.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:01 PM on June 18, 2007


Godwin accusations are lazy.

Wow. Godwins and flaccid self-righteousness.

Is it too late to mark the thread as the best evar?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:05 PM on June 18, 2007


We're now a nation of big, scared pussies. History will look back and say the US deserved its fascist fate.

Thank god for the few rebels, like Cory Doctorow and Mark Frauenfelder, who were courageous enough speak out when the rest of us were silent.
posted by jayder at 9:06 PM on June 18, 2007


Is it too late to mark the thread as the best evar?

Careful with that "evar" misspelling, that's powerful stuff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:44 PM on June 18, 2007


Scientifically, most anything is possible.

Let's focus on the probable instead. Probably whatever is in the sippy cup the kid is sucking on isn't anything potentially explosive.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:52 PM on June 18, 2007


Let's focus on the probable instead.

So, how do you feel about racial profiling?

/ducks to avoid punch
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:46 PM on June 18, 2007


Unless, you know, somebody punches you in the face as soon as you start splashing shit all over everybody.

That is possible. But not a very effective deterrent given the two seconds it would take to toss a match or lighter. Some body planning such a thing would certainly plan for resistance. It's not likely passengers would mount much of defense in time. Even post 9/11.

You could also surreptitiously spill a flammable liquid under the seats to the same effect, Nobody would notice until the fumes became strong. By then it is torched.

I do agree that TSA screening is essentially meaningless in so far as preventing committed terrorists.

I have more than a casual observers insight into this seeing as a close relative is fairly high placed employee of an airline who works closely with security AND a very good friend of mine was the architect who re-designed the new security area and over saw the installation of the scanning equipment at a major US airport.

So with that in mind I can tell you allowing random people to bring large containers (12 oz and up) of liquids on planes has always been a bad idea. For all sorts of reasons. Not just becuase of "terrorists." Mostly because people are fucking stupid.

However, if we are going to allow laptops, with the ability to hide plastic explosives that don't require ad hoc improvising to detonate (like binaries), then I suppose we should let in sippy cups and 8oz and below sized bottles of liquids. Let's at least be consistently stupid.

I have always endorsed the invention of a Pussy Free Airline. Where there is no security checks at all. Just locked cockpit doors. While there is no waiting and air fare would be cheaper everybody boards with the understanding that any attempt at a take over and the pilot depressurizes the cabin.
posted by tkchrist at 11:28 PM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


When I first read this story on boingboing I was sympathetic with the woman, but I think I've changed my mind more or less. Seeing that woman obviously pitching a fit, likely trying to bully the guard with her (ex) status as a Secret Service agent, it makes me flashback to my time in retail. I worked at a Kinko's once upon a time, and dealt with people who were rushed and in a hurry and under a lot of pressure, much like many airline passengers. You learn a lot of human psychology working retail, namely the dark, ugly side of things. I think this woman is a bully. She's using her ego to get what she wants, and trying to scare her way through. Saw it all the time (and still do, just in a more tangential way. If you've worked retail/customer service, you'll know what I'm talking about).

I'm gonna side with TSA on this one, too, though the rules are quite ridiculous. We just need Total Recall-type scanners, and all will sail smooth.
posted by zardoz at 2:49 AM on June 19, 2007


zardoz - there are several research projects for full body low frequency IR and mm wave radar scanners in a sort of Total Recall fashion. The resolution isn't brilliant right now but they have a range of several tens of yards. MMW imagers can't see through water or high moisture content however so it's theoretically possible to conceal a weapon or blade in some sort of sheath with circulating water. IIRC LE officials are testing portable ones at the moment which opens up a whole can of worms if they're cruising up and down the road scanning civilians and looking for concealed weapons etc.

Quite how nobody has sneaked on a ceramic, glass or carbon fibre knife is beyond me. Still, if you want to screw up air traffic for a couple of weeks build a home made mortar like the IRA used to and pop a few rounds towards the taxiways. With a decent sized home made mortar you've got a range of maybe a couple of thousand yards and whilst you might not even kill someone you'll never expose yourself to danger for several thousand Al Qudos points.

Basically - if they were going to have done something scary they'd have done it by now. It's not hard to terrorise. The Republicans used to regularly take pot-shots at squaddies so to say that Al-Queda can't get someone into the US, buy an AR-15 clone from a gun show and start popping people at random is ridiculous.
posted by longbaugh at 3:33 AM on June 19, 2007


The chances of any of us being involved in a terrorist attack are akin to winning the lottery or being struck by lightning... and yet we all have to live with all this scaremongering and high security. The best thing to do with terrorists is to deny them airtime and media coverage (it's what they crave)... and that's exactly what no one ever does.

More people die of AIDs, cancer or heart disease every day than the entire total number of terrorism victims throughout history. And yet, there it at the top of the news again and again.

It's a rather stupid, pointless cycle and we're all stuck with it.

/derail
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:17 AM on June 19, 2007


What is the logical conclusion to a TSA sucks rant? Amend it? How? Abolish it? And replace it with what?

This is such wide opening that I can't pass it up. Aside from the fact that this is a total false dichotomy, I can think of numerous ways that TSA and airline security can be improved. In addition to El Al, several airlines based in Europe had to deal with a wave of skyjackings back in the 1970s. The U.S. has many things we can learn from those airlines. To assert that it's TSA or nothing is narrow-minded thinking in the extreme.

Anyhow, here are some suggestions I might have for improving TSA. Yours may differ.

1. Professionalize the TSA workforce. Instead of giving the important job of airline security to low-paid non-union workers with minimal training, give TSA workers proper training and reasonably high pay that attracts a quality workforce. (The low-wage, non-union nature of the TSA workforce was basically done to score cheap political points for the GOP in the 2002 midterm elections. It has nothing to do with security.) Have an experienced workforce that can spot threats to security by "thinking on their feet" instead of bunch of surly, low-paid service workers who are forced to do everything by rote.

2. Introduce more transparency to the process of how TSA changes its rules. (If anything, TSA is a textbook example of how the Bush Administration has ruined the quality of American government through lack of transparency.) Have security gurus like Bruce Schneier explain the specific trade-off of costs and benefits that went into every single rule change that the TSA makes. Have scientists and security experts explain to the public what threats are more likely to happen than others.

3. Introduce more transparency in the reporting of plots and threats against airlines. Create a database of all "security incidents" on commercial airlines accessible to the public so that they can judge which airlines are safer. When TSA knows there's a plot against a commercial airline, demand that the government release the information as soon as it is available, instead of "sitting on" the information then releasing it when the Bush administration needs the security threat to distract the press and the public from its scandals. (Check out this Keith Olbermann report for how terror alerts have been timed suspiciously to appear whenever the Bush Administration needs to direct attention away from a scandal or a political misstep.)

The rest of y'all on this thread are free to think of your own suggestions for improving TSA. Come on. If security is really that important to you, you could at least think outside the box for once.
posted by jonp72 at 5:11 AM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


tkchrist: I do agree that TSA screening is essentially meaningless in so far as preventing committed terrorists.

I think a large part of the idea -- which most people seem to miss -- is that a significant part of their job is keeping out the dumb and/or under-committed terrorist. They raise the bar for success. That leaves highly commited and/or intelligent ones, which so far seem to be concentrating on other targets. The last thing they need is the riff-raff having a crack at it. For some reason (quite possibly a poor one) the liquid explosives got their panties in a knot; it is easy to write it off as pure politics, but that is an oversimplification of the system that is worse then the ones running it.

Incidently, I think the professional force idea is the most effective one in the long run. Give em 'customer relations' training too, not to mention how to spot nervous people, etc. Deal with the (very tight) security at an airport like Heathrow and you will see a world of difference.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:17 AM on June 19, 2007


Most dangerous liquid on the plane? Alcohol. And! they SERVE it to you.

“The Republicans used to regularly take pot-shots at squaddies so to say that Al-Queda can't get someone into the US, buy an AR-15 clone from a gun show and start popping people at random is ridiculous.”

Yeah, I’ve been waiting to see some of that. But it hasn’t been happening in the U.S. (that whole ‘fight ‘em over there’ thing) Part of the reason The Base isn’t aggressive in that manner is they have ass-loads of mobility. The IRA was basically locked into their short ground operation and had to blend in. AQ can stick and move all they like worldwide and focus on what’s most cost effective vs. forcing any of their goals. And indeed, they’re projecting out 100-odd years with the goal of destroying U.S. world influence. Hence all the “long war on terr” rhetoric on our side with no real understanding of the ultimate costs. Pound a city flat with 1,000 lb bombs that cost umpteen bucks each while 1 AQ cel spends $5,000 (bribes, et.al) on a plan as simple as tkchrist comes up with to prompt us to nail that city and that’s a big net loss for us and fits in to their game plan. Looks good on t.v. though. The rubes love the ‘splosions and our politicos look real tough.

Bovine Love’s point - I don’t think there’s any question you need basic screening. But if you maintain that mall security guard awareness level you’re not going to stop tkchrist’s gasoline in an apple juice bottle nut. Or rather - the cut off there is between what existed before - which would stop a suspicious nut anyway (as in my goofy little scene above) or not being able to stop a slightly better run operation that can afford to pay off a overworked, poorly compensated, poorly esteemed, jobber at portal security.
I have - for example, smuggled carbon fiber blades on my person back and forth across borders as a young man. Never got caught. Returning from Mexico a border guard opened a relative of mine’s suitcase and found some contraband (nothing out of line like a bomb or 10 kg of cocaine, just some illegal stuff) and said “we might have a problem.” My family member slipped him a $50 and asked “Does this take care of the problem?” The guy said “Move along.”
Now, could he have hidden something serious there? Given him a double blind? Sure. Money makes things easy as pie. And right there’s your biggest weakness.
If you don’t have the money, you have to have professionalism, esprit de corps, the job has to carry prestige and trust. That kind of self-respect can only come from autonomy and self-direction, once you set those parameters it’s easy to weed out those who don’t respond to that.
Most kidnappings, f’rinstance, involve a bodyguard in some way. The most successful bodyguard agencies aren’t the ones with the most bad-ass operatives, but with the highest levels of trust and professionalism. (And going beyond a certain level of bad-ass is unneccessary, unless you’re looking for something other than someone to protect you). Typically that means skills to a point, but mostly it’s contacts. There’s a guy here in Chicago well known for his bodyguard work. He’s short and, certainly not soft, but kinda chubby. Doesn’t matter how good he is with his hands or small arms (as long as he’s good enough), because he’s connected. Knows nearly everyone. So he can fly out to (say) L.A., knows all the cops, the bouncers, the thugs, the drug dealers, anyone who might have an angle on his client. So - without unholstering his weapon - he’s already three steps ahead.

Same deal with the TSA - you make contacts with the people in line because they’re your best source of information. “See anyone suspicious?” or “Anything look out of place?” People want to help. Enlisting their cooperation gives you a major psychological advantage (I’m reminded of the sociology studies where people at a beach left some valuables on their towels. In one case they asked people nearby to look after them while they went off somewhere - in another they didn’t. When they asked, the nearby folks were more than willing to take ownership of the situation and defend the towel when “thieves” tried to make off with the stuff. When not asked, they often looked the other way). And beyond that, it distracts people while you’re observing them (’cos they think you’re questioning them about others). But that doesn’t work with the rigid hierarchy you have to have with the burger flipper T.O.
The TSA method is currently nearly completely static. Just check and sift. Granted there are people at higher levels acting dynamically, but that’s a straw compared to an oar. You need the whole organization to consider the bulk of their passengers not only as clients, but as support.
Once they do the odds of catching the random nutjob vastly increase because it’s an active system vs. haphazard sort and sift - one random set of actions hoping to catch one random nut.
That is actually worse than the less rigid system that existed before all the changes. It’s not like before 9/11 they were ignoring suspicious people or sweaty looking nutjobs with gasoline smelling containers. Perhaps the only thing better now is that there are more hands.
But again, the weaknesses in the system remain because the focus is on the static - material, stuff, technology (and why not? it’s a one time cost, contractors make out, insurance is happy, you don’t have to spend $ on recurring costs like training), rather than method, training and making use of the enlightened self-interest of the passengers.
I mean, they have the same goal of having a safe flight - why does there have to be a beef here?
posted by Smedleyman at 8:11 AM on June 19, 2007


That is possible. But not a very effective deterrent given the two seconds it would take to toss a match or lighter.

Have you ever dumped out a full 16-24 oz. bottle? That's where the extended period of time for face-punching comes into your scenario. By coincidence, I dumped out 24 oz. of water the other day when I discovered that my tap had gone funky, and it took more than two seconds for it all to glug-glug out. If your objective is to fling gasoline all over a plane full of people, a) it's going to take longer than just dumping it out on the ground to get it all out, and b) people will smell gasoline and beat your ass before you can finish dumping, drop the bottle, pull out your matches, get one out, strike it and toss it.
posted by aaronetc at 8:42 AM on June 19, 2007


I'm not really impressed with the TSA, that's for sure. I flew the December after Sept. 11th, and I had accidently left a boxcutter in my carry on. To be fair, where I work I actually use boxcutters every single day, but when I unpacked and found it I was stunned that no one caught it. My bag was put through the x-ray and hand searched.

So, in all honesty, I don't think the TSA's going to catch potential terrorists even if they happen to be looking in the right direction. Liquid/gel bombs, shoes, whatever. I have full faith in the incompetence of government officials.
posted by Talanvor at 9:21 AM on June 19, 2007


Zardoz: Seeing that woman obviously pitching a fit, likely trying to bully the guard with her (ex) status as a Secret Service agent, it makes me flashback to my time in retail.

The mother didn't pull out her ex-secret service credentials until she started to get treated like a piece of shit. Anyone would've done the same, I think.

I've worked numerous retail jobs and I don't remember anyone ever demanding a mother, with a baby, mop up the floor.

Thing that's true about it is having to enforce some dumb transparently exploitive condition, that made the customer angry with the lowest people on the worker ladder, like myself, who're absolutely helpless to do anything about.

I think the TSA/DHS wants passengers to feel helpless and humiliated and resigned, as a way of control. The prison example Nothing mentioned is good. A classic method for controlling a population. I guess the military is similar too. Self-empowerment is severely frowned upon. But we're not prisoners and we're not soldiers. We're supposed to be free, but as someone mentioned above, if you have enough money and have your own airplane, you're free to load what ever explosives you can get and fly it into anything you want, because no ones going to catch you until the thing is done.

Jennararitrix: No one's getting it.

I think a lot of people "get it". Speaking for myself, it's easier to deal with actual empirical examples, as the underlying causes and strategies are so complex and ass backwards as to make one's head hurt. I've resigned myself to the belief that nothing is going to get better until the Bush era is over.

Jonp72: To assert that it's TSA or nothing is narrow-minded thinking in the extreme

I'm not sure where you got that. I think most people think it needs to be rethought and re-purposed to catch terrorists plots and not cause more needless problems. Like El Al. That's what a serious and effective bomb deterrence system looks like.

If anything, TSA is a textbook example of how the Bush Administration has ruined the quality of American government through lack of transparency.

I think you've nailed it here, it's the poison that infects every area of the Bush administration. But that is what happens when obscuring accountability and PR become job #1.

The DHS/TSA's idea of transparency is putting up a video of a mother forced to mop up some water from a sippy cup. Wow, good thing they did that. I feel much safer now.
posted by Skygazer at 9:40 AM on June 19, 2007


delmoi, if you want to go on about the liquid ban being a rational response, perhaps you should consider why liquids were banned in the first place.

Astrolite and Nitroglycerin are detectable by any of our wonderful bomb sniffing technology, whether a swab machine, a walk-through device, or anything else. Of course, they also get set off by other nitrates, like fertilizer, but we've been dealing with that for years anyway, long before 9/11, and certainly long before the liquids idiocy.

The reason they banned liquids was in response to the supposed "plot" (if you call talking about something while having no means to even begin to carry out your so-called plot a plot), which was to carry on components of binary explosives separately, where neither compound was a nitrate detectable by the machines. The reason for doing this is that the machines would be unable to detect the individual components of the soon-to-be explosive.

I did a lot of research around that time on the viability of such a plot. I concluded that, as usual, the TSA were acting like complete morons. As others mentioned upthread, combining the two components of a binary explosive takes a long time and requires that they be kept cool, otherwise they tend to create a very small explosion that scatters the components about (most likely blinding the would be terrorist who is in the bathroom cackling with insane glee about his soon to be successful master plan) before they have been fully mixed. Additionally, smuggling through the amounts of these compounds needed to make a large enough explosion to have a good chance of actually blowing the plane out of the sky has always been unlikely.

What's more, the idiocy of the new policy is that it even reduced the effectiveness of our detection of other known threats, because it makes everyone remove their shoes and run them through the X-Ray machine, in addition to getting rid of liquids. Previously, if one wanted to avoid removing one's shoes, you could be very well assured they were not about to bomb anything as they would, by policy, have their shoes swabbed or be required to go through a walk-through machine.

Far better security would be to purchase more of the walk through machines and force everyone to go through them with their shoes and other non metallic personal effects. It would probably also help if they would reduce the sensitivity on the metal detectors back to something reasonable, so they would again detect knives and other weapons, but not the button holes on your shoes.

BTW, if we weren't so hung up about small amounts of CFCs, we could certainly install Halon systems on aircraft. Then if some asshat tried to set the plane on fire with lighter fluid, it wouldn't be a problem for more than a few seconds. Of course, you could also just have a human sniff any liquids prior to allowing them through the checkpoint and catch any flammable stuff, anyway. Funny thing has long been an obvious threat, yet we've managed to get away with allowing liquids on planes for the entirety of aviation history, and indeed still allow them on aircraft. As if airport employees make so much money a few could not be bribed.
posted by wierdo at 10:03 AM on June 19, 2007


Have you ever dumped out a full 16-24 oz. bottle?

aaronetc why are you arguing with me?

To belabor the point. Yes I have. And guess what? You absolutely CAN dump liquid out in a second or two by poking a hole in the other end with a pen. And you have the lighter already out. On a pressurized plane running at altitude you can't hear "glug glug glug." Especially given the number of people who where earphones. And you can't locate the source of fumes accurately. Also most people assume the fumes are from the plane itself.

You don't think the logistics and techniques to do this shit can't be worked out and practiced in advance by people determined to do it? People thought the same thing about guys with box cutters.

You don't know me. But I know a few things. First off my old man was career special forces officer. On my 10th birthday I got an improvised munitions handbook and field phone sent to me from my dad in Vietnam. So there is that.

You should know my immediate family is either involved in Law Enforcement, Air Lines, or the military (specializing in guerrilla warfare to be exact). Other Mefites can attest to this.

Second off the other relative I mentioned before (I'm not naming this person because I don't think he should be talking about it) who works for an airline with security outlined this exact scenario among others. It is where I heard the idea a number of years ago.

They tested it in mock ups. The mock passengers did not get to the saboteur in time in a majority of the trials.
posted by tkchrist at 2:43 PM on June 19, 2007


tkchrist, my universal experience is that people in or closely exposed to law enforcement and the military evaluate risks as being vastly greater than they are. People who are not (aside from the paranoid/nervous types) vastly underestimate risks.

The truth always lies somewhere in between, at least in that respect.

A mere possibility is not a credible threat on which significant resources should be expended, and certainly not one which should prompt our current war on hydration.
posted by wierdo at 3:25 PM on June 19, 2007


A mere possibility is not a credible threat on which significant resources should be expended, and certainly not one which should prompt our current war on hydration.

Mostly I agree. It wasn't the statistical validity of that particular threat it was aaronetc stubbornly arguing irrelevant details that he had not thought out very well.

Should the TSA let you carry on toothpaste? Yes. Should you be allowed an 8oz bottle of water? Sure.

However. I still maintain nobody needs to carry a liter bottle of fluid on airplane. And there are other reasons besides the current specter of terrorism for this. Trust me - in certain respects it's as bad an idea as allowing guns on planes.

People forget how fragile the airline business is right now. Major airlines, like Delta, are in bankruptcy. The fact is many of these rules are to assure investors that the Airlines are indeed paying attention to security. Even though the educated know it's window dressing and PR. Imagine if a couple of planes were bombed mid air right now? Do have any idea what that would do these airlines? What they are doing now is delaying the inevitable hoping they can turn profitability before a terror act happens again. And a terror plot WILL happen again in the US and it likely will occur on a plane. The TSA, no matter how ridged it gets, will not prevent one of these plots and everybody knows it. All the TSA can do is force the plots to be complicated and practiced to discourage amateurs. That is enough to keep the airlines more or less afloat economically.
posted by tkchrist at 4:46 PM on June 19, 2007


People forget how fragile the airline business is right now. Major airlines, like Delta, are in bankruptcy.

The fact is many of these rules are to assure investors that the Airlines are indeed paying attention to security.



wait... what?!
These rules are directly responsible for putting the airlines out of business, while simultaneously clearly failing to achieve any increase in security against bombing. If security really was important (as opposed to security theatre), then the approach taken would be quite different - and much more productive. Either these investors are fools soon to be parted from their gold, or they're not in control. Or both.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:24 AM on June 20, 2007


I believe "these investors" are mostly the US and Canadian governments, both of which have repeatedly bailed out the airlines' sorry asses time and again.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:10 AM on June 20, 2007


But, hey, at least they didn't beat the shit out of the sippy-cup woman.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:45 PM on June 20, 2007


"In this instance, the TSA is clearly in the right." -- Bruce Schneier.
posted by delmoi at 7:46 PM on June 20, 2007


delmoi, if you want to go on about the liquid ban being a rational response, perhaps you should consider why liquids were banned in the first place.

I never said that it was rational, in fact I said the exact opposite several times. What I said was that it was scientifically possible to bring down a plane with a liquid. Just because we disagree with something doesn't mean we should lie about it, or allow misapprehensions to persist.
posted by delmoi at 7:50 PM on June 20, 2007


Um, is anyone actually arguing that liquid explosives are scientifically impossible?
posted by Artw at 8:08 PM on June 20, 2007


I demanded to speak to a TSA supervisor who asked me if the water in the sippy cup was 'nursery water or other bottled water.' I explained that of course the sippy cup water was filtered tap water bottled water! What, like you'd give tap water to an infant? [horrified mother face]"
posted by five fresh fish at 8:10 PM on June 20, 2007


Two more ideas, from the Schneier link:

If the TSA is so benightedly stupid as to be dumping the confiscated liquids into the same receptacle, there's a risk of chemical reaction. They'll blame terrorists, of course.

I can not for a moment believe that concourse bottled beverages are being inspected. It would be child's play to slip specially-marked bottles of "Gatorade" or "Snapple" into the delivery truck. Ready to be sold from the refrigerated case in the Starbucks shop, feel free to carry it on!

It is plainly obvious to anyone with two functioning brain cells that the TSA security efforts are purest theater. It is truly galling to put up with arbitrary asinine restrictions that do nothing but generate extra expense, distract personnel from effective security measures, and piss the living fuck out of 80% of the population.

Given the choice between the risk of a terrorist attack on my tiny Boeing 737's flight to Saskatoon, and being subjected to ridiculous theatrics, I'll take the risk.

TSA: Truly Stupid Actions.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 PM on June 20, 2007


Artw, no, people are only arguing that they would be difficult to synthesize on an airplane or smuggle through the checkpoint already made.

delmoi, it's perfectly reasonable to say that there's no scientific basis on which to ban liquids. It is not reasonable to say that it is impossible.
posted by wierdo at 8:53 PM on June 20, 2007


So, wierdo, what is the scientific basis for determining peoples acceptable level of risk?

five fresh fish, what you are describing is certainly possible, but adds on a whole other layer to the conspiracy. The point of screening is not to perfectly stop attacks, but to make them more difficult (not impossible). Given *any* security measure, there is a way around it. By your reasoning, we should have no security measures. Your assumptions about their role are incorrect.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:22 AM on June 21, 2007


You know, certain people - they eat enough mexican food, they're pretty damned explosive. And what's the TSA doing about that? Nothing as usual. People are walking onto planes with flammable gas producing capabilities...I mean one match and WOOSH!! Say good-bye to first class. Get a small unit of four or five terrorists doing that in a concerted well timed fart assault and baby can you say "Houston we have a problem..." One highly trained terrorist flatulator aiming a concentrated laser-like blast and you've got a walking portable blow torch what can cut through a steel door and into the cockpit!!

On El Al flights that's not gonna happen because they know what they're doing. They put a little Bean-O in the Vino.
posted by Skygazer at 7:56 AM on June 21, 2007


I'm not buying it, BL. If the TSA's purpose was to reduce risk, there would have been a lot more action wrt securing the cockpit door and having an armed marshall on board. Easy stuff, the kind that other countries with real terrorism problems have been doing for ages.

No, the TSA is not about security: it is about creating yet another fiefdom of public-private partnerships paid for by citizens for the financial benefit of an elite few who sit at the top of the food chain. It's the Peter Principle: it's more difficult to be fired the more people you have beneath your chain of command.

The USA now has more private contractors being paid with public monies than it has public employees.

The key difference being that the latter are well-regulated, open-process, public-good jobs; the former are largely unregulated, secretive, and for the good of the owners.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:47 PM on June 21, 2007


BL, not the, a. And it's one which doesn't ignore the near impossibility of taking down a plane with an amount of binary explosives one could smuggle through the checkpoint and onto the plane. One that recognizes actual risk over perceived risk.

Again, the synthesis is difficult and generates lots of fumes. I suppose you've never sat near a lav on an airplane? If you have, you'd know that despite the ventilation, the fumes generated by people carry. Somehow I suspect that if someone was generating noxious fumes in the lav, while staying in there for far longer than usual, they'd be dealt with by the crew. Presuming they were able to keep their concoction from splattering itself all over their face, blinding them.

IMO, the most likely reason for the continued liquid ban has nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with giving the honchos at the TSA more power.
posted by wierdo at 2:38 AM on June 22, 2007


Again, the focus on binary explosives. Ok, I'll let that one go for now and look at that. You don't think someone could construct an apparatus which let them mix it and vent the fumes to another container well enough (it doesn't have to be perfect)? There may be multiple people to carry multiple parts. And if it blows up immediately after mixing, they may consider that an acceptable outcome. Not to mention, some of the toilets give on an extreme chemical smell as it is. You are reasoning that it is a near impossibility, but that is not 'scientific'. And furthermore, even if it is extremely difficult, one may calculate that the consequences (not in just death, but resulting political mess) may be sufficient that it is warranted. I don't think it is true, but quantification of such things is very highly variable.

Now understand, I think liquids should be allowed; my estimation is that it is an acceptable risk. But I don't claim it is science.

I think an awful lot of people confuse incompetence with conspiracy.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:27 AM on June 22, 2007


Why do people always assume that "an explosion large enough to bring down a plane" is the desired outcome of the liquids terror plot. How about "liquid chemicals mixed to produce enough chlorine (or other) gas to kill everyone on a plane and bring it down" or "liquids mixed to produce an accelerant that starts a rapidly spreading fire in the cabin sufficient to bring the plane down" are these not more realistic scenarios?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2007


Pollomacho, the binary explosives threat is the raison d'etre of the liquid ban. Not chlorine gas (how the hell are you going to get enough bleach and ammonia on the plane to produce enough gas to overcome the ventilation system?), not fire (planes should have Halon systems anyway, IMO), no, binary explosives.

BL, I focus on them for the reason I stated above, they are the reason the idiots at the TSA banned liquids.

BTW, have you ever been on a plane? Extreme chemical smell from outside the lav? That's a new one on me. In 100,000 butt in seat miles I've never smelled what I would consider a strong chemical smell coming from a lav. A strong smell of shit, maybe, but not chemicals.

If the mixed liquids exploded, it wouldn't do anything but put the lav out of commission while the would be terrorist writhed in pain and probably went blind. It's more akin to food exploding in your microwave. The (hot) constituent parts get scattered about and make a mess.

And no, they couldn't vent the fumes into a container. You don't think somebody would find it funny if they were carrying a 55 gallon drum into the lav? You're being silly. There is a fairly limited volume of stuff you could take into the lav.

The most likely of any of these is the fire thing, and that's pretty simple to defeat, either with Halon or the drink test. If you can drink it, you can take it through the checkpoint. War on hydration over, crisis averted.
posted by wierdo at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2007


how the hell are you going to get enough bleach and ammonia on the plane to produce enough gas to overcome the ventilation system?

You aren't, it was an example. You could however reasonably get enough rubbing alchol and methylphosphonyl difluoride in a carry-on or two to produce enough sarin to bring down a plane, no?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2007


Yes, wierdo, I have spent the odd hour or two on a plane; believe it or not, a few of us have experience. Two trips ago the chemical smell was quite strong. I placed a complaint while we were still at the jetway and they brought in a maintenance guy to look at it.

I think the discussion has come to unsubstantiated assertions and isn't served by going further.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:34 AM on June 22, 2007


Ban ALL water now!
posted by Artw at 11:27 AM on June 22, 2007


works better with link!
posted by Artw at 11:28 AM on June 22, 2007


Pollomacho, given how much better the ventilation on an airplane is and the difficulty that Aum Shinrikyo had in causing more than minor respiratory difficulty amongst most of the victims, I'm not sure that attack would really be feasible, either.

I don't know the volume of of the components needed, but I suspect that to make enough to cause much harm would require carrying a large amount of the stuff into the lav. Perhaps if a terrorist had an infant and appeared to be going in with one of those infant bags they could do it.

Whether it would be an effective attack would come down mainly to how quickly the crew reacted. One handy thing about an airplane is that the pilots have a dedicated air supply available and they have provisions for providing oxygen to the passengers from canisters.

Again, the "drink it" test may be found valuable, although controlling the supply side (which I understand is fairly well controlled these days) is probably the best way to prevent such an attack.
posted by wierdo at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2007


given how much better the ventilation on an airplane is

You're kidding, right? A jet is a sealed, pressurized, closed system. You'd have a hard time finding an area commonly accessed by the public with worse ventilation.

Granted, the pilots have an oxygen supply, but they're not required to use it 100 percent, or even most, of the time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:23 PM on June 22, 2007


they have provisions for providing oxygen to the passengers from canisters

One other thing ... sarin, like most nerve agents, is partially absorbed through the skin and eyes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:25 PM on June 22, 2007


Are you guys actively trying to get this page to be the top hit on "how to take down an airplane and get past security doing it"?
posted by smackfu at 2:30 PM on June 22, 2007


I'd actively like to divorce the idea that the TSA is incompetent from the "it'd never happen" idea. While is former may be true, the latter is neither mature nor sober.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:26 PM on June 22, 2007


CPB, that's a commonly held misconception. Jets are poorly sealed, for one (they have a very large vent hole in the back), and actually circulate quite a large volume of fresh air. IIRC, most of the air is fresh from outside or the engines, depending on the type of aircraft. (Obviously if it's mostly engine bleed air, it must be air conditioned before being piped into the cabin!) Additionally, the doors and windows leak like a sieve, which is why it's so cold next to a door or overwing exit.

A subway system has far, far worse ventilation.

Also, the pilots, at least, have face masks, which would largely mitigate any absorption through the eyes.

The Tokyo attack proves the difficulty in killing or permanently injuring people with sarin, but without having a good method of aerosolizing it. Some of the trains continued in service for long periods of time after the sarin was released, yet few people died or were permanently injured (although many were affected) While it is fairly volatile and does evaporate, that could be controlled to some degree with proper temperature selection.

Chemical weapons deployed by nations have mechanisms to disperse the agent in a fine mist, which is what leads to their high lethality.
posted by wierdo at 5:30 PM on June 22, 2007


CPB, that's a commonly held misconception. Jets are poorly sealed

Horseshit. I'll remember your opinion the next time I'm cruising at 30,000 feet, gasping for breath. Oh wait ... unlike these guys at 29,000 feet, I'm not gasping for breath.

IIRC, most of the air is fresh from outside or the engines, depending on the type of aircraft.

You have only a partial understanding of cabin pressurization systems.

Aircraft that routinely fly above 3000 m (10,000 ft) are generally equipped with an oxygen system fed through masks or canulas (typically for smaller aircraft), or are pressurized by an Environmental Control System (ECS) using air provided by compressors or bleed air. Bleed air extracted from the engines is compressively heated and extracted at approximately 200 °C and then cooled by passing it through a heat exchanger and air cycle machine (commonly referred to by aircrews and mechanics as 'the packs system').

This isn't "fresh air." This is compressed air fed into a sealed, pressurized system. The only air released from this system is done to maintain a consistent pressurization and balance of oxygen, supplemented by oxygen generation systems. If the pilot flips this system off at altitude to get some fresh air, everyone dies fairly rapidly.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:11 PM on June 23, 2007


Additionally, the doors and windows leak like a sieve, which is why it's so cold next to a door or overwing exit.

This isn't air leaking. This is heat transfer, conduction through the least insulated spot on the plane.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:14 PM on June 23, 2007


Ooh, schooled!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:01 PM on June 23, 2007


This compressed air, would it be from the outside?
posted by Artw at 10:36 PM on June 23, 2007


This compressed air, would it be from the outside?

Well, all air technically originates outside at some point. That doesn't mean it's "fresh air," like walking through a meadow on a breezy, spring day.

I suppose you'd say scuba divers are breathing "fresh, well-ventilated air"? That's compressed air, too. From outside. And then it's put into a sealed aluminum tube. You know, just like a plane.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:54 PM on June 24, 2007


So scuba divers suck in air from the surrounding water via their engines, compress it and then pump it into their cabins?

I think possibly the 5 minutes of wikipedia research you put into this have some limitations. Possibly reading the articles a little closer would help?

(Also, re: the "schooled" comment - I think possibly it's some kind of unaccredited school run by unqualified teachers)
posted by Artw at 8:58 PM on June 24, 2007


So scuba divers suck in air from the surrounding water via their engines, compress it and then pump it into their cabins?

No, actually, there are these compressors that scuba shops have, and what they do is ... oh wait, you're trying to be sarcastic! I thought you were retarded. Whoa, I was way off. My bad!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:09 PM on June 24, 2007


So your understanding of how aircraft work is that on the ground a compressor is used to fill a number of scuba-like tanks with air, which is then gradually released into the cabin during flight. Presumably there's a further compressor within the plane that sucks the air back into bottles to create the lower air-pressure during flight, and extra air is released into the cabin from the bottles as the plane descends? And that while the plane is in flight it is a completely sealed system which no air enters or exits? Fascinating.
posted by Artw at 10:35 PM on June 24, 2007


Air that has been bled off a turbine and run through filters and coolers and stuff isn't anything approaching "fresh." And airplanes are hardly air-tight. Finally, the air in an airplane is damn near toxic, enough so that air attendants are sick.

So in the end, you're both pretty. You can quit behaving like monkeys in dispute; the shit-flinging is tiresome.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 PM on June 24, 2007


So in the end, you're both pretty.

Hey, I'm petty, he's just wrong.

You can quit behaving like monkeys in dispute; the shit-flinging is tiresome.

Schooled!
posted by Artw at 11:25 PM on June 24, 2007


Terrorists!
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on June 27, 2007


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