The Things He Carried
October 16, 2008 5:33 PM   Subscribe

The Things He Carried. "Airport security in America is a sham—'security theater' designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists. Smart ones can get through security with fake boarding passes and all manner of prohibited items—as our correspondent did with ease."
posted by chunking express (91 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
No LED clothing?
posted by Artw at 5:34 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


At least they stopped with getting past security.
posted by mhz at 5:35 PM on October 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Right, so is the correspondent is upset that there is the security theatre, or that there's not enough? He's upset by being allowed to carry certain books, and a Hezbollah flag... presumably because of the risk of flag-enabled highjacking. Perhaps you could gum up a turbine with it, or blind the pilots?
posted by pompomtom at 5:52 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Perhaps you could gum up a turbine with it, or blind the pilots?

You could trade it for a 16 oz bottle of illicit shampoo and take down the plane with that.

The stupid security theater is the major reason I don't fly. The risk of explosion of my head is just too great.
posted by DU at 5:55 PM on October 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly, contained two cans’ worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government.

Sad, sad, sad.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:57 PM on October 16, 2008


Yeah, it's a totally fake job.

A friend and I used to joke about what other uses Bush might be able to find for an army (~50,000) of somewhat thuggish federal employees who were used to making American citizens jump through all these absurd and abusive hoops without regard to their Constitutional rights, but by 2003 it wasn't that funny any more, if it ever had been.
posted by jamjam at 5:57 PM on October 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


Honestly, I've never once obeyed the 3-3-1 rule or whatever it is. I've flown about 10 times since they created it, and every time I've had a full size bottle of something, a tube of toothpaste, a can of shaving cream, etc. I just put the stuff in my carryon, send it through the X-ray, and nothing has ever happened.

I also carry lighters through in my pockets.
posted by keep_evolving at 5:57 PM on October 16, 2008


I bet they put this guy on the no-fly list for revenge security.
posted by stavrogin at 6:00 PM on October 16, 2008


The Beer Belly and associated products such as the automatic DUI (if it counts as a vehicle - I know someone by me got a bicycle DUI recently) cooler-scooter.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:01 PM on October 16, 2008


I will say this, though. Two weeks ago, a female flight attendant tried to steal my wallet while going through security. Seriously. And the TSA people leaped to my aid.

I had stuffed my wallet into my shoe, and put the shoes into the plastic tray to send them through the X-ray machine. Somehow, the flight attendant nabbed my wallet out of my shoe.

I picked up my belongings and walked about 10 feet before I realized my wallet was missing. I then turned around and frantically started looking for it.

* Two TSA agents went through the nearby plastic bins one-by-one.
* Another TSA agent opened up the X-ray machine to determine it hadn't fallen inside.
* Another TSA agent called police, saying they could run through the security tapes for me from a laptop they would bring to me.
* Finally, yet another TSA came back with my wallet, having nabbed it back from the flight attendant, who claimed she had made a mistake in picking up my wallet. From inside my shoe.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:02 PM on October 16, 2008 [15 favorites]


This is gonna go so well...
posted by fixedgear at 6:04 PM on October 16, 2008


Maybe they found a bomb today.
posted by Class Goat at 6:04 PM on October 16, 2008


Kip Hawley, the man who runs the agency, is a bluff, amiable fellow who is capable of making a TSA joke. “Do you want three ounces of water?” he asked me.

Okay, that's pretty hilarious.
posted by danb at 6:06 PM on October 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


I can't believe I have never heard of a "wine-rack" prior to this article.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 6:11 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


In before a winger makes TSA agents out to be saints keeping us safe from feminaz...oh.
posted by DU at 6:13 PM on October 16, 2008


TSA is theatre. I travel a lot. 35 round trips this year, all within the US. This year, I was stopped 0 times while carrying an infrared agrometer (to measure temperature) that looks a lot like a hand-held laser. It has a battery and and trigger. 70 segments, probably 30 airports. Nothing, no stops.

I stopped using a 1 quart bag for liquids about 9 months ago. 0 stops in that time. My tooth paste, deodorant and hair product is in my toiletry kit in my bag. I don't take it out. Again, 0 stops.

Today, at LGA, the TSA screen found (I am not kidding) a set of 8 inch long set of tweezers in the luggage of the man in front of me. A manager came over and looked at the guy. The passenger said "I need those". The manager said "no problem" and hands them back to the guy.

Last week I was in Hartford. Going through secure of me was an older African American man. He kept setting off the metal detector. Finally he gets through. On the other side of the metal detector we are each grabbing our items and putting them away, tying our shoes, etc. He turns to me and says "I worked in a prison for 30 years. This is worse."

Want to feel terrible: come through the airport in Newark or Philadelphia, cities where there are large Muslim populations. Everyone last person in traditional garb or "looks" the part gets searched by the TSA. For what? To what end? Alienation of a whole group of American citizens.

Last point: I have been very frustrated with the set up of the TSA stations. The folding tables are the wrong height. You cannot slide your bags easily to the screening station. The handlers are yelling at you, constantly "take out your lotions, gels, water...." and "keep your boarding pass out..." and "take your laptop out and place it in a bin". I thought "this is terribly organized." Then I realized this: It was exactly how they wanted it. It did precisely what they hoped. For most people who don't travel, it is a scary, disturbing thing to go through security. Their takeaway, after getting back home and talking to the neighbors: "It sure is tough to get through airport security!" In fact, it is a spectacle. It is made to leave a strong impression on those who have not seen it before. Kind of like a magic act.

In sum: TSA is sound and fury representing nothing.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:18 PM on October 16, 2008 [41 favorites]


Maybe they found a bomb today.
...baggage of a Las Vegas man at a Southwest Airlines checkpoint.


Guaranteed that is some scam device meant to help him cheat at slot machines or blackjack.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:27 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


from the article: "All airport employees know what normal is.”

Long before 9/11, Bush or the TSA, I remember being in the gate area waiting for my flight to London at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. I'm a nervous flier anyway, and this was just weeks after Pan Am 103 had exploded over Lockerbie. I saw a man in an orange jumpsuit, similar to the ones worn my other airline employees out on the tarmac, walk through the gate area and exit through the jetway and (I presume) boarded the plane. What had caught my eye was that he wasn't wearing one of those jumbo laminated ID cards that the other employees had clipped to their suits, and he was smoking a cigarette (this at a time when only some airports allowed smoking, and then only in certain designated areas). Not one airline employee looked twice at the guy, no one stopped him to say "put out the cigarette," nothing. I was going to say something to security, but my traveling companion said I was paranoid and that they'd probably get suspicious of me instead.

On the way home on that same trip, I was departing from Amsterdam, changing planes in London, then changing again in New York before finally arriving in Detroit. Again, due to Pan Am 103 the new, constantly reiterated rule was "no unaccompanied bags allowed on the plane." In Amsterdam, all checked baggage was pawed through, and the agent made me plug in my hair dryer and portable radio to make sure they worked (which involved digging out my electricity converters as well - it was a plastic explosive inside a boom box that had brought down flight 103, which is why they now double-checked all electrical devices). When I arrived in New York and went to retrieve my suitcase, it wasn't there, and I had to fill out a lost bag form, etc. I inquired whether perhaps for some reason my bag had been checked directly through to Detroit and was told in no uncertain terms NO UNACCOMPANIED BAGGAGE gets put into the cargo hold. Of course, when I arrived at Metro, I was paged and then informed that my suitcase had arrived on a different flight and was down in Unclaimed Baggage. So this "security theater" is nothing new and has nothing to do with George W. Bush, other than his administration adding additional worthless delays at check-in.
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:28 PM on October 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Then you board the plane, because they’re not checking your name against your ID at boarding.”

From my memory of flying (in Canada, to be fair), that's not true. I come to the airport with the ticket, show my ticket (I don't think my ID) to the security guard, and then show my ID + ticket to the airline people at the gate.
“Do you know what you have on the inside of an airport?” Hawley asked me. “You have all the military traveling, you have guns, chemicals, jet fuel. So the idea that we would spend a whole lot of resources putting a perimeter around that, running every worker, 50,000 people, every day, through security—why in the heck would you do that?
This is precisely correct. If only they were that realistic in everything they did.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:34 PM on October 16, 2008


Been reading Bruce Schneier for a long time now. Always something informative in there.

As far as TSA goes, I think some of them are getting a little tired of this as well. I don't blame them, they have an awful job.
posted by Xoebe at 6:39 PM on October 16, 2008


From my memory of flying (in Canada, to be fair), that's not true. I come to the airport with the ticket, show my ticket (I don't think my ID) to the security guard, and then show my ID + ticket to the airline people at the gate.

They did this briefly in the US after 9/11. It hasn't been done for at least five years, probably longer.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:42 PM on October 16, 2008


Want to feel terrible: come through the airport in Newark or Philadelphia

You don't actually have to say any more than this, and it's still true.
posted by oaf at 6:46 PM on October 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


What's bad about PHL? Never had a problem there.
posted by Zambrano at 6:53 PM on October 16, 2008


So, I just bought a lab surplus electric clock that has a bunch of gears and limit switches in it... will I get it through security?

However, I did witness someone try to bring a computer power supply through security. They made him run it through the x-ray machine by itself, out of the box.

I started flying all the time for work, and I have never had any liquids confiscated. I keep a bottle of hand lotion in my bag all the time, and it's gone through security just fine every time.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:58 PM on October 16, 2008


This year, I was stopped 0 times while carrying an infrared agrometer (to measure temperature) that looks a lot like a hand-held laser. It has a battery and and trigger. 70 segments, probably 30 airports. Nothing, no stops.

But it wasn't a security risk. It measures temperature.

I mean, I totally understand that you looked like the Martian Al-Qaeda coming to take over, but you weren't. You were just carrying legitimate equipment.

But yeah, you probably should have been check out. Maybe I need to read up on Hanlon's Razor and the like.
posted by niles at 7:02 PM on October 16, 2008


PHL has a TSA set up that is maddening. The line that seems short is really long. The location of the screening station is wrong. There can be lines of 150 people if you catch it at the wrong time. That has happened to me on more than one occasion. I've never had that happen at ORD and things can be pretty bad there.

I have seen whole families pulled into a secondary screening because the adults were in traditional Muslim garb. So, who are we looking for actually? We spend billions of dollars to secure airports via the TSA and all we do is look for the people who look like the people who we imagine that will attack us in the same way as others (who did not dress in traditional garb) during the attack in 2001?

It is disrespectful, wrong and ultimately dumb.

Come on now.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:12 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


PHL's customs sucks too (or at least it's been pretty atrocious the 3 times I've flown in through there in the last 18 months).

I've also wandered through with my fair share of unexpected liquids/lighters/etc. Mostly I forget I have them, mostly I am not called on it. As far as I can tell the entire point of security is to make my father insist I get to the airport another 30 minutes earlier every time I visit my folks.

At what point do we complain though? I agree with you, zerobyproxy, the behavior you've witnessed is reprehensible. So what do we do about it? Who's watching the TSA to see if they are engaging in profiling behavior as you describe? Who should be, if they aren't?

(I don't know the answers, but the more I fly the more I think the right response isn't to just get irritated about it. Any ideas as to what can actually be done?)
posted by nat at 7:37 PM on October 16, 2008


Want to really have fun with TSA? Try departing from a US airport with a Zassenhaus Turkish Mill in your carry-on. It is a bunch of metal teeth inside of a modular, metal tube.

I carry it in carry-on, so I can explain what it is, rather than having it taken and replaced with a stupid "NOTICE OF BAGGAGE INSPECTION" 'we stole your shit' pamphlet. Interestingly, flying into and out of Dubai, and India, no one batted an eye at it.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:52 PM on October 16, 2008


Man, this is my favorite subject to bitch about. I fly 25-30 times a year, mostly business travel. I barely notice it anymore other than when the line is really long. But I still hate the atmosphere of thuggish intimidation, especially because anyone who's observed or traveled within this system for any length of time knows that this article is right, and that it's almost all, entirely theater of the absurd. And a whole lot of TSA employees seem a little too pleased with their power of intimidation and right to be rude, like the post office crossed with a local police department, the worst sort of authoritarian personalities and junior league abusers. Not all -- some are pleasant and professional, for sure. But some are just downright nasty people, and there should be no tolerance for that in a system where everyone is tense and under stress and real safety is at stake (or so they say).

Things seem to have relaxed a little bit this year, not sure why, and maybe it's because I've flown more in the last year than in the past so I've seen a wider range of airports. But I too notice that they rarely catch or bother with liquids in the carry on. I also often carry computer parts (bare hard drives) and A/V equipment (audio recorders and cameras) in my carryon when I travel for research. Rarely do these get me pulled aside, but when they do, I have the hardest time explaining things like what a "hard drive" is.

My favorite story: I was in Minneapolis on a flight home from Alaska last winter, and had a long layover between connections, so I had gone outside to grab a smoke between flights. I had a large bear tooth I had acquired in Alaska in my carryon bag. For some reason, this drew the x-ray screener's attention and I was pulled aside and the bag was inspected. This was early morning and it was pretty quiet at the station. So the inspector pulls out the 3" bear tooth and holds it up to the light and asks me what it is. I explain, and his jaw drops and he starts obsessing over this thing, calling all his buddies over to look at it and generally stopping the whole security screening process for 2 or 3 stations around while they all kvelled and passed it around and I just stood there in my unlaced boots and waited. Finally the guy handed it back to me and said "you're good to go." Didn't ask me about it, didn't acknowledge that he had basically held me (and about 10 other people) up for a minute or two straight up because I had a fucking bear tooth he liked.

I can't even imagine what happens to people who carry sex toys through.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:53 PM on October 16, 2008 [12 favorites]


I lost my boarding pass at San Jose, and a TSA employee found it. I tried to retrieve from the person who paged me (who stated that the page could only have come from him,and he didn't know anything abou it), from the security office, from the security checkpoint (where I lost it). Finally I just went up to the airline ticket desk, told them that my boarding pass had been lost, gave them my name, with NO ID!, and they gave me a new boarding pass. I stress, without checking my ID. It's a joke.
posted by nax at 8:09 PM on October 16, 2008


Good story, and I've observed what others have during a year of business travel. No one cares what you have. I routinely forget/fuck up my carry-on packing, and often have forbidden liquids and sharp things, and have never been called on it.

I find it laughable that the little meaningless squiggle on your boarding pass is considered unforgeable by the TSA.

And this whole ritual has struck me as asinine ever since I learned that the plane's cargo is never screened. It's true that terrorists exploit weaknesses and change strategy to strike where victims are not guarding. While we prance around with our feeder lines, taking off our shoes and dumping out our hair conditioner, anything at all can go onto our planes, long as it's in a nice suitcase or sealed box.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I also fly a few dozen times a year. The week after the """London Bomb Plot""" (notice the massive air quotes there, if you will) and the subsequent banning of liquids, I had four commercial flights.

At that stage, all liquids everywhere were considered contraband. The glass-fronted coolers full of Coke and Pepsi in the airport had comical amounts of duct tape holding them shut. This was late summer, of course, and still pretty warm; in one airport I saw a ground crew member, complete with fluorescent vest, massive ear protectors and security badge plead with a concession stand operator to sell him a bottle of water. "I work here! I'm not even getting on a plane!"

The newfound obsession with liquids was so highly prioritized that while all four flights had screeners painstakingly making sure no one had any toothpaste or contact lens solution, on three of the four flights, no one looked at my ID at any stage.

And for the first couple of weeks, the liquids ban also extended to crew. My cousin is a commercial airline pilot, and as she remarked at the time, "I'm flying the damn plane. if I wanted to make to crash, I could do that without a tube of hair gel."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:31 PM on October 16, 2008 [15 favorites]


My story. I travel a lot for business.

I only bring a small toothpaste travel size tube with me, nothing else. 2.5 oz. Be travelling for years with it all by itself put in the big grey xray box.

I get it taken away the other day since its not in a 1 Qt bag though it's pulled out in a box all by itself.

I said, "it's obviously legal, it's 2.5 oz and the only liquid I have"

No go, has to be chucked.
The women beside me says "jesus christ, he can put it in my bag"

I think she's in Guantanamo now.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:53 PM on October 16, 2008 [16 favorites]


From the article: "all frisks that avoid the sensitive regions are by definition symbolic"

Taking a bunch of flights within India earlier this year, the post-security conversation within our group always started with "So ... how 'intimate' was your pat-down?". Standing there on a box trying to keep one eye on your carry-on going through the x-ray machine .... some of the security guys definitely enjoyed giving a good squeeze to body parts that North American security will not go near.

It was still very much a theatre - on one flight they pulled something like half the passengers aside for 'extra screening' ... until the pilot complained about being forced to leave late, at which point we were all just rapidly ushered on board past the waiting security people.
posted by valleys at 8:56 PM on October 16, 2008


I lost my driver's license two years ago while traveling. After a brief panic, I found out that there's a way to get through security with a credit card or other type of ID. You have to fill out a stupid form and you get the extra special screening. But it gets you through faster, if the line is really long, as they have to wand you, etc. so they want to get it over with.

I think actually that the second airport I was in (DC Reagan) didn't even check for any kind of ID, just had me fill out some paperwork. PDX was a little more paranoid.

So yeah, you don't even need to screw around with IDs. Just tell them you lost yours and they'll let you through.

I wonder how they would have reacted though if I wasn't white and male.
posted by Hactar at 9:00 PM on October 16, 2008


I fly a lot. I agree 100% that it's bullshit spectacle. All you have to do to get virtually anything through is to have a big tangle of USB and power cables in a laptop or camera bag and put whatever you want through in that bag. Tell them it's camera equipment and they dont' touch it, especially if you have a whole bag full of it. I drove from Calgary to Victoria and then flew back last year and forgot that my 4" locking bladed Swiss Army knife was in my carry-on bag - it made it through no problem. Just this last weekend I had toothpaste and a tube of soap and nobody cared.

I'd go so far as to say that I'm white, with fair skin and hair, and that goes a lot towards not looking like a terrorist. It's sad. I've noticed a distinct reduction in the times I've been hassled by all authorities each time when I no longer had long hair, drove a newer car and travelled with my girlfriend (and especially now that she's my wife).
posted by jimmythefish at 9:15 PM on October 16, 2008


I fly a lot. It's always a joke, and the rules change randomly... but I suppose that's one of the few good things about the system. Too predictable would be bad.

I can't even imagine what happens to people who carry sex toys through.

I have a girlfriend who often travels with... surprises. She says that she often gets harassed by security guys in the USA (exclusively, for some reason) because when "confronted" with them, she doesn't act flustered enough, and this always gets her sent to a supervisor.

"Sex toys. You know, for fucking."
posted by rokusan at 9:19 PM on October 16, 2008 [12 favorites]


Bruce Schneier is a smart guy. More than almost anyone in the public right now I think he understands the theory of security. Behind all the cryptography algorithms and operational security methods, there are some fundamental ideas that he's identified. The importance of the cost/benefit analysis, his idea of "data shadows", the difference between feeling secure and being secure, etc.

Which makes his statement here so much more frustrating:

"Airport security in America is a sham—'security theater' designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists."

Airport security is supposed to make travelers feel bad, or at least get them used to feeling bad. It's supposed to remind people again and again of 9/11. And it's not meant to catch stupid terrorists, it's meant to build the architecture to control travel.
posted by formless at 9:40 PM on October 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


So yeah, you don't even need to screw around with IDs. Just tell them you lost yours and they'll let you through.

I wonder how they would have reacted though if I wasn't white and male.


speaking from personal experience, they most likely would not have let you on the plane.

My most ridiculous airport security story is the time I had picked up a super deluxe commando action figure to take to a buddy who collects such things. The figure was in a clear plexi display box, and in his hand was a little plastic knife. As in GI Joe with the kung-fu grip style little plastic knife. Idiot security guy just stared at it for a good minute, it was obvious he was really struggling with this one, and finally he asks me to open it up so he can "see if it's sharp". I refuse on two grounds.

a) it's a gift for someone and I don't want to open it and,

b) no.

So he gets all huffy, goes into "this guy is a threat" mode and calls over a supervisor. After some furtive whispereing and angry finger pointing, the supervisor comes over, takes one look at the toy, and turns bright red with what I assume was some combination of pure embarrassment, and barely concealed rage. He apologized profusely and waved me on. As much as airport "security" pisses me off. i can take some satisfaction in knowing that one TSA employee got an earful that day.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:44 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can't...resist...


Metafilter: Man, this is my favorite subject to bitch about.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:49 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Agreed with all of the assumptions re: security theatre.

I wish the article had talked (in some detail) about what should be done instead.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 9:51 PM on October 16, 2008


It's the asshole factor in the US that bugs me so much. Traveling in Europe this summer (England and Spain), the process was just so much more efficient and polite.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:53 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wish the article had talked (in some detail) about what should be done instead.

As Schneier suggests repeatedly, the alternative is to forgo all this "predictive" bullshit - which just protects against the last attack, never the impossible-to-predict next one - and put the money toward general-response resources like EMTs instead.

But look at that from the airlines' & airports' perspective. If one day they say, OK, enough of this, we're going back to the old system--and then, god forbid, something else bad happens on a plane--they would never recover. Even if the logic made sense. Like doctors, it's not in their best interests to take the reasonable path, just the most conservative one.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:59 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Didn't ask me about it, didn't acknowledge that he had basically held me (and about 10 other people) up for a minute or two straight up because I had a fucking bear tooth he liked.

Dude, it was a 3" bear tooth! That's gonna wow the shit out of any city boy.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:43 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the ID triangle gap could be plugged considerably more reasonably with the same technology they use at, say, fucking DisneyLand: UV-inked stamps, instead of indiscriminate TSA-screener handwriting.

That way, they would at least be ensured that the boarding pass I was using to get ON THE PLANE was the same pass that TSA checked against my ID. Still not a complete plug in the gap, but certainly plugging that gaping hole just a little.
posted by disillusioned at 3:07 AM on October 17, 2008


...designed to make travelers feel better...

formless is right. Or even if he's wrong, and the system really is designed to make travelers feel better, it's not doing anything remotely resembling that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:42 AM on October 17, 2008


It's supposed to remind people again and again of 9/11.

Truer words were never spoken. It's theater with a purpose, just like the "threat level" system. And dollars to donuts we're going to get a little "threat level" elevation in the next 18 days. I have no idea why it always seems to happen in October and every four years, hmmm.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:28 AM on October 17, 2008


One should mention that this stupid idea has been forced on other countries all over the world, thus creating a new class of thieves (airport personel). Knives (small), scissors, nail files, creams, shampoos etc are being confiscated everyday, without a system for their return, without receipts, without an identification system (what was taken from whom). Let's suppose that one of the thousands of shampoo bottles that are being confiscated every day does actually have a dangerous substance in it. How do you find who it was taken from?

Answer is you don't. The bird has flown away. The shampoo is being used by any of the thieving employees. You cry over your very expensive lotion. You feel like a schmuck. You hate them. Next time you might be carrying a real bomb, just to show the bastards!
posted by acrobat at 4:37 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Taking a bunch of flights within India earlier this year, the post-security conversation within our group always started with "So ... how 'intimate' was your pat-down?". Standing there on a box trying to keep one eye on your carry-on going through the x-ray machine .... some of the security guys definitely enjoyed giving a good squeeze to body parts that North American security will not go near.

valleys speaks truth: I fly enough that I have had The Patdown several times but no security screener has ever touched a bathing suit area. On the other hand, last summer I was taking a short hop on a warm summer's day and I had gone to the airport wearing a golf shirt. The patdown that day was the usual limbs and side-of-torso affair, including my bare arms. You know, in case I had an invisible knife or something.

That seemed to me to be the strongest demonstration by a screener of, "I am not interested in anyone's safety, I am just touching the body parts my training says I should be touching so if my supervisor is watching this, I have covered my ass."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:52 AM on October 17, 2008 [6 favorites]


So where can I buy all of the things that have been confiscated? I'm assuming they're put up for auction somewhere.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:05 AM on October 17, 2008


I lost my driver's license two years ago while traveling. After a brief panic, I found out that there's a way to get through security with a credit card or other type of ID. You have to fill out a stupid form and you get the extra special screening. But it gets you through faster, if the line is really long, as they have to wand you, etc. so they want to get it over with.

I can attest that you don't need a photo ID to fly. I have a co-worker who is a privacy freak. He has a PA drivers license, sans picture. No, he's not Amish. He has a DoD smart card, no picture. We flew together this summer. At PHL, they sort of knew him, knew of him or had seen this before. He had to fill out a form, kept in a three ring binder, that showed his itinerary. I looked over his shoulder as he was doing so, and it looked like four other people had done so already on that day.

When we left Indianapolis, it was a different story. Small airport, so everybody got involved. He's polite, smiles a lot, but it pretty firm. The first person he encountered (show me your ID and boarding pass) was having a fit as they insisted 'you cannot board an aircraft without a photo ID.' He quietly explained that he does so all the time. First level supervisor, second level supervisor, TSA head for the airport. Viola, he's on the plane.
posted by fixedgear at 6:27 AM on October 17, 2008


the """London Bomb Plot"""

The week before the Plot of Scientific Impossibility, I flew to Halifax. Then I had to ask this question. The week after the Plot of Scientific Impossibility, I made what was probably the most urgent purchase of bubble wrap that Antigonish has ever seen.
posted by oaf at 6:46 AM on October 17, 2008


I try and avoid flying through the US when I can, because it makes the entire process all the more convoluted, even if you're only in transit. What's disappointing is that lots of other countries are picking up these bad habits. (I guess i'll eat my words when someone blows up a plane with some Vaseline and nail clipper fuse.)
posted by chunking express at 6:51 AM on October 17, 2008


I fly a lot. I agree 100% that it's bullshit spectacle.

I work wit a lot of TSA folks and I can tell you that for a large part there is actually no way that they can be 100% all the time, not even if they were funded to allow for employees that were more skilled than entry-level high school graduates, not even if they could strip search every one of us and rub us down with bomb sniffing chemicals. With that said, there is far more going on at the security check point than the visible bag screening. You are being screened before you even get in line. You ever wonder why the airport is six stories tall but you only get to walk around on a couple of those stories? There are security people and gobs of electronic doo-hickeys watching you.

The guy that wrote the article, I'm willing to bet they knew he had stuff on him and didn't give a crap.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:03 AM on October 17, 2008


"I have covered my ass."

Wrong ass, dude.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:23 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wild_Eep, you might try the Unclaimed Baggage Store. I actually visited this, oh, 10 years ago (as part of a long road trip) and it was awe-inspiring. And they've apparently expanded since then.
posted by marginaliana at 8:05 AM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


good article, but actually i think it highlights alot of the (dwindling) *nice* things about america: that one can, indeed, bring a hezbollah flag around without being considered a terrorist for it. his points are spot on, and i love schneier, but i also love that we can still do weird things (tearing up passes) without having people report on us. because we all know what happen when everyone starts snitching..
posted by yonation at 8:15 AM on October 17, 2008


@yonation, the article shows that you can be a Jewish dude and not get harassed for carrying a Hezbollah flag and books all about Jihad. That's one of the points Goldberg seems to be making. I wonder how an actual Muslim would have fared. People narc on brown people for speaking Arabic or Punjabi (!) on planes, i'm guessing they probably would if they walked into a bathroom and saw a brown dude tearing up his boarding pass.
posted by chunking express at 8:52 AM on October 17, 2008


The problem with security theater is that the next time something bad happens and it can be demonstrably proven that the in place systems did nothing to prevent it, nothing will change. They may add even more absurd steps for people to jump through, but at no point will they just scrap the entire system are revamp it from the ground up.

I keep hoping that we foil some major terrorist plot pertaining to destroying other parts of our transportation infrastructure, just to that it can get some additional attention and money as well.
posted by quin at 8:55 AM on October 17, 2008


Wild_Eep, you might try the Unclaimed Baggage Store.

My god I love that fucking place!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2008


The guy that wrote the article, I'm willing to bet they knew he had stuff on him and didn't give a crap.

Exactly. The airport workers see all and know all, and are infallible. If anyone gets through with anything dangerous ever, it was known about beforehand and considered not a risk. Obviously.

Until the next attack, this logic is unassailable. After that attack, there was nothing the airport services could do to prevent that particular technique or application, the security theater gets a new play to produce, and the cycle begins anew, with a whole new 100% effective and reliable system. Until the next attack.
posted by splice at 9:38 AM on October 17, 2008


ricochet biscuit writes "And for the first couple of weeks, the liquids ban also extended to crew. My cousin is a commercial airline pilot, and as she remarked at the time, 'I'm flying the damn plane. if I wanted to make to crash, I could do that without a tube of hair gel.'"

Typical security shortsightedness. If she wanted to crash the plane after she left it a tube of contraband might be helpful.
posted by Mitheral at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2008


So where can I buy all of the things that have been confiscated? I'm assuming they're put up for auction somewhere.

ebay.
posted by ymgve at 10:21 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I travel approximately 12 times a year. I always carry a large professional caliber HDV camera with me, that is separated into its component parts and stuffed willy nilly into a large bag with accessories. altogether it's about 25 pounds of messy electronics that looks like god-knows-what on an xray.

i only ever get stopped at security when i don't shave for a while.
posted by shmegegge at 10:36 AM on October 17, 2008


"As Schneier suggests repeatedly, the alternative is to forgo all this "predictive" bullshit - which just protects against the last attack, never the impossible-to-predict next one - and put the money toward general-response resources like EMTs instead."

Right, I got that part. I should have phrased my question better. How about this: what security precautions at an airport would be desirable, in terms of real effectiveness and convenience? Surely some measure of airport security is desirable, even if it is just enough to stop people from boarding planes with guns? I agree that the disrobing, opening laptops etc, is a huge PITA and doesn't protect anybody. But a metal detector seems very reasonable, in terms of convenience and ability to catch big threats like hunting knives and guns.

So what compromise is appropriate?
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 11:23 AM on October 17, 2008


the alternative is to forgo all this "predictive" bullshit - which just protects against the last attack, never the impossible-to-predict next one - and put the money toward general-response resources like EMTs instead."

Where I come from, that brand of asshattery is called "thinking that wearing a bullet-proof vest is safer than taking the bullets out of the gun."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:30 AM on October 17, 2008


Neat article, but black-hatting to determine overlooked exploits is a definite no-no, and can be rewarded with a lengthy prison sentence.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:46 AM on October 17, 2008


So what compromise is appropriate?

They should go back to the pre 9/11 security: x-ray machines and metal detectors. No one is going to hijack a plan with a nail clipper or a big bottle of pepsi, unless their name is Jack Bauer.
posted by chunking express at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2008


They should actually bother implementing it though – crazy as it sounds pre-9/11 the lack of security in the US (vs that in Europe) always used to freak me out a bit.
posted by Artw at 12:30 PM on October 17, 2008


I'd comment on the TSA, but I can't. I'm too depressed.

(This year, 82 segments flown, 93 purchased so far. Will probably end up around 105 for the year.)
posted by eriko at 12:37 PM on October 17, 2008



Actually Bush in his own inimical way has spared us another terrorist attack by Al Quaeda.
By invading Iraq he brought American targets thousands of miles closer to OBL's forces and obviated the need for terrorists to come to this country to inflict harm on America and its economy.
The economic cost of 9/11 has been far surpassed by the cost of invading and occupying Iraq. As has the American casualty toll. I will not even address the thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis who died miserable deaths.
OK. But it was a teensy little address.
posted by notreally at 2:14 PM on October 17, 2008


Ditch the Life Jackets:

But if you really wanted to save weight, or give your aircraft several hundred more miles of flying range, it would make more sense to jettison all the paraphernalia associated with emergency landing on water. Life jackets and inflatable rafts weigh much more than all that glossy paper - probably several tonnes for a large airliner.
posted by WPW at 2:26 PM on October 17, 2008


“The guy that wrote the article, I'm willing to bet they knew he had stuff on him and didn't give a crap.”

Well, yeah ‘Jeffrey Goldberg.’

But no, it’s security theater. Pretty obviously has been for a while.
A jacket containing plastic explosives looks just like a ‘beer belly’. Granted they ‘sniff’ differently, but there are ways to mask or conceal that (from cursory investigation anyway).

Consider though - given a smart terrorist could get through security easily, why haven’t there been successive attacks at airports and on airplanes?

This isn’t to rebut Schneier’s (accurate) comment that reinforced pilot doors and passenger response has made us safer, at least from hijacking.

But why no bomb or suicide bomber on a plane?

Another thing - shoulder launched missiles - about two a year get shot at commercial civilian airplanes (worldwide), yet all we hear about is this stuff. And there’s no political will to spend dollar one on defenses. There has been some intel/investigative work, but (I agree with Schneier) more money should be spent on that end of things than this.

In the news we keep hearing that terrorist groups are motivated by religion, religious/ethnic nationalism, or ethnic nationalism.
And yet - what are their goals?

Y’know why The Base hasn’t attacked us again? Because we did pretty much everything they wanted us to do. They achieved their goals (even the pan-Islamic conflict seems to be shaping up thanks to the Bush administration). So why bomb us again? (basic conditioning, you don’t strike just to strike, particularly as a guerilla or terrorist, otherwise the population gets numbed to the violence. You strike only on your terms)
So why initiate an attack that risks being unsuccessful - and/or may cripple the ability to initiate other plots?

Old maxim: Risk is probability times consequences.
I think a RAND study some time ago said a nuke in the port of L.A. would cost more than $1 trillion and cut world trade by 7.5 percent.

So it might be worth the attempt except for one other maxim: don’t interrupt your enemy when he’s making mistakes.

We’re spending how much on security? Military? And related areas?
Our economy is headed into the toilet right now, yeah?

Too many modern ‘counterterrorists’ especially the academics haven’t studied guerilla warfare. Look at Mao, man. His moves took some long years. What, 1927 to ‘49 when the PRC was officially established.

There are several types of terrorist - loosely - criminals who just use the tactic as a goal to further criminal enterprise (dangerous, but easily fought because they’ve got roots); the nutcases - who you can’t really guard against because their motivations are unpredictable, but aren’t truly dangerous (other than to human lives, but they’re not paradigm changers), and the TSA can, perhaps, guard against these, although they’re so rare as to be almost negligible in terms of threat - and basic (pre-9/11) security measures can (and have) stop them ; and the crusaders, who have ideology, organization and collective goals. They’re dangerous.

“I can't even imagine what happens to people who carry sex toys through”

I put a nice realistic dildo nestled amongst loose used q-tips and old tufts of hair in my shaving bag. Keeps folks from pawing at/finding my non-metallic blades.

“Then I realized this: It was exactly how they wanted it. It did precisely what they hoped. For most people who don't travel, it is a scary, disturbing thing to go through security.”

I agree it’s nothing. But I think it’s more of a psychic war being waged. Start from what appears to be an otherwise rational position. Keep heming in the boundries.
Kinda like what we did to the indians.


That “we have the military” thing makes me laugh. I and some other folks were on our way somewhere and I happened to be carrying my outfit and a SAW (a machine gun basically) and other guys were carrying other dangerous things, ammo, etc.
And sometimes you take these bizarre charter flights. I mean really bizarre (f’rinstance I once flew ‘Air Hawaii’ to Iceland and Scotland. Make any sense to you? I never found out why. Other than the standard “lowest possible bidder”).

So I’m first through and we have to set our stuff down, walk though, then hand our stuff around the security apparatus (some large pieces and where we were wasnt’ set up for it.

So I stroll through the metal detector. It goes off, I assume because I have a peacemaker on my chest and a sidearm on my hip. And the security guy stops me with a wand.

No, seriously.
(and some of my guys were joking about that, looking at the obvious bits of hardware I’m wearing and saying “Gee, what do you think it is, Smed?” And “Did you take your keys and change out of your pocket” and other witticisms.)

Apparently between MAC who chartered the L-1011 (?) (a wide body of some sort) and the chartered company, there had been some snafu. They hadn’t explained what was going on.
Anyway, squared it all away pretty quickly, but it was funny watching the stewardesses watch us try to stow all this gear in the overheads. (My kit sat right next to me. I got an extra meal too.)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:48 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


On a recent flight in Canada, I went through security with a few gifts in my carry-on. The security personnel indicated they needed to open my bag to identify an object, which turned out to be my Magic 8-Ball (with more than 3 ounces of liquid inside). One of the screeners didn't know what it was, so I explained to him how it worked. He then proceeded to ask it questions: "Am I the smartest guy in the room?" Answer: "My sources say no." Laughter from his co-workers. "Am I going on a hot date tonight?" Answer: "Very doubtful." By this time he was bright red and everyone nearby was laughing. He just handed it back to me and said, "Go ahead."
posted by girlycamper at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


i just had a weird thought on this subject. Why planes? I guess I should do some research, but it seems like one of those hatfield/mccoy type situations where nobody remembers why they're fighting. Before 9/11 was there any sort of terrorist attack where the plane itself was instrumental to the attack?

It almost seems like that by having so much security around planes they almost become "higher value targets"by default. Or maybe a psychological target due to our inherent anxiety over flying? If you ask me, suicide bombers in crowded places are way more frightening. But maybe that's because I live in NYC. Which brings up the whole other question, Why the terrorist fascination with the WTC? I somewhat understand the reasoning, but i always figured if they REALLY wanted to piss us off, they would have hit the Empire state building or The Statue of liberty.

I always kind of wished Bin Laden was more of a prankster than an evil fucker, then he would have done something like steal the hollywood sign and re-install it in the Hills of Afghanistan, or sponsored a NASCAR team and on the Daytona 500.
posted by billyfleetwood at 6:39 PM on October 17, 2008


It's always interesting how people have this vague notion that their pile of electronics should single them out for inspection. Like the security screener can't tell a laptop power supply from a bomb.
posted by smackfu at 8:36 PM on October 17, 2008


My understanding is that airport personnel cannot tell a sweatshirt from a bomb.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:32 PM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why the terrorist fascination with the WTC? I somewhat understand the reasoning, but i always figured if they REALLY wanted to piss us off

It was a significantly international building: a lot of nationalities worked there. It was also a solidly-established symbol of Western Capitalism. And headquartered many of the corporations al Queda hates.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:47 PM on October 17, 2008


I have now learned that if you want a meal on a plane, carrying an automatic weapon helps.

Keep those hints and tips coming!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:44 AM on October 18, 2008


Smedleyman: Consider though - given a smart terrorist could get through security easily, why haven’t there been successive attacks at airports and on airplanes?

Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Perhaps nobody blows up airplanes in America because the same people can blow up military convoys in Iraq much more easily; and the latter is a more effective way to get America to leave them alone?
posted by Mike1024 at 5:20 AM on October 18, 2008


Man, I would not fly with an eight ball, magic or not. That's asking for trouble.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:16 AM on October 18, 2008


Just noticed this thread. I've travelled a tonne and crossed a lot of land borders in my time. Because of this, I became very lackadaisical about what I carried... until I was crossing an Iran-Iraq border in late 2003 by foot and I was searched by the Iranians. HOLY SHIT! I had a copy of the Qur’an I was reading, photos of me with the Taliban from 2001, and other photos of me at a costume party I had just been at in Northern California dressed as an Arab on a prayer mat... The Iranians held me for 4 or 5 hours... all I kept thinking was 'please hand me over to the Americans on the other side, I can deal with them'. Spent the next 3 weeks being held by the CIA on the Iraqi side in Massif Salahaddin. I learned my lesson.
posted by gman at 8:51 AM on October 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Then you board the plane, because they’re not checking your name against your ID at boarding.”

They most certainly do check your boarding pass against your ID at the time of boarding.
posted by gman at 8:56 AM on October 18, 2008


Not on US domestic flights. You walk up to the gate agent with your boarding pass, they scan it, and you walk onto the aircraft.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on October 18, 2008


A late addition as icing to this thread: TSA agent steals $200K worth of gear, resells it on eBay.
posted by rokusan at 5:47 PM on October 19, 2008


Not on US domestic flights. You walk up to the gate agent with your boarding pass, they scan it, and you walk onto the aircraft.

I have not had my ID checked at the gate in at least three years.

For ideas on how to do this better - remove carry on luggage to a small, see through bag. Everything goes into luggage but the bare essentials. This removes the burden at screening, and shift it to scanning luggage. Boo-hoo you have to wait for your luggage at the other end; I find this more reasonable than carry shopping carts onto the airplane.

Forget IDs, too easy to fake and now I have learned boarding passes are a joke.
posted by fluffycreature at 11:10 AM on October 20, 2008


This has got little to do with haveing to wait and everything to do with securing my stuff. See above. There is no way I'm checking cameras, laptops, electronics in general, film or data.
posted by Mitheral at 2:11 PM on October 20, 2008


This is only tangentially related, but I'll share it anyhow.

A few years ago I went to my sister's wedding in Australia. On the way back to Canada, my connection from LAX was delayed for ten hours, so the airline put me up in a hotel.

What's so interesting about that, you ask? Well, there I was, out in the wilds of Los Angeles with all of my baggage, and I hadn't even cleared customs. It was truly mind-boggling.

Even if my flight hadn't been delayed, my trip would have still involved walking (again, with all my baggage), right past a whole huge bank of open, unguarded doors. Makes you wonder why anyone would bother climbing the border fence.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:16 PM on October 20, 2008


So yeah, you don't even need to screw around with IDs. Just tell them you lost yours and they'll let you through.

I wonder how they would have reacted though if I wasn't white and male.

I'm a brown 20-something male who yesterday, without proper ID and just carry-on bags, flew out of JFK. I'd lost my drivers license (the card, not the right to drive) while in NYC and after some huffing & puffing from the supervisor on duty about what I had to prove myself as myself (school ID with photo, checkbook, credit card+receipts), I got on the plane. I had a standard secondary screening like I've gotten more than a few random times before, no questions asked about anything I had, and it was fine. Grand total, from getting in the very first security line to leaving checkpoint? Probably 15 minutes.
posted by knile at 7:25 PM on October 20, 2008


Follow up to this article by Bruce Schneier, which is in response to a follow up by Kip Hawley of the TSA.

Booyaka.
posted by chunking express at 6:06 AM on October 23, 2008


In the Schneier article, he says:
But what I think Hawley is doing is engaging in a little bit of psychological manipulation. Like sky marshals, the real benefit of behavior detection isn't whether or not you do it but whether or not the bad guys believe you're doing it. If they think you are doing behavior detection at security checkpoints, or have sky marshals on every airplane, then you don't actually have to do it. It's the threat that's the deterrent, not the actual security system.
Which is the other side to the terrorists' coin. They don't have to actually try to hijack or crash any planes, so long as the authorities subject the public to 'precautions' that are alleged to be prevention of the terrorists trying. The goal is not to actually destroy airplanes or passengers, after all, it's to make our lives more inconvenient and expensive, and us more nervous. The terrorists won years ago.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:18 AM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


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