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How to feign security in 93 easy pages
December 9, 2009 9:17 AM   Subscribe

The TSA has accidentally posted their SOP online. Not having learned proper redaction techniques after dozens of other companies and government agencies made the same mistake, the TSA posted their complete "Screening Management Standard Operating Procedures" manual online in PDF format.

Included, you can find details about how they choose who to search, the limitations of the various scanners in use (metal detectors, x-ray, etc), and easily reproduced examples of badges and paperwork that earn you a free pass through security.
posted by pla (131 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Links to the actual manual have started to vanish, so you might want to get it soon, while you still can.
posted by pla at 9:20 AM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh man are their faces gonna be red!
posted by ORthey at 9:20 AM on December 9, 2009


CLICK HERE TO READ THE SCREENING MANUAL and HERE TO SEE THE SAMPLE CIA CREDENTIAL

I know it's too late to undo this, but, good grief, ABC, couldn't you pretend to be doing your part to help out? Just on the offhand chance that the bad guys hadn't found it already?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:21 AM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here's the bloggish outline of what happened when. Unredacted copy of the document downloadable here (zip file from cryptome).
posted by jessamyn at 9:22 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pater, you're assuming these procedures were worth a shit in the first place. All indications for the past seven years seem to be that they're nothing but an extremely expensive show for the public's benefit.
posted by Target Practice at 9:24 AM on December 9, 2009 [14 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the 'bad guys' could use their bad-ass bad guy skills to get a hold of this thing without it being leaked.
posted by chunking express at 9:24 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The TSA isn't much more than security theater, and this is the script.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:26 AM on December 9, 2009 [26 favorites]


great, so next time I fly I should just print this out and take it with me so I can argue at the screening gate about all the stuff I CAN SO! have in my carry on...

wait, what?
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:33 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, and usually security through obscurity works so well!
posted by Nelson at 9:33 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Target Practice: "Pater, you're assuming these procedures were worth a shit in the first place. All indications for the past seven years seem to be that they're nothing but an extremely expensive show for the public's benefit."

John Cole wondered why "this story is getting nowhere near the press that the WH party-crashers story has".

This is why.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:34 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


i think we have all learned that we should travel with our passports, today.
posted by mr. remy at 9:34 AM on December 9, 2009


[fixed my own link....]
posted by jessamyn at 9:35 AM on December 9, 2009


No surprise that their redacting technique are every bit as effective and foolproof as their passenger screening. Score +1 for consistency.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:36 AM on December 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's as if they learned all about security by watching bad spy films. Or Pinky and the Brain.

"My secret plan to take over the world? Well, I guess it couldn't hurt to tell you. You're about to die at the hands of my DEATH RAY, after all! Yes. Oooh. Yes! You shall be the first to bear witness to my ultimate triumph!!"

Later....

"INCOMPETENT UNDERLINGS! YOU LET HIM ESCAPE?! FIND HIM! HE MUST NOT GET AWAY! No! He'll ruin EVERYTHING! It's so hard to find good help these days! "
posted by zarq at 9:36 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they ever start doing Internet searches on aliases as part of airport security then we're all in big trouble.
posted by ODiV at 9:38 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they ever start doing Internet searches on aliases as part of airport security then we're all in big trouble.

Yes, it appears we have some intelligence about a plot led by I.P. Freely and Heywood Jablowme.
posted by jonp72 at 9:39 AM on December 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm not saying the procedures are good. I don't see how it's useful to disseminate bad procedures all over the web. Publicizing this breach means that more people are going to have samples of CIA and other IDs than would have before, which raises the possibility that someone will use that information to do something criminal. That fact that the procedures are ineffective makes it even worse that everyone now know exactly the best ways to try to breach them. If outstanding procedures were leaked, and the world marveled at how impenetrable airport security is, even if you know the details, that wouldn't be nearly as problematic as this mess.

I guess what it boils down to is I don't think "Hey, guys! This is what CIA ID looks like!" is legitimate news, and I wish ABC (and everyone else) would show some disgression.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:40 AM on December 9, 2009


[fixed my own link....]

*cough* Feature request *cough*


:D

(I'm kidding. Mostly.)
posted by zarq at 9:40 AM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Maybe they should see it as an opportunity to open source the SOP and see if it can be improved.
posted by carter at 9:41 AM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Publicizing this breach means that more people are going to have samples of CIA and other IDs than would have before, which raises the possibility that someone will use that information to do something criminal.

Well, but the counter-argument as always is that the publicizing of bad techniques is one of the only ways to create momentum and pressure for the development of good techniques. And, indeed, that the very best techniques which might result from such a process wouldn't be the kind of techniques that could be undermined by an SOP leak like this.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:45 AM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Joe Beese : John Cole wondered why "this story is getting nowhere near the press that the WH party-crashers story has".

I don't know about that... Admittedly I don't watch much TV, but this has made it to Slashdot, Wired, even Fark; the FP link came from ABC, and the Beeb has it as well.

So, speculation time - Will this lead to:
A) The TSA dropping the charade and just letting us fly in peace,
B) New and "improved" (and even more random) rules,
C) Nothing, as with the Schneier/Soghoian boarding pass proof-of-concept.
posted by pla at 9:47 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eww -- all Nelson and "ha ha" for the protocol leak, but, well, eww, 5 or 6 types of ID's with their distinguishing characteristics now in the public domain? Looks like everybody's getting new ID's... :-p
posted by cavalier at 9:48 AM on December 9, 2009


An FFDO in possession of an FFDO firearm must be permitted to pass beyond the
screening checkpoint without inspection of his or her person and accessible property upon presentation of bona fide credentials and aircraft operator photo ID.


Oh, OK. Awesome.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:51 AM on December 9, 2009


And, indeed, that the very best techniques which might result from such a process wouldn't be the kind of techniques that could be undermined by an SOP leak like this.

Bingo. Security through obscurity does not work, and was proven not to work back in the 1880s.

If all you need to know to break the system is "this is what an ID looks like", then there is no system... and that's TSA's problem, not ABC's.
posted by vorfeed at 9:52 AM on December 9, 2009 [18 favorites]


John Cole wondered why "this story is getting nowhere near the press that the WH party-crashers story has".

If the leaked manual comes with a totally hot blond woman than I'll pay just as much attention.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The hard part of bypassing security isn't faking the IDs. It's getting the proper attitude of disdain for the security procedures.
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


SO nabbing that file . . . in a videogame platformer "I'm not really doing this" sort of way.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2009


"this story is getting nowhere near the press that the WH party-crashers story has"

My feeling is also because it had to do with computers and technology and requires more than a twitter-level explanation of the really interesting parts of this, and why this was such a cock-up. The party-crashers is mroe basic and can be explained to someone in a news-type soundbyte. Also because I think more people agree that "party crashing the White House was a dumb prank that happened to highlight security problems" as opposed to the TSA situation "documents made available by TSA (supposedly redacted but not really) highlight their own security problems that people had been claiming were existing all along" where I think more people have mixed feelings about the outcome.

Maybe that's just my lens, but as someone who endures TSA poking and prodding a few times a month usually, I've always been of the opinion that if these routines were really making us safer, I'd be okay with them, but if they're just security theater, I'm not only not okay with it, but sort of actively annoyed at the dehumanizing getting-yelled-at-by-guards-while-you-re-in-a-chute aspect to the whole thing.
posted by jessamyn at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


TSA suspends workers for online manual.
posted by ericb at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The TSA isn't much more than security theater, and this is the script.

What's my character's motivation?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


I.e., not at all.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2009


What's my character's motivation?

Somebody has removed your baby from your sight for "inspection" and the Emergency Xanax just ain't cutting it.
posted by Shepherd at 10:03 AM on December 9, 2009 [35 favorites]


I gotta say, I take issue with ABC's calling this a security breach. A breach is when something breaks, roughly. Think of the warfare definition, when you have artillery literally breaking open fortress walls. That's a breach. If you were to accidently leave the door open, that's just a cockup. Or treason, if it was an "accident".

This is not a breach.

And now I should probably go back to my 7-hour take home Constitutional Law exam. Looong day...someone post more interesting things today please?
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2009


In response to this leak, maybe they can tighten things up and make it an even more humiliating, awkward fustercluck of an experience!

When it comes to travel decisions, I'd prefer to crawl over broken glass with Danny DeVito strapped to my back than run the gauntlet of air travel and the colossal farce that is the TSA (Thousands Standing Around).
posted by porn in the woods at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


so next time I fly I should just print this out and take it with me so I can argue at the screening gate about all the stuff I CAN SO! have in my carry on...

Mandatory illustration of toodleydoodley at airport.
posted by rokusan at 10:07 AM on December 9, 2009


It's like a strategy guide for holiday travel!

PROTIP: Only TSA authorized personnel, vendors, and contractors may perform required daily checks of equipment and periodic routine maintenance.

um...
posted by fuq at 10:09 AM on December 9, 2009


I cam here to say what deadmessenger (eponysterically?) said:

The TSA isn't much more than security theater, and this is the script.

(and on preview, what jessamyn said in her last paragraph)

I haven't read the manual yet (but I did download it for later perusal, for when I need a good laugh), but I've flown enough with El Al and with every other airline to know the difference between REAL security and security theater. The so-called security procedures at American airports since (and to some degree before) 9/11 are literally nothing more than an annoyance and a waste of time to me.

In the absence of true security screening a la El Al, I honestly think that we'd be better off with a self-policing system. That is, check boarding passes/tickets just for the purpose of confirming a seat assignment, and limit carry-on baggage size (logically), but don't screen for weapons, etc. Most people will act in their self-interest in that they'll avoid doing Bad Things (TM) in favor of arriving at their destination on time. And if/when a Bad Thing does happen, perhaps the "most people" from the previous statement will cooperate to quell it on board, and/or a tragedy will occur, prompting real security measures to be put in place.

I'm not holding my breath.

Except when I go through the security line at the airport, what with all those people and their stinky feet exposed.
posted by yiftach at 10:16 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


In defense of the TSA (and I never thought I'd ever say that) there seems to be no provisions in this manual for "batshit insane passengers who'll claim you took their baby away from them even when the surveillance cameras will prove otherwise", so it's clear they're still forced to grasp at procedural straws on the employee level.
posted by Spatch at 10:17 AM on December 9, 2009


TSA does not prohibit the public, passengers, or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming screening locations unless the activity interferes with a TSO’s ability to perform his or her duties or prevents the orderly flow of individuals through the screening location ... TSA must not confiscate or destroy the photographic equipment or film of any person photographing the screening location.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:17 AM on December 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


vorfeed : If all you need to know to break the system is "this is what an ID looks like", then there is no system...

Exactly. Just seeing a badge should never be enough to confirm someone is who they say they are, that should be done by calling the agency to verify that they have an officer of that name with that badge number.

Because that's the kind of thing that will actually help prevent someone from impersonating an officer.
posted by quin at 10:27 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always wondered how those IDs were supposed to work in the first place. I can think of two possible cases:

a) I don't know what the ID looks like.
So everyone showing me anything official-looking with "FBI" or "CIA" printed on it will very probably be allowed to do whatever they want. So any halfway competent terrorist with access to photoshop will be able to create an ID that will stand up to the layman.

b) I do know what the ID is supposed to look like.
This means I got that knowledge from somewhere, and unless it is kept secret by everyone who ever has to verify credentials there is a possibility of this information getting out.

The way I see it the only "correct" way to confirm the identity of any government agent would be to independently look up their official bureau phone number and ask the agency to verify their identity, which would make IDs obsolete anyway.

I could also never understand why the following discussion always happens in certain movies / tv series:
"Excuse me, paranoid militia member / mother of drug dealer / important witness, could we please come in?"
"Can I see some sort if identification?"
"Sure, here you go." (Holds up badge / wallet / ID)
"Oh... come in."
I mean, would it really be completely impossible for, say, a contract killer to get a fake ID? Why do those people believe them just because those "officers" have a piece of paper that has the same thing printed on it they just gave verbally?

posted by PontifexPrimus at 10:28 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Publicizing this breach means that more people are going to have samples of CIA and other IDs than would have before, which raises the possibility that someone will use that information to do something criminal.

Maybe we shouldn't give people special privileges and access just because they're able to show the relevant authorities at the scene a special "secret" document? Nonsecure, unverified credentialing documents are inherently a security risk. They need to be verifiable, possibly via cross-checking against a secure database. I mean, we're currently allowing people to enter the "secure" areas of airports with firearms if they display apparently genuine credentials. This is nonsense.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:30 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


l33tpolicywonk : TSA must not confiscate or destroy the photographic equipment or film of any person photographing the screening location.

I am so looking forward to someone putting this to the test and then using this document as evidence in their favor. I'm honestly curious as to how that'll play out.
posted by quin at 10:30 AM on December 9, 2009


You know, this TSA business reminds me of a post I made several months ago ... the TSA isn't all bad, all the time ... I'll copy the post here here...

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 agent 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 10:36 AM on December 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


l33tpolicywonk -- I just saw that section and came down here to comment. I was rather surprised at that.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2009


TSA does not prohibit the public, passengers, or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming screening locations unless the activity interferes with a TSO’s ability to perform his or her duties or prevents the orderly flow of individuals through the screening location ... TSA must not confiscate or destroy the photographic equipment or film of any person photographing the screening location.

What about airport security? I don't mean TSA, I mean the Airport's own security guards. Local airport authority regulations might prohibit camera use in the facility. If you plan on filming TSA in action (or inaction) you might check those rules first.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2009


I assume "Blogger bob" or whatever on the TSA blog will post a video shortly proving that they didn't really release the PDF because they are obviously not that stupid.
posted by delmoi at 10:43 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


In one of the last TSA-related posts on the blue I mentioned how the x-ray equipment will report false positives and a few people questioned the accuracy of what I was saying. If you scroll through the doc to section 3.9 it describes the Threat Image Protection Systems or TIPs.

More info here
posted by photoslob at 10:48 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anyone have a link to the redacted version? I'd love to see what was covered up.

I'm going to get a set of gel butt enhancers & sue when they don't let me through on the exception for "gels, saline solutions or other liquids that are used to augment portions of the body for medical or cosmetic reasons... that are worn as detachable items on the exterior of the body..."

It seems cruel to make mastectomy survivors check their prosthetic bras, but this kind of carve-out is part of the reason that "security theater" isn't just irritating, but also poor security. I don't know if those who decry the TSA's policies want real security or just less (or less hassle-prone) security.

Do you take XKCD's cartoon to mean that banning everything is silly or that laptops are a real threat and that if they continued to be allowed, airplanes should at least be equipped with class D fire extinguishers?
posted by morganw at 10:54 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


> TSA suspends workers for online manual.

I'm sorry, but I'm picturing this going on in the TSA office:

Boss: We have to post those guidelines as part of the documentation.
Underling: It's confidential. We'll have to print out the PDF, draw black lines all over it, and scan it back in and there isn't enough time.
Boss: Isn't there a quicker way?
Underling: Yeah, but it's not really secure because the full text is still in the PDF.
Boss: I don't care. Just get it out.
[two days later]
Underling: You called?
Boss: You screwed this up. I've reported you for investigation.
posted by ardgedee at 11:00 AM on December 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


What is their policy about TAKING. MY. SON?
posted by Ratio at 11:01 AM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Links to the actual manual have started to vanish, so you might want to get it soon, while you still can."

This is a Genie that isn't getting put back in it's bottle anytime soon.
posted by Mitheral at 11:02 AM on December 9, 2009


Redacted version is also at cryptome.org (should have looked there first)

The redactions appear with red frames around the black filled boxes & the red frames are left in the un-redacted version.

Nothing too surprising there except maybe the list of selectees for additional screening who must be treated as non-selectees. The fact that exemptions exist in the first place isn't redacted, though, and is more of a surprise to me.
posted by morganw at 11:06 AM on December 9, 2009


I know it's too late to undo this, but, good grief, ABC, couldn't you pretend to be doing your part to help out?

I think you are a little confused about the purpose of journalism.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:07 AM on December 9, 2009 [13 favorites]


Why do those people believe them just because those "officers" have a piece of paper that has the same thing printed on it they just gave verbally?

If someone is willing to put in enough effort, they can fool you into thinking they are an FBI officer or whatever. No matter who you are and how carefully you check. The question is, how likely is it that a given person put in X amount of effort?

Someone yells, "Police, open up!" -- odds that they're lying? Maybe 5%?

Someone yells, "Police, open up!" and also brought fake ID? Maybe 0.1%?

Someone yells, "Police, open up!" brought fake ID, and has a tap into your phone so you get ahold of a confederate when you call to check? Maybe .0001 %?

At which level of uncertainty do you open the door? At which level of uncertainty should the TSA operate?
posted by straight at 11:10 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Curious - for those who are saying that the TSA is security theater - what would real security be, and could it be achieved without egregiously compromising privacy and dignity? I am somewhat inexperienced in air travel, especially among foreign carriers.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2009


Gov't worker here: just FYI, administrative leave means you get to stay home with full pay. The Secret Service agents on the WH party crasher deal are on the same status.
posted by fixedgear at 11:13 AM on December 9, 2009


Even though it is clearly overly broad, lets say that it is security theater.

Does that mean it doesn't work?
posted by Bovine Love at 11:14 AM on December 9, 2009


I guess what it boils down to is I don't think "Hey, guys! This is what CIA ID looks like!" is legitimate news, and I wish ABC (and everyone else) would show some disgression.

I assume you meant "discretion." But anway, the CIA, if it has any sense, can change its ID formats, and I would hope that they would be able to incorporate hard-to-fake overlays like my state driver's license does as well.

I can't weep for a security agency so stupid as to not know how to release a redacted document online. Nor can I think that releasing these secrets causes any more security breaches than we already have, if they are so incompetent. Their incompetence was what was putting us in danger, if anything. I'd much rather it be exposed this way than by another terrorist incident. Much as I am somewhat grateful to the gate-crashers for exposing a breach in security around the President. Unlike the previous administration, I have some hope that this administration actually gives a shit about keeping the government functioning, and the net effect will be beneficial.
posted by emjaybee at 11:16 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think everyone should be allowed to bring whatever weapons they want on a plane because that's the only way to ensure we're all safe when traveling. If bazookas are outlawed on planes, only outlaws will have bazookas on planes.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:21 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Earl the Polliwog: See my earlier reference to El Al, the airline of Israel, for an example of real, effective airline security that doesn't unduly compromise privacy and dignity. (If you want me to go into some detail about what they do, let me know.)

I qualify the term "compromise" only in relation to "privacy" because SOME invasion of privacy is inherent and inevitable in a real security check, but your inclusion of "dignity" in the process is important - El Al, I believe, manages real security without compromising that.
posted by yiftach at 11:23 AM on December 9, 2009


yiftach, can you go into some detail about what methods the airline you mention uses to provide security?
posted by mulligan at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2009


Even though it is clearly overly broad, lets say that it is security theater.

Does that mean it doesn't work?


In the sense that it gives the illusion of security, it does indeed work. The question really is "does this actually provide security?" That's much more difficult to determine, obviously. When terrorism doesn't occur, it can either be because the terrorists were scared off by the security measures or because they didn't even bother because they don't like to repeat their tactics. The latter is what makes security theater, it's a reaction to a tactic that was used in the past but probably won't be used again (and why you have to take off your shoes at the airport).
posted by tommasz at 11:31 AM on December 9, 2009


I'm not saying the procedures are good. I don't see how it's useful to disseminate bad procedures all over the web.

In a world where the TSA were actually an effective organisation, this leak would be a carefully-crafted fake to smoke out the sort of people who would try and use this information.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:31 AM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Curious - for those who are saying that the TSA is security theater - what would real security be, and could it be achieved without egregiously compromising privacy and dignity? I am somewhat inexperienced in air travel, especially among foreign carriers.

El Al regularly gets high marks for its security, but I don't think its intrusiveness and extreme passenger profiling policies would go over well with Americans.

Apart from adjusting some of its rules to become more transparent and easier to manage (e.g. how does one get OFF a no-fly list?), I honestly don't see how TSA gets better without some other kind of compromise that would raise more hackles than it does away with.

Wanna trade the take-off-your-shoes bit for a full-body scan?

Yes, it's an easy strawman, but I'm just making an analogy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:31 AM on December 9, 2009


A female flight attendant tried to steal my wallet while going through security. Seriously. And the TSA people leaped to my aid.

That's a nice story. I don't know if it's $6.3 billion-a-year nice, though.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:35 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


cool papa bell, nothing at the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Al#El_Al_security link you provide is particularly different from the TSA system except a few things:

racial/religious profiling of arabs and muslims,
interviewing all passengers,
requiring all passengers to show up 3 hours early,
exploding possible bombs at the airport by putting them in a test chamber


am I missing something?
posted by mulligan at 11:39 AM on December 9, 2009


I don't understand your comment, mulligan, sorry. A person asked what real security looked like. I think it looks like El Al, but El Al is at such an extreme end that I don't think Americans would want to go anywhere near it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:43 AM on December 9, 2009


Curious - for those who are saying that the TSA is security theater - what would real security be, and could it be achieved without egregiously compromising privacy and dignity?

For an example, the no-fly list and the extra-screening lists are theatre. If they were designed to be proper security, then at the very least, whenever an agency adds someone to a no-fly list, they would have to include details on who added them and why, with easily-followed procedures so that false-positives could be rapidly and efficiently identified and removed from the list.

By contrast, currently, once you're on a list, no-one really knows why or how you got on it, so no-one can confirm that you got there for bad reasons, or for outdated reasons, or were caught up in an over-broad dragnet, or general incompetence, or have an unfortunate name, or whatever. Furthermore, TSA will usually deny that you're even on a list, when you are and you ask. So even the people affected aren't easily given the opportunity to get the ball rolling to improve the list.

The lists are almost entirely false positives, which means that while the TSA does a big show about screening people, the lists prevent the screening from working by distracting security personal from genuinely checking passengers by forcing them to focus the bulk of their energy on screening the same non-threat people over and over and over again, at every stopover and every airport.
Random searches don't work when you always "randomly" spend your search resources on grandma, on the grounds that her sewing circle is listed as a peace organization.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:44 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gov't worker here: just FYI, administrative leave means you get to stay home with full pay. The Secret Service agents on the WH party crasher deal are on the same status.

Wow, what a great incentive for incompetence.

Does intel indicate a heightened security risk that could mean actually having to take a bullet? Then it's probably a good time to bungle something publicly and catch up on your DVRed backlog of Gossip Girl.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:45 AM on December 9, 2009


cool papa bell,

You mentioned that real security was demonstrated by El Al. Reading the link you've provided, the security measures listed that differ from the TSA's security are the 3 or 4 things I mentioned in my previous comment. Do you believe that if the TSA adopted those, they would have real security? If not, what other things does El Al do that the TSA should do?
posted by mulligan at 11:48 AM on December 9, 2009


kirkaracha That's a nice story. I don't know if it's $6.3 billion-a-year nice, though.

Exactly. The only reason Cool Papa Bell's wallet was in his shoes, and his possessions were out of his direct control, was due to the malcompetence of the TSA.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:53 AM on December 9, 2009


the malcompetence of the TSA

I think every international airport I've flown through would have the same issue. That's not the TSA.

In my experience, I haven't really seen anything particularly bad about the TSA, compared to the rest of the world. Some countries have slightly different procedures, like not taking off your shoes or not separating out your laptop. Other places are stricter, like having additional screening just to get into the airport terminal. And I certainly got a stern admonition by the a screener in Thailand for having a bottle of sunscreen that was over the limit, on a domestic flight.
posted by smackfu at 12:08 PM on December 9, 2009


See, my question is were the people fired really TSA agents? To me it would be someone in charge of the website and whomever they communicate with to post docs. That's how it works at a lot of places. Someone higher up, say communciations/marketing or whatever agency owns the actual document, they pulled rank and told the poor person in IT or communications to post it. The poor person posts it then shit hits the fan.

I wonder who got fired. I have a feeling the poor person who hit "upload" was one of them and if so, that's totally unfair. People pull rank all the time at the pion poster, even if they question the document.
posted by stormpooper at 12:11 PM on December 9, 2009


PontifexPrimus: "The way I see it the only "correct" way to confirm the identity of any government agent would be to independently look up their official bureau phone number and ask the agency to verify their identity, which would make IDs obsolete anyway."

There's a third option I've heard, mostly from Computer Science department heads who advice legislators on technology committees: public key encryption. For each ID, validate the contents of the identity (name, DOB, etc), and then digitally sign that data with a governmental private key. Anyone who wants to verify it can use a public key to do so.

I'm not sure what Schnier thinks of it, but seems roughly workable, so long as the "validate the identity" takes place before signing the key. And key disclosure would be brutally devastating.
posted by pwnguin at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2009


When I lived in Boston, I temped for a logistics company that was doing the initial TSA rollouts at Cat X (big -- i.e. New York, Boston, LA) airports. Part of my job was to help out new screeners as they got rolled into town, trained and then moved on, and sometimes I would be on site at Logan just so the company would have someone on site.

It involved a lot of sitting and waiting for someone to have a problem. I'm a knitter. Do the math.

So, every day, subjected to the same screening procedures we've come to know and love, I would be bringing extra double-pointed, small, supersharp, metal needles through with me in the bottom of my knitting bag. I'm not a violent person, but I imagine you could gouge out an eye, poke holes in a major neck artery or something else pretty awful if you felt like it.

One day, I asked the head training screener guy, who's hugely tall (well above 6', maybe even 7), black and built like a tank why no one ever stopped me for bringing them through.

His answer?

"If you looked like me, we'd stop you. But you look like, well, you*, so..."

* 5' 7" solidly built, super-pale, dyed red hair



Yeah. Security theatre. Since 2002.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:24 PM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Do you believe that if the TSA adopted those, they would have real security?

Some of them, yes. Having trained people interview passengers, for example. Grandma Moses and her 3-year-old moppet from North Dakota probably aren't Al Qaida moles.

Profiling along religious / racial lines won't work. See Lindh, John Walker.

Exactly. The only reason Cool Papa Bell's wallet was in his shoes, and his possessions were out of his direct control, was due to the malcompetence of the TSA.

Oh, hooey. The airport X-ray machines process itself predates the TSA by several decades. Because my work card key sets off the magnetometer, I had been taking my wallet out of my pocket and sending it through the X-ray machine long before 9/11 and the creation of the TSA. It wasn't the TSA's fault that the flight attendant reached into my belongings and pulled it out. If it wasn't my shoe, it could just as easily been the open pocket on the side of my bag.

What, you never heard of people lifting things from airport check-ins before? I remember seeing "how to avoid airport theft" pieces on the news from the 1970s.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:25 PM on December 9, 2009


This was prepared by some office worker, not somebody hired for their technical skills. The reason it was so incompetently redacted isn't because it was rushed out, but because it was done by some office drone.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:32 PM on December 9, 2009


which raises the possibility that someone will use that information to do something criminal.

The whole point is that TSA is already doing nothing to prevent someone from doing something criminal.

Tangent: I ALWAYS get set aside for extra screening because I don't check luggage -- if it doesn't fit in my carry-on, I don't bring it. While unpacking from a trip to New Orleans 2 years ago, I discovered that I'd had a 5" pocket knife with me the whole time. No less than 4 friendly TSA workers went through my bag, and I'd gone through 2 x-ray machines, and no one caught it.

Of course, if I'd been a terrorist and tried to use the knife to take over the plane, a group of passengers would have instantly disabled me -- just as if I'd decided to threaten the plane with a broken-in-half CD or a sharpened piece of plastic or a small bomb made of a laptop battery.

Say it with me: The rules accomplish nothing. The additional security accomplishes nothing. 9/11 cannot be repeated because everyone will assume that any hijackers want to kill everyone onboard and will respond accordingly.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:37 PM on December 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


I know it's too late to undo this, but, good grief, ABC, couldn't you pretend to be doing your part to help out?

I think you are a little confused about the purpose of journalism.


The relevant touchstone here is Lord Northcliffe's “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:41 PM on December 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Tangent: I ALWAYS get set aside for extra screening because I don't check luggage

Hmmm, I never check luggage and never get extra screening.

just as if I'd decided to threaten the plane with a broken-in-half CD or a sharpened piece of plastic or a small bomb made of a laptop battery.

Or a gun. If there's no screening, everyone uses guns. And it's a lot harder to rush someone with a gun than a boxcutter.
posted by smackfu at 12:42 PM on December 9, 2009


coolguymichael : 9/11 cannot be repeated because everyone will assume that any hijackers want to kill everyone onboard and will respond accordingly.

Actually, one very simple means of hijacking a plane still exists (which I thought I'd already seen someone mention in this thread, but don't see it now) - Just buy out the vast majority of seats on a given flight. You don't need weapons if you have on your side most of the people who could conceivably put up a fight. Of course, cockpit door locks have done a world of good to help avoid this (at least, it almost certainly couldn't happen unnoticed until the last minute, as happened on 9/11), but really no security protocol other than strapping everyone in a straightjacket for the entire flight could prevent a passenger-majority hijacking.

Not to say you don't have the right idea - Passenger awareness has made us much safer overall. But the real reason we haven't seen a repeat of 9/11 or similar? Why would terrorists go for a hard target when we still have so many easy ones?
posted by pla at 12:54 PM on December 9, 2009


So, bitter-girl.com, did you ever attack anyone with those knitting needles? If you did, how much harm to >1 person do you think you could do?
posted by Bovine Love at 12:59 PM on December 9, 2009


I was on a US Airways flight out of Tel Aviv in September, and I gotta say the Israelis know their shit. A security representative approached each person waiting in line to have their bags screened. The girl asked my name and then she started firing off specific questions from fuckin' memory about my past travels, my relatives who live in Israel, which schools I've attended, etc. It was scary how much she knew about me... and with no computer in front of her.

This experience was in stark contrast to the bullying morons I have to deal with each and every single time I head to the States and endure a 3 - 8 hour Q&A.
posted by gman at 1:02 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you did, how much harm to >1 person do you think you could do?

I think the standard damage for +1 Knitting Needles is 2d4.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:06 PM on December 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


Thanks for the link to the Wikipedia piece, Cool Papa Bell.

Those procedures are a good outline, and yes, I think adopting at least some of them would greatly improve actual security in airports/on planes. But like CPB said, many Americans would have a kneejerk adverse reaction to some of the methods that make them untenable to implement at this time.

1. Arriving 3 hours early is a result of the procedures, not a procedure in and of itself, so I won't comment on it except to say that, were procedures adopted to make it necessary, people would adjust their schedules accordingly. Israelis are no less busy or long/short on time than anyone else in the developed world.

2. Profiling: As politically incorrect as it is to say, guess what? Radical Muslims are responsible for enough terrorist activity to make this perfectly logical, if it's carried out in accordance with the requisite training. This is very different from the profiling we are (or at least WERE) used to reading/talking about in the US based solely on race, e.g. Driving While Black.

The John Walker Lindh breakdown in racial/religious profiling could have been mediated by:
3. Personal interviews: Next to the much more thorough and effective bag screening, this is probably the most critical part of the process, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is not even remotely based on race, religion, age, or any other visible or assumed factor. The conversation with the El Al screener includes the very familiar "Where are you coming from, where are you going, what's the nature of your visit," etc. that some other airlines may do (and I think happens at some customs desks?), but it isn't scripted in a big way, which is why it's so effective. The reference to microexpression in the Wiki article is important. El Al screeners are trained to look for anomalies not just in Muslims, but in pretty much any potential passengers (just like Israelis as a population were trained when I was growing up to look at any unattended object on the street or in a public place as a potential bomb, no matter how innocuous it looked; bombs were hidden in everything from loaves of bread to children's dolls).

Illustrative anecdote: When my (American-born, Jewish) wife and I visited Israel together for the first time 5 years ago, the interview with her included questions about whether she knew Hebrew and, when she answered "a little", the screener asked what the name of the school was where she learned it (presumably, and I think realistically, because coming up with a reasonable synagogue Hebrew school name and the town it's in, even assuming the screener doesn't have intimate knowledge of the Northern California Jewish community in the late 70s early 80s, would have been at least a little challenging for someone with nefarious intent, especially while keeping the rest of your story straight). My interview, conducted entirely in Hebrew, of course, included queries about the jumbo sized containers of chocolate spread I had in my bag, including where I bought them and the previously mentioned "did you pack everything yourself" and "have the bags been in your possession since you packed them".

In short, the interviews almost inevitably veer away from general questions and answers that are likely to be rehearsed, and are therefore extremely effective. Concomitantly, of course they require more time (hence the 3-hour lead time), but personally, because I know it's real security, I don't mind it, whereas the TSA gauntlet irritates me every time because I know it's theater.

4. Baggage check: The hand checks and the enhanced machine scans are almost self-explanatory, no?

Hope this adds some value to the discussion.
posted by yiftach at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


Every time I go through airport security, it brings to mind going through the chute at an abattoir. It may as well be one day....
posted by mightshould at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2009


You know, I was going to post this but then I got too busy doing an actual security assessment, not a theatrical one.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:37 PM on December 9, 2009


The difference between Israeli and US airport security is not the procedures themselves, but the attitude and training of the staff who execute them. Exit via Tel Aviv, the odds are good you will get a micro-interrogation that is seriously disconcerting, from a public servant who takes their job seriously, not a minimum wage employee of Bush's old mates.

Which frankly represents the relative threat level. It's funny how we hear on a regular basis about how this or that potentially dangerous thing got through security, but news coverage doesn't join the dots and ask "hmmm, it's clearly easy to defeat the system, and yet obviously there's not a lotta terrorism going on, what are we all scared of exactly?"
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:52 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was on a US Airways flight out of Tel Aviv in September, and I gotta say the Israelis know their shit. A security representative approached each person waiting in line to have their bags screened. The girl asked my name and then she started firing off specific questions from fuckin' memory about my past travels, my relatives who live in Israel, which schools I've attended, etc.

Heh. The last time I flew out of Ben-Gurion one of the many many questions I was asked was "How did you first hear about Israel?" I really didn't know how to answer that.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:58 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


So, bitter-girl.com, did you ever attack anyone with those knitting needles? If you did, how much harm to >1 person do you think you could do?

Ever seen the movie Serenity, Bovine Love? If someone pissed me off enough, think "the scene where River singlehandedly takes down about 25 reavers."

But that's not the point. Would I attack someone? No. Could I? Sure. If they're going to be all crazypants with the screening, then it should be applied equally across the board. That it's not is a total sign it's security theatre and not actual security precautions. When I was in Amsterdam in 1999, the screening at Schiphol was much like the Israeli screenings discussed above -- INCREDIBLY in detail and thorough and almost creepy in its specificity and requests.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:18 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I for one would welcome El Al-style security at US airports.
If an El Al employee misses something, people might die.
If a TSA employee misses something, oopsie! Administrative leave!

My last two plane flights, in March 2001 (AUS-BWI for our honeymoon), and then June 2009 (HOU-CHA for her funeral) couldn't have been more different.

Come on, TSA. If you're going to have annoying procedures, at least make them EFFECTIVE.
posted by mrbill at 2:28 PM on December 9, 2009


Well put, mrbill.

You went to Baltimore for your honeymoon?!
posted by yiftach at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2009


Actually, bitter-girl.com, I have to disagree. That *is* the point. There is no way to keep out all things that can be used as a weapon. One has to consider the level of threat of both the weapon and the wielder. The fact you wouldn't is very relevant, and the fact you show up with no intent to harm is very relevant. There is a judgement element to all security, and you won't be sending the wrong signals. And frankly, I doubt there has ever been a terrorist with your hair :)

And we have to examine what would happen if they misjudged you. The airport screen process is not designed to stop a person from harming another person; you can kick or punch another person to death. It's purpose is to stop you from committing much larger acts, not poking a bunch of small holes in one person before you get taken down (unless you are River...).

I think security is not understood well. Certainly there is an element of 'taking bad stuff from people', but there is a very large element of making the bringing of bad stuff a much more risky endeavor. So you want to commit some evil act in an airport the goes beyond footsie in the mens washroom? OK, what will you bring? You know there are holes, but the holes are not guaranteed to be there; sure they miss knives sometimes, but they don't always miss them. Sure the miss explosives sometimes, but they don't always miss them. Are you willing to risk your mission on a 'well, it might work'? A good part of the solution is "raising the bar". This achieves lots of things; for example, it largely removes that large group of people who have ill will but are idiots. They now get caught. Ok, we are left with only the smart ones, that doesn't seem great ... but now, the smart ones are left not knowing what will actually work. And they are smart, and likely more risk-adverse, so they will dither, and wonder, and plot, and go on for years. Likely they will move on to an easier target; from a society point of view, that may not be great, but from the TSA's point of view, mission accomplished.

I'm not saying the TSA has a clue -- they drive me around the bend -- but to simply write off the lot of it because all the measures are not 100% effective is simply misunderstanding how security works.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:39 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


You went to Baltimore for your honeymoon?!

Her aunt lives in the Fells Point area and had a furnished unoccupied third floor of her house that we were welcome to. We did a lot of train riding and touristy things in DC and MD. *sigh*
posted by mrbill at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2009


We did a lot of train riding

Hey man, what two newlyweds do on their own time is really no business of ours ... this is a family Web site ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:53 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, it was just an unfinished manuscript for "Security Theater."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:54 PM on December 9, 2009


smackfu said: If there's no screening, everyone uses guns. And it's a lot harder to rush someone with a gun than a boxcutter.

No one is suggesting doing no screening. We -- or at least one of us -- are merely suggesting returning to pre-9/11 screening procedures. Yes, the occasional gun will get through. But they do now, so what's the difference?

Hmmm, I never check luggage and never get extra screening.

Weird - this is the reason I always assumed I got picked. Maybe I'm on a watch list...
posted by coolguymichael at 2:55 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


We did a lot of train riding

Hey man, what two newlyweds do on their own time is really no business of ours ... this is a family Web site ...


zing


/derail
posted by yiftach at 2:57 PM on December 9, 2009


I'm not saying the TSA has a clue -- they drive me around the bend -- but to simply write off the lot of it because all the measures are not 100% effective is simply misunderstanding how security works.

I don't think everything should be written off, I think the more ridiculous aspects of it should be gone, especially the inconsistent applications of policy. I think the lack of respect people have for TSA and its inconsistency are what making getting our hands on the SOP so hilarious and maddening all at the same time. What is REALLY the rule for X, Y and Z?

For example, 'splain me why the screeners at my home airport once tried to force me to take off a (non-zip) hooded sweatshirt that said MAINE on it (yeah, that's not a super good look for most terrorists either)? I was allowed to keep it on when I told them I wasn't wearing anything underneath it -- after getting felt up by a screener in Chicago long before the TSA was around, I don't bother with any underwires if I don't have to!

Either you have to take the shirt off or you don't. Either they let you put your laptop on top of your coat when it's going through the scanner or you don't. Either you are allowed to do X, or you don't. It's the inconsistency that's maddening, and what makes it look so incredibly pointless and (sorry, here we go again) security theatre-y.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:58 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's my character's motivation?

Not getting tasered.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:23 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


“Random searches don't work when you always "randomly" spend your search resources on grandma, on the grounds that her sewing circle is listed as a peace organization.”
&
“If you looked like me, we'd stop you. But you look like, well, you*, so..."

Random searches do work and yeah, the political asshattery aside – one of the major impediments to real random searches are what the individual looks like (as if you couldn’t hand off the sewing needles to someone, use them to pierce something critical, etc.)
During the al-Aqsa intifada after restrictions had been placed on Palastinian males, Wafa Idris, a 28 year old woman from Am’ari (refugee camp) in Ramallah blew herself up in Jerusalem. Issa Bdeir was a guy, but he detonated his wearable hardware with his hair dyed blonde in order to look like the Russian immigrants he targeted. He was 16 years old.
In 2004 an Israeli soldier at Nablus took a 13 lb bomb off a 12 year old Palestinian boy. Guy only caught the kid because he had a cell phone ringing in his bag and it failed to detonate the explosive. Kid didn’t even know he had a bomb. He thought he was bringing some car parts to a woman the Palestinian Fatah told him was waiting for them.
Of course, everyone was outraged that this happened. Even the terrorists. Lying to a poor child. Horrible.
And a week later a 16 year old mentally disabled kid got caught carrying a bomb vest.
And then there’s the SPIR when they took over the Dubrovka theater in Moscow. Men and women there.
Then there’s the Tamil Tigers (the LTTE) in ’06. Not the first female suicide bomber, but the first that appeared to be pregnant (appeared). The guards at the Sri Lankan HQ didn’t suspect her, let her right in to the base – into the middle of their barracks even, where the hospital was located. It was maternity day.
Speaking of grandma tho – there’s Fatma Najar, mother of nine, grandmother to 26 kids, from the Jebalia camp in Gaza, killed by Israeli soldiers before she could detonate her explosive vest.

So yeah, random search good. And yes the TSA should be focused more on this kind of threat (bombing) because there’s not much passengers, or anyone onboard, can do against that.
You can carry out random searches in concert with some discretionary profiling. But by no means should profiling make up the bulk of your security effort. What, you know who a radical Muslim is just by looking at him?
Most of that work would have to be done before the fact. El Al gets away with what they do because they don’t have the kind of traffic the United States does, nor the disparate corporations doing the job.
So if you have an outfit giving good intel to your point screeners, ok. But you can’t rely on the guys on the scene at the checkpoint or at the airport to cover that ground. And if you did as El Al does, you’d wind up paralyzing commercial airline traffic and doing more damage than 20 downed planes could do.

This is not, of course, to contest the point that the screeners should be well trained. I’ve long thought that kind of airport security should be done by the government. Hell, you could even *collect * intel in addition to receiving it. Oh, that would be scary, yes, and Orwellian, but it’s not like it’s not being done now.
On top of that, El Al has some very serious in flight security. That would work on U.S. flights. More air marshals. In order to prevent common criminality.

Which I think most of the screeners (et.al in the TSA) have more acquaintance with: criminality. Hence the rinky-dink establishing authority type scenes as opposed to measures that would have a higher success rate at preventing terrorism.
Some thug on the plane stabs grandma, meh. ‘Grandma’ detonates some PETN on the plane because we don’t want to take her heart medicine away (coronary vasodilators contain some explosives – trinitrin; some are pure PETN) and hundreds of people die - yeah, that's bad.
Although gramma should carry a hammer or something to create a shock (perhaps her other heart pills) otherwise she winds up like Richard Reid.
But yes, the TSA folks should be better trained in what's "dangerous."
posted by Smedleyman at 4:47 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Back in 2000 or early 2001, I was flying out of Logan with my girlfriend and security pulls me for a random bag check. It was a frame pack - extremely full of clothes and gear (non-technical, no stoves no knives, yada-yada). My girlfriend, watches the security guard start to open the backpack and she blurts out:

"Be careful, it might explode when you try to open it - "

At this point my hand shoot out and I place them in view firmly on the counter, assuming the position anyone would when they're positive their about to be strip searched. The security agent (were they TSA back then?) looks startled.

" - because I over-packed it."
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:20 PM on December 9, 2009


Q: Even though it is clearly overly broad, lets say that it is security theater. Does that mean it doesn't work?

A: Lisa, I'd like to buy your rock.
posted by Cogito at 5:32 PM on December 9, 2009


If there were a terrorist attack on the plane I was on, I'd be much relieved to see bittergirl as one of my fellow passengers!

Even her name is a killing word

I'm sorry for your loss, Mr Bill
posted by jtron at 6:01 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Q: "Even though it is clearly overly broad, lets say that it is security theater. Does that mean it doesn't work?"

A2: People feel reassured, and would-be terrorists sometimes assume that the security theater works, so ... maybe it is partially doing its job?

The problem is that they're not doing Schneier-type improvements to the process as they find holes. Example: They trust IDs way too much, even though we don't have a master list of repeat suicide bombers. Example: not screening all checked-in luggage. Etc.

Problem 2: They treat people like shit sometimes, because they can, and because they don't have accountability when they do things like demolish a grand piano 'because the varnish smells a bit funny'.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:41 PM on December 9, 2009


Actually, Cogito, that is not the argument I was referring to (I keep an elephant repellent rock on my desk, 100% effective so far, as illustration to people in discussions about security). I was referring to the fact that theatre may be effective; if it keeps the bad guys off balance, it has an effect. Show is important for security. Of course, there are secret service guys who don't like secret service guys too; show shouldn't be the only measure. I just take issue with the "it just security theatre" statements.
posted by Bovine Love at 8:56 PM on December 9, 2009


"The security agent (were they TSA back then?) looks startled."

Wow, you guys must be working hard. You look hungry. Would you like to try some... peanut brittle? *hands cliched can of 'peanut brittle'*
posted by Smedleyman at 9:16 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I found the secret to TSA, and while I shouldn't share it, I am going to.

Unfortunately the secret only works for me when traveling for personal matters. When traveling for business I usually have to be dressed otherwise.

The secret is an NYPD tee shirt. An official looking one, like some of the ones here. Mine's grey with dark blue lettering, and the badge pasted beneath it, I think I got it as part of some samples we were clearing out back when I used to work as a buyer in the fashion industry in NYC.

I swear, I have literally worn holes in this thing wearing it for travel. The difference in the way I am treated at TSA checkpoints is night and day. Wearing it: zip through, normal formalities, but for the most part TSA treats you with respect like you're their superior and they better not cross you the wrong way. Not wearing it: normal human who is probably trying to sneak a bomb on board via this 3.2 ounce deodorant gel stick!

Probably helps that I'm a white male in decent shape, but I swear, this formula works wonders.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:12 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, or nypd would have shot you.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:33 AM on December 10, 2009


"Be careful, it might explode when you try to open it ... because I over-packed it."

Hee, Nanukthedog, that reminds me of another good one. I was teaching at a fiber show in Idaho Falls -- TINY airport, so tiny the TSA people opened and screened every bag manually just to have something to do. The lovely people I'd stayed with had a big flock of sheep, and gave me a fleece. To cram it into my bag, they vacuumed out the extra air and compressed it into what looked like a giant plastic-covered wool hockey puck.

So, TSA dude is POKING around in my bag with a sharp object, which, if he's dumb enough to puncture the plastic, is going to cause a giant woolly explosion as the air rushes back in. I was standing there trying not to smile, praying he'd get fleecebombed. No such luck, but can you imagine? I'd be on every TSA watchlist from coast to coast.

Fleecebombs: only lethal if you're allergic.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:53 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


In July 2001, I flew out of Logan with my parents. This is back when security was at the gate, not the terminal, and so you had to exit and re-enter through security when you wanted, say, a cinnamon bun.

One of the metal detector alarms kept going off. Repeatedly. The solution? The airport employees turned off the alarm.

It actually does make me feel a teensy bit safer to have the TSA around. This was pre-9/11, but even then, my mom and turned to each other and said "Wow... anyone could bring, well, ANYTHING on the plane right now." It was actually unnerving to think about even in the day when you could buy a cinnamon bun and bring it through security without worrying about whether or not frosting counts as a gel.

(Still, I think most of the screening process is bullshit and obviously needs to be rethought. But yeah, I'm grateful they're not simply turning off the metal detectors.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:53 AM on December 10, 2009


I found the secret to TSA, and while I shouldn't share it, I am going to.

I've got one that while it shouldn't work, totally does. I feel like I should apologize for this, but I've found it to be true and I'm very sorry for society and all that.

Traveling With DDD Boobs.

I am a small person with a sizeable rack and big blue eyes. I get consistently hassled by middle aged women, but if I manage to play my cards right and go through customs, TSA screenings, any other line ever with a bored-looking male attendant - I could say that I was a Palestinian traveling with a live moose in my bag and I would be waived right through.

Middle aged ladies though? Man, they hate me. They know that I'm on to the boobs-as-magic thing and they cluck and me and try to take me down a few notches. I'm sorry. I truly am. Now just please let me take my sharpened pencil for my crossword puzzle and I'll be out of your way. And no, I won't wear these shoes again, you can stop with the heavy sighing. Yes, I'm SORRY I left my cellphone in my pocket! It was not a personal affront to you, I promise! I didn't think that I could get away with it because of my boobs, I'm just STUPID! Stop looking at me like that. Yes, I'm really sorry I was born. I'll try not to next time.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:00 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


In December 2001, I flew from JFK. I went through the metal detector, which repeatedly went off, even after dumping out my change, my keys, taking off my belt and jacket, and assuring them I had no metal surgical instruments in my body. They gave me the wand, which beeped around my ankles. Lifting my jeans cuffs, revealing I was wearing boots that had buckles on them, the security guard just waved me through. Didn't even give my ankles a preliminary squeeze to check if I was trying to board with a snub .38, or a set of knives. This is when I learned that no matter what sort of tragedy befalls as a result of a lack of security, it really comes down to how inconvenienced the guard on whatever watch is willing to be for the sake of certainty.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:02 AM on December 10, 2009


So, grapefruitmoon, you can't get away with my no-underwire thing, then? (I'm serious, that pre-TSA screener in Chicago should have had to buy me dinner, she was all up IN my bra).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:11 AM on December 10, 2009


So, grapefruitmoon, you can't get away with my no-underwire thing, then?

If someone would be so kind as to manufacture a bra in my size that didn't involve an underwire, yet simultaneously also didn't result in one massive boob lump in the middle of my chest (which would also occasionally migrate south), then it might be possible. But given the current state of the undergarment industry - yeah, my underwire is posing a definite threat to national security. But not nearly as threatening as the horror that would be unleashed were the girls allowed to roam free.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:14 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ok, now we have a derail. Sure the train thing was a good try, but underwires have it. Heh.

I went through with a friend a couple of weeks ago. I stood amused (on the cleared side) and watched him take off his jacket, shoes, repeated empty pockets, take off belt, take off rings, watch, even ear ring .... oddly, for some reason, they essentially refused to wand him (I think the wand booth thingie was occupied) and wanted him to clear the walk through device. He was at wits end as to what was tripping the detector. Finally he was asked if he was wearing a brace. Sure! He was wearing a knee brace; but it was a soft one with flexible (apparently) plastic strips to give a little support. Apparently although they feel and operate like plastic there is metal in there too.

So, not as interesting as underwire, but a knee brace can get ya too.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:36 AM on December 10, 2009


I was referring to the fact that theatre may be effective; if it keeps the bad guys off balance, it has an effect. Show is important for security.

There is no way any increase in security from these theatrics is worth what we are paying for it. I mean, think about how many terrorist attacks we had on planes before all the no-fly, liquid restriction, take-your-shoes-off bullshit. And then think how many lives could be saved if the millions (billions?) of dollars we spent on the TSA were instead spent on health care, social services and infrastructure improvements.

Terrorism is not a threat to people's lives in any significant way. It's a threat to our psyche and way of life. When we do security theater like this, I really believe we're losing.
posted by Cogito at 10:43 AM on December 10, 2009


Hey, I didn't say cost effective.

Your insistence on adding the word "theater" makes your argument go astray. If we spent an equal amount on 'non-theatrical' security to stop terrorism on aircraft, would it be ok?

If I read your message correctly, your issue is with security spending, period, not security theater spending. That is a different issue, worthy of discussion; as is how much should be spent on threats to our psyche and way of life. And how much we should sacrifice our way of life to protect our way of life. That is a good discussion. That is a discussion rarely had unfortunately (even here), because idealism tends to set in and make people somewhat intractable and extreme.

That is not the effectiveness of security theater discussion.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:03 AM on December 10, 2009


liquid restriction, take-your-shoes-off bullshit

OTOH, those are both direct reactions to terror incidents where people found holes in the current security. The liquids ban may be overblown, but a guy really dig smuggle a bomb onto a plane in his shoes. Places that don't inspect shoes are either accepting that risk, or have metal detectors that go all the way to the ground.
posted by smackfu at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2009


The underwire removal - saggy boobs for the trip gambit was OK for awhile (sorry it doesn't work for you, grapefruitmoon), but then I had to go and get a knee replacement and the metal detector alarm goodness hasn't stopped since. I approach the metal detector, I smile, the bored, impatient TSA person on the other side gives me that "get a move on, lady" waive, I start to say "Hey, I'm going to set this thing off", and I get another, more impatient waive, so I do a mental "Oh, fuck it" and waltz through (yes the surgery was that good) and the alarm goes off and the TSA person looks at me as if I am personally responsible for her bad day, as I am shunted off to the side to be wanded and patted down and my hand luggage explosive tested by an also bored, also impatient TSA person who just wants to get through with this shift and go have a cup of coffee, and who doesn't want to hear a freakin' word outta me except "Thank you."
posted by redfisch at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2009


A lot of people don't seem aware that there were A LOT of hijackings back in the late 60's / early 70's. 1969 was an especially good year if you wanted a free flight to Cuba. Metal detectors do work.
posted by smackfu at 11:54 AM on December 10, 2009


And unaware that liquid explosives have been used previously, though well before the current round of security issues.

Yeah, even as a child I remember the 70s being totally rife with hijackings.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2009


those are both direct reactions to terror incidents where people found holes in the current security

This is the sticking fingers in holes in the dike approach to security. It's not just ineffective, you end up with at increasingly long list of prohibited items on planes that let the bad guys know what they should avoid if they want to avoid suspicion. There's always going to be another tactic; there are way too many potential ways to do harm and way too many targets to protect things effectively this way.

Anyone who's getting caught by these sort of security measures is a hack. Real threats are foiled by good old-fashioned intelligence and police work. For all the regulations keeping me from bringing 5oz of sunscreen in my carry on baggage, TSA employees aren't sharp enough to recognize the components of gunpowder, even when clearly labeled. We should just be glad Richard Reid wasn't the underwear bomber.

I think even worse than the fact that these security measures don't provide real security is that they provide a false sense of security. They allow people (and TSA employees) to ignore real risks because they've checked off the list of all the specifically verboten items.

So, in the end game nobody's actually safer, everyone's inconvenienced and we've wasted a bunch of money that could have been put toward uses that really did increase security. Is it worth it if it supposedly makes naive people feel better? I don't think most Americans would say they feel terribly safe with the nonstop media focus on the ever present threat of terrorism.

And maybe we would have had fewer hijackings in the 70s if the CIA didn't encourage them.
posted by Cogito at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2009


Hacks blow up shit too, and there are a lot more of them than 'real threats'.

If the measures appear effective, then not only do people feel good, the bad guys feel nervous. When the bad guys feel nervous, you reduce their threat. This what visible security is all about. The fact that "Real threats are foiled by good old-fashioned intelligence and police work" does not mean you shouldn't protect yourself against idiots.

I'd totally agree that everyone is inconvenienced and a lot of money has been spent (wasted is a value judgement; I happen to agree, but it isn't factual). Whether or not we are safer is much, much harder to determine. One of the things that is very clear about things like airport security is that it is very very hard to measure effectiveness. It easy to trivialize it all in the name of sophistry and make absolute statements, but in actuality the effectiveness of the measures is a very difficult (and interesting) problem worth of study.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:47 PM on December 10, 2009


Hacks blow up shit too, and there are a lot more of them than 'real threats'.

When has a hack blown up a plane? We make a big deal out of infiltrating terror cells that couldn't terror their way out of a paper bag. We don't need to spend a lot of time and money protecting ourselves against idiots because, well, they're idiots. They'll screw themselves up without us having to worry about it. And someday maybe someone will get lucky, but it's all about threat-appropriate response. We don't give everyone radiation and chemotherapy on the off chance that they might have cancer.

I know that's an extreme example, but it's undeniable that we're spending a lot of money on the TSA, and I try believe that money could be better spent. I don't buy the argument that there are legitimate threats being deterred by current measures, but you're right that it's awfully hard to really know. However, in the absence of any reasonable data, it seems like a grand overreaction to a single, very public incident. People are more swayed by anecdotal evidence than real data, but anecdotes are not a good basis for broad policy.

When you get right down to it, terrorism is really hard. If the TSA was truly concerned about the people bringing > 3oz liquids in carry-ons being dangerous, they would detain them and analyze the liquids instead of throwing them away and letting the people go. They might as well say, "hey Mr. Terrorist, you can't have your liquid bomb on the plane today, but try again and next time we'll probably miss it."
posted by Cogito at 3:51 PM on December 10, 2009


Also I've walked through airport security with an underwire bra maybe thirty or forty times in 2009 and I've never set the alamr off. Just more anecdata.
posted by jessamyn at 4:02 PM on December 10, 2009


Freedom and security are two sides of a balance, except it doesn't automatically tip the scale in favour of security when you remove items from the freedom side.
posted by tehloki at 1:43 AM on December 11, 2009


Next time you think the TSA are a bunch of assholes…
…well, you'll be right. But they probably won't shoot your laptop.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:56 PM on December 13, 2009


Also I've walked through airport security with an underwire bra maybe thirty or forty times in 2009 and I've never set the alamr off. Just more anecdata.

My wife's favorite headband set off the detector for years without us realizing it was the culprit. She wore that darn thing every time she flew, too. The agents kept telling her her bra was probably setting off the alarm, would grope pat her down and then wave her through. (She, like grapefruitmoon, can't go without an underwire.)

The newer detectors not only tell the agents that metal has been detected, but the doorways also light up at the height level of the problematic body part. This alerts the agents where on the body they should look. Two years ago, she stepped through a detector and a friendly TSA agent explained that it couldn't be her bra, and would she please take off her headband. Problem solved.
posted by zarq at 8:53 AM on December 16, 2009


If someone would be so kind as to manufacture a bra in my size that didn't involve an underwire, yet simultaneously also didn't result in one massive boob lump in the middle of my chest (which would also occasionally migrate south), then it might be possible.

My wife had a love/hate relationship with her maternity bras for that reason. No underwire = good. Boob shape problems = bad.
posted by zarq at 8:58 AM on December 16, 2009


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