Targeting Toddler Terrorists
February 26, 2002 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Targeting Toddler Terrorists "There, at midnight, is a 30-pound, 36-inch-tall peanut with his arms and legs spread, wand searching his body, one security agent removing his shoes to check for explosives and another rummaging through his Scooby-Doo backpack."
posted by waffleboy (42 comments total)
My god. A 30-pound peanut!? With arms?
posted by sad_otter at 7:38 AM on February 26, 2002

I'm twenty-something, dark-skinned and I expect to get searched three or four times when I board a plane. Guess what? I'm happy about it! (I'd be happier, of course, if I thought there was a chance that that "alertness" could really purposefully stop a terrorist, rather than maybe just lucking into it. But I'll happily trade that half-hour of my time for the tiniest bit of deterrence. I'm too lazy to find a link, but this column is examplary of exactly the kind of bullshit that everyone knew would follow 9/11's "we'll suffer any burden for our country." "No, don't search my kid. Because, after all, we all know that a kid couldn't be a potential threat."
posted by Sinner at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2002

Searching toddlers is the opposite side of the profiling coin. Either you pick people you think are likely terrorists based on _____, and subject them to increased scrutiny, or you subject everyone (or a random sample of everyone) to increased scrutiny, including toddlers. I happen to favor profiling, but America apparently does not agree. I do not join this columnist in mocking the efforts of a security apparatus that is attempting to reflect the wishes of U.S. society.
posted by luser at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2002

Sad Otter.


Maybe 130 pounds. Could be the father.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:53 AM on February 26, 2002

the paranoid in me would point out that if I were wanting to sneak something on a plane, the scooby doo backpack of an unsuspecting small child would be my mule of choice. Outside of the usual orifices I mean.

The parent in me would be pissed.
posted by domino at 7:53 AM on February 26, 2002

if people know there is x place that never gets searched, and you want to sneak something in, wouldn't you put it in x place?

oh, but it's a kid, scooby-do, jesus! haha, that jean godden is brilliant!
posted by rhyax at 7:57 AM on February 26, 2002

I can picture a few scenarios where a Scooby Doo backpack could be used in a ruse to get a bomb on board. Remember that the Lockerbie TWA flight was brought down with a simple clock radio containing explosives. As innocuous and inconvenienced the parents were, this doesn't seem so far-fetched.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:58 AM on February 26, 2002

if I were wanting to sneak something on a plane, the scooby doo backpack of an unsuspecting small child would be my mule of choice.

People suck so amazingly that it makes my head ache. Some days, I wish there was a God, so that He could wipe clean this planet of humans and start again with the fucking lizards.

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those days.

No offense meant to you personally, domino.
posted by UncleFes at 7:59 AM on February 26, 2002

luser, would you still favor profiling if the target profile happened to match you? (I have no idea whether it does or not, of course; I'm just curious.)
posted by ook at 7:59 AM on February 26, 2002

Searching toddlers makes good sense to me, frankly. I'm fairly certain that terrorist groups are perfectly able to read newspapers, watch CNN, etcetera. They have probably noticed that Middle Eastern men are especially under scrutiny lately, so what's the best way to proceed? Change their MO. People who are willing to crash a plane into a building probably wouldn't be troubled by stuffing a kid's backpack or shoes with explosives or other contraband.
posted by headspace at 8:00 AM on February 26, 2002

My son, also 4, would have thought it was cool - as long as they did it in a very non-threatening manner.
posted by groundhog at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2002

I agree that security should profile and conduct random searches. A Scooby-Doo backpack is rather innocuous. Having travelled quite a bit since 9/11 I find the increased security measures to be a good thing. I believe that in America we have a "holier than thou" attitude when it comes to issues such as this. I remember getting off a plane in Rome at age 14 and being hassled by guards with submachineguns. Unfortunately, this is necessary.
posted by Stretch at 8:11 AM on February 26, 2002

The security checks at the airport are almost completely useless.

You can purchase, for less than twenty-five bucks, a lexan dagger down at your backpacking supply store. Undetectable to wands, and every bit as threatening as a steel blade.

You can run piano wire through your belt and it, too, will be undetectable. Garrot a stewardess, that'll get attention.

You can purchase carry-on luggage with wheels and a pull-out handle. Snap the handle and you have two nice, sharp sticks.

You can probably get on board with a glass bottle of Coke. Smash the end off, and you're good to go.

You can stuff a pound of plastic explosive up your ass, and waltz through security. Go to the toilet, shit it out, and take the plane down.

And I am sure that you can think of a half-dozen other ways to terrorize a plan.

Airport security is an oxymoron, and it is downright insulting that the authorities think we're all so fucking stupid as to believe that throwing out nail clippers (but only those with a file!) and frisking babies is going to stop a terrorist.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:14 AM on February 26, 2002

five fresh fish: exactly.The measures in place are to create a false sense of security by inconveniencing travelers as much as possible.The only measure that makes any difference is securing the cockpit so that the planes can't be used as guided missiles, the passengers themselves are still at risk and probably always will be. Without the missile angle, though, airplanes become less desirable because the destruction is limited to only a couple of hundred people. Not a tasty terrorist target like a stadium.
posted by shagoth at 8:22 AM on February 26, 2002

Evidently I'm creepy enough to be searched anytime I go anywhere near a freaking airplane, so the schadenfreude level for me when other unlikely people such as toddlers get the wand is pretty high.
posted by dong_resin at 8:25 AM on February 26, 2002

ook, it doesn't mean much, because I don't match the profile, but yes, I would favor it.
posted by luser at 8:36 AM on February 26, 2002

Interesting you should post that link, I just read this yesterday, about exactly the same thing.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:55 AM on February 26, 2002

This article illustrates the sort of misguided and misplaced outrage which makes liberal arguments too easy to dismiss.

I agree with domino on both points. If someone has no problem blowing up a plane full of babies and toddlers it's logical to assume that those same people would be willing to use toddlers and babies as bomb-transport devices. There is historical precedent as well. In 1986 a pregnant Irish woman unknowingly attempted to bring a bomb onto an El Al flight (4th paragraph, everything else I found was extremely anti-Israel or anti-Arab)

This could easily become an argument for racial profiling. But besides being morally wrong, racial profiling of passengers provides a potential terrorist with a perfect backdoor through security, just find an unknowing accomplice with a clean profile. In order for this to work, we all have to be suspects. Yes, this does suck.

If airport security personnel seemed at all competent, and if search procedures didn't match prison-style public humiliation, there might be less to complain about. I had hoped that federalizing the system would make it seem more professional and respectful, instead it's become closer to the worst of the Post Office.
posted by joemaller at 8:55 AM on February 26, 2002

Two things -

1. It seems to me I have heard stories of people snaking drugs on a plane in babies things, so why couldn't a terrorist.

2. The massive searching can function as a detereent. Sure, stuff could get snuck by, but there is also a higher chance of them finding something. Everyone thinks terrorists are too smart for this, but the only reason Richard Reid didn't bring down that plane was that he was a fucking moron.
posted by bob bisquick at 8:57 AM on February 26, 2002

My friend's dad used to work for Customs at the Detroit/Windsor tunnel....he told us many stories over the years of folks smuggling contraband (drugs, usually) in baby's diapers.

Being little and cute doesn't necessarily make you harmless.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:57 AM on February 26, 2002

luser -- ok, I'll take you at your word. You score points for consistency, anyway.

Shagoth -- I think you're right, up to a point... airport security has more to do with preventing smuggling and with making people feel safe than with the impossible task of making airplanes 100% guaranteed danger-free.

But remember that airplane hijackings used to be less about crashing the plane into something than about simply blowing it up. While making the cockpit inaccessible from the passenger area is probably a good idea, a couple hundred people is still a heck of a lot of lives to lose at one time.
posted by ook at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2002

Point is, Bob, that Richard Reid -- a fucking moron, in your own words -- snuck his bomb past security. An intelligent terrorist, then, should have no fucking problem getting a weapon or device past security.

The only people who believe that being hassled by low-wage, low-IQ security guards is helping make the airplane safe are people too stupid to be capable of terrorism.

How about that camera check they do? WTF is that all about -- is looking through the freakin' viewfinder going to let them know whether there's a chunk of C4 in the cannister?! And if cameras are any sort of real risk, how stupid do you have to be to push that button when the g.d. thing is up against your face?!

The entire thing is a theatre of the absurd, and the insult is that they think we're dumb enough to believe it.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2002

My husband, 6 month old son and I are flying across country on Friday. Our route will take us to multiple airports since we have two lay-overs.

If security wants to frisk my son, they'll have to understand when I politely, but firmly, request they keep their hands to themselves. If they need to look into his diaper to make sure there's no contraband, I'll be glad to open it myself. They can search through his diaper bag all they want. Sorry, I don't let just anyone handle my child; even if they are security.
posted by onhazier at 9:22 AM on February 26, 2002

If security wants to frisk my son, they'll have to understand when I politely, but firmly, request they keep their hands to themselves. ... Sorry, I don't let just anyone handle my child; even if they are security.

But, onhazier, you're helping terrorism!!!
posted by Dirjy at 9:47 AM on February 26, 2002

five fresh fish: I believe that you may be oversimplifying the security issues. I agree that a lot of what they do is simply stupid. I remember long before Sept 11 thinking how stupid the "turn on your computer" test was. You can boot a comuter off of a floppy or a CD so you can take out the hard drive and replace it with explosives. Being the sicko that I am, I could probably come up with a thousand scenarios where I could get stuff by security.

All of that being said, it's not the only measure being taken. Your post(s) tend to paint this picture of a position whereby if it's not 100% secure, then it's a joke. But, I would rather think of it more along the lines of computer security. Some people install virus scanners. Using your logic they are idiots because someone could break into their computer and do damage. The virus scanner only stops virus damage. So then you have a virus scanner and you add some sort of firewall (router based or software based on your system). But your logic would still say that they are an idiot because both are useless unless you apply all of the security patches to your OS (actually, a router based solution might not be so open . . . but humor me). So you add frequent update checks to your security routine. And so on and so on and so on.

See, it's not an that searching people in the terminal is meant to stop terrorism. It's simply one of the many processes in place. The FBI or CIA or ?? are *trying* to do a better job of identifying these people before they make it to the airport. INS is *trying* to do a better job at keeping them out of the country. Law enforecement is *trying* to do a better job at recognizing what kinds of activities might be indicative of terrorist activity and reporting that up to the FBI. The common citizen is *trying* to get better at recongnizing suspicious behavior and reporting it to law enforcement (I highly doubt you'll find anybody willing to give lessons to someone who isn't interested in take-offs or landings anymore). Airport security is simply one cog in the security machine. It's not meant to completely stop terrorism but rather it acts as more of just another check in the system.
posted by billman at 9:58 AM on February 26, 2002

billman, I think you are giving credit for consideration where there is only meaningless action to be found. A lot of security these days is knee-jerk hassling of people for no reason.

Entering the Federal Ronald Reagan Trade Center in DC the other night, I was searched (naturally), run through a machine (of course), wanded (steel-toe boots, don't ya know) and I was fine with that. I had to take a sip of my coffee, beep my cellphone, and remove my laptop from the case (WTF is up with that, does anyone know?) OK, fine. Whatever.

They also asked to see my ID, like they do every time I go in there. I finally got up the gumption (since asking security related questions seems like a stupid thing to do these days) to ask them why they checked my driver's license. It's not a building ID, they don't check it against a list of those allowed to enter - anyone can enter. They don't check it against a list of suspects. They just check that you have a driver's license. But very insistently. I asked them and the reply was, "I dunno. Someone told us to."

I'm not saying this is a huge hassle, and I'm not saying I mind particularly. I'm just saying this is the nature of much of our security. Busy work that looks like security but means squat.

fffish, you are right on the money.
posted by umberto at 10:22 AM on February 26, 2002

Point is, Bob, that Richard Reid -- a fucking moron, in your own words -- snuck his bomb past security. An intelligent terrorist, then, should have no fucking problem getting a weapon or device past security.

So now the United States should take over airport security in France, too, is that what you're saying?
posted by kindall at 1:01 PM on February 26, 2002

You bet I'm on the money. How the hell else can anyone explain why nail clippers -- but only if they have that little fold-out nail file -- are banned, but ballpoint pens are not?

It's just a jack-booted over-reaction to a non-existent problem. In the continental USA, there were more plane crashes with pilot suicide as a cause, than there were terrorist hijackings!

Instead of pissing away a big pile of money on ineffective hostile-to-the-customer security bullshit, put that money toward effective prevention. Let's get some explosives-sniffing dogs checking out the passengers. Let's give the stewardesses handguns. Let's lock the pilot's door. Let's make it really clear to every passenger that if someone gets uppity, they gotta take him down hard.

Let's make it pointless to contemplate hijacking, by taking away the ability to control the plane. When the door is locked, when the stewardesses will shoot to kill, when the passengers know that it's better to fight than to take it passively, there's no attraction to taking out a plane.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:15 PM on February 26, 2002

and remove my laptop from the case (WTF is up with that, does anyone know?) OK, fine. Whatever.

Maybe just to see if you get a little bit 'nervous' while handling it.
posted by HTuttle at 1:16 PM on February 26, 2002

They remove the laptop so it can be wiped with an explosives detection swatch more easily. They don't wipe them all, but it's easier if they all are out of the carrying cases. The nail file business was a desperate attempt to appear hypersensitive to knives and therefore protect their jobs. Remember, that happened when there was still hope that private screeners wouldn't be out on their ass. The screener who took my jeweler's screwdriver for my glasses even pantomimed sticking it into his own neck to "prove" how dangerous it was. That was a bit disconcerting, especially since he did it in front of about 150 passengers and I was in uniform at the time. The feds took over control last Sunday. Hiring for new screeners is in process.

We ARE locking the doors. The nutcase on the United 777 only managed a head-sized hole after repeated banging, which gave the FO time to get up, retrieve the crash axe, and make ready to play Paul Bunion. A 777 cockpit is massive, this process takes at least a few seconds. Time which would have previously been unavailable as the door would have given completely with one blow. New, bulletproof, bang-proof, 350 lb guy traveling at 30 fps-proof (taken right out of a design spec I read on one of the new designs), doors are in process.

FA's will never get guns. It would be too easy to overpower one from behind and take it away. Pilots are SCREAMING for guns and it appears that we might actually get them. Someday.

I would hope that pax would realize by now that sitting idly by is unacceptable. There will never be TV ads showing how to tackle somebody on a flight, however. Blame the lawyers for that one. Just imagine the liability if some sap got hurt when he walked towards the forward lavatory in all innocence and 20 guys dog-piled him. Neither the govt nor the airlines want any part of that.

Explosives detection is coming. We already have to do bag matching, which is useless against suicidal maniacs but better than nothing. For now. Total screening of baggage by explosives detection machines is mandated for November. Expect to see EXD portals early next year that will blow air on you and piss off ladies by messing up their hair.

So what does all this mean? Far from arguing with Mr. Fish, I AGREE totally. Personally, I want everything stopped for a month while we have El Al train 150,000 screeners in interviewing, profiling, and security. I want every pax required to carry a weapon, not screened for them. 300 untrained boobs with knives and stun guns will win over 5 hijackers, even if they have special forces training, every time. Will it ever happen? Hell no.

So what do we do? We press the feds to take action, then press some more when they do. And we go fly, and we put up with the idiotic half-measures we have while we work on better ones. And yes, we even put up with searching a baby, because there are monsters in this world who would happily put a bomb in a baby's backpack. The exploding baby trick was in common usage during Vietnam and probably a lot earlier than that. And we hope that someday the airlines can be strong enough so the malcontent militants of the moment will try something else and leave me alone.
posted by eszetela at 3:00 PM on February 26, 2002

Esz: Thank goodness real measures are being taken! I sure hope the security guards give up on the idiocy surrounding nail clippers and the like.

When one considers that the risk of choking to death on the beverage served in-flight is an order of magnitude greater than that of being taken out by a terrorist, the whole act becomes particularly absurd.

I'm happy with the security items you've described. I'll be even happier if they take the money they're blowing on senseless activities, and put it towards aircraft maintenance. The chances of dying because of equipment malfunction is endlessly greater than that of some loon killing the pilot with his jeweller's screwdriver!
posted by five fresh fish at 4:03 PM on February 26, 2002

If security wants to frisk my son, they'll have to understand when I politely, but firmly, request they keep their hands to themselves.

I'm afraid that would be considered "noncompliance" and you'll have to understand when you are less than politely told that you keep a-stepping right out of the airport, because you and your bairn won't be boarding your flight.

During a recent wait in the security line at Pittsburgh Internation, I watched a horrifying incident in which a wheelchair-bound woman objected loudly to the "pat-down" she was being subjected to. The woman was incapable of standing on her own and there was no chair available for her to transfer to while her wheelchair was searched, so it seems that the searcher attempted to insert her hands between the woman's posterior and her wheelchair. When the woman objected, she was told loudly and roughly "It's either this or you don't fly."

I'm still wondering why implements are being taken from pilots -- as the one who was arrested in Philly for supposedly making a "threat" pointed out, they're the pilots for pete's sake. They can easily fly the plane into the ground or a building if they want to, they don't need weapons to do so, so why are their tweezers and nail files and eyeglass kits being confiscated? Not to mention the whole issue of their having access to an axe anyway...
posted by Dreama at 9:09 PM on February 26, 2002

You have no idea the uproar that incident created in the aviation world. Apparently, they're don't trust that we are who we say we are, so we get checked along with everybody else. This is understandable and even prudent, but a bit annoying when one has to go through security 2-3 times a day every working day of your entire life.

I can no longer give my old shirts and such to Goodwill. I have to destroy them. Aviation training is already military-grade-dangerous knowledge. I expect to see headsets and epaulet covers restricted soon enough. The Trusted Aviation Worker national ID is coming. (manic Orwell quoters, crack your bindings...) Did I happen to mention that I hate all this only slightly less than I hate the fanatics who made it all necessary? I really miss the way flying used to be. :(

By the way, the axe is nothing. We typically have a flare gun.
posted by eszetela at 11:05 PM on February 26, 2002

Dreama, Is it really noncompliance to say "I'm happy to do the work for you, at your direction, under your supervision; just let me handle my child"? Look over my shoulder, stand next to me all you want. How many people, how many objects have the security personnell handled all day? I don't let my son's doctor handle him without washing his hands first. Do you think security is going to wash theirs before they search a child?

I may not even be faced with this. However, I do think that as security does its job, it should also take measures to not scare children who don't understand why a total stranger (or several) are trying to handle them.

As for the lady in the wheelchair, couldn't another guard have helped lift the lady so the first could see there was nothing hidden. Just shoving a hand beneath her and then threatening her with removal from the flight is absolutely absurd and, IMO, abusive.
posted by onhazier at 6:03 AM on February 27, 2002

Chances are, this will all end when someone -- like the wheelchair woman -- gets pissed-off enough to sue.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:34 AM on February 27, 2002

eszetela - That wouldn't be one of those flare guns that'll chamber and fire a 12-gauge round, would it?
posted by NortonDC at 9:30 AM on February 27, 2002

I have no idea...
I never even concieved of something like that before. I only pulled the thing out from its box buried behind the document case during training and that was years ago. I'll have a look next time I work and report back.
If this would actually work, I wonder what kind of uproar I could cause by posting this fact on a few select message boards... :)
posted by eszetela at 11:14 AM on February 27, 2002

I know that some marine models current in the 80's did, which seemed phenomenally sketchy even to one reared around firearms such as myself.
posted by NortonDC at 11:47 AM on February 27, 2002

I've taken El-Al in the past, and if all our flights have a U.S. Marshall on every plane, steel-bolted cockpit doors, contraband-sniffing dogs and knowledgable security personel, no amount of shoe-removal is going to add any more security to airlines.

I can certainly understand why the four-year old needs to be frisked (kids and their toys are indeed popular mules), but I doubt that the airline is compromising the real security of the craft by throwing away my nail file and 2" Swiss Army knife. There are far more secure and less invasive forms of security that don't treat passengers like criminals.
posted by Down10 at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2002

Dreama, Is it really noncompliance to say "I'm happy to do the work for you, at your direction, under your supervision; just let me handle my child"?

We're talking about airport security people here, the same ones who kept a kid off of a plane because of the illustration on the cover of his book, the same ones who are manhandling grandmothers and paraplegics. The same ones who had a pilot arrested for "making threats" when he pointed out the fact that removing his tweezers couldn't stop him from flying the plane into a building.

They aren't required to be US citizens, nor to have a high school diploma. They aren't even watched closely enough by their superiors to ensure that they're awake on the job. Do you think that they have enough common sense to understand why a parent would stop them from manhandling a young child? Do you think that they care?

We, the flying public, are at the whim of a bunch of people who repeatedly demonstrate their cluelessness, carelessness and blind adherence to poor training and regulations which do not come close to addressing the myriad situations which may arise in the current heightened security situation. Anything in the least bit out of the ordinary sends these people into a tailspin. They don't have the capacity -- personally or within their training and the rules of their jobs -- to creatively solve problems which may arise, like a parent who doesn't want a stranger with filthy hands touching their child, or how to appropriately search a paralysed person.

So to answer your question, would it be noncompliance? It may be, depending on whether or not you get a security officer with all of his orher neurons firing. Luck of the draw. Until your child is older, I'd advise taking the train.
posted by Dreama at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2002

It may not be so much that they're clueless, careless, and blind, as that they're so poorly paid that the only people who'd even entertain the prospect of being a security guard are exactly those people who should never, ever be allowed to hold any positions of power whatsoever.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:26 PM on February 27, 2002

Well, I guess I'll find out in the morning if the security personell my family and I encounter can do their jobs with some common courtesy instead of acting like jack-booted thugs. I understand they're trying to do their jobs. However, I'm not willing to tolerate abusive or threatening behavior from some overly anxious rent-a-cop with an itchy trigger finger looking to find someone to use as an example.

I'll let you know if I have any problems when I return next week. If you hear it on the news, then you know it's me. :D
posted by onhazier at 7:43 AM on February 28, 2002

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