Tag Archives: airport security

The TSA is still defying its Court Order

Court orders TSA to justify year-long defiance of the law | Ars Technica:

Requiring the TSA to follow the formal rule-making procedure is important, because one of the essential steps in that process is the solicitation of public feedback. American travelers will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the TSA’s policy, and the agency will be required to respond to those concerns. Given that so many of the TSA’s policies are shrouded in secrecy, forcing the TSA to explain its policies will be a much-needed source of transparency. And if the rationale for using the machines is as flimsy as some critics charge, perhaps the exercise will cause the agency to re-consider the decision to use them.

(Via arstechnica.com)

I’d argue it’s also important because they were given a court order. If government agencies can simply ignore the Judicial Branch of the government, that’s the end of everything, folks. Game over. We’re living in a totalitarian state. 

At least give us the illusion that we still have some control over what our government subjects us to, here. Play along for show. That’s what the TSA is best at, anyway, right? 

What’s the worst that can happen? A bunch of lefty liberals write their objections in the formal procedure, and you ignore them and do what you want, anyway. No harm done, and it won’t even generate much bad press, because most Americans are too scared of their own shadow to think rationally about what does and doesn’t make them safer. 

The fact that The TSA has simply ignored the order all this time demonstrates a level of arrogance that, frankly, is very frightening. If they don’t even have to pretend to follow the rule of law, what will they do next? 

TSA defends cupcake confiscation – CNN.com

It’s the “Red Velvet” jar that got them into trouble a week later. When they tried to clear security at the Las Vegas airport, the jar got seized for violating the 3-1-1 rule. “This wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake,” wrote TSA blogger Robert Burns. “Unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar.”

via TSA defends cupcake confiscation – CNN.com.


Okay, so it’s the amount of frosting on the cupcake that matters. SO what would be the difference between one cupcake with a lot of frosting, and say, 12 cupcakes with 1/12 of the frosting each?

What if five people brought five individual cupcakes onto the plane? Could the five of those combined not have enough explosive frosting to blow up the plane?

The liquids rule never has and never will make any sense. Any five-year old can figure that out. 

TSA defends cupcake confiscation from Mass. woman

The TSA says travelers can bring cakes, pies and cupcakes through the security checkpoint, but should expect that they might get some additional screening.

via TSA defends cupcake confiscation from Mass. woman – Boston.com.


This would be funny if it weren’t so tragically stupid. The fact that most people will read this article and think “Yeah, I guess whatever makes us safer,” is proof that we don’t deserve to continue much longer as a species. 

TSA stands by officers after pat-down of elderly woman in Florida – via CNN.com

The TSA released a statement Sunday defending its agents’ actions at the Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

“While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner,” the federal agency said. “We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure.”

I’ll say it again. It’s not the TSA agents. It’s the fact that the leadership of the TSA considers this stuff “proper procedure” that scares the heck out of me.

If we had rogue agents abusing the system, that would be a problem, to be sure. But it would be an easy problem to fix. This issue is embedded in the very core of TSA’s founding principles. The only way to solve this is to disband the agency altogether. Or at least rethink it from the ground up.

We need law enforcement that knows the good guys from the bad. The TSA clearly doesn’t.

TSA: Proper procedures inclue patting down random 6-year olds

An officer who conducted a pat-down of a 6-year-old girl in the New Orleans airport last week “followed proper current screening procedures,” the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday.

This is actually the problem. It’s the “proper current screening procedures” that are broken.

I’m not saying that a 6-year old should never be patted down. But you should have a legitimate reason to do so. Not just because she was randomly selected.

We have a system built on keeping up appearances, instead of identifying real threats. We use random searches instead of targeted searches, because they make people feel better. But that leads us to a situation where we’re safe from 6-year olds, but vulnerable to underwear bombers.

How many more of these videos are we going to have to watch before someone at TSA wises up and just copies the Israeli system?

Upgrading the Full Body Scanners

In Tuesday’s demonstration, Transportation Security staffers walked into one of the newly configured machines and stopped with their arms raised, as passenger being scanned are asked to do. A small video monitor near the unit’s exit displayed the results for both the passenger and the security officer operating the machine.

Those who deliberately carried objects were detected and portrayed as generic human outlines, with regions of their body highlighted by a box indicating additional security attention was warranted.

Those who carried no questionable objects saw a screen that was green with “OK” in the middle.

Pistole acknowledged Transportation Security workers will no longer be able to see the shape and size of the questionable objects that are detected by the machines.

“That’s one of the things we’ll be assessing in our pilot testing at the three airports,” he said. “How do the security officers engage the passenger based on what they’re seeing, and is there any diminution of efficiency in terms of what we’re doing?”

The TSA is banking on this software upgrade quieting criticisms of the full-body scanners. And it does help, as far as privacy concerns go. But there are still at least two remaining reasons why the scanners need to be eliminated altogether. First, there are medical questions about the radiation exposure that have not been completely addressed, especially for frequent travelers and airline staff. And second, there’s still the notion of an “illegal search” to be considered. We do have a right not to be treated as criminals without suspicion in this country, people.

Does the Tea Party have its head so far up it’s ass on the Second Amendment that it’s forgotten about the Fourth? Where’s the protest on this one?

And the most important reason of all, of course, is that these expensive contraptions DON’T MAKE ANYONE SAFER. They just make lobbyists richer.

Moscow Airport Terrorist Attack

But Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, cautioned against any knee-jerk reaction.

“We need to have a commonsense approach to this,” he said. “There’s no point deploying huge extra layers of security and checkpoints for people to go through.

“We have to recognize the fact that most airports are not only points of arrival and departure for passengers flying by air. They are also retail complexes, food courts, businesses that are trying to attract people in from the outside.”

Baum argues that rather than installing more x-ray machines and metal detectors, airports need to introduce behavioral profiling.

“Passenger profiling is the only proven method of countering the threat to aviation,” he said, calling on airports to be on the lookout “for people that don’t fit in, that seem to be out of place.”

Horrible tragedy in Moscow. But here we have a security expert suggesting that adding layers of x-ray scanners might not be the best reaction to this event. Hard to believe. If this bombing had happened in the U.S., that guy would have been strung up by the media already for making such a suggestion.

Never mind that he’s right.

What this incident proves, once again, is that whatever you do to counter terrorism, the terrorists just work around it. They find another loophole and exploit it. You need to go after the root causes of this behavior, and the PEOPLE performing these acts, hopefully before they even get to the airport.

BBC News – Air passengers thwart Turkish Airlines hijack attempt

Passengers aboard a Turkish Airlines flight from Oslo overpowered a man who tried to hijack their flight to Istanbul on Wednesday.

Police said the man was a Turk who had demanded that the plane return to Norway.

Once again, we see that security measures are never 100% full-proof, but it doesn’t matter, because passengers are now prepared to defend themselves.

Now can we all please stop having to take our shoes off?

What The T.S.A. Isn’t Telling Us – From Nate Silver

Kudos to the T.S.A. if it anticipated the rush and had more staff on duty (why can’t it always be that way?). But it could also have also been that air travel volumes were lighter than anticipated — perhaps because passengers were perturbed by the new procedures and were traveling by other means (or staying at home.) It would be hard to regard the new procedures as a success if that were the case, particularly given that more people bypassing air travel for road travel means more fatalities on American highways.

We eventually will get some idea about this, since the Department of Transportation keeps relatively detailed statistics about passenger volumes. But it only comes after a lag of several months. In the meantime, we’ll have to keep in mind that if airports were less busy than expected, it may simply have meant that fewer people were flying.

I love that Nate Silver is so passionate about getting to the bottom of the actual numbers. He doesn’t assume that the TSA set up a vast conspiracy to make last week’s opt-out day seem like a big flop; but at the same time, he doesn’t assume that the TSA is telling the whole truth, either. In fact, he points out that there’s a clear lack of good numbers to support a full conclusion so far.

This is the sort of journalism we need more of in this country. Every time I read a story that quotes some poll, or hear a pundit throw numbers out there as if they were hard facts, I always shout in my head “What was the question?” “Were there follow up questions to clarify the respondent’s position?” “Who ran the poll, and whom did they ask?”

We are way too lazy nowadays to question the numbers people throw at us on a regular basis. And even the top respected journalists are guilty of it. I hear guests get away with throwing questionable statistics into discussions on This Week or Meet the Press all the time, and the hosts never follow up to ask where those numbers come from. They have fact checkers that you can go look up online after the show sometimes, but they know almost no one does that.

When you hear that the majority of Americans disapprove of the recent Health Care reforms, for instance, what is the next logical question in your head? Pundits, even liberal ones, have been using that statistic to suggest that people didn’t want health care reform, that it was a mistake for Obama to pursue it. The first question I want answered, but that no one ever asks, is “why didn’t they approve it?” “What was it they didn’t approve?” Was it because the bill went too far towards some grand Socialist takeover, or was it because the reforms were far too weak, and most of us wanted more? Knowing the answer to that question, it would seem to me, would have a significant impact on how we interpret that number.

My guess is that while some people were duped into thinking Health Care reform was tantamount to communism, far more of us disapproved because the reforms didn’t do nearly enough. (It was, after all, merely a watered-down version of the bills the Republicans used to propose in the 80s. Hardly what most would consider socialist.) And Obama was elected by a pretty big margin while promising big health care reform just a few years ago. But when you lump everyone who disapproves into one large group without asking why, you can paint whatever picture you like with it.

We liked health care the way it was, they want us to believe. Did we? Then why did we elect a president who promised to change it?

This method of painting any number to suit your political agenda is one of the primary instruments being used by our political parties to justify policies that are not serving the majority of people. As long as a poorly interpreted poll result suggests that most people want this or that, leaders can enact policies to suit their own interests, or those of their donors, while convincing us that it’s what “most” people want. Meanwhile, those of us paying attention are becoming more and more detached, because we are vastly under-represented. Which leads to fewer people voting, which actually helps them get even further away from our own best interests. The fewer people they have to convince, the easier it is for them to get more extreme.

We need to start demanding more accurate interpretations of polls. We need to start making journalists accountable for the opinions they present as facts. Otherwise, we’re just going to keep getting duped into thinking that any of our politicians actually care what we really think and are acting in our best interests.

A Physicist’s perspective on Airport Security

There are two different philosophies. The Israeli view is that one looks for the perpetrator, not the tool or weapon. All passengers about to board a flight are interviewed. Many in this country erroneously describe the process as “profiling,” but I think a better description would be “triage.” The Israeli view is that one does not waste time and resources on passengers who do not pose any threat to safety and security.

How Israelis do air security

Those doing the interviews are generally college graduates who have completed their military service and have had significant additional training. The key point is that they are trusted to use their discretion on how much to investigate any given passenger. This system clearly catches those dressed in a T-shirt, with no checked baggage who have bought a one-way ticket for travel to Detroit, Michigan, in midwinter!

The Transportation Security Administration system in the United States relies on searching for the tool or weapon. Those doing the screening have no discretion and follow a ritual ordained from above. We have now reached the point where this method is unworkable.

The main thrust of Rez’s argument, other than that the Israelis do security better, is that even if the small bombs that the scanners are meant to detect were to get onto a plane, setting them off would only cause maybe one or two casualties, and not take down the whole plane. Any bomb that you can hide on your person in this fashion is not powerful enough.

Now, that would be a tragedy, of course, if a few people died in one of these incidents, but considering how rare it would be for someone to attempt this, and considering how much more likely and easy it would be that someone could set off much more powerful explosives in other public places (subways, concerts, the security line of the airport itself), it makes no sense to go through this much effort in taxpayer money and inconvenience just to try and stop these small bombs from getting onto the airplane.

You have to draw a line of practicality somewhere, in other words. We drive every day, even though the highways are far more likely to kill you, because the need to get around outweighs the need to guarantee that every single car trip is not going to be fatal. The same is true for air travel.

You’re actually more likely to be killed by a mechanical failure, or a bird strike, than you are from one of these bombs when flying. So let’s stop pretending that the scanners are about security, and admit that they are about comforting the irrationally fearful. And then let’s educate those irrationally fearful people. That has to be cheaper and more effective all around.