Schneier on Security
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April 28, 2009
"No-Fly" Also Means "No-Flyover"
I've previously written about the piece of counterterrorism silliness known as the no-fly list:
Imagine a list of suspected terrorists so dangerous that we can't ever let them fly, yet so innocent that we can't arrest them -- even under the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act.
Turns out these people are so dangerous that they can't be allowed to fly over United States territory, even on a flight from Paris to Mexico.
What makes the whole incident even more interesting is that Air France had only sent its passenger manifest to the Mexicans, but now it is clear that Mexico shares this information with the United States.
Hernando Calvo Ospina has written articles about the United States involvement in Latin America, and is currently writing a book about he CIA. The exact reason for him being on the terrorist watch list is unknown, and we'll probably never know what criteria are used for adding people to it. Air France is considering asking the United States for compensation. Good luck with that.
Posted on April 28, 2009 at 1:00 PM
• 61 Comments
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Why no mention of yesterday morning's fly over? Maybe say something about how poorly communication still is 7 and half years after 9/11.
And yet - POTUS' backup jet is allowed to fly dangerously close to the point of attack.
Are there any restrictions on no-fly people purchasing firearms? Or large amounts of fertilizer and deisel? Can they join the military or hold a security clearance? Can they get permits to operate large machinery? Can they hold positions in public office? Hold high titles in major, even too-big-to-fail, industries?
Not sure Gadling has it right about the diversion happening because of the Mexican government sharing information. I thought that the airlines themselves were responsible for transmitting passenger manifests to the U.S. government anytime a plane is scheduled to fly over U.S. territory in order to get clearance. Clearly, from the journalists longer detailing of the incident, the Mexicans had information given by the U.S., but that is a different matter.
Oh, there was nothing wrong with what those folks were trying to communicate. The message came through loud and clear.
I believe Arlen Specter also has an answer for them.
It's like if the government can't stop one of it's own terror attacks how is it going to stop the international terrorists. Just as with 9/11 people had information but thanks to secrecy didn't inform the right people.
OMFG! My head just exploded. (now there's a terrible mess in the office space)
My eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!
Maybe this is to protect us against the DB Cooper subset of terrorists.
This incident should be no surprise.
Assume, for a moment, that the no-fly list makes any kind of sense. I don't think it does, but if we accept that it exists, we must accept that the people in power think it needs to be there.
What is the purpose of the no-fly list? This is obvious. The purpose of the no-fly list is the same as the purpose of basically every other security measure taken during the last 7.5 years: to prevent a replay of 9/11. (Again, leave aside whether this is actually a good idea. This is its purpose, for good or bad.)
And what did 9/11 involve? People hijacking airliners and flying them into buildings.
Nothing in that attack requires that the airliners take off or land in the US. They only need to fly over the US. If security in Paris were lax somehow, then it would be the perfect place to board an airplane in order to hijack it and crash it into some prominent New York landmark.
So the no-fly list, in order to achieve its questionable goals, must apply to all overflights, not just flights starting or ending on US territory.
"So the no-fly list, in order to achieve its questionable goals, must apply to all overflights, not just flights starting or ending on US territory."
You aren't yet thinking broadly enough.
The no-fly list must apply to all flights which have the potential to reach US territory. The flight-plan may not take a plane over US territory, but may take it within reach of that same territory.
Ah, he's Colombian, writes about US intelligence and works for Le Monde in Paris. You never know what such leftists might do if they are allowed to flyover and observe cloud formations. Seriously though, I can see at least a couple data points that would trigger a watch list given the US record on these things.
Reminds me of the battle over alcohol in Kansas (http://www.ksrevenue.org/abchistory.htm). The story used to go that the Attorney General was so zealous he actually tried to find a way to fine anyone who drank while flying over the state.
I don't believe that's necessary. Any unauthorized airliner which approaches US territory will be discovered in plenty of time to scramble fighters and shoot it down. The risk is in "unsafe" aircraft flying too close to intercept once they start doing something bad.
Of course, nobody should be surprised to see that the no-fly list is being used to restrict the travel of political critics, but that doesn't make it any less of an outrage (or any less unconstitutional).
@Timothy Clemans: The communication (or lack thereof) on the 'Liberty flyover was deliberate, as opposed to 9/11, which was simply disfunctional. Local officials were told NOT to make it public.
Still have not heard why on this one; tho' I would speculate that it has to do with "combining it with an Air Force training mission" to "save money."
That worked out well for them.
@Trichinosis: Five yard penalty and loss of down. The AS reference is not only irrelevant, it foolish. He flipped because he got benched.
@Michael Ash: we have a winner. +1
As for the silence as to why an individual is on the no-fly (over) list is unavailable... I thought we were in the era of Open Government now, will that be changing soon?
Would be nice.
He was probably added to the list because he's saying uncomfortable things - it's a way of sticking it to him and interfering with his life for no other reason that out of petty spite. The "no-flyover" part fits right in with that.
Too cynical? I'm honestly not sure.
Ref: Absolutely. How condescending is it to not inform people of a jet chasing AF1 in NYC? Nice applied sociology project they got there.
Entirely agree with Michael Ash, the conclusions are inescapable if you accept the premises. In addition, Bruce's comments about people too dangerous to allow on 'planes but too innocent to convict are also ingenuous. Terrorist acts of the 9/11 kind tend not to leave people to convict. Therefore, a basic risk assessment says that anyone who might plausibly think of committing a terrorist act must not be allowed on to a plane where they might act out their thoughts. Also, when our legal systems are presented with people who planned but did not commit an act, it is difficult to convict them. The Patriot Act may be draconian but it is almost impossible in a single act to reverse 200 years of legal precedents. Any decent defense lawyer will be able to find wriggle room if the Patriot Act does not specifically reverse a precedent. Legal analysis always accepts specific law as an exception to general law.
Some of us believe that not being able to easily reverse 200 years of legal precedents to be a GOOD thing, and that if the legal system makes it difficult to convict these people, that should be a good indication that we're doing something wrong.
It's called due process. By taking away people's freedoms without it, our government is destroying the legal foundations upon which this country was built.
I just don't know where to begin. To save space, I'll take the first six logical errors I can find in your post, then roll a die... 1.
1: Whether people can be convicted after a terror attack is irrelevant, unless the purpose of the law is to fill prisons.
At the risk of being considered... ahem... politically incorrect...
... I suspect this would qualify as a "brown alert".
I imagine that there are some busy dry cleaning shops around there.
You just "slashdotted" that second link at the bottom!
Not taking your flag. Specter's act puts a serious hurt on the GOP. He was Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, ending his term in 1997. He either knows something, or figured something out based on the flyover.
In March I flew from Toronto to Holguín, Cuba and back, on a package beach vacation. (Yeah, we Canadians can do that, and who knows - maybe you Yanquis will soon be able to as well).
Both flights went over the Baltimore/Washington area - indeed if you look at flight tracks between eastern Canadian cities and Holguín (e.g. CYYZ and MUHG), they all seem to be routed close to Washington - and I assume that the APIS data was sent to the US powers that be. Most amusing is that for the return flight the bus guide pointed out that we could buy as much rum as we liked and take it on board, because there are no carry-on liquid restrictions on flights that board in Cuba!
Well, maybe even the TSA understands that getting the ingredients for a liquid (or any other) bomb in Cuba would be difficult for a tourist terrorist (though presumably I could have carried the stuff on the southbound flight in my checked baggage), but it still amazes me that they allow these overflights originating in a "state sponsor of terrorism" country, without a peep.
It's quite apparent how dangerous these people are, when present on an airplane. Lack of legal ability to arrest foreigners has been shown not to be an issue; I can only guess that the reason this probable terrorist isn't in Guantanamo right now is that getting him there would require putting him on a airplane that would fly through (and land in) U.S. airspace.
The no-fly system subverts the principle of presumption of innocence and, given that the US had ample warnings that airline security was woefully inadequate before 9/11, is sadly only effective at closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Another example of futile measures - when the US introduced it's threat level system an Israeli security expert asked why the US would want to have a system that gave terrorists a heads-up on when to attack.
I think he had a very good point.
At best some US measures seem designed to give the US populace the impression it's government is doing something; at worst it feeds national paranoia.
Michael Ash noted "Nothing in that attack requires that the airliners take off or land in the US.".
That's not exactly true. One of the reason Logan Airport was targeted was because those planes going cross-country were full of fuel. My loose understanding is that the WTC might well have survived a strike by a plane that didn't have so much fuel on board.
Now of course, one could just bring the plane down in the middle of any reasonably large city and there would be some significant loss of life, but the 9/11 attacks on the WTC mostly did need nearby US takeoffs.
That is not true. Boston to Los Angeles is a distance of about 2600 miles. Assuming the Air France flight was going to Mexico City, the most direct route passes very close to New York City and at the time it does it has about 2100 miles to go. Add in the fact that a Paris->Mexico City flight is almost certainly going to be using a much larger plane, and you have significantly MORE fuel on board over NYC, not less.
I fail to see how a nation exercising a typical risk management approach to a potential vulnerability/threat subverts the principals of presumed innocence. While the US may be basing flight permissions based upon a flawed compilation (threat list), no sovereign nation uniformly surrenders the right to determine what constitutes an unacceptable threat (rational or otherwise).
That being said, I don't think it's about whether the occupants of the flight are presumed guilty of anything or not. It's simply about a level of risk that one entity isn't willing to accept, even if the control is for a potentially specious threat.
And to think, that these "terrorists" are even breathing our air! We cannot allow that! I know. They're behind this epidemic of swine flu! (It's all a conspiracy, you know.:^)
@Mark: Throw in some conspriacy: Obviously the CIA has taken down the site. :-)
"anyone who might plausibly think of committing a terrorist act must not be allowed on to a plane where they might act out their thoughts"
So now you want to screen people based on what they're thinking? In fact, not even what they're thinking but what they *MIGHT* think! You might as well just close down all flights into, out of and over the US because anybody is capable of that.
Land of the Free anybody?
@J. M. Schneider
How is punishing people by removing their right to fly on an airliner without any sort of due process NOT a destruction of the presumption of innocence?
I get that some people think this kind of insanity is necessary. But at least call a spade a spade here, and realize that the result is extrajudicial punishment.
The last two lines of the first stanza of the US National Anthem are "The land of the free/And the home of the brave". I suggest that RobS and J. M. Schneider think of that before recommending restrictions on freedom because they fear highly improbable events.
I can come up with a list of societies that had the idea of "thought crime", the earliest that is coming to mind being the Chinese Legalist school of thought. It's not a list of societies that makes the US look good by association.
The US presumably also wants to avoid the terrifying scenario of a presumed terrorist setting foot on US soil in case the flight has to make an unscheduled landing, e.g., because of a technical fault or medical emergency.
I think recent events in New York City have proven beyond a doubt that the US is no longer "the home of the brave", but more like the home of people who get frightened out of their wits by any abnormal event.
Imagine, if you will, a 747 or airbus 380 falling out of the sky, attempting to land in Time Square around noon or rush hour, or Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game. With a little "luck", I could see thousands of people in that area as potential victims.
Surprise. Fuel would, indeed, help control population growth, but flying schrapnel from the disintegration of the plane (and every building it hits at velocity) will surely do a lot of damage, perhaps for blocks in all directions. Tons of fuel is simply icing on the cake.
Please, movie plot writers: If you use this, please credit me. :)
@J. M. Schneider:
I believe that every nation has the right to regulate its borders (immigration and tourists) any way it wants.
The no-fly list is different, because it is being applied to deny domestic travel of persons that are in the country legally.
Whether a country should have the right to regulate whoever enters its airspace in transit, without any intention of entering the country is likely the subject of international treaties.
Interestingly, I note that US carriers regularly fly over Cuba en route to central and south American destinations. And somehow I don't think that the US supplies passenger lists to the Cuban authorities.
@Tony H: "it still amazes me that they allow these overflights originating in a "state sponsor of terrorism" country, without a peep."
There's a good reason why the TSA specifically advises us not to "overthink" the rules about liquids. If there's any logic or sense to it at all, it's highly classified. So if you have any decency or patriotism at all, you shouldn't be pointing out the lack of any apparent logic or sense in the TSA's War On Liquids. Doing so would undermine the effectiveness of the restrictions and cause severe damage to national security.
Just a silly question that might be due to lack of understanding..
The FAA is a regulatory agency run by the government whose rules are determined by someone who is appointed (?) or in some way connected to elected officials, right?
The Airlines have lobbyists.. Right?
Why are the Airlines not objecting to some of these inane regulations through elected officials? They are large corporations.
Or am I missing something..
@AppSec: "Why are the Airlines not objecting to some of these inane regulations through elected officials?"
Why should they? If most American travellers are easily scared and not very bright, then security theater is good for the air travel business. This effect is probably much greater than the loss of fares from No-Flyers.
You'd have to quantify that somehow. And I'd question how you can quantify that. Number of travelers?
That doesn't mean anything because the population is growing.
You'd have to know the number of potential travelers that are not flying as a result. And try to figure that out.
Even if the airlines did object to these rules, you vastly overestimate their power and the power of corporate lobbying in general if you think that they would be able to overturn policies created in the interest of national security, even if it is just national security theater.
On the contention that Paris->Mexico City must have more fuel when near NY than a domestic flight would, I did some back-of-the-envelop calculations.
The type of plane that was crashed into the WTC was a Boeing 767, fuel capacity 24000 gallons, minus the amount it used to get from Boston to NY - I'd guess it was still carrying around 21K-22K; I'd be surprised if it were only 20K.
Air France typically uses a Boeing 777ER plane for transatlantic flights, with fuel capacity of 45000 gallons. Paris -> Mexico City is 5772 miles. New York -> Mexico City is 2093. By the time a Parisian flight is at the great circle point nearest NY it should have about 37% of it's fuel left, or 16650 gallons or so. Take some more away to actually get it to NY from the great circle approach, and you have significantly less fuel left than in the planes that took off from Logan.
You have some flaw in your calculations, which should be obvious just from looking at the numbers. How could a much larger plane (777 empty weight is over 300,000 pounds, 767 empty weight is under 200,000 pounds) make nearly the same distance on a significantly smaller quantity of fuel? It simply makes no sense.
Specifically, the flaw is in how you calculated fuel capacity. Airliners do not take off with full fuel. They will load the minimum required to get to their destination, plus a safety factor. Weight is king, and fuel is heavy.
The 767ERs that crashed into the WTC have a range of over 6500 nautical miles. The distance to Los Angeles is well under half that. Thus we can anticipate that they would be carrying well under half of their maximum fuel load.
Wikipedia backs this up: their articles state that each plane was carrying about 10,000 gallons of fuel at the time of the crash.
I know the news organizations love to talk about how these were transcontinental airliners loaded to the brim with fuel, but the fact is that news organizations get virtually every fact wrong in virtually every story they publish. It makes no economic sense to put full fuel in an airplane with a maximum range of over 6500 nautical miles for a trip of only 2600 nautical miles, and you can bet the airlines don't do that.
I am sure the flyover 6 months ago would have resulted in a very different hue and cry.
'I know the news organizations love to talk about how these were transcontinental airliners loaded to the brim with fuel, but the fact is that news organizations get virtually every fact wrong in virtually every story they publish. It makes no economic sense to put full fuel in an airplane with a maximum range of over 6500 nautical miles for a trip of only 2600 nautical miles, and you can bet the airlines don't do that."'
You've convinced me. I went and looked around some more, and yes, I got taken in by the reporting on planes full of fuel. I now think a plane going to Mexico from Europe would have had enough fuel on it to take out the WTC.
You're not the only one. I didn't realize until you brought it up that those 767s were operating at vastly less than their maximum range. I got taken in by the media's claims too, albeit in a somewhat different direction.
First, please do not attribute to me beliefs you have no prior proof of. Nothing I wrote above asserted that I embraced any given belief or value. My statements were simply general observations on procedure and premise.
Generally, nobody has the right to remove anyone's right to fly on their airliner of choice, save but for the airline itself. However, if they're in the air, their right to pay for and occupy a seat has been duly granted, and they've been deprived of nothing.
Rather, I suspect you're getting on about the inconvenience to everyone else on the plane when sovereign nation X decides that one of their fellow passengers is an unacceptable risk and causes the air carrier to deal with the problem in flight, but could have avoided the whole problem had the airline properly vetted their passengers against the known policies of nations to-be-transited in advance of take-off.
Not to be snarky, since you're certainly welcome to characterize these actions in any way that suits you, if you feel that a sovereign nation exercising its rights to control is "insane" and its procedures somehow 'extrajudicial', then I invite you to explain the 'rational' behavior of 19 foreign nationals who turned airliners into missiles, and the 'punishment' they inflicted on every 'innocent' passenger who perished along with them.
As an honorably discharged U.S. Veteran choosing to return to duty with a Reserve Officer Commission currently in the works, and a life-long student of American history, please trust that I do not require a remedial lesson in the lyrics of my national anthem.
The U.S. is most certainly a land free from the kinds of oppressions found in many other parts of of the globe, and peopled with many brave souls who fight for justice from those same oppressions for others in the many dark corners of our globe where hate and fear mongering are a way of life. Nothing about guarding the gates of one's homeland against those who have demonstrated the extraordinarily 'improbable' will and determination to inflict harm can reasonably be construed as reckless or inappropriate. Ineffective or poorly thought out perhaps, but no doubt well intentioned.
While every decision our government makes in protecting our nation and its citizens may not necessarily be the best for actually achieving the goal of safeguarding our country, the people they're protecting (Americans citizens) are still free. Practically every 'freedom' we exercise is subject to method and reason. Just because some current policy may impinge on the process by which one exercises those freedoms, they have not necessarily been deprived of them.
Your mileage clearly varies.
In singular contrast to my remarks to David, I do agree that lists populated with individuals proven to be an actual threat are generally superfluous, since (IMO) if those on the lists are *truly* all that and a bag of chips, they should just be deported if they're stateside. In not doing so, our government and its accomplices in the transportation industry are indeed inhibiting the free movement of individuals who have not been shown to be a threat or guilty of a crime (in the case of no-fly lists of U.S. Nationals). As for foreign nationals, It's not a subject I'm losing sleep over. Other sovereign nations frequently exercise their right to admit foreign nationals to their country all the time, based on far more specious grounds than their potentially being a terrorist.
I can't speak to whether flights by U.S. airlines do in fact transit Cuban airspace, and if so, whether we do so with an impunity informed by their lack of an Air Force (or perhaps because flights moving at 400+ MPH probably enter and exit Cuban airspace in a matter of seconds). That doesn't make it right, but I don't have enough information to comment either way.
Correction: Sentence should have read:
...I do agree that lists populated with individuals >>NOT
Most countries have both "do not enter country" and "do not use car/plain/gun/whatever" lists. Those lists tend to be populated from 4 sources:
1. Convicted or wanted criminals who are not yet in prison or have served the prison part of their sentence, they had or will have their day in court.
2. Openly declared enemies who are not criminals (fighting for their own country is not a crime). KGB officials during the cold war would be a good example.
3. People who are not necessarily malicious but have demonstrated an inability to behave reasonably with that particular privilege: Accident-prone drivers, people who behaved disruptively on past flights, people who previously entered the country without waiting for permission to do so etc.
4. People who personally pissed off the people hired to manage the list, such as a person calling the CIA names in a big way.
Of all these groups of people, the only ones who are not entitled to know that they are on the list and why are the wanted criminals. The others can be sent an official letter: "You have been banned from XXX during the next NN years because YYY, you may appeal to ZZZ, if the reason YYY refers to a court ruling, the appeal to ZZZ only applies to whether that original court ruling is irrelevant, expired or has already been overturned by a court."
@J. M. Schneider
You are defending a system which violates the presumption of innocence and other people's rights. True, you are only defending it in the context of national sovereignty, where there is no presumption of innocence. But how are we to know that you only mean that one piece of it, and you don't mean your remarks to apply to the no-fly list as a whole?
In any case, you are wrong on the facts as well:
"Generally, nobody has the right to remove anyone's right to fly on their airliner of choice, save but for the airline itself."
Talking about de facto rights (as in, the stuff people actually do), DHS/TSA most certainly does have the right to remove your right to fly on the airliner of your choice, if you are in the United States, or are flying to the US (and probably if you are flying *over* the US now that this incident has come to light).
@MichaelAsh (and others)
I live a long way from the Land of the Free (I prefer Godzone) and I thought that I was extending the logic of your arguments. Please do not infer from my argument that I agree with or support the premises. You can prove anything from false premises.
Nicely put, however, the No-fly list is supposed to consist of people of type 2a :
Covertly declared enemies who are thinking of becoming criminals.
They are a cross between Type 1 (don't send them a letter) and Type 2 (send them a letter).
I wonder if Bruce Schneier made it to a no-fly list yet.
The problem is, nothing is absolute or guaranteed, not even life (and at the rate we're going, liberty and pursuit of happiness are just unremembered phrases in a rapidly fading [in more ways than one] document as well).
But -IF- you insist on tackling really low percentage air threats (and it appears that we do, at least at the policy level where people spend OTHER people's money), -THEN- the odds that the legitimate pilot of an airliner (ie the white male who has worked for 24 years at the airline and can't even spell jihad) will intentionally crash the plane into NYC are not significantly lower than another 9/11; -THEREFORE- you simply cannot allow ANY airplanes that hold more than 8 people from flying anywhere near the US (above it is included in near) at any time, regardless of where it came from or who is on board.
[note: I chose 8 capacity as an arbitrary upper aircraft size limit as the largest size plane that can be crashed intentionally yet still be guaranteed* to kill fewer people on the ground than were on board the aircraft. Plus at the
*nothing is guaranteed. anywhere. ever.
Schneier, YOU are probably on the terrorism watch list, for all we know.
If the purpose of a no fly list is to prevent the takeover of a passenger plane in flight then it's superfluous. A successful hijacking depends on the passengers and crew remaining passive, as was the norm pre 9/11. Anyone trying to takeover the cockpit of a plane since then would face a very different reaction.
Cuba does have an air force. In fact, it's a very powerful one, for Caribbean standards!
They fly mainly old Soviet aircrafts (MiG 19, 21, Sukhoys and the like) but, just as with the vintage 60's American cars they drive, they someow manage to keep them opperational and fully functional.
In fact, I remember very well when, some years ago, a Cuban fighter pilot defected to the US... landing with his MiG on Miami. Technically speaking, the plane is the property of the Republic o Cuba, and they demanded it be sent back.
Of course, the "country of the free" blatantly ignored the request and kept it. I'd bet they didn't even crack it open, since MiG 21's technology is completely understood by the US now.
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