How Not to Test Airport Security

If this were fiction, no one would believe it. From MSNBC:

Four days after police at Charles de Gaulle Airport slipped some plastic explosives into a random passenger’s bag as part of an exercise for sniffer dogs, it is still missing—and authorities are stumped and embarrassed.

It’s perfectly reasonable to plant an explosive-filled suitcase in an airport in order to test security. It is not okay to plant it in someone’s bag without his knowledge and permission. (The explosive residue could remain on the suitcase long after the test, and might be picked up by one of those trace mass spectrometers that detects the chemical residue associated with bombs.) But if you are going to plant plastic explosives in the suitcase of some innocent passenger, shouldn’t you at least write down which suitcase it was?

Posted on December 20, 2004 at 9:13 AM19 Comments


Ned Baldessin December 20, 2004 9:29 AM

Actually, “authorities are stumped and embarrassed??? is an understatement : the minister of interior made a statement saying it was “scandalous???. Apparently it was the idea of two security officers, and not (thank god) an established practice. A few days after the incident, disciplinary action was taken against them and they were suspended.

Ted Demopoulos December 20, 2004 11:40 AM

Simply amazing! And what separates the authorities from the criminals and other terrorists?

No one should be trusted with explosives at the airport, neither police nor terrorists!

Suspension seems pretty lame for committing an unethical and almost certainly highly illegal act. Do the laws not apply to police?

Francois Kashy December 20, 2004 12:01 PM

This begs several questions for speculation. Is it proved that this was an accident? What if it wasn’t? Is other contraband being put in people’s luggage?

As the saying goes, “Who watches the watchers?” So, supposedly, the passengers can’t smuggle explosives aboard the plane. This just means that apparently, security personnel can do it instead.

It’s a truism that no matter how strong your security is, it can still be breached by your best friend. Even though this was an accident, and security requires some level of trust (in the screening personnel), trust should be engineered out of systems as much as possible.

Eric December 20, 2004 2:52 PM

So what?

What if their security was vastly improved due to well-rehearsed security procedures? Isn’t constant training and testing a mark of good security?

So in the future they’ll use their own bags instead of passengers’. And maybe they’ll put in, say, a radio transmitter to help them track the bag if they lose track of it. So their system will improve even more.

But it sounds to me as though many people are calling for ending the tests– degrading the security far more than a lost plastic brick ever did.

It’s not plutonium; there’s plenty of explosive already loose in the world. I don’t understand what the big deal is.

cls December 20, 2004 4:03 PM

At least the explosives were fake in the case of the NY airport. (What’s scary is, the machine did it’s job and caught the device… the people fell down on the job.)

Neither incident makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Allen Jasson December 21, 2004 4:17 AM

Last year I flew from Gatwick to Bahrain carrying two laptops. I put one of them in check-in luggage. With such a fuss being made of baggage security I had complete confidence as my bag disappeared through the check-in porthole.
At Bahrain the laptop was missing. Head of airport security Bahrain did not understand my greater concern that it happened at Gatwick (going in) than at Bahrain (coming out). To my assertion that “if anyone can take 3kg out of my bag they could just as easily put 3kg into it” he responded (as if I were an imbecile) “why would a thief want to put something in your bag?”

AlRayyes December 21, 2004 4:22 AM

While some people here are laughing it isn’t very funny if they find explosives on arrival in some fun human rights loving country like Saudi Arabia.

empty December 21, 2004 11:56 AM

It’s not plutonium; there’s plenty of explosive already loose in the world. I don’t understand what the big deal is.

Is that a troll? There may be a lot of explosives in the world, but none of them should be in airport luggage, don’t you think?

That they shouldn’t test their system is a straw man. It’s just that the way they are currently doing it is patently idiotic.

Allen Jasson December 21, 2004 12:02 PM

Kurdish… am I right that the signature vindictiveness towards the french (the people who gave the US of America the Statue of Liberty) gives you away as actually being American?
Sad how we come to form stereopypes isn’t it?

piglet December 22, 2004 4:27 PM

I think there was a similar incident in Canada. An innocent traveler found that something had been smuggeled into his bag. It turned out that it was a security test, and they had mixed up his bag with that of an agent. I don’t find he reference, if anyone could post it?

Allen Jasson December 23, 2004 6:56 AM

No, it’s no laughing matter.
But the lesson is: if we move the world recklessly from one state of being to another we may find that the new state has a new set of problems – and that perhaps the cost of resolving them outweighs whatever benefit it was we gained in making the change.

mo April 4, 2007 4:20 PM

After my recent experience 9/3/07 with security through wearing a back brace at Charles de Gaulle Airport, nothing would surprize me. Insult to injury, the lock of my suitcase was missing and the zip had been left wide open. Was I to be the target for them ?

Mo April 4, 2007 4:50 PM

Charles de Gaulle Airport security told a 72 year old woman 9/3/07, on going through the archway causing it to ping, wearing a back brace to ‘TAKE IT OFF’. her reply was No, not in front of all the passengers going through security ‘TAKE IT OFF’ was again stated. (in order to comply it meant her unzipping her trousers which would fall to the floor, partly removing her nickers enabling her to remove her back brace in front of many passengers)The Humiliation they caused her through saying No is Unforgiveable. Anybody who has a disability beware of securiity at Charles de Gaulle Airport, they will Humiliate you .

PackagedBlue January 5, 2010 6:51 PM

As Anderer Gregor links, yes, happened again in Ireland from Slovakia, google it, with BusinessWeek.

I had to check it, sad when things get this almost April fools day, every day, but it is all for real.

What kind of idiots do these tests and screw up so badly. CRUEL.

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