Airline Security, Trade-offs, and Agenda

All security decisions are trade-offs, and smart security trade-offs are ones where the security you get is worth what you have to give up. This sounds simple, but it isn't. There are differences between perceived risk and actual risk, differences between perceived security and actual security, and differences between perceived cost and actual cost. And beyond that, there are legitimate differences in trade-off analysis. Any complicated security decision affects multiple players, and each player evaluates the trade-off from his or her own perspective.

I call this "agenda," and it is one of the central themes of Beyond Fear. It is clearly illustrated in the current debate about rescinding the prohibition against small pointy things on airplanes. The flight attendants are against the change. Reading their comments, you can clearly see their subjective agenda:

"As the front-line personnel with little or no effective security training or means of self defense, such weapons could prove fatal to our members," Patricia A. Friend, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said in a letter to Edmund S. "Kip" Hawley, the new leader of the Transportation Security Administration. "They may not assist in breaking through a flightdeck door, but they could definitely lead to the deaths of flight attendants and passengers"....

The flight attendants, whose union represents 46,000 members, said that easing the ban on some prohibited items could pose a safety risk on board the aircraft and lead to incidents that terrorize passengers even if they do not involve a hijacking.

"Even a plane that is attacked and results in only a few deaths would seriously jeopardize the progress we have all made in restoring confidence of the flying public," Friend said in her letter. "We urge you to reconsider allowing such dangerous items -- which have no place in the cabin of an aircraft in the first place -- to be introduced into our workplace."

The flight attendants are not evaluating the security countermeasure from a global perspective. They're not trying to figure out what the optimal level of risk is, what sort of trade-offs are acceptable, and what security countermeasures most efficiently achieve that trade-off. They're looking at the trade-off from their perspective: they get more benefit from the countermeasure than the average flier because it's their workplace, and the cost of the countermeasure is borne largely by the passengers.

There is nothing wrong with flight attendants evaluating airline security from their own agenda. I'd be surprised if they didn't. But understanding agenda is essential to understanding how security decisions are made.

Posted on August 19, 2005 at 12:48 PM • 60 Comments

Comments

Brian ThomasAugust 19, 2005 2:12 PM

"dangerous items... no place in the cabin of an aircraft in the first place" ...?

Weren't we talking about pocketknives, fingernail files/clippers, lighters, scissors...? How many of these frightened flight attendants are carrying just such "dangerous items" in their own pockets and purses, we wonder?

And again: What's the real risk; how many flight attendants have been attacked by nail files in the whole history of commercial aviation?

ugh.

peteAugust 19, 2005 2:16 PM

Not to mention that until 4 years ago, nearly every passenger was carrying such items without anyone from the flight-attendant side complaining.

Mark El-WakilAugust 19, 2005 2:23 PM

@pete:

I'm sure they'd have the same preference back then. The only difference now is that they have some semblance of an excuse to lobby other people into this same preference.

CheburashkaAugust 19, 2005 3:21 PM

My suggestion for improving both the security and the experience of flying is to ban all union members from airports and airplanes.

JarrodAugust 19, 2005 3:24 PM

I'd like to be able to carry my Swiss Army knife with me when I fly for the same reason that I usually wear comfortable, sturdy shoes and bring a jacket: preparedness.

When I took ground school for my pilot's license, the instructor advised having such clothing and a survival or Swiss Army knife available, because living in Southern California meant flying near or over mountains at some point. You never knew when something might happen that would leave you on top of a mountain in cold weather or a place that you couldn't easily escape. At least with those three, you could stay warm overnight, sleep with a pillow (folded up jacket), cut firewood, etc.

I've never had to use it, and I flight lightly otherwise (usually a camera and a book), but it's good to be ready. The knife might even be useful against a potential hijacker.

Mark J.August 19, 2005 3:24 PM

I can understand some of their concern. This proposal would let ice picks on planes. There is no reason at all to have an ice pick on a plane, and you can easily mortally wound someone with an ice pick. Same goes for bows and arrows. "Pocket knives" need to be defined. Are we talking key chain-sized Swiss Army knives or Buck knives? One is relatively harmless, the other can be used to kill. Some knitting needles would also make deadly weapons, while others would not. The 9-11 hijackers coerced the pilots out of the cockpits by threatening to kill the flight attendants. I'd say they have every right to be concerned.

It seems common sense to allow nail clippers and small scissors and small pocket knives. But allowing ice picks and bows-and-arrows makes no sense at all. When TSA starts making sense, maybe we'll see more concurring opinions amongst the flight crews.

KevinAugust 19, 2005 3:30 PM

Small pointy things can no longer be considered dangerous on airplanes. The rules changed on 9/11. Before hijacking meant being trapped in the plane for a long time but eventually being released. After 9/11 hijacking meant being payload on a cruise missle. Everyone knows the rules now and it is doubtful anyone threatening someone with a pointy stick will survive the rest of the passangers rath. How long is the blade on a box cutter? How long is the blade on a little pocket knife? How long is an ice pick? How long is a pencil? Banning goofy things from the plane only serves to molify people with limited imaginiation.

Francois KashyAugust 19, 2005 3:36 PM

"This proposal would let ice picks on planes."

No, this proposal would allow the screeners to allow ice picks on planes. It's the same issue that's been raised over and over again in this forum: screeners, flight attendants, pilots, everyone needs to be well-trained to think on their feet and use good judgment. Now, an ice pick may be used as a weapon, but that doesn't mean it is always a weapon. This is a critical point: the screeners - and the flight attendants - need to know how to deter "hinky"-looking passengers and, if necessary, prevent weapons from going on the plane. That doesn't always mean preventing ice picks from going on the plane. As long as the screeners are following a checklist without excercising trained discretion, we will not be any safer ... whether icepicks are allowed on board or not. Clearly, a big part of this problem is that the flight attendants do not understand this difference.

ZwackAugust 19, 2005 3:46 PM

@Mark J.
You stated "Are we talking key chain-sized Swiss Army knives or Buck knives? One is relatively harmless, the other can be used to kill."

I normally carry a pair of implements banned from flights with me. My keyring has a Swiss-tech Utili-key on it (along with an LED flashlight) which contains three screwdriver blades, a bottle opener and a 1.5" blade which is half serrated. I am sure that in the hands of a psychopath this could be used to cut a major artery, but is not a serious offensive weapon. I also carry (in a sheath on my belt) a Buck tool. This is made by the Buck Knives (who also make small pocket knives) and is similar to a Leatherman. It has two blades, both about 2.5" long, 5 screwdriver blades, a can opener/bottle opener and a pair of pliers/wire cutters. Again, this could be used as an offensive weapon, but is no more (or less) deadly than a Swiss army knife.

By "Buck knives" did you mean "sheath knives"? That would make more sense and I can see them being banned. A reasonable rule would ban sheath knives from carry-on. But then you hit the next problem. As a Scot I wear national dress upon occasion. I also like to travel with only carry-on baggage (I pack light). Given that part of the national dress is a small black knife worn in the sock (technically it's a Sgian Dubh but that just means black knife) I have the choice of wearing it in my sock, placing it in my carry on, or packing some checked baggage with it in. My Sgian Dubh has a 3" blade, is a sheath knife, is made from very soft iron, and is completely blunt. Is it a deadly weapon? Should it be banned?

As for "Ice Picks" can you distinguish between a metal "Ice Pick" with it's handle removed and a metal knitting needle? My guess is that it is too hard to distinguish between the two to allow for a rule that allows one and bans the other.

Z.

Mr. TacticalAugust 19, 2005 4:26 PM

The problem here is the usual one. There is only one weapon a human being has; it's grey and squishy and resides between the ears. All the rest are tools. You can take away any of my tools, but I will still have weapons. They let me board with an expensive, sturdy fountain pen, and a cheap one. With a steel nib. Ice pick, anyone? My laptop has a power supply, a plastic-covered "brick" on a nice wire cord...a modern mace/flail. If it's not screwed down, I can use it as a weapon. If it is screwed down, I can put you into it. Attempts to disarm people only disarm the ones who aren't going to cause you a problem in the first place.

WoodyAugust 19, 2005 4:43 PM

As pointed out by Mr. Tactical, there's only one weapon, the rest are tools. And some people have trained themselves to turn their hands/elbows/arms/feet/etc. into very deadly tools. There's not a lot of room on a plane, but enough.

And without any weapons, anyone who can "disable" a person as an example, and can defend themselves from the wrath of the people on the plane, can probably take over the cabin. Probably not the cockpit, but the cabin.

Hmm.

I wonder if they still let search and rescue dogs in planes. I once flew on a 4-hour flight with a 100+lb German Shepard in the aisle ahead of me. That's quite the potent tool, properly trained.

Banning small pointy things, and even larger pointy things does nothing but unarm the passengers against someone smart enough to find a way to get the tool they need onto the plane. In the end, I feel less safe now then before when I was always carrying a 2-3" pocket knife with a razor-sharp blade.

AndrewSAugust 19, 2005 4:59 PM

"As the front-line personnel with little or no effective security training or means of self defense,..."

I personally think she shot her own argument down right there(*1). Why on Earth are we (as paying passengers) still allowing untrained flight crew on planes? Why are they not required to have both general security and self-defense training?

Of course, in my opinion, that kind of training should be required of every US citizen in high-school, but that's whole 'nother argument.


1) Possibly not the best choice in phrases.

AngusAugust 19, 2005 5:03 PM

@Mark J
Have you ever shot a bow? As a competitive archer, a pilot, and a frequent airline traveller, let me tell you that it would be almost impossible to actually use a bow in the confines of an airline cabin. Whilst attempting to do so, you would be vulnerable yourself.

The current rules make no sense, even for the flight attendants. Why not ban metal pens or propelling pencils? Why not tie martial artists' hands together when they get onto the plane? There is little of a repeat of the 2001 hijackings, because all passengers now appreciate the worst case scenario, and are likely to take action to prevent it.

Silly reactive rules that counter the last threat don't help.

EricAugust 19, 2005 5:31 PM

Banning specific items is stupid, since you can always use something else for the exact same purpose. Many airlines give people the whole soda can from the beverage carts. Once empty, an aluminum can can easily be folded & ripped into a very sharp & pointy "weapon" far worse than a nail clipper.

And what's so dangerous about nail clippers anyway? The nail file part, which isn't really even sharp in the first place? Mine doesn't even HAVE a file on it, but I doubt they'd let it through anyway, since the prohibited items list isn't specific enough to mention WHY nail clippers are banned.

Chung LeongAugust 19, 2005 5:33 PM

"There are differences between perceived risk and actual risk, differences between perceived security and actual security, and differences between perceived cost and actual cost."

One of the key differences is that people make decisions based on the perceived and not the actual. Thus all this talk about actual risk and security is pretty much an exercise in vanity.

Spammy McGriddleAugust 19, 2005 8:24 PM

I think it's time to end commercial flight. Between dangers, real or percieved, and the high cost of govnerments/citizens subsidizing a broken business model it's time to reintroduce folks to cars and trains. Oh yeah how about bicycles and sneakers? Anything requiring us to cross a large body of water isn't a place worth visiting anyway.

Mark J.August 19, 2005 9:22 PM

@Angus

Yes, I've used a bow and arrow. I wasn't thinking of actually shooting the arrow within the confines of the plane. I was picturing someone weilding an arrow as a weapon. I was also wondering why someone would need to bring such a thing aboard. Why not check it? People travel with golf clubs all the time, yet they're hardly fit for carry-on items. I would think the same would apply to an archery set.

And maybe I'm picturing the worst-case ice pick, but a very sharp, narrow steel shaft affixed to a handle makes for a lethal weapon. Or as in the case of the 9-11 hijackers, several lethal weapons. True, the passengers these days may overwhelm the would-be hijackers, but not before several flight attendants were dead. As with arrows, I see no good reason to have such items in the cabin of a plane. They are not needed in flight and are not usually considered essential travel items. Nail clippers, small scissors, etc are not lethal weapons. Yes, in the hands of a determined lunatic they *maybe* could be used to mortally wound someone, but any nutcase with an ice pick can kill very quickly. There's a big difference.

Checked is for chumps!August 19, 2005 9:36 PM

There is a very good reason to allow a bow and arrows on an airplane. Because if you can’t carry it on, you have to transport it as checked luggage. That’s a hassle, and you run the very real risk of damaging or losing your expensive bow.

I don’t check luggage unless I absolutely have to, I know a lot of travelers are the same way. Most of the reason why I don’t check my laptop when I fly is because I don’t want it being destroyed by baggage handlers, I usually read a book on the flight, because it’s smaller and doesn’t run out of batteries. I would imagine that an archer traveling to a tournament would prefer to not check his bow. Some target arrows are actually “blunt��? on the end (they get about as sharp as a BB) – they stick into something like hay just fine, but it would be very difficult for them to kill a person.

OTOH: if I was a flight-attendent I think I would have a problem with drunk stressed out and horney business men carrying a small knife if I was cooped up with them for a long flight, while I wouldn’t have a problem with the same person carrying the knife around in a supermarket.

VladAugust 19, 2005 9:59 PM

Why would any terrorist start killing airplane passengers with knives? The whole point of attacking a plane is that you can kill hundreds of people at once by crashing it. If you just want to kill individuals with hand weapons, you can just as easily do that at your local supermarket. Noone searches me for weapons there, and the cashiers don't complain much about that.

Simon EllisAugust 20, 2005 2:37 AM

The issue of not being able to carry onboard items such as nail-clippers or scissors has always stumped me. Correct me if I am wrong, but there exist (or can easily be made) ceramic knives, and nothing but a pat-down of the individual would reveal that they are carrying this item. In such a case, banning anything is effectively redundant, as the only real solution would be to force passengers to fly naked on the aircraft.

I am thinking that a solution exists that may improve safety, increase airline efficiency and improve customer satisfaction. What if the airline changed the baggage hold to accept several containers, where each container consisted of several lockers. Upon checkin you would be asked to place all luggage into a locker assigned to you within the container. On arrival you would know exactly which locker was yours, and it would be up to you to open the locker and collect your items.

The advantages of using lockers would be:
1) People would feel more secure that their luggage would not be mishandled in transit or stolen on arrival. This should get more people to check in items that would normally get carried onboard (such as laptops). Fewer people would carry luggage onto the airplane with them, which should improve efficiency and reduce the potential of carrying a weapon onboard.
2) The problems with baggage handlers (bag tampering or mishandling, stolen goods etc) would be eliminated.
3) People would be able to retreive their bagge much faster once the plane lands because only large containers would need to be transported into baggage collection, at which point people head straight to the locker they own.


DarkFireAugust 20, 2005 5:45 AM

@Vlad:

The point of a terrorist killing passenegrs would be to exhert tremendouse psychological pressure on the flight crew. The terrorists know that they would find it exceedingly difficult to gain access to the cockpit, so instead they contact the pilot & threated to execute a passenger or flight attendant every minute until the pilot opens the door.

How many pilots would actually be able to resist the sounds of slaughter coming through his or her door during the time necessary to land the aircraft? Probably not many.

LightWaterAugust 20, 2005 7:18 AM

@DarkFire

"How many pilots would actually be able to resist the sounds of slaughter coming through his or her door during the time necessary to land the aircraft? Probably not many."

I know if I was faced with a choice of hjackers POSSIBLY killing SOME people or crashing the whole plane and CERTAINLY killing EVERYBODY it would be quite a simply choice.

Not to say it is an easy thing to do, but any rational person would feel the same way.

NeighborcatAugust 20, 2005 7:20 AM

Kevin has hit the proverbial nail squarely (disclaimer, neither nails nor hammers will be allowed on this flight)

The planes of 9/11 were not brought down by box cutters, they were brought down by an assumption: Cooperate, negotiate, and you will eventually walk away. The very second this assumption was proven to be false, the passengers took their future into their own hands, the result being that one plane ended up in a field, and not in a building. Unfortunately the cell phone calls were received after giving up control of the plane.

I have several other points, and I'll try to be brief.

1. Don't like working in a metal tube stuffed full of your dangerous fellow humans? Don't become a flight attendant.

2. You make any fuss on a flight that scares the passengers, you spend the rest of the flight face down on the floor with the three biggest guys in the plane on top you, one of them lost his brother on 9-11 and the other two are firemen. Those are the new rules.

3. IF you think your plan is good enough to overcome point #2, leave your nail clippers at home, everything you need is already on the plane, a frightened, poorly trained flight attendant who thinks her security is someone elses responsibility.

Alex KruppAugust 20, 2005 10:03 AM

@Bruce

I like the first three sentences you use to describe security analysis. It is much snappier than the 5 item bullet list you use in your book, and gets almost all the same information across.

VladAugust 20, 2005 10:57 AM

Any attempt to take over a plane with knives these days is likely to fail in such a way that makes the terrorist organization involved look relatively impotent and leaves the feds with knowledgable prisoners to interrogate, so it's very unlikely that a terrorist organization plotting an attack will choose this method.

BrianiacAugust 20, 2005 11:13 AM

Itemizing potential weapons is an impossibly useless task. Nail clippers are dangerous, but bottles are not?

The truth after 9/11, as has already been pointed out, is that passengers will fight back. No amount of malicious resourcefulness will ever again be able to successfully hijack a plane using the plastic dinner knife, a sack of oranges, a golden gun (assembed from what appear to be everyday items), impressive upper-body strength, half a shattered CD, a hairdryer, a photo of Jean Harlow, a thing your aunt gave you which you don't know what it is (containing no tea), a sharpened pencil, a trained monkey in the cargo hold, guitar strings, keys, or a rolled-up magazine.

These arbitrary bans serve merely a marketing purpose, to make people feel as if something important has changed that will save us all. In the abscence of a strong, responsible leader that can tell us "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.", our airlines must prevent nail files from entering the cabin while the cargo areas, and railways, and subways, and shipping containers are left almost completely unprotected (suggesting many of the airline "protections" are just a show). And you can't see family members off from the gate. And armed guards are there to intimidate children and quickly escalate bad situations. And you have to take off your shoes. And you have to turn on your laptop. And the government has to know what reading material you borrow and buy. And your tax dollars must support the airlines, even if the free market doesn't, even if you don't agree with the environmental impact of air travel, even if you don't think that humans should be crammed into seats that were clearly designed for pygmy children. And police can shoot you dead if you worry them. And you have to scan your penguins.

SAHAugust 20, 2005 11:42 AM

Bruce's introductory sentence sums it up perfectly: "All security decisions are trade-offs, and smart security trade-offs are ones where the security you get is worth what you have to give up."

And Pete's comment is absolutely accurate: "Not to mention that until 4 years ago, nearly every passenger was carrying such items without anyone from the flight-attendant side complaining".

Let us cast aside all political correctness for a moment. What really has changed since? Islamic fundamentalism has taken on a global face and is singularly responsible for the airline security problem. Racial profiling is painful and can never be absorbed or accepted by the people at the short-end of the stick. Yet, in the airline case, what would be the effect of such profiling? A certain percentage (15% is a good estimate) of passengers will get frisked and checked a lot more closely than others. As long as there is a common security line, everyone is subject to the time delay. And the chosen 15% are singled out, which is never comfortable for them as an overwhelming majority are innocent. In an egalitarian society, it sucks big time, but seems logically the most optimal solution.

Today, the profiling is very poor -- case to point being the infant no-fly list situation that was discussed. With all the tools and technology available to the government, why can't profiling be a lot more effective: what earthly reason is there for a 60 year old Caucasian Christian grandmother to be frisked because the computer "randomly selected" her. There was the recent incident of a teacher mentioning that she had misplaced a bread knife to the security personnel, only for them to give her grief when it was found on her luggage. It is a waste of everyone's time and resources to focus on someone who is clearly irrelevant to the problem at hand, and adds to the inefficiency of the solution attempted as a whole.

It is practically possible to target those with the highest proclivity to commit insane acts of wanton violence. Take every crazy terrorist who affected US lives on US soil to date (including Richard Reid on AA flight 63). It wasn't too difficult to have lumped them in a category of heightened risk and to have checked them very carefully. Of course until the first act of terror happened, there wasn't a provable need; but there surely is now. So Reid should have been profiled and identified before he boarded. The fact that he wasn't is a horrible failure in execution, and thankfully, fate conspired to prevent a tragedy.

As a counter point, you could bring up the insanity of heartland-bred idiots like Tim McVeigh. There are/were way too few who shared the same basis of his hatred. His murderous act in that sense can be deemed almost random: and hence very difficult to secure against. This is clearly not the case against Islamic fundamentalism, which has a sordid history, has a very well understood basis, and most importantly had clear signs of affecting us in the US a long while before it struck.

Compared to every other country save Israel (and N Korea and China in the twisted sense), the US system has all the pivots to be pretty darned good at tracing and accountability. Requiring parents to mandatorily state their religious preferences on birth certificates, keeping a close tab on financial contributions (even legislating that these always be non-cash based), better engineering of the visa interview and responsibility process with strict and consistently enforced penalties are just few of the areas that will boost the effectiveness of 'smart' profiling. These so-called jihadists, by very virtue of their bloodthirsty stance, are far from the most educated or brilliant people. We are both united and way smarter than our adversaries - shouldn't we capitalize on that?

The profiling has to go hand in hand with securing our borders from illegal immigrants, which is consistently addressed hypocritically, because of vote-bank implications. Debating the laxity in allowing nail clippers and swiss army knives on flights without the 'ownership' component fully explored is a smoke screen!

_August 20, 2005 2:15 PM

Let us cast aside all morality for a moment.

If we could execute all swarthy individuals, maybe 15% would be inconvenienced (by death), but this would be unbelievably efficient!

SAHAugust 20, 2005 3:29 PM

_ said: "maybe 15% would be inconvenienced (by death), but this would be unbelievably efficient"

You could certainly argue that my suggestion is over-reaction. I think reasonable people will differ on where the line is drawn. Bruce mentioned: "smart security trade-offs are ones where the security you get is worth what you have to give up". Why is there rarely a discussion on the extent, nature of profiling, and refinement needed? Is any and all profiling bad because it can be abused? Is there an acceptable intermediate point where what we have given up is worth it? Given the state we are in, we want our government to be ultra-smart and super-sensitive but cannot articulate how these can co-exist.

RichAugust 20, 2005 4:46 PM

I'd say Mike Tyson's teeth are (or at least were) equally as dangerous as any pocket knife. I guess requiring everyone to wear muzzles would save the airline money on inflight meals.

ChrisAugust 20, 2005 10:07 PM

@Simon

Ceramic knives are doable. But I've slaughtered a goat with flint knives, and when they're freshly knapped, they're sharp as Cerberus' teeth. If I could, I'd have a lump of flint in my kitchen rather than steel knives.

Of course, obsidian comes sharper and keeps its edge much longer.

colorado20August 20, 2005 11:08 PM

"profiling makes sense ...?"

The problem with passenger profiling is that is creates a system that is easy to exploit. CAPPS-1 created a system where an adversary could send probes and determine with near absolute certainty whether they would be selected for second level screening. An attacker could be sure that the probability of being selected for second level screening was no more than 2% (i.e. a 98% chance of bypassing additional screening and boarding the plane). A 0.02 chance of being selected is good odds that an attacker will slip through.

Random selection (includes grandma, children, and pregnant women) stands a much better chance of success. If an attacker cannot probe the system and determine the odds of being selected, then the chance of successful attacks become less.

I'd agree than denying an infant boarding just because the name matches is senseless. The human screener should select the appropriate level of screening and then pass or deny based on those results. A list is too dumb by itself to make this decision (no matter how much personal information it contains).

The overwhelming problem with CAPPS, CAPPS-II, and Secure Flight; is they were/are designed to be the sole decider of who receives additional screening and who may not fly. It reduces the role of human screeners to simple minded automatons (ironically, directed by a simple minded automaton).

Thomas SprinkmeierAugust 21, 2005 12:34 AM

@SAH,

The problem with profiling is not whether or not the target population are hidden mostly within the (your figure of) 15%.

The problem is that >99% of those 15% are innocent.

Pick on any group of people long enough and they will distrust you. All that achieves is the creation of a recruiting ground and hiding place for the people you're trying to find.

peachpuffAugust 21, 2005 4:46 AM

"Given the state we are in, we want our government to be ultra-smart and super-sensitive but cannot articulate how these can co-exist."

1. Be smart enough to see what really makes the terrorists different from everyone else: they're trying to kill as many random victims as they can. It makes them so different from every other human being that trying to catch them by any other trait is laughably stupid--especially when no other trait defines a group with more than a tiny percentage who are terrorists.

This leads to a bunch of ideas that Bruce has covered: asking probing questions at check in, training airport workers in human behavior, finding out who funded past attacks and who they're giving money to now, etc., etc.

2. Be smart enough to cultivate useful allies. You think it's okay to screw 15% because you're not in it, but that 15% could be a lot more help than you'll ever be. Stop thinking about who you can sacrifice to save yourself and start thinking about who can help save you.

3. Be smart enough to double-check assertions and arguments that support insensitive prejudice. It's called prejudice because it leads people to judge before they have a sound basis. Racial and religious discrimination aren't just politically incorrect. They have a long history of bogus premises, disastrous results, and apologists who are eloquent, well-educated, and flat wrong.

Tom ChivertonAugust 21, 2005 5:59 AM

I'm waiting to be told I can't wear my glasses on a plane. Nasty sharp things when broken.

All in all flaying from the UK to the US (and back) is not an experience I ever want to have again. It sucks, and it's all pointless show-security rather than actually doing anything.

You guys over there need to sort things out.
and don't get me started on the US govt. biometric passport requirement for anyone flying in. Now abandoned because it was impossible to do.

John David GaltAugust 21, 2005 9:29 AM

After 9/11, no one will ever succeed in hijacking a passenger plane again, with or without a weapon -- the passengers will automatically respond as they did aboard the Pennsylvania plane.

Therefore any action taken to prevent the hijacking of a passenger plane is a total waste of time and energy. (Cargo planes are a differrent matter, and I hope someone is watching those like a hawk, especially if they're carrying hazmat loads.)

The other thing the feds just don't get is that even before 9/11, flying was a pain and barely worthwhile. Now, with the twin threats that the new Gestapo will ban you from the flight you've already paid for, or rob things from your luggage, it's stopped being worthwhile. Meanwhile, having all those highly visible, inept police accomplishes nothing except to demonstrate that the US is now a police state, and is willing to hire ignorant buffoons as police officers.

Want to restore the public's confidence and get people to start flying again? Get the stupid feds out of the airports and change the rules back to what they were before 9/11. Then get started on fixing the problems that made flying a pain even before that.

MHWAugust 21, 2005 1:25 PM

From Practical Cryptography: "Cryptography is fiendishly difficult to do right..... If we can leave you with one piece of advice it is to use cryptographic experts if at all possible" I think this is universally accepted.

From the book cover of Beyond Fear: "Security is not mysterious, Bruce Schneier tells us, and contrary to popular belief, it is not hard". Even after reading this excellent book, I wish it were as easy to accept. Human behavior, emotions and biases makes it a tremendous challenge. And just who are the true security experts :-)

DarkFireAugust 21, 2005 7:28 PM

@ SAH:

You make some excellent points, but I would like to comment on a few of them:

{SNIP}
It is a waste of everyone's time and resources to focus on someone who is clearly irrelevant to the problem at hand...
{SNIP}
Unfortunately the whole subject of profiling has not gone unnoticed amongst terrorist ranks. There is much open source information sugesting that AQ are actively training operatives to belnd in with western culture - shaved beards, business suits, a suitable wesernised "legend" etc. So you may end up with an indivdual who for all intensive purposes appears to be a legitimate businessman from Quatar, Saudi, Kuwait or wherever. There is *no* accurate racial profile for a terrorist.

{SNIP}
These so-called jihadists, by very virtue of their bloodthirsty stance, are far from the most educated or brilliant people. We are both united and way smarter than our adversaries...
{SNIP}
This is not true. Recent research and investigation in to the perpetrators of 09/11 shows that a high percentage of terrorists are well educated - most to university level.

If you look at the figures (a recent presentation on www.ict.org.il) it's shown that based on the current situations in Israel & Iraq, although suicide terrorists are likely to be form poor backgrounds and are likely not to be educated to anyr eal standard, the non-suicide terrorist (i.e.t eh planners, technical & support infrastructure) is likely to be from a modestly affluent background & is likely to have a degree of some form, usually in a technical subject. There are operational (as far as the terrorist group is concerned) reasons for these trends: using the trained, experienced and intelligent terrorists for suicide missions is a waste of valuable human assets. INstead the terrorists use them to train the lowly-educated volounteers who are a cheap and expendable resource that, when adequatly trained, tstill have a reasonable chance of accomplishing their deadly missions.

As ever, profiling can only take security so far - the very best security is most often available form humans. Boots on the ground if you will. Trained human operatives are adaptable and have that 6th sense that a computer profiling programe will never have.

Felix DzerzhinskyAugust 22, 2005 2:46 AM

More Airport fun! With Lego!

http://www.wired.com/news/culture/...

"David Winkler, a Microsoft software engineer, was hunched over a stack of computer printouts that mapped out the construction plans for a complex model of an angel. The algorithms, which are similar to those used in Microsoft's handwriting-recognition software, can create a Lego version of an object from a 3-D-triangle mesh model.

Unfortunately, all that math didn't help get one of his sculptures through the Transportation Security Administration's gauntlet at the airport.

"I had one piece that the TSA took apart and then put back together randomly," he said."

Just_n_ObserverAugust 22, 2005 6:33 AM

"Pat A Friend"

Is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

You couldn't make it up could you....

Ed T.August 22, 2005 11:17 AM

@LightWater:

{quote}"How many pilots would actually be able to resist the sounds of slaughter coming through his or her door during the time necessary to land the aircraft? Probably not many."

I know if I was faced with a choice of hjackers POSSIBLY killing SOME people or crashing the whole plane and CERTAINLY killing EVERYBODY it would be quite a simply choice.

Not to say it is an easy thing to do, but any rational person would feel the same way.{/quote}

Or, the cockpit crew could don their oxygen masks, then depressurize the passenger compartment. Everyone goes sleepy-by while the pilots land the aircraft, and (probably) fewer people die.

I remember taking "altitude training" while in the service, and keeping one's wits while breathing the rarified air at 40,000 feet is quite a feat.

Ed T.August 22, 2005 11:22 AM

@folks who think carrying weapons on an aircraft is a good idea:

OK, so I don't see a problem with nail files, clippers, small scissors. However, when you get to things like arrows, knives, and other sharp/pointy things that people like to use to kill each other: I can see the flight attendants position. After all, if some passenger has consumed the contents of one too many of those little bottles of adult beverage that they like to serve, and decides to engage in a bit of air rage based on some perceived slight, the attendants don't want to be caught in the middle. And, since 9/11 we have certainly heard of a number of this type of incident.

TSA security-droids aren't the only folks around who fail to use common sense, it seems.

Ed T.August 22, 2005 11:27 AM

@Mr Tactical:

When thinking of items that could be used as a mace/flail/kosh, don't forget 2 common items most travellers have:

1) spare pocket change and keys
2) a sock

I kid you not, before 9/11 I was stopped at Minneapolis/St Paul airport by security, and was told I was carrying a "dangerous blackjack" -- which was a baby's sock filled with spare change. What kept me out of the local jail was my explanation (to the supervisor) that pretty much everyone had these ingredients, and I doubted very much that the airport wanted to confiscate everyone's socks (though the pocket change might have funded the rest of the airport expansion.) At this point, I was let through, but with a warning to refrain from carrying such items with me in the future(!)

And, to this day, I refuse to wear socks on an airplane (or anywhere else, for that matter :-), "in the name of national security."

JohnJAugust 22, 2005 11:35 AM

@Ed T.: 3: A belt (with buckle). By itself makes an OK flail, but connect your keychain to the buckle and and it has decent mass + psuedo-sharp edges. Just a leather strap, if made wet, can be a decent weapon to slap/flog with.

Clive RobinsonAugust 22, 2005 11:52 AM

@SAH (& Others)

"Let us cast aside all political correctness for a moment. What really has changed since?"

Actually what has changed is not that

"Islamic fundamentalism has taken on a global face and is singularly responsible for the airline security problem"

But more fundementaly the following,

1, Predominantly western cultures have become more dependent on technical solutions to our everyday needs and problems (this started with the first mechanical floor sweeper etc and has continued since).

2, As ordinary people we do not (unless we have reason) contemplate any technical solution as a threat, it is there after all to make our life easier, so we can be more productive in other areas of our lives.

3, Others with other aims or objectives (mainly publicity) have turned our techical tools into wepons that they then use against us (in some cases they regard this as the equivalent of poetic justice). The fact that they have the sense to use others indicates (as pointed out by others above) that they are not in any way stupid.

4, Since Sept 11 in the US people have had to change the way they as ordinary individuals think (from 2 due to 3).

You should not make gut level leaps of logic, we are all guilty of making them, however they are often at best unreliable, and have the unfortunate side effect of setting your actions onto a path you cannot easily get off.

Why do people make gut reactions, for the majority of people it is due to the fact that they have little experiance with the current problem domain and they simply guess based on their experiances in life.

Another effect is that when people have little or no experiance of how to deal with sudden change they effectivly become overwhelmed by the "enormatiy of it". Which on the visceral scale of 9-11 is quite understandable. The herd mentality then unfortunatly kicks in and they turn to others (religeous / political / TV Pundits) to act as "proxie thinkers" for them to find solutions.

These proxies often themselves do not know how to deal with the issue so they try to be seen to lead and become "men of the moment". They make reasuring noises and take immediate and visable action to prove they are "capable in the face of adversity".

The people are generally in "disaster shock", they do not initialy question the actions of the proxies and follow passivly. The proxy who is often likewise in shock follows a different but well documented response of "Mustn't panic must be seen to be doing Something".

The "proxie thinkers" then justify their gut reactions as done in order to "reasure the public". Which usually and not unsprisingly turn out to be the equivalent of "Putting a sticking plaster on a broken leg".

Immediately after an event you do need some limited reactionary solutions to prevent copy-cat repeats. However they should not only be limited and specific they should also be retired as soon as other interim solutions are in place (stop small pointy objects untill cockpit doors are strengthend for instance). Otherwise you credability is called into question.

Likewise the interim solutions should be well thought out and aimed where possible with a degree of precision (you generally use a scalpel not a hammer to remove a cancer).

However so far the ideas put forward by the proxies have the halmarks of having not been thought through and have also got more and more radical as pundit A questions the proposels / actions of proxie B and proxie C sees an advantage in saying something radical (political point scoring etc).

Having placed their trust in others what the people then tend not do however is start thinking about the issue for themselves, in either an effective or constructive maner. They instead still use the proxies and pundits for their base level thinking untill they become directly effected, then they tend to yell loudly about their rights.

Leaving aside "power grabs" / "pork Barrels" and other "Self Interest" arguments which usually come up as well (which given the way these proxies and pundits got their jobs is not that surprising). People need to start thinking and evaluating for themselves.

The problem for most people is their "outlook", in general they do not have a sufficiently broad outlook to be able to see what alternatives are avaialable. Most of the people on this list (myself included) suffer from this at one level or another, it is a question of degree. In a vary major way this is not actually a persons fault, they are basing their outlook on the information they are provided with (which is very often biased).

If you think about one part of the original 9-11 problem i.e. the "dual edged" nature of technology for even a short period of time you will fairly quickly realise there is no (readily acceptable) solution to this. It is an inherant artifact of technology and as a problem it is not going to go away any time soon if at all.

A little further thought will also give rise to the notion that using technology to solve a problem with other technology is not (logicaly or) practicaly going to work. You could use the theorms about self consitant systems to actually go about proving this but then that's another issue ;)

You will also realise that in a technical probelm / technical solution environs you do not have the "human element" involved. Primarily you often forget that "evoloution" applies to the problem of humans using dual edge technology. A human capable of reasoned and intelligent thought will examin any technical solution put in place and find flaws or methods to bypass it (as security practitioners this is usually fairly obvious to us).

Basicaly humans learn and can therefore evolve, technology solutions are effectivly static and cannot in the long term deal with motivated and evolving humans.

If you are not carefull you get into the "Red Queens Race" way of thinking. An example of this is the ECM / ECCM / CCM issues the military developed to protect high value targerts, eventually they realised it was taking them down a rather expensive and somewhat futile path (ie specialise to much and some simple change in your environment wipes you out, Darwin covered this with large carinivors etc).

I suspect the only effective solution lies in looking in other areas (it is up to you to make your own judgment on this I may be wrong).

If you assume as appears to be the case that in every generation there always will be a number of fairly intelegent people who seek to further their aims by commiting harm to other individuals. Be it either directly or through others (serial killers, football thug gang leaders, crime bosses, corrupt business men, terorists etc) you quickly realise you have an ongoing and evolving problem.

Unfortunatly the resoning of this sort of individual is generally that of the psycopath "I can, I will, you cannot prevent me". I gather there is no cure for this it is only controlable by the person themselves via the limits of their morals (which are a product of their upbringing and environment).

As this reasoning also appears to be the base of the "Alpha Instinct" which drives risk takers and other successfull people whom society needs for development you have a further issue. As society tends to reward people with this trait then it is likley that human evolution is set to encorage it.

The problem is not static, it evolves (this is fairly evident so far) and you can conclude that technological solutions are not going to be able to combat this except in the very short term.

Also that each reactionary solution technological or otherwise will likewise become more quickly ineffective, whilst also becomming ever more expensive.

From this it can be seen that the answer is not to "throw money" at a "technological quicky" or use "political clout / military force" or other "knee jerk" and simplistic reaction as a solution, it is most likley going to make the problem significantly worse not better.

Having concluded (except in the very short term) you cannot in a reactive way stop these individuals. The question posed by the problem changes from "how do I stop these individuals once and for all" to in the short term "how do I limit their on going activities" through to the long term "how do I discorage them from their anti-social outlook and behaviour"

However in the long term the reactionary question
"how do I discorage them from their anti-social outlook and behaviour" would be better said as the proactive "How do I encorage people with this Alpha Trait to be sociataly constructive".

A good place to start is to look initialy inwards you need to start by assessing your position within a particular society within a world of differing societies. This involves studing the history of your culture and assessing what was of benifit and what was not to the improvemnt of your society in general.

Then when you understand how you and your society arrived at where you currently are and it's historical and present failings, you then need to likewise look at others in their societies and how they got where they currently are.

When you understand this then you may be able to start comming up with solutions that actually work long term, or atleast understand what is not going to work.

On the question of "How do I encorage people with this Alpha Trait to be sociataly constructive, not destructive" two areas you might want to consider are "personal gain", the other is the society they are nurtured in.

By personal gain I do not mean "materialistic gain" for many, personal gain is a obtained by improving things for others around them (think Art, Science, Medicine etc). For these people to florish they need a stable society to develop in where they obtain the rewards they find comensurate with their endevors.

Ed T.August 22, 2005 11:52 AM

@JohnJ:

Well, I get that settles it: the only way to travel is naked, and in a state of suspended animation ;-)

Maybe Con-Air will start offering regular passenger service ;-)

Davi OttenheimerAugust 22, 2005 12:12 PM

@ SAH

"As a counter point, you could bring up the insanity of heartland-bred idiots like Tim McVeigh. There are/were way too few who shared the same basis of his hatred. His murderous act in that sense can be deemed almost random: and hence very difficult to secure against."

Interesting rationalization, but probably not a very wise approach to threats. The groups that McVeigh associated himself with are actually quite easy to infiltrate and secure against. The problem is that many people in the US do not actually understand the threat. That is what really distinguishes them from Al Queda for Intelligence and counter-measures. Incidentally, McVeigh was from Buffalo, New York. Some might say he spent his formative years in the Iraq War as well as running with radical (e.g. white supremacy) militias in Michigan, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. His knowledge of Oklahoma targets was apparently related to his time spent stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 22, 2005 12:25 PM

I actually support the flight attendants if they are trying to make flights safer. But I question statements like this:

"could pose a safety risk on board the aircraft and lead to incidents that terrorize passengers"

The criteria for banning should at least include "serious" or "imminent" or some other qualifier to suggest that the risk is unacceptable.

Frankly, I think the fact that people are so crammed for space is a major contributor to risk of attack by fellow passengers, and I do not see flight attendants lobbying on our behalf for more private/secure or roomy accomodations. I'd rather sit in a little room of my own, similar to economy train travel, than share a giant uncomfortable tube devoid of any sharp handheld objects...

ProbitasAugust 22, 2005 2:00 PM

I just got back from a 2 week stay in Brazil, and with 13 flights in that time period I had many opportunities to observe airline "safety" measures here and abroad. Some are on point, some a bit off, but interesting, nonetheless.

1) We went through 3 different airport screenings stateside, all staffed by the high level, new and improved TSA, with no flags raised. At our first checkpoint in Brazil, the "less rigorous" screeners at the x-ray found a set of 8 precision screwdrivers in my wife's carry on, which had passed undetected through all those US checkpoints in the same position. Once it was determined that they were tools, they were returned to us and we were allowed to pass.

2) The metal silverware provided with our dinner and breakfast meals on the international flights included a serrated knife, which would have been at least as effective as a fingernail file, yet we somehow weren't highjacked.

3) The sole x-ray machine at one of the airports was shut down for service, so they simply abandoned the checkpoint, and all passengers entered the plane without any screening. Again, we were not highjacked.

We have this fundamental reliance on any installed procedure to provide "security". The desire to implement that procedure to the Nth degree, no matter how ricuculous, in the name of "making sure this never happens again" causes us to loose perspective of what our real goal is, and what a reasonable path to that goal might be. Thus, the attendant's insistance that nail files continue to be viewed as contraband can be viewed as reasonable only if you forget that the goal is securing the plane against highjackers, and not banning anything which could conceivably hurt somebody.

Frank McGowanAugust 22, 2005 4:14 PM

Some comments on the comments...
No, profiling is *not* perfect and it *can* lead the assumptions behind it to blind you to real and unexpected (though sometimes predictable) threats. It is *still* better than nothing and probably better than the "random" searches currently used. Maybe we should do profiling *AND* truly random searches if we are going to stick with this obviously broken model.

I like the idea of the luggage locker/freight container idea. I would like it even more if each container was depressurized/pressurized to simulate a random number of takeoff/landing cycles prior to being loaded on the plane. That way, altitude sensing bombs in the luggage could be induced to blow up while everyone was still safely on the ground and the perpetrator(s) were still in the passenger boarding lounge...

I also think that large aircraft (737 or larger?) should relocate the cockpit entrance from an internal aisle to the exterior of the craft with *absolutely* no internal access. Long range aircrat, like 747 or corresponding Airbus models used for long flights could have a private crew cabin with cots, head, galley and direect cockpit access. That way no coercion could *possibly* get the flight deck crew to open the non-existent door. An additional obstacle to unauthorized cockpit entry would be a double wall with the space between the cockpit wall and the passenger cabin wall exposed to ambient air pressure. In that way, even cutting through them at altitude becomes problematic. Using a bomb to breach both walls is no more dangerous than a bomb in any other place on the plane.

It should also be noted that pressurized aircraft punctured by small arms bullets (25mm or less in diameter, non-explosive) do *not* decompress in an explosivve manner. At least, not accordng to friends who purport to know due to military experience . The use of pressurized cabins in B-29 bombers duing WWII supports their assertion; some (but not all) B29 aircraft suffering cabin damage made it back to base. An additional example is the Aloha Airways (I think that was the company...) 747 that lost an entire row of seats in First Class when its skin failed and a gaping hole suddenly appeared while the plane was at medium altitude. I think it was at 15,000 feet or something like that...

Perhaps the proper response would be a combination of the locker containers and exterior cockpit entrance mentioned above with the issuance of firearms to willing adult passengers; medium frame revolvers with frangible bullets would do nicely. The instruction to *shoot* anyone announcing a hijacking would be issued with the pistol and the promise of indemnification if he/she is proven to have shot or even killed a fellow passenger *while* *responding* to a hijacking. Passengers accidentally killed through poor marksmanship are a regrettable and unfortunate consequence of this policy but will be considerably fewer in number than passengers killed in a purposeful crash. The fact that the average law enforcement officer (in the US) only hits his/her intended target 1 in either 4 or 5 shots should be enough to argue against relying on Air Marshalls or FBI agents on board the plane. (The FBI did a study when they selected the 10mm years ago and I'm sure their data are still available somewhere.)

Even if you arm hijackers in this way, you also serve notice that there *will* be other armed persons on board. I think they would find that a novel circumstance.

Benefits:
Obnoxious passengers would be *much* less so if they *knew* their fellow passengers and the stew-crew were armed. OK; maybe we should stop serving alcohol to people with pistols. :-)

We can go back to carrying fingernail clippers.

We can skip the TSA (Terribly Snotty Attitude??) "security checks" and get on the plane in a reasonable time!

As a joke, I long ago suggested BNA (B*tt Naked Airways) where every flight was actually two: one for the passengers (in the buff *and* anesthetized) and one for the luggage. That limits the potential aircrew casualties from a luggage-born bomb to the relatively few on the freighter carrying the bags. As a side benefit, passengers sleeping on cots could just about be stacked like cordwood permitting heretofore undreamt of passenger densities... ;-)


On a final serious note, as someone mentioned earlier, current search practices *do not* and *cannot* find more than a tiny fraction of the potential weapons that can be carried aboard an aircraft. What do we do about non-metallic weapons of all sorts?

Mark WheelerAugust 22, 2005 4:35 PM

@Probitas:

Interesting observations on your Brazil trip. You mention: "insistance that nail files continue to be viewed as contraband can be viewed as reasonable only if you forget that the goal is securing the plane agaiinst highjackers, and not banning anything which could conceivably hurt somebody".

In '99, Khalid Shiekh Mohammad, yeah, he of Daniel Pearl murder infamy, hijacked an Indian Airlines flight to Taliban controlled Afghanistan. In some quarters this is believed to have been a dress rehearsal for the 9/11 plan. If my memory serves me right, he along with a few associates used a crude knife to start the hijack and claimed to have a lot more weapons (grenades?) on board that could have brought the plane down. The pilot immediately complied with the demands to divert to Khandahar. I don't remember seeing an article on whether the grenade possession was indeed legitimate.

In the US post 9-11, such ready compliance is not going to happen. Passengers will subdue or even kill the protagonists, pilots have been educated on tactics including sudden drops in altitude, depressurization of the cabin etc. Yet, these are mostly untested scenarios and fortunately so. Motivated fundamentalists willing to die for their misguided causes should be kept far away from anything, uhh, "dangerous".

The flight attendants' comment: "Even a plane that is attacked and results in only a few deaths would seriously jeopardize the progress we have all made in restoring confidence of the flying public" is sadly, true. Nail clippers that I have seen appear too benign, but some ice picks don't to me. Everyone's mileage varies! The TSA has a painful problem to deal with.

Stephen DedalusAugust 22, 2005 5:02 PM

WRT profiling, I think just about every reasonable refutation of SAH's proposal has been covered, save one: who's an Arab (or a Turkoman or an Chechen) and who is qualified to make that determination? If I was born in Amman, and I get a fake driver's license that says I'm a Brazilian named Moreira, what special training has the security staff had that will detect my subterfuge? Ok, maybe that's far-fetched, so what if I'm Pakistani and claim to be a Hindu from Maharashtra? If I am a Sudanese Muslim who is phenotypically "African," who should decide that I warrant additional scrutiny? Suppose the screener guesses correctly, and I begin to cause a scene in eloquent Spanish / Hindi / Swahili? Would the screener feel foolish? would he wave me through?

I also find the oft-proposed "you could never hijack a plane again" pronouncement entirely silly. For the passengers to subdue a hijacker, they have to get to him without becoming seriously injured. This is not an easy proposition when 1) the defender is reasonably well-armed (say with a rather long blade or a firearm) 2) the defender exploits the terrain (e.g., forcing passengers to climb over unconscious or dead comrades) 3) the defender is able to intimidate his adversaries in any substantial way.

This is why there are (or should be) reasonable limits on what you can bring on a plane. I haven't heard anyone advocate allowing loaded handguns on commercial flights, so I'm pretty sure we universally recognize that there should be *some* limit. The argument thus reduces to items that 1) can be detected economically, accurately, and reliably 2) present a substantial danger to human life when wielded by a person of high aptitude and 3) are not so essential or commonplace that passengers ought not be expected to do without them for several hours). Reasoned minds can disagree about what falls into this category, and distinctions will always be somewhat arbitrary, but that's no reason not to attempt to make them.

Stephen

SAHAugust 22, 2005 6:46 PM

Stephen said: "WRT profiling, I think just about every reasonable refutation of SAH's proposal has been covered".

Let me run through the thread and try to be as brief as possible :-):

1. (From colorado20): Problem is creating a system .... easy to exploit.
[SAH]: Agreed. Keep working at it so it is not always static. Err on the side of excess. State its purpose as so.

2. (From colorado20): Random selection ... better chance of success.
[SAH]: Disagree. Random searches on top of this, sure. Just random all the way does not cut it based on my understanding of probability.

3. (From colorado20): CAPPS, CAPPS-II, and Secure Flight ... sole decider of who receives additional screening.
[SAH]: Shouldn't be so. Human judgement must be applied also. No dictate that human judgement is subservient to the computer system.

4. (From Thomas Sprinkmeier): The problem is that >99% of those 15% are innocent.
[SAH]: Yes. Why, even 99.999%. State is as so.

5. (From peachpuff): ask probing questions at check in, training airport workers in human behavior, finding out who funded past attacks
[SAH] Excellent points: my point is simply adding a basis for selection -- a warning sign, if you will, on the screener's monitor that will also consider: age (e.g., all of the 9/11 hijackers were between 21 and 40), country of birth, declared religion, ever used aliases (e.g., 11 of the 19 9/11 hijackers used aliases -- actively track alias usage in federal/financial systems). Provide this to the screener as guidance. They can and should override based on judgement and receive training on how to exercise such judgement. The criteria should also be tweaked and researched better so it is not static. And yes, it can surely be thwarted. This is not fool-proof. The aim is to do something better than what is in play today.

6. (From peachpuff): "Stop thinking about who you can sacrifice to save yourself and start thinking about who can help save you".
[SAH]: Emotionally painful and ultimately irritating, yes. It is far from the end of the world for those chosen for more scrutiny. Devise laws that prohibit extending this selection beyond airline security lines (I know, that is being idealistic). I concede that you do have a solid point. It would be awesome if the "target" group is actively involved to formulate and monitor the policies/system, and even educate. But may be they shoot down the very basis in the first place!

7. (From peachpuff): "Racial and religious discrimination aren't just politically incorrect. They have a long history of bogus premises, disastrous results, and apologists ...".
[SAH]: True. This is discrimination against Islamic fundamentalism by those who are sane enough to reject it totally. The method suggested requires additional hardship (only in airline security lines) for a large group (!= entire population) with deemed higher proclivity towards Islamic fundamentalism, given our limited data points. The stated purpose is to attempt to debar a pathetic few from a larger 99.999%+ innocent group. As long as it is not stretched beyond airline security lines (admittedly a challenge), this makes it categorically different from blanket religious persecution.

8. [From DarkFire]: "There is *no* accurate racial profile for a terrorist".
[SAH]: Racial may be the wrong word here because it is not aligned by race. I did mention Richard Reid. Let us use 'indicative profile'. For a terrorist per se, there is nothing clear. For an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist, we have a few data points right now (religious affirmation, educational background, country of birth are very strong correlators, that *may* eventually get diluted or invalidated). Let us use what we can until if/when it is abundantly clear that all the correlators are off.

9. [From DarkFire]: "shown that based on the current situations in Israel & Iraq, although suicide terrorists are likely to be form poor backgrounds and are likely not to be educated to any real standard, the non-suicide terrorist (i.e. the planners, technical & support infrastructure) is likely to be from a modestly affluent background & is likely to have a degree of some form"
[SAH]: That was what I too assumed. My argument here, in the context of airline security lines, was to protect against the less educated, suicidal maniacs.

10. [From DarkFire]: "As ever, profiling can only take security so far - the very best security is most often available form humans"
[SAH]: Totally agree. My point was to refine the profiling component, and I maintain it needs to have a basis today that starts off with religious affiliation and country of birth/previous/current residence. And, heck, if there are other good correlators (fireman, professor, doctor, young kids?) that disclude people with such a basis, let us use them. Let us not deny that as stand-alone factors, religious affiliation, country of birth/previous/current residence are hugely influential, and factor them into the equation.

11. [From Clive R]:
[SAH]: I need to think about your intriguing post before responding.

12. [From Davi O]: "....The groups that McVeigh associated himself with are actually quite easy to infiltrate and secure against. ..."
[SAH]: Agreed,a dn good point. My point here was for airline security, specifically. The US bred lunatics and "fringe groups", to my knowledge, are not associated with suicide threats and aircraft.

13. [Frank M]: "No, profiling is *not* perfect and it *can* lead the assumptions behind it to blind you to real and unexpected (though sometimes predictable) threats. It is *still* better than nothing and probably better than the "random" searches currently used."
[SAH]: Yes, exactly what I was trying to articulate.

14. [From Stpehen]: "I think just about every reasonable refutation of SAH's proposal has been covered, save one"
[SAH]: The profiling can be made smarter, but will be far from perfect. As long as it continuously improves, the bar for someone wishing to subvert it becomes higher. Provided it does not piss off too many and create a breeding ground for them.

TrevorAugust 23, 2005 8:53 AM

Ms. Friend has obviously got no clue how easy it is to kill another human being with your bare hands. Otherwise she would insist that all passengers fly with manacles.

But as long as she has the illusion of safety while flying through the air at 30,000 feet in a thin metal box, why I suppose any sacrifice I have to make, such as not being able to bring my screwdrivers on board despite the fact that I am a computer tech, is worth it.

ZwackAugust 23, 2005 12:18 PM

Simon, your idea of the lockers is almost right...

But much better to put the passengers into little canisters. Give them a small toilet, and a dispenser for drinks/snacks and they can stay locked in their secure container until they land. If we design the containers right then we can even equip them with parachutes and flotation devices in case of emergencies.

First class passengers would get bigger/more comfortable containers.

Given that you couldn't interact with anyone else this would be the safest way to fly. Perhaps we can even load the containers from outside the plane so that the same aircraft can carry cargo, passengers, whatever.

Z.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 23, 2005 4:31 PM

@Zwack
I was just thinking the same thing, but I envisioned being seated into a small cabin right at the front check-in. Again typical Victorian-era train cabins come to mind since they had facilities nearby and luggage storage built-in. The cabin could run along rails right to the plane where it would be neatly stacked, just like the containers you see for shipping companies. Passengers could still interact via videoconf or phone.

BTW, flight attendants often say their first priority is passenger safety. Yet most of us know them for their food/beverage service. Is there any data on the number of lives saved by flight attendants? Or, for that matter, do the life-vests really do us any good? Has anyone ever survived a water-crash by swimming away? Not that I'm advocating for/against either. Just curious if the data is ever compiled and reviewed to help address risks...

RogerAugust 24, 2005 6:58 AM

@Davi:
"Yet most of us know them for their food/beverage service."

Interestingly, I heard that the "waitress" function of hosties was originally introduced simply to disguise the fact that they were really there for crowd control in accidents. No references though, and possibly an urban legend since even in the early days some flights were long enough to make food and drink a necessity.

"Is there any data on the number of lives saved by flight attendants?"

Sorry, I don't know of any overall statistics, but I am aware of a number of individual cases. Actually first-aid medical assistance is pretty common. Most are trained to quite a high level of first-aiding, such as operation of ventricular defibrillators (which are carried on most flights). They also have a number of other saftey related duties.

"Or, for that matter, do the life-vests really do us any good? Has anyone ever survived a water-crash by swimming away?"

Depends on the weather: North Atlantic winter, well, arguably it's a bit better than burning to death; Indian Ocean summer, yep, every chance of survival if the pilot still has control over the aircraft when it ditches. According to the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the average survival rate of those who ditch in the ocean with life-jackets is about 75%. Not great, but far too good to warrant fatalism. The big factor is how well the pilot puts the aircraft down (most, of course, have no experience at all of landing on water). Worst case scenario is the plane makes an uncontrolled crash, in which case even if you survive the impact the fuselage damage will probably be so great the aircraft will sink before everyone can get out. Best case scenario (other than safe landing at intended destination!) is an undercarriage up, slightly nose up stall into the wind and onto the top of rising swell, with outflow valves still closed; in that case, most aircraft will float for hours and some will float indefinitely.

alijaxNovember 2, 2005 4:17 PM

Many of you believe that relaxing the carry-on rules would be a great idea. However, I am here to tell you about an incident on my flight that may change your mind. Two young men on my flight brought their own stash of liquour onboard (unknowningly to us) and proceeded to become intoxicated. We suspect that they were doing drugs in the lav as well.They started out by throwing objects at passengers, kicking the lav. door among many things. Their behavoir became increasing hostile to the point where they were threatening not only the crew but other passengers as well. It was a seen right out of "Cops" as we had to break out the tough cuffs and hog tie them in my back galley with the aid of about 5 or 6 men. I do not even want to think about what could have happened if these guys had the kind of dangerous items TSA wants to bring back (ie box cutters, small knives etc). True, they would never make it passed the cock-pit door but how would you feel about your children, sister or mom was sitting among drugies like these guys who had a box-cutter?
alijax (19 year flight attendant)

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