Airplane Security

My seventh column is on line. Nothing you haven’t heard before, except for this part:

I know quite a lot about this. I was a member of the government’s Secure Flight Working Group on Privacy and Security. We looked at the TSA’s program for matching airplane passengers with the terrorist watch list, and found a complete mess: poorly defined goals, incoherent design criteria, no clear system architecture, inadequate testing. (Our report was on the TSA website, but has recently been removed—”refreshed” is the word the organization used—and replaced with an “executive summary” (.doc) that contains none of the report’s findings. The TSA did retain two (.doc) rebuttals (.doc), which read like products of the same outline and dismiss our findings by saying that we didn’t have access to the requisite information.) Our conclusions match those in two (.pdf) reports (.pdf) by the Government Accountability Office and one (.pdf) by the DHS inspector general.

That’s right; the TSA is disappearing our report.

I also wrote an op ed for the Sydney Morning Herald on “weapons”—like the metal knives distributed with in-flight meals—aboard aircraft, based on this blog post. Again, nothing you haven’t heard before. (And I stole some bits from your comments to the blog posting.)

There is new news, though. The TSA is relaxing the rules for bringing pointy things on aircraft:.

The summary document says the elimination of the ban on metal scissors with a blade of four inches or less and tools of seven inches or less – including screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers – is intended to give airport screeners more time to do new types of random searches.

Passengers are now typically subject to a more intensive, so-called secondary search only if their names match a listing of suspected terrorists or because of anomalies like a last-minute ticket purchase or a one-way trip with no baggage.

The new strategy, which has been tested in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Orange County, Calif., will mean that a certain number of passengers, even if they are not identified by these computerized checks, will be pulled aside and subject to an added search lasting about two minutes. Officials said passengers would be selected randomly, without regard to ethnicity or nationality.

What happens next will vary. One day at a certain airport, carry-on bags might be physically searched. On the same day at a different airport, those subject to the random search might have their shoes screened for explosives or be checked with a hand-held metal detector. “By design, a traveler will not experience the same search every time he or she flies,” the summary said. “The searches will add an element of unpredictability to the screening process that will be easy for passengers to navigate but difficult for terrorists to manipulate.”

The new policy will also change the way pat-down searches are done to check for explosive devices. Screeners will now search the upper and lower torso, the entire arm and legs from the mid-thigh down to the ankle and the back and abdomen, significantly expanding the area checked.

Currently, only the upper torso is checked. Under the revised policy, screeners will still have the option of skipping pat-downs in certain areas “if it is clear there is no threat,” like when a person is wearing tight clothing making it obvious that there is nothing hidden. But the default position will be to do the more comprehensive search, in part because of fear that a passenger could be carrying plastic explosives that might not set off a handheld metal detector.

I don’t know if they will still make people take laptops out of their cases, make people take off their shoes, or confiscate pocket knives. (Different articles have said different things about the last one.)

This is a good change, and it’s long overdue. Airplane terrorism hasn’t been the movie-plot threat that everyone worries about for a while.

The most amazing reaction to this is from Corey Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants:

When weapons are allowed back on board an aircraft, the pilots will be able to land the plane safety but the aisles will be running with blood.

How’s that for hyperbole?

In Beyond Fear and elsewhere, I’ve written about the notion of “agenda” and how it informs security trade-offs. From the perspective of the flight attendants, subjecting passengers to onerous screening requirements is a perfectly reasonable trade-off. They’re safer—albeit only slightly—because of it, and it doesn’t cost them anything. The cost is an externality to them: the passengers pay it. Passengers have a broader agenda: safety, but also cost, convenience, time, etc. So it makes perfect sense that the flight attendants object to a security change that the passengers are in favor of.

EDITED TO ADD (12/2): The SFWG report hasn’t been removed from the TSA website, just unlinked.

EDITED TO ADD (12/20): The report seems to be gone from the TSA website now, but it’s available here.

Posted on December 1, 2005 at 10:14 AM56 Comments


Pat Cahalan December 1, 2005 10:33 AM

“running with blood”

Coming soon, the movie event of the summer… “BLOOD RIVER ON FLIGHT 209”

mpd December 1, 2005 10:36 AM

Who needs to bring throwing stars onto an airplane to begin with? Is there some international ninja conference I’m unaware of?

Bruce Schneier December 1, 2005 10:48 AM

“Who needs to bring throwing stars onto an airplane to begin with? Is there some international ninja conference I’m unaware of?”

Isn’t that a tautology? If there ever were an International Ninja Conference, none of us would be aware of it.

jammit December 1, 2005 11:12 AM

Everybody here seems to forget that all of that sloshing blood would throw a plane off balance. Maybe they need to add a coagulant to the internal fire supression? I’m happy to see that the airline security is getting less retarded as time goes by. Random searches will make it more difficult to bring on an implement to take over a plane, but I’m curious to what happens to all the passengers when someone is caught. If they don’t check everybody when one guy is caught, then it would be pretty easy to arm a few guys so if one gets caught, the others can still get on with the mission.

Bruce Schneier December 1, 2005 11:15 AM

“If they don’t check everybody when one guy is caught, then it would be pretty easy to arm a few guys so if one gets caught, the others can still get on with the mission.”

Once you start thinking about collusion, there are all sorts of attacks. If you have five guys selected to go on the mission, have them walk through airport security unarmed. Then low-level “mules” can try to bring weapons through airport security, and keep trying until enough of them succeed.

The main hope for security here is that attacks that requre a lot of people tend to collapse under their own weight: someone panics and talks, someone slips up, etc.

AJ Fish December 1, 2005 11:18 AM

“Airplane terrorism hasn’t been the movie-plot threat that everyone worries about for a while.”

Ok, but in Beyond Fear you mentioned copy cat criminals and crimes. Is the time window in which copy cats usually strike now closed?

mpd December 1, 2005 11:50 AM

“If there ever were an International Ninja Conference, none of us would be aware of it.”

Oh, you’d be aware of it. But only after they stealthily descended on the Airport Ramada Inn, conferenced and disappeared into the night… on Flight 404 to Tampa.

Anonymous December 1, 2005 11:50 AM

For anybody who is interested, below are some links to my own secrity rants taken from my columns at, one of which is an excerpt from my book:

Terrorism, Tweezers, and Terminal Madness:

Airport security’s dirty little secret:

Nathaniel Heatwole’s folly:

Salon is a subscriber site, but you can gain free entry by watching a short ad. Look for the “site pass” option. (Or, of course, you can subscribe.)

Patrick Smith

bjc December 1, 2005 12:06 PM

“Airplane terrorism hasn’t been the movie-plot threat that everyone worries about for a while.”

Since 9/11? Before 9/11, everyone would have considered hijacked airplanes being flown into the World Trade Center a movie-plot threat.

Karsten W. Rohrbach December 1, 2005 12:08 PM

Perhaps this one goes together with your article on Google privacy…
Everybody googling for “snap neck” will be arrested, so all “living weapons” will be confiscated before flight as well.
Sidenote: the only association I got with running blood in an airplane was a flight attendand on an international flight some years ago who managed to cut her vein while opening some sealed-in stuff — barbecue sauce, I believe.

Jarrod December 1, 2005 12:18 PM

“I don’t know if they will still make people take laptops out of their cases”

I had to take laptops out of their cases and power them on long before 9/11.

Ed T. December 1, 2005 1:04 PM

Yeah, so did I. And, once, Win95 did it’s “let’s take 15 minutes to rebuild the internal driver database” thing, and I shut down the entire airport screening line until it finished (you couldn’t power off the system, unless you wanted to turn your PC into an expensive doorstop.) Really PO’d the screeners, too, but nothing they could do about it.


Arachnid December 1, 2005 1:09 PM

Does screening for people who bought short-booked tickets or one-way tickets with no luggage really work? Surely no terrorist is going to be stupid enough to book one-way tickets the day before their planned attack,and not bring any luggage?

Nikita Borisov December 1, 2005 1:34 PM

Wow, what a quote:

“Whenever you are serving alcohol, you have a double duty to those who are present to protect them from someone who goes off the deep end,” Slepian said. “If we allow people to carry things that are really deadly weapons on board airplanes, we’re inviting trouble.””

Why don’t we start banning small scissors from bars and restaurants serving alcohol? While we’re at it, let’s ban glass containers, too.

Jim Gerber December 1, 2005 1:47 PM

Amanda Vanstone’s comments and this article were both a breath of fresh air. We live in a world full of rhetoric and optics, in which both individuals and politicians too frequently fail to use basic common sense. As Mr. Schneier indicates, the time when a terrorist could hijack an airplane with a knife ended on September 11th. Preventing passengers from bringing tiny scissors or pocketknives on a trip is akin to locking the barn door after the horses have all escaped. There are numerous worthwhile expenses such as reinforced cockpit doors that we can put our tax dollars to use on. But let’s have an open and honest discussion about what works and what doesn’t and focus our time, money and energey on what matters. That is what leadership is really all about. If I were an Australian, I would enthusiastically vote for Ms. Vanstone in her future political aspirations.

Jim Gerber
Menlo Park, California

Rusty Felty December 1, 2005 1:50 PM

I emailed Bruce, and he asked me to post my comments in his blog:
Mr. Schneier,
I read your recent article in WIRED about how most of the money we spend on airport security is wasted, and I find, as a frequent business flyer, that I agree with most of what you said in the article. I have a question for you, as a professional security consultant. I have seen this idea bruited about quite a bit since 9/11, and it seems to make good sense to me, but you never see anyone in a position of authority even discussing it. The idea is simply this: Instead of making sure that no item that could possibly be used as a weapon, no matter how ridiculous (think nail clippers, matches, etc.) be allowed on a plane, why not take the opposite tack and encourage people to be armed when flying? Even if you had 6 or 7 terrorists on a plane, they would have to think twice about facing a crowd of 30 or 50 armed Americans, and even if they decided to press forward with an attack, it seems they would be subdued much more easily by a large and armed crowd. The passengers on the Pennsylvania flight on 9/11 managed to do it with nothing more than a drink cart and some hot water – if they had been armed, they may have saved their own lives as well. Anyway, I am interested to see your opinion of this strategy.

Rusty Felty, MCSE
Senior Technical Analyst
Liberty Mutual

Tonganoxie City Fire Department

Rusty Felty December 1, 2005 2:27 PM

I’m not saying they should stop screening for bombs – I just think if all the passengers were armed, then it would be either very hard or impossible for a small group of armed terrorists to pull off a hijacking. And I don’t think they are making anyone safer by taking away bic lighters and fingernail clippers.

Martin L. Buchanan December 1, 2005 2:29 PM

From Bruce’s article posted 12/1/05, near the end:

Then we could take all the money we save and apply it to intelligence, investigation and emergency response.
These are security measures that pay dividends regardless of what the
terrorists are planning next.

With the “black” budget now revealed as being $44 billion per year, it
is very likely that the intelligence functions of government get too
much money. Zeroing out all of the existing intelligence bureaucracies,
replacing the CIA with CNN and the National Reconaissance Office with
Google Earth, might make sense. Then add back the few capabilities that
are really needed.

Several other random comments:

  1. The government now has multiple billions of dollars in programs
    justified by the terrorist threat. Genuine terrorists in the U.S. are rare. In these circumstances the government will manufacture terrorists or misclassify people as terrorists whenver possible.
    Think about how many peoples’ livelihood in the Middle Ages depended on
    catching “witches.”
  2. It would be interesting to sum up “security” spending broadly defined in the U.S.: homeland security, military and related costs, police, criminal justice, prisons, parole, private security, alarm
    companies, preparedness products, consultants … perhaps throw in computer security, unneeded medical tests, some forms of insurance.
    The costs of security likely exceed a trillion dollars / 10% of GDP.
  3. In your position you need to beware of pundit decay. You became an
    authority with a careful facts-based approach to your subject, plus
    lots of knowledge, hard work, and original thinking. Now that you are
    an authority, even your hasty or superficial opinions can be published
    and treated as worthwhile, or even as gospel, by editors, readers, and

I continue to enjoy your work.

Martin L. Buchanan, MCSD

mpd December 1, 2005 2:35 PM

@ Rusty Felty

I’m trying to think of things that would make me feel less safe on an airplane… the list is very short.

Koray Can December 1, 2005 2:54 PM


The problem is the same as the one faced by the passengers of the first flight on 9/11. They just don’t know if the terrorists are just hijacking the plane for money, or going to crash it into a building.
If you are certain that you are going to die with thousands of people, you surely would risk your life and draw your weapon, and there’ll be bloodshed. Moreover, the terrorists can still win ; after all, they are trained and prepared for this.
So, the presence of armed good guys does not guarantee that there will be resistance, nor does it guarantee that if there’s a battle, the bad guys will all die.
Personally, I am not comfortable sitting in any closed area with armed total strangers where a regular Joe can have a Columbine episode.

Woody December 1, 2005 3:10 PM

@ Rusty Felty @ mpd

So if you knew that I had routinely carried two knives on every flight I’d taken for about 5 years (flying fairly often on business), you would feel very uncomfortable?

One 2″ bladed folding pocket knife in my pants, and one leatherman with 3, 3″ blades, two of which are serrated and give nasty cuts (accidentally to myself in the past).

Our famed shoe bomber was subdued by the crowd at hand. Taking over a flight by force is done and over with. As soon as people find out it’s happening, the person doing so is going to be swarmed by the other people. They’ll be barefisted, or they’ll take their plastic forks, snap off two of the teeth, and go in with that (enough to get the juglar, if you’re good).

What about someone trained in martial arts? I have friends that kill with a single blow, armed or unarmed. The cramped quarters reduces the effectiveness, but it’s still there.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the next round of terrorists ARE unarmed. One can still do a great amount of damage to other people with just their bare hands.

But how’s that for movie-plot threats? “Ninjas Hijack 747, more at eleven!!!”

James December 1, 2005 3:12 PM

“…baggage security — both ensuring that a passenger’s bags don’t fly unless he does…”.

Why isn’t this irrelevent? There are definitely cases where that might legitimately not be possible: I sometimes end up wanting to change a flight, but the baggage can’t be loaded onto the same plane in time, so I can’t make the change. Sometimes the luggage doesn’t make the connection, and I’m flying on a separate plane anyway.

Since the terrorists have shown a willingness to blow themselves up along with the luggage, what difference does it make whether the bags and passenger are together?

Lanse December 1, 2005 3:20 PM

You are right about the efforts of the TSA being worthless.
Unless you are flying naked in a plastic tube with
nowhere to hide weapons, you are at risk.
The cleaning crew can put weapons on board,
so searching the passengers is not perfectly useful.

I like the idea of keeping baggage with the

passengers up to flight time.
It forces the bombers to have conviction.
However many of them have shown total conviction.
Metal detectors can be beaten by plastics and ceramics.
So taking grandma’s knitting needles is just being

The passengers defending the plane is the best way
to ensure safety. I trust 50 strangers wanting to live,
against 5 that don’t.
To that end: My radical idea.
Put knives in where the air masks sit.
If the pilot hits a button, everyone is armed.
Citizens united in common cause.
Peace through strength.

After 9/11 Rush asked the questions:
With all that we know now,
could we arrest those guys at the airport?
Does all the database work in the world give the cops
to arrest someone? How would the ACLU respond?

I have a couple daughters, I do not want all of
thier purchases
in some database available for a horned up FBI agent
to view.
I do not want GPS on all cars, so someone could know
when nobody
is home. Don’t just give police more toys.
Do things that will make a real difference to the

Our constitution prohibits cruel and unusual
I am against cruelty, it lowers our moral standing.
We should look into more unusual punishments.
Find some things that the Islamafascists will not

havvok December 1, 2005 3:23 PM


I have to say, that nothing would make me feel more nervous than sitting in a closed environment with a group of well armed Americans, the majority of whom are just itching to ‘be a hero’.

This may seem like a gross generalization, but when you ask people to volunteer to put themselves, unarmed, in danger, few volunteer. When you ask people to volunteer, armed as they see fit, to put themselves in danger, many volunteer.

This is because of the perception that having a weapon gives you power. The fallacy of this is such that a weapon only gives you power if you have the conviction and skill to use it.

Twice I have been in a situation where someone has threatened me with a weapon, and I have taken it from them. This is solely because the person brandishing the weapon did not respect the danger presented by the weapon, they did not wield it properly, while I recognized the threat and applied the training I have received in the armed forces.

If I was a terrorist in your environment I would round up a few of my compatriots, and board a plane completely unarmed. I would pass through security watching the inspectors screening people for bombs and undergoing common security tasks. I would note who had a weapon, and of those, I would look for the people who lacked the characteristics of people who are trained and confident.

When the time is right, my team would take the weapons from the people we had identified as marks, and immediately use them on the people who exhibited the confidence required to use weapons.

The reality of weapons is that when you add weapons to a scenario which includes actors willing to sacrifice lives they can only balance if ALL of the actors in the scenario are willing to sacrifice lives. This is why you don’t hear rational people discussing this as an alternative.

Or, to really nicely simplify it, Mutually Assured Desruction only applies if all sides want to be Assured of the Destruction, and if all sides want to avoid Destruction. Terrorist hijackers are rarely thinking about life after the hijacking, so MAD will rarely succeed.

Weekend_Viking December 1, 2005 3:26 PM

I’m a field geologist, working in Australia, New Zealand, and sometimes South America. Ever since the tightening up of aircraft security in the past few years, I have made a point of testing it. With rocks. I’m always travelling with several hand specimens of various ores or fossils for analysis, and I’ve never had anyone question me as to why my hand luggage has several kilos of rocks in it. (On one flight I remember, close to 30 kilos.) Every so often, aside from the fact that a few kilos of rock make excellent bludgeoning weapons, I’ll throw in a flint hand axe or two among the analytical samples (I taught myself flint knapping years ago) – a heavy (500g-1kilo), pointed, double edged razor sharp hand weapon beloved of early hominids.

I’ve never had airport security blink about this, in Australia, NZ, Chile, Tahiti and the US (admittedly, in the US, before 9/11) even when 20 kilos of rock trundles through the x-ray. They pat me down, use the explosive sniffer on me, x-ray my boots, confiscate my nail clippers and then let me pick up the bag of bludgeons and sharp rocks, and walk onto the plane. Once they even let me on with a three foot rod of heavy basalt drill core, and they were concerned about that, not because of its weapon-like possibilities, but because it was old (2.5 billion years) and I may have been stealing a national treasure (I carefully explained just how much of that part of Australia was that old, and therefore not that important).

So, pointed rocks, cutting edge technology of the Olduvai Gorge, excellent for giving modern aircraft security the gyp. And far more effective than a box cutter.

mpd December 1, 2005 3:38 PM


When a person says “armed” to me, I think “gun”. So my response was in thinking of 50 people with guns. I think that’s bad.

50 people with knives? Eh… I can live with that, especially knives the size you carry (I carry knives that big as well.)

People trained in martial arts? I admit I’m totally ignorant of martial arts training, but isn’t one their things like “we train to do this stuff, but hope we never have to?” or something similar?

My uneasiness about 50 gun-toting passengers is that sure, they might train a lot to shoot the gun. But there’s a big difference between shooting at targets on the range, and being on a full airplane full of 100 panicking people and 5 terrorists.

Killing someone with your barehands requires a crap load of training and a very deliberate (I’m hoping) action to do it. (You know who you’re about to kill, it’s the person on whom you’re performing the 5-point exploding heart palm technique.)

Killing someone with a knife doesn’t require any training, but it does require a certain amount of effort. And again, there’s a physical proximity required. You don’t hear in stabbing cases, “Sorry, I was going for the guy a couple feet behind you.”

Killing someone with a gun is relatively easy (I’m thinking of physical actions required), requires moderate training and because you can do it from a distance, can greatly increases the chance that someone other than the intended target will get hit.

You could say “well, 1 innocent death to save 100 other people is worth it.” And I would say to you, “All I can do is hope I never have to make that decision.”

KerryT December 1, 2005 3:49 PM

I’m increasingly forming the opinion that aircraft hijacking is no longer possible, with or without the attackers carrying on sharp weapons.

The events of 9/11 brought about many changes in attitude, not only within the airline and government security areas, but also within the public and how they now see and perceive threats.

Consider this : if a hijacker on an aircraft in transit jumps up, starts yelling and waving his sharp weapon of choice around, and even grabs the nearest crew member – what will happen next? 5 years ago, the response would have been for everyone to sit down, be quiet, and follow instructions ( the movies probably taught us that ). But now this is all different, because it is well known that a hijacker in such a position can kill all aboard the plane and many on the ground. I expect that in such a situation nowadays, almost every passenger on board would jump on the hijacker immediately.

We see the same kind of agenda-driven scare tactics every day in the IT security industry. Many obsevers make doom-and-gloom predictions about cyber meltdown due to the latest virus or whatever malware is going around this week. But they always ignore the “blue teams” – the large mass of people who are quite capable and motivated in stopping this from happenning.

Scott December 1, 2005 3:50 PM


Just curious…is that Liberty Mutual’s official position? is there a new insurance product around “Killed by a fellow passenger?”


Bruce Schneier December 1, 2005 4:14 PM

“I’m increasingly forming the opinion that aircraft hijacking is no longer possible, with or without the attackers carrying on sharp weapons.”

That was said right after 9/11. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now.

And there already has been a counterexample: a conventional midair hijacking in Colombia in September.

Rusty Felty December 1, 2005 4:16 PM

I absolutely am not representing this option as Liberty’s position – my time left here is so short, I am barely even an employee 😉

Roy Haddad December 1, 2005 4:28 PM


Those are good points, but they neglect the fact that normal knives, or other short-range hand-to-hand weapons are the kinds of things someone could probably get on a plane anyway, so your team of hijackers would not be gaining anything compared to a situation were there is a strict no-sharp-things airline policy. Also, in general, there would be no need to come unarmed and taking weapons from passengers, because you could simply bring weapons yourself. Your scheme would be a very good reason to apply any carry-on policy allowing certain weapons equally, however.

I’m not sure about encouraging people to be armed, but I would definitely support allowing knives and such aboard a plane.

Roy Owens December 1, 2005 5:17 PM

Undo the prohibition on scissors? No, no, no! If we give in now, then all those people inconvenienced for the last four years will have been inconvenienced in vain. Stay the course! Only quittards cower, or something like that.

True patriots drop their pants with pride!

Seriously, in October of 2001 I suggested the airlines arm every passenger with an aluminum baseball bat, or a cheap dull machete. Then if somebody pulled out a gun or a bomb, the passengers would have the advantages of overwhelming odds and a very deep bench.

Plus by law the passengers should be pardoned in advance, even if after they beat the hijackers savagely, they torture the survivors. After all, on a long flight they might have hours to kill.

@Koray Can

After 9/11, anybody dumb enough to try hijacking a plane for money deserves what they get.

havvok December 1, 2005 5:59 PM


The reason boarding unarmed would be ideal is due to the fact that there would still be lists curtailing certain profiles or individuals, and adding restrictions to those individuals.

The problem still exists though, what happens when someone on board a plane because an arabic individual on board has a case of the runs and gets stabbed because they were going back and forth to the bathroom?

Arming people in an attempt to reduce fear is roughly the same as using gunpowder to smother a fire. There is a chance it might work out for the best, but odds are, things will get really ugly.

jammit December 1, 2005 6:06 PM

Smith and Wesson: the original point and click interface.
Wouldn’t it be cool if my seatmate was Ted Nugent?
The idea of bringing you own weapon seems to be a good idea. Unfortunately in an airplane, it’s really difficult to pinch off a round without hitting an important part of the plane while being inside of it. I do see not letting the big stuff onboard (bomb, compound bow, rottweiler) but to allow hand tools (knife, screwdriver, knitting needles). As has been stated earlier here, the rules of hijacking have changed. Fighting back is now an option. And an inbred, cornfed redneck like myself could never pass up an opportunity for a fight.

Roger December 1, 2005 6:20 PM

“Since the terrorists have shown a willingness to blow themselves up along with the luggage, what difference does it make whether the bags and passenger are together?”

a) not all attempted bombings of aircraft are by Islamist suicide bombers (in fact most recent figures I have, number one aeroplane bombers were Colombian drug cartels trying to murder witnesses or law enforcement officials);
b) Recruiting a suicide bomber and getting him onto a plane is a lot harder than slipping a bag onto a conveyor belt, so raises the bar and reduces incidence; and
c) It forces them to send someone through the security checkpoint, so you get more forensics to use to find the rest of the cell.
Finally, this is one security measure passenegers should actually be happy with! I WANT to know that my bags are definitely on the same plane!

Pat Cahalan December 1, 2005 6:42 PM

Re: guns on planes

Cops in LA get lots of firearms training. And yet, there are several stories of multiple officers firing multiple rounds at a target ineffectively. I know at least one officer who has a very high pistol rating and yet has missed a hostile target in a 20′ hallway, just about as easy a target as a paper one at a range.

This is why airline pilots shouldn’t carry guns. Even if they’re ex-military, they just don’t practice enough with a gun to make the probability of an effective hit outweigh the disasterous consequences of loose rounds in the cockpit.

Reduce the skill level a few notches, turn your environment into a crowded airplane with lots of panicked passengers, and you’ll wind up with lots of holes in other passengers and the plane. The second, admittedly, may stop the terrorist activity, but probably only by killing everyone on the plane anyway 🙂

Koray Can December 1, 2005 6:50 PM


I don’t care what such stupid terrorists may get. It’s just that as a passenger I am not getting off my seat unless I am 100% certain that they are going to crash the plane.

Michael Ash December 1, 2005 7:37 PM


“Since 9/11? Before 9/11, everyone would have considered hijacked airplanes being flown into the World Trade Center a movie-plot threat.”

Actually, no. For people who were paying attention, crashing airplanes into things was a very real threat. Aside from hundreds of planes crashed into things to try to destroy them during World War II, there was a hijacking in (approximately?) 1992 which involved a plot to crash the plane into a building, specifically the Eiffel Tower. The hijackers were taken down by security forces on the ground because they had discovered the plan.

Ping-Che Chen December 1, 2005 10:08 PM

Also the FedEx Flight 705 hijacking. Auburn Calloway tried to murder the flight crews and use the airplane to attack FedEx HQ in Memphis.

Anonymous December 1, 2005 10:18 PM

Reading these comments about fear of fellow passengers being armed shows an extraordinary amount of ignorance and TV watching. The media kept, and still, claiming that allowing relatively easy concealed carry permits would cause gunfights and “blod in the streets”. In reality, armed civilians are far safer to be around than armed police.

Davi Ottenheimer December 1, 2005 10:25 PM

“And I stole some bits from your comments to the blog posting”

Excellent. Go (commen) ‘tators!

“I’ll throw in a flint hand axe or two among the analytical samples”

Back to basics, eh? For some reason this suddenly made me imagine a new reality show. Episode one: an airline releases a large wild animal that passengers have to kill with whatever the TSA lets them bring on board.

“Isn’t that a tautology? If there ever were an International Ninja Conference, none of us would be aware of it.”

Ha! That’s a good one. Plus, real ninjas have no need for planes…

Mike December 2, 2005 5:30 AM

Coming from England I can say the absolute LAST thing I and almost all of the rest of the sane world would do is get on a plane with Americans if they knew some of the civilians on board were armed.

I can just imagine some gung-ho yank, armed, still being served alcohol, thinking a guy who looks slightly Arabic might be a terrorist … hilarity would probably not ensue.

Linking back to the article … another reason why profiling doesn’t work:

computers December 2, 2005 7:08 AM

Powering on computers ?
You make it sound like they don’t do this to look for incriminating material, so why on earth do they want to do that ???

Delores Quade December 2, 2005 7:14 AM


“Undo the prohibition on scissors? No, no, no! If we give in now, then all those people inconvenienced for the last four years will have been inconvenienced in vain. Stay the course! Only quittards cower, or something like that.

True patriots drop their pants with pride!”

(giggle)… How long does it take to produce an educated rational thinking professional vs how long it takes to scare someone into preaching about the end of days and voting Republican?

Seriously…(tounge in cheek), a dear friend of mine mentioned to me earlier today something he’s been saying for years now.. thought you might like it as well:

“Knowledge is like heat and light. You have to burn energy to force it into the dark cold corners of the universe and the instant you stop, the cold shadow of ignorance overwhelms you.” (/giggle)

Generic December 2, 2005 10:00 AM

How about this bit of Security Logic:
I recently traveled to Paris, on our return we where asked if we had any lighters, knives etc. I mentioned we had purchased a novelty light up/musical lighter for my GF’s father as a gift. He said we couldn’t take that on the plane and confiscated it. No real surprise, I knew this but had simply forgotten.
So, we get thru their multiple levels and security and get to the terminal. I wander over to the Duty Free shop to browse for a bit. Low and behold they sell those exact same lighters, for a much higher cost of course. At this point I could have bought 2 dozen of them and taken them on the plane as there where no more security checkpoints.
So, note to future “shoe bombers” Get your lighters duty free!

Don December 2, 2005 10:30 AM

“From the perspective of the flight attendants, subjecting passengers to onerous screening requirements is a perfectly reasonable trade-off. They’re safer — albeit only slightly — because of it, and it doesn’t cost them anything.”

Only true in the short-sighted tradition of airlines, though. The ever-increasing inconvenience of air travel does impact the flight attendants by contributing to the monetary hemmoraging of their employers. If people don’t fly they have nobody to attend and there’s no need for their positions.

Roy Haddad December 2, 2005 11:49 AM


“what happens when someone on board a plane because an arabic individual on board has a case of the runs and gets stabbed because they were going back and forth to the bathroom?”

Except for the stabbing part, there is nothing stopping this from already happening, and it isn’t. There is also nothing stopping this from happening outside of airplanes, either. So what is gained by keeping pocket knives out of people’s hands specifically on airplanes?

“Arming people in an attempt to reduce fear…”

I am not suggesting handing people gigantic serrated daggers and giving a speech extolling the virtues of vigilante justice, and the purpose of allowing simple weapons or items that may be improvised into weapons, which one may carry around on the street, isn’t reducing fear.

I’m probably about as elitist as anyone here, but the stupid bloodthirsty American stereotype – the idea that we are a loosened weapon restriction away from blood in the streets or aisles, is ridiculous.

Pat Cahalan December 2, 2005 12:06 PM

@ BJC, Michael

BJC> “Since 9/11? Before 9/11, everyone would have considered hijacked airplanes
BJC> being flown into the World Trade Center a movie-plot threat.”

MA> Actually, no.

Well, yes and no, if you’re using Bruce’s defintion of “movie-plot”… the idea of “movie-plot” threats isn’t that the threats are necessarily unrealistic. “Movie-plot” threats can be totally realistic.

The idea is more that if you’re taking a security conscious approach to a problem, you don’t start by trying to eliminate specific attack vectors (“movie plot” threats/devices), instead you identify general attack vectors and reduce the efficacy of the entire class while measuring gains vs costs.

In other words, if your idea is to prevent bombings, you limit the access of potential terrorist to either (a) the target list (b) the bombmaking materials or (c) triggering devices.

Limiting access to a specific triggering device (such as the cell phone thread elsewhere on this blog) without examing the tradeoffs is following a “movie-plot” threat.

“It’s possible to set bombs off with phones, therefore we need to expend resources to limit the efficacy of this threat” is the movie-plot view

“It’s possible to set bombs off with triggers, and we can easily reduce the accessibility of these N triggers without much tradeoff, but we can’t reduce the accessibility of these other M triggers without a huge resource tradeoff, so implement the restrictions on N, but just bite the bullet on M” is the non-movie plot view.

In the specific case of flying planes into buildings, we have a case where security conscious people said, “You can greatly eliminate the threat of hijacking a plane by locking the cockpit door”. (this is “non-movie plot”… it’s a relatively non intrusive measure that provides a good security tradeoff, and isn’t in regard to a specific threat of “flying planes into buildings”, but a general threat of “hijacking planes”).

To the airline industry (on the other hand) the analysis was that this is a cost, and the tradeoff wasn’t worth it -> if someone hijacked the plane (historically), their goal was to achieve a specific result (get a ride to Cuba, get money, make a political statement, etc.)

The airline industry, in effect, was thinking of “hijacking planes” not as a general class of attack (these things are all bad), but as a collection of specific attacks, all of which resulted in (at worst) a few passengers dead or possibly the loss of a single plane… as opposed to the plane being transformed into a bomb.

So the airline industry was looking at a collection of individual specific threats (movie-plots), instead of a general class (hijackings). The end result is that their analysis was flawed… they were considering only attack vectors that resulted in damages that they could think about…

Bryan@adminfoo December 2, 2005 1:47 PM

So let the airliner aisles run with blood.

Seriously. It’s a risk I can accept.

If we feel that the cockpit is secured by strong doors and strong pilot procedures, then I am completely ok with any threat my co-passengers may be, up to the following limits: guns, bombs, anything which could impact the plane’s flightworthiness.

And why shouldn’t I be? The airplane is one of the few places I can go where I have reasonable confidence that the humans around me are not armed. Miraculously, I am still alive and unwounded after 40+ years of mixing with possibly-armed human beings in all kinds of situations.

The original vulnerability was that lightly-armed humans might gain control of the airplane and use it as a missile. As far as I can tell, this vulnerability has been patched.

Let’s stop using other (extremely low probability) vulnerabilities as reasons to continue the massively expensive and unproductive World Wide Wait that airport security checkpoints have become, and return to the level of security searches we had prior to 9/11.

Roy Wells December 2, 2005 10:48 PM

The problem with terrorists taking over a plane that could be used as kamikazes to destroy high-rise buildings– vanished the second they put steel, locked doors on cockpits, and allowed pilots to be armed.

Government officials, especially but not exclusively elected ones, are incredibly good at preventing yesterday’s problem. However, the chances that yesterday’s problem will ever crop up again is very remote. (The League of Nations, created to prevent WWI from happening, the UN was designed to prevent WWII from happening. Too bad such creations come about after the event.)It also seems that such officials spend their time looking for zebras, not horses. Nevermind there are horses all about.

Example, there are numerous plans being made in the event that a terrorist gets his hands on a thermonuclear device. (Please, if I hear one more comment about a “suitcase nuke” I will vomit. A true “nuke” weighs about 500-1000 pounds.) However, what precautions have been taken against the terrorist who hijacks a gasoline truck and detonates it halfway across a major bridge?

I hope that the reason we don’t see any of this is that the government has people working on it and want to keep it a secret. Please, please, don’t let it be that they really are as stupid as they seemed when they confiscated a 1″ top replica of a Colt M1911 sidearm because it “resembled a gun.”

Jim Hyslop December 5, 2005 1:48 PM

“[flight attendants feel] They’re safer — albeit only slightly — because of it, and it doesn’t cost them anything.”

Actually, I think it may cost them indirectly: inconvenienced passengers tend to be more irritable and cranky. But it’s unlikely the flight attendants will connect the cause and effect.


Matthew December 16, 2005 11:22 AM

“We would all be a lot safer if, instead, we implemented enhanced baggage security — both ensuring that a passenger’s bags don’t fly unless he does”

    I don't think forcing bomb-bags to fly with their  owners makes us safer, especially after 4 more years of suicide bomber recruitment and training across the globe. The reverse seems more secure: making sure that no passenger flight contains bags that could contain bombs, or other threats to flight integrity.

    We should send our bags on separate planes, dedicated to freight. Either ahead of time, starting the day before the flight, with a receipt confirmed at the destination before the passenger leaves, so a lost bag can be replaced with another which just arrives later, rather than not at all. Or just in parallel flights, arriving either ahead, simultaneously, or after, depending on the details of the complex logistics. That makes passengers safe, the number one priority. And the freight flights will become mere sabotage, not the valuable media event terrorists actually seek. Which therefore will make terrorists select more mediagenic targets, which are usually securable at lower cost to the public. This distinction between sabotage and terrorism is the central lesson terrorists have learned, but not yet taught the rest of us.

    There are other benefits. I'd love to get a receipt that my bag arrived before my departure: never again will a lost bag inconvenience me, as it has many times (including a life-threatening instance in Africa). Never fighting the baggage-hostile architecture of every airport, especially the huge ones. No more going carry-on-only for shortsighted convenience. Baggage flights would be cheaper per pound, probably could fly faster, subsidizing more comfortable flights for humans. And of course they'd place the risk entirely in the hands of experts.

Peter July 15, 2008 10:12 PM

911 was an inside job.There were no planes and therefore no hijackers.Watch 911 Taboo,September Clues and other great truth documentaries.

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