Monkeys, Snowglobes, and the TSA

The TSA website is a fascinating place to spend some time wandering around. They have rules for handling monkeys:

TSOs have been trained to not touch the monkey during the screening process.

And snow globes are prohibited in carry-on luggage:

Snow globes regardless of size or amount of liquid inside, even with documentation, are prohibited in your carry-on. Please ship these items or pack them in your checked baggage.

Ho ho ho, everyone.

Posted on December 21, 2006 at 1:24 PM • 71 Comments

Comments

TomDecember 21, 2006 1:52 PM

I'm going to put my monkey in a snow globe and pack it in the hold; two birds with one stone!

TroubleDecember 21, 2006 2:13 PM

Better yet, put the snow globe in the monkey. Since they won't touch it, they'll never know. Good luck getting it back out though.

SkateDecember 21, 2006 2:14 PM

Snow globe prohibitions make a lot more sense than some of the other ones. Snow globes can't be opened non-destructively to check on the contents. Of course, why it is ok to put them in checked baggage if they are so dangerous is beyond me.

Me, I'm wondering why they allow electronics on planes if they are so dangerous--the answer has been written about on this blog.

AnonymousDecember 21, 2006 2:16 PM

This is an encoded plea for help, where "monkeys" are the TSA, "snow" globes are TSA policies, and we shouldn't let them carry on, they must be checked.

Swiss ConnectionDecember 21, 2006 2:25 PM

I like this one:

"The inspection process may require that the handler take off the monkey’s diaper as part of the visual inspection."

Are Babies exempt?

CraigDecember 21, 2006 2:56 PM

"TSOs have been trained to not touch the monkey during the screening process."

HAHAHAHA!

Whew! Gave me a good laugh. :-D

DuncanDecember 21, 2006 3:12 PM

I like this comment on the web site:

"We also ask that you follow the guidelines above and try not to over-think these guidelines."

I suspect Bruce has been over-thinking again. Please stop!

Davi OttenheimerDecember 21, 2006 3:42 PM

Their phrasing could have been worse. Earlier in the page they wrote "The TSO should ask permission before touching your service animal or its belongings."

Imagine if that read "The TSO should ask permission before touching your monkey."

Davi OttenheimerDecember 21, 2006 3:46 PM

"I, for one, am very glad that the TSA people will not touch my monkey."

Seems more likely that they will, but they say they have to ask your permission first. And if you say no...

Davi OttenheimerDecember 21, 2006 3:56 PM

BTW, what's with the acronym "WTMD"? Is that a walk-through metal detector?

The first use on the page appears to be this sentence: "If the WTMD alarms in the situation where you and the animal have walked together, both you and the dog must undergo additional screening."

Is that a common acronym now? Why can't they just call it a scanner or detector?

Ok, and I can't help but wonder what happens when the TSA actually finds something in the monkey's diaper. Do they have an acronym for that kind of detection? Or should I be asking what the monkey will do?

Dougie McGibbonDecember 21, 2006 4:25 PM

I see the rules exclude containers which are partially full that could contain more than 3 ounces - what about empty containers? Could you get through with absolutely no fluids on you but a gallon sized empty plastic container?

CraigDecember 21, 2006 6:02 PM

I'm picturing the Deiter character Mike Myers played on SNL: "Vould you like to touch my monkey?"

Steve GeistDecember 21, 2006 6:26 PM

From the TSA's page on service animals:

"TSOs have been trained not to communicate..."

No kidding.

MichaelDecember 21, 2006 7:06 PM

--Dougie McGibbon
"...what about empty containers?"

I carried empty water bottles through London during the last crack down in September and had no problems. Some were regular used water bottles and others were empty water bottles for bicycling. On different occasions they were examined and put back in my carry on. I would have them refilled once I got on the plane.

As for the monkeys... I got a serious kick out of it a few months ago when I was planning for the previously mentioned trip.

JohnDecember 21, 2006 10:24 PM

"> Are Babies exempt?
Yes, they're apes, not monkeys."

Funniest thing I've read in ages! :D :D

GeorgeDecember 21, 2006 10:32 PM

They can touch my monkey any time. I am a organ grinder, yes the wooden cart with the monkey.

another_bruceDecember 21, 2006 10:45 PM

don't you dare touch my monkey, it will rise up and spit at you!
merry christmas all.

another_bruceDecember 21, 2006 10:50 PM

looking at george's last two comments reminded me of a scene from a scott turow novel. a compromised, turned lawyer was talking to a crooked court functionary to get information, and he said, approximately, "i want to talk to the organ grinder, not the monkey."
the court functionary grabbed the lawyer by the balls and squeezed hard and said....
"i'm the only organ grinder you know."

watsonDecember 22, 2006 12:38 AM

>"The inspection process may require that the handler take off the monkey’s diaper as part of the visual inspection."

>Are Babies exempt?

No, unless of course you put them through the x-ray machine.

Richard BraakmanDecember 22, 2006 5:45 AM

In case of conflicts between the rules, TSA employees always have the convenient option of blaming the passenger.

SteveDecember 22, 2006 6:02 AM

Why bothering with snowglobes? Just change the shape, where does it say that snow cubes are prohibited?

bobDecember 22, 2006 7:04 AM

I think most TSA people, at least the higher-ups, are too distracted handling their own monkey to pay attention to yours...

Also, the next section of that TSA website - "Passenger rail (security theater)" - has a picture of the ICE (German high speed train).

Is the TSA aware that you cant get to their jurisdiction by train from Germany?

Couldnt they find an Acela to photograph (the US "high speed train")?

Do they know what trains look like?

meetersDecember 22, 2006 9:47 AM

Dougie,

I had two empty water bottles confiscated in Paris on my way back to the US from this year's Tour de France. There was also a lot of discussion between the inspectors and myself regarding my spare inner tubes (presta valves). They finally let me keep the tubes, but they kept the water bottles.

dragonfrogDecember 22, 2006 10:38 AM

What gets me is, this is a page on service animals. I know about seeing-eye dogs for the blind, but I have never heard of service monkeys. Does anyone know what service monkeys render to people, that would qualify them as service animals?

If I had no sense of smell, perhaps I could travel with my smelling-nose cat.

monkeyDecember 22, 2006 11:03 AM

re: monkeys as service animals

Monkeys have been used as service animals in homes for quadriplegics if I'm not mistaken.

Grumpy PhysicistDecember 22, 2006 11:35 AM

I, for one, am profoundly grateful that the TSA is diligently protecting us from the dire menace of snowglobe-wielding terrorsts.

Why, what would we tell the children?

ClemDecember 22, 2006 1:25 PM

If I handle the snow globe like a 3 oz. bottle of lotion and seal it in a zip-lock bag, won't that make it secure?

BTW, I purchased a snow globe with fingernail clippers inside at SFO beyond the security checkpoint.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 22, 2006 1:34 PM

"I handle the snow globe like a 3 oz. bottle"

there's your answer. 3 oz snow bottles appear to be acceptable, so break open the globe and rearrange into a sealed clear bottle. much safer.

although i like the snow cube idea, i can only imagine being detained while trying to explain why a cube is not a globe, let alone explaining a snow dodecahedron...

JasonDecember 22, 2006 4:21 PM

Is it just me or is there a reason that TSA could very well stand for "Trained Service Animal"

Then again, I've yet to figure out what service they provide.

ThomasDecember 22, 2006 8:16 PM

I don't see why people are upset. Snow globes have been used as weapons in just as many successful terrorist attacks as toothpaste and shoes have, and non-terrorists are much less likely to carry snow globes than shoes or toothpaste.

ruidhDecember 22, 2006 10:01 PM

"Monkey" is an offensive term which should no longer be used. It evokes and perpetuates poop-flinging stereotypes. They are now Simian-Americans. The website should be updated to read

"TSOs have been trained to not touch the Simian-American during the screening process."

Rolling eyesDecember 23, 2006 12:35 PM

I was so proud that my peanut butter and blueberry preserves made it through TSA in Seattle, though they took my breakfast yogurt.

It didn't make it on an interisland flightin Hawaii, though, where alert TSA ensured such snacks were safely kept off the plane.

Matt from CTDecember 23, 2006 6:59 PM

Has there been any ruling on having liquid containers implanted in one's body? Does anyone believe somebody knowingly planning to committ suicide to blow up a plane wouldn't be willing to have the liquid explosives implanted within themselves...

"Errr, he looks suspicious!"

"You know, it's so insensitive to pick on post-operative transgendered Arabs...and besides, that doesn't match a computer profile..."

Just imagine the havoc you could wreak with some prosethic limbs!

But by golly, we can't let that half-used tube of toothpaste through!

Matt

rfid_forumsDecember 24, 2006 11:21 AM

Funny thing about the VA DMV. If you come in in person to renew your license or change your address, they require you to surrender your current license. However! If you renew/change address/claim-you-lost-your-license online, they mail out a new/updated one in a few days.

AnonymousDecember 27, 2006 2:45 AM

Hilarious. Particularly the statements on "alarming the WTMD." What language is that in? Have metal detectors become sentient recently? I always feel comfortable putting our security apparatus in the hands of people who only speak bureaucratese.

On children: “NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the X-ray machine.��? In Big Bold Blue. At least they have a fast response time on web page updates.

markmDecember 27, 2006 10:20 AM

"Has there been any ruling on having liquid containers implanted in one's body? Does anyone believe somebody knowingly planning to committ suicide to blow up a plane wouldn't be willing to have the liquid explosives implanted within themselves..."

Why, Mohammed, what big breasts you have...

J JetDecember 29, 2006 5:15 PM

TSA's, America's Gestapo. This new governments reason to search Americans under the guise of SECURITY is somewhat false. These people individually make and change their rules almost daily. They demand to know "what are you thinking" and when you answer they call it a disturbance. We all need to read 1984 again. I am not against secure transportation, but for the most part what we have know is eyewash to make the public feel good. If someone wishes to do harm I don't think they can be stopped.
Just wait until RFID's get inserted into your drivers license. You will be monitored everywhere you go and computer files will be kept of your movements and there is nothing one can do. As far as ID's go I have visitors from Europe who get drivers licenses as souvenirs. And I have used my library card for access to airlines (issued by the government with a picture). Now the TSA has secret laws (Documents received under the FOIA) and your Congressperson will refuse to respond to this issue. Note; I have been working with aircraft for over 40 years. Something to think about. Signed, an American


Editorial Stanley Schmidt
Analog September 2005

SOFTENING US UP

The next time you're waiting in an airport security line, try this thought experiment. Imagine the you of twenty years ago-i.e., around 1985 - being offered a glance through a time machine at the scene in which the present you is now participating. You're not told what's going on. You can't see your own face so you don't recognize yourself, and you have no reason to react personally to what you see. Nor can you read any signs, badges, insignia, or similar information in the scene. So what do you say when somebody asks you, "What do you see happening here? And where do you think it is?"

I submit that the chances are very good that you'd guess Russia, East Germany, or some other policed state. Consider what you see, without what you now know of its context: a crowded checkpoint with several kinds of scanning machinery, swarming with uniformed men and women scrutinizing every individual in the long line coming through. Each would be passenger is required to show the same identification to several officials, and to relinquish his or her luggage, wallet or purse, coat and shoes. All of these things are x-rayed, and one or more of the uniforms opens and rummages through many of them before returning them to the owner. Some passengers walk through the scanner without tripping an alarm, but many don't - some of those scanners are very sensitive! - and are called aside for additional indignities ranging from wand scans to patdowns to strip searches. Anyone unlucky enough to have inadvertently packed some horrible weapon like a pair of fingernail scissors is likely to have it confiscated, or perhaps be given the option of returning to the lobby to pack it up and mail it home - and going through the whole process all over again. All of this would have been quite unthinkable for most Americans twenty years ago, even though we had already gone a little bit down this road. Everybody knew this sort of thing went on in "those other countries," but we all knew it couldn't here. The suggestion that it could, or might ever need to, would have filled must of us with righteous indignation and revulsion.

Now it seldom does. Quite likely you read my opening paragraphs and thought, "What are you ranting about? All these procedures are necessary now, for security. Get over it!"

And that's precisely my point: by steps large and small, we have gradually been conditioned to accept as "normal" things that just a few years would have seemed beyond the pale for rational consideration.

And the process is still going on, in ways both official and unofficial.

Okay, maybe at least some of these changes are necessary, at least temporarily. But they represent such radically departures from the principles on which this country was founded that we should be very conscious of what we're doing when we accept them. We should not let ourselves be softened up so we readily accept large and dangerous changes just because they occur in relatively small stages, or appear to be justified by special circumstances, which in turn also come to be accepted as "normal." We should, in other words, go into any drastic changes with our eyes wide open and fully aware of what we're doing.

SOFTENING US UP

In the case of increased government security, we are told that these extreme measures are needed because of the clear and present danger of terrorism. Right after the 9/11/01 attacks on New York and Washington, this sounded all too convincing. In what amounted to a state of national panic, people accepted, even welcomed, these measures - and then others. Extreme airport security? Sure. Indefinite "detention" (a newfangled euphemism for "imprisonment") of people suspected of maybe being dangerous, with no time limit or requirement for a trial? Why not, if that's what it takes? Invade another country because it in some vaguely envisioned way eventually be dangerous? You bet. Fingerprint anybody coming into our country? Push for fingerprinting all of our citizens when they apply for a passport? Ban photography around airports or subways, even though such a ban will be impossible to enforce consistently and unlikely to have much effect beyond annoying and entrapping unsuspecting tourists or railroad buffs?

Not all of these things have been fully implemented, but some of them have and the rest are under serious consideration in at least some places. All of them, not many years ago, would have been seen by most Americans as hallmarks of a totalitarian or police state. Yet in that short time we have been conditioned to accept them as normal actions that must be taken, at least "for the duration," to protect democracy . But we have no indication of what "the duration" is, or how far we can go in this direction without having thrown away the very thing we're supposed to be protecting. So far we've continued to practice and expand them on the basis of official assurances that continuing threats make them necessary - but very few of us have any way of directly confirming that claim. So we have to take officialdom's word for it - and the more such measures we've already accepted, the easier it becomes to get us to accept still more. Far be it from me to suggest that anybody so far has been tempted to exploit that fear and trust to establish and maintain an Orwellian "1984" situation, but we must take very seriously the possibility that somebody could.

My point is merely that no matter how necessary such measures may be now, the willing acceptance of them softens us up - makes us increasingly vulnerable to possible future attempts by someone to take them well beyond the necessary. But government actions are not the only things that can, intentionally or unintentionally, have that effect. There are cultural forces, driven by technological developments, pushing us in the same direction.

Consider, for example, the current popularity of "blogging." Its closest counterpart until quiet recently was "journaling," or keeping a diary, which many people regarded as a very private thing - a book in which they could record, primarily for their own use their own use, thoughts and feelings that they might not feel comfortable sharing with many others. Blogging, short for "web logging," is similar, except that instead of being done in a private book, it's done on a website where any body at all can read it. Personally, I marvel at the ego of people thinking that strangers would want to read every detail of their personal lives, and even more at the fact that many of them do find plenty of readers. Voyeurism, it seems, is alive and well, and some of the most enthusiastic bloggers go well beyond simply talking about themselves. Some live huge portions of their lives in front of their webcams, letting anyone who cares to watch what most people (so far) would consider their private business.

Some even go beyond conducting their own lives on "candid camera," and extend coverage to others who are offered no choice. Some bloggers who are also parents are now running blogs that they use for such purposes as looking in on their offspring when they themselves are at work or
SOFTENING US UP

otherwise elsewhere and posting huge galleries of pictures of "cute actions," logs off diaper changes, etc. All of which is available to anyone who cares to look at or download it. This probably doesn't bother babies, but babies grow up. How long do parents continue these things, and how does it affect the kids who are subjected to it when they get old enough to be aware of what's going on? No doubt some of them will be extremely embarrassed, and some of them of those may manage to put a stop to it - thought they still risk humiliation when they somebody calls up an old bath photo or diaper tally in front of a teenage boyfriend or girlfriend.

Or maybe the practice will affect them quite differently. Maybe kids brought up this way will be so used to continuous surveillance that they won't even realize there's an alternative and won't make much distinction between Mom and Dad doing it and Big Brother doing it. Particularly when their growing environment also includes many other variations on the theme. There's already a considerable business in other paraphernalia for parents to spy on kids, from software to record everything they do on a computer for later parental scrutiny, to gadgets constantly monitoring their whereabouts by means GPS readings transmitted by their cell phones or the cars they drive. At least one company specializes in "nannycams." cameras that can be hidden in teddy bears or the like to let absent parents spy on babysitters and their charges; a recent newspaper article was devoted to the ethical question of whether parents using such devices should tell the nannies they were doing so.

Nannycams lead us to the increasing prevalence of various forms of work place spying on adults, including the use of various forms of cameras and eaves - dropping on telephone and e-mail conversations. Nobody says "eavesdropping, " of course; the politically correct euphemism is "monitoring," and so many noble-sounding excuses have been mane for it that even some of the employees are beginning to believe them and accept such practices as a normal part of the working world. That too, has the effect of softening us up, making us more receptive to continuous intrusive supervision. If some such steps become widely accepted, then it's easy to accept others that go a little further. If that happens often enough, we can easily arrive at a situation very much like that in 1984, even if nobody set out with the conscious desire to create such a state.

And if adults can be made susceptible by small steps, beginning from a state of high resistance at a fairly advanced age, just imagine how much more susceptible they would be if they had been subjected to even closer and more continuous surveillance from such an early age that they're conditioned from the start to regard it as "normal." That, it seems to me, is happening to large numbers of children right now. And I suspect it's likely to become even more prevalent as the electronic exhibitionists who like parading their own lives and those of their children before the world exert social pressures on those who don't.

In Orwell's vision of 1984, we are led to believe, the nightmare world of Big Brother was created by deliberate intent and maintained by consciously designed social machinery. The real danger we now face may be much more insidious: a similar world that arises not by malicious design, but simply by "growing" in a series of small steps, each of which seems too innocuous, and perhaps even to reasonable, to protest.


Needle With a Nametag
By Stanley Schmit,
Analog October, 2006

Anyone who has used English for more than a few years has surely encountered the phrase "like a needle in a haystack." It refers, of course, to the difficulty of finding a specific small object in the midst of large numbers of very similar objects. For a literal needle (whether a pine needle or a sewing needle) in a literal haystack, the difficulty is obvious: Finding it will involve a large amount of tedious manual picking through lots of stuff that looks alike. Even if it's right in front of you, you may not notice it because it doesn't stand out from its surroundings.

Wouldn't it be nice, when confronted with such a task, to have a magic wand that you could simply wave at the haystack, in response to which an embedded needle would call out. "Here I am!"? While we're dreaming, why not fix it so that if there are multiple needles in the haystack, each and every one of them will not only tell you where it is, but which one it is and what its characteristics are?

Well for better and/or for worse, we now have something that acts very much like that - not necessarily for literal needles and haystacks, but for a great many similar situations. It's called a radio-frequency ID tag, or "RFID" for short, and its original purpose was quite practical and innocuous: to make store checkouts and inventory control easier and more accurate. Inconspicuously attached to a piece of merchandise - umbrella, a bunch of broccoli, or a boot for example - it stores information such as the items exact identity and its current price. And it can spit that information out instantly in response to a "ping" (an omni directional coded microwave pulse), for processing by a computer associated with the reader (or scanner) that provides the ping.

Unlike the laser barcode readers we've all gotten used to (though our grandparents could hardily have imagined them), RFID 's don't depend on a clerk's holding the barcode for each item, one at a time, directly in a narrow sensing beam. Since the microwaves with which they communicate are omni directional, pass easily through many kinds of matter, and have considerable rang, a single "ping" directed at a full shopping cart can elicit self- identification from every item in the cart. That's enough to let the checkout computer generate a complete itemized bill. If the customer has one of those "Loyalty cards" increasingly used by stores in lieu of coupons, the RFID scanner can read that and automatically figure in several discounts offered to users of those cards - and compare this week's purchases to previous ones to print out along with the receipt, customized special offers likely to entice that customer back into that same store next time.

Sounds like a win - win situation for everybody, right? The merchant gets a fast accurate checkout, with very few if any bookkeeping errors, and needs fewer clerks to process a given number of customers. The customer gets through the line faster, is unlikely to be overcharged, and gets several chances to save money.

And it doesn't stop there. While the merchant has an RFID scanner identifying each item sold to calculate the bill, it might as well feed that information to another program that deducts the item from inventory and keeps track of how many are left. By doing that for every item in the store, it can monitor the entire inventory on a continuous basis and let the storekeeper know whenever something needs to be needs to be reordered. It can keep track of what sells how well therefore how much of each thing to should be ordered. It can keep track of what individuals customers buy a lot of, and therefore which personalized special offers are likely to be effective in bringing them back - without one person having to ask another prying question about such things.

What "extras" does the customer get? Well, not much in the store - but things begin to get clear - cut and utopian - sounding after the merchandise leaves the store. RFIDs are typically built right into the wares - sewn into clothing labels, for instance - so that customers are likely to be unaware of their presence, and unable to easily remove them even if they know they're there. So they remain, and can still be read by any scanner they pass. That opens up all kinds of possibilities. A great deal of a person's history can be traced, if only in terms of where he or she was at a particular times, by stored records of the presence of objects in their possession - not only at the moment of purchase, but at any time thereafter. Your credit cards and subway pass, the wallet in which you carry them, your underwear, a book you bought, the E-Z Pass and tires on your car - all can serve as tattletales, giving anyone with the inclination and know how to seek them out a wealth of data points to map much of your life and draw conclusions about it. Most of that information will never be accessed or used; there's just too much of it and most of it is of little interest to anyone. But the fact that it can be accessed is and used should give us pause, because some of its uses can ruin lives for no good reason.

Mary Rosenblum gave a disturbing taste of the possibilities in her story "Search Engine," which appeared here in September 2005. Edward M. Lerner, another writer well known to Analog readers, chillingly suggests some others in his story " The Day of the RFIDSs'" which you didn't read here, but would do well to seek out anyway. It appears in his collection Creative Destruction, published Wildside Press in 2006. Many of the stories in the book did appear first in Analog, but a couple are new and eminently worth reading. "The Day of the RFIDs," in particular, points out some o the possible ramifications of this modern convenience that everybody needs to think about before embracing it unmitigated enthusiasm.

There are those, for example, who will complain that what I have said so far dwelled too much on the possible negative uses of RFIDs while neglecting their power to help prevent terrorism. Some will say that the more information we have that can be used in tracking potential terrorists, both for prevention and for establishing guilt after the fact, the better off we all are. The innocent, these people will say, have nothing to fear.

How charmingly naive.

If you are one of those who can comfortable believe that, please read Lerner's story, which among other things includes and all to plausible scenario for the diligent pursuit of terrorists leading instead to the deaths of numerous innocent people, massive destruction of property, and the placing of a man who never hurt anyone or anything on a "most wanted" list. It can happen that way, and if we are going to use the things that make it possible, we need to figure out safeguards to make sure it doesn't.

If you are not one who can be so trusting, but think instead that you can protect yourself by such means as avoiding the use of E-Zpass, credit cards and loyalty cards, and paying for everything with cash, think again. Some countries have already begun incorporating capital RFIDs into their currency, so that even "unmarked" bills leave plenty of tracts and can no longer be considered anonymous. Some countries have begun incorporating them into their passports, and others (including this one) have definite plans to do so. Many urban transit systems now require that fares be paid with scan able cards, and some toll road systems are moving in that direction.

All of these things have been created and adapted with good intentions, and all of them can do good and worthwhile things for us. But any tool can also be used as a weapon, and the more powerful it is in one kind of application, the more powerful it can be in the other, too. We as a people have to decide which of these aspects matters more to us, and how we can get as many as possible of the benefits of a particular technology while protecting ourselves from as many as possible of the dangers. These new information technologies are very powerful indeed, and we dare not assume that those who control them have only our best interest at heart or that the guiltless have nothing to worry about. Information gathered in these ways can make shopping easier and help thwart genuine malevolent terrorists. It can also be used to persecute almost anybody for almost any reason, such as a personal grudge, a political or business rivalry, or just a malicious prank. Or to establish a kind of government quite alien to the kind we have long taken care to maintain: The equipment and methods now available to would-be "Big Brothers" far exceed anything in George Orwell's writings. We can and should use these new tools just as we use fire and electricity - but we can and must use them with no less respect and care.

A few years ago I myself wrote a novel (Argonaut, Tor Brooks, 2002), which, at the first glance and even in my own original thinking, seems to have little to do with these matters. Certainly the direct inspiration for it, at least at the conscious level, was quite different. After reading one too many manuscripts in which explorers got to ea new planet and in a few days learned more about it than all our scientists have learned about earth in all of human history, I found myself thinking, "Could they really do that?" and then, "Well, maybe....". I thought of a way they might, in the not too distant future, using a combination of then-nascent technologies to carry out unprecedentedly widespread surveillance, data collection, and analysis. And I realized that the ability to do that would be addictively exhilarating if you were the one using it, and thoroughly terrifying if you were the one (s) being studied by entities you had no reason to trust. The result was what Michael Flynn called "the oddest alien Invasion yet."

I wrote it simply because I thought it could be an enjoyable, thought-provoking story. But I know suspect that part of the reason I was drawn to the idea was its parallels to the dilemmas beginning even then to begin apparent in our own burgeoning abilities to gather and use information. Large-scale, intimate spying is no less a problem whether it's done by "them" from Out There, or by some of us right here. The result, and the danger, is the same either way.

RJLJanuary 3, 2007 1:47 AM

in regards to the implanted liquid explosives...

If you knew anything about improvised explosive devices, you would know that there are several componets used. You need a power source, an initiator (detonator), explosives, and a switch or a timer... What good is it going to do you to have you're explosives implanted inside of you? You would not be able to assemble your bomb.

Common sense...

And that goes for the issue of snow globes in your checked bags... a snow globe is not dangerous in a checked bag unless it is infact allready attatched to the other necesary IED componets. (this is assuming that your snow globe does infact contain liquid explosives) It doesn't matter how much explosives you have in your checked bag if they are not in an allready assembled IED. And there is no way that your bag will make it through the x-ray screening process with an actually fully assembled Improvised Explosive device in it.


sorry to rain on an anti-TSA tirade, but they're just doing their job, and trying to keep the flying public safe at the same time... cut them some slack. When you were rushing home christmas day, they were there, at the airport, doing their job to keep you safe... not home with their families. I feel sad for TSO's.

How would you feel in the morning if you knew that as soon as you got to work you were going to be bitched out by passenger after passenger just for doing your job... and that job was keeping those asshole passengers safe? That would suck.

Jerry GilreathJanuary 3, 2007 8:49 PM

"Wouldn't it be nice, when confronted with such a task, to have a magic wand that you could simply wave at the haystack, in response to which an embedded needle would call out. "Here I am!"?"

We do, it's called a magnet.

Worked for TSA & Hated ItJanuary 10, 2007 10:08 AM

I'm not exactly a TSA apologist. The staff is undertrained and the organization is shoddily run. That said, I'd love to see how many people would be willing to skip screening and fly with 200+- other passengers who also skipped screening.

People seem to forget that travel via commercial airlines is not a right. It's a shame that security need be so stringent (and, IMHO, should be more stringent in some ways), but that is the world in which we live. Sure, some of the rules are idiotic. Some of the rules are ineffective. That doesn't mean that the US is suddenly East Germany simply because grouchy businessmen and snooty debutantes have to take off their shoes for 90 seconds. Wake me when cavity searches become mandatory.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 10, 2007 11:42 AM

"That doesn't mean that the US is suddenly East Germany simply because grouchy businessmen and snooty debutantes have to take off their shoes for 90 seconds."

Of course not. But your argument is a straw man, and a lousy one at that. The police-state-like security measures are the large government databases on citizens, the wattantless eavesdropping (phone, e-mail, physical mail), being judged in secret with no right of appeal, and the ability of the government to remove people from the legal system.

hmmm...January 12, 2007 9:48 PM

"I'm not exactly a TSA apologist. The staff is undertrained and the organization is shoddily run. That said, I'd love to see how many people would be willing to skip screening and fly with 200+- other passengers who also skipped screening."


Did you know that TSO's are required to go through several hours of training a week along with online classes that are scheduled on a regular basis... they also go through a series of tests and skill observations every three months... and those tests determine whether they keep their job or not...

doesn't sound "undertrained" to me!

TSOFebruary 11, 2007 3:37 PM

The problem with most passengers is they don't know what they're talking about when it comes to airline security or TSA policy, as is clearly evident by 90% of these comments. If you had even the slightest grasp on the characteristics and mechanics of IEDs and various types of explosives, you would understand the reasoning behind many policy standards that you continuously deem as "stupid" and "pointless".

before you go off on another tirade about how your 99 cent water bottle had to be left behind or how taking off shoes is something screeners make you do only for their own enjoyment, go do some research on things like the bojinka plot, ramzi yousef, and richard reid.

TSOs are not mindless drones of some secret, big-brother government army. many of us are actually quite intelligent and have an excellent understanding on what it takes to dammage/destroy a plane as well as other passengers. we actually AGREE that some policies DON'T MAKE SENSE! how many jobs have you worked at that had policies that you didn't agree with or didn't understand? ya, every job in existence. we're not the policy makers, we're the policy enforcers.

we don't have the power to say "fine, leave your shoes on, you don't seem like a terrorist to me", so stop asking us to make exceptions for you like you're the one person on earth who is being treated unjustly just because a couple of "towel heads" (that's a phrase i hear pretty much every day from passengers) hijacked some planes!

timothy mcveigh was NOT a "towel head" people, he was a white male near 30 years old, like i'm sure many of you are! so when you ask me, "this is bullsh*t, do i look like a terrorist to you?!", my answer is YES! not because you look like a terrorist, but because i don't know the difference between what a terrorist looks like and doesn't look like. the 9/11 attackers were arabs, t.mcveigh was white, and richard reid was an ugly brittish/jamaican dude!

listen folks, i do not enjoy taking away your half-used tube of butt paste, and i certainly am not going to "keep it for myself" as i hear you all mumble under your breath as you stomp away from the checkpoint.

i do not enjoy having to put my hand in your smelly (i beg you, please start wearing socks and using foot powder!), still steamy shoes, even though i have gloves on.

i do not enjoy having to put my face near your crotch/ass (despite the many, super clever comments you unsecure men make) as i'm wanding or patting you down because you can't grasp the fact that the METAL DETECTOR detects METAL, and that KEYS, CELL PHONES, MONEY CLIPS, COIN POUCHES, S&M/GOTHIC BELTS, and IPODS all have a significant amount of METAL in them.

i certainly don't enjoy having to dig through disgusting bags of your dirty laundry, moldy food items, greasy toiletry bags and 40 pounds of cheap costume jewelry to find the swiss army knife you have wrapped up in your tire-tracked underwear.

i don't enjoy having to repeat the same policy guidelines thousands of times a day, right to your face, only to find that you just did the EXACT thing i told you not to do 2 minutes later.

so why do i do all these things? because i believe in the idea. i desire the protection of human life (yes, yours). i want air travel travel to be a safe and secure means for the traveling public (yes, you). i want to be able to give a big F you to terrorists in 10, 20, and 50 years as we continue to thwart their efforts to do physical and financial harm to us. and lastly, i do it because i OWE my country something as thanks for all the freedoms i am so fortuneate to have.

just as your good deed of the day, the next time you fly, instead of bitching about how stupid TSA rules are at the airport, tell a screener:

"hey, i appreciate what you're trying to accomplish here. i know it must be hard having to take abuse from passengers all day, having to work on ALL holidays so that people still have the option to fly, putting your life on the line in order to prevent another 9/11 or similar attack, and having to balance being a confident, authoritive security figure with being a compassionate, understanding customer service representitive."

remember, we're human beings too, and most of us are in this for the right reasons. in the end, it's your ass that we're trying to protect. we're not getting on that plane, you are. keep that in mind next time you fly.

CuriousFebruary 11, 2007 7:27 PM

@TSO

"The problem with most passengers is they don't know what they're talking about when it comes to airline security or TSA policy, as is clearly evident by 90% of these comments."

Thanks for feedback.

Maybe you're right. Maybe we're all ignorant at this blog.

Please will you give me some examples of cases where TSA screening employees stopped a terrorist intent upon bombing/suicidal attack after 9/11?

TSOFebruary 13, 2007 4:38 PM

sure, as soon as you show me a case when a bombing/suicidal attack after 9/11 took place.

we stop things all the time. whether or not they are terrorist probes or just passengers who randomly put their guns in their carry on bags, who knows?

you're trying to argue things that simply aren't argueable or haven't happened and thus can only be speculated upon, not confirmed.

anyhow, your reply has very little to do with this blog. this blog is about TSA policies and how "nonsensical" they are, not about whether or not TSA has successfully stopped a terroristic attempt to date. since we haven't actually had a confirmed/blatant one, that's a pointless question.

BradFebruary 26, 2007 8:34 PM

TSO, you're a little full of yourself. You makg it sound like someone is FORCING you to do this, work on holidays, etc. and that it's your only choice of a job. You don't HAVE to work for the TSA. It's something you choose. You COULD take a job that is actually contributing something positive to the world. Nonetheless, I'll be damned if I thank you for harassing me, my family, and millions of innocent passengers every year. Get back to me when cargo is being screened.

TSOMarch 4, 2007 7:34 AM

i'm sure having to take off your shoes and not bring your 20 ounce bottle of suntan lotion has caused severe trauma to you and your family. i suppose cops should stop harrassing you too, because you didn't have any ill intentions when you were doing 60 in a 45 (it's a stupid law anyhow, right?). you're an american, you should be able to drive how you want.

you can't apply rules JUST to some. it doesn't work that way. you can't look at someone and tell if they're innocent or not. so until we develop some way to do that, everyone is going to have to go through the screening process. i fly all the time, and i go through the same thing as you. however, i use common sense and the knowledge of what can and can't go through an airport (which you can read on tsa.gov, so please stop claiming ignorance when you come through the airport). i go right through security because i don't come through with 15 pounds of metal on my body, or gallons of liquids in my bags, or accidentially leaving my gun in my carry-on bag.

sooo much of this is just common sense. unfortuneately, common sense is one of the most uncommon characteristics most people have these days. get over your sense of entitlement. flying isn't a constitutional right. you can't walk into a court house without going through screening either, or most federal buildings in DC. why aren't you complaining about that? because it makes sense.

ThomasMarch 4, 2007 9:01 PM

@TSO
Mandatory shoe removal and suntan lotion confiscation may not have done much to traumatise anyone, but it hasn't done much to make anyone safer either.

TSOMarch 5, 2007 6:03 PM

really? and how do you know? if you were a terrorist, would you bring your IEDs through the airport in your shoes or liquid containers if you knew you were going to have to take your shoes off and have your liquids denied entry as carry-on?

the whole point of the process and the constant new technology is to prevent terrorists from even wanting to try to bring these things through. the only difference is, if one of them did and we caught it, you all would be cheering and throwing your fists in the air. but if they don't try because they know that's where we're looking, is that any less of a victory? the end result is the same, all our planes are still flying.

i'm not saying we're not impenitrable, but there's a reason a lot of these attacks post-9/11 are happening in OTHER countries (with more lax security). it's naive to think the terrorist cells here in the US wouldn't LOVE to take down some more planes/buildings. it's naive to think they're not constantly strategizing on ways to make that happen. it's also naive to think that the security protocol adaptations and changes aren't making it very difficult for them.

there's a lot that is going on behind the scenes that isn't general public knowledge. TSA is really working towards elimitating all avenues and weaknesses that terrorists would try to exploit.

the amount of explosives it takes to bring down a plane is not a lot. if you knew how much, you probably wouldn't want people bringing anything on the plane with them. and if you knew how difficult it is to stop terrorists from bringing that small amount of explosives onto a plane (since they are only limited by their imagination), i think you would agree that we should actually be doing MORE or at least be investing a lot more money in technology that will automate the system while being more consistent and not relying solely on human interpretation/instinct/scrutiny.

in the spirit of brainstorming, i would really (sincerely) like to know what the general traveling public thinks we should be doing in regards to airport security. what's the solution to maintain a high level of safety and prevention of terroristic activities while remaining "unintrussive" and non-harrassing?

BradMarch 9, 2007 3:54 PM

And TSO, if you knew a lot and not just the garbage Komrade Kip fed you, you'd know that these liquid explosives need to be under highly controlled conditions. And in the amount of time it would take for them to actually explode.....you don't think a bunch of passengers would've seen and stopped the terrorist? Also...the shoe thing is a bunch of garbage and you know it. The TSA has even admitted that the x-rays cannot detect explosives!!!
The bottom line is that we are fighting yesterday's war. Do you really think that sombody is really going to pull another 9/11? Give me a break.
After 9/11 we have hardened cockpit doors and above all, passenger awareness. Those are the only real security improvements. The rest is just theatre and you know it.

hahaMarch 9, 2007 7:31 PM

@Brad

I chuckle at your response... what do you think these "passengers" are going to do to stop a guy from detonating a bomb? haha...

If I had to rely on any of you people posting on this board as a soul sorce of security on the plane I was flying on... well, I wouldn't fly on it at all.

Much to the dismay of many ignorant passengers flying on a daily basis... the x-rays don't detect anything! not explosives... not a gun... not grandpa's hemroid cream... The screeners detect them. The xray simply takes a picture.

RICHARD RIED!!!! google him... then tell me that the shoe thing is a bunch of garbage!

And you are wildly mistaken with your concepts of liquid explosives... not really going to expound too much more on that because it's not worth my time.

I'm wishing that they would start a "high-risk airline". Fly anywhere in the US for $79, but there would be no screening of any passenger or luggage and the pilots would come from the pool of jerks who have been fired for flying under the influence... All you skeptical, naive bastards would have an out... no TSA. It'd be nice to get you all out of our hair.

BradMarch 11, 2007 11:24 AM

@ HAHA

You truly seem to be contradicting yourself. You said passengers aren't going to stop a guy from detonating a bomb. Then a few lines down you mention Richard Reid!! Um, if I remember correctly....passengers did indeed STOP HIM FROM DETONATING HIS BOMB.
Additionally, any time since 9/11 that someone has tried to get into the cockpit, they've been stopped.
Find it funny that you say passenger restraint can't happen...then you mention Reid! Maybe YOU should do some googling.

hahaMarch 11, 2007 8:27 PM

back @ brad

Richard Ried made his 'shoe bomb' with a paper detonator so it would not set of a metal detector. Richard Ried wore his 'shoe bomb' for three days straight. Richard Ried's feet sweated profusely. Richard Ried's paper detonator was ruined. There was no way that his 'shoe bomb' could have been detonated in that situation. He was fidgety... seeing as how his countless attempts to light the paper fuse on fire failed.

Now Honey, be realistic. If the detonator hadn't been ruined. And he had been able to ignite it in the first attempt... we'll even give him three or four attempts. You really think some joe blow passenger would have even noticed anything suspicious? And if so, in time to act on it and "save the day".

so Brad, I continue to chuckle!

BradMarch 14, 2007 3:07 PM

@ HAHA
Just curious...do you work for the TSA and have to believe all this BS in order to take hom a pay check....or are you just one of those once a year "better safe than sorry" travelers?

pilot1March 18, 2007 1:20 AM

I just want to say somethings. First, give us TSOs a little bit of credit. I know there are some TSOs that let the little power they have get to their head, but there are TSOs as my self that are qualified for the job. We preform our job as best we can and follow the rules and regs that sometimes do seem a bit stupid. I've been reading everyone's comments on TSOs and they all say we are stupid, when indeed not all of us are. I personally have an education at the best aeronautical university in the world and hold a commercial pilot's license. So I take my job very seriously. I work as a TSO part time and fly the other half of my day. I, like other TSOs, am not stupid. So give people like my self a bit of credit and some respect, because there are TSOs out there who give each and every passenger the respect that they deserve. Oh, and I believe I'm more than qualified to do what i am doing. Thanks for reading.

JFK TSOApril 11, 2007 12:47 PM

I would like to express my opinion on this matter. As a TSO working at JFK, i find it amusing to hear the complaints of passengers. Many passengers don't seem to realize the seriousness of the issue completely. TSO's like my self are not stupid, we are not all jackasses as some of you complain that we all are. What jobs have anyone of you had where everybody was the nicest person you have met? Have you ever worked in a place where all of your co-workers were pleasant? I understand that there are a few TSO who deserved to be fired, but that is not the majority. We do our jobs so that you, the passenger can feel safe enough to fly, we try 2 catch the guns, knifes, razors, I.E.D.'s that some of you "accidentally" left in your bags. Give us some credit, we are merely doing our best to MAKE YOU SAFE, not to hassle,. Believe it nor, i don't like going through your dirty under wear bag, i don't feel like smelling that nasty fish you want to bring with you half way across the country. I'm here to make sure the bad guys don't even try to bring something dangerous to you on board your plane.
How many times will I have to hear that we should be racially profiling Muslims while passengers yell at me trying to explain that a knife is not a weapon? Telling me that we should screen Muslims only, while all the knifes i have took from people were from middle aged white men.
Oh, and by the way, why do people seem to have a problem with putting their jackets in the x-ray machine? its a JACKET, its meant to be removed. I, still to this day, can not understand the resentment towards TSOs such as my self when i inform someone that their jacket needs to be x-rayed? can somebody enlighten me on that?
And for the record, we all hate going through your bags, we just have to when you fail to read the signs posted all over the security checkpoint about whats allowed in your bags.

BobMay 27, 2007 8:54 PM

I have a friend who is South American, a permanent resident in the U.S. His children are American citizens. Unhappily (for him) his name sounds somewhat Arabesque.

He tried to fly to a conference in Canada, but somehow attracted the unwelcome attention of the TSA. (Step into this little room!) They grilled him until his flight had left.

No more flights today; conference starts at 08:00; I guess I'll just get my bags and go home. Gripe, grumble...

"Your bags, sir? Oh, they're on their way to Montreal!"

Do you feel safe?

Traveling AndyMay 24, 2009 3:10 PM

I'm sitting in the Cincinnati airport waiting for a connection from an international flight. TSA just confiscated my small snowglobe from what is probably my only trip ever to Stonehenge. A gift for my wife, who was unable to join me on a business trip.

I asked if they would kindly tell me the regulation or rule number that referenced the snow globe "issue." I was told by one fellow that he "didn't know" but that's the rule, period. I pressed -- you don't have a reg number that I can go look up later? He told me that they weren't about to give me their "rule book" on how they do their job.

The nice TSA girl felt bad about it, but advised I had to check it (I couldn't check my whole carry-on) or abandon it. So I abandoned it and grumbled my way into the terminal. Where I discovered two things:

1. A ticket agent to whom I grumbled suggested that I had plenty of time on my layover and I should go and complain to a supervisor. I discovered that I'm actually concerned about making any sort of stink about this -- I travel a lot and I'm feeling, for maybe the first time since TSA started, a real chilling effect. I have serious worries about my complaining ending me up on a profile or the black hole of the no-fly list, which would have a significant impact on my job.

2. The "Trade Market" kiosk by gate A26 is selling two different types of snow globes, which are apparently OK to take on a flight since they're in the sanitized space of the airport.

So it's not the fact that it's a snow globe that's so offensive. I can't take a pocket knife through security, but I also can't buy one in a shop on the other side. I can buy the same "snow" and base and little glass bulb 10 meters from where I'm sitting.

But it's also not the fact that there's liquid inside, as my confiscated snow globe was very small and clearly under 3 ounces. I can't take a liter of water through security, and I can buy a liter of water on the other side, but I CAN take 3 ounces of water through security.

If my snow globe had been in a kit, would that be OK? Packet of "snow," clearly labeled. Injection-molded base with little Stonehenge on it. Little glass ball. 3 ounces of water in a plastic bag out separate from the rest of my kit.

TSA employees posting on this blog, I'd love some insight as to what's going on here, because it surely doesn't hold water.

One of you points out how you don't much like some of the silly rules either -- but I'd be keen to know if any of you ever pushes back up the chain? Is there a process for questioning rules that lead nowhere? You've detailed here how you feel about peoples' shoes and stinky fish and laundry and so on, but do you ever feel that you're part of something that's lost its way? Do you, who so badly despise warm and sweaty shoes, ever feel sympathy for the people who are splayed upon your conveyor belt, daily losing their dignity, and their snow globes?

Just think, future generations will look back on today as "the good old days" of air travel.

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