Security at Kennedy Space Center

According to the website:

Stand alone GPS equipment is not permitted on property.

It's okay if they're embedded in your phone or computer, though.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:33 PM • 51 Comments

Comments

VincentJune 13, 2007 1:38 PM

What threats does GPS pose exactly? Does anybody know of an example where a GPS device has played any roll whatsoever in an actual attack?

I am having a hard time coming up with a reason to restrict GPS devices.

derfJune 13, 2007 1:39 PM

"Any other sharp/pointed items, including pointed scissors or nail files"

Do they really think someone with scissors or a nail file will be able to commandeer the shuttle? I can see it now: "I wanna go to Venus and I'm not taking 'NO' for an answer! Take me up or the secretary gets it!"

Running with scissors is a bad idea, so maybe that's what they're trying to prevent. However, why not just post a sign - "No running with sharp, pointy things"?

JosephJune 13, 2007 1:44 PM

They can't restrict phones because most phones now have GPS, and if they ban all cell phones people would get very angry very quickly.

Why wouldn't an attacker just use a mapping engine to get GPS coordinates, or stand fifty feet outside the property to get the coordinates, and then compensate for the difference?

Also, this ban can't be for EMF restrictions, because GPS devices don't actually emit anything, they just receive signals. And phones definately emit EMF.

JustinJune 13, 2007 2:09 PM

@Joseph:

GPS devices, like all electronics, emit EMF. All wires, all circuits, and all transistors emit some radiation. But you are right that that's probably not the reason for the ban.

Tristram BrelstaffJune 13, 2007 2:09 PM

"All electronic devices such as digital cameras, MP3 players, mobile/cellular phones, video recorders, voice recorders and pagers must be in working condition before entering the complex. Devices that cannot be powered on, broken devices or devices without properly charged batteries will not be permitted through the front gate."

This is intriguing. Why should a non-functional electronic device be especially dangerous? I think the reason must be that modifying the device to act as a bomb would most likely also prevent it from functioning normally (that is even before it exploded). Thus by simply requiring everyone to show that their phones, laptops, etc are working before they enter, a lot of potential bombs are filtered out. Neat thinking!

stacyJune 13, 2007 2:11 PM

As a security measure designed to foil terrorist attacks, the Kennedy Space Center is in a state of spatial flux. The Center is constantly shifting its location from place to place throughout North America. They just don't want you to be able to track its location. :-)

LenJune 13, 2007 2:11 PM

Radio receivers, including GPS devices, emit radio frequencies while in the process of receiving and demodulating radio signals.

bobJune 13, 2007 2:13 PM

They are trying to restrict people finding out where KSC is for targetting purposes...? Maybe nobody has pointed out to the people who direct US Government security policies that if you are physically in the facility then you already know where it is?

GoatriderJune 13, 2007 2:20 PM

> Why should a non-functional electronic device be especially dangerous?

Because they need to power it up at security to verify that it is what it appears to be. If they can't power it up, it might be something else in disguise, and you could be meeting up with someone who has the component to make it work, thus completing your nefarious plan.

gkdadaJune 13, 2007 2:20 PM

Also to be noted: 'Surrendered items will not be returned to you'.

Anybody interested in subsidizing an iPod or cell phone for the security guard's kid?

UNTERJune 13, 2007 2:22 PM

But they don't ban bottles, which can be easily turned it a knife more dangerous than my Swiss Army ordnance! And they don't ban people who have learned any martial arts, been in any military whatsoever, or were 10 year old boys who learned wrestling holds.

Security theater at its finest.

UNTERJune 13, 2007 2:24 PM

But you got to love the ban against "Any other sharp/pointed items".

Does that include the heads of the managers/"security experts" that came up with this list?

JonJune 13, 2007 2:30 PM

I visited KSC in November. When going on the guided bus tour, they asked us for photo ID, then asked and wrote down "the state you were born in". Which baffled me but I didn't have time that day to question why.

Matthew CarrickJune 13, 2007 2:51 PM

"Thank you for your patience, understanding and your patriotic support of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex."

Patriotic support? Because patriots just don't bring nail files to space launches?

WoodyJune 13, 2007 3:10 PM

And things have really changed since I went there in 98 or 99. They pretty much didn't care, then.

And it's not like the alligators don't make the place dangerous for those trying to sneak around on foot...

Geoff LaneJune 13, 2007 3:16 PM

Actually, this is worse than useless. It is an example of the infantilization of society. The only way to properly defend against active terrorism is for the population to be aware of the true threats and what to do about them. Equating the carrying of pointed objects or common electronic devices with potential terrorism just tells people that they are incapable of dealing sensibly with the society they live in.

They are telling people that they are useless and incapable of making rational decisions about security.

BTW, any terrorist who cannot pack sufficient plastique to cause major damage in a working laptop just isn't trying.

bob'June 13, 2007 3:16 PM

So if you don't want your expensive digital camera confiscated, make damn sure you have some charged batteries for it.


And the GPS ban is ludicrous. I'd be REALLY interested in hearing whether any of the security people thought this "standalone" distinction was doing ANYTHING useful. Of course, they would never give a straight answer, because that might provide intelligence to the enemy. Well, more like "demonstrate stupidity" rather than "provide intelligence".

Yup, I'm really thinking the amount of hydrogen in the universe has a lower bound than human stupidity.

VincentJune 13, 2007 3:50 PM

@UNTER:
"But they don't ban bottles, which can be easily turned it a knife more dangerous than my Swiss Army ordnance!"

This is simply NOT true if the knife is bigger then keychain size.* From time to time I hear about people being stabbed to death, sometimes with pocket knifes. I have never heard of someone dying from a broken bottle.

I agree that broken glass is very dangerous. But it is not the same as a knife, or a gun. Keeping guns and knives out has some merit, even if glass is allowed. You can't go on a shooting-spree with a wineglass stem.

*I have experimented breaking bottles, then slashing and stabbing them into rubbish. (Please be very careful if you try this, it is very dangerous to your hands!) It turns out bottles are a little harder to break cleanly then in the movies. And when they do break, they sometimes just shatter, leaving you with a handful of glass slivers. Sometimes they have dangerous cracks running into the handle, and shatter into your hand when you impact your target with force. I was wearing riot gloves at the time, and even so was quite worried about the danger of shredding my hand. On every impact, part of the "business end" of the bottle would break off. They are structurally VERY unsound -- they were fragile to begin with, and breaking them does NOT make them stronger.

They were however VERY sharp, and did much more damage to the targets then I had expected. They can deliver horrific lacerations, but their penetration is somewhat limited, although less so then I expected.

Swiss Army knives are much tougher, do not shatter as easily, inflict deeper cuts, and much deeper stabs wounds. They are easier to "make ready" and to handle. Their handles wont' shatter into your hand if you grasp them too tight ether. They are a more dangerous weapon then a broken bottle.

TSJune 13, 2007 3:52 PM

GPS is the ticker symbol for The Gap. I bet they're trying to keep the retailer out of KSC, it's probably the only place in America without one.

AnonymousJune 13, 2007 4:16 PM

@jon
**I visited KSC in November. When going on the guided bus tour, they asked us for photo ID, then asked and wrote down "the state you were born in". Which baffled me but I didn't have time that day to question why.**

You could have truthfully said "wet, hungry and alive" for the state you were born in...

X the UnknownJune 13, 2007 4:25 PM

@Vincent: "Does anybody know of an example where a GPS device has played any roll whatsoever in an actual attack?"

Well, I don't know for certain (I'm not in the military), but I strongly suspect that GPS is heavily used by forward observers for artillery, and by cruise missiles - both rather serious attacks.

Granted, they aren't what most people think of as traditional terrorist attacks...

X the UnknownJune 13, 2007 4:28 PM

@Tristram Brelstaff: "Thus by simply requiring everyone to show that their phones, laptops, etc are working before they enter, a lot of potential bombs are filtered out."

This used to be pretty much the standard check when boarding domestic aircraft. If you had a radio/tape-player/etc., they asked you to turn it on at the security-gate.

BLPJune 13, 2007 4:52 PM

@X:

True, however you can do the same with a cell phone GPS, and even automated with something like a iPaq w/ a GPS card in it. Both of which would allowed into KSC under these rules.

I'm sure *someone* has a reason.

RoyJune 13, 2007 5:04 PM

Google Maps accepts "Kennedy Space Center" as a location, and it will take you right to:

28.590302,-80.659335

So, to answer the question, why are these things banned? Because the people in charge like bossing people around, that's why.

Decent people would never take these jobs, and if reassigned to them would quit on the spot.

KerryJune 13, 2007 5:18 PM

@gkdada:
"Also to be noted: 'Surrendered items will not be returned to you'.""

Aha! That's it! The Kennedy Space Center needs some GPS receivers, and they don't have the money to buy them.


ScottJune 13, 2007 6:16 PM

I went on the tour of KSC that required the ID check. I believe that was done because the "Then and Now" tour goes on the property of Cape Canaveral Air station and you are technically entering a military base.

We also thought the GPS thing to be odd and could not come up with a reason for it. Perhaps someone has the mistaken assumption that standalone GPS units are more accurate? Even at that, I'd think that you'd be able to get pretty good data just from services like Google maps... Definitely odd.

They also have metal detectors at the entrance, and they are more sensitive than any I've ever seen at an airport.

I saw one of the KSC security people getting out of their vehicle. She looked like your local sheriff, except that she was carrying an MP5 and even had a second clip attached to the first...

merkelcellcancerJune 13, 2007 7:32 PM

I think most people reading this either do not realize that entering the space center and visitor's center is part of a military complex. Comrades, you are subject to search and limitations/restrictions to your visit to the space complex.

Matthew SkalaJune 13, 2007 8:13 PM

That makes it worse, because the military, of all organizations, ought to know the difference between real and fake security and prefer real.

Particular Random GuyJune 14, 2007 1:52 AM

On the other hand you are not supposed to leave your mobile GPS in your car (due to the far more realistic thread of theft).

@Kerry: *lol*

PeterJune 14, 2007 2:05 AM

Just you remember who is in charge, boy.

That's the point of these pointless restrictions in a nominally democratic society.

StudentJune 14, 2007 2:28 AM

The GPS ban is probably a survivor from when GPS devices was expensive and hard to get.

Over here the maps over military facilities were modified to ensure that they were inaccurate enough to prevent them being used for targeting. It was a small step in making it harder for the enemy. As GPS devices could easily be used to correct the maps they were not allowed on military bases.

With the introduction of GPS devices in everything the ban doesn't make much sense any more, but, you know, it's much easier to ban stuff for security reasons than to remove the bans.

MarkJune 14, 2007 2:52 AM

My bet would be they are afraid of Geocachers who'll be wandering around KSC looking for the various virtual caches, moving around suspiciously, staring into their handheld units, and causing loads of security false alarms. (I found a virtual cache at KSC a couple of years ago)
http://www.geocaching.com/seek/...

jsJune 14, 2007 4:24 AM

@Geoff Lane: "They are telling people that they are useless and incapable of making rational decisions about security."

But they *are* useless and incapable of making rational decisions about security. Otherwise they wouldn't put up with this.

ITGJune 14, 2007 5:30 AM

"ON LAUNCH DAY, BACKPACKS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON PROPERTY"

Why backpacks? And why on "launch day" only?!?

WooJune 14, 2007 6:19 AM

> "ON LAUNCH DAY, BACKPACKS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON PROPERTY"
> Why backpacks? And why on "launch day" only?!?

To prevent people from collecting evidence when some of the shingles drop off the shuttle again? ;)

Pat PendingJune 14, 2007 11:40 AM

Why doesn't someone call them and find out?

I visited last year and remember wrangling my Leatherman micra off my keychain in the car, because I knew they would make a fuss.

I suppose it would be ok to take a laser targeting device, as long as it's in working condition.

JimJune 14, 2007 11:44 AM

I can see the ID check for the "bus tour" parts, since those actually go on to a military base. But KSC Visitor Complex is just a theme park. It's run by a theme park company in New Jersey. They like to think they are "special", but the place is really just a collection of gift shops and bad restaurants. They need about as much security as a mall.

Wa'eerJune 14, 2007 5:12 PM

@Student, re military-base maps

It's amusing to use Google Maps to look at aerial photos of domestic US military bases. Pick one.

I chose Fairchild Air Force Base (a regional SAC base). Really some excellent shots, including a bunch of B-52s on the flight line.

The best part is that Kennedy Space Center has the highest-rez photos that Google Maps provides. None of the air bases I checked did. YMMV.
Someone should alert Gen. Turgidson.

AdrianJune 15, 2007 1:27 AM

I *have* been attacked with a broken bottle and I can assure that it is quite terrifying and thoroughly effective (from the attackers point of view).

It sickens me when I go through airline "security" and see people having to hand over 2" nail files then sitting down in the departure lounge where they can get bottles of beer and soft drink.

A broken bottle thrust up in the face is a very effective weapon

OlafJune 15, 2007 4:54 AM

We ran into security at the space centre when on holiday there after taking the wrong turning on the way out.

He was the nicest member of staff we met there. The rest were a right bunch of grumpy, rude gits.

AnonymousJune 16, 2007 10:56 PM

@Jon:
"I visited KSC in November. When going on the guided bus tour, they asked us for photo ID, then asked and wrote down "the state you were born in". Which baffled me but I didn't have time that day to question why."

Pretty straightforward, I would have thought. Photo ID usually includes name and date of birth, but doesn't include location of birth. As such, it still leaves a pretty big search footprint if they need to identify you, e.g. you die in an accident on the base and they need to inform your next of kin. Adding state of birth narrows it down considerably. Of course, a malicious person could lie about the state of birth but that will just slow them down unless the photo ID is also faked, in which case giving the true state of birth wouldn't make any difference.

@ITG:
"Why backpacks? And why on "launch day" only?!?"

Because on launch day, there are likely to be much larger crowds, and also more media presence. This would make for a more tempting target to a bomber, and a backpack can be used to carry (and surreptitiously abandon) a larger bomb, or other weapon.

On the other hand, it may also be because there a larger crowds on launch day, and backpacks are a pain in the neck in crowded queues.

Cochese TontoJune 19, 2007 2:40 PM

http://www.oracle.com/technologies/rfid/...

I remember reading about NASA's Chemsecure & SmartShelf projects a while back. Perhaps they're anticipating some enterprising young hacker tweaking their GPS, walking around the complex finding RFID inventories...

Perhaps this is the cause of the GPS ban. Farfetched? Maybe, but just because they can't prove its a possible threat, doesn't mean it isn't a possible threat. That's the beauty of invention- nobody's thought of it before.

Of course, factoring possible future ingenuity risks into security makes government look like Security fascists. No win situation.

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