Conversation with Kip Hawley, TSA Administrator (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a five-part series. Link to whole thing.

BS: I hope you're telling the truth; screening is a difficult problem, and it's hard to discount all of those published tests and reports. But a lot of the security around these checkpoints is about perception -- we want potential terrorists to think there's a significant chance they won't get through the checkpoints -- so you're better off maintaining that the screeners are better than reports indicate, even if they're not.

Backscatter X-ray is another technology that is causing privacy concerns, since it basically allows you to see people naked. Can you explain the benefits of the technology, and what you are doing to protect privacy? Although the machines can distort the images, we know that they can store raw, unfiltered images; the manufacturer Rapiscan is quite proud of the fact. Are the machines you're using routinely storing images? Can they store images at the screener's discretion, or is that capability turned off at installation?

KH: We're still evaluating backscatter and are in the process of running millimeter wave portals right alongside backscatter to compare their effectiveness and the privacy issues. We do not now store images for the test phase (function disabled), and although we haven't officially resolved the issue, I fully understand the privacy argument and don't assume that we will store them if and when they're widely deployed.

BS: When can we keep our shoes on?

KH: Any time after you clear security. Sorry, Bruce, I don't like it either, but this is not just something leftover from 2002. It is a real, current concern. We're looking at shoe scanners and ways of using millimeter wave and/or backscatter to get there, but until the technology catches up to the risk, the shoes have to go in the bin.

BS: This feels so much like "cover your ass" security: you're screening our shoes because everyone knows Richard Reid hid explosives in them, and you'll be raked over the coals if that particular plot ever happens again. But there are literally thousands of possible plots.

So when does it end? The terrorists invented a particular tactic, and you're defending against it. But you're playing a game you can't win. You ban guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. You ban small blades and knitting needles, and they hide explosives in their shoes. You screen shoes, so they invent a liquid explosive. You restrict liquids, and they're going to do something else. The terrorists are going to look at what you're confiscating, and they're going to design a plot to bypass your security.

That's the real lesson of the liquid bombers. Assuming you're right and the explosive was real, it was an explosive that none of the security measures at the time would have detected. So why play this slow game of whittling down what people can bring onto airplanes? When do you say: "Enough. It's not about the details of the tactic; it's about the broad threat"?

KH: In late 2005, I made a big deal about focusing on Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs) and not chasing all the things that could be used as weapons. Until the liquids plot this summer, we were defending our decision to let scissors and small tools back on planes and trying to add layers like behavior detection and document checking, so it is ironic that you ask this question -- I am in vehement agreement with your premise. We'd rather focus on things that can do catastrophic harm (bombs!) and add layers to get people with hostile intent to highlight themselves. We have a responsibility, though, to address known continued active attack methods like shoes and liquids and, unfortunately, have to use our somewhat clunky process for now.

BS: You don't have a responsibility to screen shoes; you have one to protect air travel from terrorism to the best of your ability. You're picking and choosing. We know the Chechnyan terrorists who downed two Russian planes in 2004 got through security partly because different people carried the explosive and the detonator. Why doesn't this count as a continued, active attack method?

I don't want to even think about how much C4 I can strap to my legs and walk through your magnetometers. Or search the Internet for "BeerBelly." It's a device you can strap to your chest to smuggle beer into stadiums, but you can also use it smuggle 40 ounces of dangerous liquid explosive onto planes. The magnetometer won't detect it. Your secondary screening wandings won't detect it. Why aren't you making us all take our shirts off? Will you have to find a printout of the webpage in some terrorist safe house? Or will someone actually have to try it? If that doesn't bother you, search the Internet for "cell phone gun."

It's "cover your ass" security. If someone tries to blow up a plane with a shoe or a liquid, you'll take a lot of blame for not catching it. But if someone uses any of these other, equally known, attack methods, you'll be blamed less because they're less public.

KH: Dead wrong! Our security strategy assumes an adaptive terrorist, and that looking backwards is not a reliable predictor of the next type of attack. Yes, we screen for shoe bombs and liquids, because it would be stupid not to directly address attack methods that we believe to be active. Overall, we are getting away from trying to predict what the object looks like and looking more for the other markers of a terrorist. (Don't forget, we see two million people a day, so we know what normal looks like.) What he/she does; the way they behave. That way we don't put all our eggs in the basket of catching them in the act. We can't give them free rein to surveil or do dry-runs; we need to put up obstacles for them at every turn. Working backwards, what do you need to do to be successful in an attack? Find the decision points that show the difference between normal action and action needed for an attack. Our odds are better with this approach than by trying to take away methods, annoying object by annoying object. Bruce, as for blame, that's nothing compared to what all of us would carry inside if we failed to prevent an attack.

Part 3: The no-fly list

Posted on July 31, 2007 at 6:12 AM • 100 Comments

Comments

borkJuly 31, 2007 6:54 AM

I was thinking this morning that this whole interview scenario sounds familiar. Reknowned applied mathmatician is called in a help assuage the public's fears of a powerful organization but instead remains skeptical. Didn't Michael Crichton write this? Is this part of a new technothriller plot contest?

Or maybe it's a Bond film. Did Hawley introduce you to his large, silent henchman during the interview?
"Before I justify my suspicious actions to you, Mr Schneier, allow me to introduce my friend Mr Eve. I understand you're good at cracking codes. Mr Eve is good at cracking things as well."
(Mr Eve bites head of a nearby statue)

bobJuly 31, 2007 7:04 AM

My question for him would be: "Why dont you require your employees to behave as if the passengers being screened are paying for the process and deserve to be treated like humans instead of low-grade animals 1 step away from the glue factory?" In the movie "Roadhouse" (I realize you should not get your science from TV, but this is a good example of correct behavior) when Patrick Swayze took over the bar he told the bouncers to always be polite, even when escorting out an unruly customer.

DavidJuly 31, 2007 7:13 AM

"...looking backwards is not a reliable predictor of the next type of attack."

"Yes, we screen for shoe bombs and liquids"

The same person wrote those two sentences in succession?

Must work for BushCo.

t3knomanserJuly 31, 2007 7:20 AM

So, to paraphrase Kip:
"We shouldn't defend against specific tactics, but against the larger threat. So we'll keep defending against specific tactics."

Bruce- I do hope you'll post a commentary on the interview after all five parts have been posted.

PaeniteoJuly 31, 2007 7:30 AM

> BS: When can we keep our shoes on?
>
> KH: (...) It is a real, current concern. (...)

Obviously not everywhere, as you may keep your shoes at some airports.

Would be interesting to know: Is the threat real (and therefore the airports that let you keep the shoes on act unreasonably) or not (which makes the measure arbitrary).

AndrewJuly 31, 2007 7:36 AM

"...we need to put up obstacles for them at every turn."

And annoy our flying public as much as possible.

A Security-Minded KnitterJuly 31, 2007 7:37 AM

Minor point: knitting needles are allowed. Search under "makeup and personal items."
http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm#4

Not all screeners are aware of this, which is why I travel with a print-out of the page. This raises another point which I hope Bruce asked: why is screening so hit-or-miss? Why, when I travel with my friend, did my butter knife get denied but his, from the same set, did not? Why do we have to remove our shoes at some airports and not others?

kybJuly 31, 2007 7:38 AM

I'm quite interested in this "active" classification given to threats from liquids. Has anyone tried to use liquids since the first lot? Why haven't there been any prosecutions if they have? (could it be because our current measures are ineffective ways of catching terrorists?)

Perhaps they are just assuming that taking liquids off people is effective because there have been no successful liquid attacks since they started doing it. They must have foiled millions of imaginary liquid attacks by now.

Grumpy PhysicistJuly 31, 2007 7:44 AM

> BS: When can we keep our shoes on? > > KH: (...) It is a real, current concern. (...)

Obviously not everywhere, as you may keep your shoes at some airports.

I've found this to be the case when flying out of Japan to the US.

Which is weird, because in Japan you have to take your shoes off just about everywhere (there's some arcane, almost religious, rigorous social code involved, but apparantly airport security checks are "shoes on" zones).

TimJuly 31, 2007 7:48 AM

The liquids stuff isn't even active. As far as I understand it, the group that was considering it was still early in the planning stage.

BillJuly 31, 2007 8:05 AM

I agree w/t3knomanser, I would love to see your commentary after we've had a chance to read the entire interview.

He never really addressed your premise about the Beer Belly and other little-known devices.

t3knomanserJuly 31, 2007 8:05 AM

@Tim - And, there's some doubt as to practical feasibility. It certainly seems easier- and more reliable- to cram conventional explosives into orifices. Of course, that might lead to a revealing gait. Which brings us full circle- the trappings are unimportant- look for odd behaviors. Discomfort, cold sweats, furtiveness, etc. Behavioral profiling wins again.

There is one "defense" of the TSA. Security- real, good security- takes training and intelligence to apply that training. Whizbang button-pushing security, while worthless, can be enforced by a monkey. Government jobs are most often filled by the monkeys. The illusion of efficacy.

AleJuly 31, 2007 8:06 AM

It is painful to see Kip Hawley trying to bend over backwards in order to maintain such a rationally unsustainable position. He avoids every single issue that Bruce points out, contradicts himself continuously and refuses to acknowledge Bruce's counterpoints.

Were it not profoundly worrying, it would be sad and pathetic.

Kyle WilsonJuly 31, 2007 8:10 AM

I still have to wonder how many ounces of explosive (or other related supplies) someone could smuggle onto a plane in one of the available body cavities (and I suspect that women have more 'cargo capacity' than men in this regard). I would think that without full body cavity searches (and I can't see millimeter wave radar helping here), the shoe and liquid searches aren't going to be very useful.

Stephen BJuly 31, 2007 8:17 AM

"KH: Dead wrong! Our security strategy assumes an adaptive terrorist"

That's great news! Wow! Fantastic! Just to make sure this is true however, and not some porky-pie ass-cover, how about a little auditing? How about some of that Homeland Security budget spent on a series of Audit Teams (kinda like Grey-Hat Pen-Testers in IT-Securityland), who are composed of like-minded-fellows, a lot like the people who read this blog. We'll all get paid to come up with "Blue-Sky Scenarios", and provided with a DHS affidavit that allows us to not get arrested if in the extreme unlikelihood, we get caught.
It's simple to set up: We arrange a contract, negotiate a price, then perform some thorough testing of your security strategy. This will include some imaginative and unique ways to penetrate your Airport Security Strategy. Then, in the post-mortem, we deliver the results, present analysis and put forward recommendations and solutions - in exactly the same way we do when we advise companies and governments to protect their Infrastructure Security.

So. How about it, eh? Seems like an ideal opportunity to REALLY do something rather than PRETEND to do something, because you're too busy looking backwards, not forwards.
And the answer? Nothing. They wouldn't dare expose the Myth that they have "robust security in place". In truth, it's all a politico-fudge. In truth?

http://www.zug.com/pranks/super/index06.html

S.

JohnJuly 31, 2007 8:18 AM

Sounds like they are doing behavior analysis; and need delay duration through the check point to increase the accuracy, as well a multitude of chances of unchecked emotional reactions to show. For example a person not intending harm will respond to several successive annoying pointless searches one way, and a hostile person meaning to get through the checkpoint smoothly will react another way.

So by increasing the quantity of pointless and annoying searches they get a stronger multi-confirmed emotional read.

So yes Liquids and shoe bans will stay in place and if they can think of additional ones that add the right amount of delay and annoyance they will add them.

WooJuly 31, 2007 8:18 AM

@Kyle: Considering what I have seen in the movies I've analyzed (*ahem*) yet, a well-built woman could pack the one or other pound of C4, and have fun doing so.
Full body search NOW! ;)

Tim the EnchanterJuly 31, 2007 8:23 AM

Good interview Bruce, however, "surveil" is not a word can you tell "Kip" that next time you talk.

O.K. so I'm a pedant.

C GomezJuly 31, 2007 8:30 AM

I love how everyone assumes things will be different under a new administration. Kip Hawley must be saying these things because he works for Bush.

Don't worry... no matter who wins, you will hear the same stories.

This is because the TSA _really_ works for Congress. All federal agencies really have to think about Congressional oversight much more than they have to think about the administration. Congress is free to change their mandates at any time and write their regulations for them at any time.

And unfortunately, the tired old men and women in Congress don't understand concepts like security or the series of tubes. They just understand votes.

Most of their fellow Americans don't understand security versus obscurity and just plain missing the point. The Congress is a reflection of their votes and education on the subject.

Ed T.July 31, 2007 8:33 AM

"We'd rather focus on things that can do catastrophic harm (bombs!)..."

BZZZZT! If you want to focus on things that can *really* do catastrophic harm, s/(bombs)/(humans)/g

IIRC, the 9/22 hijackers didn't carry bombs onto the planes - they turned the planes themselves into guided missiles!

~EdT.

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 8:40 AM

Let's give the guy a little credit. He's here, so to speak, answering questions at great length. We may disagree, but he's being a stand up guy. We can't expect them listen if we aren't rational in our dealings with them, and when someone chalks it up to "BushCo" it does little more than tell them they'll never be able to do anything right because of your partisan loyalties and they won't even bother listening to you.

I think Bruce's dialogue with him will help because it presents real facts, issues, and concerns.

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 8:46 AM

@John Davies: "Most airports in the free world let you keep your shoes on if you're not flying to the US!"

Most of the free world isn't targetted as "the Great Satan."

I'm not saying I agree with taking our shoes off, I'm merely putting things in perspective.

BernardoJuly 31, 2007 8:55 AM

I'm an atheist, and this interview reminded me of a time when I, in a friendly way, sought out theists of different kinds to ask them why they believe what they believe, for the sake of understanding (as opposed to, you know, bigotry). Very often, I would express some concern, and they would say "Aha, but I can explain" or "Here's something you probably don't know" (or something to that effect) and then start talking, and it would usually be three or four sentences into their talking that I would realize that they were actually not addressing the concern I pointed out, but rather talking about other things that are positive but that don't do anything towards invalidating my concerns. In summary, "Once you base conclusions on faith, there's no way to know what's right and what's wrong anymore", "Yeah, but people become happier and stronger". Um, what?

And another thing; Thank you Bruce for pointing out all those methods that would easily get through security but that are not checked against because they are "less public", i.e. because a failure of the TSA to catch them would not be seen by most people as a failure since those methods are less well-known. Yes, the TSA would only go "Hey, we probably should be checking for those things" if people were afraid of those things, and people will not be afraid of those things until someone tries it, or (I suppose) until we create websites and emails (and publicize them well) that lay out all the easy and dangerous and destructive things that the TSA doesn't check, like Beer Bellies and whatnot.

These past three weeks I flew 11 times (more than I usually fly in a year), and in my several hours of waiting for flights, I did brainstorm a document that outlines how each security measure I am put through could be easily be avoided: Fake ID (they never ask me to take my ID out of the plastic thing it's in), fake boarding pass (is the fake boarding pass generator back up?), putting non-metallic stuff on my body (at one point I walked through security with a 20-oz bottle of Coke in one of my cargo-shorts pockets just to see what would happen. Nothing happened). Maybe I should try to shorten that document so I can put it on a t-shirt, or maybe I should make a little business-card-sized print-out that I can give to TSA people at the airport so that they remember that the only reason we should all do this rain dance is because we must follow some pointless rules, not because it actually prevents anything.

Thanks, Bruce, for doing these interviews. Now if only we could get KH to actually address the issues you bring up. He did address some of them tangentially (so now I think the TSA is only slightly misguided, rather than completely idiotic, when they restrict the volume of liquids we can carry on), but not to a reasonable person's satisfaction.

CJJuly 31, 2007 9:04 AM

@John: that's actually a very good point. It's certainly a reason that make sense of a lot of what we see... I'd say that the screeners don't know that's what they're doing, though, since I don't think they could be such good actors (nobody can pretend to be that grouchy and uncaring).

DamonJuly 31, 2007 9:16 AM

@John: Oh, I hope you're right! That would provide some value to the billions we're flushing down the commode.

@Ale: It is profoundly worrying and sad and pathetic all at the same time.

Bruce, did you add the hypertext links to Kip's answers, or were they his links?

ConcernedJuly 31, 2007 9:28 AM

Laptop batteries explode all the time, there has been several well-publicised recalls. The fact that they do very little about that (doing more will annoy business travels) is one of the reasons that I think TSA is mostly concerned about theater.

BillJuly 31, 2007 9:28 AM

I wish we could have suggested questions. Once the cockpit doors were reinforced, the chance of taking over a plane in the US are pretty much gone. At this point I wonder, "Why should I be 'safe' on a plane when I much more likely to die on the way to the airport." We are chasing an abstract concept rather than some rational goal. We can discuss the specifics of "air safety" all day long, but the initial premise is flawed.

Joe PattersonJuly 31, 2007 9:31 AM

"(Don't forget, we see two million people a day, so we know what normal looks like.)"

Wow.. Yeah... normal looks like a head, a body, two arms and two legs. Does he realize that seeing two million people a day doesn't do anything to teach you what a *terrorist* looks like?

JonathanJuly 31, 2007 9:31 AM

Bruce,

Something Kip should do is travel to Israel. Not only did I not have to take my shoes off, but I also did not have to remove my belt, my watch, etc. Their magnetometers aren't set to detect to go off to a milligram of metal! Israel does not look for weapons they look for terrorists.

NTSJuly 31, 2007 9:32 AM

@Sez me said "Most of the free world isn't targetted as "the Great Satan."

No, but large parts of it are now, thanks to their governments being strong-armed into supporting your "War on Terror"

Thanks for that. Really.

plugJuly 31, 2007 9:36 AM

I was impressed with KH from part 1. But after reading Part 2 of the interview, I have less faith in the TSA then before. It is disheartining to hear the TSA say "looking backwards is not a reliable predictor of the next type of attack", and then literally the next sentence claim that it is necessary for us all to remove our shoes, based on a single, failed, attempt. Nothing that can be explained by incompetence should be attributed to malice. But by showing an understanding of the issues, and then failing to act on them, I can only conclude that KH is out to protect his job more then me.

ColoZJuly 31, 2007 9:38 AM

Is that pronounced "wrap-i-scan" as in "rapid,"
or the perhaps more appropriate "rape-I-scan?"

Southwest PilotJuly 31, 2007 9:40 AM

Oh gee, thanks Bruce. Now I won't be able to smuggle my BeerBelly on the plane.

DigitalCommandoJuly 31, 2007 10:02 AM

When I travel, I do not usually bring any carry-on baggage, yet I get to stand in line with a bunch of idiots carrying baggage containing critical items to be used during the flight such as pet rocks, chia pets, 1978 pinto muffler brackets, etc. slowing down the entire process as screeners try to figure out what all this crap is. Why does the TSA not allow people without carry-on's to bypass this line and go directly to that wooden portal that detects belly button lint far quicker than a glock? That would give me much more time to take out a second mortgage so I could actually purchase one of those $19.00 airport hamburgers! Well... at least KH, or whatever his name is, is a least engaging in the fine art of extrapolated fantasy creation in attempting to "keep up" with them thar terrorists! Here's two onboard security nightmares the TSA has NOT thought of: a terrorist walks to the front of the planes cabin and unrolls a 6' life size image of Janet Reno in a bikini and that image will now pop up every time you have sex creating an immediate soft-off. Or, terrorists quietely sneak up and substitute the 4 hour onboard movie with a constantly looping video of Jerry Falwell's " I have sinned" video. Now I certainly hope Mr. KH will get to these problems right away, and he should be embarrased that HE didn't think of this! Or did he?

Frank Ch. EiglerJuly 31, 2007 10:10 AM

>BS: So why play this slow game of whittling down what people can bring onto airplanes? When do you say: "Enough. It's not about the details of the tactic; it's about the broad threat"?

BS, it's both, and you know it.

Why do you imagine that whatever "broad threat" can be addressed at the level of the TSA is not being addressed? (And "at the level of the TSA" qualifier is important - they won't bring about world peace.) Why do you imagine that you, or the rest of us kibitzers for that matter, are important & trustworthy enough to have deeper information disclosed to?

DanJuly 31, 2007 10:12 AM

I'm torn between wondering if this series of interviews is a late April Fools-er, or if the TSA, as represented by Kip Hawley, really is as lost as these interviews would suggest. I gotta bad feeling it's the latter...

Archon M.July 31, 2007 10:13 AM

[quote="KH"]...we see two million people a day, so we know what normal looks like...[/quote]

Wow. Just wow. I agree with "E". That is a worrisome phrase. I'm sure that in everyday security operations, the threat looks all but "normal", right?

Bob RobertsonJuly 31, 2007 10:18 AM

"Don't forget, we see two million people a day, so we know what normal looks like"

Then why, please why, have in the last few years, have I repeatedly heard the phrase either from TSA to myself or through stories from others "do you want to get shot"?

In my case, they found my license dropped at the checkpoint -- I was excited, and ran up to get it, and they were threatened, but they knew who I was, were watching me tear apart my bags, stress out, and still warn me that "being excited will get you shot".

You do _not_ know what normal is, or I would _never_ hear that phrase, or have it validated by others who have flown.

drewJuly 31, 2007 10:34 AM

The shoe thing is getting out of hand, I usually wear flip-flops onto a plane, and I have to take those off every time. But the real kicker, is my 1 year old son was wearing form-fitting leather shoes, the kind with a soft heel, and we had to take off his shoes .. a toddler's shoes .. because I guess there might be a bomb, or some razorblades, or something in those TINY shoes. Unbelievable

JoeJuly 31, 2007 10:42 AM

Here's a question for KH: can he give any example of a change in procedure for the TSA that wasn't a response to something that had already been attempted by terrorists and reported on CNN.

That is, one example where the TSA is being proactive rather than just reactive.

DonJuly 31, 2007 10:45 AM

The shoe thing is ridiculous - I was transitting LHR last Friday and chose the left hand of the three screening qs/lines in T1. Only in that line were shoes being scanned & I could've changed lines.
The threat I'm really concerned about being "uncovered": when it's alleged the terrorists plan to secrete IED components rectally.
That'll put paid to air travel for me!

AndrewJuly 31, 2007 10:45 AM

>> Don't forget, we see two million people a day, so we know what normal looks like.

No, you don't. By definition. Every time I go past a security checkpoint, I have to do a great job of pretending to be normal -- because in a slightly more free country, I'd be looking at how the TSA people are doing their jobs and filling out comments in the thoughtfully provided comment cards. Since TSA checkpoints are a Constitution-free zone and I'd prefer to get to my destination, I have to keep my head down and shut up.

You think terrorists don't train? Practice? Have lots of experience at traveling past security checkpoints? Follow business traveler Web sites? Perhaps check the TSA rules? How about having some infowar people watch the TSA site and for that matter, this blog, because I guarantee that the tangos are?

A fanatic suicide bomber is not going to stand out because he's nervous. He's going to stand out because of his zen-like calm. He's on the way to Paradise and knows it and won't let the small stuff faze him.

Do we now take all religious travelers and anyone who looks unusually calm and escalate their search priority?

People are the threat. Guns, bombs, chemicals and knives are just noise between the brain of a fanatic and the deaths of many people.

BrianJuly 31, 2007 11:04 AM

The only ray of hope I can find in this interview is that MAYBE the ACTUAL GOAL of all these inane "security" procedures is TO MAKE THE LINE LONGER AND SLOWER.

This would keep potential bad guys in line and under scrutiny for a longer period of time, which would increase their stress levels and (hopefully) make them act more suspicious, so that people watching the lines could pick them out for further examination.

If they aren't doing this, then basically their preventive steps seem to be as useless as Bruce is making them out to be.

Thanks for the great public service, Bruce! But I doubt you'll get another interview with them. :-)

bobJuly 31, 2007 11:16 AM

@NTS: can I assume then that you are NOT one of the ones who takes the USA to task whenever we do NOT go into someplace where evil is ocurring (Darfur for example)?

So I can count on you to tell your fellow citizens "shut up #%!@, we wanted the USA to butt out and now they have - so be happy?"

AnonymouseJuly 31, 2007 11:17 AM

Mr. Bork (3rd commenter), where should I send the bill for a new keyboard? My old one is now covered in coffee that I shot through my nose whilst reading your commentary. There should be some kind of warning system on these comments...

BorisJuly 31, 2007 11:18 AM

I'm glad someone is getting the opportunity to ask questions.

Ask him about cargo planes, they make just as good a projectile, and have 2-3 people on board, tops.

I can carry any number of (empty) glass objects on board, of any size. I do this for business. Break one off in the bathroom, and who cares about a knife or a box cutter.

I once went through security with a densely colored glass bar about the size and shape of a stick of dyno. It showed up on the xray because of the metallic salts that make the color. The screener dug it out of my bag, looked at it for 2 seconds, and put it back. I asked her if she knew what it was... no. But it was OK, since it didn't match any known 'threat' material.

Anybody notice that the exits to security are wide open, with one sleepy TSA on a chair?

Anybody consider how good a bludgeon a laptop computer would make?

This list could just go on and on. We haven't even started talking about non-airplane threats, or threats 'outside the fence'. Whatever, we've killed more of our own people in Iraq than have ever been killed by terrorists, so what's the real point other than bad theater?

sharingexperiencesJuly 31, 2007 11:28 AM

After reading the second part of the interview I am of the opinion everybody here is asking the wrong question and that is how to fix something which is completely broken from the beginning.

I think the right question to ask is how can one get rid of KH, TSA and the rest of arrogant or clueless people and put in place something which would actually make a difference in making the travel more safe and human.

Does it take act of God or is there anything else that can be done? I have very little faith in congress and the administration, since in last couple of years I haven't seen them make a single decision I would actually consider beneficial to broader audience of citizens of this country. Is there a way how regular people who actually care (like the people who comment on the thread like this one) can make a difference and replace the broken system with something that actually works?

bzelbobJuly 31, 2007 11:36 AM

"We do not now store images for the test phase (function disabled), and although we haven't officially resolved the issue, I fully understand the privacy argument and don't assume that we will store them if and when they're widely deployed."

This was a TOTAL weasel-out. They have no need to store these images, but he's preparing you to be a good little slave later on and drink the bad-tasting medicine.

The problem with all these security measures, is that I see them becoming common anytime you have a mass gathering of people. Already happens at stadiums, etc. How long till your local bars, gyms, clubs decide that "for security" they're all going to have to have these cameras, scanners, guards, checkpoints, biometric ID systems and force you to chip yourself. And I see that they're only going to get worse and more invasive.

This is BS. We need to send a strong message that we will NOT fly at airports like treat us like animals.


John GriffinJuly 31, 2007 12:08 PM

The current security system is inconvenient for travelers, but it is the result of a significant lapse in security - 9/11, as well as smaller and more recent attempts to defeat security such as the shoe bomb.

For those desiring a change in the system, be clear about what you want, is it:

1) Remove the current security methods because you believe the additional risk to people both on the plane and who could be impacted by the plane is minimal.

2) Remove the current security methods because you believe the additional risk to people both on the plane and who could be impacted by the plane is not minimal, but is worth the price of not experiencing the security measures.

3) Replace the current security methods with an improved system or alternate strategy: (please specify what this system or strategy is and how it would work).

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 12:17 PM

@NTS: No, but large parts of it are now, thanks to their governments being strong-armed into supporting your "War on Terror"

Thanks for that. Really.
------------------
As if they would leave you alone after we fall. Feed the wolf hoping he'll eat you last.

Terrorists are more likely to engage in terror since it is such good propaganda--they kill innocents, and people such as yourself blame their enemies rather than them, so they do it more often. Thanks for that. Really.

AnonymousJuly 31, 2007 12:18 PM

sharingexperiences wrote:

"I think the right question to ask is how can one get rid of KH, TSA and the rest of arrogant or clueless people and put in place something which would actually make a difference in making the travel more safe and human."

C Gomez wrote:

"...the TSA _really_ works for Congress. All federal agencies really have to think about Congressional oversight much more than they have to think about the administration."

Although the Current Occupant has demonstrated a persistant disregard for public opinion, the Congress is fairly attuned to it. The solution, then, is to generate enough negative public opinion to cause Congress to take action.

While Kip Hawley has, by now, revealed himself as a true believer, more or less immune to rational argument, I still have a modicum of faith in the traveling public. The last time I traveled by air (and I no longer travel by air to any destination that I can reach in a day's drive, because even the shortest trip by air now requires about 8 hours) I printed out about two dozen copies of the New York Times article on "Security Theater at the TSA." While waiting around the airport I left copies in areas where people would be likely to pick them up. I left copies on the aircraft in the pouch of the seat in front of me. I left copies on tables in the baggage claim area. In several cases I observed people picking one up and reading the article.

I propose we all engage in this behavior. Every time you travel by air, find the most damning report on the TSA you can find from a credible source. Print two dozen copies, and as you travel sow the copies wherever the traveling public gathers and would be likely to pick one up and read it. Leave them tucked inside in-flight magazines. I don't believe it will be a quick fix, but over time the TSA will fall into such disrepute that Congress will be goaded into taking action.

Geoff LaneJuly 31, 2007 12:35 PM

I wonder what the true acceptable failure rate for screening is (not the public number which is zero.) How many deaths per year due to terrorist action involving aircraft are to be tolerated?

You have to ask, because otherwise it's impossible to judge the cost effectiveness of the TSA process.

For example, you can reduce the threat to zero by simply not allowing passengers on planes. This approach has many advantages and was used for many hours after 9/11. It is however unacceptable to the public; so already the public is saying that there is a level of risk that they find acceptable.

Just as there hasn't been a second 9/11 in the six years that have passed, there wasn't an attack in the six years prior. Would Kip claim that between 1995 and 2001 we were just lucky? Or there was no threat? Or the existing security, apart from cockpit doors, was sufficient?

We can expand on the potential threat. Are there lots of sleeper cells just sitting around waiting for aircraft security to get lax? Why aren't they targeting other, softer targets. Why don't suicidal terrorists just carry General Electric Miniguns (as used in Predator) into crowded Malls? Bus bombings used to be common in Israel; trains have been targeted in Spain and the UK with varying levels of success. Why have none of these methods been used in the US?

The lack of current Al-Qaeda activity is at least as interesting as their past activity.

sharingexperiencesJuly 31, 2007 12:42 PM

John Griffin wrote
> The current security system is inconvenient for travelers, but it is the result of a significant lapse in security - 9/11,

Lets be clear what was the laps in security? Was it that people got box cutter on the board or was it that the wrong people got on the board? Did it help that people on board were not aware how serious threat these people posed and allowed them to continue with that plan.

Nothing today prevents you to get tool like a box cutter on the airplane. The theatre going on at the security checkpoints with taking of shoes and throwing out tooth paste doesn't prevent the wrong people to get on board. That means

In addition the people on board will not these days allow anybody do what happened on 9/11.

Only the intelligence gathering analysis combined with "profiling people" will identify the right people who pose threat. Technology will help prevent risks posed by obvious targets, but only human intelligence will stop the less obvious. And taking off shoes, limiting the size of water bottle or taking away tooth paste will not help it a single bit.

JoshuaJuly 31, 2007 12:44 PM

Secretary Hawley talks a good game, but then he references the bogus dry-run news story. That does not inspire confidence.

aJuly 31, 2007 1:29 PM

So, as the shampoo terrorists didn't even have passports, they were not able to smuggle the explosive liquids to the airport.

Since this shampoo terrorism hysteria got on, how many liquid explosives have they actually caught in any airport screening? If they have caught ANY liquid explosives, have all those been thrown away to the same bin with all these other liquid bottles that were over the magical 3 oz size?

How many explosive shoes have they caught at the x-rays?

Concerned CitizenJuly 31, 2007 1:40 PM

I'm invoking my right to protest and have free speech. (Since this post will be tracked and they will know my IP, I'm sure that nice boys in black suits will show up at my door.)

Keep KH in the dark and the persons with the REAL power can do what they like. That's what I read in this interview.

We all know KH has no power and no idea what is going on at TSA. Incrementalism will prevent our shoes from staying on our feet. Get used to our quasi-futuristic society - oppression is right here, right now.

ValJuly 31, 2007 1:41 PM

Bruce, is KH reading your blog?

IIRC, the original idea of the interview was to provide some ideas and/or an opportunity for the TSA to show the public that they're really not huge idiots and are in fact working for the public good.

Hopefully KH would be unpleasantly surprised to see that his answers are (mis?)taken for bullshit.

anonymousJuly 31, 2007 1:47 PM

Has anyone ever seen anyone at the airport doing "behavioural analysis"?

All I see is a bunch of rude micro-power junkies who stare at their video screens, point at my shoes and hoot about showing boarding passes.

If any of them have gone through their SPOT training, it doesn't show.

GeorgeJuly 31, 2007 2:02 PM

@John: Sounds like they are doing behavior analysis; and need delay duration through the check point to increase the accuracy, as well a multitude of chances of unchecked emotional reactions to show. For example a person not intending harm will respond to several successive annoying pointless searches one way, and a hostile person meaning to get through the checkpoint smoothly will react another way.

I have often wondered why I've had to show my boarding pass three or four times whenever I go through the checkpoint (while simultaneously juggling my carry-ons and quart baggie). I thought it was just poor coordination and incompetence, but it may well be an attempt at behavior analysis. The question is whether the TSOs can really distinguish between a hostile person meaning to get through the checkpoint smoothly and someone who *becomes* hostile because he's not getting through the checkpoint smoothly, is worried about missing his plane, and is pixxed off at having to show his stupid boarding pass so damned many tmes. If they're looking for stress or nervousness, they'll certainly find a lot of it at airports-- they're a major contributor to it!

@Sez Me: I think Bruce's dialogue with him will help because it presents real facts, issues, and concerns.

It won't help, because it's clearly showing us that loyal Bush appointees are experts at ignoring and evading any real facts, issues, and concerns. They all take Master Classes from Alberto Gonzales.

@Joe: can he give any example of a change in procedure for the TSA that wasn't a response to something that had already been attempted by terrorists and reported on CNN.

Of course he can't. That would be revealing classified information. We just have to trust his assurances that under the very visible clown suit of reactive mass airport screening is an invisible operation that takes highly classified proactive measures to prevent terrorist attacks. It's unpatriotic to question that.

@Brian: MAYBE the ACTUAL GOAL of all these inane "security" procedures is TO MAKE THE LINE LONGER AND SLOWER. This would keep potential bad guys in line and under scrutiny for a longer period of time, which would increase their stress levels and (hopefully) make them act more suspicious, so that people watching the lines could pick them out for further examination.

Perhaps, but wouldn't keeping innocent people in line longer increase their stress levels at least as much? When the signal-to-noise ration is low to begin with, turning up the gain amplifies noise a lot more than the signal. Can even a trained TSO reliably distinguish between someone whose heart burns with Jihad and someone suffering heartburn because he's been in line too long and worries about not only missing his flight but about the ordeal of the flight itself?

If this is really the TSA's goal, it's just another piece of the utter stupidity that characterizes the entire operation. The only effect of making queues longer, slower, and more stressful will be to make air travel more miserable for millions of innocent passengers. Any affect on security can only be negative-- a chokepoint that accumulates a large crowd (whether intentionally or otherwise) becomes an irresistible target for a suicide bomber. Can the TSA really be that stupid?

@Tim the [pedant] enchanter: Good interview Bruce, however, "surveil" is not a word can you tell "Kip" that next time you talk.

"Surveil" is indeed a word, but not a common one. In fact the only people I've ever heard use it are foreign-born, non-native speakers of English. Perhaps Bruce has inadvertently exposed a foreign spy leading the agency that's supposed to be vital to national security?

MichaelJuly 31, 2007 3:04 PM

@Sez me: "As if they would leave you alone after we fall."

After we ... fall. Some guys in caves will do what Nazi Germany couldn't. I honestly don't know how people like you can imagine that's anything but adolescent rhetoric.

On another note, TSA has different levels of politeness at different airports. I did some flying around this last couple of weeks. The TSA people at Indianapolis are always pleasant, polite, and joke with you. The TSA at Jacksonville were horrible, overstressed, and obviously had no idea how to lay out inspection points (they had four stations, and their wheelchair line cut across two other lines to go to station #3 -- doesn't anybody even care how stupid that is?)

Anyway, I don't envy the people who work for TSA; they seem to do a pretty good job with the task they're set and the money they're paid. But this Kip Hawley guy (who doesn't seem to be an idiot) sure is a glib liar.

There's an obvious analogy to be drawn here to our ham-handed approach to foreign policy, by the way. Hawley is straight-up asking, "How can I win the hearts and minds of the American people." The obvious answer, "Act in the interest of the American people," doesn't even occur to him. "Act with honesty, competence, and integrity," a good alternative, is off the table. He honestly believes, however, that the quick fix would work, that there might just be some magical PR stunt he could pull which would make people realize they should be on his team. And that the function of the Bruce Schneiers of the world is to be a conduit of that magically communication.

Clueless.

MichaelJuly 31, 2007 3:09 PM

Another note on Sez me's puerile chestbeating -- what are we doing to "protect" other countries from this supposed all-powerful Muslim enemy?

Nothing. Nothing except making radical Islam a more plausible worldview by trying to out-Great-Satan their wildest nightmares, and nothing except making sure they won't envy us for our freedoms any more.

Clueless.

amJuly 31, 2007 3:34 PM

I have an arab name. My father is Iranian though I'm a US citizen (but foreign born). I have often "fit the profile" (except for religion.. ).

I have traveled often to Israel and the United States.

In Israel I find the security intimidating, but completely professional. And quite courteous considering that they check just about everything you have w/a microscope.

I the US the searches are much less thorough.. but the attitude in some places is INCREDIBLY RUDE!

I don't know if we'll catch a lot of terrorists.. but it sure doesn't help to be so RUDE. Rudeness doesn't make you a more secure checkpoint.

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 4:08 PM

@ Michael

How intellectual of you. I'm not engaging in dialogue, i'm just beating my adolescent chest (yeah right, adolescent 2 decades ago), as you so intelligently suggest.

Wow, how could I not have bowed to your intellect that so enlightens my clueless mind. Your brilliance is refreshing, Sherlock.

Got anything useful to contribute Michael, or would you rather demonstrate your own cluelessness some more?

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 4:18 PM

@ George:It won't help, because it's clearly showing us that loyal Bush appointees are experts at ignoring and evading any real facts, issues, and concerns. They all take Master Classes from Alberto Gonzales.
-------------
You may be right. I hope not, but I fear you may be. The only point I'm trying to make to some of the rhetoric here is that they are more likely to listen if we present facts rather than insults. Unfortunately, there are many here that get all schoolyard when someone says something they disagree with and they hurl a bunch of grade school tantrums and insults, then they wonder why no one takes their concerns seriously. This is particularly unfortunate when their concerns are correct, but no one listens because they behave like children. I'm not saying you fall in this category.

I respect Bruce a lot, and I really enjoy talking to people who disagree with me since I am one of the few that understands I may be wrong at times.

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 4:22 PM

@ AM: I agree that rudeness is unacceptable. It's tough to assess what is the best approach, and nothing will make everyone happy. But courtesy should be exercised.

Ben_KJuly 31, 2007 5:01 PM

Will someone please explain to me how running shoes through a standard X-Ray scanner will detect if the soles are molded from Semtex or such? All the terrorist would need then would be the detonator and battery hidden in his iPod.

TSKJuly 31, 2007 5:52 PM

Here some ideas for preventing terrorism (since John Griffin asked for it):

a) Reward passengers with less luggage. Less luggage, less possibilities for smuggling something in. So there should be extra entrances for people who have nothing (or just sth in the hand). They can be much faster scanned; gaining even more time for scanning difficult baggage. Better, people will learn that less baggage is advantageous and leave their unnecessary crap home.

b) Insert remote control with a time lock so that it is impossible to significantly change height (but not orientation) during the longer passages. As planes are required to use strictly defined "lanes" in air, that should be not a problem. Terrorists cannot down a plane
on purpose, so their time frame for succeeding is severly limited. Further add
the ability to auto-land a plane with passenger help so there is no use to kill
the pilots.

c) Shuffle the people for places. Allow only two people who may sit adjacent. Without guns and bombs, terrorists are bound to intimidate and overwhelm passengers to submit them. That is much more difficult in this circumstances; any attempt to group together will be suspicious.

d) If data mining is used: Interview three
of the most suspicious passengers and more than twenty of innocent passengers before boarding. In this way terrorists cannot find out the criteria to filter suspects for interview.

Some ideas left out, but here they are...

EL_BastardoJuly 31, 2007 6:30 PM

It's an elaborate bluff to enable people who aren't skilled at behavioural assessment to pick out suspects.

The more crap they put you through, the more any reasonable person will be aggrevated and annoyed.

They simply look for the calm ones, any terrorist will be prepared and "at peace with Allah", and trying not to show any fear or nerves.

If in doubt, start searching the indivdual, find some normal every-day item in the person's belongings and claim it's banned. If they start raving at how stupid you are for trying to ban toothbrushes they're not a terrorist. If they calmly say "Sure, don't worry, just take it, I'm glad to see you're paying such good attention to real security, and I now feel safer when flying." then you can slap on the rubber gloves, cos you got yourself a live one.

jtJuly 31, 2007 9:00 PM

"(Don't forget, we see two million people a day, so we know what normal looks like.)"

If that were true they wouldn't be shaking everybody down for their shampoo and shoes.

pecuniumJuly 31, 2007 9:17 PM

Sez me: You might ponder this thread, http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009186.html which is about how things read in comment threads.

He didn't say you had an adolescent chest, but that you were engaged in behavior of an adolescent nature.

I have to agree. None of the commentary about how "they" are going to kill/enslave the world if the mighty United States doesn't play bully boy and prevent them (pace, the accusations that I am some sort of "terrorist apologist, I happen to be an Army interrogator, and have take some of the counterterrorism courses the DoD offers, I have some perspective on this).

Russia is still afflicted with Chechen separatists. England had decades of strife in N. Ireland (and still might have more), there are a lot of domestic groups (far more active then radical Islamists) acting in the US.

None of them is in any position to do us more than trivial, if dramatic, harm.

The TSA measures don't, so far as I can tell, even protect us from that. I know several ways to get a gun onto an airplane. One of them used to be ineffective; since the founding of TSA, that way works.

If all I want to do is blow up a plane, I can do it.

If I wan't, however, to change US policy by means of terror, well that's a horse of a different color.

If I want to, "defeat" them, instead of attain a limited policy goal (e.g. convincing the US that bases in Saudi Arabia are too expensive to maintain), I need an army, and a means of invasion.

It ain't gonna happen.

So yes, talk of how "they" will defeat, "us", and then the rest of the world, when "we" are gone, is puerile, because it's patently undoable, and the fears on which it plays are base.

Which is the whole point of Security Theater, to allay base fears, without, necessarily, addressing real risks.

mnsJuly 31, 2007 9:18 PM

Could someone please find the section of the Constitution or any other piece of legislation that guarantees our right to purchase service from a commercial entity and to receive that service without ever having to take our shoes off? For the life of me, I keep looking and looking, and I can't find anything like that.

It's probably next to my sense of outrage over having to take my shoes off.

When the TSA was a collection of private security firms tasked with preventing terrorism and smuggling, they were hilariously inept, and only technically successful due to lack of attempts by "bad guys". Now that they're a government agency, nothing has changed except who picks up their paychecks. That anyone would feign surprise or even annoyance at this fact smacks of a partisan political axe to grind, or a rather unbecoming naiveté.

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 9:23 PM

@pecunium:

I respect your service, but to say i'm behaving as an adolescent is off base. If I can across that way, that wasn't my intension. I see a lot of name calling, and a lot of insults hurled at people one disagrees with. My point was to illustrate how absurd Michael's response was.

If I can across otherwise, I apologize. But considering his ridiculous response, I honestly take exception at you saying I'm behaving in an adolescent nature.

You, frankly, should know better, sir.

MikeJuly 31, 2007 9:38 PM

I'm a Million Mile frequent flyer - all domestic.

The one TSA/Airline trick that really chaps my hide happens when my flight gets canceled, and I get bounced to another airline.

From that point forward I'm treated like I bought a one-way ticket. That means extra searches every step of the way.

If I was a bad guy, and I did have a plan, that plan went to pieces the moment my planned flight was canceled. I won't be meeting any of my buddies on any of the new flights I didn't plan to be on.

This kind of thing really wastes too much of the TSA time, but it happens every time without fail.

Most of this ‘security’ is just a way to give people a little piece of mind, even if it is just an illusion. In the end, it is we the passengers that must secure the flights, just like on Flight 93 (if you don’t know, then shame on you).

One plan mentioned was to get more than a dozen bad guys on the plane and try to overwhelm any air-marshal that might be on board.

That could only work if the passengers did nothing.

Once upon a time there was an unspoken contract between hijackers and passengers. Sit down, shut up, and you should get home. That contract was irrevocably broken on 9-11.

I know what I hope to do in that kind of situation.

What would you do?

Sez MeJuly 31, 2007 9:52 PM

@Mike

I honestly don't know what I'd do, but I would imagine fear may cause passengers to keep would-be hijackers out of the cock pit.

A lot of attention (rightly and wrongly) is being focused on airline safety. So, IMHO, I think the next attack will come through another means. Probably something few are predicting or talking about. Terrorists are fanatics, but they are not fools. We may not know again until they surprise us and the TV is full of smoke, but I seriously doubt with all the attention paid to airlines that airlines will be their weapons next time.

pecuniumJuly 31, 2007 10:31 PM

Sez Me: You may take all the exception you like. I can only respond to what I see.

Explain please who it is who is going to destroy us, and how they will do so at airports?

Further explain how reductions of security theater will bring this about.

It's those arguments I am calling adolescent behavior, just as I would call it childish behavior were you to tell me you believe in the tooth fairy.

I keep going back to look at what was actually said, and you did a bunch of the "name calling" you are decrying, by discounting people as engaging in purely partisan rhetoric, saying that people who dislike what we are doing in the "war against terror" are looking to toss the US to the wolves, in the hope they will be treated well after we, "fall" and the like.

All the while shifting the topic to emotional terms, and saying those who are looking at the things the director of the TSA are saying are being foolish, because pointing out the flaws; even with strong language, won't get them listened to. Well if they are going to be ignored, they might as well be ignored with constructive comment, hoping to plant a seed, as with gentle words that merely say "thanks for deigning to tell us the party line."

Because that's what I see. Yesterday's interview was better, but this is just shucking and jiving.

And insulting people who point it out isn't helping either, because it makes any good points you want to raise less likely to be listened to. If I, by way of example, were more thin skinned, your attempt to shame me would have been more likely to make me angry, and so derailed things (more than this digression on methods has). The fact of the matter is I "don't know better," whatever that means.

If I did, then I'd not have said what I did. Were you trying to say I was in some way being less than honest, because that's how it comes across.

I'm willing to believe this is all a "tone of typer" problem, but even assuming that, I have to ask, what was it you were trying to say with the jingoistic comments about "them" destroying "us" and the need to engage in taking our shoes off, and not taking more than 3 oz. of liquids onto a plane?

AlexJuly 31, 2007 11:29 PM

Sadly, asking people to reduce their carry-on luggage is unlikely. Especially once they've had bags lost or damaged and find out how little compensation there is.

Richard BraakmanAugust 1, 2007 3:52 AM

@mns:

I'm not sure what you're trying to say there. The Constitution enumerates a limited set of powers for the federal government. The power to require us to take our shoes off when making a certain type of commercial transaction is not among them.

If airlines and airline security were not so heavily regulated, there wouldn't be a problem. The free market would quickly take care of excess zeal in screening. Just have "easy screen" and "thorough screen" flights and see which kind is more popular.

However, since they ARE regulated, you can't analyze this as a voluntary commercial transaction. The government is involved and it is restricting travel. It is proper to review the TSA's actions and policies under the Constitution.

tired of fear mongeringAugust 1, 2007 3:55 AM

You can't improve security by addressing only those issues that make good headlines. That point seems to be fairly well understood on this blog. Yet nearly everyone here seems to accept the premise that we need security checkpoints that are to some extent invasive.

If I were a terrorist, endeavouring to be a smart terrorist, I'd probably look somewhere other than the airline industry for my next target. There are lots of ways I could kill way more people without having to endure nearly as much security scrutiny. 9-11 was a counterexample. It turns out that flying jumbo jets into skyscrapers is more effective than just about any other attack I can personally design.

We do not, however, need to be intrusive at all to prevent another such attack. Reinforced cockpit doors, maybe an air marshall onboard, and a plane full of people, who will never again sit idly by and watch a terrorist take over an airplane, provide much better security than anything that could possibly be done by TSOs at a security checkpoint.

Other than the threat of using an airplane as a weapon, air travel merits no more security (and attending forfeiture of privacy, autonomy, and human dignity) than bus travel. We shouldn't be debating whether the 3 oz liquid limit is justified. We should be debating whether it is a justified intrusion into our lives and expense to our pocketbooks to have security checkpoints at all.

We are spending so much, and enduring so much more, to plug up tiny imaginary holes in a fence that doesn't make it all the way around the house.

AnonymousAugust 1, 2007 7:39 AM

@TSK: Better, people will learn that less baggage is advantageous and leave their unnecessary crap home.

I agree with you in theory. In practice the airlines themselves are working against this policy.

They discourage checked luggage in many ways: charging for curb-side check in therefore extending the lines inside, reducing rather than increasing counter personnel and therefore further extending lines for counter check in, reducing baggage personnel and therefore extending time it takes to retrieve checked luggage. All these measures encourage flyers to carry rather than check luggage.

They encourage further carry-on baggage by reducing cabin services: charging for food and sometimes beverages while reducing the variety available, reducing the amount of water carried causing some to worry about dehydration duing an extended delay, extended delays combined with reduced services and consumables encouraging flyers to bring more of their own.

Changing only two of these policies would greatly encourage checked baggage: eliminate the curbside checkin fee and hire more baggage handlers to speed checked baggage retrieval. I don't anticipate either happening.

FinAugust 1, 2007 7:41 AM

Hi Mike,

The question you should have asked was.... What would Smeato do?

When asked what message he had for the terrorists he said.

"This is Glasgow, we'll just set about you."

When asked how he tried to restrain the terrorist he said.

"Me and other folks were just tryin tae get the boot in and some other guy banjoed him."

FinAugust 1, 2007 7:52 AM

Will someone please explain to me how running shoes through a standard X-Ray scanner will detect if the soles are molded from Semtex or such?

Posted by: Ben_K at July 31, 2007 05:01 PM

Erm, are standard xray machines used anywhere but the third world anymore? I had a conversation with an astro-physist the other day and he applied for a job designing xray machines that were refining detection of specific classes of chemical a good while ago in the beginning of is career. I've also noticed going through most checkpoints now the colour screens are highlighting specific items within people's luggage.

Another interesting innovation I noticed in Glasgow recently is automatic conveyors which route bags to more involved checks including explosive swabbing. My wife's face cream got a dose of that.

There seemed to be a random component to the conveyor technology that was putting odd bags/coats for extra screening as well as ones the screeners had picked. Much better than the psuedo random approach you get with people. That is if you really want random screening.

BobSmithAugust 1, 2007 8:58 AM

It is indeed a very interesting interview. As some already pointed out, just because they give you the wand and a uniform, the TSA staff needs not be rude, shouting robotic messages (cheaper to replace them with robots) and damn pushy. I have traveled all over the world, sadly US airports have to be rated the worse and most unpleasant places - the toilet is more pleasant place.

All in all, as Bruce is trying to point out to the TSA & DHS, they are playing a losing battle. The government bodies appear to stereotype the terrorist as dumb and lack creativity. On the contrary they are smarter than TSA & DHS. All they have to do to release some fictitious plot to the world, US and other followers are losing millions of dollars and creating more and more intrusive laws. So they are already winning without a bomb going off.

Wake up and change your tactic.

MichaelAugust 1, 2007 9:00 AM

Huh. I always fly one-way wherever I go (because I frankly can't plan my way out of a paper bag and never know in advance when I might be returning). Early on, that resulted in screening. Last week (two one-way flights) it didn't.

Not drawing conclusions, just found it interesting.

Tim the EnchanterAugust 1, 2007 9:44 AM

@Aaron the great

"Surveil" is a back formation of surveillance. The correct original word is "survey".

RichAugust 1, 2007 12:23 PM

Algorithm to defeat the no-fly list.

1. Collect a set of terrorists.
2. Send them on innocent flights.
3. Those that succeed are not on the no-fly list.

You now have a set of terrorists who are not on the no-fly list that you can get through security. Now train them for nefarious activities.

futnuhAugust 1, 2007 9:43 PM

What happens when the first suicide bomber detonates in a 200-person line-up waiting to be screened? In terms of lives, that's the equivalent of bringing down a mid-sized airliner. Instead of stalling passengers, the TSA should be directed to minimize such crowding. Rewarding those with no carry-on would be a great start. Imagine a travel culture where no-one brought luggage on board ...

Jonadab the Unsightly OneAugust 2, 2007 12:46 AM

> Minor point: knitting needles are allowed... Not all screeners are aware of this,
> which is why I travel with a print-out of the page. This raises another point which
> I hope Bruce asked: why is screening so hit-or-miss? Why, when I travel with my
> friend, did my butter knife get denied but his, from the same set, did not?

Actually, to the extent this is unpredictable (not that I do not say "not publically documented", but "unpredictable"), it does improve security. If the terrorists can't predict what they'll be able to get through or not, it makes their planning harder. If the item they were able to get through on a low-risk test run gets stopped, that foils their plot -- even a significant risk that this will happen can put an obstacle in their way.

It is, however, also a significant inconvenience to travellers.

> Why do we have to remove our shoes at some airports and not others?

That however doesn't improve security, at least not on flights out of the more lax airports.

> I still have to wonder how many ounces of explosive (or other related supplies)
> someone could smuggle onto a plane in one of the available body cavities (and
> I suspect that women have more 'cargo capacity' than men in this regard).
> I would think that without full body cavity searches ...

Actually, an adult man can carry a couple of quarts of liquid in his bladder, as long as it's a liquid that doesn't cause serious problems for epitheleal tissue, and doesn't react chemically with urine in any significant way. The really scary thing there is a body cavity search won't catch it. I cannot off the top of my head think of any liquids that could be carried in this way and would be much more useful to a terrorist than water. But that doesn't mean there aren't any. If I wanted to find a way to smuggle explosives onto a plane, I'd certainly spend a few dozen hours researching this, because it would be practically impossible to screen for.

As for behavioral cues, they are worth looking for, but they are not reliable. People can be trained to appear calm and act more-or-less naturally under even quite unusual circumstances.

(Yes, I'm paranoid. I'm a network administrator. It's an occupational hazard.)

> I think the right question to ask is how can one get rid of KH, TSA and the rest of
> arrogant or clueless people and put in place something which would actually make
> a difference in making the travel more safe and human.

As far as "making the travel more safe", worrying much about air travel is a poor use of time and effort. It's like optimizing specific machine instructions in a part of a computer program that only runs once, when you know very well there's an O(2^N) algorithm in a subroutine that gets called many times. Put another way, when you're securing your house against theft while you're on vacation, there's not much point putting bars on the second story windows if there are no locks on the ground-floor doors. Driving in a motor vehicle on the public roads is so dangerous, travel cannot be made significantly more safe by addressing any other concern, period. Commercial airline travel, in addition to being something most people do much less often, is also a LOT more safe. It's not really the problem, or at least not the really big one.

Of course, roads aren't dangerous because of terrorists. In fact, the idea of terrorists making the roads more dangerous is plain silly. They might just about as well try to make our government more bureaucratic and our television programming more inane.

GeorgeAugust 3, 2007 2:20 PM

@Futnuh: Rewarding those with no carry-on would be a great start. Imagine a travel culture where no-one brought luggage on board ...

Imagine an airline that reliably delivers all checked baggage undamaged and with its contents intact to the baggage reclaim carousel as soon as the flight arrives.

If that highly fantastic scenario ever becomes reality, we can imagine a travel culture without carry-on bags. But for now, any travelers who want to be sure that all their belongings arrive at their destination when they do (and aren't wealthy enough to pay a premium price for FedEx or a luggage delivery service) have no choice but to cram as much as they can into their overstuffed carry-on bags.

Yes, selfish bin-hogs make both flying and security more arduous. But if you've ever had to deal with lost checked baggage, you'd quickly become a selfish bin-hog too.

JerryNovember 15, 2007 9:57 PM

The fist problem I see here is the fact that TSA is run by a guy named "Kip". After "Scooter" and "Brownie" it looks like people would know better than to name some one to head up a Federal agency who has the name of five year old. Secondly, how many times has TSA security been breached since 2003? As an ex contractor to the people I can tell you that they do not know how to spell the word "security" let alone inforce it. They even have security guards (rent a cops) who work for $8.50 an hour gaurding their own headquarters.And to top it off none of these guys are American citizens! TSA and DHS are big flops. They have never come close to delivering what they promised and even after four years still can't seem to "get it right". Kinda reminds you of the man who created them doesn't it?

Captain AmericaFebruary 5, 2008 4:21 PM

So, to take this argument to its logical extreme, let's expect a terrorist to do the unexpected and turn his testicles into bombs. What will be TSA's procedure after that?

Connelly BarnesMarch 15, 2008 7:25 PM

Guys, you aren't really fair as an audience. You're reasonably educated and rational, whereas Kip Hawley is put in place for the intended audience of a mindless, fearful, irrational public that believes whatever talking heads say. So of course you see through pointless security measures that Kip puts in place. But that's irrelevant, because the whole thing was designed to irrationally soothe peoples' fears rather than for a real reason. It's no different than the kultur of the German people, or the propaganda of any era. I don't think we can expect more, because we live in a democracy, the majority consists of idiots, and no alternative political system is likely to improve anything.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..