Conversation with Kip Hawley, TSA Administrator (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a five-part series. Link to whole thing.

In April, Kip Hawley, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), invited me to Washington for a meeting. Despite some serious trepidation, I accepted. And it was a good meeting. Most of it was off the record, but he asked me how the TSA could overcome its negative image. I told him to be more transparent, and stop ducking the hard questions. He said that he wanted to do that. He did enjoy writing a guest blog post for Aviation Daily, but having a blog himself didn't work within the bureaucracy. What else could he do?

This interview, conducted in May and June via e-mail, was one of my suggestions.

Bruce Schneier: By today's rules, I can carry on liquids in quantities of three ounces or less, unless they're in larger bottles. But I can carry on multiple three-ounce bottles. Or a single larger bottle with a non-prescription medicine label, like contact lens fluid. It all has to fit inside a one-quart plastic bag, except for that large bottle of contact lens fluid. And if you confiscate my liquids, you're going to toss them into a large pile right next to the screening station -- which you would never do if anyone thought they were actually dangerous.

Can you please convince me there's not an Office for Annoying Air Travelers making this sort of stuff up?

Kip Hawley: Screening ideas are indeed thought up by the Office for Annoying Air Travelers and vetted through the Directorate for Confusion and Complexity, and then we review them to insure that there are sufficient unintended irritating consequences so that the blogosphere is constantly fueled. Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright, and motivated to protect the public with the least intrusion into their lives, not to mention travel themselves. How might you engineer backwards from that premise to get to three ounces and a baggie?

We faced a different kind of liquid explosive, one that was engineered to evade then-existing technology and process. Not the old Bojinka formula or other well-understood ones -- TSA already trains and tests on those. After August 10, we began testing different variants with the national labs, among others, and engaged with other countries that have sophisticated explosives capabilities to find out what is necessary to reliably bring down a plane.

We started with the premise that we should prohibit only what's needed from a security perspective. Otherwise, we would have stuck with a total liquid ban. But we learned through testing that that no matter what someone brought on, if it was in a small enough container, it wasn't a serious threat. So what would the justification be for prohibiting lip gloss, nasal spray, etc? There was none, other than for our own convenience and the sake of a simple explanation.

Based on the scientific findings and a don't-intrude-unless-needed-for-security philosophy, we came up with a container size that eliminates an assembled bomb (without having to determine what exactly is inside the bottle labeled "shampoo"), limits the total liquid any one person can bring (without requiring Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to count individual bottles), and allows for additional security measures relating to multiple people mixing a bomb post-checkpoint. Three ounces and a baggie in the bin gives us a way for people to safely bring on limited quantities of liquids, aerosols and gels.

BS: How will this foil a plot, given that there are no consequences to trying? Airplane contraband falls into two broad categories: stuff you get in trouble for trying to smuggle onboard, and stuff that just gets taken away from you. If I'm caught at a security checkpoint with a gun or a bomb, you're going to call the police and really ruin my day. But if I have a large bottle of that liquid explosive, you confiscate it with a smile and let me though. So unless you're 100% perfect in catching this stuff -- which you're not -- I can just try again and again until I get it through.

This isn't like contaminants in food, where if you remove 90% of the particles, you're 90% safer. None of those false alarms -- none of those innocuous liquids taken away from innocent travelers -- improve security. We're only safer if you catch the one explosive liquid amongst the millions of containers of water, shampoo, and toothpaste. I have described two ways to get large amounts of liquids onto airplanes -- large bottles labeled "saline solution" and trying until the screeners miss the liquid -- not to mention combining multiple little bottles of liquid into one big bottle after the security checkpoint.

I want to assume the TSA is both intelligent and motivated to protect us. I'm taking your word for it that there is an actual threat -- lots of chemists disagree -- but your liquid ban isn't mitigating it. Instead, I have the sinking feeling that you're defending us against a terrorist smart enough to develop his own liquid explosive, yet too stupid to read the rules on TSA's own website.

KH: I think your premise is wrong. There are consequences to coming to an airport with a bomb and having some of the materials taken away at the checkpoint. Putting aside our layers of security for the moment, there are things you can do to get a TSO's attention at the checkpoint. If a TSO finds you or the contents of your bag suspicious, you might get interviewed and/or have your bags more closely examined. If the TSO throws your liquids in the trash, they don't find you a threat.

I often read blog posts about how someone could just take all their three-ounce bottles -- or take bottles from others on the plane -- and combine them into a larger container to make a bomb. I can't get into the specifics, but our explosives research shows this is not a viable option.

The current system is not the best we'll ever come up with. In the near future, we'll come up with an automated system to take care of liquids, and everyone will be happier.

In the meantime, we have begun using hand-held devices that can recognize threat liquids through factory-sealed containers (we will increase their number through the rest of the year) and we have different test strips that are effective when a bottle is opened. Right now, we're using them on exempt items like medicines, as well as undeclared liquids TSOs find in bags. This will help close the vulnerability and strengthen the deterrent.

BS: People regularly point to security checkpoints missing a knife in their handbag as evidence that security screening isn't working. But that's wrong. Complete effectiveness is not the goal; the checkpoints just have to be effective enough so that the terrorists are worried their plan will be uncovered. But in Denver earlier this year, testers sneaked 90% of weapons through. And other tests aren't much better. Why are these numbers so poor, and why didn't they get better when the TSA took over airport security?

KH: Your first point is dead on and is the key to how we look at security. The stories about 90% failures are wrong or extremely misleading. We do many kinds of effectiveness tests at checkpoints daily. We use them to guide training and decisions on technology and operating procedures. We also do extensive and very sophisticated Red Team testing, and one of their jobs is to observe checkpoints and go back and figure out -- based on inside knowledge of what we do -- ways to beat the system. They isolate one particular thing: for example, a particular explosive, made and placed in a way that exploits a particular weakness in technology; our procedures; or the way TSOs do things in practice. Then they will test that particular thing over and over until they identify what corrective action is needed. We then change technology or procedure, or plain old focus on execution. And we repeat the process -- forever.

So without getting into specifics on the test results, of course there are times that our evaluations can generate high failure rate numbers on specific scenarios. Overall, though, our ability to detect bomb components is vastly improved and it will keep getting better. (Older scores you may have seen may be "feel good" numbers based on old, easy tests. Don't go for the sound-bite; today's TSOs are light-years ahead of even where they were two years ago.)

Part 2: When can we keep our shoes on?

Posted on July 30, 2007 at 6:12 AM • 184 Comments

Comments

Ed T.July 30, 2007 6:47 AM

"If the TSO throws your liquids in the trash, they don't find you a threat."

If they didn't find (you) a threat, then WHY THROW THE FREAKIN' LIQUIDS IN THE TRASH?!?!?

Jeez Louise...

~EdT.

JohnnyMJuly 30, 2007 7:10 AM

I've always wanted to know why knives, box-cutters and all sorts are considered dangerous, but you can happily go buy a massive bottle of spirits from duty-free, smash the glass and then have a very effective weapon? Were you able to ask this question? I'd love to know the answer.

kybJuly 30, 2007 7:11 AM

Good interview. I don't think he's answered your questions about the liquids thing very well, and his response to the other point seems to be to dispute the studies. In summary, he's still dodging the hard questions.

kybJuly 30, 2007 7:16 AM

JohnnyM: To be honest, you can buy so much stuff in duty free, I've been convinced for a while that you could make a number of deadly weapons and explosives from the things you could buy plus stuff you could easily carry inside. I'd love to see some research along these lines. There are no checks before getting on the plane.

ChrisJuly 30, 2007 7:19 AM

Same s**t accross Europe.
My best one was being asked for liquids, then my handlugge was x-rayed then I was asked again and finally they took my handluggage apart completely.
Nice.
And no... I didn't have any liquids with me.
Took place at Charles de Gaulle, Paris, Terminal 2.

I'm looking forward to knowing when I can keep my shoes on. (-:

PaeniteoJuly 30, 2007 7:22 AM

(near the end) "They isolate one particular thing: for example, a particular explosive, made and placed in a way that exploits a particular weakness in technology; our procedures; or the way TSOs do things in practice. Then they will test that particular thing over and over until they identify what corrective action is needed."

--> In other ways: They focus on tactics.

t3knomanserJuly 30, 2007 7:33 AM

@kyb:
How about when they leave the janitor supply closet unlocked? Between that and the Duty Free, I'm sure you can jury-rig some nasty. Maybe not C4 style kabooms, but enough to render the flight unsafe.

And I'd be curious to know what steps the TSA is taking to defend against a DOS attack on the airline infrastructure- with a large enough number of false positives, they could bring air travel to a halt. It would take many more people than they usually involve, but most of those people would be exposed to very little risk.

AntonJuly 30, 2007 7:48 AM

I took a half a pound of english tea on board. It had a nice black powdery consistency. They did not worry about that, as it was not a liquid.

RobJuly 30, 2007 7:59 AM

So, to sum up -

After we've determined you're not a threat, we'll still take your liquids from you, just cause that's what our rules say. And then dump them in the nearest trash can.

Don't believe the reports of our ineffectiveness... they're lies! Lies, I say!

And finally, I'll continue to obfuscate on the hard questions, because I'm a bureaucrat and my very existence depends on it.

How very, very sad.

Brent J. NordquistJuly 30, 2007 8:02 AM

Great series! Thanks; looking forward to the next one. So, Hawley says in the AvWeek editorial that "TSA prefers to keep its resources flexible and nimble and not dig in behind new measures targeted for an endless set of newly perceived vulnerabilities." and then goes on to talk about how flexibility and unpredictability are the names of the game.

I'm having trouble lining that up with checking shoes (which began after Richard Reed), the 3 oz. liquid regime (which began after the London liquid-bombing scare), etc. How is this not reacting to the latest "newly perceived vulnerability"? He also didn't respond to your point that many people disagree about the feasibility of assembling a liquid explosive in flight.

My suspicion is that each new added "hoop" will stay indefinitely in a screening process that will grow ever longer and more burdensome. And it still looks to me like the primary motivator for each one is the "appearance of doing something to counter what the public heard in the news lately", and not the real security value of what's being tested.

Bruce SchneierJuly 30, 2007 8:03 AM

"I don't think he's answered your questions about the liquids thing very well..."

I know. I don't, either. I wish he did. But there comes a point where you simply have to stop badering him and move on.

C GomezJuly 30, 2007 8:15 AM

I think it's commendable that Mr. Hawley would agree to the interview. We have to put credit where it's due. Now, what would be better is if Hawley became a frequent guest... not necessarily here... but on more public forums. Perhaps sometimes Mr. Schneier could also be a guest, so that the interviewer is not overwhelmed with security minutiae.

I appreciate the clear manner in which Mr. Schneier asked questions that didn't overwhelm the audience scientifically.

If there's a threat, there's a threat, but we sure are putting an awful lot of resources into screening millions of passengers that aren't threats. It screams out that there must be a better way somewhere... especially when passengers may no longer be the biggest threat to an aircraft.

Roy (again)July 30, 2007 8:15 AM

It wouldn't do any good to do the interview again, this time with him deposed. The threat of prosecution for perjury is useless if George is just going to pardon him.

AdairJuly 30, 2007 8:17 AM

"he asked me how the TSA could overcome its negative image"

While I appreciate the interview, there's a much better way to overcome a negative image: stop doing such a crappy job.

justinJuly 30, 2007 8:22 AM

The reason he can't get into specifics is the reason no one believes anything the KH or the TSA says.

When we have scientists and chemists telling us that making a bomb won't work, and giving us the reasons, and the TSA just saying "they're wrong, duh", without going into any detail at all, they come off sounding like they do not know anything about it.

MarcJuly 30, 2007 8:28 AM

Transparency: show us the explosive liquid, man.

You know, I flew back from Las Vegas just yesterday and while being barked at by the drill-sergeant wannabe TSA agent I noticed the huge crowd of people in the zig-zagging rope lines.

I got to wondering about the impact of an explosive vest in that crowd, not to mention the impact of such an action.

Who needs to get on a plane?

BetaJuly 30, 2007 8:45 AM

KH: I often read blog posts about how someone could just take all their three-ounce bottles -- or take bottles from others on the plane -- and combine them into a larger container to make a bomb. I can't get into the specifics, but our explosives research shows this is not a viable option.

Then why limit the number of three ounce bottles I can bring?

AnonymousJuly 30, 2007 8:57 AM

The TSA does not deserve the slightest bit of respect, much less the benefit of the doubt, as long as it keeps providing scare stories at times that are politically convenient for the GOP.

Recall that the liquid terror plot came up at just the right time in the 2006 election cycle. It's been documented that the admin pressured the British into making headlines by arresting suspects even though that compromised the chances of convictions. The liquid ban came out of this fiasco.

Meanwhile, he latest whine about 'dry runs' was leaked right after the Democratic YouTube debate/QA session. The 'clay in gelpacks' leak was KNOWN TO BE FALSE when it hit the front pages. All this adds up to a deliberate attempt by someone with access to sensitive information to fabricate a terror threat to get the Dems debate out of the public eye. This is not security, it's Karl Rove's style of fear mongering politics.

Every bit of evidence says the TSA is just as politicized and demand-responsive to GOP goals as every other part of this administration. It's prime motivation is politics, not security, and as such it's absolutely not to be trusted.

gsmooth89July 30, 2007 8:59 AM

"If the TSO throws your liquids in the trash, they don't find you a threat."

If they didn't find (you) a threat, then WHY THROW THE FREAKIN' LIQUIDS IN THE TRASH?!?!?

---------------------------------------
That falls under following the rules, and a notice to the terrorist that breaking this rule, that no excemptions will be made. What if the terrorists knew that if someone was not considered a threat, they could get whatever the amount of fluid in? They would spend their time trying to figure a way to do that.

WolfgerJuly 30, 2007 8:59 AM

Thanks for doing this interview, Bruce! I look forward to reading the rest of it. Unfortunately, the only good answer he gave was his very first sentence, which I presume he delivered with a note of sarcasm. Dodging the liquids question and calling the tests "wrong or misleading" does absolutely nothing to improve the TSA's image as a bunch of idiots trying to justify receiving a paycheck.

Kiaser ZohsayJuly 30, 2007 9:00 AM

Agreeing to do this interview, and to do it with Bruce is a step in the right direction. Allowing the hard questions to be asked (even if he doesn't answer them) is somewhat better than pretending that the questions don't exist. Thanks, Bruce, for bringing this to us, and I look forward to the remaining parts.

EamJuly 30, 2007 9:05 AM

JohnnyM: Bottles aren't very good melee weapons. If you try that without nice, thick gloves, you'll cut yourself up at least as much as anyone else.

Buying a bunch of bottles and throwing them, on the other hand, may be a lot more fun.

Is there a limit on how many bottles you can buy in duty free?

EamJuly 30, 2007 9:08 AM

gsmooth89: Or it could let the terrorists know that if they don't get the plane, they'll at least get the security line when the ingredients for their peroxide bomb are mixed in the same container.

EamJuly 30, 2007 9:17 AM

On a more disgusting note, I wonder how closely they check colostomy bags. Do those have a 3oz limit too?

I understand ammonia can be used as an ingredient in some explosives. Some clever terrorist may forge a doctor's note claiming Crohn's disease and the smell of ammonia would keep the screeners from investigating too closely.

Can we file this under "somewhat-plausible movie threats"?

James GrinterJuly 30, 2007 9:19 AM

He says they "engaged with other countries", but apparently they then picked limits that are 10ml less than others.

I presume it's because of a round number of fl.Oz, but really... when it's 100ml leaving Europe (refillable bottles of this size are already starting to appear in shops) and 90ml leaving the USA, well, that's not very engaged at all.

Which makes you wonder about how co-ordinated anything else is.

Tim VailJuly 30, 2007 9:25 AM

Great stuff. I'm curious about the idea of how to do screenings that do not rely on them being able to reliably detect threat liquids or objects.

AndrewJuly 30, 2007 9:33 AM

Re: DOS attacks mentioned by: t3knomanser

A DOS would be trivially easy to implement given a half dozen people willing to be slightly arrested.

Get 6 people to barge through a security gate forcing the clearing of the terminal buildings to rescreen. Do this at rush hour in Atlanta, Chicago, LA, Boston, St. Louis, and Dallas. It will probably be days before flights are back on schedule.

JonJuly 30, 2007 9:47 AM

@JohnnyM:

I've wondered the same thing, a pop can ripped in half is a pretty good blade too. Even better than duty free since you can get them to hand you a pop can on the plane.

HarryJuly 30, 2007 9:50 AM

Overall, I'm moderately impressed.

First, I'm very impressed that KH agreed to do this at all. It's a series of interviews with a well-spoken known adversary with a following. KH knows he's going to be hit, and then hit again in the next interview. This takes guts.

Second, I'm moderately impressed with his reasoning for the current liquid limits. I don't agree with the reasoning (many saline bottles have screw-tops, for example) but it's not totally, blindly dumb.

Third, I am not impressed at all with the rest of his answers. I do not feel more enlightened, more educated, or more satisfied than I was before I read this.

Finally, I would like to see answers to why we still have to take off our shoes, and why search methodologies and why practices vary so widely from airport to airport. And don't let him get away with "Laguardia is at greater risk than Cincinnati." Flights from Cincinnati to Laguardia are just as risky as flights in the other direction, and any flight can be diverted.

guvn'rJuly 30, 2007 9:51 AM

"Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright, and motivated to protect the public...How might you engineer backwards from that premise..."

perhaps the backwards engineering would result in two elements, a highly visible window dressing to ensure the public knows something is being done and a much less visible effort that aims to be highly effective but discreet?

How many of us in private sector security jobs would want to publish all the details of our security strategies, including details of the threats we anticipate and our countermeasures?

Do we really want TSA to do that?

user7821July 30, 2007 10:19 AM

guvn'r wrote: "How many of us in private sector security jobs would want to publish all the details of our security strategies, including details of the threats we anticipate and our countermeasures?"

Security through obscurity?

What have you got to hide if everything is secure up to a good enough standard? Of course you don't release your encryption keys. But making the encryption algorithms and protocols public isn't going to hurt a secure system. In fact, it'll probably make it more secure as you can no longer hide behind a veil of false security and obscurity. You'll also be open to criticism from 3rd parties, which will ultimately improve your security system.

JeffJuly 30, 2007 10:33 AM

@guvn'r: Yes! We want them to publish! It's called transparency, and if they are doing their job, that won't make them any less effective. Do you read this site? I mean you posted here, but...

@t3knomanser, re: unlocked janitor closet: There's all sorts of fun chemistry you can do with those. Depending on how well it's locked, pick the lock (would likely only work if it's something you can do quickly--eg, if you can card the lock).

Wait, what am I thinking. You can just get the keys. Get someone hired on as the janitor. A couple other people do a run during the janitor's shift...

WaylonJuly 30, 2007 10:38 AM

You know, at first I thought this was some cleverly written satire. Then I realized that this was actually the *real* Kip Hawley answering questions. So little of what Mr Hawley says makes any real sense that I'm not even going to try. Suffice it to say that you could take this interview, republish it as a Monty Python sketch, and hardly anyone would think twice about it.

Kip said, "So what would the justification be for prohibiting lip gloss, nasal spray, etc? There was none, other than for our own convenience and the sake of a simple explanation."

I'm just speechless. I mean, this is so blatantly stupid, I don't even know what to say.

Kip also said, "...we learned through testing that that no matter what someone brought on, if it was in a small enough container, it wasn't a serious threat."

So....an ounce of something like Sarin nerve gas wouldn't be a "serious threat"? Or two ounces of Nitroglycerine or Astrolite? Again, this is so utterly ridiculous that I just don't even know where to begin. But thanks for taking away my toothpaste. (sigh).

billy-bobJuly 30, 2007 10:39 AM

If somebody ever figures out how to make an IED out of a boarding pass, I think this guy's head would implode. Good job, Bruce.

Joe HuffmanJuly 30, 2007 10:52 AM

It is my contention that the present model for airplane security cannot succeed. The attack surface is much too large and the possibilities for improvised hand weapons and explosives are vast. Most people understand the improvised hand weapons issue well enough. On the explosives front consider that any powder that burns, including coffee creamer, flour, powdered sugar, and probably English tea can make a dust explosion ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_explosion ). Dust explosions are very effective in enclosed spaces.

We really need to completely start from scratch and explore other security models: http://www.joehuffman.org/Freedom/WeaponsPlanes.htm

Joe HuffmanJuly 30, 2007 10:57 AM

Boarding passes are made of paper. Paper can easily be made into dust that can be used for a dust explosion. I'd want more than one boarding pass to do serious damage but I'm certain a small newspaper or a paperback book would be sufficent.

GeorgeJuly 30, 2007 11:08 AM

I give Mr. Hawley significant credit for at least providing the appearance of common sense as the head of a very nonsensical organization. He did, after all, rescind the ban on scissors and tweezers, and more recently on lighters. In doing so, he admitted that confiscating large numbers of these items unduly burdened passengers without a commensurate security benefit. It's impossible to say whether this represents common sense, or is merely a simple admission that large numbers of people recognized the stupidity of the ban and refused to comply with it. But it is progress nonetheless (although lighters really are dangerous items, since their intended use is to ignite things known to kill people).

Unfortunately, Mr. Hawley's common sense is severely constrained by the nature of his job. He's a career bureaucrat, and also a Bush appointee. The former limits what he can do; the latter most likely limits his ability to do it. He all but admitted that the TSA's watch lists had too many names, and announced a "quality review" that he said would remove about half the names from the list. That's progress to be sure, but a watch list with only 150,000 names instead of 300,000 still drowns any possible benefit in an ocean of false alarms and unnecessary hassles. And worse, it still maintains a Kafkaesque system that arbitrarily classifies possibly hundreds of thousands of individuals as too dangerous to fly, but not dangerous enough to arrest or detain even under an administration that has granted itself unchecked power to indefinitely detain anyone it wants.

However much common sense Mr. Hawley brings to the TSA, the best he can do is to make a few sensible, incremental improvements to a system that is completely broken from its very foundation. His apparent transparency is welcome, although I'm not sure what to make of it. I suspect he has enough sense to realize that many if not most air travelers recognize the absurdity and stupidity visible to anyone whose eyes are open. But as a career bureaucrat, he may see his proper role as pasting a veneer of sensibility on it-- anyone can see that the Emperor is naked, but he is gingerly applying a fig leaf to the embarrassingly diminutive Royal Genitalia.

Thank you, Bruce, for providing these interviews. Whatever Mr. Hawley's actual agenda, it's certainly a great improvement over administration officials who respond to any questions with "I can't tell you anything because it's all highly classified, but you must trust us when we tell you everything we're doing is necessary and we have carefully balanced security with protection of civil liberties."

Pat CahalanJuly 30, 2007 11:11 AM

> I often read blog posts about how someone could just take all their three-ounce
> bottles -- or take bottles from others on the plane -- and combine them into a
> larger container to make a bomb. I can't get into the specifics, but our explosives
> research shows this is not a viable option.

I don't understand why you can't get into the specifics here, Kip. If your research shows this is not a viable option, then you should be able to publish the results; what is the negative consequence? On the other hand, if your research shows that it's a *very difficult* but still viable option, I can see why you'd be reluctant to publish it, since you'd be detailing to all the bad guys how to set us up the bomb.

However, the airline-traveling public has a right to know if this is, in fact, possible, so that they can decide to stop flying if they want to mitigate that risk. This is the primary reason the TSA has no credibility - they insist on security through obfuscation. "Trust us, we know what we're doing, but we can't explain it to you, for reasons we can't divulge".

Ian HolmesJuly 30, 2007 11:11 AM

"Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright, and motivated to protect the public with the least intrusion into their lives, not to mention travel themselves. How might you engineer backwards from that premise to get to three ounces and a baggie?"

That sounds like a very entertaining exercise in giving someone the maximum benefit of the doubt based on almost no information and lots of blind faith in American government. I'm sure it would be lots of fun to imagine that for a moment.

Unfortunately I have no time to imagine it, as I am too busy trying to imagine the internal dynamics of a bureaucracy that has increased ~10-fold in size over ~3 years and has a vested interest in, shall we say, maintaining a high level of public consciousness of the possibility of terrorist attacks.

bzelbobJuly 30, 2007 11:15 AM

Bruce, kudos again for getting this interview.

This sentence sums it up for me:
"I have the sinking feeling that you're defending us against a terrorist smart enough to develop his own liquid explosive, yet too stupid to read the rules on TSA's own website."

Assuming that the terrorists are dumb is, in itself, dumb.

Assuming that an organization has a greater impetus to protect you than you yourself do, in itself, generates it's own lack of protection.

These things are not accidents, they represent a mental framework that is, well, "mental".

PeteJuly 30, 2007 11:48 AM

Bruce:
"I can carry on ... a single larger bottle with a non-prescription medicine label, like contact lens fluid. It all has to fit inside a one-quart plastic bag, except for that large bottle of contact lens fluid."

Wow, are you implying we now can have a 4oz bottle of contact lens fluid in carry-on? (Nearly all contact lens fluid containers are 4oz or more, except starter kits which often don't last a trip.) I wasn't able to find anything to corroborate this on the TSA site or anywhere else.

derfJuly 30, 2007 11:48 AM

The TSA is a very expensive and rather annoying sham.

How does ebaying items the TSA has stolen under the guise of "security" make me safer? How can rings of thieves work the baggage handling at various airports right under the TSA's nose without getting caught? How does the TSA propose stopping a suicide bomber from going kablooey in the middle of the security line that has a backup of over 3 planeloads of people because of their incompetence? How can chemical and explosives experts debunk this liquid theory yet still the TSA persists with its hair gel nonsense? How does having a minimum wage agent X-Ray shoes make it any less likely that the shoelaces are plastic explosives? How long until we start seeing nekkid pictures on the internet (and radiation lawsuits from frequent flyers) from the new full-scan x-ray machines?

Questions, questions, questions.

Brandioch ConnerJuly 30, 2007 11:51 AM

@George
"I give Mr. Hawley significant credit for at least providing the appearance of common sense as the head of a very nonsensical organization. He did, after all, rescind the ban on scissors and tweezers, and more recently on lighters."

Apparently, the reason they rescinded the ban on lighters was that it was costing the government MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to correctly dispose of them.

If you want to end the ban of liquids, you simply have to bring enough instances of liquids in that have to be disposed of as "hazardous" waste.

This isn't about safety or security.

This is about making arbitrary "CYA" rules that pass the expense on to the traveler.

As with the disposable lighter example, one the cost is shifted to the government, the restrictions are suddenly lifted.

Oh, and great interview, Bruce. He didn't answer any of your questions, but you were impressive.

yttrxJuly 30, 2007 12:09 PM

Congrats on getting the interview, of course.

It would have been even better if Kip Hawley had said anything that...meant ANYTHING at all. As it stands, it's a sophomoric spin attempt and entirely transparent to anyone with half a brain.

Though it is nice to have positive proof that Kip Hawley is an unqualified, overpaid, government shill.

Ed T.July 30, 2007 12:10 PM

"Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright..."

Somewhere between, let's say, a radish and a sea slug?

"...and motivated to protect the public with the least intrusion into their lives..."

Pray tell, just what's the basis for *that* assumption? Don't tell me it is a mandate from management, either: I have seen plenty of instances where such mandates are completely ignored, if not actually contradicted, by the line animal (defined as "the one whose *ss is on the line if something goes wrong").

"...not to mention travel themselves."

You mean to tell me that these TSO's aren't pre-screened sufficiently before they are hired?!?

"How might you engineer backwards from that premise to get to three ounces and a baggie?"

Simple: it is an easy, "one-size-fits-all" rule which doesn't take a whole heckuva lot of thinking to implement. Wrap it up in the "in the interests of flying safety" mantra, and paint anybody who objects as being disloyal (or, even worse, in league with "terrorists"), and you convert airline passengers into compliant sheep very easily.

~EdT.

Aaron LuchkoJuly 30, 2007 12:11 PM

"And if you confiscate my liquids, you're going to toss them into a large pile right next to the screening station -- which you would never do if anyone thought they were actually dangerous."

I think this is slightly disingenuous since the common scenario is that these liquids first need to be properly combined, and if the statements chemists are too believed this is a difficult task that probably couldn't be accomplished just by chucking them in a bin (of course allowing passengers to then sneak the liquids out of the bin is a security hole).

Besides if you're smuggling things in to be a bomb inside the airport itself there are probably a lot more tempting targets than the bin at the checkpoint.

QuercusJuly 30, 2007 12:13 PM

Bruce -- When talking about liquids, you say that absolute consistency is important, because terrorists can just keep trying until they succeed. However, when talking about knives, etc. you say that 90% effectiveness is good enough, because terrorists just need to be made uncertain about whether they can succeed.

This seems a little inconsistent. Can you explain? [I generally agree completely with your take on security, just want to get this cleared up]

TimJuly 30, 2007 12:14 PM

@Brandioch: Are you suggesting that we should all bring our used motor oil to the airport and have it taken away from us so that we don't have to pay for the recycling fees...? :)

AnonymousJuly 30, 2007 12:18 PM

"KH: I think your premise is wrong. There are consequences to coming to an airport with a bomb and having some of the materials taken away at the checkpoint. Putting aside our layers of security for the moment, there are things you can do to get a TSO's attention at the checkpoint. If a TSO finds you or the contents of your bag suspicious, you might get interviewed and/or have your bags more closely examined. If the TSO throws your liquids in the trash, they don't find you a threat."

That has to be one of the stupidest comments I've ever heard... if there was no threat, why were the liquids taken away to begin with???

Glyn GowingJuly 30, 2007 12:21 PM

Mr. Schneier,

Thank you for convincing Mr. Hawley to allow you to publish his responses to these questions. Your work in security is outstanding, and I find that your works have allowed me to see the similarities between IT security and physical security, as well as to see the ways in which they must converge to some extent.

I look forward to the remaining parts of this interview, and I want to thank you again for the effort that you have placed into this. I will make sure that I inform my students that they should read this and follow the entire series.

jofnyJuly 30, 2007 12:22 PM

>"...So what would the justification >be...There was none...own >convenience...sake of a simple >explanation."

>I'm just speechless. I mean, this is so >blatantly stupid, I don't even know what >to say"

Hate to break it to you, but that isn't stupid. Imaging training hordes of McDonalds workers to "secure" your boxes. Would you throw them a full guide, nuanced in every detail of the art of security...or would you give them a 10-step and err on the side of draconian? You'd do the latter if a) you wanted it done right and b) You wanted all of the users of those boxes some realistic access timeline.

This is the same thing. If you want a more professional, detailed look at your baggage, be willing to pay for it

Since the idea of a major attack against the US using -the exact same vector- as before is sort of silly, Id rather spend my security monopoly money elsewhere.

FredMJuly 30, 2007 12:23 PM

My worst nightmare is that a drunk female passenger will try to smoke in the toilet and set her nylons on fire. Then we'll all have to travel naked to prevent using clothes as an improved incendiary device.

Patrick HenryJuly 30, 2007 12:25 PM

Apparently the graffiti some impudent punk scrawled on his quart-sized liquid bag back a few months back was accurate: Kip Hawley is an idiot.

paulJuly 30, 2007 12:27 PM

Another way of thinking about this is that the TSA doesn't get any mileage from protecting us against really brilliant terrorists. (Most of the plots that have come to light, including the ones that worked, weren't exactly rocket science.) If someone manufactures an entire set of suitcases out of frangible magnesium composite or fills the intestines of a dozen passengers with gelled binary-explosive compounds, or implants mind-control chips in pilots' brains, relatively few people are going to blame the TSA for being unable to stop them.

So what they have to guard against -- from a bureaucratic point of view -- are the kinds of attacks where people would say afterwards, "You ^%^%# idiots! That would have been easy to stop if you'd just looked for it."

AntipigJuly 30, 2007 12:28 PM

Anyone with half a brain knows that a true terrorist would just bomb a busy terminal and save themselves a lot of hassle.

Lucky for us there are NO TRUE terrorists, just false flags.

milesJuly 30, 2007 12:28 PM

- Wouldn't multiple people with small amounts of liquid overcome the researched threat(ie, Alice, Bob and Charlie combine all of their liquid post screening)?

- If the amount of liquid that can be held in several 3 oz bottles is safe, why not allow "used" bigger containers? (All of my toiletries seem to be in 3.5oz bottles -- none of them are full -- the unused 3x.5 extra container space screws me.

eWilliamsJuly 30, 2007 12:30 PM

#1 I hope he explains the policy behind TSA's response to the "Kip Hawley is an asshole" free speech campaign.

#2 If he has science that backs up the idea that one cannot take a large empty bottle into the ladies room and pour the contents of a 3 oz bottle of liquid into it, we need to see it. He doesn't have to name the dangerous chemicals if he doesn't want to, just show it doesn't work for water. Likewise, if pouring in one 3oz bottle works, why can't you leave it on the floor for an accomplice to find and repeat the process. Is TSA monitoring every ladies room in every airport with hidden cameras? Folks could get in trouble for that.

JoshuaJuly 30, 2007 12:31 PM

"I think it's commendable that Mr. Hawley would agree to the interview. We have to put credit where it's due. Now, what would be better is if Hawley became a frequent guest... not necessarily here... but on more public forums."

I agree with C Gomez completely on this point. We could do with more public exposure from the decision-makers responsible for these TSA policies. The only interaction most people have is with the guy in the uniform taking their stuff and tossing it in the trash, which doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the operation as a whole.

I'm glad that Secretary Hawley is making this attempt to introduce even a little more transparency to his frankly mysterious and often baffling organisation -- two adjectives that should never be applied to an organisation with a job that's so important and which also spends very large amounts of taxpayer money.

Tracy ReedJuly 30, 2007 12:31 PM

No serious discussion of TSA security can be complete without linking to this TSA training video called: Liquid.....or a gel.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykzqFz_nHZE

These folks are trained professionals and when they ask you to empty the contents of your sippy cup, colostomy bag, or whatever remember that they do it in the name of national defense!

guvn'rJuly 30, 2007 12:32 PM

@user7821, @Jeff, there are operational details that shouldn't be public.

I want to know that my bank uses a peer-reviewed encryption algorithm; I don't want to see the host platform o/s, patch level, IP address and firewall architecture for the key repository posted publicly on the Internet. Nor do I want the depositors or the shareholders to chose the algorithm or host o/s by democratic vote.

Likewise, when I was the elected official to which our small-town police chief reported, I didn't want the schedule of when his cruisers were on patrol and when they were at home but on call to be public knowledge, because it would undermine their effectiveness. duh.

(aside @Jeff, "Do you read this site?" pretty lame ad hominem rejoinder, the fact that I don't agree with your viewpoint may reflect your ignorance not mine. Did you read my post? I work in this field, you apparently don't.)

SteveJuly 30, 2007 12:32 PM

"Complete effectiveness is not the goal; the checkpoints just have to be effective enough so that the terrorists are worried their plan will be uncovered."

But this is the problem with suicidal fanatics-- if you aren't afraid of your plan being uncovered and your being thrown in jail/killed/etc, you *do* need 100% effectiveness, since people won't be deterred from trying even if they're 95% likely to fail. (Assuming relatively low overhead for the attack, which most of these single-person-on-an-airplane attacks seem to be.)

Steve

Matthew SkalaJuly 30, 2007 12:36 PM

Aaron Luchko - The "they need to be combined carefully in order to work" restriction is only when you need to get the liquids onto the plane first, through some amount of security screening, and then make a big enough explosion to seriously damage the plane. If you just want to cause trouble when the liquids are mixed, the restrictions on what they could be are much milder. It's not too hard to come up with two (smelly and suspicious) liquids that when mixed will reliably produce enough poisonous gas to harm a crowd of people.

samwyseJuly 30, 2007 12:40 PM

Ed T said:
"If the TSO throws your liquids in the trash, they don't find you a threat." If they didn't find (you) a threat, then WHY THROW THE FREAKIN' LIQUIDS IN THE TRASH?!?!?

One reason that occurs to me is that planes have been blown up by bombs transported by innocent bystanders. So yes, I can understand why they might want to restrict the liquids and not care about the passenger.

I can also believe that TSA has tested various dangerous liquids and concluded that practical difficulties stand in the way of combining the contents of multiple small bottles. I suspect that either transporting those bottles is self-limiting (nitrogycerine, for example, may detonate prematurely) or the process of combining everything works better at home than in an aircraft lavatory (for example, making nitro require lots of ice to keep things from over-heating, or a side-effect of other combinations is the production of noxious fumes).

sickandtiredJuly 30, 2007 12:44 PM

I actually think Kip Hawley is doing an amazing job. We must remember, of course, that his job is not to protect the American populace, but to be a bureaucrat. With this in mind, I think he is doing great. Look at the way he sidesteps any question that will make him or TSA look like a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money. Bravo!

“Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright, and motivated to protect the
public with the least intrusion into their lives, not to mention travel themselves. How
might you engineer backwards from that premise to get to three ounces and a
baggie?��? -Kip Hawley

The Maestro does it again! With one quick statement he not only reinforces the idea that the American traveler benefits enormously from the benevolent oversight of the Uncle Sam sponsored TSA, but then forces THEM to answer the question that was asked! How Sublime! Don't forget his lighter side either, using a subtle riposte of humor to defray the attack of the interviewer.

“Screening ideas are indeed thought up by the Office for Annoying Air Travelers and vetted through the Directorate for Confusion and Complexity, and then we review them to insure that there are sufficient unintended irritating consequences so that the blogosphere is constantly fueled.��? - Kip Hawley

Oh Kip, You're such a card! Joking in such a self effacing manner, as to make yourself seem like a human being instead of a politician.
The fact is, all the critics of Kip, and the TSA have not really looked at how hard their jobs are.

First, they need to make sure there is a sufficient amount of fear mongering in the popular media outlets. This is probably not a big problem, as that seems to be what sells now days, so I imagine the Ted Turners, and Rupert Murdoch s of this world are happy to encourage this sort of reporting.

Second, they must make sure they have an immediate solution to whatever the latest perceived threat is. Shoe Bombs? No problem! We have the answer! Incredibly improbable binary liquid explosive? We've got it covered! A crazy guy with his rectum stuffed full of C-4? Umm.... Shhhh lets not talk about that one.

Think of all the trouble a Broadway director has putting on a simple show. Then imagine if he was trying to convince people it wasn't a play........

Yes indeed. Kip Hawley is doing one terrific job.

AnonymousJuly 30, 2007 12:45 PM

You can get moderate amounts of thermite, a powder, on an airplane. You can get multiple passengers to combine the load.

You can get similar amounts of potassium permanganate, a purple-black crystal or powder, on a plane. You can buy it at a pharmacy: it has medical uses.

You can get 9 oz per person of glycerine on a plane. You can buy it in a drug store or even a well-stocked supermarket.

Combined, you can easily ignite the thermite, and it will be impossible to extinquish.

You can find all this dangerous information on Wikipedia (start with the article on thermite).

AnonymousJuly 30, 2007 12:51 PM

eam wrote: gsmooth89: Or it could let the terrorists know that if they don't get the plane, they'll at least get the security line when the ingredients for their peroxide bomb are mixed in the same container

We arent talking about bombing airports? The terrorists dont seem to be concerned with that. That would be easy to do since there is no checks at the door.

Michael BJuly 30, 2007 12:53 PM

For a moment, try to appreciate the position Mr. Hawley is in.

He does not do his job well if he only increases the real security of the country. He must also address perceived security needs. When a terrorist plot to take down planes using liquid explosives hits the mass media, the TSA does not stand a chance trying to inform the public that responding to this specific, infeasible tactic is counterproductive.

Furthermore, even if they could successfully drive home such a point, Mr. Hawley would be setting himself and his organization up for ruin. The mass media would pounce on any future terrorist plot that bore even a remote, pathologically slanted link to liquids and use it to crucify the TSA.

Patrick HenryJuly 30, 2007 1:10 PM

Michael B writes: "He must also address perceived security needs."

Where on Earth did you get that idea? You could not be more wrong.

GeorgeJuly 30, 2007 1:10 PM

"Pete" remarks: "Wow, are you implying we now can have a 4oz bottle of contact lens fluid in carry-on? . . . wasn't able to find anything to corroborate this on the TSA site or anywhere else."

Poor eyesight is a medical condition. Look under the information on carrying on medical necessities. Saline solution is specifically mentioned in the list of items where larger amounts are permitted if declared to the screeners.

Geoff LaneJuly 30, 2007 1:12 PM

So, will we ever get an answer to the questions..

Are the confiscated bottles of liquid treated as hazardous waste and how much does disposal cost per year?

Do they do analysis on the bottle contents? Has any nasty material ever been detected in the thousands of confiscated bottles?

Is there any hard evidence of terrorists attempting to probe the security provided by the TSA? Surely any evidence would be front page news, yet we hear nothing.

Has ordinary non-lethal smuggling been eliminated? The security measures that the TSA implement should have almost eliminated the ordinary smuggler of money, animals and other goods. Again, dramatic reductions in smuggling would surely be headline news (and the relative statistics would allow us to estimate the effectiveness of the TSA.)

JoceJuly 30, 2007 1:14 PM

"You can get moderate amounts of thermite, a powder, on an airplane."

Yesm but thermite isn't going to bring down a 'plane.

OTOH I'm sure you could use the same technique to get a dozen people to carry a couple of ounces of C4 each onto a 'plane. Just mould it into their asscracks or something.

Spreading the explosive among several people means there's more chance that a decent amount of it will get on board.

Seriously.... did anybody feel the slightest bit more informed or safer after reading this article?

ZwackJuly 30, 2007 1:15 PM

In answer to the questions about whether the TSA is doing security theatre or if it is taking reasonable precautions, something struck me a while ago.

Taking off your shoes was a specific response to a specific threat. Banning liquids was a specific response to a specific threat.

While TSA have been accused of security theatre (and it is definitely doing that) it might be that part of the reason for these two measures is not security but to keep the public reassured that something is being done.

If the TSA had screening devices that could detect every chemical threat and a new threat came along, the scanner might pick it up, but unless they are seen to be doing something to combat that threat then the public might feel like nothing is being done.

Given some of the news stories I've seen about people that other passengers felt were a threat based purely on racial profiling, I would rather that the passengers were reassured than that they became jumpy. After all if I'm relaxing on a long flight and take my shoes off I don't want to be jumped by a nervous passenger who thinks that that makes me a threat.

Z.

CloydJuly 30, 2007 1:16 PM

I can't wait for a woman to smuggle on explosives inside her bra. Then women will be forced to remove their bras before they can board a plane.

And then underwear bombs are next...

Then we all get to fly nekkid.

Ilya HaykinsonJuly 30, 2007 1:17 PM

It's amazing how much this looks like satire. I was going to leave a comment commending Bruce for clever writing, and chastising him for making it look so convincing that people may actually believe it, but... the horror... it looks like it's actually quite a real interview after all.

I find KH's responses to be continued evasions from hard questions. It's unfortunate that we get clever explanations of their thinking that border on propaganda, and question our premises in almost all cases.

HoratioJuly 30, 2007 1:21 PM

The TSA reminds me of the Stealers Wheel's tune: "Stuck in the Middle With You" - "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you"

Steve ShockleyJuly 30, 2007 1:23 PM

The interview was a little confusing... Why were Kip Hawley's comments the ones that were NOT prefaced by "BS"?

ShermJuly 30, 2007 1:26 PM

The bottom line is ask any ex con and he will tell you the answer to getting something you want on board. My dad is a retired TWA captain, and my two brothers are Delta pilots and I'm a retired cop. All have said its a joke (the tsa). Oh yes I was one of the cops who worked with the TSA that did the arresting. We found several flaws in detections of the equipment and how it was used. I won't disclose those. But the TSA REALLY needs more upgrades.

Sherm

overshootJuly 30, 2007 1:31 PM

Never mind the binary explosives, how about a simple fuel-air bomb? After all, they're allowing lighters again. Just empty several into a 55-gallon trash bag along with a little acetylene (made from solid calcium carbide and water) and add a spark. Yield is about equivalent to a kilogram of really good HE; in the lav you can blow out enough skin to make the bird unflyable.

Not spectacular enough? Thermite is great stuff, made only of inorganic materials that TSA *can't* intercept. Mould it into something like commemorative plaques or some such, add a little magnesium wire and a laptop battery is more than enough to set it all burning hot enough to ignite the aluminum skin of the aircraft.

With a 600 kph force-fed air supply, that sucker should burn bright enough to be seen from orbit in daylight.

Ask any engineer. We've got a million of 'em.

Brown ManJuly 30, 2007 1:32 PM

I am an East Indian in his mid-twenties, and being brown, I am often subjected to some rather blatantly racial profiling.

When I have traveled with several friends (all of whom were white), I have always been magically pulled aside by the absolutely non-racist TSA.

Now, if you are going to pull me aside every time I fly because I am brown, then give me an incentive. Give me coupons. Or give me money. Or give me better seating. Or whatever.

But if you are treating me separately because of my skin color, then you are reminding me of how a certain European Police State used to treat people of Jewish descent.

Does Mr. Kipley have an answer to this? Or are he and his gang of thugs going to pull aside every brown man because they are afraid of our skin?

JedJuly 30, 2007 1:36 PM

I hope you have not already finished all the interviews. The commenters on this site are coming up with some excellent questions. Can you clarify whether it will be possible to feed these questions back to KH, or are the interviews already done?

htomJuly 30, 2007 1:45 PM

Thanks, Bruce. I shall continue to pray that the "security theater" (great phrase, btw) is actually a distraction to keep the public attention from the other, real, security measures being taken. Never thought I'd be praying to be deceived.

DaveJuly 30, 2007 1:46 PM

I have to say, Anonymous really hit the nail on the head here. And that is, the TSA does not exist to protect us from anything. It exists to facilitate a fear-mongering campaign with which the current administration can further its political goals. That's all, nothing more...and this is just some pitiful attempt at damage control...

iPaulJuly 30, 2007 1:51 PM

Good interview, albeit brief. Unfortunately government security people like to focus on sexy, high-tech threats. For example, the mythology of cyber-terrorism or the obsession with engineered bio-weapons. Instead we're dealing with low-tech actors who are good at exploiting cheap, common, available resources. IEDs aren't manufactured by the Al-Qaeda equivalent of General Dynamics under a multi-year contract, costing 1.25 million a bomb. They're composed of what's available and cell phones or garage door openers. Likewise, expect the next attack to use whatever they can legitimately get on planes and what can be purchased between the security checkpoint and the aircraft cabin. The only way would could ever be safe, as my father jokes, is to fly naked with all our luggage towed behind in a glider.

BobJuly 30, 2007 1:54 PM

I can't wait to see what the TSA does if someone tries to use an implanted cardiac pacemaker or a prosthetic limb to commit mayhem on an airplane.

BobJuly 30, 2007 1:54 PM

I can't wait to see what the TSA does if someone tries to use an implanted cardiac pacemaker or a prosthetic limb to commit mayhem on an airplane.

ROTFLOLJuly 30, 2007 1:58 PM

@Tim
@Brandioch: Are you suggesting that we should all bring our used motor oil to the airport and have it taken away from us so that we don't have to pay for the recycling fees...? :)

R....O....T....F.....L.....O.....L!!!

John FaughnanJuly 30, 2007 2:01 PM

I'm eagerly awaiting his response to your questions on the no-fly list. I'm impressed both by your interview questions and his willingness to respond.

AleJuly 30, 2007 2:02 PM

Not a single, satisfactory answer. Yet, he manages to insert his absurd views on a very well publicized site in the Internet. The good thing is that he managed to show himself as security illiterate as we all knew him to be.

The TSA is not about security, but about ritual (security theatre).

GretchenJuly 30, 2007 2:02 PM

This interview on transparancy was notable for its opacity. What Mr. Hawley doesn't understand is that for most travelers "TSA" means the people at the security checkpoint. It doesn't mean himself, his scientists, his security analyists, his eplosives experts. It means the only TSA employees the public comes in contact with - the screeners.

While I have encountered TSA screeners who were polite and professional, the vast majority still confiscate my solid deoderant, singifying that TSA rules designed to be understandable to the traveling public are not understandable to the screeners. So having me imagine that they are "reasonably bright" is a bit of a stretch.

Affraid_Of_TSAJuly 30, 2007 2:04 PM

Nice work, Bruce -- thanks for sitting down with Mr. Hawley.

Unfortunately, the interview did little to sway my opinion of TSA...

Remember back to when we were children -- when creaks in the floor at night set our hearts racing. What if -- instead of assuring us of our safety -- our parents had told us that it was probably Captain Death walking around the house looking for a soul to take?

...I am still convinced that the fear of terrorism is a greater threat to our nation than the terrorists themselves.

AnonymousJuly 30, 2007 2:05 PM

"Yesm but thermite isn't going to bring down a 'plane.
"

See those green cylinders? Put it one of those.

Larry J.July 30, 2007 2:10 PM

Every airline passenger who wants it, gets issued a large knife upon boarding.

Now .... who is going to mess with that plane..?

Problem solved...

JosseJuly 30, 2007 2:13 PM

If the TSA prevents liquids as it's seen as a threat, how about a shoelace that could be used to strangle someone, or a belt? Pepper could be used to temporarily blind someone, a rolled magazine could become a weapon too. Even a spoon could be used to remove an eye from its socket. Gasp. The TSA should ban all these dangerous items too. In fact, the TSA should require all passengers to fly naked and anesthesised to make sure that nothing happens during the flight.
Thank you TSA for ruining everybody's life, wasting time and huge resources in a way no terrorists could even dream of.

Keep up the good work and keep dodging all the questions, Kip!

ShazeJuly 30, 2007 2:23 PM

I would like to emphasize what has been stated repeatedly, just above this post.

Who cares about planes anymore? You still have LOTS of other freedoms, ready to be exploited. I mean, come on, they've already exploited that weakness. And although air travel may or may not be safe now, I am sure a smart "terrorist"/"group" would choose an unexpected method to deliver their message. (like 9/11)

You are actually letting the "terrorists" take away your freedoms, little by little. I mean, I could kill WAY more people in an airport than a plane; and there are SOOO many possibilities to exploit! Just wait till technology get's better and they start using your stun/heat weaponry against you.

THE ONLY EXTRA EFFORT ON PART OF THE U.S.A. SHOULD BE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS REFORM, AS WELL AS INCREASED GLOBAL AWARENESS. You need to get people to stop hating you, not the other way around; as suggested by current policy.

RoyJuly 30, 2007 2:37 PM

The TSA, and the DHS for that matter, have a valid reason for secrecy: ridicule stings. Being laughed at openly hurts deeply.

As for bringing flammables on the plane to destroy it, why bother? A little research into aircraft cabin fire reveals that practically everything inside -- save the window glass, metal, and passengers -- is flammable. (Including clothing.) Thus all that is needed to make things interesting is an oxidizer.

And thanks to 'overshoot' -- I remember carbide cannons from childhood, but had forgotten.

AnonymousJuly 30, 2007 2:41 PM

Zwack wrote: "While TSA have been accused of security theatre (and it is definitely doing that) it might be that part of the reason for these two measures is not security but to keep the public reassured that something is being done."

So, in other words, you advocate removal of freedoms from US citizens for the sake of pretending your government department is doing something useful?

Brilliantly moral.

Brandioch ConnerJuly 30, 2007 2:44 PM

@guvn'r
"I want to know that my bank uses a peer-reviewed encryption algorithm; I don't want to see the host platform o/s, patch level, IP address and firewall architecture for the key repository posted publicly on the Internet."

Why not? Are you afraid that it isn't secure enough?

If someone is going to attack it, they will probably be able to collect all that information anyway.

By hiding it, you just make it more difficult for people to point out flaws AND for your own people to hide their ignorance / bad decisions.

"Likewise, when I was the elected official to which our small-town police chief reported, I didn't want the schedule of when his cruisers were on patrol and when they were at home but on call to be public knowledge, because it would undermine their effectiveness. duh."

No. Not really. If there is a schedule, you've already failed. All the criminal has to do is watch for them at the off-duty location.

"(aside @Jeff, "Do you read this site?" pretty lame ad hominem rejoinder, the fact that I don't agree with your viewpoint may reflect your ignorance not mine. Did you read my post? I work in this field, you apparently don't.)"

You need to read Bruce's other articles on how people who sell "security services" and such make basic mistakes.

That one guyJuly 30, 2007 2:48 PM

With respect to the theater, false flags and politically motivated leaks of 'terror plots'...


It has been almost 6 years. The bad man isn't trying. The DC snipers showed that you only need a little motivation and a little know how to massively disrupt the economic base of the society.

You can walk into an airport rolling a footlocker sized box filled with whatever you'd like to put in it.

But that's not happening... so... with something so easy, not happening... well 'they' are not trying.


partdavidJuly 30, 2007 2:50 PM

From jofny: "If you want a more professional, detailed look at your baggage, be willing to pay for it."

Yeah, no doubt. For that matter, how about paying the actual cost of moving you from place to place: the security and air control infrastructure and all of that should be paid for by flyers.

Those of us who prefer to be moved about by canal boat should not have to subsidize air travel.

PeterJuly 30, 2007 2:51 PM

The thing that irritates me the most is that they won't let you take liquids through security but you can buy all the liquid you want past security and bring it on board. I simply REFUSE to believe that all the liquids and all the employees who work beyond security are subjected to the same scrutiny as the passengers.
The whole thing is a farce.

AGJuly 30, 2007 2:57 PM

Good first step in getting KH to take an interview. Alas, I doubt his answers have yet to inspire much confidence within the security community.

It is not clear if the entire interview has already been conducted or not. If not,
please ask the same questions of him as you would as of any CSO in his role:

How do you prioritize resources?
How do react to changing threats?
How do you convince the public that a workforce of minimum wage workers will behave the way you intend?
What do you have good control over?
In what ways is your power constrained?
Are you invested in any companies that make travel size shaving cream?
What technologies does the TSA believe are promising ways to help mitigate risks?
What are some examples of educational and process issues that technology will never solve for the TSA?

In any rate a series of open ended questions to which he may or may not present viable answers. If he merely spews a bunch of drivel, then at least we know his capabilities. Thanks Bruce.

AustinJuly 30, 2007 3:09 PM

Good job Bruce. At least you are getting someone in the government engaged and thinking about the best security practices.

And thanks to Kip for opening himself up to criticism. Just for that, I think he's one of the good guys. Let's give him a break, OK?

Security in airports is deeply flawed but maybe by working together we can improve.

Bruce SchneierJuly 30, 2007 3:12 PM

"I hope you have not already finished all the interviews. The commenters on this site are coming up with some excellent questions. Can you clarify whether it will be possible to feed these questions back to KH, or are the interviews already done?"

Interview is already done. As I said in the intro, the interview was conducted over May and June.

I had hoped to publish it in a magazine, but have given up trying. I divided it up into five parts, and will be publishing one a day all week.

Bill321July 30, 2007 3:13 PM

Suppose the TSA really were intelligent people. What might they say about:

> nerve gas

While you wouldn't have to worry about being noticed trying to force open the cockpit door after everyone was dead, if other security measures have worked you still wouldn't get the door open and would still be unable to control the plane and use it as a weapon. Sure you killed some people on an airplane, but with nerve gas you could've done the same in $PUBLIC_PLACE and been more effective (in terms of lives lost). Your nerve gas might also be detected by screening equipment for what it is (by say, a high-energy particle reflection signature) before you ever get on the plane.

> Nitroglycerine

You can make some smoke and kill some people, but there's not enough boom there to compromise the plane's structural integrity.

> Dust explosion

Has anyone who suggested it considered the air circulation rates and filters used on an airplane and whether it would be possible to accumulate enough dust in the air to cause an explosion in that environment? (Well, to cause a big enough explosion to bring down the plane?) Some restaurant napkin calculations suggest to me it's not possible. In addition, as soon as dust starts floating through the air, some people are going to get proactive about finding the cause.

> lots of 3oz bottles to make a bomb

What I've heard is this mixing process must generally be done over a long period of time in a chilled, stable, and generally carefully controlled environment. That doesn't describe an airplane restroom. If you can mix your 3oz bottles into 30oz of explosive gel but it takes 24 hours to be fully mixed and effective, the restrictions in place actually make sense.

> body parts full of C4, thermite or other "dangerous powders" (even if you could get enough) and so on

The TSA tests for the presence of C4 (and other explosives, I'm sure). If they find a C4 signature on a passenger, that person won't be getting on a plane until they're absolutely sure it's safe, probably including a full body-cavity search.

--

What's important to realize, I think, is that the terrorists' goals don't depend on actually being able to blow up a plane -- only on being able to make a credible threat. If Dr. Evil on a plane holds up a red button and says "I can blow up the plane" (maybe from a bomb in his checked luggage), do pilots/passengers/airline staff trust our security enough to stake their lives on it and tell Dr. Evil to his face that he's lying? I think no matter how much security we implement, that answer will always be no. And so bothering passengers with regulations won't ever fix the security issues surrounding using planes as weapons. We need to find another way. Being able to override cockpit control of the plane from the ground is one idea that would limit casualties to the people on board, for instance. What other (better?) kinds of controls could we implement that address the real problem without inconveniencing passengers?

Bruce SchneierJuly 30, 2007 3:14 PM

"Wow, are you implying we now can have a 4oz bottle of contact lens fluid in carry-on?"

I regularly carry a 12oz bottle. No one has ever given it a second glance, once they see that it's contact lens fluid.

Of course, they have no idea what's actually inside the bottle -- just what the label says.

Bruce SchneierJuly 30, 2007 3:17 PM

"Bruce -- When talking about liquids, you say that absolute consistency is important, because terrorists can just keep trying until they succeed. However, when talking about knives, etc. you say that 90% effectiveness is good enough, because terrorists just need to be made uncertain about whether they can succeed.

"This seems a little inconsistent. Can you explain? [I generally agree completely with your take on security, just want to get this cleared up]"

Basically, it depends on the consequences of trying. If you try to carry on a large container of liquid, they take it away from you with a smile and set you on your way. Because there are no consequences to trying, you can try again and again until the TSA misses it.

But guns and knives -- serious knives -- are different. If you try to carry on a gun, it won't be confiscated with a smile. It will be confiscated with an FBI agent who will grill you within half an inch of your life. So you really can't try again and again until you succeed in slipping it past the TSA.

Bruce SchneierJuly 30, 2007 3:20 PM

"Good interview, albeit brief."

It's just part 1 of 5. The actual interview is, basically, five times as long.

I'll post a single URL to the whole thing at the end of the week.

Bruce SchneierJuly 30, 2007 3:25 PM

"How do you prioritize resources?
"How do react to changing threats?
"How do you convince the public that a workforce of minimum wage workers will behave the way you intend?
"What do you have good control over?
"In what ways is your power constrained?
"Are you invested in any companies that make travel size shaving cream?
"What technologies does the TSA believe are promising ways to help mitigate risks?
"What are some examples of educational and process issues that technology will never solve for the TSA?"

These are all good questions, and largely ones I do not ask in the interview.

Perhaps we can do a follow up.

sharingexperiencesJuly 30, 2007 3:26 PM

Mr. Schneier,

Thank you for convincing Mr. Hawley to allow you to publish his responses to these questions. It just shows that not only the majority of the screeners I came to contact with are complete dumba***s but the head of the agency is one as well.

Lots of the liquor you buy at duty free is so nicely flammable especially now with the lighters allowed on board, I wonder when it will happen for the first time that somebody will torch the plane. Also camel backs membranes and other objects represent nice enough containers to mix any liquid you really want. Most of the KH's anwers can be quite easily disputed by anecdotal evidence we all have. As Mr. Schneier says, unless you are 100% successful it doesn't make much difference. The options are just endless, unless we all travel naked with our bodily cavities searched before boarding there will always be risk.

As Mr. Schneier, often says, most of this is just a security theatre intended to make us feel safer and justify existence of this bureaucracy. I do not expect to be any safer now when I fly than I was 6 years ago. When I travel alone, I still take big enough insurance without terrorism clause to cover my family. I take it as an expected risk that highly determined people will overcome the obstacles present to them and achieve their goal or just plainly switch their goals to the area which is affected by lack of resources wasted on the theatre itself.

For your amusement I offer story from my very recent travel. I travelled with a little baby on a long flight and had with me two large bottles of water to use to make formula, since the baby doesn't like the ready to eat one. One big bottle was in a carry on, another one was in stroller we checked in at the gate and therefore we were taking it through the security. The screeners saw the first bottle and told us we cannot bring it on, not because it was too big, but because it contained WATER. They even suggested to add the formula powder to it right then and there and then we could bring it in. They said if it is formula or juice it is fine to bring on board. It definitely doesn't seem logical why water wouldn't be allowed while formula or juice would. Also, I am not sure if they would really check if what I am adding is baby formula especially if I am doing it in front of them from original formula can. Needless to say, I just told them I am going to throw the bottle out and buy one after the security. I did throw it out and then just walked throw security with the second big bottle in my bag. Nobody even noticed.

geek65535July 30, 2007 3:30 PM

First, my personal experience recently was with a TSA agent telling me I couldn't take my new stick of deodorant (that I had just purchased 'cause I knew my can of aerosol deodorant wouldn't go), not because the stick was too big, but because I (who had not flown in ages) had not brought it in a baggie. It was agreed between us that it would fit in a baggie, and that the only purpose of the baggie was to make sure I wasn't carrying too much (since she had already thrown out my 5oz tube of toothpaste, the deodorant was it)--but the fact that it wasn't in a baggie in itself was enough to get it disallowed. So it's not enough that the rules are stupid; they're also applied stupidly.

Second, and I hate the thought of anyone in the TSA contemplating this seriously, what about every laptop computer carried on board? You know, the ones with the LCD screens with large pieces of glass embedded in them that could easily be broken and used as weapons?

Third, security at 99% of the airports in the country could have perfect security, and it wouldn't make a difference. Why? It's a weakest link system. When a passenger passes the checkpoint, they're in the system. That means a passenger goes through security in Boston, and when they land in Houston to change planes, they are already within the security perimeter at (ugh) Bush International. But the key here is that that passenger doesn't have to start in Boston. He could just as well have started in East Podunk, Idaho--or Left Wingnut, Texas, or wherever the security screening is the most lax. It's like the joke about what you call the guy who finishes last in medical school ("doctor")--somewhere in the country is the worst set of security screeners working at the least secure airport. It doesn't matter what the security is like anywhere else (within reason, of course).

Dont you think...July 30, 2007 3:30 PM

This TSA process is silly:
They limit the quantity of a single liquid container to 3 oz which you easily can get 5 of in a quart bag = 15oz. You can easily print out multiple boarding passes and go thru security several times to get as much liquid on board as you want.


They scan your luggage for knives, and confiscate them if you accidentially put one in your luggage. but, if you go into OC airport thru security and order a steak, you'll hand you a nice steel steak knife.

It all about the illusion of security, to make you FEEL safe.

ChiefJuly 30, 2007 3:59 PM

I've been a chief of police in a county of 280,000 people for more than 7 years. I've also been in law enforcement for 28 years. As a police officer I firmly believe the TSA is the formation of idiots, run by idiots and employees idiots. Isreal is the leader in airport security. they rely heavily on highly trained personnel to profile (yes that dirty word) to detect threats. TSA on the other hand hires the uneducated and pays them accordingly. As a police officer I can run a person's criminal history, credit history, civil history, voting records, employment history, who your neighbors are,and even parking ticket information from my desk in minutes. Since nearly everyone buys their tickets in advance all flyers can be run for the information above. People without histories or gaps in histories could certainly investigated further. It really bothers me when I see an ederly white female in her 80's being "screened" by the crack TSA security. Yet Muslims often pass through without secondary screening. TSA is a joke. This country needs to wake up and start using all the information so kindly provided by the many marketing groups that collect info on everything we do and focus on real security threats.

pecuniumJuly 30, 2007 4:08 PM

eam: re bottles as melee weapons. Sort of. 750ml spirit bottles aren't so good. Bordeaux style wine bottles can be, as can beer bottles. It takes some practice, but I have about 75 percent success at the wrist flick required to make them a viable weapon.

Aaron Luchko: Actually the problem of liquids at the screening station is different from the problem of explosives on the plane. There are a number of combinants which could clear the area/kill some people, which couldn't be combined with the same level of effect in the plane's lavatory. Some would require larger amounts of material than one person can reasonable carry.

sharingexperiencesJuly 30, 2007 4:09 PM

>What other (better?) kinds of controls could we implement that address the real problem without inconveniencing passengers?

In the situation when there is a "perceived" risk anybody can trigger release of quickly acting sedating gas in the main cabin. Pilots and stewardesses immediately, passengers after overcoming reasonable checks . By "entering into contract" to fly all passenger would enter into agreement acknowledging the risks. The risk to passengers with medical conditions in the condition of misuse of malfunction would be covered by airlines/manufacturer/government backed/purchased insurance policy. Any misuse by passengers would be handled by long sentencing and loss of property. Unless somebody cares about exploding the airplane without any notice (more damage can be caused much more easily), this would be a reasonable precaution and most people I assume would happily live with the risk that the worse thing that can happen to them will be that they will get a good night sleep all the way to their destination.

guvn'rJuly 30, 2007 4:38 PM

@Brandioch Conner, re why not post the bank's server details.

I'm comfortable enough they're secure enough that I don't need outsiders "help" in securing us, all they do is muddy the IDS logs. I and my colleagues are paid to secure our network, our jobs are on the line if we screw it up, so we're more motivated than any outsider who isn't seeking to rip us off would be.

Also, the only authorized use of our systems is for their intended purpose, so anyone attempting access to review our security posture is violating the law. I don't want to disclose anything that might help them break the law.

btw, our security posture is peer reviewed, by regulators and outside vendors contracted to do the job, so it's not like we don't get second guessed!

JamieJuly 30, 2007 4:45 PM

"We also do extensive and very sophisticated Red Team testing, and one of their jobs is to observe checkpoints and go back and figure out -- based on inside knowledge of what we do -- ways to beat the system. They isolate one particular thing: for example, a particular explosive, made and placed in a way that exploits a particular weakness in technology; our procedures; or the way TSOs do things in practice. Then they will test that particular thing over and over until they identify what corrective action is needed."

So the Red Teams do pretty much the same thing that a smart terrorist would: watch the security checkpoint until a weakness was found, then exploit it.

The only difference is that if the Red Team gets a "payload" through, there's no threat of danger to anyone's lives. But if a terrorist does the same...

Ze GermanJuly 30, 2007 4:47 PM

Why is there all this fuss about aviation security, and hardly any about, for example, train travel? There are *no* security checks at all before boarding a train (fortunately, I might add). Over here in Germany I regularly travel on trains going 300 km/h (about 200 mph) - with a couple of hundred passengers on board. It's impressive when the trains pass each other at relative speeds of 400 mph. Imagine the effects of detonating a 30kg suitcase of explosives just at that precise moment! "BOOM goes the dynamite" ...

sharingexperiencesJuly 30, 2007 4:56 PM

> Re Ze German
I think the difference is that the train cannot be flown into a high priority target. It will sounds hard, but collateral damage by loosing few couple hundred people must be taken as a reasonable risk in this era. It is not difficult to kill couple of hundred people with mush less obstacles these days. What is the risk I believe is misusing common objects (e.g. airplanes, trucks) as weapons that cause cause major devastation or disruptions, e.g. deaths of many thousands people, major disruptions in economy, etc. Thats why it would be reasonable planning to place parking garages away of office buildings (in the added benefit of helping loose some weight with walking), loading docks away from high risk production facilities, etc.

kybJuly 30, 2007 5:05 PM

Quercus: "This seems a little inconsistent. Can you explain?"

The reason

Also, I want to second the point that others have made - a big part of the danger of airplanes (and almost the only part if security is done well) is the number of people in an enclosed space. If security measures mean that there is a plane sized or more number of unchecked people together, then they're just creating a whole new target, and making the risk worse, not better. I'd like to see KH show that he's considered that.

MadOverlordJuly 30, 2007 5:12 PM

I too am quite surprised that the bad guys haven't taken out a crowd at a security line. You can literally walk up with a roll-on bag full of whatever you like, and take out hundreds of people. Talk about unintended consequences.

Personally I think the real point of the security checkpoints isn't so much the XRay, etc, as much as that it provides the TSOs (at least, the ones not busy doing the mostly pointless stuff, of which there always seems to be one or two) with a chokepoint at which they can observe each passenger.

But the real thing that's making airline travel safer is, ironically, 9/11. Because now when the terrorists try to take over the plane, they're going to have to kill every man, woman and child over the age of 10 in order to do it, because everyone now knows that if they don't stop them, they're dead anyway.

So the major threat is stuff like bombs, not guns and knives.

nurblesJuly 30, 2007 5:15 PM

Gee, the comments about the colostomy bag, followed by "explosives in a bra" make me wonder how many ounces of fluid are stored within breast implants? Seems like a truly dedicated female (or cross-dressing?) terrorist would opt to have their binary liquid explosive as breast implants, squeeze to mix, then detonate. I imagine that if a binary explosive (like Die Hard 3's) really exists, someone like Pam Anderson could bring down a 747...

Movie script threat?

nurblesJuly 30, 2007 5:17 PM

Gee, the comments about the colostomy bag, followed by "explosives in a bra" make me wonder how many ounces of fluid are stored within breast implants? Seems like a truly dedicated female (or cross-dressing?) terrorist would opt to have their binary liquid explosive as breast implants, squeeze to mix, then detonate. I imagine that if a binary explosive (like Die Hard 3's) really exists, someone like Pam Anderson could bring down a 747...

Movie script threat?

PS: I seem to remember that there were concerns about "normal" breast implants exploding on airliners when they were first introduced.

ChadJuly 30, 2007 5:18 PM

Bruce,

Interesting interview, but too short. I think like most security professionals, I find myself mentally picking apart the security measures wherever I am, and especially when on line at the airport.

It is trivially easy for someone to smuggle two liters (and more if one gets creative) on one's person simply by having a CamelPak under one's clothes or bags of liquid around one's belly or in the pants. It will not be detected by the metal detector and is impossible to spot without a pat-down search.

Bruce, you've covered El Al (the Israeli national airline) in your blog in the past. It is interesting that El Al's former security chief has criticized [1] our over-reliance on technology in the USA, making the point that a trained, educated and intelligent human being can, with a few pointed interview questions, catch a higher percentage of suspicious activities than any technological measures.

The tool has to augment the humans, not replace them. I guess the TSA cannot quite grasp this point, since the screeners are poorly educated, poorly paid, and poorly motivated. I have to say that the teenage staff at McDonald's seems far more intelligent and motivated than the TSA screeners I have seen.

[1] Former">http://www.computerworld.com/securitytopics/security/story/0,10801,81428,00.html">Former El Al security chief Isaac Yeffet on border, airport security

UnonymousJuly 30, 2007 5:29 PM

iPaul writes: "The only way would could ever be safe, as my father jokes, is to fly naked with all our luggage towed behind in a glider."

I remember thinking, when all this was first happening, that one day everyone boarding an airplane will have to change into featureless, pocket-less, disposable coveralls and will be given disposable booties as well. This will be done in front of an observer, just like the pool in our town which had a lifeguard in the locker room watching to be sure you took a disinfecting shower before going into the pool. Everything else --- luggage, personal items, jewelry --- will be flown on a randomly selected cargo craft and given back to you when you finally make it through security exit processing. (Don't like it? Well then, ma'am, don't wear any jewelry, and you can always use FedEx overnight instead of us for the luggage.)

You know, a lot like intake processing at a prison. They say you're safer on the inside than on the outside of the walls. Why not replicate such an enviable safety record to the air travel domain? We'd all be able to relax and enjoy the inflight movie.

PaulJuly 30, 2007 5:30 PM

> Buying a bunch of bottles and throwing them, on the other hand, may be a lot more fun.

Why bother buying them at all? Combine a few extra shirts and some matches with a bottle of whiskey, and just start throwing them straight out of the duty free shop ....

GelfJuly 30, 2007 5:33 PM

Mr. Hawley, the core of the problem here fits into a very relevant analogy: You have been identified by a highly reliable system of behavioral profiling as a snake oil salesman.

In an airport the sweating, nervous-looking middle eastern man in an oversized coat who stands in the security line mumbling prayers to himself and avoiding eye contact with security agents might in principle have perfectly reasonable explanations for all those things, but any responsible agent should very much want to hear those reasons. Evasiveness here is legitimately considered further cause for suspicion.

Likewise, when the press release for a security product claims it to operate by a secret, proprietary technology, alarm bells go off. The claim that such a system is truly secure is known to be highly improbable on its face. Concerns are heightened when what public information exists seems to contradict the claims of effectiveness. Insistence on secrecy and reliance on secrecy as a tool to dismiss criticism instead of answering it are the final straw. In principle these claims might all be true; in practice, not so much. No one in his right mind would rely on such a system. This is a textbook description of a snake oil salesman in action.

You and your agency, Mr. Hawley, very closely match this behavioral profile. The fact that you represent a government agency does not incline us to cut you slack; quite the contrary, the fact that the effectiveness of your agency is literally a life-and-death issue every time we travel makes the impression of evasive ineffectuality all the more troubling. For that matter, so much evidence is readily available of "national security" being used to shield from public scrutiny malfeasance and incompetence within government agencies, not least your own, that that specific defense holds up especially poorly.

Imagine yourself standing there holding a black box that emits quacking noises, a peculiarly ducklike smell, duck droppings containing duck DNA and, occasionally, duck eggs that produce baby ducks, trying to convince us that the government has super secret intelligence that would absolutely convince us the box does not contain a duck, only we aren't allowed to know it. We will never believe in your top-secret ultra-realistic duck-in-a-box simulation program until you open the box.

This is the scope of the credibility problem you face. You seem to want someone to identify for you the correct way to phrase "just trust me and don't ask questions" so as to make that happen. There isn't one. It won't. The only thing that will help is reconsidering the relationship between your agency and the public.

TruePathJuly 30, 2007 5:37 PM

This bit about the multiple bottles is not a compelling explanation at all. If the goal of this program had been to prevent a terrorist attack it would have been in place before the scare with the liquid bombs as US intelligence had already uncovered plans to use liquid devices.

Moreover, if the goal really is safety it doesn't make any sense whatsoever to restrict vehicles stopping near airports or to inspect vehicles on the way in. The airplanes may be especially vulnerable but a car bomb at the airport will kill no more people than a car bomb at some other busy destination.

The problem here is simply that the TSA is taking as a given that SOMETHING must be done. Rather than reassuring passengers the danger is minimal or being upfront about extra security precautions being of minimal help they take as a given that they must implement some protection to make people feel safer about air travel and only then try to figure out what is to be done.

kybJuly 30, 2007 5:48 PM

Re: Mixing things too difficult in an airplane bathroom.

A few people have mentioned that the restriction on amount of liquid might make sense, as it is too difficult to mix the relevant chemicals in an airplane toilet.

If this were true, then KH would surely have realised that some commenters would come up with it, and it would give him a much greater appearance of transparency to be straight with us about it.

It also ignores the fact that there is no need for it to be mixed on the plane itself. There's plenty of time to find a quiet spot and mix in the terminal building. You don't even need all of the people carrying bomb components to be getting the same flight - you can have 20 people carry a small amount each into the terminal, and meet up in the designated quiet spot. If you stick a "Toilet currently out of use" sign on the door of some toilets, you can expect substantial space in a quiet area, with an electricity supply, cold water, sinks, fire extinguishers....

TJJuly 30, 2007 6:04 PM

I'm surprised that Bruce didn't ask to what extent some of these measures are simply conditioning Americans to submit to invasive scrutiny.

OztenJuly 30, 2007 6:08 PM

Excellent article. Kudos to Kip Hawley for accepting the interview. Transparency is what the TSA needs. It is impossible to get any specifics from them ( for our own protection of course ).

You've done a great job of asking specific logical questions, for which the TSA has no rational answer.

If we could harness the frustration that every person has when flying on commercial airlines, we would solve our energy crisis. We cannon, and this article helps relieve the frustration.

We are no safer than before 9/11, except now we have much fewer rights. Woo hoo, God Bless America.

It's time to take this country back from special interest groups and incompetent bureaucrats.

dontflyhere...July 30, 2007 6:11 PM

I work at an very busy airport in Mass--which is the Nantucket airport. The TSA people stationed there are very strick, but they let people put items that will not pass through screening that were in their carry-ons into their checked bags when possible (happens a lot... they just leave the line and go back to the checkin counter), they also do notice knifes and other things which us airport folk try and put into their bags that were checked or we are given the items to keep if we can not get their checked bags to put it in. The TSA is always running tests on themselves that are known and unannounced (out of town TSA or other gov group people, which we have to keep secret to suprise the screeners and TSA management with)...the TSA also does random security checks against airport workers in secure areas that are off limits to the general public. Some airports are more strick than others, but those stories could be lies from passangers for all I know for items that passed screening in the past that we know for a fact the TSA will find and not premit. I think it depends on the leadership teams that are stationed at a particular place that really drive following defines codes and practices, being strick, etc. Though the Nantucket TSA is very strick, they are reasonable and friendly-- want to leave the screening line and drink that bottle-- no problem, they do not mind or deal with whatever and retry making it through screening.

I personally think there are a large number of people whom try and see if they can sneak things through screening, while the rest of the cases are either items that a person forgot they had or did not realize it could not go through screening (quite often it's certain forms of makeup). Passangers are warned when checking in to prep them, which does get a lot of things addressed beforehand, but not all things.

innocentJuly 30, 2007 6:12 PM

What about knapping glass to make weapons.

As in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

What if they banned everything and so the terryists have to have one guy who would suicide first to provide the raw materials for making bone weapons.

Or how about sharpening the seat buckle ?

Or maybe a binary liquid explosive injected into various cavities in different terryist passengers.

The deadly enema ? Ass bombers ?

Why not just conceal some plastic guns inside the body this would defeat terahertz scanners - do they check for operation scars ?

SeanCJuly 30, 2007 6:18 PM

One thing that concerns me is the illusion that we need such strong screenings in airports. Why do we need to be screened to get on an airplane but not screened to get on the subway? Sure 9/11 caused alot of deaths, but they used pretty crude objects to pull that off and mostly relied on the emotions of the passengers to implement their plans. I'm concerned that its all for show, like Kip said in his own words, combining multiple bottles into a large container doesn't create a viable bomb. So essentially hes saying a large container of liquid doesn't equal a viable bomb?

sharingexperiencesJuly 30, 2007 6:25 PM

To: dontflyhere.

> but they let people put items that will not pass through screening that were in their carry-ons into their checked bags when possible (happens a lot... they just leave the line and go back to the checkin counter),

You must be working on a different kind of airport, but the airports I ever have flown from suck in my checked in baggage into their system, before you even get to the security screening. They were not even able to return the luggage to me when my companion had too heavy suitcase and they offered us to repack it. Good luck checking in your forgotten pocket knife when the luggage is long gone.

> those stories could be lies from passangers for all I know for items that passed screening in the past that we know for a fact the TSA will find and not premit.

For all I know we are only as safe as reliable the people at the screening are and my own experience is that they are not. It doesn't help that in last few years they created bad taste in mouth of public by being incompetent and arrogant because they were given powers they cannot handle without any effective repercussions in case they mishandle them.

CarlJuly 30, 2007 6:26 PM

My question would have been: is a liquid explosive inherently more likely than a solid? If a non-nitrate explosive can be made without liquids, the only effect of the liquid ban on terrorists is to change the formulation. It's like the scene in Blazing Saddles where they put a toll booth along the trail in the desert to slow down the bad guys.

MrKnickerbockerJuly 30, 2007 6:34 PM

it's probably been mentioned before, but 3 oz. of *The Works* toilet bowl cleaner (Hydrogen Chloride), a couple shreds of aluminum foil, (a few pennies for catalyst) and a glass bottle makes a nice little panic-maker. Plastic bottles work well if all you want is a bang and hydrogen chloride/ aluminum chloride all over everything.

sninky-chanJuly 30, 2007 6:34 PM

I don't know why anyone expected the TSA to be forthcoming about their security reasoning just because it was Bruce Schneier. Schneier asked precise questions, yes, but Hawley only answered what he wanted to. For better or worse, the TSA does what it thinks is best, and part of that is not revealing their "layers of security". *sigh*

MrKnickerbockerJuly 30, 2007 6:34 PM

it's probably been mentioned before, but 3 oz. of *The Works* toilet bowl cleaner (Hydrogen Chloride), a couple shreds of aluminum foil, (a few pennies for catalyst) and a glass bottle makes a nice little panic-maker. Plastic bottles would work well enough if all you want is a bang and hydrogen chloride/ aluminum chloride all over everything.

sharingexperiencesJuly 30, 2007 6:49 PM

To: sninky-chan

> I don't know why anyone expected the TSA to be forthcoming about their security reasoning just because it was Bruce Schneier. Schneier asked precise questions, yes, but Hawley only answered what he wanted to. For better or worse, the TSA does what it thinks is best, and part of that is not revealing their "layers of security". *sigh*

Because KH thinks security through obscurity improves this system. The truth is that because the system is so large and so easily accessible, available for observation and experimentation with very little persecution as Bruce pointed out, it is almost guaranteed that it can be breached. The only reason why it wasn't is because as many said, it is not anymore an interesting target. When somebody gets on the plane, the reaction of passengers will not allow to commit large scale damages beyond destroying the plane. This will not affect the economy or infrastructure and will not touch lives of most people, since they do have and wand to fly.

KenJuly 30, 2007 6:53 PM

I carry a plastic flask of liquid (more than 3oz.) in my shirt pocket right through the scanners every time.

Also, what is the friggin' purpose of checking my ticket and ID at the check point and then AGAIN 10 feet later!? That one really pisses me off. I asked one time and the response at the 2nd station was that the TSA does not trust the private checkers at the 1st point!

Nice, real nice!

12ParsecsJuly 30, 2007 7:05 PM

"today's TSOs are light-years ahead of even where they were two years ago"

Last I checked, Light-Years are a measure of distance, not time or technological advancement.

barfo ramaJuly 30, 2007 7:05 PM

Well, there's also accelerants provided by the airlines. They don't let people who need oxygen bring their own on the plane, but charge excessively for the airlines to provide it.

So build some magnesium wheelchairs and crutches, and pay for the pure medical O2. Cut the freakin' fuselage in half with that.

But why bother with the airlines? Steal a pumper firetruck, load it up with fuel oil, spray it on the birdshit on the Dolly Parton Memorial, I mean, San Onofre power plant, instant dirty-bomb from the I-5.

This is asymetrical war, people, think asymetrically.

DarkstarJuly 30, 2007 7:45 PM

Thanks for doing this interview Bruce, although I can't say I am all that impressed with his answers...

BrettJuly 30, 2007 8:23 PM

Everyone focused on liquid explosives seems to have forgotten about liquid or aerosol poisons. It may take a liter of explosives to bring down a plain, but only drops of poison to incapacitate/kill most of the passengers and flight crew.

NateJuly 30, 2007 8:36 PM

It's probably easy to detect Mercury which can catalyize the oxidation of metals, but something like Galinstan can probably be set up as binary powders, or to be mixed with the heat from hot water, and will also form an amalgam with Aluminum - so it will probably also catalyse the destruction of a metal airplane hull.

Similarly, three ounces of Dimethyl Mercury is probably enough to kill everyone on a 747 a hunderd times over, although I don't know how feasible delivery would be.

John C. RandolphJuly 30, 2007 8:47 PM

Let's see... Three ounces of ammonia, three ounces of bleach, yields how much chlorine gas?

At any rate, the real threat now is the perps shooting planes down with shoulder-launched missiles, like they tried to do in Kenya within a month or so of 9/11.

-jcr

GabeJuly 30, 2007 9:11 PM

Unfortunately anything resembling total security is impossible. All this beefing up of the TSA will just make the terrorists attack elsewhere. Why do we have to waste billions and billions of dollars and countless hours of everyone's time?

The real inconvenient truth is that we have a lot more to lose than the terrorists. Think about how much we spend to kill one terrorist in Iraq vs how much they spend. I wouldn't be surprised if it costs us $10,000,000 to kill an insurgent, and it costs them $10,000 to kill one of ours. Furthermore, any military action is easily spun to the terrorist's advantage in middle eastern ghettoes where there are limitless potential recruits.

Republican hawks like to blame democrats and public opinion for a defeatism which they spin as the reason we aren't winning. The bottom line is you can't win against an enemy who has nothing to lose. Especially not from the privileged position we enjoy. They like to talk a big game, but I guarantee you if you put Rush into combat fatigues and drop him in Baghdad he'll fold faster than anyone I know.

paladineJuly 30, 2007 9:49 PM

I missed a flight because of 1.5hr line in Philly, something I am told is routine there. If the TSA has an important job to do, then by all means do it properly, however this lot at Philly was arrogant and could not care less about the passengers that it serves (yes SERVES). One operator blamed the wheelchair passengers for holding up the line (Yes, yes really!) and complained that he did not have the right to strike.

Only one station open out of 4 available, and one station with operators was blocked because they were preparing to go off-shift, never mind the line. They were opening bags right in the line, not off to the side to speed things up, and the operators were joking and laughing -- it was disgusting, and I do not feel one bit safer with the process, just helpless ... and heaven forbid you complain, no telling where you will end up.

These people were not protecting anything except their time, and complaining about it. If baggies are the rule, then why have I only been called once in dozens of trips for not having stuff in a baggie -- the enforcement is arbitrary and it is hard to accept the administration's spin.

Bruce SchneierJuly 30, 2007 10:48 PM

"I'm surprised that Bruce didn't ask to what extent some of these measures are simply conditioning Americans to submit to invasive scrutiny."

It's hardly a question for him. He's not a behavioral psychologist, after all.

BillyBobJuly 31, 2007 1:19 AM

Private and charter plane passengers are not subject to any of these security screenings. So if a terrorist were inclined to attack the US by crashing planes into things, they would do it with private or chartered airplanes to avoid any chance of being caught by pre-flight screenings.

Since it recently came out that Osama bin Laden himself may have chartered the infamous post-9/11 Flights for his allegedly estranged Saudi relatives:

http://www.judicialwatch.org/6322.shtml

we can assume he was aware of this as well and would have used private/charter flights if he had truly been behind the 9/11 attacks.

Andrew BJuly 31, 2007 1:43 AM

> Most of it was off the record

So by agreeing to that condition, Bruce helps to propagate the problem. If an organisation holds itself to be unaccountable and above all consequences, you should not pander to their fantasies. They are a public body and everthing they do should be in the public domain.

OtterJuly 31, 2007 2:16 AM

Many have commented on the stupidity behind confiscating liquids while still considering the owner "not a threat". If you generally follow the news you will also see a rise in people being arrested for "resisting arrest". That's it. The only charge. This implies a growing sense of "authority definition" within our security enforcement apparatus. Questions will not be tolerated. And those employed by this apparatus are so underwhelming in the gray matter department that simple, inconvenient, "cookie cutter" processes are all that can be implemented.

ToddJuly 31, 2007 2:49 AM

Bruce - hopefully you sprung the question as to why three books of matches are allowed onto a plane but not a lighter. yes - there's the whole tobacco industry interest obviously. i accidentally packed rather sharp lock picks when flying to nyc years back (post 9/11) and TSA discovered them in my bags. i told them "they're lock picks.. sorry, i forgot they were in there, go ahead and take them" and there was a language problem,. and they just gave them back to me and let me fly with them. it was depressing. of course.. that was in oakland. my experience in la guardia coming back was ridiculous. evening the old woman behind me got felt up while holding her walker for dear life.

TSJuly 31, 2007 3:45 AM

Someone mentioned sarin gas or other nerve gasses or 2 ounce of nitroglycerine that can fit in the small containers allowed.
And regarding knives, if prisoners in prisons can make deadly weapons, I think it's reasonable to assume that between security checkpoint and the plane it's 100% possible to construct some very deadly weapons.
To a trained person, allmost anything can be a weapon, even a specially folded newspaper (uk hooligans use them amongst others). Someone mentioned a soda-can ripped in half. It would not be difficult, you can even bring on a small sharpening-stone and shapen your improvised soda-can blade (in the toilet) and fashion it into more of a knife looking thing.
When I was a kid, I used to make small 'firecracker' bombs by stuffing spent .22 cartridges with match-heads that I had ground up, then wrapping it in cloth and setting it alight, in like 30 secs it would explode. Imagine lots of matchheads in bigger cartridges.... It could be a shaped-charge to break into the cockpit perhaps.
What about bringing on gasoline in your allowed small bottles? if you are 5-6 people it adds up, take off your clothes, soak it in the gasoline and light it on some seats.
etc etc. and all this is without even thinking about it. I'm sure someone who *really* sat down and thought about it would not have any problems bringing down a plane.
So here's a scenario: You light the gasoline soaked clothes near the middle of the plane, and take hostage a coupple of stewardesses with your soda-can blades, then while everyone is confused by the fire and the hostage-taking, you stick some shaped-charge match-stick bombs on strategic points on the cockpit door to blow its hinges or something. Then take over the plane. All with: small amount of gasoline, matches and a coupple of cokes.
You can also add in some nitroglycerine if you feel up to it.
Or there are some chemicals in tiny amounts that will totally explode when mixed with: water. (lithium I think?), you don't need very many ounces of that at all to make a big explosion.
There's the airmarshall but they are not on all flights I assume.
And still I only spent 5 mins thinking about this.... scary...


Richard BraakmanJuly 31, 2007 4:37 AM

"...yet too stupid to read the rules on TSA's own website"

They've got that covered! This is why the rules are implemented differently at every airport (indeed, at every screening station), and why passengers' claims of having followed those rules (ha!) are contemptuously dismissed by the trained screeners. The terrorists don't stand a chance!

ZeroJuly 31, 2007 5:22 AM

I have zero confidence in the preventative measures of airport security. Having read stories of "Air Rage" where a passenger was able to disrupt and divert a flight merely by being drunk and aggressive, it is clear there is huge potential to jam the system with even the simplest tactics. (The airlines happily selling passengers the alcohol too, an almost entirely preventable disruption.)

Add to that the many layers of cheap but ineffective security imposed on passengers, due to the lack of political will to force airlines to better secure the cockpits of their airplanes, the more effective but less cost effective approach.

DanielJuly 31, 2007 7:44 AM

As politically incorrect as it may be, by not profiling Muslims, the TSA are ignoring the single most defining characteristic of nearly all aviation terrorists.

Tall, short, male, female, African, American, white, black or brown, all terrorists are Muslim.

If airport security spent a little less time shaking down every little old lady trying to sneak tweezers onto an airplane and more time trying to spot Islamists, the skies would be safer. Unfortunately, in an inept attempt to be politically correct, they are 'randomly' attacking a very specific problem.

Goodwill HuntingJuly 31, 2007 8:07 AM

The real key to security and freedom is to reduce the reasons for the threat. There will always be people misnehaving, but politically-motivated and well-financed threats can be drastically reduced by paying attention and mitigating foreign policy and commerical behavior that drives resentment and anger in populations around the globe.
It's tragic to spend more and more time and money, concomitant with the loss in true economic progress and freedom, in endless pursuits of draconian security measures when it it far cheaper to change behavior that ameliorates conflict. When we move towards conflict resolution, we are addressing the ptoblems at their root. The alternative is to engage in a perpetual state of conflict and war - that is something that can never be won, and the prospects for winning will grow worse over time, not better.

PaulJuly 31, 2007 10:23 AM

A simpler explanation for seemingly stupid behavior:
There are 2 variables here:
v1=The security head does *something* vs does nothing
v2= Something happens (bomb) vs nothing happens (no bomb)

1a- security head does nothing + nothing happens = security head keeps his/her job
1b- security head does nothing + *something* happens = security head looses his/her job
2a- security head does something + nothing happens = security head keeps his/her job
2b- security head does something + *something* happens = security head keeps his/her job

If security head does something (regarless of whether *something* happens), he/she keeps his/her job. Because if *something* happens, security head can always say: "Hey! we did our best. They were smarter this time. We'll improve the system and next time it won't happen!"

DatdamwufJuly 31, 2007 10:28 AM

One poster noted it, the number is $4 million dollars to dispose of lighters...during the ban you were allowed a single pack of matches. And heres what concerns me more than the wasted dollars. The fear of the TSA screener and disappearing as an enemy combatant. I had a screener take my matches, when I said the rules allowed them I was asked "do you want to make trouble?" in a tone that let me know I would be pulled aside, I shut up, and not just because I was afraid of missing my flight.

Think about how careful you are in what you say while in earshot of the screeners, really think about it...

AnonymousJuly 31, 2007 11:21 AM

All of Mr. Hawley's comments can be reduced to a single sentence: "Trust us, we know what we're doing." Given the level of trustworthiness of the current administration, most recently epitomized by Alberto Gonzales and "Scooter" Libby, without some objective evidence I see no reason to trust the TSA administrator.

The only way for the TSA to be perceived as trustworthy will be for it to implement transparency. But despite his claim that he wants to be more transparent, repeated use of phrases to the effect that "I can't get into the specifics" demonstrate that Mr. Hawley fundamentally doesn't understand the concept of transparency.

I believe that the only way to achieve transparency and accountability on the part of the TSA is to heap it with such distain and disrespect that it will be forced, as a matter of self-preservation (I am perhaps over-anthropomorphizing a bureaucratic entity) to reveal its methods just to prove it's not totally inept (unless, of course, it /is/ totally inept).

EricSJuly 31, 2007 1:23 PM

Re: Daniel

"As politically incorrect as it may be, by not profiling Muslims, the TSA are ignoring the single most defining characteristic of nearly all aviation terrorists. Tall, short, male, female, African, American, white, black or brown, all terrorists are Muslim"

Tell that to the victims of Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Robert Rudolph, George Metesky, the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Liberation Army (to cut both ways on race), Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (along with other school shootings), Luke Helder, etc....

It's a little late in this thread to Troll that kind of hate.

reddogJuly 31, 2007 1:42 PM

I thank Bruce for his initiative. But most respondents seem to ignore two things: there are some very bad people out there who want to kill Americans wherever and whenever they can; since 9/11, there have been no incidents of an American aircraft being used as a weapon of terror. Aren't you folks willing to concede, given those two facts, that somebody is doing something right, and that we're safer for it?

anarclownJuly 31, 2007 3:52 PM

So they took my children's juice boxes (factory sealed) because the kids were obviously not a threat. Power (even a little) always attracts people who will abuse it, and then say "We need to have rules." We're now safe from ineffective shoe bombs and chemically impossible liquid explosives, but the 9/11 hijackers just "said" they had a bomb and used box cutters (and scissors are now ok). How many billions are we flushing down the tubes with TSA? Everyone forward this interview to your Congressmen.

Jonadab the Unsightly OneJuly 31, 2007 10:43 PM

An ounce of nerve gas would be a threat to people on the plane, but how would you use it to gain control of the cockpit and/or take down the whole plane? As for stuff like nitroglycerine, nothing that unstable is really very effective, because it's too hard to keep it from going boom prematurely. I'm not aware of any military in the world that considers nitroglycerine a useful combat explosive, so why would terrorists use it?

With that said, there are plenty of solids that can be used to blow things up, especially in combination with liquids the flight attendants will happily hand you on the flight. I assume they make some attempt to screen for at least some of the most obvious ones, but...

As far as weapons, that's a really hard problem. Sure, you can check for extremely obvious things like Kalashnikovs, but you can't confiscate everything that could potentially be used as a weapon, because that would be just about everything. I can off the top of my head think of several different ways to carry totally innocent objects onto a plane and make a deadly weapon out of them. Take anything with some mass to it, tie it into an article of clothing, and swing it. Take lengths of hundred-pound-test fishing line (very easy to embed in clothing) tied between any two objects that can serve as handles. However, these sorts of improvised weapons don't *look* like weapons to people, so they aren't as useful for making threats as things like knives. (It never ceases to amaze me how easily threatened people are by knives, even quite small ones.) And from the perspective of the TSA, the weapons that really matter are the ones that can be used to make threats and thus hijjack the plane, or else ones that can actually dammage the plane enough to bring it down. Killing a passenger while in the air isn't what they're trying to protect against. (For one thing, an commercial jet in the air normally contains witnesses, plus it's a difficult scene to flee, so a murderer who wants to get away would be unlikely to choose that venue.)

Joe HuffmanAugust 1, 2007 3:01 AM

Regarding dust explosions...

This is about 8 ounces of flour over an ounce of black powder (the original gun powder): http://www.joehuffman.org/FlashTek/06-FFFFgFlour.mpeg

That is in open air. In an enclosed room of an abandoned house a similar test brought the house down. Sorry, that wasn't my test and I don't have any video for it.

Shaped charges made from match heads? I don't think so. The "detonation" velocity is just too slow. It's more properly called deflagration than detonation for that type of "explosive". Shaped charges require MUCH faster propagation rates.

Binary explosives are available here: http://www.tannerite.com/ No background check, no license required, delivered to your door via UPS. Now THAT is something you can make a crude shaped charge with.

The "projectile" (typically a slug of molten copper) from a shaped charge is moving at 6 to 10 kilometers per second. At the pressures generated when it hits a "target" everything is "plastic". Hardened steel develops a hole just like a high velocity stream from your garden hose nozzle punches a hole in a dirt bank. Penetration for a properly configured 10 (ten) gram shaped charges is about 2 inches of steel. Yes--a shaped charge using less than one half ounce of explosives will penetrate two inches of steel. See "Explosives Engineering" by Paul W. Cooper, ISBN 0-471-18636-8 page 442. Or do you think the doors to the cockpit are more resistant than two inches of steel?

Do you think someone could not get a half ounce of explosives through TSA security? You could probably successfully hide that in your mouth or arm pit if you didn't want to use some other body cavity.

Oh, and you know why the explosives detectors work fairly well with plastic explosives? It's, by international agreement (Montreal, March 1, 1991, Article XIII of the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives -- http://www.atf.gov/explarson/fedexplolaw/subpartj.pdf ), that all plastic explosives be "marked" by their manufacture with a chemical that is easily detected. Do you think Iran and others are going to abide by that International Convention if they want to provide some terrorists plastic explosives?

We really should spend the $2 billion/year, or whatever it is, on finding and stopping the bad guys before they arrive at the airport/train-station/shopping-mall/etc. than on pointless screening. The bottom line is that the acronym TSA should be reversed--it really stands for "A Security Theater".

GeorgeAugust 1, 2007 1:49 PM

Likely scenario: A small group of security experts held many classified meetings to develop classified quart-baggie rules in reaction to the London plot. They held a series of classified briefings with various layers of TSA management, all of whom agreed in classified discussions and memoranda that the rules were simple, elegant, foolproof, and brilliant. Finally, Mr. Hawley blessed these simple, elegant, foolproof, and brilliant rules at a final classified meeting. Then he waved his wand to declassify them and implement them throughout the land.

Unfortunately, the rules that seemed so simple, elegant, foolproof, and brilliant during groupthink meetings in locked rooms turned out to be fraught with complications the officials never dreamed of once thousands of TSOs had to implement them for millions of passengers. The result was continual confusion and consternation among passengers as TSOs implemented and "interpreted" the rules in maddeningly arbitrary and absurd ways. And bloggers made many unpatriotic posts detailing the very obvious stupidity and savagely criticizing the government in ways that can never be tolerated in a time of War.

So how did the TSA react to such embarrassing sedition? They held many classified meetings with their security experts, who determined that all the problems were due to passengers "over-thinking the guidelines." After all, everyone at the TSA agreed that the rules are simple, elegant, foolproof, and brilliant, so clearly it must be all those millions of idiots who don't get it. So they updated their Web site to remind passengers of their duty not to think about TSA rules, but to obey them unquestioningly. I only hope the terrorists got the message too.

AnonymousAugust 4, 2007 5:19 PM

I have a concern which reflects on the credibility and fairness of TSA. My tax money goes to support the TSA and I expect them to operate with the highest integrity and fairness. Unfortunately, when I go to the airport (ORD, for example), waiting in the usual large line, I see a select group of 'priority' passengers whisked to a line of TSA personnel reserved especially for these folks, a good number of whom are first class passengers. While these passengers might be preferential to the airline they spent their hard-earned money on, they are not entitled to supplementation by me, a US government taxpayer. In response to emails to the TSA, the agency said that 'they are not in control of passenger flow up to the point of the TSA checkpoint." However, the fact remains that workload staffing by this US government agency is going to supplement the airlines goals, not the goals of safety and efficiency of air travel, which is their stated objective. In addition, I doubt that this supplemental staffing is approved by congress, and is probably in violation of their charter. Such a practice results in an unfortunate degradation of the post-9/11 spirit that "we are all in this together."

John CanningAugust 5, 2007 9:33 PM

As the noted travel writer, Joe Brancatelli, pointed out, the TSA assumes you're guilty, treats you accordinly, and wants you to prove that your innocent.

As most of the comments point out, the TSA is not doing a very good job and their trampling the Constitution in the process.

John MAugust 7, 2007 7:19 PM

SHOES

Why do we have to take off our shoes. That's an easy one, in my opinion. I will give you an example of the importance of shoes. When a child is abducted and there is a posibility of the child being disguised, law enforcment looks at thier shoes. That is because a shoe is hard to fit a child, and easy to spot that the abductor did not get new shoes or ill fitting shoes.

With that kind of mindset lets think about the bomb carrying person. They do not want bomb residue on them, or it may be detected. They are probably around the bomb making materials. They have lots of cloths, which they wash regularly. They do not have as many shoes as they do outfits (Unless they are my wife).
So,
1) They probably wore their shoes around bomb material.
2) They probably never washed thier shoes.
3) Their hands touch shoes regularly to put on or tie the laces.

So, to catch the below average UNIBOMBER... test the shoes.

BspeakerSeptember 6, 2007 10:23 PM

I've been traveling to Singapore and Thailand for years, and have had to go through much more stringent checkpoints. We've been spoiled for a lot of years. Yep, it's inconvenient, but I do 100,000 miles a year and I have the process down. I know what to wear, what I can carry, what not to say. It's no big thing. I only have two problems at the airport --- 1) amateurs who slow things down (what do you *mean* I can't carry on a wrapped wedding present box full of knives?...), and 2) pissy TSO's who decide to be anal about every freaking person going through. Freq. flyers usually have our radar up when we sense one of those monsters, and if we are smart, we change lanes. "No really, you go ahead. I'll just go to this other lane..."

All I know is it beats driving, flapping my own wings, or swimming.

AnonymousOctober 31, 2007 2:59 AM

maxaa kugu dhacay oo aad iii laxiriiri wayday walaaal gacaliye
waa maxamaed jama nuux oo jooga cadan

mohmed jama nuhOctober 31, 2007 3:02 AM

maxaa kugu dhacay oo aaad ii laxiriiri wayday maxamedow mawaanan ahayn saxiib kaa
hada waxaan joogaa can ee wadanka yaman

KGroundJanuary 15, 2008 1:01 PM

There must be something I'm missing here in the discussion about the three ounce limit on liquids. DO they actually believe that 3 ounces, or 3x 3 ounces of nitroglycerine wouldn't wreak havoc on an airplane ?

DavsterFebruary 1, 2008 9:37 PM

Beleive the TSA focused more on litigation than mitigation (of threat)

Ever flown with EL AL ?

Nuff said

curt February 18, 2009 7:32 AM

TSA has recently cause a stir here in DC nearly bankrupting my 10 year old aerial photography business. We are surveyors who use an unmanned moored balloon to fly cameras over Washington DC. from 100 to 800 feet above the ground. See www.AirphotosLIVE.com. After over 2000 flights with FAA waivers, air traffic approval and a half dozen security notifications and approvals TSA now wants to be involved and have the authority to issue us a Security Waiver. worse they now claim a 7 mile circle of influence around DCA airport. They insist we fill out their disfunctional on-line web site---which assumes we are pilots with an aircraft....not a bag of helium and a camera tied underneath. The outrageous part is they REQUIRE we show our financial contracts. And our contracts can only be with the government. 90% of our work is with the thousands of private developers and cell tower companies surrounding Washington DC. Instead of vetting us properly they just say if you are working for the government you are vetted! Pointless and insane.

WarchildOctober 4, 2010 1:02 PM

Take a clean sheet of paper and some aluminum foil, cut out TSA STINKS (definitely not TSA BLOWS) out of foil and glue the letters on the sheet of paper. Lay ithe paper flat on top of your carry on. Please report what kind of positive feedback you receive from our brave men and women in royal blue.

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..