Smuggling Liquids Through Airport Security

This guy has a bottle taken away from him, then he picks it out of the trash and takes it on the plane anyway.

I'm not sure whether this is more gutsy or stupid. If he had been caught, the TSA would have made his day pretty damn miserable.

I'm not even sure bragging about it online is a good idea. Too many idiots in the FBI.

Posted on July 10, 2007 at 5:57 AM • 55 Comments

Comments

PaoloJuly 10, 2007 7:14 AM

Quote: "Most importantly, why would they leave a barrel of liquid dynamite right next to innocent American air travelers?" That's a good point. Of they really fear that there can be explosives, why leaving that there?

Frank WilhoitJuly 10, 2007 7:15 AM

The sole purpose of all the TSA rules and procedures is to degrade and humiliate indivuduals. Like all such things, it is motivated exclusively by sadism. It is therefore not surprising to find people striking back in whatever small manner they can. Over time the manners may become less small.

DeweyJuly 10, 2007 7:19 AM

A barrel. Seems like that's a pretty strong statement of how much risk the TSA perceives in these liquids.

Hmmm. Maybe they just don't consider their employees worth protecting...

Looks like we're moving from "Security Theater" to "Mystery Security Theater 3000".

IanJuly 10, 2007 7:21 AM

Nothing to do with security, but also related to airline checkin stupidity. We were checking in to an Easyjet flight, when they told us my wife's hand luggage was too heavy. She agreed to take a few items out. I stood there holding the items in my hands while they re-weighed her hand luggage. "That will do nicely ma'am". They gave us back the hand luggage, and I put the items back in...

HarryJuly 10, 2007 7:38 AM

Potentially more serious than bragging about it online - for him at least - is posting photos. Taking photos of places-of-security (or places of supposed security, or places of security theater) is a big no-no. It's perhaps possible for him to argue away what he said. There's no way he could disclaim taking the photos.

Which in no way changes the point that the security is anything but secure.

RoxanneJuly 10, 2007 7:47 AM

When they confiscated my Diet Mountain Dew, the guy held it carefully while taking it somewhere behind a screen. I wouldn't have had a chance to retrieve it, even if I hadn't been running for the departure gate. They DID treat it as a potential explosive. (And were annoyingly polite while they did it, too. No one is that polite in Detroit!)

JoelJuly 10, 2007 8:15 AM

Regardless of how (in)effective these security measures are, they have less to do with 'actual' risk, and more to do with 'percieved' risk. If all passengers are undergoing these inane checkpoint requirements, there will be a general perception that there's less risk involved, hence feel safer aboard their flight. Statisically speaking, there's probably more chance they'll victim of an accident travelling to/from the airport, than be a victim of terrorism.

Sez MeJuly 10, 2007 8:21 AM

@Frank Wilhoit: "The sole purpose of all the TSA rules and procedures is to degrade and humiliate indivuduals. Like all such things, it is motivated exclusively by sadism. It is therefore not surprising to find people striking back in whatever small manner they can. Over time the manners may become less small."
------------------

I share your belief that TSA regulations are foolish and I believe that are often more theatre and CYA than real security. However, to say it is soley motivated by sadism intended to degrade is, frankly, wrong and counterproductive.

We need meaningful dialogue, and mischaracterizing those we criticize causes them to tune out. Who can blame them? If I was doing something silly (thinking I was helping) with the intent of promoting safety, I'm more likely to listen to someone who tells me I'm wrong and why. If someone calls me a sadist with the intent of humiliating them, I would dismiss them since I know i'm not.

C GomezJuly 10, 2007 8:30 AM

It's a stupid policy, and there should be more public transparency about any supposed dangers. We shouldn't have to rely solely on private analysis to show liquid in bottles poses little risk. We should have an open and honest debate about it.

As Bruce himself said, when details of the plot surfaced, limiting liquids was a short term solution while the possibility was being investigated. At this point, it's a non-security issue.

The TSA is a political organization, and that means it is far more concerned about not sharing any responsibility if there is an incident involving airplanes. They are not charged with securing air travel, per se... but merely with covering their own hides in case something goes wrong.

This is the nature of bureaucracy. Things like guaranteed employment will do that.

Considering that, during the ban where you could not even take liquids on board, I sat next to a woman who brought aboard a bottle of water and huge scissors to deal with her knitting... I can understand that some people are so fed up they just don't care. Now, she wasn't part of any attack so to say her violations were dangerous is stretching it. You'd have to have someone on board take away her scissors and use them, and the vast supermajority of people just wanted to get to their destination. Security risk: nonexistent.

But I think most people do not want huge sharp instruments on planes because they figure at least someone intent on doing damage won't have those implements. How well thought out is that line of reasoning? Not great, actually. The only thing that will protect a commercial airliner is the willingness of the passengers to fight attackers, and flights being full enough to ensure there are always far more civilians that attackers or terrorists.

Two Million MilerJuly 10, 2007 8:38 AM

Gawddangit.. its posts like his that blow it for the rest of us frequent travelers that know about these loopholes. Now they're going to post a guard at the barrel and move it next to the xray machine.

AnonymousJuly 10, 2007 8:38 AM

"However, to say it is soley motivated by sadism intended to degrade is, frankly, wrong and counterproductive."

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck ...

Since the TSA will never change, no matter how astute, well argued, and dead-on the argument against them may be, why entertain their fantasies at all? To what purpose does it serve to enter their little world of fear, when it is this very world itself that is the source of the problem, the ultimate cause of the frankly overt sadistic attitudes the agency is culturing?

José Rui Abreu MiraJuly 10, 2007 8:39 AM

While we're at it... if "when details of the plot surfaced, limiting liquids was a short term solution" led to this kind of burden towards the passengers, then why not make the passenger go in the plane barefoot... especially since, a couple of years ago, someone boarded an airplane with explosives inside the shoe heels?

AnonymousJuly 10, 2007 8:55 AM

> Too many idiots in the FBI.

Don't know if that's a good thing to say even for a renowned security expert. It might be true, but still... ;)

73 65 63 73 74 61July 10, 2007 9:09 AM

Should humans be allowed on airplanes?

According to the TSA:
"All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in three-ounce or smaller containers. Larger containers that are half-full or toothpaste tubes rolled up are not allowed. Each container must be three ounces or smaller."

According to the USGS:
"Up to 60 percent of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70 percent water, and the lungs are nearly 90 percent water. About 83 percent of our blood is water"

GusJuly 10, 2007 9:32 AM

Body liquids?

- Fill a condom (or equivalent) with liquid explosive.
- Carefully enter it from the rear of the body.
- On board the plane, go to the rest room and extract it...

Movie plot?

Now that I've mentioned it, and if the TSA reads this blog, do expect a moment of a more private search before your next flight.

And do expect to provide a detailed explanation of all products found during the search. ;-)

Tim HarrisJuly 10, 2007 9:38 AM

I think what is not being said is that terrorists are using a different type of chemical in their explosives that the TSA was not trained to detect. So mitigating the quantity of certain materials or stopping them all together is the best scenerio until the proper procedures can be put in place.

If the TSA amongst other government institutions got their head out of a jar and used more up to date training procedures, they would be one step ahead of the terrorists.

Tim HarrisJuly 10, 2007 9:38 AM

I think what is not being said is that terrorists are using a different type of chemical in their explosives that the TSA was not trained to detect. So mitigating the quantity of certain materials or stopping them all together is the best scenerio until the proper procedures can be put in place.

If the TSA amongst other government institutions got their head out of a jar and used more up to date training procedures, they would be one step ahead of the terrorists.

rev_matt_uJuly 10, 2007 10:09 AM

I just came back from a two week trip through China. Traveling internally the security was both more thorough and less intrusive than in the U.S. I didn't have to take off my shoes, or remove all of my electronics and place them in seperate bins. They let us bring bottled water, but they opened the water and sniffed it to make sure it was water (or at least odorless). Everyone got wanded as well as walking through the metal detector, but it was fast.

In my trips through two U.S. airports both directions the fastest I got through the process (from getting my first bag on the table to being through) averaged about 10 minutes. In China it was about 4.

I understand they're dealing with much lower volumes, but I'm talking about the time to process a single person. There were four to six security staff at each station in China, as opposed to two to three in the U.S., which helped with the speed and efficiency as well as providing one person watching over all activity at each station to make sure that things like the guy taking his water back out of the bin didn't happen.

AndrewJuly 10, 2007 10:36 AM

Airport screening is very difficult work. Managing it is even more difficult.

Turning it over to a TSA monopoly, arranging carefully for incompetent civil service management, and last but not least, eliminating the ability of the private person to meaningfully comment or protest the outrageous abuse of power . . . makes a difficult job, impossible.

When I go through TSA, I shut my mouth, tolerate the bull, try not to point out the thirty or forty ways that a particular checkpoint is endangering my life and that of my fellow travelers, and remember what it was like when one still had rights. Occasionally I will mutter under my breath something like, "Constitution void where prohibited" or "The terrorists won, look around, hadn't you noticed?"

I'm not risking gaol for a bottle of salad dressing. Also, the safety of the people at the TSA checkpoint is not really a TSA concern. Their job is to make sure that people don't take weapons or explosives aboard airplanes. Never mind that the [censored censored] makes a much better target.

GeorgeJuly 10, 2007 10:39 AM

I don't think anyone in the TSA is motivated by sadism. Rather, it's a deadly combination of bureaucratic empire-building and the incompetence with which the bushista junta has handled everything having to to with "homeland security" (cf. Katrina and the current passport fiasco).

A competent approach to airport security recognizes that the overwhelming majority of travelers are not terrorists; so the strategy is to make the best effort to focus on stopping terrorists well before they get near an airport while minimizing the impact on travelers. An incompetent approach to airport security is incapable of identifying terrorists, so they react to the details of past terrorist plots in a way that maximizes the difficulty for all passengers. That makes the incompetents look effective, and may even reassure some travelers (specifically, those who still support Bush because of his "Evangelical Christian family values"). But most passengers with half a brain recognize that it's all a stupid fraud.

While the system isn't based on sadism, sadism does enter the picture when low-level screeners start getting fed up with passengers who fail to show the proper respect and deference a Federal Official deserves (perhaps because said passengers recognize that the whole "security" process is a stupid fraud). If a low-level official has the power to hassle and humiliate, they will eventually use it just because they can (and because it provides a ready source of satisfaction in an otherwise thankless job). So perhaps it's appropriate to say that an incompetent system tends to promote sadism when it involves low-level flunkies in a position of authority over numerous unappreciative people.

SnarkJuly 10, 2007 11:41 AM

"most passengers with half a brain recognize that it's all a stupid fraud."

Absolutely.

As a frequent flyer, I'm damned pissed that I can't take a bottle of water through security...although I can pay double for it at the concessionaire on the other side of the TSA folks and take THAT on board!

anonJuly 10, 2007 11:41 AM

How to smuggle liquids onto a plane?

Wear a wet coat. Tell them it was raining.

Geoff LaneJuly 10, 2007 11:42 AM

If you Americans don't take care the TSA will end up ruling your lives...

...or as they will put it, "Protecting citizens despite their protests."

TBJuly 10, 2007 11:57 AM

Sweet Jesus.

How can this country not implode from the weight of its own stupidity?

I mean, honestly!

Frank WilhoitJuly 10, 2007 12:22 PM

@Sez Me: Meaningful dialogue, by all means. But you'll never get it from anyone in the current regime, because that would involve interacting with you on an equal footing. That is, above all, what they cannot do.

@George: "...the proper respect and deference a Federal Official deserves...", or would deserve if the present regime had any legitimacy, which it doesn't.

Mark J.July 10, 2007 12:55 PM

My favorite is the Hartford, CT airport where they have only one security line with an explosive sniffer and you get to choose which of the four lines to stand in. Classic.

BobJuly 10, 2007 1:26 PM

Six terrorists board a plane separately, each holding a 12 to 16oz plastic bottle of liquid which is confiscated and tossed into this disposal unit. The bottles of the first few terrorists contain chemicals which are not especially dangerous in themselves but can react to produce deadly vapors or an explosion. The final terrorists to board have a fragile but coated container full of a caustic material. Think something like a very thinly blown glass bottle filled with paint stripper and shrink-wrapped. When tossed into the trash, or later as other items are tossed or the trash is moved, the fragile glass breaks and shortly thereafter the paint stripper dissolves the plastic and leaks onto the other garbage. There it weakens or dissolves the other plastic bottles releasing their contents. That material mixes and gas or explosion results. Hope those TSA screeners taked who all they took the bottles from. Could be any or all.

RossJuly 10, 2007 2:25 PM

@Roxanne: "... they confiscated my Diet Mountain Dew, ... They DID treat it as a potential explosive."

Well, duh! But it could have been worse - you might have been carrying a Code Red!

RossJuly 10, 2007 2:27 PM

@Gus: "... and if the TSA reads this blog, ..."

I'm sure Bruce is at the top of their reading list.

Go look out your window. See that black Ford Explorer at the curb? We'll forward your emails to Gitmo!

georgeJuly 10, 2007 3:10 PM

Of course there are idiots in the FBI, who else would be foolish enough to work there?

Let's look at the situation:

> miserable pay
> inferior technology (you know the case system that's already cost 800 gazillion dollars
> government bureacracy

Talented people who know what they are doing prefer to get real jobs with real pay where they can do something productive with their time...

JonJuly 10, 2007 6:20 PM

@Kees:

I want some, how can I get some in the US? I doubt most TSA people would even understand it.

Not MeJuly 10, 2007 11:13 PM

@anon, 8:38AM

We do know that for many of the TSA employees, it is just a job. They do exactly what they are told to do, perhaps even believing that they are helping to improve security of travelers. For all we know, they may even have personal doubts.

What we do know is that the people at the top have gathered more power in the past six years than nearly any US citizen has ever had.

NostromoJuly 11, 2007 1:33 AM

There is a real threat from liquids.
Forget the "acetone peroxide" story; it's BS, quite unworkable, misinformation. What the authorities are (legitimately) worried about is propane. Looks like water. Will stay liquid under pressure (e.g. in a bottle intended for carbonated drinks). Open the bottle on the plane, and it will boil, filling the plane with propane gas. Which forms an explosive mixture with air, if the proportion is right. It would take some experimenting to get a workable procedure, but some variation of: one liter bottle opened at the front of the plane, one liter bottle opened at the back, guy in the middle strikes a match after a carefully timed interval - would likely work.
A reasonable procedure would be to insist that all the bottles of water be opened. Propane is odorless, but opening the bottle to sniff would detect it because it would start to boil and the bottle would feel very cold. Prohibit carbonated drinks because it would take too long to distinguish between a cold fizzy drink and boiling propane.

bobJuly 11, 2007 7:15 AM

Also, taking pictures of the sophisticated security machinery, precise security procedures and highly skilled security staff will get you arrested as well.

PeterJuly 11, 2007 7:54 AM

I'm with Frank W on this - most of these regulations are "one way" and even once the threat is debunked or reduced, they will never be removed. This collection of restrictions is sadistic and appears to exist solely for the machismo of the regulators and not for the protection of us, the flying public.

Witness this nonsense; I recently flew to Frankfurt and on the return leg the notice said you could could carry one sort of combination of hand luggage on British Airways for trips that transitted or terminated in the UK and another for other destinations. What was the point of that ? I don't blame BA on that one - just some dumb rules in the UK that don't exist anywhere else. How is that going to protect anyone ?

GaiusJuly 11, 2007 7:54 AM

"I'm from the government; I'm here to help you."

Close, but I think you meant:
"I's from the gov'ment; I's here t' hep."

SimonPJuly 11, 2007 8:01 AM

@rev matt u

I've been through the Chinese 'smell the contents of the water bottle' charade. I call it a charade because mine was 1/2 full of gin and let through.

C GomezJuly 11, 2007 8:31 AM

Andrew wrote:
"When I go through TSA, I shut my mouth, tolerate the bull, try not to point out the thirty or forty ways that a particular checkpoint is endangering my life and that of my fellow travelers, and remember what it was like when one still had rights."

Really, instead of blaming the government, it's important we look at ourselves as Americans. There was a massive public outcry for the government to take over airport security. While some sensible voices wondered aloud what the benefit would be to turn over airport security to the same type of bureaucracy that plagues most state DMV's, it was done anyways.

There were many viable reasons why government takeover was not the answer, and civil service was a major one. Now you have employees who practically have "tenure", without the increased pay that long term teachers get, so we can expect the same level of incompetence that you get among other low paid government workers.

"Why not just pay them more?" Sure, sounds great. Except you can't fire incompetents. So instead of the intended effect, which is to reward those who do a good job on a merit basis, you simply create a union based cushy job that pays a lot and ends up with mafia like connections to gain employment (think the longshoreman's unions.. gotta know somebody to get a job).

So back to the original point. It's our reflexive nature to look to the government to solve problems in totality that has put us here. Instead, a public/private partnership that rewarded a job well done was required.

guvn'rJuly 11, 2007 12:48 PM

@C Gomez, "it's important we look at ourselves", AMEN! what we're seeing is the natural consequences of the massive accretion of individual self interests.

@several, including George: "Of course there are idiots in the FBI, who else would be foolish enough to work there?
Let's look at the situation:
> miserable pay
> inferior technology (you know the case system that's already cost 800 gazillion dollars
> government bureacracy
Talented people who know what they are doing prefer to get real jobs with real pay where they can do something productive with their time..."

I question whether any of those who have posted have ever met a real live FBI agent. None of the ones I know are idiots, in fact some are rather talented in their fields of specialization. They just happen to have a different value system, which includes feeling duty-bound to place themselves in harm's way to protect others from violent crime. And add to the situation >generally thankless and clueless citizens

ChuckJuly 11, 2007 1:14 PM

Why isn't anyone looking into gels in bras? Not only might there be over 3 oz, there are usually 2 separate containers - perfect for a binary reaction.

ChuckJuly 11, 2007 1:14 PM

Why isn't anyone looking into gels in bras? Not only might there be over 3 oz, there are usually 2 separate containers - perfect for a binary reaction.

SharonJuly 12, 2007 1:04 AM

I don't fly very often but I did this past weekend. I was dismayed by the discourtesy of the TSA employees. I felt like a fourth grader being herded by ill-tempered teachers during a field trip. The general attitude was that I should be glad a little peon like me was being allowed to board an airplane. Gone were the airline representatives of yesteryear who would politely help you find your connecting gate. And don't show displeasure if they change your gate twice and then, when you finally get to the second gate, find out your flight was cancelled and that your car rental reservation in your destination city knew about it way before you were told.

Hey, Chuck ... they _are_ doing the bra gel thing. There were signs about it and I was specifically asked about my bra.

It is really quite sad how much the commercial airline industry has changed. What is most sad is the necessity of these changes. In the end, I hope all this hoop jumping will make a difference in the long run.

BrianJuly 12, 2007 7:30 PM

My wife just flew from EWR (Newark, NJ) to FRA (Frankfurt, Germany) with our two kids. They wouldn't even let us bring a SEALED bottle of water through security - even after offering to drink from the bottle. I'd bet that the concession stands are making a killing...oh wait, I can't use that word...a serious profit.

Airline pilotNovember 16, 2007 8:24 AM

I'm an airline pilot for a major airline and a Lt Col in the ANG with fighter combat over Iraq. Having both IDs does nothing for me in security when I'm traveling. I get hasselled just like everyone else. We terrorize our own folks in the name of homeland security. I guess this is what should be defined as a police state? It seems the TSA is more concerned about your 8oz bottle of water than anything else. If the war on terror was real, then we'd racial profile and not hassle the normal folks especially the folks who actually fly the aircraft.

BOBDecember 12, 2007 7:34 PM

IT'S HOPELESS. IT WILL NEVER END. SOON MANDATORY STRIP SEARCH AND BODY CAVITY SEARCH FOR EVERYONE. NO LIQUID OF ANY KIND ABOARD THE PLANE. TERRORISTS HAVE WON.

matterDecember 27, 2007 1:17 AM

No...

Terrorists have not won, Americans have lost (for the moment).

Terrorists cannot destroy the idea of freedom, Neo-conservative fascists in positions of power can, however.

Exercise your freedom, right to vote, enforce the constitution of your country, communicate to your congress, speak your mind and vote! We are ALL the real leaders of the USA. Do your duty.

Ron Paul 2008!

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