Another Airport Security Test Failure

I don't know why anyone is surprised that investigators were able to smuggle things through airport security. Anyone who flies regularly could have told you that.

Posted on November 26, 2007 at 1:26 PM • 30 Comments

Comments

Brandioch ConnerNovember 26, 2007 3:03 PM

Need more information.

I absolutely HATE the term "improvised explosive device" when used by most people. They do NOT know what it means.

Are they bringing actual EXPLOSIVES through ... or just the improvised portion that would be the trigger? You know, like a cell phone or a garage door opener?

AlanSNovember 26, 2007 3:06 PM

Vulnerabilities Exposed Through Covert Testing of TSA’s Passenger Screening Process
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0848t.pdf

No surprise. I think what is more interesting is where they plan to go from here. Will security measures get more intrusive and extreme and , if they do, will they increase security?

"We understand the challenges TSA faces in balancing security risks with the efficient movement of passengers; however, from a strict security standpoint, current policies allowing substantial carry-on luggage and related items through TSA checkpoints increases the risk of a terrorist successfully bringing an IED, an IID, or both onto an aircraft undetected. Even if current carry-on luggage policies are left unchanged, our testing shows that risks can be reduced through improvements in human capital, improved processes, and continued advances in technology."

GeorgeNovember 26, 2007 3:12 PM

Yes, TSA security measures will get more intrusive, more extreme, and more absurd. That's the only thing they know how to do, especially when they're reacting to an embarrassing and highly publicized revelation.

And next year at around this time, the GAO will report to Congress that they found no improvement in the effectiveness of TSA screening.

GeoffreyNovember 26, 2007 3:22 PM

My only surprise is that 90% responding to the poll were surprised. Thank goodness about the same amount said they weren't concerned - surely that means most understand the threat isn't all that great.

RoyNovember 26, 2007 3:53 PM

19 layers of security?

This is said as if there are 19 tests, each of which must fail for the failure to be total.

If there are instead 19 different things the TSA does, those don't count as layers. A test for the validity of a document cannot possibly detect that a passenger is carrying explosives.

It looks like there was a single layer of defense against smuggling explosives through, and that layer failed utterly.

Nomen PublicusNovember 26, 2007 4:12 PM

The TSA operatives job is low wage and boring. Most TSA people will *never* discover anything even vaguely like a bomb. Humans are terrible at jobs that require hours of attention to detail and it is stupid to think that any reliable kind of protection will be obtained by pretending otherwise.

TSA is security theatre.

GaryNovember 26, 2007 4:34 PM

Frankly, this neither surprises me nor changes my likelihood or flying.
What really worries me is the Air Traffic Control, and what happens when they lose their acumen (fatigue, bad coffee, or maybe the terrorists infiltrate them). Planes start igniting each other. Who needs explosives on board, when they go where ATC sends them and may not have time to react to a collision alarm?

JOhnNovember 26, 2007 4:41 PM

I, as an ex "Officer", will be one of the first to say how inadequate the "show". BUT, did any planes blow up yesterday? No. Then shut your pie hole.

OliverNovember 26, 2007 4:48 PM

@ Brandioch Corner

The first sentence of the article reads:
"Government investigators smuggled liquid explosives and detonators past airport security, (...)"

Agreed that most people don't understand the meaning of "improvised explosive devices", but last time I checked, detonators contained actual explosives (albeit in small quantities).

Polls up the ArseNovember 26, 2007 4:54 PM

@Geoffrey

Actually, the polls (as of 4:26pm CST) were as follows:

Are you surprised by the probe's results?
No 93%
Yes 7%

Will the findings make you less likely to fly?
No 80%
Yes 20%

And that's all I'll say on that :P

The 19 layers of security nonsense is just that: nonsense. Simply thrown in to appear as though the TSA isn't wholly incompetent in their gestapo-esque annoyances. I still wouldn't be surprised if they tested those other "layers", such as having some fake documentation. I'd really like to hear them justify these other checks as "layers" of security as well, since the best I can come up with the examples given is that the TSA really believes that someone trying to smuggle a bomb onto a plane is going to falter by having some poorly constructed forgeries of said 'documents' as well. Sounds like a lot to hope for.

It's funny, though. You watch 'Cops' on TV and see some fool with 100lbs of cocaine in his beat to hell truck, so bad that it's nowhere near street legal, driving with a revoked license, expired tabs, and the tailgate dragging and sparking on the tar behind him going 100mph in a 45mph zone. Any one of which ends up getting him pulled over by the state trooper, any one except the cocaine, which trumps the rest, but may have gone entirely unnoticed had the driver thought to 'appear' legitimate before smuggling drugs on the freeway.

Seems as though the TSA comes up with these fantasic "layers" of security, running under the assumption that anyone intending to blow up an airplane in today's post 9/11 US, is as stupid as the toothless coke smuggler in the beat up truck.

But I think it truly boils down to nothing more than theater, which any of the daily readers of this blog would surely agree with, and have stated on thousands of occasions. And while I would be one of the first to admonish any claims of the uselessness of security theater, I really don't think that the TSA, in combination with rampant media frenzies like these, is even remotely effective in its theatrics. Even the behavioral profiling they claim to be so good at could (in my opinion) never be even marginally useful in an environment already steeped with angry, annoyed, rushed, and herded LEGITIMATE travelers. When you create an extremely stressful and hostile environment for the people that *belong in that environment, how on earth does one expect to separate the 'good' angry folks from the 'bad'.

Not to mention, and one of my ONLY fears at the airport, is the fact that the people the TSA are entrusting to catch these 'bad people', happen to be the most incompetent, lazy, unmotivated, uninspired, and almost certainly completely ineffective due to a non-existent work ethic and a nearly 100% false-positive rate. From experience, I can only speak from O'hare (Chicago), but I'll be the first to say that if I were ever to be given executive powers over O'hare, every single one of the checkpoint workers would be replaced immediately.

The only company's workforce that I've ever seen that outweighs O'hare's checkpoint incompetence is Chicago's own CTA employees.

The worst. Ever. What do they pay these people? It's amazing that I can get better knowledge, experience, enthusiasm, competence AND on top of it all, customer service from a nearly mentally challenged worker at the worst McDonald's in america than I can from O'Hare or the CTA, and let's face it, given a choice of the three, where are angry terrorists going to be more likely to strike, however remote the possibility is?

FPNovember 26, 2007 5:15 PM

I guess the conclusion is that there are fewer people attempting to blow up airplanes than some politicians and lobbyists would like us to believe.

randy bushNovember 26, 2007 5:30 PM

Today's security condition is chartreuse. TSA is awarding 10,000 frequent flier miles to anyone who turns in to the authorities a passenger for thinking.

VickiNovember 26, 2007 6:35 PM

Memo to John: no planes blew up on September 10, 2001, either. Does that mean that the security measures the U.S. had in effect on that date were sufficient? If so, why not remove all the intrusive and uncomfortable measures introduced since? If not, why are you confident that a lack of explosions on November 26, 2007, is more relevant than such a lack on September 10, 2001?

rbNovember 26, 2007 6:36 PM

The poll asks if the findings will make me less likely to fly. This is, of course, impossible. (Removing TSA from airports might make it more likely I would fly once again.)

Albert SweigartNovember 26, 2007 7:28 PM

Security theater. CYA policies. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe in the article talks about the "19 security layers", which from what I can tell is based on TSA Administrator Kip Kawley's testimony to the House. (link is here: http://www.tsa.gov/press/speeches/... )

If you take a look at what these 19 layers actual are, you may be dismayed (or if you are cynical, unsurprised) at what comprises a "layer". These really can't be seen as 19 layers so much as "19 things the TSA is doing". While some of these measures do have some effectiveness, I think the "19 layers" statement is pure PR spin. (More layers is more security!) The TSA seems to be grasping at any straw to inflate their security posture in the public eye. From reading the descriptions of the layers (many of them are incomplete, have questionable value, or are simply reiterations of previous layers), the TSA is still trying to prevent the 9-11 attacks of yesterday or the "liquids" attacks that have been sensationalized to the point of absurdity.

HansNovember 26, 2007 11:30 PM

"The TSA agreed with the investigators' recommendation to introduce "more aggressive, visible and unpredictable security measures," as well as the recommendation to deploy new detection technologies."

I wonder if the TSA would agree if the investigators recommended that the TSA stop wasting our time and money on worthless security theater? I think the poll results say it all.

TomNovember 26, 2007 11:45 PM

Not at all surprised.

Last time I flew I had my 3 oz containers in a plastic baggy in my carry-on luggage. At the security screening area I couldn't find them in the bag before I got to the front of the line.

I thought for sure the screeners would notice them and they would search my bag, etc, etc. Nope. I got through fine, no problem.

averrosNovember 27, 2007 2:34 AM

TSA is all about keeping the sheeple scared and compliant - it's sole raison d'etre is extortion of more funds from the populace.

They're quite successful and competent in that mission - even a lot of "experts" around here still have a delusion that TSA activities have anything to do with actual provision of security. (Even glaring failures are used to justify more funding... because if govenment fucks up it needs more money, right?)

There's a simple and inexpensive way to drastically improve both airline security and comfort of the passengers - abolish TSA. Completely. Now.

Airlines and their insurers have ample reason to care about real security - without treating the passengers as inmates of the federal penitentiary. And their security doesn't cost taxpayers a dime.

averrosNovember 27, 2007 2:38 AM

@JOnh --

congratulations, you just provided yet another reason to think that "officers" are not selected for their intelligence.

I do not have any elephants in my backyard. That must be because I'm diligent in scaring them off, right?

JOhnNovember 27, 2007 6:14 AM

Yall need to see a difference between TSA/DHS and screeners. Managment at TSA is all about 19 layers of bullshit. Screeners are working people. They are paid little, about $13 to start. Do you see the wander on a stool, no because they stand all day. Many are college graduates, compared to the mostly ex military or ex airline TSA management. They take a job there to get into the government system, often to get the health benifits for thier family. One I know husband is a dentist, maybe your dentist. Another is a lawyer, part time lawyer now, he has his own reasons for being there. Another is a retired engineer.
Screeners did not make the 311 liquids rule. They did not decide to make you take off your shoes. They did not make the rule that took away your lighter. They did not make you a selectee (that was your airline who chose you).
AND, I use the word "screener" but they are Federal Officers. Some would be offended by its use.
To talk about security and they jump into some petty rant about an experience you had in line discredits your comments. Thats like complaining your car was designed to go too fast when you get a ticket.
Hate the war, not the soldier.

EvanNovember 27, 2007 9:11 AM

I'm 33, and recently I flew from San Francisco to Newark. I accidentally left a large pair of scissors in my carry-on bag. Figuring this was a problem, I volunteered the information to the screener. "Guess I have to surrender these, huh?", I asked him. "Nah," he replied. "We don't do that anymore."

I was shocked. How can they let a healthy 33-year-old on board with large scissors? That scares the crap out of me.

Then, they confiscated a Pepsi from the old man using a walker behind me.

It reminded me of the scene from the movie "Airplane!" where the let armed militants through, but then pat down an old lady. That was very funny because it's only a movie. This was REAL LIFE, on a crowded flight bound for metro New York City. Terrifying.

JensNovember 27, 2007 9:26 AM

@ Evan:
Allthough I agree that confiscating soda from old men are ridiculous, I think it's sensible not to steal scissors. Sure they could be used to hijack a plane, but so could any number of things readily available inside the security zone. I thought it was pretty obvious, at least to readers of this blog, that getting a sharp thing into the air will be possible (and perhaps even easy) until flying with clothes and not submitting to cavity searches are prohibited. Or until air travel stops.

MandyNovember 27, 2007 9:53 AM

@Evans: According to the TSA sicssors with blades not longer than 4 inches are o.k. But do not dare to take a small knife of 1 inch with you. Not possible - prohibited. Security Theater.

MandyNovember 27, 2007 9:53 AM

@Evans: According to the TSA sicssors with blades not longer than 4 inches are o.k. But do not dare to take a small knife of 1 inch with you. Not possible - prohibited. Security Theater.

AnnoyedNovember 27, 2007 10:34 AM

@Mandy & @Evan

Well that just kills me, because I lost a very expensive, and extremely handy (mini) leatherman tool with (yes) a knife portion that was roughly one inch in length. This was during my 'security' check at O'Hare, and I wasn't even boarding a plane, I was simply there to pick up my younger sister (a minor) who had flown by herself to come visit me, yet I was still forced to damn near strip and give up my belt, shoes, etc...

They wouldn't even hold it for me for the (literally) two minutes I was past the checkpoint to get my sister. My only choice was to pay $50.00 (yes, fifty) to mail it to myself 'first class'. The entire tool was less than 1/2lbs, and no longer than two inches.

Bleh. I suppose I should've known, but I didn't even realize that I was *forced to go past the checkpoint to pick up my sister from a flight.

jsNovember 29, 2007 4:58 AM

And now little Tommy, 5, explains TSA policy:
(voice of five-year-old child)
Liquids are dangerous, they can explode, except in very small bottles. Scissors are OK, but knives are dangerous. Anything that has wires is very dangerous, it can explode. Lighters are dangerous, they can explode, but a few matches are OK, so you don't have to go out and buy matches as soon as you get off the plane. Your shoes can explode so they must check your shoes, and anything that has batteries can explode so they must check those things too. My uncle bought a battery for his phone, he said it was real cheap, but then he dropped it, and it exploded. My dad says my uncle is cheap. I don't know, he doesn't have a price tag.

lindzeNovember 30, 2007 4:41 PM

As a little personal anecdote Ive personally carried a (actual) weapon through security *twice* in the past two years. Neither time did anyone, including myself, notice until I was off the flight and out of the airport on the other end.

The first time I had to fly from SFO -> LAX on short notice. The laptop bag I took as carry on had a 2.5" folding knife in it from a previous use. I was actually flying one way on a ticket purchased the day before using someone elses credit card and had no checked luggage, to boot.

The second time I flew from SFO -> FRA Germany. This time I picked up the wrong bag to use as a carry on at checkin. I accidently picked up my "camping" bag that had a 3" knife, gas (stove) canisters, tent stakes, etc. Once again no issues at any point in the flight.

I suppose TSAs poor screening process is a benefit though. I would have had a lot of time explain myself if it wasnt.

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