Comments

JackFebruary 28, 2008 2:31 PM

It seems the first link is already dead. Your "Third Parties Controlling Information" is still fresh in my mind, so I did laugh a little.

NealFebruary 28, 2008 2:33 PM

First link is a 404, and the second one is notably skimpy on information. Don't want too much to get out in case of a horrible misunderstanding?

AnonymousFebruary 28, 2008 3:46 PM

@http://www.dailybreeze.com/ci_8291909

"The unidentified man, who joked to another passenger about explosives in his checked luggage, was detained after he exited Southwest flight 1182 from El Paso, Texas, Rodriguez said."

The main problem with this is that if someone took the statement seriously enough to call the cops, why was the plane allowed to approach the gate? And if the threat only surfaced after the plane was parked (if so, why the delay?), why evacuate an entire terminal if the threat was limited to a particular plane and one individual's luggage? Why stop at the terminal? Why not the entire airport?

Angel oneFebruary 28, 2008 3:49 PM

So why did they have to evacuate all the other passengers and planes? Why not just detain him, get his baggage off of his plane (which could be emptied if need be). This is one of my other problems with security theater right now - authorities seem to have 2 and only 2 possible responses - sit and twiddle their thumbs, or panic like the world is about to end. All potential threats should be met with a measured response dictated by the threat itself.

SpiderFebruary 28, 2008 3:57 PM

I'm just so lucky that this didn't happen to me. Chaperoning teenagers on a trip a year after 9/11 they were making bomb jokes while we were going through customs. I almost killed them. I really really wanted to kill them. you can't count on security guards having a sense of humor.

David DonahueFebruary 28, 2008 5:47 PM

"authorities seem to have 2 and only 2 possible responses - sit and twiddle their thumbs, or panic like the world is about to end. All potential threats should be met with a measured response dictated by the threat itself."

Bruce has written on this topic before. It's a case that when bureaucrats are in charge of policy, that policy is then written with a single goal "to reduce the bureaucrats blame for failures". Inconvenience to passengers does not matter, cost does not matter and actual effectiveness at deterring terrorists certainly does not matter.

As long as the bureaucrats can say we look as hard as we could and knew nothing, so we couldn't have known to act or say that they took the maximum action possible and did the best we possibly could, they are without blame regardless if a terrorist detonated a bomb or not.

This is another case asymmetric responsibility. The bureaucrats in charge of the policy do not incur the cost and inconvenience of false alarms shutting down an airport.

If we wish to change this, the only way is to have the bureaucrats partially bear the cost and take credit for improvements in speed and effectiveness.

I'm not sure how to go about this. However I have some ideas:

-Voluminous paperwork and justification hearings for any such action (in addition to normal work and at the same budget $).
-Require and reimburse the airlines to secure themselves, rigging the system to reward airlines for less passenger inconvenience (time / complaints) while still performing basic "catch the idiots" screening.
-Put somebody powerful, competent and motivated in charge of the airport security bureaucracy and then reward them only for actual improvements in security and improved passenger experience. Some way would have to created to keep them from being blamed in political way that bureaucrats are now (like the supreme court, or CEOs of private industry).

Frankly I see little hope in implementing any of these, except perhaps for the first one (odious paperwork).

-David Donahue

Jon SowdenFebruary 28, 2008 7:35 PM

@ David Donahue:
"-Put somebody powerful, competent and motivated in charge of the airport security bureaucracy and then reward them only for actual improvements in security and improved passenger experience."
But that raises the spectre of performance metrics, which - as you identified - is already at least partly to blame for the Security Theatre (tm) fiasco.

It's a serious comment. How _do_ you measure "improvements in security" in an environment in which there have been almost no security breaches anyway*? Even _including_ the 11 Sept 2001 attacks, terrorism on a/c can very nearly be viewed as a statistical aberration, especially if you limit the geographic area to "within the US".

But if this "powerful, competent and motivated" individual in charge of airport security is being measured and rewarded on it, he is now powerfully motivated to blur the definition of security, in order to 'improve' it. Which is exactly what DHS and TSA seem to be coping so much flak about. No?

Regards
Jon

* In this context Joe Public taking, say, a Leatherman, or 500mls of water, on board an a/c is NOT a security breach. It is a breach of the rules, but no bodies safety was put at risk as a result. Passengers getting drunk and unruly isn't a security breach either, unless the cabin crew is so incompetent as to let the drunk's behaviour spiral completely out of control.

doctor kiwanoFebruary 28, 2008 11:34 PM

Wait, he joked about explosives in his checked luggage during the flight, and then everything got evacuated when they LANDED?!?

At exactly what point were they then expecting the explosives to detonate? On the baggage carousel?!?!? (Hint: if you want to kill a bunch of people hanging around a baggage carousel, you can skip the trouble of sneaking your bomb onto the flight beforehand by simply walking your suitcase-bomb up to the carousel, pretending like you almost walked off with the wrong piece of luggage, snatching someone else's suitcase, and leaving your bomb in its place).

BenFebruary 29, 2008 2:18 AM

I'm surprised the Homeland Security Theatre Checkpoint operatives had not picked up the thought crime of this irresponsible terrorist before he got on the aircraft and put his evil plan in to action threatening the safety millions of people. Someone that wicked should be easy to spot, and someone should have done something to protect us sooner. Something should be done to stop people wandering round saying irresponsible terror-speak. We should all accept that to be free, our liberty needs to be curtailed. All people using aircraft should be gagged to prevent them commiting this sort of terror crime in future.

Ronald van den HeetkampFebruary 29, 2008 2:30 AM

It seems to me that people live in a chronic state of fear. So the terrorists win again, it shows how powerful the psychology of security really is.

In reality danger surrounds us everywhere, even in the cells of our body. You are never safe, the only way to feel secure is to change your mind and screw fear.

I mean it's a ridiculous situation.

TomFebruary 29, 2008 2:54 AM

"I am really, really glad I do not live in the USA. If I did, I'd get out."

I'm not glad we have idiots running our airports but I'm still really, really glad I do live in the USA...

gregFebruary 29, 2008 3:25 AM

There is nothing official about what the man *aledgedly* said.

What if he said "Man it would be easy to get explosives on board" but the passenger next to him (passenger 42 no less) hears "explosives on board".

When do you think someone official will call out "sorry, my bad!".

AnonymousFebruary 29, 2008 3:43 AM

@Bob Dodds

"If I don't find a bathroom soon I'm gonna explode..."

Brilliant! Thanks for a good laugh.

SteveJFebruary 29, 2008 4:45 AM

The authorities have created a security system which generates innumerable false positives. Some of those false positives are cheap from the POV of the system. For example, a passenger carrying bottles of water triggers a false positive for detection of precursors of liquid explosives, but the only cost of the false positive is that the passenger has to throw the bottle away.

However, some of those false positives are extremely expensive, because the whole system chooses to shut down in defence. For example a passenger states once as a joke, and then I assume later denies, that he has explosives, and a terminal is closed.

So, since the system is so fragile with respect to expensive false positives, the authorities absolutely need to throw the book at this guy. They need him to suffer serious consequences for his joke, as a deterrent to others causing similar false positives. It's grossly unjust to treat this as an attempted hoax, but its necessary, because if people were permitted to make such jokes, the system would be grinding to a halt every day, and the authorities would have to make it more robust.

It's not a hoax - a hoax must be at least a plausible lie. Saying "I have a bomb. I don't really." is, in real life, no more an indicator that you have a bomb than saying nothing at all. But in fantasy security land, that requires a terminal or an airport to be evacuated. So in order to protect itself, fantasy security land is going to hurt people who cause it to reveal itself as stupid.

NostromoFebruary 29, 2008 7:19 AM

Suppose we went back to the level of security we had on January 1, 2000, except for the level of background checks done on people who sign up for flying lessons for large commercial airliners, which would remain at today's thorough level.

Has anyone made any kind of estimate of how many people would be killed per year as a result of going back to that level of security?
And compared it with the number of deaths due to risks that everyone accepts every day, e.g. road accidents while driving to the mall, etc?

bobFebruary 29, 2008 7:31 AM

One time (this was -WAAAAAY- before 9/11, back when metal detectors at airports were fairly new) I asked the security guy why we had to be screened when there were no airplanes physically present on the tarmac to be hijacked. He said "dont make jokes, we have to take them seriously". Another time a friend of mine had set down his Bill Of Materials (BOM) which he needed to take on the airplane so he innocently asked a coworker to hand him the "bom" as we always referred to them at work. He got a nasty lecture from the stand-up welfare guy behind the counter about telling jokes.

The point is, we dont know what, if anything at all, this person said. The authorities always say someone told a joke because they have a lever to pull when someone tells a joke - but we never get to hear the victim/perpetrator's side of it. Kind of like in Vietnam, all the dead bodies were VC, whether or not they had any such leanings BEFORE they got shot.

My utterance was a question, an interrogative form of statement intended to elicit knowledge ("but that's not important right now!") and incapable of presenting information of any kind - therefore it can not be either a threat OR a joke.

Similar to when you ask a TSA drone does he think the security theater of which he is a part actually performs a useful function, he will officiously tell you not to joke, security is a serious matter; when actually it is HE who is the joke.

paulFebruary 29, 2008 9:44 AM

The TSA is, unfortunately, in a double bind here. If they don't take the joke utterances seriously, watch what happens when some joker turns out to have been telling the truth. (That's not a justification for their behavior, but rather another take on why it makes bureaucratic sense to overreact.)

shriFebruary 29, 2008 10:08 AM

@Zaphod - "sorry, my bad" means simply "Sorry, my fault." It seems to be an adaptation of something a young child would say. (Sorry if I missed the satire in your comment - my bad.)

Tim HarrisFebruary 29, 2008 11:05 AM

The military state is alive and well. If you don't think nor say what they want you to say or think, then all bets off. Hows that for democracy ?

Long live Empire !!!

SysKollFebruary 29, 2008 11:19 AM

Tim Harris,

You write:"The military state is alive and well."

The TSA is not military. It is the pure product of a very civilian, overgrown state.

Military have to answer to several levels of authority, ending up with the Pentagon officials, who answer to Congress. The TSA is answering to nobody.

The TSA is a Democrat's wet dream enacted by a busybody, inept Republican administration. Welcome to Hell.

Nomen PublicusFebruary 29, 2008 11:27 AM

What happens when security experts fly to a conference? All that suspicious material in the bags and on the laptop...

Do they travel separately so they don't end up talking shop on the plane and scaring the staff?

interestingFebruary 29, 2008 11:36 AM

So the lesson here, is that if you have explosives on board, don't say anything about it.

Duh!

BetaFebruary 29, 2008 12:40 PM

@SteveJ

"It's grossly unjust to treat this as an attempted hoax, but its necessary, because if people were permitted to make such jokes, the system would be grinding to a halt every day, and the authorities would have to make it more robust."

I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic. If people were permitted to make such jokes, the system would not grind to a halt when they did so.

Terry ClothFebruary 29, 2008 12:52 PM

``Authorities have not disclosed what was said.''
-- second article

Obviously they _can't_ disclose it, because then a terrorist could use the same remark to cause real trouble.

David SchuetzFebruary 29, 2008 2:33 PM

First, it's unclear to me if the comment was to a security person or to a friend in line. I know they've had signs for years warning people not to joke with security personnel about bombs, but I think your private conversation with another person in line should be just that -- private. The Supreme Court has restricted free speech in certain cases like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, which telling a joke to a TSA agent would certainly qualify as. But if you're talking with someone before the movie starts and you say "damn, what if a fire broke out now?" I really think that'd still be protected.

So I'm really curious to see how this goes. If it was a statement directly to TSA, then he's rightfully hosed, if it was a joke to a friend in bad taste, then TSA's responsibility is to evaluate the threat and release him when it's proven there is none, not to empty the airport and put the guy on trial.


On the subject of denial of service -- I've been waiting for (years, now) for a coordinated attack at multiple airports. Just imagine if a couple people jumped the gates at multiple terminals at JFK, O'Hare, Hartsfield, LAX, Denver, Dulles, DFW, etc. The entire air system would grind to a halt and probably take days to recover. It'd be worse than that Christmas fiasco a couple years ago, 'cause it could directly affect airports all across the country (wherever they choose to jump gates), not just those in snow-bound areas.

geekyoneFebruary 29, 2008 9:59 PM

I am glad I live in America where we have freedom of speech. Unless of course you are anywhere near an airport...

or at a political rally (Don't taze me bro!)...
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21558022/

or serving in the military
http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/02/...

Oh well, at least I can still say what I want on Bruce's comment page. Unless Bruce is secretly in cahoots with the NSA and is recording our IP addresses so he can track our every move eventually enabling him to conquer the free world for all squid kind BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

PS For those out there who will compare making "Bomb Jokes" at an airport to yelling "Fire" in a theater I will hop on that bandwagon the first time TSA manages to catch a terrorist smuggling explosives into an airport because he made a joke about how easy it was.

geekyoneFebruary 29, 2008 10:04 PM

@David Schuetz
LOL I actually missed your comment before posting my above PS. I wasn't aiming that at you. I actually completely agree with what you are saying.

averrosMarch 1, 2008 2:34 AM

To improve security one needs to create proper incentives to security people.

This means having people who *do* have something to lose in case of a big security problem. Government employees do not qualify - they only gain funding and power if something bad happens, so it is in their best interest to avoid improving security. And, no, if you believe that their hearts are immaculate, I have a bridge for sale.

To improve customer experience in going through security procedures one needs to have secuity personnel who is interested in making that experience as pleasant as possible. For which government employes are also unqualified - they have no personal downside in threating passengers like cattle (actually, cattle is treated better - since stress stunts its growth and degrades health farmers tend to do everything they can to improve the environment for their cattle). If someone disagrees, I have another bridge.

The only people who are materially interested in both goodwill of passengers and their security are owners and employees of airlines (well, scratch unionised employees - these don't have enough brains to be interested in anything other than slacking).

It follows that to improve security we only need to abolish TSA (preferably, together with the rest of DHS) and let the interested people to do it right.

Oh, and that'll save quite a lot of taxpayer's money. The only party which will lose is the bureaucrats, they'll have to get some honest jobs.

Anyone's going to bet that this will happen any time soon? I won't. Simply because most people do not understand that the "civil servants" are in fact masters, democratic demagoguery notwithstanding, and so won't raise their butts to dish out the well deserved rope-and-branch treatment to the "servants".

MarkMarch 2, 2008 10:21 AM

@doctor kiwano
Wait, he joked about explosives in his checked luggage during the flight, and then everything got evacuated when they LANDED?!?

If the crew were aware of this in flight wouldn't it have made sense to divert to somewhere other than LAX? Even if LAX was the only possible place to land the plane (which wouldn't have been the case, given that an "alternate" would have been specified before the plane took off) then if should have been parked wherever an explosion would have been least dangerous and where it wouldn't interfere with normal airport operations.

MarkMarch 2, 2008 10:25 AM

@Nostromo
Has anyone made any kind of estimate of how many people would be killed per year as a result of going back to that level of security?
And compared it with the number of deaths due to risks that everyone accepts every day, e.g. road accidents while driving to the mall, etc?

Since one of the effects of current "security" is to make some people drive rather than fly it's possible that going back to turn of the century methods at airports could actually reduce premature deaths.

IntelVetMarch 2, 2008 9:17 PM

Proper procedure for a suspected bomb is to land and taxi to a remote location where an aircraft is then searched after everyone is deplaned and detained, no excuses.

I guess SWA has a license to violate procedure.

derfMarch 3, 2008 2:08 PM

TSA: Sp, why are you flying to California?
TV Director: To shoot a pilot.
TSA: That's an airport shutdown, and some water boarding just for you.

Nicholas JordanMarch 6, 2008 7:10 AM

@Zaphod, re "sorry, my bad"

I only recently heard this terminology. I heard it from grown persons operating in a security theater ( I think that is the correct term ) where ops are expected to self-direct on the basis of extensive experience. After consideration I realized it is a shortened form of apology to abbreviate the interaction. At the level it is employed one is expected to have barriers and knowledge such that the individual is not exposed excessively. It is never fun, nor should it be overused. If you have to say it too many times it is expected that ( a person ) will find another line of work or something.

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