The Two Classes of Airport Contraband

Airport security found a jar of pasta sauce in my luggage last month. It was a 6-ounce jar, above the limit; the official confiscated it, because allowing it on the airplane with me would have been too dangerous. And to demonstrate how dangerous he really thought that jar was, he blithely tossed it in a nearby bin of similar liquid bottles and sent me on my way.

There are two classes of contraband at airport security checkpoints: the class that will get you in trouble if you try to bring it on an airplane, and the class that will cheerily be taken away from you if you try to bring it on an airplane. This difference is important: Making security screeners confiscate anything from that second class is a waste of time. All it does is harm innocents; it doesn’t stop terrorists at all.

Let me explain. If you’re caught at airport security with a bomb or a gun, the screeners aren’t just going to take it away from you. They’re going to call the police, and you’re going to be stuck for a few hours answering a lot of awkward questions. You may be arrested, and you’ll almost certainly miss your flight. At best, you’re going to have a very unpleasant day.

This is why articles about how screeners don’t catch every—or even a majority—of guns and bombs that go through the checkpoints don’t bother me. The screeners don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be good enough. No terrorist is going to base his plot on getting a gun through airport security if there’s a decent chance of getting caught, because the consequences of getting caught are too great.

Contrast that with a terrorist plot that requires a 12-ounce bottle of liquid. There’s no evidence that the London liquid bombers actually had a workable plot, but assume for the moment they did. If some copycat terrorists try to bring their liquid bomb through airport security and the screeners catch them—like they caught me with my bottle of pasta sauce—the terrorists can simply try again. They can try again and again. They can keep trying until they succeed. Because there are no consequences to trying and failing, the screeners have to be 100 percent effective. Even if they slip up one in a hundred times, the plot can succeed.

The same is true for knitting needles, pocketknives, scissors, corkscrews, cigarette lighters and whatever else the airport screeners are confiscating this week. If there’s no consequence to getting caught with it, then confiscating it only hurts innocent people. At best, it mildly annoys the terrorists.

To fix this, airport security has to make a choice. If something is dangerous, treat it as dangerous and treat anyone who tries to bring it on as potentially dangerous. If it’s not dangerous, then stop trying to keep it off airplanes. Trying to have it both ways just distracts the screeners from actually making us safer.

EDITED TO ADD (10/23): A similar article ran in The Guardian.

Posted on September 23, 2008 at 5:47 AM110 Comments


Peter Galbavy September 23, 2008 6:19 AM

Far too sensible Bruce. It’ll never pass muster with the vested interest groups.

Just like removing the “no small sharps” rule will never happen now that cockpit doors are locked and are not supposed to be accessible regardless of having a pair of nail scissors.

Ulf September 23, 2008 6:26 AM

I think the main incentive to confiscate liquids is money. If you can’t bring your own bottle of water, how are you going to get something to drink? Exactly, you buy it at the airport…

igloo September 23, 2008 6:28 AM

What did they do with the pasta which was actually plastic explosive put through a colander?

The block of parmesan cheese could also have been C4.

clvrmnky September 23, 2008 6:42 AM

Movie plot threat, based on Mr. Berg’s suggestion:

Have a largish number of henchmen in line before you, all with liquid A they know will be confiscated. Then have a number of henchmen with liquid B. Now we have a bin with the two liquids we need for our weapon.

Now, we have some smaller number of suicidal operatives pass the line with the accelerant (or whatever — I’m hand-waving here) that is added at some specific time. The accelerant causes the two liquids to mix and react, for whatever effect your movie requires.

Time this right, and choose the right airport and you are going to make a lot of people sick or dead.

The mechanical details are all just hand-waving, of course. What good is an inflated risk of attack without some ridiculous pseudo-scientific explanation?

averros September 23, 2008 6:52 AM

Terrorists are stupid. They could’ve stopped the aviation in this even dumber country by simply bringing a bomb to the security checkpoint – and blowing it up in the midst of a dense crowd of people patiently waiting fot their turn to be harassed.

Alter S. Reiss September 23, 2008 7:06 AM

To be fair, having their evil liquid confiscated isn’t zero cost to the terrorists. Assuming that the plot required the liquid, they’re now out the cost of plane tickets, which they had no other reason to buy. If they want to watch the movie, they’ll probably have to pay for the headphones as well. Even if it’s a short flight, it’s going to be at least a day wasted, maybe more.

Basically, taking your pasta sauce away discourages very poor terrorists from trying to blow up planes. Exactly how many terrorists of that sort are trying to blow up planes would be the question, and I assume the TSA’s figures are along the lines of a million billion trillion.

reenie September 23, 2008 7:08 AM

When I was flying through Japan earlier this year, I noticed that security actually had a device which checked your bottle or can of liquid.

I’m not quite sure how it works, and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of it. However, what security did was take my bottle of drink, place it on the machine, and then gave it back to me to take through.

Imagine that, someone actually came up with a way to verify the content instead of making you throw it away for no reason. Why hasn’t the rest of the world caught on?!?

Rus September 23, 2008 7:12 AM


I suspect the ‘rest of the world’ hasn’t caught on because for the most part it doesn’t have many of these useless restrictions. Mostly a ‘Made In America’ phenomenon 😉

@reenie September 23, 2008 7:20 AM

“..and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of it..”

It always winds me up when I’m not allowed to take a photo of something in a public (or semi-public) place that I can actually see. It means legitimate people don’t but hidden cameras can. Perhaps cams disguised as Mk1 eyeballs.

Before 9/11 post Iraq Part 1 at Farnborough Airshow (UK) I was dissuaded by an American in military uniform from taking photos of a Patriot Missile launcher on proud display. I told him to get stuffed and took his photo too. He was not amused, but what was he going to do, shoot me? 😉

Of course post 9/11 I would expect to get shot, arrested, briefed, de-briefed, stamped, drowned, electrocted and finally enjoy Cuban hospitality. 😉

Freedom isn’t what it used to be.

Tal September 23, 2008 7:41 AM

Well. This is not entirely accurate.
As you have stated before, one of the important jobs of the screeners is to discover people that act “hinky”.
The “second level” items such as liquids mark some people as “problematic” even if not dangerous, giving the screeners a better opportunity to talk with them and see if they look like a threat. It is not feasible to treat all the passengers with the same level of scrutiny.

the other Alan September 23, 2008 7:57 AM

A little off-topic, but I’ll throw it out there anyway.

Was passing through Detroit Metro airport this past weekend and notice at the security checkpoint that there were separate (and empty) lines for first-class and world perks members.

Should security be “classless”? i.e. why should first-class and world perks members not be treated as everyone else by TSA?

If this doesn’t prove that TSA works for the airlines, I don’t know what does. Your thoughts?

Also, I was dressed all in black. Was looked at inordinately closely this trip. Forgot my red-white-and-blue tuxedo with flag tie and pins.

Don’t even get me started when I tried to visit Ontario. Everything but a strip search. . . and I think they even contemplated it.

John N September 23, 2008 8:04 AM

I just came back from a trip that came through Frankfurt airport. At Frankfurt, security screening is distributed and takes place in front of a few gates. Thus, all of the duty free shopping is pre-security screening. As long as your liquids are in the sealed duty free bag with the matching receipt visible, they are permitted on the plane.

Naturally, I recognize how challenging it would be for a well-funded terrorist to take a flight, get a duty free bag and sample receipt and then remove the contents of the bag, replace them with “dangerous contents” and reseal the bag, so clearly we don’t have to worry about THAT happening.

One security screener recognized this inherent hypocrisy, but was overruled by her supervisor (which is good, because my duty free booze would have gotten taken away).

Quercus September 23, 2008 8:07 AM

@Tal — You left a few words out of your post. I assume you meant to begin with “In theory, though not as actually implemented in the U.S., ….”

Because nobody that’s actually confiscated anything from me (1 oz of toothpaste in a 5 oz tube! Beard scissors with a 1″ blade!) would have noticed any hinkiness, and nobody else was paying attention. There may be a few well-trained, observant, screeners out there, but most really are close to minimum-wage drones.

petronius September 23, 2008 8:14 AM

What makes this liquid confiscation even more silly is that you can take multiple containers of liquid on board so long as the fit in the zip bag and are each less than the 4 oz. limit. Nothing stops multiple terrorists from bringing in sufficient quantities of liquids which they combine on the plane. They could even have larger empty containers in their carry-ons to mix the deadly cocktails in.

katrin September 23, 2008 8:29 AM

I disagree. Confiscating pocket knives makes sense: We’re not only talking about terrorists and innocents, but also about people who temporarily lose their mind because their girlfriend broke up with them and decide to hijack the plane (or stab their girlfriend).

jason September 23, 2008 8:32 AM

no need to be out the cost of plane tickets just because you didn’t get the liquid through the gates the first time. simply have a second op outside the gates with multiple containers of said liquid.

op1 goes through the gates, liquid is caught and trashed. op1 goes back outside, grabs a new container from op2, and attempts to go back through the gates again.

Pau September 23, 2008 8:33 AM

@John N: Or, you could just simply go to your neighbourhood shop, buy a bottle of wine, replace the contents with boom, go to the duty-free, produce your bottle from your bag, walk to the register, and buy your own bottle from the shop. They will seal it and put it in a bag and even thank you.

Would work on anything that is available in the duty-free.

Dave X September 23, 2008 8:38 AM

What I don’t get is that even if the terrorists do smuggle a bomb onto a plane, how could they possibly leverage that into a hijacking of 9/11 proportions?

If they can leverage a bomb into a hijacking, can’t they leverage toms of non-prohibited items, such as key-fobs, laptops, bluetooth devices, soap, in just the same way?

The best a terrorist could do with a bomb is kill a plane-worth of people, and they could do that more easily at one of our friendly target-concentrating checkpoints. This isn’t happening, therefore bombs aren’t as big a threat as TSA pretends.

DV Henkel-Wallace September 23, 2008 8:42 AM

C’mon Bruce: “…allowing it on the airplane with me would have been too dangerous. And to demonstrate how dangerous he really thought that jar was, he blithely tossed it in a nearby bin of similar liquid bottles and sent me on my way.”

Of course! It was extremely dangerous to him because you might have been a “secret shopper” and then he would have LOST HIS JOB. Once it was taken away from you the threat had been neutralised, so then it could be discarded safely and casually. It’s all a matter of understanding your risks, and for him, his enemy is his boss.

He doesn’t make the policy and he has not choice.


Oh: and the obligatory movie plot: a bottle of some hypergolic fuel. Make the bottle of very thin glass. When tossed into bin, shatters. Excitement ensues. Even if it doesn’t shatter then a few blows from other stuff being tossed in should do it. Then do something naughty while everyone is distracted fighting a fire.

Bernie Goldbach September 23, 2008 8:46 AM

What bothers me is knowing that I’m able to take my capacitor-laden disposable camera aboard along with wires and batteries–meaning I can make a low-powered taser between the first and second movies on an Atlantic crossing. Why aren’t they stopping me?

Michael Ash September 23, 2008 8:57 AM

I have to disagree with your statement that no terrorist would base a plot on getting a gun through airport security. It makes sense for an individual, but not for a group. If you have a group of terrorists with a plan that just needs a couple of them to get through with guns, they can all spam the security system in the hopes of getting a couple through. Do this at separate airports to avoid raising suspicion when some are caught. How reasonable this is depends on how many there are in the group, how many they need, and just how many guns get missed during screening. But if you had another 9/11-sized group ready to do some damage (which does seem unlikely these days, al Qaeda shows no evidence of being able to mount another operation of that size) then the prospect of having some members get caught doesn’t seem like it would stop them.

Cujo September 23, 2008 9:19 AM

Clearly you are dismissing the real and credible threat that you might subdue the flight crew by making them a really delicious meal.

marcelo September 23, 2008 9:32 AM

pasta sauce? That is gastronomically illiterate, to say the least. Next time we meet I am going to buy a whole bag of tomatoes for you.

dragonfrog September 23, 2008 9:45 AM

@ Alter

Given the cost of seat-sale domestic flights, the greater cost is likely to be the liquid explosive itself.

Hedy Lamarr September 23, 2008 9:50 AM

I purchased my Swiss Army pocket knife on a flight from Zurich to Cincinnati (pre-9/11). Now it is considered too dangerous to be let on an aircraft with reinforced cockpit doors. You can still buy liquor in duty free shops after passing through security in many airports but a molotov cocktail is not dangerous?

TheDoctor September 23, 2008 9:51 AM

There is no terrorism threat (at least not in western countries)

If it existed, where are the dozens of terrorists that place bombs in our trains every week ?

Because this is dump easy and you don’t have to be suicidal to do this.

Even after the initial example in spain no one searches train passengers (because this is totally impossible).

But, no assaults. Does these terrorists have plane fetish or is train riding beneath them ?

bob September 23, 2008 10:07 AM

I agree that currently all you can do is blow up a planeload of pax and not “hijack” one anymore, since the “fight back” has become the norm.

Therefore I believe it would do MORE damage (ie get sensationalist press coverage and massive government wrong-reaction) by setting off a bomb in the security waiting line than on the plane itself.

It will be a long time (if ever) before you can kill more people on a plane than what occurred on 9/11 so people will be jaded and unimpressed by simply a planeload of people dying – they may even respond with “whew! that was close – could have been a hijack – kudos to the people on the plane who took one for the team”; whereas 300 people blown into dogfood in a security line will cause people to think “What!?! I’m in the security line the government should be protecting me!

spikescopilot September 23, 2008 10:15 AM

I was waiting for a flight in Syracuse last week and a woman pulled a large plastic butter tub and a spoon out of her bag — it was her breakfast (a lot of yogurt, I assume) and TSA didn’t give her a single issue carrying it through.

Sealed bottle of water == NOT OK
Used plastic tub with unknown contents == OK

George September 23, 2008 10:41 AM

The TSA’s “leaders” apparently believe the traveling public are as stupid as they are. They think we don’t notice that all the supposedly “dangerous” liquids they confiscate are sitting there in a trash can in the middle of the checkpoint where they could endanger the screeners (never mind the passengers). They think we don’t notice that cases of water bottles destined for sale at extortionate rates in the “sterile area” pass through the x-ray scanners, while the very same bottles purchased by passengers at normal prices have to be thrown into that trash can because x-ray scanning can’t distinguish between water and explosives. They think we don’t notice that an umbrella that the screener on the outbound flight found acceptable has to be checked or “voluntarily abandoned” on the return flight because that screener decides it’s “dangerous.”

Actually, I think it’s more likely that they recognize that we do notice the very visible illogical absurdity and inconsistency that they continually and proudly display for all to see. But FEAR and notions of “patriotism” lead responsible loyal citizens to ignore it, accept it, and even defend it as an essential part of the “Global War On Terror.” The TSA’s own voluminous web page about the liquid restrictions even includes an admonition not to “over-think these guidelines.” The fact that they need to say that suggests that even they recognize that the restrictions are absurd and illogical, but we’re just supposed to ignore the illogic and accept on simple faith that “these rules were developed after extensive research and understanding of current threats.”

I think the appropriate response is just what Bruce is doing. The TSA effectively admits that the liquid restrictions can’t stand up to any rational scrutiny. But they want to terrorize us into accepting them anyway. Refuse to be terrorized! Take every opportunity to point out, criticize, and question the TSA. That’s not to “aid the enemy” and undermine it, but to insist that airport screening be both effective and cost-effective (in terms of dollars as well as hassles). The imminent departure of the Bush administration is an appropriate reason to change our approach from cowed acceptance to accountability.

The naked Emperor is standing at every airport checkpoint. Rather than averting our eyes as he commands, it’s time to start pointing and chuckling at the visibly diminutive “manhood” that he so proudly and arrogantly displays!

Jo September 23, 2008 10:43 AM

On our trip to Hawaii this summer we had a half-tube of toothpaste and a couple of cans of fruit juice confiscated. We also had to empty out our water bottles (1 qt Nalgene) because, I guess, drinking water is just too unsafe.

(Note to screeners – if you are worried that the ‘water’ might be some chemical, ask the passenger to take a drink! Most chemicals you are going to use to create an incident both smell and are poisonous – it’s not like smuggling vodka into a concert!)

ex animo

Hanna September 23, 2008 10:49 AM

Funnily enough, knitting needles aren’t normally confiscated. Check out the guidelines on the TSA web site. They encourage you to bring wood rather than metal needles, but I fly with 8-10″ sharpened steel sticks all of the time.

Valentin September 23, 2008 11:04 AM

well, your miss one point: even with only a 30% chance of the TSA people confiscating your liquid, Al-Qaeda style simultaneous assaults become difficult (I think this British people wanted to blow up a good number of planes at the same time). And you can’t just try again and again after some of your fellow terrorists have succeeded already (since the chances of you getting caught increase dramatically and the protection against this specific line of attack will improve). I don’t think this small gain in protection is worth the effort .. but still, should be mentioned.

A Pastafarian September 23, 2008 11:06 AM

Hey! Wait just a minute here…the right to carry my sauce of your choice is guaranteed by the first ammendment! I can bring meatballs too, I should think.

CP September 23, 2008 11:22 AM

What’s really ridiculous is that they don’t take collusion into consideration. If I had a group of attackers (4), each of us with our legal 3oz supplies of pasta sauce, that would be 12 oz. This is obviously too much sauce for a plane ride.

Anonymous September 23, 2008 11:28 AM


The problem here is you’re attempting to apply logic (security science) to a political system (TSA).

David September 23, 2008 12:06 PM


Fear is the reason most of us say nothing. Fear of missing our flights. Fear of getting put on a watch or no-fly list. Fear that we’ll be kept for hours in an unpleasant place, or searched in a disagreeable manner.

Nor will talking to the TSA screeners accomplish anything.

Probably the single most effective thing you can do, if practical, is not to fly anywhere. Airlines are very sensitive to lost revenues, and the TSA is probably fairly sensitive to airlines. Alternately, write your congressional representatives and find some group protesting the idiotic rules.

Michael Ash September 23, 2008 12:16 PM

@ Valentin

Why can’t they just try again and again? Remember, nothing limits the number of times you can pass through security on a single flight. You have one guy who has a big stash of nasty liquids, and several bombers who go through security. If any of them get their nasty liquids confiscated, they can just go back outside, get some more from the stash, and try it again. Get to the airport many hours before the flight departs and you have no trouble.

And let’s not forget that you don’t even need a ticket to go through security, just a fake boarding pass printed at home. Mules could start carrying stuff through a bit at a time days in advance with no money paid, and once enough is accumulated on the other side then the bombers could buy their tickets, pick up their weapons from the pre-scrutinized stash, and go.

rm September 23, 2008 1:08 PM

My deepest concern is for those innocents, passengers, and security, standing next to those trash bins of confiscated “water,” “pasta sauce,” and “toothpaste.”
It must be unnerving, the accumulated hazard all are exposed to – much less the bomb disposal squad that takes out the “trash,” and the huge expense of handling these hazardous loads since they cannot be safely landfilled.

Reid Hillview September 23, 2008 1:09 PM

Terrorists can just travel with a baby, claim to have a medical condition, or put it in a saline solution bottle instead of a natural spring water bottle. TSA allows unlimited quantities of these things (among others):
* Baby formula and breast milk if a baby or small child is traveling;
* All prescription and over-the-counter medications (liquids, gels, and aerosols) including KY jelly, eye drops, and saline solution for medical purposes;
* Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition;

xd0s September 23, 2008 1:17 PM

“A couple of weeks ago the TSA took away my peanut butter. Obviously, peanut butter is far too dangerous to take on an airplane.”

That made me think of a variant on an old Far Side Cartoon about what people say and what dogs hear:
(ficticious scenario BTW in case that isn’t obvious 🙂 )

What Kip Hawley said:
We can’t treat every situation the same, sort of like a peanut butter risk approach where each threat is equally spread out.

What TSA Gate Guard hears:
Blah blah blah Peanut butter blah blah Threat blah.


Troy September 23, 2008 1:20 PM

The real question is, can I bring a bottle of frozen water on the plane? After-all, it is not a liquid.

mrwinkie1959 September 23, 2008 1:25 PM

A larger container such as your pasta sauce jar would be the mixing container for liquids brought in lots of <3oz sizes. An explosive combination of liquids in a pasta sauce jar placed next to the fuselage exterior wall and detonated could blow a hole in the plane.

Transubstantiate September 23, 2008 1:32 PM

On the frozen water question, I recently traveled and had a 4 oz block of frozen sealed blue cooler ice confiscated so I think the answer is no.

I didn’t get into a discussion about states of matter with them though, what about dry ice, which would go straight to gaseus co2?

Milan September 23, 2008 1:50 PM

This is an example of a deniable “I’m so sorry” attack, like writing ‘five hundred cents’ on a cheque instead of ‘five hundred dollars.’

The same dynamic exists in relation to photography. There is no punishment that can be imposed on tourists who snap photos of bridges, subways, etc that terrorists would not be willing to endure.

Iron September 23, 2008 1:53 PM

All these restrictions are just crazy. But it’s very useful if it’s needed to push into people minds the idea about world terrorists, that want to kill’em all.

That’s easy logic – if you want effectively beat someone, try to kick him/her at different sides of the body all the time.
If you want to someone to be frightened – tell him/her about communists, terrorists, global warming, hurrycanes, earthquakes, mortgage crysis and oil shortage. Nobody will ask raise or award after that, noone will ask about quality of life – he/she will be happy not to be fired and still be alive.

btw… if you want to keep some liquid or metal parts or something – put it close to your laptop.
It’s good idea also to tell screeners when they ask “what’s it?” “It’s my thermos”. This object is permitted on board and, at the same time, completely black box for screening machines. So – anything unknown may perfectly match, even it would be a gas bottle 🙂

That is, real terrorists would have no problem to blow the aircraft, but honest people will not be allowed even to drink what they want.

Kadin September 23, 2008 2:05 PM

katrin: “I disagree. Confiscating pocket knives makes sense: We’re not only talking about terrorists and innocents, but also about people who temporarily lose their mind because their girlfriend broke up with them and decide to hijack the plane (or stab their girlfriend).”

This doesn’t make a bit of sense. Why is that a particular risk on airplanes? I don’t see why there’s any increased risk of people flipping out and stabbing at each other with Swiss Army knives on planes, versus just about any other time … and we don’t ban Swiss Army knives generally.

The hijacking threat doesn’t really make sense either; that’s basically been solved by increased passenger and crew awareness as a result of 9/11, and to a lesser extent by the reinforced cockpit doors.

RonK September 23, 2008 2:08 PM

@ mrwinkie1959

I’m glad that you’ve made the proper high-energy chemical reaction simulations which show that just putting the 6 oz. of explosive liquid in a plastic bag, reinforced by metal screening, would, on the other hand, be totally ineffective. Why do I have the distinct impression you have no idea what you are talking about?

(Arghh! Why can’t I help feeding the trolls/clueless?)

mcb September 23, 2008 2:19 PM

My favorite movie plot threat involves smuggling a useful amount of explosives through security by wrapping dozens of bite-sized chunks in condoms and swallowing them. A few days later all the mule needs to sneak through the check point is three ounces of laxative. Of course those of you intent on smuggling a pasta feed on board your next no frills flight could use the same technique to bring the meatballs…

txrus September 23, 2008 2:21 PM

George-very good summary & hit the nail on the proverbial head.

Given the TSA’s dismal detection rates & ever growing list of screening exceptions (airport staff, TSA staff, etc), if the ‘bad guys’ had any real desire to blow up an airplane they would have done so long ago.

C Gomez September 23, 2008 2:34 PM

What is happening here is the TSA has its own political backside to cover. So do presidents and congressmen. They want to make absolutely sure that whatever plot may succeed, it isn’t liquid based. Rational thinking nor science matter. The lack of a publicly available study showing a danger isn’t important.

The lack of critical thinking among the majority of the world’s peoples leads them to believe that somehow leaders and bureaucrats are more guilty if a plot that “they should have known about” happens to succeed. Such failures end people’s careers and their livelihoods. I think these people would rather just annoy everyone else than get caught up in the witch hunt that follows a tragic incident and find they have no way to support their family.

Anonymous Coward September 23, 2008 4:27 PM

Suicide bombing an aircraft is pretty pointless IMHO. All it would do is kill a bunch of people and make everyone else afraid to fly. They could have the same effect by blowing themselves up at a crowded airport checkpoint, with a much smaller risk of failure. The key to 9/11 was that they commandeered the weapons. Assuming that everyone is wise to that now, how could it happen again? Airliner bombings have happened many times in the past, here’s a great website that lists them.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that hijacking protocols have changed since 9/11. The TSA should get really good at keeping bombs off of planes and let the rest of us alone.

George September 23, 2008 5:27 PM

@David: You’re quite right that the checkpoint is not the place to criticize or question the TSA. It doesn’t do any good, and may get you into trouble if you even let on that you know it’s a crock.

If you must fly (and you’re also right that avoiding flying really is the best thing we can do) the appropriate behavior at checkpoints is to show the screeners as much respect and sweetness as you can possibly muster. That’s not because they deserve respect and sweetness, but simply to avoid giving them reason to exercise their arbitrary authority to act as petty tyrants. When they do exercise that authority, the best way to react is with even more sweetness, since that will deny them the pleasure of watching you get upset (perhaps the only pleasure they get in an otherwise boring and thankless job).

But whenever you’re not at a TSA checkpoint, it’s appropriate and even patriotic to question and criticize what our Leaders do to us in the name of “security,” just as we’re doing here. Contrary to what Bush and Cheney insist, questioning our Leaders does not “aid the enemy.” Allowing our Leaders to terrify us into giving up our liberty, wasting our time, and wasting our money on things that are so plainly and obviously stupid certainly does “aid the enemy.”

Roy September 23, 2008 7:30 PM

Terrorists can still seize control of a jet aircraft, but they’d have to forgo the thrill of killing a planeload of passengers. Once aboard a cargo jet, just kill the crew after wheels-up and flaps retracted, and they have a flying suicide bomb, heavy with fuel.

How to get aboard? 1) Attired as airport workers (perhaps with real ID), they sneak in and hide. 2) The cargo itself is not inspected, so they can be loaded aboard hidden inside a container.

The TSA is busy harassing passengers while cargo containers breeze right through.

The airlines won’t tolerate cargo inspection because that would cut into their profits.

burritoboy September 23, 2008 7:36 PM

Perhaps another way of looking at TSA’s actions:

“We are concerned about liquids and this container of liquid in your bag that we spotted when we X-Rayed represents a false positive that we have to inspect by hand. As a penalty for you causing us extra work, we are going to disallow it and you must either forfeit it or get out of line, spend money to ship it to yourself, and then wait in line again.”

Compare this to their reactions when you create a false positive with a piece of metal, “please check your pockets and try again”.

Lis Riba September 23, 2008 9:10 PM

My last flight back from Arizona, I watched the TSA force someone to toss their newly purchased souvenir hot sauce for being too large.

It got me wondering why more companies aren’t repackaging their products in smaller carry-on friendly sizes.

Toiletry manufacturers got on the bandwagon pretty quickly, but the souvenir hot sauce from the Southwest or maple syrup from the Northeast are still being sold in 5oz or larger bottles, even in the airport giftshops.

Seems shortsighted of them.

George September 23, 2008 9:12 PM

@Roy: “The TSA is busy harassing passengers while cargo containers breeze right through.”

Thanks… that’s another thing I should have included on my list of things the TSA wants us to ignore as we queue up in stockinged feet waiting for our walk-on role in the Security Theater production.

Owen Byrne September 23, 2008 9:25 PM

I was thinking similar thoughts while bringing a bottle of duty free scotch back to Canada from the US. Cleared customs in Montreal, and was told cheerily, that you better put that bottle in your checked luggage, or else it would be taken away on the next flight. It just seemed dumb.

David Keech September 23, 2008 9:33 PM

Since when was peanut butter a liquid ?

For that matter, what is the TSA definition of “liquid” ?

Would a bag of tomatoes count as a liquid ?
What about if you accidentally sat on them ?
What about powdered cordial ?
What about jelly ? (The stuff Americans call Jell-o)
What about yoghurt (The traditional kind that won’t come out of the pot if you turn it upside down) ?
What about chocolates with gooey centres ?
What about ice ? If ice is considered a liquid then butter and chocolate should be as well. In fact, pretty much all solids should be considered to be liquids because they can all be heated up until they melt.

Maybe the TSA should go back to asking the question “Is it dangerous ?” rather than “Is it a liquid ?”…

A_CAT_IS_FINE_TOO! September 23, 2008 11:10 PM

Most people who posted comments above and most of the traveling public seems to forget one important thing:

Maintaining a balance between security and “ease of travel”.

It is easy to say “only check the suspicious ones (liquids) and let the others go” but it is the process of identifying those that are suspicious that is weighed against the amount of time it takes for a person to pass through security and the effectiveness. The TSA could check all liquids and all all those that pass to go on board aircraft, but then you would be standing in a line that is 3 or more hours longer than you currently are.

The process to determine if something “is dangerous” takes time. Are most people posting here willing to take the time to go through the tests to determine if something is dangerous? How about EVERYONE in front of you as well?

The TSA could be the security organization that everyone seems to want… but then you would all call it “fascists” and would complain about the tax increase to pay for it and the 5+ hours standing in line to get to security, then the “overly invasive” screening methods, and then the “dot your ‘i’ and cross your ‘t’ attitude” of required passenger compliance.

I would much rather see the “liquid ban” come back, it is simpler to enforce and understand: if you don’t need it to live, you don’t take it with you into the plane. How many of you will die if you don’t brush you teeth on an airplane (given that I have never seen it done on any flights I have ever been on, none)? How about that perfume? Or that makeup?

As someone who has seen both the TSA and the flying public in the airport, I would give the edge in the intelligence department to the average TSO, at least they seem to know that water is a liquid, tooth paste is a paste, and shaving cream is a cream (yes, it is)… there are some passengers who still seem to not understand these things.

Andrew September 23, 2008 11:55 PM

Liquids are different from guns in that you don’t need to carry them on a plane most of the time whereas almost everyone needs to carry some sort of liquid which is why you should let some liquids on. That TSA blithley tosses them away doesn’t matter much. The issue is not only security in this instance, it’s efficiency. TSA could certainly test the liquids to see if they are potentially explosive but to do so would back up lines forever. the simple policy of limiting liquids significantly mitigates the threat, still allows people to take some appropriate liquids through, and keeps throughput at acceptable levels. TSA’s mission isn’t security only. It’s security in order to ensure the freeflow of commerce. Differentiating the liquids on a case by case basis does not allow the efficiency necessary for freeflow of commerce.

Tarkeel September 24, 2008 2:39 AM

@Rus: “Mostly a ‘Made In America’ phenomenon”

Actually, the EU has taken this one to heart. It’s currently a secret law what you can and can’t take with you on an airplane.

me September 24, 2008 3:24 AM

How many of you will die if you don’t brush you teeth on an airplane (given that I have never seen it done on any flights I have ever been on, none)? How about that perfume? Or that makeup?

Not so much a matter of need on the plane, but this is the minimum I need when I get where I am going and my checked luggage does not. Or if I put my perfume in my checked luggage, I may arrive and find all my clothes and tooth brush have had copious amounts of perfume applied to them.

The chances of me being on a plane with a ticking terrorist are many orders of magnitude lower than the chances of a mishap befalling my checked luggage.

allan kelly September 24, 2008 3:57 AM

Like the post.
What makes it worse is the inconsistency of the application.

In July I flew from Heathrow to Munich, I had a 200ml bottle of shampoo most of which was obviously used, at most 50ml was left. No problem.

Flying back (with less than before because I’d used it wash my hair a few times) Munich confiscated it.

It would be nice to think, as @Rus suggests, there is a secret EU law about this. There isn’t. It just depends on where you are, the time of day and who’s doing the screening.

Anonymous September 24, 2008 6:30 AM

I think what Bruce is getting at is that the security tradeoff the TSA is making here tells us something about their beliefs and incentives. If you had credible information about a liquid bomb threat, this system is not the one you would put in place.

That Japanese liquid-check system someone mentioned interests me — any indication that it is something other than security theater? I.e. do liquids ever fail, and if so, which ones?

D0R September 24, 2008 6:41 AM

Airport security once confiscated a small jar of paté de foie gras my 80-year old grandmother was bringing back from his first trip to Paris.
And I have read the rant a passenger wrote after having his cannoli (typical Sicilian sweets containing a creamy cheese) confiscated.
It’s not “ban liquids” or “ban dangerous items”. It’s just “confiscate something so airport security shows they’re doing something”. Pissing off passenger is additional value.

rip September 24, 2008 7:36 AM

There is no GWOT, if there was, rumsfeld would not have told the military not to send a brigade to Tora Bora. They needed Osama to keep the repression going. They still do. So they pretended to attack tora bora but all they did was pay bags of money to some warlords who were also taking money from the Alquedists. The intention is to keep repression going. Its the Bushists who hate our freedom and always have. Do you really think paulson who never saw a problem in the economy will really be able to fix the mess he made both on wallstreet and in the whitewhorehouse If we just give him 700billion or a few trillion to take care of his cronies who have already fleeced the shareholders. Thats just a workaround after failing to sucker congress into betting socialsecurity on the big casino.
Your money is going to rich gamblers who intended all along to get it one way or the other. If the Quedists had another shot they would have taken it. If they succeed now it will only be with the same cooperation that they had with the bojinka plot.

theorbtwo September 24, 2008 7:42 AM

First, the counterargument: Making the theoretical terrorists in your article try again and again until they get the liquids on the plane means more time for human intelligence to find out about the guys, and, er, “neutralize” them.
Second, the extended movie plot: A number of terrorists go through the checkpoint with containers of explosive in easily-melted containers, preferably with a low temperature needed to explode, but fairly shockproof. This can be over the course of an hour or two, probably — depends how often the TSA empties the bins.
Then, the last terrorist goes through the line with an easily-broken bottle in two halves, such that a fire will be started when the two mix. That melts the other containers, which then add extra boom. Time it right, and you not only make the airport get evacuated for, probably, several days, but you kill a fair number of people. Hell, with the right materials, you can probably cause structural damage to the airport.
Now we need somebody to make an actual film of it, and perhaps we can stop waiting in line to enable this plot.
Oh, and as mentioned on this blog before, you don’t need actual tickets for a flight to get through the initial security, only to get on a plane, which isn’t required by this plot, so very little expense there.

Tom Davis September 24, 2008 8:51 AM

My movie plot scenario:

Several terrorists bring liquids to checkpoint where they are confiscated and thrown into a large bin. A single terrorist dressed as a custodian collects the bin and removes it to a closet where he mixes the items, pours them into a large paper cup, which he takes to a restaurant in the food court. The food court manager gives the cup to a ‘customer’ terrorist who boards a plane.

You don’t really need to use confiscated liquids, small allowed portions could easily be combined, but this is a movie, and the audience will appreciate the irony.

Davi Ottenheimer September 24, 2008 10:14 AM

Bruce, I’ve actually heard your pasta sauce is pretty dangerous.

In Italy it probably would have been treated with more caution and seriousness.

Reminds me of the old joke: smells like pasta sauce, tastes like pasta sauce, feels like pasta sauce…good thing I didn’t let it on the plane.

@ John N

“As long as your liquids are in the sealed duty free bag with the matching receipt visible, they are permitted on the plane. ”

I have an even better one for you. If you fly in from a non-EU country with liquids, security might tell you that you can increase your limit for duty-free by exiting the airport and then coming back inside. In other words, security may practically advise you to use a dead-drop strategy to increase the limit of liquids you can bring on a plane.

Miller September 24, 2008 10:33 AM

Got a bottle of something you really like and TSA wants you to voluntarily surrender it? Remove the cap before handing over the bottle. Tell TSA the cap is a souvenir. Lots of liquids in a garbage can mixed together can get pretty nasty smelling before the day is over. Think of the flies as well.

George September 24, 2008 12:08 PM

@A_CAT_IS_FINE_TOO!: “I would much rather see the “liquid ban” come back, it is simpler to enforce and understand: if you don’t need it to live, you don’t take it with you into the plane. How many of you will die if you don’t brush you teeth on an airplane (given that I have never seen it done on any flights I have ever been on, none)? How about that perfume? Or that makeup?”

That would actually make sense if passengers could rely on checked baggage and its contents arriving intact and complete on the carousel soon after their flight. Anyone who has ever had that NOT happen will immediately become convinced of the need to carry on anything they’re unwilling to do without either temporarily or permanently. You may not need it to live and you may not need it on the plane; but you may need it at your destination, or you may not want to face the difficulty and/or expense of trying to replace it at your destination.

Most of us could accept the liquid restrictions if we were convinced that they provided effective protection against a real threat. Evidence for such an assertion (beyond the TSA’s usual “it’s classified, so trust us and remember to be very afraid”) is unconvincing for many. And the GAO’s most recent test showed that screeners around the country consistently failed to detect liquid explosives even though they were consistently successful at confiscating innocuous liquids. In this case there seems to be a widespread belief that the “balance between security and ‘ease of travel'” is way off. Again, the appropriate response is to be skeptical and to demand convincing evidence that the balance is appropriate. “Trust us” doesn’t work.

@David Keech: “Maybe the TSA should go back to asking the question “Is it dangerous ?” rather than “Is it a liquid ?”

Obviously that’s too difficult a task to assign to airport screeners. Banning all liquids in containers larger than some arbitrary size (and at some checkpoints, in a manufacturer’s labeled bottle) is much easier for screeners to implement.

I actually suspect that the people who devised the “3-1-1” rule really thought they had devised a brilliantly elegant, simple, and foolproof reaction to the liquid bomb threat. At least that’s how it seemed to all the Homeland Security officials who saw the classified PowerPoint charts about it presented in secure meeting rooms behind locked doors. Unfortunately, once it was declassified and put into place at real airports and imposed on millions of real people, situations emerged that the officials focused solely on reacting to a threat never even thought to think of of in their secret meetings: Peanut butter? Jelly? Yogurt? Shaving cream?….. So it ended up as just another arbitrary rule subject to the inconsistent and capricious “interpretation” of individual screeners. The TSA’s only reaction was to blame passengers and admonish them “not to over-think these guidelines.”

I also suspect that the TSA is correct when they assert that their rules are valid reactions to “robust intelligence.” The problem is that when the “robust intelligence” works its way through the Homeland Security bureaucracy and finally emerges at your local airport checkpoint, it has degenerated into arbitrary, absurd, and ineffective Security Theater that does nothing but infuriate passengers (except for the few who feel “reassured”) and waste time and money. It’s like the children’s game of “telephone.”

Cujo September 24, 2008 1:18 PM

Closer to the realm of sensibility (but still not quite there, IMO), last time I flew there was someone in the other line arguing with the screeners because they wouldn’t let him bring his ENORMOUS cooler full of single-serve Jello-O. I was sad to be herded through my line before I could ask WHY he was carrying that.

Bill Clinton September 24, 2008 3:00 PM

So if somebody believes someone who is working for the government has mistreated them, take it to the appropriate authority, make it public if you want to, but be specific. But do not condemn people who work for the government. That’s the kind of mentality that produced Oklahoma City.

David September 24, 2008 4:20 PM

@A_CAT_IS_FINE_TOO!: Since others have dealt with your false assumption that your checked luggage will necessarily go to the same place you do, let’s deal with the idea that liquids can be a threat.

If the liquids could be a threat, they would have to be properly disposed of. Anything the screener is willing to toss in a nearby bin and leave cannot be perceived as a threat. If you were a screener, and confiscated a bottle of nitroglycerin, how happy would you be to put it with a pile of other bottles and dump other things on it?

TSA policy therefore makes no sense if the confiscated bottles are considered dangerous. TSA policy also makes no sense if the confiscated bottles are not considered dangerous.

The right answer for security purposes is that liquids do not pose more of a threat than anything else, and that approximately no passengers are terrorists. Therefore, the liquid ban serves no security-related purpose.

Alan September 24, 2008 4:27 PM

Here is an even better movie plot scenario.

There are no “Terrorists”. All of the supposed terrorists are just shills for various government intelligence agencies trying to drum up more money for their departments. It is all a giant fiction and the people have fallen for it.

David September 24, 2008 6:59 PM

US citizens are only being killed by terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, if anybody who attacks an invading army is a terrorist.

Unfortunately, the US suffers almost no terrorist attacks, and they unfortunately suggest this is because of the lunacy of their various security measures.

But as has been pointed out, if there were any number of terrorists in this country, they could bomb all sorts of things, not just trying to get them past the TSA for bombing a plane.

Heck, the real terrorists blow up things in streets all the time because you can’t secure the streets as easily.

Somehow it escapes the brilliance of Americans that if bombs are going off in the streets, they probably aren’t going off anywhere else for the same reason, so the TSA is mostly a waste.

Comedy Blog September 24, 2008 9:29 PM

I just want to know who carries only 6 ounces of sauce. It musta been really good for you to be only carrying that much.

And yeah i’ve snuck pints of liquor in plastic bottles past airport security metal detectors before. It’s not gonna be pretty if I get caught.

A_CAT_IS_FINE_TOO! September 24, 2008 11:54 PM

to: George

The loss of you checked baggage is not a matter for the TSA but your airlines, as most don’t want to upgrade to a more modern system that will better handle increased baggage loads.

You also forget that merely having such a police in effect acts as a deterrent as well. Many people forget this. It is like the Secret Service: if someone was dead-set on killing a President, they could do it. The Secret Service is there to make it a lot more difficult and thereby discourage people from acting.

to: David

The bottles in the trash are a continued, albeit lessened, threat and that is something that needs to be addressed, but the TSA has other priorities right now, trash collection isn’t one of them.

The separation of “dangerous”, “potentially dangerous” and “non-dangerous” requires time, and that is something that even Mr. Schneier often fails to address. Yes, the TSA could do everything that “Security Experts” want, but these experts don’t have budgetary requirements, personell shortages, equipment failures and maintenance, cargo inspections, congress, and the airlines breathing down their necks to make it all work.

I think that 7-10min per bag would be needed to test all the liquids that an average person seems to want to bring with them. If a TSO wanted to check all the liquids of the 3-1-1 bag, it would take less than 5. That is one of the reason for it’s adoption.

Once again, it is easy to say “separate the 2 types of liquids” but the procedures to do this would be viewed as more of an inconvenience by most than the current procedures.

Matt Austern September 25, 2008 1:08 AM

Perhaps. I’ve got a suggestion for a liquids policy that would be viewed as less of an inconvenience by most, though, while providing an equivalent level of safety: go back to the liquids policy we had in 2002.

Tarkeel September 25, 2008 3:45 AM

@allan kelly:

Please, have a look for yourself: The liquid ban is in EC regulation 1546/2006, which you can find here:

Page two reads: “In accordance with Article 1 the annex is secret and shall not be published in the Official Journal of the European Union”.

This article has been passed in as law, and as the annex describing what is and isn’t allowed, it’s technically a secret law.

Enforcement of it is something else completely.

Ed September 25, 2008 6:26 AM

David: “Probably the single most effective thing you can do, if practical, is not to fly anywhere. Airlines are very sensitive to lost revenues, and the TSA is probably fairly sensitive to airlines.”

Absolutely. Whenever you fly you are implicitly accepting this “security” nonsense. The way to avoid doing that is to, as far as possible, avoid flying. Take your holidays at or near home. Do business by teleconference as far as possible. Go by train. Drive. Leave flying to the few occasions when it’s really needed – not just slightly less inconvenient.

When anybody whines about the security just tell them that they signed up for it when they bought their ticket: if they can’t take a joke they shouldn’t have joined.

A large loss of revenue is the only thing which will give the airlines the backbone to tell the government to stop pissing off their customers for no good reason.

xd0s September 25, 2008 10:09 AM

@Ed and @David

“A large loss of revenue is the only thing which will give the airlines the backbone to tell the government to stop pissing off their customers for no good reason.”

This only holds true if the airlines KNOW why you aren’t flying. Right now lots of folks aren’t flying, in part due to cost and the economy in part due to undue fear of another attack, in part because the airlines are cutting back services, etc.

In their fog of thinking about staying afloat (something many airlines were not doing well before 9/11) they won’t attribute a reduction in passenger count solely to burdensome TSA measures and take a stand against the government on it. Not unless it is absolutely clear to them that the reason they are losing revenue is the TSA / security burden.

Otherwise there are too many other economic burdens that can take some or all of the blame that don’t involve risking a fight with the governement to resolve.

George September 25, 2008 11:48 AM

@A_CAT_IS_FINE_TOO!:”The loss of you checked baggage is not a matter for the TSA but your airlines…”

Irrelevant. The fact is that there’s a good (and increasing) probability that your checked bag won’t arrive on the carousel. And the new airline airline fees for checked bags don’t make taking that gamble any more appealing. The best rule of thumb is that you should check only items that you’re willing to do without, either temporarily or permanently.

Perhaps the best solution is to travel only with a credit card and identity papers, and buy everything you need at your destination. Airports could have barrels at the departure entrance where travelers could deposit their lightly-used items for donation to local shelters for the homeless or battered women. This approach would make “security” as well as flying much easier, more pleasant, and safer for everyone– and it would also help out the needy. I wonder how many people would go for it?

@A_CAT_IS_FINE_TOO!:”The bottles in the trash are a continued, albeit lessened, threat and that is something that needs to be addressed, but the TSA has other priorities right now, trash collection isn’t one of them.”

Other priorities? You mean like new uniforms, mood lighting, and a PR campaign about how their virtual strip search machines protect our privacy?

But seriously, if the confiscated water, lip gloss, and peanut butter are so dangerous that they can’t be allowed on airplanes, shouldn’t they worry about having all those “explosives” piling up at the checkpoint where they might kill screeners (never mind the passengers)? If they aren’t concerned about that– as they probably shouldn’t be, since it’s obvious that the risk is minimal if it exists at all– shouldn’t they be concerned that the visible barrel of “contraband” undermines confidence in the TSA because anyone with half a brain would ask the same question Bruce is asking? Or do they have so much contempt for the traveling public that they don’t care if we all can see it’s a crock?

The last question is the scariest of all, since good security requires that we have confidence in and cooperate with the TSA. In theory, we do have the common interest of protecting aviation from the terrorist threat. So treating passengers as contemptible enemies can only undermine whatever effectiveness the TSA might have. Fear has been a very effective tool used by the administration to assemble a formidable Homeland Security bureaucracy that includes the TSA. But given the track record of that bureaucracy, it has to offer us something more than fear, intimidation, contempt, and obvious stupidity.

Mark Z. September 25, 2008 2:32 PM

So here’s a way that TSA could handle this, which would maintain the current level of security theater, only take a few seconds longer, and also make them look really smart. Which is something they desperately need.

Protocol when confiscating an item: Put a little numbered sticker on it and put it in a square marked on the counter, with the sticker on top. Push the Button. The digital camera mounted above the counter snaps a picture and prints it. Give this picture to the passenger. Look at their boarding pass and see which flight they’re on. Toss the item in a big box that says “Southwest, #303, Sept. 29” or whatever, one box for each flight.

Before the flight leaves, someone from the airline picks the box up and loads it onto the plane. On arrival, the box goes to the baggage claim office and passengers use the pictures to claim their stuff.

The only security threat from this box would be a bomb (since it’s not accessible), and TSA screeners are already trained to recognize bombs, right? A picture that shows the item with its serial number should authenticate it sufficiently, and this isn’t exactly a high-stakes situation. And TSA, for the first time ever, gets to do something to make your life easier.

Ian Woollard September 25, 2008 2:52 PM

Nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room- the religious angle.

Taking away pasta source makes it impossible to give thanks to his noodliness and face towards italy as it is written in scripture.

CYA September 26, 2008 10:49 PM

A_CAT_IS_FINE_TOO, we get that separating dangerous from nondangerous liquids would take too long. OK. Fine. We’ll just assume they’re all dangerous — that’s the current policy, ostensibly. But if that’s so, why do we not dispose of them in a more controlled manner? It’s not like explosives are safe things to have around in all environments but an airplane cabin.

The answer to this question is that nobody actually believes the confiscated items are dangerous. The dogma is that there is a danger, but because it would be expensive to the TSA (not costly from the point of view of passenger throughput, I note), nobody takes the dogma through to its logical conclusion. This fact lets us see that nobody actually believes there is a danger. A true danger would change the cost-benefit analysis and would likely result in some manner of hazardous waste disposal program.

It’s like government ethics laws. The dogma is that it’s unethical for government employees to accept gifts of food at events hosted by outside people. OK, fine. But actual employees sneak into the buffet line at these events all the time and nobody does anything about it. Enforcement would just cost too much. The reason the law is there is not to keep government clean, because nobody really believes in the muffin bribe shadow government — the reason it’s there is to give the relevant people cover when some citizen complains.

That is all that the liquid ban is: a cover for the TSA when some citizen complains. That’s the only risk the TSA is trying to mitigate because that’s the only one it believes in. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the TSA’s performance review, so the measure does not meaningfully mitigate my risk, and has already lost me two four ounce bottles of hair care products. I want the restrictions gone.

George September 26, 2008 11:26 PM

And of course, a significant proportion of those items in the trashcan are items in containers of 3 ounces or less that would have been permitted had their owners placed them inside a quart-sized Victory Baggie. But because the owner failed to put them inside a quart-sized Victory Baggie, the screener deemed them “contraband” and consigned them to the hazardous material disposal container located in the middle of the checkpoint.

Other passengers who witness screeners confiscating the items as required (and possibly also witness the complaints of the owner) are duty-bound to shut their eyes and hum a chorus of “God Bless America,” and patriotically heed the TSA’s admonition not to think about either what we’re seeing or the lack of any sense. For what good is security theater if the audience doesn’t give the players the obligatory standing ovation?

Bill Clay September 27, 2008 9:57 PM

They should have charged you with felony marinara possession and sent you to the big house. You are a clear danger to us all.

HavaCuppaJoe September 29, 2008 11:12 AM


Come on, you’re GOT to tell us:

What kind of sauce was it?

(Need to restock my pantry…)

Please? Pretty Please? With sauce on top…?

Mr. Jones October 20, 2008 3:17 PM

Mr. Schneier’s concept of enforcing restrictions on liquids misses the mark and propagates future misunderstanding of the process and its justification.
Schneier asserts that the policy of prohibiting certain liquids from airline cabins fails to make air travel more safe and only punishes innocent—taken to mean, ‘law abiding’—people, who harbor no ill-will for themselves or fellow passengers. His way of thinking—in this instance—fell extinct with the demise of the so-called ‘Black and White’ society. The world of today has transitioned to several shades of grey.
Let me explain. For several generations now, the United States has been at the forefront of promoting local and foreign policy that has led to a clash of cultures throughout the world. In the aftermath of World War II, the US along with her staunchest western allies generated enormous wealth and influence in the world through industrial, economic and military might. Western Europe enjoyed the greatest economic and technological benefit while Asia, Africa and the Middle East were largely left to grow and rebuild on their own. The dichotomy that resulted only served to exacerbate deeply rooted misgivings between east-west societies and culture. As the world evolved in the post-war era, America’s growth and successes overshadowed the sluggish progress of developing nations struggling with over-population, disease and an ever deteriorating infrastructure; causing further alienation. The upsurge in industry in the west offered many Americans the opportunity to raise their standard of living—graduating from lower to middle class. This trend created a deficit of unskilled laborers, or those willing to take on lower paying, blue-collar jobs.
As a result, the United States unceremoniously relaxed its immigration standards equating to an attractive alternative for those around the world looking to escape the bonds of poverty, while at the same time Americans expanded business investment and sought additional opportunities abroad. During the 1960’s and 70’s record numbers of immigrants seeking a fresh start arrived in the United States by way of a legal process, along with untold numbers who made the journey illegally. Unfortunately, many in this latter group were unskilled workers, and as a consequence, did not have extended to them the same labor protections and chances for wealth as their American ‘hosts’ and opted to return home with unflattering opinions of life in the West. Nonetheless, the experience led to the first real exchange of foreign cultures in the United States, and problematic stereotypes were formed among those involved.
The 1990’s saw steady increases in technological and information exchanges, promoting new business opportunities—and thus, today’s global markets are a product of this unprecedented expansion. It is this phenomenon—born of globalization—that has painted the world grey. No longer are the majority of global institutions and societies dissimilated. On the contrary, we are all interconnected and aptly engaged in a struggle for the lion’s share of dwindling resources—namely: fertile land, potable water, and fossil fuels for the production of energy. Because of newfound inter-dependability and raw competitiveness, no longer is it unobjectionable to distinguish the innocent from the conspirator without a precursor unmasking intent. The policy Mr. Schneier espouses threatens to trample upon these fundamental civil-liberties and smacks of “Profiling”—a tactic that has no place in a shinning democracy.
Mr. Schneier would be well versed after more in-depth analysis of the policy that prescribes banning certain liquids. Applying critical thought to the procedure offers the best hope of understanding that while the process may represent an inconvenience for some “innocent” people, it genuinely provides for much safer air-travel by reducing the quantities of accessible property in the cabin of passenger aircraft. In so doing, anarchists—and the like—that are wise enough not to wear their intentions as a badge are handicapped by an inability to have potentially dangerous components available during flight. Clearly in this example, “An inconvenience to a few equals triumph for all.” Security in our nation’s airports can and must be achieved without—in affect—surreptitiously crying out for an amendment to the United States Constitution. This would undoubtedly amount to a gross inconvenience and infringement upon our civil-liberties certain to generate far more dissent than compliance.

Paddy October 20, 2008 3:19 PM

I dont know who you are but YOU certainly MISSED the point about security.
We cant and will never be 100% effective or accurate. We aspire to be accurate
and effective enough for the airline industry and travelling public to be reasonably
safe. There is NO 100% security ANYWHERE in the world in any arena of life.
Your jar of peanut butter could be mixed with C4 or Gelignite or other explosives
that has no smell and can be any colour. Your bottle of WATER also the same.
Your tiny jar of BABY food, your box of orange juice, even the lining of your clothes.
I cant explain details here that we have been educated to at regular training
and orientation sessions because of SSI but if you only knew I doubt if you
would be soo cavalair or insensitive as to suggest we must not anger the
innocent passenger public. Its the innocent passenger public that took down
WTC, that committed Oklahoma, and that did sooo many other despicable
murderous acts. Do you realize that at 35 thousand feet with a pressurized
internal body 3 or 4 ounces of explosives could bring down a 747 in pieces
with all on board dead before they hit the ground. I would love to expand but
again SSI is necessary and must be respected. WE KEEP YOU SAFE.
paddy corea

Moderator October 20, 2008 4:27 PM

Paddy and Mr. Jones, interesting that you posted two minutes apart on the same month-old article, which neither of you have managed to understand. And you both have the same IP address! Such a coincidence.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.