Voluntary Security Inspections

What could possibly be the point of this?

Cars heading to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will see random, voluntary inspections Monday.

The searches are part of an increase in security at the airport.

It’s a joint operation between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Austin Police, and airport security.

The enhancements are not a response to specific threats, and the security level has not changed.

Officials say the searches are voluntary and drivers can opt out if they want.

Training? Reassuring a jittery public? Looking busy? This can’t possibly be done for security reasons.

Posted on June 1, 2010 at 1:00 PM59 Comments


HJohn June 1, 2010 1:07 PM

The only possible benefit I can see to this from a security standpoint is it narrows down the list of people who they may want to watch more closely.

Basically, if you opt out of screening, they would be more likely to monitor you. It’s the “what do you have to hide” logic.

But it is an obscenely intrusive, wasteful, and unethical way to do it if you ask me.

Northerner June 1, 2010 1:08 PM

It value of this effort should be rather obvious, Bruce. It is means of pre-screening and profiling… if you don’t volunteer to have your vehicle and belongs searched on the approach to the airport, you obviously have something to hide and you’ll be tagged for more scrutiny once you are inside the airport….

Nick Lancaster June 1, 2010 1:12 PM

Well, it serves a security purpose, but not one you or I would necessarily appreciate or approve of.

It’s to accustom the public to intrusive, random searches. Turn it into a sobriety checkpoint kind of thing. Good citizens cooperate, bad citizens don’t.

Jesse June 1, 2010 1:37 PM

This is just like the bag searches they do on the New York subways. The police set their tables up near an entrance, but if you don’t want to have your bag searched, you’re free to use a different entrance.

m1kael June 1, 2010 1:38 PM

One possible explanation is an article I saw over the weekend concerning a possible terrorist with AlQ connections trying to enter the US through Mexico. Houston was on alert and possibly the Austin area was the same if the individual was to try to fly out of either city. The “random” opt-out may have been meant to not excite the locals? Even doing a random check means that you observe all cars coming along that route.
I am in San Antonio, but not aware of any thing of that nature here though I bet there was some type of heightened alert.
I believe the guy they were looking for was picked up in Canada on a flight bound for Mexico that was diverted. So, maybe, must maybe something worked as it was supposed to.

Brian June 1, 2010 1:41 PM

In Texas, all your interactions with law enforcement are voluntary, but only until you refuse to cooperate. That’s why you see so many car searches on the side of the road.

DayOwl June 1, 2010 1:41 PM

Government Study: How much more intrusion will the public accept?

Or perhaps desensitizing people to the whole search thing.

Or maybe the coming crackdown on the “freedom of movement” business since the constitution is being declared no longer relevant to our dangerous world. I mean, if people were up to anything good, they wouldn’t be trying to fly somewhere now, would they?

Uh oh. Cynical today.

John D June 1, 2010 1:45 PM

Perhaps the point is to see how the person might react when asked if they would like to be inspected? This would make sense if it is likely a guilty person will react differently to the request than an innocent person who doesn’t like being inspected. If doing this makes it necessary for would-be terrorists to be good liars, that might indeed help. Of course this requires that the people doing the asking would know how to discern the various reactions.

Phillip June 1, 2010 1:52 PM

Officer: Sir, mind if we search your vehicle?
Me: Yes, I mind. Are we done?
Officer: Yes. Have a nice day…

AppSec June 1, 2010 2:14 PM

I wonder how they search those off Airport parking shuttles or airport limo vehicles…

Erik Engbrecht June 1, 2010 2:29 PM

Perhaps they want to measure how much of a delay executing searches will add, and possibly get an idea of what infrastructure would be needed to reduce the delay down to acceptable levels. Afterall, I think what people care about most is the time it takes them to go from arriving at the airport (including time spent stuck in traffic approaching the airport) and when they reach their gate, and that the time is short and relatively predictable.

Nick June 1, 2010 2:37 PM

Remember the about Israeli airport security, with layers of behavioral profiling? I agree the “voluntary search” pretext sounds silly, but the idea of exposing airport travelers to a brief interaction with a security guard (in contrast to a search) could be a useful way to screen out suspicious behavior.

spaceman spiff June 1, 2010 2:50 PM

@brian re. Texas auto inspections.
I was coming back from Mexico a couple of years ago and had just an hour before passed thru customs on the border (I was driving) when I was stopped just north of Brownsville, supposedly for speeding (less than 5mph over the limit). My plates were from out-of-state. When asked if I would agree to a search I was tempted to tell them to sod off, but probably wisely agreed (I had nothing to hide – all my liquor that I brought from Mexico had the appropriate Texas tax stamps), so I stood there picking on my mandolin while they rummaged thru my trunk. I expect customs to do this (usually they don’t bother), but it was entirely obnoxious to put up with this. Fortunately, after 15 minutes of this crud they let me go with a “warning”. Yeah, I think I’m not going to spend much money in Texas any longer… 🙁

C June 1, 2010 2:57 PM

Is this some kind of lame transition to mandatory searches? More time wasting bs.

Randellt June 1, 2010 2:59 PM

| “Training? Reassuring a jittery public? Looking busy? This can’t possibly be done for security reasons.” Bruce S. |


…then simply make these vehicle stops/searches ‘mandatory’ and much more thorough– just like the TSA does inside the air terminal.

After all, there’s no law or constitutional right preventing government agents from from stopping and searching travelers and their personal property… without suspicion or probable cause ! {sarcasm}

Of course, the U.S. 4th Amendment absolutely prohibits such stops/searches…especially the mass airport searches routinely conducted by TSA at airports.

Mere pragmatic concerns about the efficacy and efficiency of such “voluntary” vehicle searches… are trivial compared to the gross
civil rights violations fundamental to the whole warrantless stop & search procedure.

Muffin June 1, 2010 3:04 PM


“In Texas, all your interactions with law enforcement are voluntary, but only until you refuse to cooperate. That’s why you see so many car searches on the side of the road.”

So, they’re not voluntary. (Otherwise, you could just as well argue that, say, you have freedom of speech in China – but only until you actually say something the government doesn’t like.)

Bart June 1, 2010 3:20 PM

Sure it is voluntary. If you don’t cooperate you’ll be arrested for “resisting to cooperate with an officer” and although nothing will come out of that, you will miss your flight. But it surely is voluntary.

Thomas June 1, 2010 4:15 PM

“This can’t possibly be done for security reasons.”

Job security?

kog999 June 1, 2010 4:32 PM

I’ve sceen plenty of cop’s episodes that went something like this.

Officer in a firm tone: Sir, mind if i search your vehicle

Suspect possibly handcuffed: ok

officer find a bunch of drugs

Office: If you knew the drugs were there why did you agree to have your car searched

Suspect: i didn’t know i had a choice. i though you would arrest me if i said no.

Roy June 1, 2010 4:41 PM

Keep in mind that the corporate CEO rides in comfort in a limousine to the airport, where it breezes past security to the waiting jet aircraft, which is waiting for the CEO to arrive. Immediately his luggage will be loaded for him, he will board unsearched, and will have a drink ready for him as the jet taxis to the runway.

CEOs and such have inviolable civil rights, plus other rights you never heard of.

Daniel Rutter June 1, 2010 6:07 PM

I don’t think it’s necessary to develop theories about the grand nefarious plan behind this. Hanlon’s Razor probably applies to this just as much as it does to other security kabuki.

And, as kog999 said, they’ll probably catch a few people with weed or something, when the cops doing the searching browbeat them into a search they could actually refuse.

As demonstrated, by exclusion, in “The Proper Way To Handle A Police Stop”:

(See also Chris Rock’s immortal “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police”:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-880897175401400927 )

chris June 1, 2010 6:44 PM

@Bruce – This can’t possibly be done for security reasons.

But that’s nothing new. The airport out of which I fly (ABQ) has multiple metal detector screening lines, plus one “explosives detector” line (stand with your arms out, puffs of air muss up your hair, etc.). But passengers self-select which line they pass through. I’m guessing the TSA only had enough funding for one….

The problem might be “too much funding”, not “insufficient”

Henning Makholm June 1, 2010 7:50 PM

Roy, you need to update your stereotypes. It has been decades and decades since “jet aircraft” signified VIPpish luxury.

Ryanair, for example, operate jet aircraft exlusively.

Clive Robinson June 1, 2010 9:59 PM

@ Henning,

“You need to update your sterotypes…”

I think Roy was alluding to private jets owned (leased/rented) by the CEO’s company not ordinary buy a ticket and que to death commercial jet aircraft.

It has been said a number of times that the TSA do not bother with such private flights as the only terrorists known to have been on such flights are in the rendition process or bound for gitmo.

Or officialy “Nothing to see move along and have a nice day”

Roxanne June 1, 2010 10:39 PM

It’s part of a bi-partisan effort to get the American public used to casual, random searches. They used to be universally illegal – we have a Constitutional amendment that specifically prohibits any search without a warrant – but since we swallowed searches within airports and in our high schools so calmly, they’re going for the next step. I’m pretty sure the government eventually wants to be able to search anyone, anywhere, any time, without a warrant or even likely probable cause.

Until someone protests long and hard and gets the SCOTUS to rule these searches unConstitutional, the government is going to continue to expand them.

It’s not about finding anything; it’s about us letting them do the search without complaining. Start small, work your way up. Eventually, the ban on unreasonable searches dies on that word, “unreasonable.” All searches become ‘reasonable’.

Scary stuff, kids.

Aaron June 1, 2010 11:46 PM

My guess is that saying no brings a boatload of suspicion and attention, and some non-voluntary searches later. Saying yes gives them the leeway to search as much as they’d like, ie not much if you’re a Caucasian grandma but a lot more thorough if you have dark skin.

A guy June 1, 2010 11:55 PM

Heads up:
On Firefox 3.6.3:
The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because it uses an invalid or unsupported form of compression.

uk visa June 2, 2010 4:30 AM

I think it’s clear what’s going on… the security is expanded; the infrastructure is set-up for the voluntary security… a month or two goes by… voluntary becomes obligatory.
It’s not just terrorists who can use stealth.

Tim June 2, 2010 4:48 AM

Judging by the sheer incompetence exhibited by many al queda plots over the years (Glasgow Airport, Exeter, the shoe bomber, the pants bomber, the 21/7 plotters, etc etc) , I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them get caught by a voluntary search.

BF Skinner June 2, 2010 6:44 AM

Alex Jones, whose patch Austin is, would interpret this as part of a deliberate, long-term, coordinated world-wide operation that includes random road blocks and checkpoints within the US. Its intent is to operant condition people making them more cooperative and compliant to any authority figure so when the “criminal offshore banking cartels” and new world order subverts US sovereignty they’ll meet little resistence. @DayOwl is saying something of the same without the glossy cover.

@Tim “…some of them get caught by a voluntary search.”
has a point.

Bruce has said many times that the controls in place on air travel will only catch stupid terrorists. Seems there are more stupid than smart going around so maybe DHS has decided to only catch all the stupid terrorists. You know drain the swamp and then all those smart terrorists should stand out in smart relief.

Paul in Austin June 2, 2010 9:33 AM

It must not have been very intrusive or last long. I went to the airport on Wednesday (article from Monday) and the following Monday, and I didn’t even see any random stops or searches, must less get asked anything.

Rich Wilson June 2, 2010 10:52 AM

When I was a teenager in a small town, and my friend and I wanted to transport something by car that we weren’t legally old enough to be in possession of, we would first drive around the small town a little bit fast and a little bit loud. Just enough to get the attention of the local RCMP. They’d pull us over, and we’d politely invite them to check whatever they wanted. They would, and find nothing, and remind us to drive safe, and keep wearing our seatbelts, and send us on our way.

Then we’d go pick up the beer.

Keith June 2, 2010 12:50 PM

I live in Texas and I’ve been through Texas CHL training given by licensed Texas law enforcement officers (i.e., police). I’ve twice had officers teach that if an officer asks for permission to search your vehicle that they are implicitly acknowledging there is no probable cause and they cannot search without your permission. If they have probable cause, they will not ask your permission. My trainers have recommended that (in Texas, at least) the proper response to a search request is “No, I do not give you permission to search my car. If you intend to search without my permission, I will not resist but I request that your supervisor be present for the search.” The training officer said that this should keep you legal and will generally stop the search request. Note, if you give permission for a search and the officer finds something, it is generally admissable even if there was no prior probable cause.

BF Skinner June 2, 2010 7:08 PM

@Clive “Roy was alluding to private jets owned”

Not just CEOs. I’m not sure of the outer fringes of the class that rides general aviation and is exempt from the cares and grinding annoyances the rest of us put up with but Sarah Palin is one of them. The piece of her contract found in the dumpster in CA stated

“The private aircraft MUST BE a Lear 60 or larger (as defined by interior cabin space) for West Coast Events; or, a Hawker 800 or Larger (as defined by interior cabin space for) East Coast Events, and both are subject to the Speaker’s approval. The Speaker Reserves the right to change the flight plans at any time,”

Matt from CT June 2, 2010 9:40 PM

Note, if you give permission for a
search and the officer finds
something, it is generally admissable
even if there was no prior probable

Well duh. It’s hard to imagine a situation it wouldn’t be.

Subscribing to the living constitution theory for a moment (really an extension of the common law heritage of evolving judicial decisions), if you don’t regularly use your rights you lose them.

Office: If you knew the drugs were
there why did you agree to have your
car searched

Suspect: i didn’t know i had a choice. i
though you would arrest me if i said

As the original poster likely knows, that’s not a question satisfy the idle curiosity of the officer.

He just established that not only drugs were in the car (by the search), but that the suspect knew about them.

Recorded for posterity, of course, on the cruiser cam’s remote mic.

George Orwell June 2, 2010 10:30 PM

Just stop and think about how insanely stupid ALL of this is.

Let’s see…..how many terrorists are found and arrested every day at airports? That’s right, ZERO.
They manufacture a false threat to justify the police state tactics by fearing up the masses. In case you haven’t heard, the underwear bomber story is another myth.

The Gestapo want us to think they’re there to “protect” us. What a crock. We only need protecting from THEM.

The Constitution is dead.

Davi Ottenheimer June 3, 2010 12:17 AM

@George Orwell

“The Constitution is dead”

Oh? Just like that? A few voluntary inspections at an airport and the Constitution dies? Hard to believe it could be so fragile. I think you might be mistaken.

“The Gestapo want us to think they’re there to “protect” us. What a crock. We only need protecting from THEM.”

That doesn’t sound right at all. The Gestapo (secret police) eliminated opposition to the leadership by acting on denunciations (people who ratted on others for being unpatriotic). This “protected” no one but the party/leadership. That’s why they had to operate as a “secret” group. A group who “want us to think they are there to ‘protect’ us”? Wrong historical reference.

“They manufacture a false threat to justify the police state tactics by fearing up the masses.”

Hmmm, you stitched together a few vague scary references — Orwell, Gestapo and a Dead Constitution — after you read about a voluntary search exercise at one airport. Seems to me that you might be “fearing up the masses”, no?

Lee June 3, 2010 3:19 AM

I can see an attack on a place with “voluntary” security inspections going like this….

  1. Terrorists rock up to be “screened” and get caught with their bomb/weapons
  2. All the enforcement types rush to ensure the terrorists are taken down (and to high-five, of course)
  3. The real terrorists carry out the attack

Thankfully, it’ll all be on CCTV and lead to massive retrospective changes after the fact which have more impact than the actual attack.

BF Skinner June 3, 2010 6:40 AM

@George Orwell “how many terrorists are found and arrested every day at airports? That’s right, ZERO”
Hmmm could be your logic is faulty. In the US at least Richard Colvin Reid was arrested on December 22, 2001 at Boston Logan and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab December 25, 2009 arrested for his crotch bombing and in 30 June 2007, Glasgow International a couple of guys were arrested after trying to drive propane tanks on fire into the lobby. I stopped looking at this point but there are likely detentions taking place at other airports around the world.

I think you’ve phrased the question wrong. The question is not “how many terrorists…” the question should be how many people are detained under suspicion of wanting to conduct terrorist acts, how many were released, how many prosecuted and how many disappeared. We could use some transparancy here. How often and in what circumstance are laws used. That would be a tell on abuse of power by authorities that you fear. We stated clearly in our critique of the Patriot act that it would be abused and used for pursuing crimes unrelated to terrorism. No we were told it wouldn’t happen. History has demonstrated differently.

A real issue are roving road blocks put up to “Check for licenses, insurance, DUI’s” the reasons vary by state or country or city police. Apparently they are legal if certain conditions apply. I ran in to my first one a couple months back. It was voluntary in the sense that I could have chosen another road to travel (had I known about the checkpoint).

HJohn June 3, 2010 9:21 AM

Someone may have thought of this already, and my apologies if I missed it, but I do see an obvious loophole with this.

Basically, the person has two options:
* volunteer for screening
* opt out, and flag themselves for monitoring and scrutiny later.

Logic would lead most people to believe that only those with something to had would opt out. Or, conversely, that those who volunteer have nothing to hide. And therein lies a flaw.

Most screeners would presume the innocense of those they screen since it is voluntary. So, if I had something to hide, I would find away around the screeners. I would use the trust afforded as a volunteer to slip by, and then after that “hey, he’s fine, he’s already been screened.”


Steve Keller June 4, 2010 12:49 AM

I was Director of Security for a large Chicago Museum. During my first week, my assistant was showing me around and showing me what he normally does during his day. To my surprise, he told me that during warm weather he normally goes out on the museum’s steps and tells everyone that they can’t hang out there then goes through the sculpture court and runs off people loitering there! Why, I asked. He had no reason. His actions were the exact opposite of our institutional mission. Where I came from, parks were for people and sculptures were there to be pondered by people who must linger to ponder them.

Over my years in law enforcement and security I found that some people in the field feel the need to exert control because they can, not because they should or need to. Today I travel weekly as a security consultant and noted that TSA officers are now patrolling airport concourses and standing at the door watching travelers board. Rarely have I seen them do a secondary search at the gate but they are often there. I suspect that travel volume is down, and TSA has become more efficient, but they retain the same rush hour staffing level all day long. To avoid forced cuts they try to look busy.

Then there is the small percent of security managers who take themselves too seriously, fail to understand the connection between their daily actions and their mission, and are clueless to their role as guardian of rights, not the reason our rights are slipping away from us. Many in this profession have a world view far different from mine. “Because I said so” is, to them, a good reason.

Of all of the training programs offered to security and law enforcement managers, the one most often absent from programs is the one that covers the role that law enforcement and security play in damaging our rights. Such a course would also explain that when the police “push the limits” they ultimately force the courts to step in and impose limits on police authority making the mission more difficult for those who follow.

B. D. Johnson June 4, 2010 11:09 AM

I can almost hear the newscaster now:

“In the coming year $9.4 billion dollars will be spend putting up ‘No Terrorists Allowed’ signs in every major US airport. Homeland Security officials expect this to eliminate any possible threat of domestic terrorist activity. Canada has announced they would not be participating in the program. Experts predict a widespread public demand to declare Canada a haven for terrorists and invade accordingly”

JKB June 4, 2010 8:05 PM

Never ever consent to a search. I read, but can’t find a link, about a guy who agreed to a search and the cops cut his car up. The SCOTUS said he had no recourse since he agreed to the search.

Unless you have a lawyer to negotiate the scope of the search and get it in writing, never consent to a search if you like your property and want to keep it intact.

George Orwell June 5, 2010 1:42 PM

You really don’t get it, do you?

If they’re allowed to openly violate the 4th Amendment, that says the Constitution doesn’t matter and is, for all practical purposes, dead.

It also violates the 5th Amendment.
The one that (used to) protect against self incrimination.

Because if you opt out, you will, in their minds, be considered a terrorist, and thus incriminate yourself. And the Patriot Act says that they can charge anyone they want with terrorism and there goes your supposed Constitutional rights and protections.
Just because they don’t charge those who opt out with terrorism doesn’t mean they can’t at any point in the future.

It is SO very sad that 99% of you “security” people are OK with this.

You ARE the problem.

GreenSquirrel June 6, 2010 1:15 PM

@ Steve Keller at June 4, 2010 12:49 AM

Well said. I have had the (mis)fortune to work with a lot of security managers who seem to think that exercising power is the main part of their job. It annoys the crap out of me.

It astounds me that many “professional” security workers can fail to see the purpose of security in supporting the business mission.

Still, it keeps me in consultancy work.

Clive Robinson June 6, 2010 5:47 PM

@ Steve Keller,

“Of all of the training programs offered to security and law enforcement managers, the one most often absent from programs is the one that covers the role that law enforcement and security play in damaging our rights.”

Yup many moons ago it used to be part of “Proffesional Ethics and the Law” in many many training programs (not just LEOs/security guards etc). But now there is no part of most courses to cover Law let alone ethics, and the corse focus has moved from general security practice to regulatory compliance by audit (Health and safety etc etc).

Unfortunatly that causes a “bean counter” view of the world where “if I don’t have a prescribed check box for it, I don’t spend time let alone money on it” mentality takes over.

Sadly it then also engenders the contary view that “if it’s ot a check box it must be done”, which gives rise to the “bureaucratic mindset”.

The consequence of which in turn gives us a bunch of “clockwork soldiers”, who see the world only as a mindless automaton following a rule book. And this book gets handed down like tablets of stone from the mountain top.

Thus their world view develops and we talk about sheeple.

My father used to say “Rules are for the obeyance of fools and the guidence of wisemen”, and often say after a pause either “Which are you?” or “There are too many fools in the world already don’t ape them”.

@ Bruce, I assume you are vaguely familiar with what a “cargo cult” is?

Perhaps you should change from “Security theater” to “Cargo Cult Security”.

Clive Robinson June 6, 2010 6:14 PM

@ George Orwell,

“with terrorism doesn’t mean they can’t at any point in the future”

Whilst true it goes against what most of us get taught as children, thus it has an almost religious faith effect on most people who go into denial.

“It is SO very sad that 99% of you “security” people are OK with this”

No I don’t think we are on calm reflection. And my gut instinct these days is be wary of authority.

You may say

“You ARE the problem.”

But consider the hurdel you are trying to get the population across, you have to use little steps and keep them in their comfort zone or be disregarded as a “conspiracy theorist”.

It has famously been said that “Freedom is seldom lost in one step” but the opposite is also true “Freedom is seldom gained in one go”. People cann’t just be “set free” the chains that bind them the most are in their minds.

The atainment of freedom from being a slave is a journey which involves moving from having no responsibility as an automaton to being responsible via the ability to think rationally. It is a similar transition as that from childhood to adulthood it takes time and practice and much education along the way. Sadly it also involves a fair amount of pain sometimes first hand to see injustice and the slavery that it is.

Hans June 15, 2010 3:47 AM

Seems to me that every citizen who has nothing to hide should decline to be searched, so that the police can concentrate on the terrorists. ;))

A. Sceptic June 20, 2010 10:39 PM

I think Thomas Barnett said it best in his talk on ted.com, “TSA… Thousands Standing Around”!

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