Me on Airport Security

Yesterday I participated in a New York Times "Room for Debate" discussion on airline security. My contribution is nothing I haven't said before, so I won't reprint it here.

A short history of airport security: We screen for guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We confiscate box cutters and corkscrews, so they put explosives in their sneakers. We screen footwear, so they try to use liquids. We confiscate liquids, so they put PETN bombs in their underwear. We roll out full-body scanners, even though they wouldn’t have caught the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer cartridge. We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces — the level of magical thinking here is amazing — and they’re going to do something else.

This is a stupid game, and we should stop playing it.

The other participants are worth reading, too.

I also did an interview in -- of all places -- Popular Mechanics.

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 6:11 AM • 68 Comments

Comments

Mike JamesNovember 23, 2010 6:26 AM

Nothing wrong with Popular Mechanics - its one of the few places you could have a sensible discussion with a group of people with a very broad range of interests.
Hope it or something like it makes it into the print edition.

SebastianNovember 23, 2010 6:49 AM

And in other news, the "L.A. mayor urges fliers to bear with scans" (http://www.presstelegram.com/ci_16688402)
Of particular interest are the passengers' quotations. Security theatre at work.

"Most of the passengers interviewed at random Monday said they were in full support of the scanners.

"I think I'll do the scan. If it does make things safer, I'm all for it."

"I'm a veteran, so I believe that the more screening, the safer we'll be,"

"It's OK. I feel better. If I have to (show everything), I will"

(http://www.presstelegram.com/ci_16688402)

Not one word about the effectiveness of the scanners.

Another interesting quote:
"Since the machines were installed Oct. 29, officials say only two passengers have opted for the pat-down. "

According to the article, LAX has up to 90,000 passengers / day.

PaeniteoNovember 23, 2010 7:19 AM

@Sebastian: 'Another interesting quote:
"Since the machines were installed Oct. 29, officials say only two passengers have opted for the pat-down. "'

I wouldn't give too much on "quotes" like this. These could well be designed to make you believe that everybody else is satisfied with the situation, implicitly creating doubt about the validity of your complaint.

pratykNovember 23, 2010 9:05 AM

Upon reading the first essay from the MIT professor, i felt it was apalling that he, of all people having worked with aviation security and such, would make ignorant and completely silly comments like:

----
But then I remember a basic question. What if the 9/11 terrorists had been thwarted at the security checkpoint? We would have been spared not only the worst terrorist attack in American history, but probably two wars that have gone on for nearly a decade.
-----

How would this have been possible with better screening with tools like Full Body Scanners or methods like enhanced pat downs? Only Intelligence would have thwarted something like that and that's still missing from the measures implemented today.

noneNovember 23, 2010 10:05 AM

@pratyk, relaying a silly quote: "But then I remember a basic question. What if the 9/11 terrorists had been thwarted at the security checkpoint? "

If I recall correctly, the box-cutters used by the 9/11 terrorists were smuggled onto the plane in the food service carts, not on their persons or in their carry-on luggage.

So what about that? Can weapons and "things" still be smuggled onto a plane through the food containers?

SteveNovember 23, 2010 11:06 AM

Think about the number of weapons made in prison cells every day, the starkest of environments. Why would I believe that weapons could not be made past the security check-point? There are lots of items beyond the check-point that can be made into any number of sharp, pointy objects. All of them greater in size than my sewing kit needles that get confiscated!
I'm bet I can find something in a gift shop to fashion into a weapon. Screening is a joke.

Mike BNovember 23, 2010 11:09 AM

Ha, your regular readers could easily tell that was a cut and paste job, but it was still worth being said.

Dick ManhardNovember 23, 2010 11:10 AM

"Most of the passengers interviewed at random Monday said they were in full support of the scanners."

--sweeping generalization

"I think I'll do the scan. If it does make things safer, I'm all for it."

--appeal to prejudice

"I'm a veteran, so I believe that the more screening, the safer we'll be,"

--appeal to authority

"It's OK. I feel better. If I have to (show everything), I will"

--bandwagon

Edward Bernays would be proud. This is a PR piece, not actual news.

But this is a bold-faced lie:

"Since the machines were installed Oct. 29, officials say only two passengers have opted for the pat-down. "

micahNovember 23, 2010 11:19 AM

One of the commenters on the Popular Mechanics interview wanted a citation about the "underwear bomber" not being stopped by the full-body scanners. I'm not a subscriber over there, so figured I'd comment here. Just google for "low density" and "body scanner" for tons of citations. Example: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/...

M N KhurshidNovember 23, 2010 11:25 AM

Airport security can detect physical weapon but they cannot detect what is in a person mind?

sclausNovember 23, 2010 11:33 AM

I guess in the future everyone will have to fly in their birthday suits, to *really* prove that no one has any weapons or anything to hide.

All this is based on the official 9-11 mythology, which, like the religions of old, will last a very very long time because most people will just go with the flow.

ShaneNovember 23, 2010 12:23 PM

Wow, Arnold Barnett's piece made me throw up in my mouth a little. MIT? Really? ...Really?! Overall though good discussion. Bruce's bit was succinctly action-packed. It would be interesting to hear a follow-up with responses to the other debaters' posts. And kudos, Popular Mechanics rules.

John FNovember 23, 2010 12:25 PM

@sclaus: "I guess in the future everyone will have to fly in their birthday suits, to *really* prove that no one has any weapons or anything to hide."

Um, no - even flying naked is insufficient if the individual is conscious.

You're falling into the trap of thinking of particular objects as weapons.

The reality is, just about anything can be used as a weapon (with varying degrees of effectiveness) if you're in the proper state of mind to use it as such and/or have the proper training.

ericaNovember 23, 2010 12:37 PM

If I want a sharp weapon on an international flight, it is trivial.

Simply stock up on duty free alcohol (or perfumes if I have religious objections to alcohol).

On board, wrap a cloth around my hand, smash the bottles.

A little bit of R&D beforehand would give me experience in bottle smashing, knowledge of the best bottles to use, and practice in using my weapon.

At a pinch, I would not even need my own bottles.....Simply access the overhead locker and acquire some else's.

Until the duty free industry is subject to the same fluid limits (and more) as travelers are, this loophole will remain viable.

Think of it as the weapon of choice freely available at the interval of a security theater show.

StephenNovember 23, 2010 1:05 PM

It may be stuff you've said before, Bruce, but it needs to keep being said.

The only way we can fight the stupid that pervades our society is to keep driving home the most logical points until most sane people finally get it.

HeatherNovember 23, 2010 1:14 PM

Your NY Times piece was excellent, one of the most reasonable things I've read on the subject over the last few days. I can hardly stand to read or listen to the counterpoint, as the empty arguments infuriate me to no end. How are people willing to buy the idea that these invasive TSA measures are what will finally keep us safe from terrorists? I guess it's the fear talking. Security theatre indeed! I'm interested to read more of your work now.

SharonNovember 23, 2010 1:52 PM

The attention given recently to TSA screening policies and practices is unprecedented. Perhaps the real reason behind the public outcry is the apparent lack of effectiveness of increasingly intrusive measures that yield very little in terms of real security and prevention of terrorist attacks. We have yet to see evidence where these enhanced TSA passenger screening methods have actually yielded tangible reduction in risk. Bruce Schneier, an American cryptographer and computer security specialist coined the term for this: “Security Theatre” rather than security!

What the TSA is doing is not scalable and will not be able to address a rapidly changing threat landscape. The TSA is focusing on the specific threats, like people hiding explosives in shoes or underwear, instead of addressing the real airport security vulnerabilities. I can’t fathom what security measures the TSA is going to have to come up with next time a terrorist boards a flight with plastic explosives hidden in their rectum!

There clearly needs to be a better, more scalable and more effective screening techniques to achieve real and meaningful protection that Americans need.

Why isn’t El Al, Israel’s largest airline or Ben Gurion Airport security implementing full-body scanners and enhanced pat-down procedures? If anyone in this world should be scared of innovative terrorists, isn’t it the Israelis?

Yet what you find is the opposite. With increasing threats, their security apparatus is proving to be scalable, more effective and more secure than anything the TSA has been able to come up with.

Everyone in US Homeland Security would tell you that what El Al is doing is not scalable in the US or anywhere else. That it would cost too much money and resources to put in place. But aren’t all these new security measures the TSA implementing equally as expensive, and yet not at all scalable or appropriate to an ever increasing and sophisticated terrorist threat possibilities? Are we really focusing and spending our resources and efforts where we get maximum security return? Or is it really just security theatre and we are all just a vulnerable as we have always been?

Mr MNovember 23, 2010 2:47 PM

Bruce was dead on. Then there was Arnold Barret's piece...

He implies that finding the box-cutters would have prevented 9/11. Maybe, or more likely they would have found other weapons. But he completely misses the point that box-cutters were used to take over the plane, and control of the plane was key to the catastrophe that followed. Good luck (well, not really) taking over a plane when the passengers are willing to fight to the death while you're trying to get through the cockpit door.

Today, a would-be terrorist needs a weapon big enough and effective enough to prevent a passenger uprising. Surely something larger than could be hiden in a pair of BVD's.

JoeNovember 23, 2010 3:17 PM

Clauswitz said "generals are always fighting the last war"

That is analogous to what we are seeing in security theatre.

Another LoonNovember 23, 2010 3:29 PM

@Sebastien: 'And in other news, the "L.A. mayor urges fliers to bear with scans" '

(laughs maniacally)

"... bares with scans" is more like it.

John CampbellNovember 23, 2010 3:40 PM

A co-worker who's been around the world (usually on his own dime) quite often over the years commented, to me, "no one has ever touched me when I've flown from Israel"... and it suddenly struck me:

"Ummm... I guess they probably don't have a problem with profiling, do they?"

It got a laugh, at least, though, admittedly, not a comfortable one.

ThomasNovember 23, 2010 5:10 PM

@groan
"Wait until TSA starts on train and buses..."

Given that cars kill more people than all other forms of transport AND terrorism combined I'm waiting for the TSA checkpoints to show up on driveways...

MikeyNovember 23, 2010 5:18 PM

@none

I've done some testing of the 'new and improved' TSA procedures using methods that nasty people would use on 'live' systems in the US. I can do this thanks to a bit of paper I have from a government agency (I'm not from the US) that authorises me to test those systems. I was able to take a short sword onboard and the components to manufacture 3 different explosives that I could have used to 'cook up' in the toilets, and collect those components and the sword during flight.

Using the same techniques on an Israeli airport, I was discretely and very effectively pulled aside *before* the metal detectors. When used in an Australian airport, I was pulled aside just after the detectors.

My money says the TSA is a 'tip of the spear' approach that will lead to a complete authoritarian state in the USA within our lifetime - or the total collapse of the USA.

Richard Steven HackNovember 23, 2010 8:07 PM

This is cool.

“Don’t Touch My Junk”: The Rap Video
http://www.juancole.com/2010/11/...

The TSA is just another example of the military-industrial-now-add-security industry. It's all about the MONEY and the POWER. It has nothing whatever to do with actual national security which could be dealt with overnight by just adjusting US foreign policy.

karaNovember 23, 2010 8:22 PM

Billions of wasted dollars creating an out of control, not particularly bright TSA organization that terrorizes Americans. I saw one 300 lb. tsa gorilla force an 80-something woman out of her light pantsuit jacket before walking through security. Then haranguing her because she left her boarding pass in the jacket pocket. She was crying. In Madison, WI for goodness sake.

Come on now. We sheep have stood by and let the TSA take our fourth amendment rights and let them force us to a Sophie's Choice -- Let us get you naked and expose you to radiation or let us sexually assault you.

Lots of folks don't know they can opt out of the scanners. Stand up now, and spread the word that the full-body scanners are (as yet) optional, then fight the assault by TSA personnel by making a BIG noise when it happens (YOU'RE GOING TO RUB MY WHAT?!)

Have we no pride? Don't just stand there and take it because some government employee says "for your own safety." Didn't the Stasi say that in the 40s?

NobodyspecialNovember 23, 2010 9:14 PM

> Can weapons and "things" still be smuggled onto a plane through the food containers?


No, since 911 all the minimum wage illegal immigrant baggage handlers, cleaners, food service workers etc have all been replaced by supreme court judges. The food carts are then guarded by federal marshals and searched to the last grain as they enter the airport by the secret service.

This is also why baggage thefts have completely ceased since the introduction of the TSA

AC2November 23, 2010 11:29 PM

@Nobodyspecial

*New keyboard pls*...

Also the view from Rafi Sela and the related comments were equally interesting, particularly interesting was this one:

"The problem with the Transportation Security Administration is that it is both the regulator and the operator of airport security. In other words, it is required to regulate itself, which cannot work"

Also some of the commentors on that view there have correctly pointed out that the Israeli approach does not scale for US needs as:
- Number of airports, flights and people much higher
- Israel is not really a tourism destination
- Quote: "My non-Jewish friends are often subjected to rigorous questioning and body searches when they enter/depart Israel: not pleasant at all, just because they aren't the same religion". There is no such clear discriminant to use at US airports. And the one above obviously can't be followed

Unless you believe that someone can cook up an idiot-proof psych test that can be run by the TSA agents in place already...

Hmm maybe a Terrorist-Intent-Inkblot-Test..

"So what do you see on this sheet"

"Ummm... looks like an exploding bomb"

*snaps on rubber gloves* "This way please..."

JamesNovember 24, 2010 12:42 AM

I've been reading the comments of the writer here:
http://money.cnn.com/2010/11/22/news/economy/...

It makes me feel sad for TSA workers. Low pay, bad training, expensive health insurance. No wonder they're disgruntled. Aside from that is the slap in the face of these expensive machines being bought while they're trying to make a living. Seems to me the investment in security is all going to companies making this useless crap instead of the humans who actually run the thing.
TSA should reallocate funds and get their workers morale up . It won't eliminate the issues (since most people consider the job temporary and not a carrer), but it will help and who knows, maybe they'll actually find some terrorist.

MoonNovember 24, 2010 1:05 AM

Boycott the airlines and stop flying! If you allow yourselves to be treated like criminals with no rights, you don't deserve them. Break the system by refusing to fly! Cancel your frequent flyer programs...then the airline lobby will change things. The pilots did it in 1 week.

Alfonso ValdesNovember 24, 2010 2:16 AM

So how much explosive does it take to bring down a plane, and how easy is it to hide under western clothing after removing bulky outer garments? The crotch bomber would not have brought down the plane:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8547329.stm
We won that round. Didn't anybody notice?

Henk!November 24, 2010 3:04 AM

Is it just me or is this speech getting more and more relevant:

Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, thereby those important events of the past usually associated with someone's death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent. Last night I sought to end that silence. Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey, to remind this country of what it has forgotten. More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives. So if you've seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.

Clive RobinsonNovember 24, 2010 7:16 AM

@ Alfonso Valdes,

"So how much explosive does it take to bring down a plane..."

The easy answer is "how long is a piece of string".

If you know where to put it and can get access to that point remarkably little.

However even quite a large amount of explosive going off in the middle of the cabin may do little more than cause a lot of mess and decompression.

Which although it might cause considerable highly news worthy carnage in the passenger cabin it does not mean it is going to bring the aircraft down as has been seen with a number of other explosions on aircraft.

Civil aircraft are normarly designed to be very stable in flight and very resiliant to component failure (see recent fuss over an engine blowing up on an airbus).

What you have to remember is that due to the hysteria the press and politicians have worked up somebody scraping the heads of a box of non safty matches and setting it off will probably get flashed around the world as a major terrorist attack before the facts get out (if they ever are).

With regards,

", and how easy is it to hide under western clothing after removing bulky outer garments?"

If you can find an explosive with out nitrates and aproximatly the same density as human fat then you could make a "fat belly" that with care would not be distinquishable by either a back scatter scanner or enhanced pat down.

If you know the "effective depth" of a scanner be it backscanner or heat sensing you can use real live flesh as the mask (think lipo/cosmetic surgery). Which means with care explosives can be put in a body a considerable period of time in advance and start getting up towards the quantities used in terrorist "explosive vests".

The type of scanner (currently in existance) required to find this "in body bomb" would just not be possible to deploy. Not just on health grounds but in terms of time (say 1/2hour per person scanned).

Which is why the likes of the TSA are not going to be able to stop a determined attacker with the right amount of technical back up.

Then of course why bother, as many have pointed out blowing up in one of the scanners or in the waiting line will have a quite dramatic effect.

For some reason the message behind 9/11 appears to have been forgoton. 9/11 was about using the "West's" Technology" against it.

So what do we do? We buy more and more usless technology as our politicos strut around like turkeys just befor the thanksgiving slaughter.

Proving the 9/11 message over and over again.

The solution is going to involve a mixture of intel and effective policy abroad.

Some of which will have life changing effects of the (supposed) upper strata of Western Society (or their rapacious pay masters). Which I suspect is why they are behaving the way they are.

mcbNovember 24, 2010 8:01 AM

So the TSA has reacted predictably to every new mode of attack by implementing a more intrusive inspection regime. Al-Qaeda says "Boo" and the next thing you know the TSA is looking at naked pictures of our mothers, wives, and daughters? What happens when some unsuspecting trans-Atlantic drug mule fills his colon with Semtex instead of a heroin shipment? Will we all line up for preflight CAT scans or opt out and submit to body cavity inspections?

Terrorism may seem like a big problem to some people, but the fear of terrorism and the ability of others to profit or accrete power as a result of that fear is a bigger problem. We're going to stop over-reacting sooner or later, why not now?

More of my chiming in from the sidelines here http://eclecticbreakfast.blogspot.com/

DuckNovember 24, 2010 9:04 AM

They have manipulated us into a state of fear. We are so busy spending vast resources looking for a needle in a haystack, we could be missing something much bigger and more important.

Hugh FugginmutzNovember 24, 2010 9:06 AM

@Stephen "The only way we can fight the stupid that pervades our society is to keep driving home the most logical points until most sane people finally get it."

They DON'T get it. They don't WANT to get it. Magical thinking permeates every aspect of this society. OTHER people get addicted to addictive drugs, but *I* can handle it. I'll just eat this whole box of eclairs and order the new Crunchmaster X-99 Bellyshrinker. But just think of all the JOBS we'll be creating. We'll all be SAFE!

Yeah, repeating logic'll work with this bunch. Uh-huh.

David ThornleyNovember 24, 2010 11:06 AM

Realistically, only a body cavity search will find somebody like that Saudi where-the-sun-don't-shine bomber. Nothing short of that will provide the safety that people evidently want, and I'm not in favor of half-measures that will merely catch the last guy who set his underwear on fire.

noble serfNovember 24, 2010 11:13 AM

wow. that's why i like this blog and its commenters. not one out-of-context Benjamin Franklin quote in the whole thread!

JoeInAshlandNovember 24, 2010 1:19 PM

If anyone ever does manage to kill an aircraft with explosives, we will probably never know the details of how it was done. The evidence will likely be strewn over a large area, and if the aircraft goes down over the ocean then there won't be much evidence at all.

I wonder how the feds would respond to a scenario like this?

noble serfNovember 24, 2010 2:43 PM

Meanwhile the largest terror attack on American soil since 9-11 was one of our own with a few handguns down at Ft. Hood.

Dave BerryNovember 24, 2010 4:04 PM

@Henk!

Ironically, Guy Fawkes was actually a terrorist who wanted to create an religion-inspired oppressive regime. He was no more interested than Al-Quaida are in "fairness, justice and freedom".

mcbNovember 24, 2010 4:27 PM

@ noble serf

"Meanwhile the largest terror attack on American soil since 9-11 was one of our own with a few handguns down at Ft. Hood."

While any on-line encouragement Hasan received from al-Maliki certainly muddies the waters, the Ft. Hood killings were arguably a case of workplace mass murder.

GeoffNovember 24, 2010 11:33 PM

When travelling interstate in Australia:
- I do not need to identify myself
- I do not have to take my jacket off at security checkpoints
- I can carry on a bottle of water
- I keep my belt on
- I do not have to remove my shoes
- non-travellers are allowed through security checkpoints (you do not need to show a boarding pass)

It should be clear as daylight that since other countries are perfectly happy with "lesser" security, that the American "model" is nothing more than theatre.

When I was recently selected for a "random" explosives residue swab, the screener explained that the test mainly produced false positives involving police officers and miners. Again a wonderful example of a security check not having much use. The screener was very courteous however.

ksNovember 25, 2010 2:14 AM

Can't find if anyone already referenced this article, but here is a really interesting piece on security in Israeli airports. As usual, the solution is to work smarter, not harder.

OmriNovember 25, 2010 9:59 AM

So, it looks like the TSA turned off most of the whole body scanners in most airports in order to speed things up and in order to say that only a small number of poeple opted out of the body scan yesterday (since only a small number of people were confronted with the choice of scanning or gropiing).

So apparently the threat from Al Qaeda is not as bad as the thread of bad PR from the opt out day.

This needs to be brought up.

PubliusNovember 25, 2010 11:35 AM

Based on a great tune by Bob Dylan
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk3mAX5xdxo


Once upon a time it was Backscatter xrays

Then you groped the citizens at the airports

Showed us without our clothes


Now Wikileaks shows an emperor with no clothes


Now you don't seem so proud

So how does it feel?


You say you never compromise

So how does it feel?

How does it feel to be a complete well-known?


Shouldn't have let those guards get your kicks for you

After he took from you everything he could steal

How does it feel?

How does it feel to be a complete well-known?


You're completely visible now, you got no secrets to conceal

Once upon a time it was Backscatter xrays

Then you groped the citizens at the airports

Showed us without our clothes

And you said now we are going to have to get used to it


Now Wikileaks shows an emperor with no clothes

Now you don't seem so proud

Oh How does it feel?

How does it feel to be a complete well-known?


Aint it hard when you discover that?

When he took from you everything he could steal?

Oh How does it feel?

To be on your own

No citizen to befriend you at home?


Bob GezelterNovember 26, 2010 6:50 AM

Bruce, as always, well said.

Enumerating potential threats is not a solution. Those intent on suicide attacks are likely to have few scruples, as the attack on Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef demonstrated. Initial reports were to the effect that the explosive device may have been secreted in his rectum.

Much of the discourse on AIT has focused on the dignity question. There are far more important questions of safety and efficacy. There are legitimate medical radiation safety concerns among those who either must pass through the scans frequently, or those whose medical conditions or work involve measurable radiation exposure. Exempting flight crew from AIT does not completely address this question. There are significant numbers of frequent fliers who fly significantly more hours than those flown by airline cockpit and cabin crews, whose work hours are limited by contracts and safety rules. (I gave an overview of these issues in "Searching for Airline Security" at http://rlgsc.com/r/20101122.html).

Enhanced pat downs are another topic entirely. There have been several reports of incidents involving various medical devices and prostheses. These and other problems should be unsurprising. Screening large numbers of innocent people has an inherent accident/error rate. Terrorists are rare. It is unsurprising that the error/accident rate when screening a population of almost entirely innocent people is higher than the true positive rate, an observation that has appeared many times in "Schneier on Security". Nowhere else have we set out to thoroughly search a similarly large cohort of predominantly innocent people. Statistics from the criminal justice system are not likely to extrapolate to this sample, as the criminal justice system deals with a sample far less innocent (and even then has challenges, as New York City recently learned with regards to searches of those detained on misdemeanors).

The screening process has other inherent hazards. Specifically, I refer to contamination and/or contagion. While directly preventable by ordinary industrial hygiene precautions and accountability, this question has fallen below the radar. I discussed this in "Searching for Airline Security, Part Deux", an entry in Ruminations, at http://www.rlgsc.com/r/20101126.html.

sensibilityNovember 27, 2010 12:21 AM

Unfortunately, Peter Rez is a professor, not in the government -

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/11/26/...

His Bottom line :
"The optimal solution would be to accept that small amounts of explosive do not bring airplanes down, and to concentrate screening procedures on detecting those quantities of explosive that, when detonated, will result in mass casualties. Technology designed to detect, rather than image, high explosives will achieve this objective as well as being less costly and intrusive."

x+y=zNovember 27, 2010 1:18 AM

@sensibility:
"The optimal solution would be to accept that small amounts of explosive do not bring airplanes down, and to concentrate screening procedures on detecting those quantities of explosive that, when detonated, will result in mass casualties."

----

hmmm so what if we then get a group of people all bringing a small amount and combining this during the flight...

sensibilityNovember 27, 2010 7:23 AM

@x+y=z

So a bunch of folks start passing stuff around, congregating, putting together bottles of material/pulling out their underwear/etc. And everyone just sits there and lets them do it? After 9/11 & the crotchbomber?

They'd have to figure out how to covertly pass all this material around to make a single explosive without being obvious. Oh, and they still only bring down an airplane (since locked doors & angry passengers will keep them from getting into the cockpit).

RickoshayDecember 14, 2010 12:06 PM

I don't see the problem in increased airport security--or would you prefer to be blow out of the sky?

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