TSA Cupcake Update

The TSA claims that the cupcake they confiscated was in a jar. So this is a less obviously stupid story than I previously thought.

EDITED TO ADD (1/13): The cupcake lady says the TSA is lying.

EDITED TO ADD (1/17): A bakery creates a TSA-compliant cupcake.

Posted on January 12, 2012 at 2:39 PM • 34 Comments

Comments

llewellyJanuary 12, 2012 2:55 PM

Nonsense, that makes no difference whatever; frosting is still frosting. It's like thinking an iphone in a protective cover is justifiably suspicious in a way an iphone without such a cover is not.

If it means anything, it means the owner of the cupcake had the good sense to transport in a manner that would prevent it from being smushed.

GeorgeJanuary 12, 2012 3:19 PM

If "two very real liquid related incidents from the past [are] why we have limitations on liquids, gels and aerosols" then shouldn't all solids be banned, too? Or have there been no incidents related to solids?

leEbJanuary 12, 2012 3:23 PM

The common factor in all verified terrorist threats on aircraft is people.... Ban people on planes!!!

BobJanuary 12, 2012 3:25 PM

Look at the picture. If the jar hadn't said "cupcake" on it would you have said it was a cupcake? It just looks like an indeterminate blob of some substance to me. It's a question of whether it can positively be identified with a high degree of certainty. In this case I'd say it cannot in the time allotted to the inspection. The fact that in this case it actually was frosting is irrelevant and relying on 20-20 hindsight.

Mr. PaulJanuary 12, 2012 3:31 PM

Bob? Blogger Bob, is that you? :)

I actually agree with Bob on this one. Let us *assume* that liquid explosives are a real problem. Let us assume that their is no quick and positive test for them, and they they could masquerade as another liquid/gel. The only option is to ban all liquids over a size that would be dangerous. Now you can say But it is idiotic to ban water!! But they aren't banning water, they are banning liquid explosives and are unable to tell liquid explosives from water. From that perspective, the ban makes sense, and the "cupcake" qualifies. I think the person, claiming "cupcake" without specifying what sort of [non] cupcake it was, was being disingenuous.

If one wants to claim liquid explosives are not a real problem, I'm up for that, but claiming that they had to know inherently that the cupcake was harmless doesn't make sense. What, no one could fake a label and use a little food colouring?

NathanJanuary 12, 2012 3:51 PM

My favorite part is that they linked to the Bojinka plot's wikipedia page, which says "The two had already converted fourteen bottles of contact lens solution into bottles containing nitroglycerin, which was readily available in the Philippines."

Fred PJanuary 12, 2012 3:55 PM

I just assumed that it was a cupcake in a jar.

I think the problem is the 3-1-1 rule, not its questionable application to this particular product.

NobodySpecialJanuary 12, 2012 4:06 PM

@Mr. Pau and solid explosives aren't a problem?
So a solid plastic cupcake made of explosive would pass straight through - with only the gel frosting raising a concern.

It does raise the old urban legend about glass being a liquid. Presumably the TSA agents are sufficiently skilled in materials science to differentiate between an amorphous glass and a solid gel

AkmJanuary 12, 2012 4:49 PM

Is dirt ok, but mud not? Can I freeze any liquids I need to bring? Is pie filling okay?

These rules make no sense.

SiebJanuary 12, 2012 5:18 PM

God help us the day terrorists think to make a bottle bomb and to make it all fancy and pretty with ribbons and a fancy label saying "Cupcake" on it. Then convincingly sell them to suburbanite Americans to put in their carryon. Then we'll all be doomed...

JessicaJanuary 12, 2012 5:28 PM

Mr. Paul:

Actually, last I checked, you aren't allowed to bring water with you through the checkpoints.

QuandaryJanuary 12, 2012 5:28 PM

For Pete's... okay. Running with the assumption that gel/liquid explosives are a problem, the 3-1-1 ban is *still* stupid and ineffective. If I can take a *pie* on the plane, and I can take a *cake* on the plane, and I can take a *cupcake* on the plane, then why not make a bomb-pie? Or, presuming they ban baked goods as well, do what drug mules have been doing for ages, and ingest said liquids/gels? Or, for that matter, just blow up the damn security line once outed? Changes in policy will only lead to changes in tactics.

The TSA blog says it's about keeping bombs off planes, and that's what the screeners are thinking about, not whether or not an incident will go viral on the internet. No, the screeners would rather chance look like fools in the public's eye (and have their apologist blogger step in to cover for them) than lose their jobs. The desire to not lose their job is only tangentially connected to keeping bombs off planes, and the connection is via policy. Policy was enforced, this is a reasonable interpretation of the policy as it stands, but it still doesn't change the fact that the policy itself is Retarded with a capital "R."

2bitJanuary 12, 2012 5:56 PM

I've often wondered if a frozen bottle of water would be okay. It's a solid when passing through security, and solids are okay, right?

VekJanuary 12, 2012 6:04 PM

There's still the question of why she was allowed on the plane with 2 of them in one place when she was prevented from boarding with 1 of them in another place. Further, the discussion that the agents had was specifically about the frosting being "a gel-like substance"; they said nothing about it being in a jar at the time.

Disclosure: The passenger in question is a friend of mine.

Mike RoseJanuary 12, 2012 7:11 PM

Actually, the real problem is that it's a liquid/gel/icing/whatever in a fairly robust looking container. Anyone who's ignited a line of gunpowder will know that it's not the gunpowder itself that 'explodes', but the confinement of it. A pie or cupcake with a nitroglycerin filling is not as dangerous as you'd think. But the moment you confine it (say, with a jar), the threat increases enormously. Think quartz-glass-jar nitroglycerin-filled cupcake pipe-bomb.

Never thought I'd say this, but I'm agreeing with the TSA on this one. I hear a lot of 'Well why didn't the TSO swab it!?!?'. What if the explosive agent had been put under the layer of icing? The icing would act as an impermeable barrier and rigorous cleaning of the inside of the jar above the icing could have sufficed to return a 'negative' swab. They'd have to dig all through the cupcake to get a reasonable understanding of the composition (provided they are even able to swab for *EVERY* known explosive agent), and how well do you think that's going to sit with travellers? They might as well just throw it away. It's easier, costs less (passenger time has a value, as does the TSO's salary which comes out of your taxes)

Besides, if they had swabbed it, you'd all be saying 'TSO agent swabs cupcake thinking it's a bomb!!! HAHAHA WHAT AN IDIOT'. Face it, there is a low, but non-zero threat of a terrorist attack using explosives on a plane as an attack vector. The government has decided that despite the low likelihood, the impact of this threat is enormous (massive loss of life etc.) which justifies the albeit marginally-effective mitigations. You may disagree, but I'd guess that if a terrorist actually got through and detonated an explosive on a plane, you'd be the first to blame the TSA for allowing it to happen.


Vek: So it would have been better if she had both of them confiscated in the first place? It's called discretion. One TSO didn't consider it a threat, one did. Be thankful for discretion, because it means that your friend was able to stuff her face with 1 jar full of sugar instead of no jars at all.

BobJanuary 12, 2012 7:30 PM

The problem is that anything.... absolutely ANYTHING can be used as a weapon. One could choke someone with the lace on their hoodie sweatshirt or knock them unconscious with their math textbook (either by hitting them or forcing them to read it... take your pick). The point is, THE TSA CAN NEVER ELIMINATE ALL THREATS!!! Where does the insanity end?

Mike RoseJanuary 12, 2012 7:52 PM

Bob - choking someone isn't going to bring down a plane.

It's not about eliminating all threats, it's about dealing with each identified threat through risk management.

The likelihood of someone choking someone with a shoelace is higher than someone setting off an explosive (especially considering the TSA's heavy handed approach), but the impact is far lower. One person dies, as opposed to everyone on the plane and possibly people on the ground too.

The real question is whether it's all worth it. Whether the costs and inconvenience that the TSA poses to travellers is justified by the small but non-zero affect they have on flight security. Everyone will have their own opinion on this, but loudly bleating your own opinion like it's some kind of universal fact is at best disingenuous. If you wish to make a difference, you live in a democracy, write to your congressman. If they disagree, then you may just have to suck it up and understand that the majority doesn't share your worldview. That you're the minority. That you have no right to impose your worldview on anyone else. That you cannot have everything your way, all the time.

Not RachaelJanuary 12, 2012 8:53 PM


This has been great publicity for Tiffini Soforenko and Yummy Cupcakes!

On the other hand, they would have allowed 2 oz. or smaller Hope in a Jar , but would rather us abandon all other hope.

JonJanuary 12, 2012 10:22 PM

@Mike Rose

Um, actually a huge point of the United States Constitution was protection of the minorities and their own human rights. Majority rule is mob rule. And if your worldview involves being treated equally, yes you do have a right to impose that worldview upon those who would, even if they are the majority, to take it from you.

J.

Mike RoseJanuary 12, 2012 11:34 PM

@J - I agree, but what does this have to do with imposing your (subjective) risk assessment of the TSA upon others who disagree with you? What I'm saying is that you might disagree with the TSA, but if the majority agrees with the TSA (which is purely hypothetical here of course) and the TSA are not breaching your basic human rights, then put quite simply, you have no recourse. You have no *right* to change it in a democracy.

And I know that you can't seriously be saying that the TSA breach any human rights. Is flying on a plane a basic human right?

No one is forcing you to be groped by a TSO. A TSO cannot come to your house or approach you in the street and start feeling you up. You're the one who bought the plane ticket, knowing full well that as a condition of carriage, you are subject to additional security measures over what you would be subject to if you travelled by another mode of transport.

I agree that it's unpleasant and is a complete overreaction. It's security theater. It's ineffectual. It's a waste of money. But we all need to be careful of pulling out the human rights card in our arguments against the TSA, because if we overuse this card, when an actual breach of human rights occurs, it's just going to be a cliché.

Jonathan HallJanuary 13, 2012 4:30 AM

Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf*cking cakes on this motherf*cking plane!

Stuart KingJanuary 13, 2012 6:33 AM

There's a point that's being missed. If the TSA agent is so aroused to confiscate an item under suspicion that it might be a threat, then why continue to allow the passenger onto the aircraft? If I am attempting to smuggle contraband that poses a threat to safety then surely I should be arrested and taken away for questioning. To confiscate an item because it poses a threat and then to allow the passenger to continue defies logic.

mashiaraJanuary 13, 2012 7:57 AM

ref: human rights

This is actually a bit more complex, especially if you need to travel by plane because of you job or other method of travel would be unfeasible.

Being able to travel freely after all is if not basic human right (I must admit I'm rusty on the UN list) pretty important if one is to consider oneself a free human being.

"you're free to take another mode of transportation" is not really an answer if there water and no bridge, or mountains and no tunnel. Time is money and even without that consideration flying is usually by far the cheapest way to travel long distance, up to the point of it being prohibitely expensive to use any other method.

So my point is: "being free" to use other method of travel that is much too expensive is not being free to travel.

DanielJanuary 13, 2012 8:27 AM

@Mike Rose -

"A TSO cannot come to your house or approach you in the street and start feeling you up."

Oh, perhaps you haven't heard of VIPR?

paulJanuary 13, 2012 9:03 AM

I have to say, when I saw that picture, part of me thought "that would make one heck of a fragmentation grenade." But that wasn't why the TSA blocked it.

SkukkukJanuary 13, 2012 2:23 PM

Being able to travel freely after all is if not basic human right (I must admit I'm rusty on the UN list) pretty important if one is to consider oneself a free human being.

Freedom of movement is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And requiring intrusive searches in order to fly infringes my freedom of movement in the same way that mandatory background checks to publish a book would infringe my freedom of speech--even if scrolls and stone tablets remained unregulated.

As one practical example: when I lived in the Western US I once flew to Washington, DC to participate in a lobbying day. That trip simply would never have happened if I had only been able to use a car or bus--I wouldn't have been able to take time off work for such a long trip. Being able to meet with your elected representatives is pretty basic, and I'm sure that many Westerners have had no real alternative to being groped by the TSA if they wanted to do it.

SomeoneJanuary 16, 2012 2:32 PM

@Mike Rose: You seem to be missing an important point. Perhaps explosives are more dangerous when placed inside a jar, but jars are not banned, and explosives could presumably be inserted into a jar beyond the security checkpoint.

If I can bring through a cupcake in a paper bag, and I can also bring through an empty jar, then I can't see what you think that you gain by confiscating cupcakes in jars.

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