Entries Tagged "bombs"

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Possibly the Most Incompetent TSA Story Yet

The storyline:

  1. TSA screener finds two pipes in passenger’s bags.
  2. Screener determines that they’re not a threat.
  3. Screener confiscates them anyway, because of their “material and appearance.”
  4. Because they’re not actually a threat, screener leaves them at the checkpoint.
  5. Everyone forgets about them.
  6. Six hours later, the next shift of TSA screeners notices the pipes and—not being able to explain how they got there and, presumably, because of their “material and appearance”—calls the police bomb squad to remove the pipes.
  7. TSA does not evacuate the airport, or even close the checkpoint, because—well, we don’t know why.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Posted on January 31, 2012 at 5:03 PMView Comments

Yet More Fear-Mongering from the DHS

Al Qaeda is sewing bombs into people. Actually, not really. This is an “aspirational” terrorist threat, which basically means that someone mentioned it while drunk in a bar somewhere. Of course, that won’t stop the DHS from trying to terrorize people with the idea and the security-industrial complex from selling us an expensive “solution” to reduce our fears.

Wired: “So: a disruptive, potentially expensive panic based on a wild aspirational scheme? Actually, that sounds a lot like al-Qaida. And the TSA.”

Me: “Refuse to be terrorized.”

Posted on December 14, 2011 at 6:17 AMView Comments

Bin Laden's Death Causes Spike in Suspicious Package Reports

It’s not that the risk is greater, it’s that the fear is greater. Data from New York:

There were 10,566 reports of suspicious objects across the five boroughs in 2010. So far this year, the total was 2,775 as of Tuesday compared with 2,477 through the same period last year.

[…]

The daily totals typically spike when terrorist plot makes headlines here or overseas, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Tuesday. The false alarms themselves sometimes get break-in cable news coverage or feed chatter online, fueling further fright.

On Monday, with news of the dramatic military raid of bin Laden’s Pakistani lair at full throttle, there were 62 reports of suspicious packages. The previous Monday, the 24-hour total was 18. All were deemed non-threats.

Despite all the false alarms, the New York Police Department still wants to hear them:

“We anticipate that with increased public vigilance comes an increase in false alarms for suspicious packages,” Kelly said at the Monday news conference. “This typically happens at times of heightened awareness. But we don’t want to discourage the public. If you see something, say something.”

That slogan, oddly enough, is owned by New York’s transit authority.

I have a different opinion: “If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.”

People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they’re spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.

Refuse to be terrorized,” people.

Posted on May 5, 2011 at 6:43 AMView Comments

Security Fears of Wi-Fi in London Underground

The London Underground is getting Wi-Fi. Of course there are security fears:

But Will Geddes, founder of ICP Group which specialises in reducing terror or technology-related threats, said the plan was problematic.

He said: “There are lots of implications in terms of terrorism and security.

“This will enable people to use their laptop on the Tube as if it was a cell phone.”

Mr Geddes said there had been numerous examples of bomb attacks detonated remotely by mobile phone in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He warned a wi-fi system would enable a terror cell to communicate underground.

And he said “Trojan” or eavesdropping software could be used to penetrate users’ laptops and garner information such as bank details.

Mr Geddes added: “Eavesdropping software can be found and downloaded within minutes.”

This is just silly. We could have a similar conversation regarding any piece of our infrastructure. Yes, the bad guys could use it, just as they use telephones and automobiles and all-night restaurants. If we didn’t deploy technologies because of this fear, we’d still be living in the Middle Ages.

Posted on April 13, 2011 at 1:14 PMView Comments

Bomb-Sniffing Mice

I was interviewed for this story on a mouse-powered explosives detector. Animal senses are better than any detection machine current technology can build, which makes it a good idea. But the challenges of using animals in this sort of situation are considerable. The neat thing about the technology profiled in the article, which the article didn’t make as clear as I would have liked, is how far it goes in making the mice just another interchangeable part in the system. They’re encased in cartridges, which can be swapped in and out of the system. They don’t need regular handling:

Unlike dogs, which are often trained for explosives and drugs detection, mice don’t require constant interaction with their trainers or treats to keep them motivated. As a result, they can live in comfortable cages with unlimited access to food and water. Each mouse would work two 4-hour shifts a day, and would have a working life of 18 months.

If we are ever going to see animals in a mass-produced system, it’s going to look something like this.

Posted on February 9, 2011 at 11:39 AMView Comments

Domodedovo Airport Bombing

I haven’t written anything about the suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport because I didn’t think there was anything to say. The bomber was outside the security checkpoint, in the area where family and friends wait for arriving passengers. From a security perspective, the bombing had nothing to do with airport security. He could have just as easily been in a movie theater, stadium, shopping mall, market, or anywhere else lots of people are crowded together with limited exits. The large death and injury toll indicates the bomber chose his location well.

I’ve often written that security measures that are only effective if the implementers guess the plot correctly are largely wastes of money—at best they would have forced this bomber to choose another target—and that our best security investments are intelligence, investigation, and emergency response. This latest terrorist attack underscores that even more. “Critics say” that the TSA couldn’t have detected this sort of attack. Of course; the TSA can’t be everywhere. And that’s precisely the point.

Many reporters asked me about the likely U.S. reaction. I don’t know; it could range from “Moscow is a long way off and that doesn’t concern us” to “Oh my god we’re all going to die!” The worry, of course, is that we will need to “do something,” even though there is no “something” that should be done.

I was interviewed by the Esquire politics blog about this. I’m not terribly happy with the interview; I was rushed and sloppy on the phone.

Posted on January 28, 2011 at 3:15 PMView Comments

Movie-Plot Threats at the U.S. Capitol

This would make a great movie:

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., renewed his call for the installation of an impenetrable, see-through security shield around the viewing gallery overlooking the House floor. Burton points out that, while guns and some bombs would be picked up by metal detectors, a saboteur could get into the Capitol concealing plastic explosives.

The House floor, he pointed out, is the only room where all three branches of government gather to hear the president speak, as President Obama will do when he delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 25.

Burton introduced the legislation in the past, but it’s gone nowhere. He’s hoping the tragic events of Saturday could help it win more serious consideration by the Republican leadership.

“I think the risk is there,” Burton told The Washington Examiner. “The threat is more now than it has ever been.”

Posted on January 18, 2011 at 6:29 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.