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$1B of TSA Nude Body Scanners Made Worthless By Blog (tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com)
1637 points by zotz on March 6, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 330 comments



While it's encouraging to see such a thorough debunking of the latest security theater technology, it's always been security theater... Allow me a few quick anecdotes:

My family is friends with a gentleman who was a green beret medic during Viet Nam, and later worked for the CIA. Once, when I was younger (and metal detectors were the norm), we had the opportunity to fly with him. He entered the metal detector before me, and was waved along. Once we were past the detectors, he turned to me and said, "Guess how many blades I have on me?" He then proceded to produce seven blades. They were a combination of ceramic blades (undetectable by the metal detector and sharper than most metal as well) and traditional blades held or placed on him so that they would not set off the detector. It was part of his CIA training to be able to do that.

I went to college at Stevens Institute of Technology. The Chemical Engineering department there has a lab known as the Highly Filled Materials Institute. When I was an undergraduate, I got a tour of the lab. They informed me that they had been working on an extruder that they were selling simultaneously to Picatinny Arsenal and Hersey. It turns out that C4 and Chocolate are both colloidal suspensions with nearly identical properties. A consequence of this is that in the X-ray machines used in airports, plastic explosives are indistinguishable from chocolate.

Shortly after 9/11 my father, a very frequent traveler, had forgotten his nail clippers in his carry-on luggage. Predictably, they were confiscated. When I greeted him at the airport, he remarked on how ridiculous that was, as he produced his fountain pen from his jacket pocket. "They let me on with this," he said. "I could have stabbed anyone in the eye with this and they'd be dead. What was I going to do with nail clippers?"

...I could go on, but why?


I used to build a detector for explosives in academia that is now being marketed to the TSA. To get funding for these projects, its pretty standard to rip another technology apart, point out all of its flaws, then argue why yours is better. But every technology has their drawbacks and ways of skirting around it. Today, most technology deployed is more as a deterrent and less as a counter-measure.

You want to know another way to hide illicit items in those body scanners? Surround the items in water.

There are also certain materials that give off false positives and most likely the software will scan the image response against a bank of known materials. I wrote pattern detection software that did just this. Oddly enough, cheese is one of them. So stick your knife in a nice big piece of cheddar and you might make it through just fine.


It's also a good way to store your knife in your backpack, when you are taking a picnic lunch.


Isn't it only one-way solution?


Bring extra cheddar.


There's a simple explanation - the authorities' main priority is to prevent copycat attacks.

The most embarassing thisg possible for TSA would be an exact repeat of 9/11 - same weapons (wasn't it box cutters?) etc. So that's what they target first.

A new kind of attack is harder to predict and easier for the authorities to explain by saying "nothing like this has ever happened before, there was no way we could have prepared for it." And there's no way they could cover all possibilities anyway.

And to be fair, copycat attacks do happen (e.g. July 21, 2005 in London) so it is not a total waste.


> There's a simple explanation - the authorities' main priority is to prevent copycat attacks

The weapons used on 9/11 were surprise and that standard operating procedure in a hijacking situation was to do as hijackers said. Both weapons were ineffective by the time the 4th plane found out.

The authorities main priority has been to be seen to be doing something.


I think that everybody agree on that. The question is: are those very very expensive scanners the only way to achieve that goal. If it is, then fine (I'm not american, so it's not my taxes that are blown), but if there is another way, then you should be worrying about your taxpayer's dollars.

Just as an aside, Ben Gurion airport relies much less on pseudo high tech, and has had incredibly good result.

(http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/744199--the-israel...)


Anecdotal (at best) evidence from this single person:

No, they use 'pseudo people reading skills'. I'm good at offsetting those unintentionally. Can lead to hours of fun.

And they use other pseudo tests as well, that tell me that so far none of the people there checking my laptop had any clues about - computers.

I've never been to the states (and - don't plan to), but I cannot imagine that the average TSA guy is more grumpy than the average [1] Ben Gurion security guy.

Don't make 'different' the right thing to do. There is obviously a high demand for security here, both ~real~ and in the public mindset. Replicating that world-wide would be just as bad as placing these back-scatter machines everywhere, in my world..

1: Insert disclaimer about the exceptions to the rule here


You might be right. What is surprising though is that an airport that's under such security threat like Ben Gurion airport hasn't been breached in a very long time (I think the last major problem was in the 70's). Now you're going to say that most airports are in that situation. Yes, but Ben Gurion is not any airport, and I think I don't need to explain why it is under much more pressure than most airports in the world.

Now assuming that you are 100% right, and that Israeli's security protocol is as much as a mascarade as the TSA's. Then I still believe that they put up a much much cheaper mascarade than the TSA, and that useless for useless, you might want to consider the cheapest.

That was just an aside though, I'm still convinced that their security thing is not just a mascarade.


Then I still believe that they put up a much much cheaper mascarade than the TSA

Not even close. Israel spends close to 10 times as much on security pr. passenger compared to the US. Sure the absolute number is smaller, but that's because Israeli airports handle ~1 million passengers a year compared to US' ~700 million a year


> Israeli airports handle ~1 million passengers a year

That sounds too few. Even if you only consider individuals rather than flights that means that less than one in five Israelis flies any given year. Norway, with about the same population size handles 40 million passengers a year. Now there is virtually no domestic traffic in Israel because its small size, but it also has a lot more tourists than Norway.


I just rechecked the number and you're right, sorry. The numbers I quoted where only for El Al (the largest national carrier). The total number of all airlines is a bit over 13 million. But hey what's an order of magnitude between friends :)


Well because most western nation still look up to amerika (because once the where the prime nation in the world) and copy them, other then that amerika is extreamly agressiv in pushing there policies into other nations.

So most of these stupid rules flow into other nations too. To other western government I would say stop listen and looking to amerika. If you want to look somewhere look at the countries that work well.

For Drugs look to Portugal, For democracy look to Switzerland, For Prisons look to Norway, ..., and trie to improve upon it. There is almost nothing I would copy from amerika if I would "create" a new country.


I don't know what "amerika" is, but there are a number of things I'd copy from America if I were creating a new country, including the Bill of Rights. Americans do have a degree of individual autonomy and individual rights that are largely unknown outside the US, and Constitutional protections are an important mechanism for maintaining them. Now if the government could just pay for people to get flu shots and some better trains, we'd really be on to something :)


Well on paper that is true but in reality I don't see it, look at all the indexes for pressfreedom and other things. Sure Amerika is not North Korea but its not anywhere ontop. (Does the Bill of Rights not say seperation of church and state? At the same time you are not allowed to be elected into Office as an Athist.

One thing that the US does pretty well is opening up data and code after a gov project is finished.


> At the same time you are not allowed to be elected into Office as an Athist.

Not true at all. For one, the Constitution and various Federal and State laws allow elected persons to take an affirmation instead of an oath, and Article Six of the Constitution specifically prohibits a religious test on any public office.

Second, you may find http://www.americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2009-12-can-an-a... to be an interesting read on the topic.

Third, just because atheists are not elected doesn't mean that they aren't allowed to be elected—just that most people in the US want a religious leader (or that not many atheists choose to run for office, or that religious politicians have more popular plans, etc.)


I thought there where some states where it was not allowed. If I find time later I look it up.

Anyway would anybody clame that the US is the show of stat for seperation from churge and state?


The usual response is that the volume is different from an airport like LAX.


I'm far from an expert but from what I know about the way Ben Gurion handles security, I don't see why any of their security measures wouldn't scaled.


According to[1] Israel spends almost 10 times as much pr passenger on Security than the US does. Also Israel handles 1.3 million passengers a year, compared with over 700 million in the US. So the amount of scaling that needs to be done is far from trivial both in terms of money and manpower, and might not even be possible.

[1] http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/01/07/would_you_pay...


As someone pointed out in another thread, the 1.3 million number is wrong. The correct number is 13 million. Sorry.


You say preventing copycat attacks, I say it's a purely reactive approach towards security, which does not work.


Indeed, there are weird side-effects.

A man tries to set fire to plastic explosive in his shoes, so long queues form (in airports) for people to remove their shoes.

Intelligence comes in about liquid / gel / paste explosives, so now those long queues have to abandon any liquids / gels / pastes in bins, near those long queues, inside an airport. Those "potential explosives" are not allowed on a plane, but are allowed to be left for hours (days?) near lots of people in an airport.


It's not supposed to work, it's supposed to provide job security.


Why can't the TSA rent-a-thugs be cops or something? At least they'd be deterring crimes that actually happen.


Cops have generalist training that can be used across a wide variety of situations where you have to think on your feet. It would be a waste of that training to just chain it to a scanner week-in, week-out.


He meant the other way around. Train the TSA agents to be cops instead and have them do actual police duty instead of hanging around airports being annoying obstacles for travelers.


You want those imbeciles to have guns?

And what crimes happen in the vicinity of their screening area that could be prevented?


The main crime in screening areas, beyond violation of people's rights, is probably TSA employees stealing things.


> You want those imbeciles to have guns?

No, he wants real cops.

In France, in public places like railway stations, the "plan Vigipirate" makes use of the military (including gendarmerie)


No one is hiring cops. Listen to this week's This American Life; small-government fetishists are firing public workers, and for very good reasons.


The TSA _are_ deterring crimes. Drug related crimes (possession) has gone up substantially at airports, and there are known cases of credit card fraud, animal smuggling and child porn being found while searching belongings of travelers.

Whether or not you think that the TSA should be involved in anything past securing the ability for persons to travel is the question.


erm, isn't "catching people committing a crime" proof that the crimes are not being deterred?


Thousands Standing Around.


Somehow it seems to have worked OK judging by results. See my separate comment about 106 million flights since 9/11/01 without any successful terrorist attacks.


Let me tell you about my rock that keeps away tigers...


And how many terrorist hijackings/crashes in the US were there before 9/11?


Would you like to buy my rock?


Nice try but the TSA would confiscate this rock you are selling. The real deterrent against tigers is their fear of flying.


Great. I can't wait until the next guy hides a bomb in his rectum. What kind of device will search for that?


TSA Gerbil Agents


Isn't this video a proof that a copycat of the 9/11 would be obvious to do ?


At the time, SOP when a hijacker took over a plane was to do whatever they said. They nearly always held the plane for ransom, and it really was best to let authorities on the ground handle things. After 9/11, the entire plane's population would attack you, becuase being smashed into a skyscraper is not in anyone's best interests.


Even on 9/11 this happened. That's why the 4th plane crashed in a field. Passengers found out about the first 3, realised all bets were off, and took back the plane/


I used to work at the airport and one of the odder duties was to test the screeners every few days with metal gun, grenade and bomb shaped items. The guy who trained me had a couple ways of getting them past without fail if he wanted to (usually he didn't care because they failed enough if they were put through normally on the belt).

The sad thing is these are the exact items they are supposed to be looking for and the things they are best equipped to detect and still a 20%+ failure rate.


Was there any financial bonus for the screeners to find the fake guns and bombs? For example, would a screener get $100 if they found one of these planted items?

I would think that would be a good way to reduce the failure rate. Or does the failure rate have more to do with limitations in equipment, rather than screening being a mundane job?


You start from the assumption that it's in anybody's interest that these machines do actually work. It isn't.

The real interest is for well-connected companies to sell equipment; for the approving bureaucrat to get his kickback while not being seen as abusing his position; and for the low-level unskilled TSA employee to keep quiet and keep cashing his salary.

The suggestion you give would mean the above-mentioned bureaucrat should spend additional money (which would require a lengthy fight with his superiors in order to get additional budget, possibly even triggering a review of previous expenditure) in order to push his underlings to point out flaws in the equipment he bought, so that... he can be made a fool of ?

So you see why it isn't going to happen any time soon.


"Was there any financial bonus for the screeners to find the fake guns and bombs? For example, would a screener get $100 if they found one of these planted items?"

In about 5 seconds after such a bonus program was initiated, screeners would be offering kickbacks to the testers in return for being given advance notice of the test.


Surely the TSA screeners do not know who the testers are, or what they look like. That would defeat the purpose of the test.


Then the testers should be given a financial incentive to get the items through.


Then long wait times would be increased dramatically by screeners trying to be as thorough as possible.


I doubt it, minimum wage jobs don't usually have bonuses. Have you ever worked in one? Walmart has no bonuses either.


If it is a random 25% or so, that might be sufficient deterrence. say, you plan an attack. Would you run a 75% chance of it being thwarted before you enter the plane, or do you start looking elsewhere?


I read on here the other day from someone who studied Al-Qaida and was a part of the terrorist watch group with the FBI that when they plan something it has to be 100% that the plan will work before they attempt it. He was saying they wouldn't dare risk it even if it was a 75% risk. Which is interesting. Just thought i'd throw that in here.


Al Qaida (and similar groups) want to be seen as always successful. If there's regular news about their plots failing, their backers quit backing them and move on to a group that fails less.


I guess if you're a group planning an attack, training and equipping 4 instead of 1 attacker isn't an insurmountable obstacle.


Capable staff is perhaps the largest challenge facing terrorist organizations. If Al Qaeda could have sent four people with shoe bombs or underwear bombs, you'd better believe they would have. And if explosives were the limiting factor, that would mean Richard Reid and Umar Abdulmutallab were the most capable of agents on hand. And that simply doesn't paint a picture that suggests they have a very large pool of capable, dedicated terrorists to work with.

Despite what the fear-merchants would have us believe, all indications are that there simply aren't that many intelligent, capable people who are willing to give their own lives to lash out at Western civilians.


The more people you get involved, the better chance the FBI has to break up the operation before you get to the airport.


You remind me of the occasional TSA "good catch" where they find some weed stashed in a jar of peanut butter. Peanut butter and C4 have the same density. Not a good place to hide your weed. ;)


It seems like your metal container would be a good spot to hide a doob.


They walk around airports with drug dogs too, so the safest way would be to send it USPS since packages require a warrant to search.

REF: http://forums.steroid.com/archive/index.php/t-171885.html


And, a package doesn't prove much. The return address can be fake, and the recipient can be unaware that he was mailed pot.

The perfect crime!


Until the SWAT team breaks through your door and shoots your dogs dead in front of your kids. Oh, wait, it wasn't your pot? Oh, sorry, Mayor...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berwyn_Heights,_Maryland_mayors...


The apostrophe has been stripped from mayor's.

Experimenting with URLs

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berwyn_Heights,_Maryland_mayor's_residence_drug_raid)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berwyn_Heights,_Maryland_mayor's_residence_drug_raid



(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berwyn_Heights,_Maryland_mayors...)



>It was part of his CIA training to be able to do that.

In the '90s, long before 9/11, I was traveling with a girlfriend. She didn't want to remove her belt with a big metal buckle so she just went through the metal detector with it on. The machine buzzed and the agent sent her through again. A female agent looked sympathetic and told her to twist her belt buckle horizontally so it wouldn't set off the machine. That was my intro to security theater.

Moral of the story is that if you're a pretty white girl, you don't need CIA training to learn security secrets from lazy guards.


I cannot speak to the CIA training but I've received some concealed weapon scenario training mostly developed from lessons learned at penitentiaries. It is a terrible thing to be impressed by but inmate ingenuity staggers the mind. You've likely had several items in your carry on that could do much worse than the pen to eye (which I don't think would be fatal). In the attack tree, a shiv smuggled past the checkpoint would need to have the potential to coerce the cockpit before it would factor in to a risk matrix for the plane.

I served in Special Forces before and after 9/11. The 'security theater' points that many of you make are valid. I don't, however, believe the reactionary measures were to calm the fears of the American people. The severe restriction placed on travelers is similar to a trend of restrictions placed upon soldiers following 9/11. The reaction is CYA for senior leadership/command.

Accountability became a tremendous focus following the early campaigns following 9/11. A single casualty was regarded as a devastating loss. Clearing buildings early in the bloodshed of Iraq taught many commanders that the peacetime tactics largely learned from SWAT were not as effective in combat. The procedure was too slow for such a dynamic and hostile environment. Too many soldiers died because the common procedure for clearing a building broke down in structures of irregular layout and in cities crawling with hostiles. Before commanders and NCOs were prepared to blame the procedures, however, they were taking accountability for the loss.

An after action review (AAR) follows every mission and leaders are encouraged to highlight their mistakes before someone else must do it for them. An atmosphere of blame settled in while civilians back CONUS were tiring of the involvement. Casualties were frequent enough that many ODAs had suffered through a few. For most, it was their first time facing a grieving widow with a young child hugging her leg. Those stories, coupled with the blame, changed the landscape of command. CONOPS that were once routinely approved were rejected for increasingly vague reasons. Ultimately, the tone was that the risk was too great compared with the operational gain- almost like the soldier was too valuable to put in harm's way. But we signed up for that. The truth, I suspect, was that the appetite for risk taking at the senior levels was shrinking. If an ODA lost a man, the mission's CONOP would be scrutinized for evidence that all of the risks were accounted for, that the courses of action reflected sound decision making when assuming risk, that the operational gain justified the risk, and that good faith efforts were made to mitigate perceived risks. The AAR became a trial. While I was working through these challenges during deployments, I believe something similar was happening with security measures and leadership back home.

Creating an illusion of safety seems less likely the hope than creating an exemption from accountability. Negligence would be too likely the charge if tight restrictions were not put in place.


In the vein of "Don't attribute to malice..." this would be my vote for most likely explanation for the TSA and countless other changes in the US since 9/11. The longer I live, the more I'm convinced that much of human behavior, or even human history as a whole, can be largely summarized by two maxims: "nothing risked, nothing gained" and "those who have the most are willing to lose the least".

Edit: Also, regarding the pen... The full conversation was longer. My father was complaining that the "weapons" they were catching were likely all from upstanding citizens, and that the terrorists would have figured out how to get weapons on board regardless. Instead of making the plane safer, they were in fact making it easier for potential terrorists to take control. He remarked, though, that he wasn't worried because he had his pen (and mind you, this was an old-school solid metal fountain pen...possibly not lethal, but I wouldn't want to find out).

So many people forget that one very, very important factor in the 9/11 attacks was that almost everyone on the planet had been conditioned by decades of politically motivated plane hijackings that the proper course of action was to aquiesce to the hijackers every demand. In fact a friend whose mother was a flight attendent at the time told us that they received explicit training informing them to do just that! I doubt you could repeat 9/11 today, security theater or no...


It was the very definition of a zero-day attack: even the fourth attempt, less than an hour after the first plane was crashed, failed (to reach its intended target) because passengers knew it wasn't a "normal" hijacking.


Shortly after 9/11 I was serving with the Royal Marines and we were deployed to Sierra Leone. The RAF required us to turn in our leathermans/pocket knives prior to the flight... I can't even comprehend the thinking behind this.

1) Were we some form of hijack risk? 2) If 100 marines are some sort of hijack risk, is taking their folding pair of pliers away from them going to anything at all to mitigate that risk?

CYA and security theatre are the worst combination.


I heard a similar story about US Marines having to give up nailclippers, but being allowed to carry their sidearms on board.


Thanks for the comment, but when writing for an audience that consists mostly of people who aren't familiar with military terms, you may want to avoid slang or at least explain what it means. Points in case: CONUS, ODA, CONOPS. (probably 'shiv' too, I only know it because I used to listen to a lot of rap music).


Ten years of USian crusades have let military slang creep into mainstream language. I'm French and even I can spell those offhand - Continental US, Operational Detachment Alpha, Concept of Operations...


I'm American, I read the wartime news every day, and I work with a few people who have been deployed overseas and I have never heard any of the terms you just outlined.

So... it varies.


Thanks. Concept of Operations, I think I can deduce from the context what it means - but what's an 'Operational Detachment Alpha'?


"[...] what's an 'Operational Detachment Alpha'?"

It is a military element of the United States Army Special Forces [1].

[1] Section on ODA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Forces_%28United_State...


My apologies. A few others have filled in for me. I'll expand a bit hoping to make it up to you.

CONUS is the contiguous/continental US. Generally used to mean "back home". Outside of CONUS is OCONUS. You wouldn't say OCONUS to mean a combat theater. The two terms are designations for military assignments rather than geographic shorthand. During a deployment to a combat zone (documented more frequently as a hazardous duty zone), you wouldn't say you were OCONUS. Stationed in Germany, however, you would.

An ODA is Operational Detachment-Alpha. It is an element of Special Forces, which is Army branch. You might be familiar with A-Team. There's also an Operational Detachment-Bravo. Their mission is to support the ODA. While it is true they are the 'B-team', it is more often that they are awaiting an opening on an A-Team (perhaps lacking experience), rather than being less stellar. Additionally, there is an Operational Detachment-Delta. Think Delta Force or The Unit. The three detachments differ in mission set and operational demands (intensity, perhaps).

A CONOP is a concept of operation(s). It is a proposal. One of the unique aspects of Special Operations Forces is the way they are engaged in the fight. Traditional units are given orders from higher command. They are told the objective and given clear guidance on how to best achieve the command's intent. Unconventional units, like an ODA, are very different. They are given the commander's intent, often in general language, and then propose operations to accomplish the intent. The practice was popularized with blitzkrieg. The depth of training given to an ODA is meant to ensure that they can conduct operations in the absence of centralized command (faster execution). When possible, CONOPS compete so that the best ideas for achieving intent are the ones that are chosen. This includes a CONOP that proposes to circumvent an engagement through careful execution of several small operations (a point I make because some might not know that raids are not common).

The intent is rarely to obliterate an area. More often, it is to disrupt or defeat the effectiveness of an oppositional force. Countless CONOPS have been approved, and later studied, for finding a way to win the favor of locals who might then refuse to support the operations of the oppositional force. Rather than scouring a country looking for fire fights, we more often try to bring medicine to remote areas. On occasion, we discover a desperate area. A CONOP is prepared to conduct extended operations in the area to establish a clear interest in the betterment of the locals and country. The hope is that word spreads that most of our work is productive, rather than destructive. An ODA traveling far from the main element, and with numbers only at a dozen or so, appears to be an easy target. The risk to the ODA is high and the gain is much higher for locals than the ODA. We once had an easy time communicating the importance of taking that risk to show locals that an ODA was very different from a conventional 'warrior'. Following 9/11 (that landscape shift of blame and CYA), it grew incredibly difficult to get such a CONOP approved.

Special Operational Forces have been quietly working to convince command from the bottom up that it is much more important to "win hearts and minds" than to crush everything that moves. This is the longest running tradition of Special Forces, which is why every SF soldier is required to demonstrate a functional proficiency in a target foreign language in order to graduate the training. It has always been our greatest source of pride that we deploy to liberate oppressed peoples, not triumph over poorly equipped opposition.

A bit off the mark from explaining acronyms but defining ODA would never have covered what it really means.


Thank you.


I cannot argue with the points you have made. Indeed, I feel that your post supports a point that you did not make explicit. Such risk-averse behavior seems to me to be explainable by the fact that the war in Iraq was a war of choice, which is a euphemism for something else. Civilians "tire" of all wars. But when a war cannot be explained on the basis of strategic necessity, much less on the basis of immediate national survival, then it is not surprising that the pervasive vibe in-theater is not very satisfying for warriors. Here's hoping the next war will fulfill your expectations!


It is easy for me to misunderstand what you could mean by, "Here's hoping the next war will fulfill your expectations!" I've met a lot of people who would say something like that with hate in their heart. But I've been promoted by people who would say something like that in earnest. Perhaps you'd like to be more explicit? I would also be interested in your perspective on strategic necessity as it relates to both global and domestic concerns.


It really is all just security theater... keeping the peanut gallery scared, entertained... and at the same time self-satisfied about their unearned 'exceptionalism'...

BTW, has it occurred to anyone that someone intending a terrorist act could just blow up a carry-on before ever getting to the ridiculous scanner...

It'll shut down the airport for sure... and do it at a couple of airports simultaneously and you'll shut down the whole network for a day or two...

Stop letting government treat us like childish idiots... yes... things could happen... reasonable precautions should be taken. But this isn't a smart approach.


What you're referring to is a "soft target". You have to pay rather close attention, but terrorists have long recognized the opportunity presented by soft targets: malls, hotels, and yes, the TSA waiting line. Interestingly enough, it's the real security machinations of the US that have been preventing attacks of this form. Which raises the question further: if we already have real security, why do we even need security theater?


In theory you need cheap security theatre to distract people from the very expensive, secretive, and sometimes unconstitutional (or nearly so) real security work.

In practice, security theatre turns out to be pretty expensive.


Well more than that CulturalNgineer, if you do this in multiple locations thanks the congestion caused by the TSA you can get similiar death counts as the original attacks. Atleast low thousands.


after being sick of trying to find a light for a cigarette after getting off a flight I started smuggling lighters with me onto flights. Over 30 international flights now and not once have they found the lighter.

it took me two flights of trial and error to work out the right method to smuggle it through. security theatre indeed.


But lighters are permitted? http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/sop/index.shtm


these measures are hit and miss. I always carry clippers and never are confiscated.


The weeks immediately following 9/11 were much worse than what we have now. I remember flying home for Thanksgiving, and literally everyone was setting off the metal detectors they had them tuned so high. The only reason I didn't was I had prepared by wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt and I had put everything from my pockets, except my ID and boarding pass, into my backpack.


My girlfriend still complains about having to go out and buy bras without underwires so she could fly without having her boobs groped.


Just more security theatre and corrupt politicians (guess who runs the companies the scanners are bought from).

The reality is that they can't keep weapons and drugs out of prisons where there are no freedoms, and there is plenty of time to be as invasive as you want to visitors and residents.

Additionally the security system has failed if the point you pick up the bad guys is by some low paid grunt at the airport staring at a screen. The point of airport security should be to catch occasional idiots and that is about it - something any metal detector can do.

The reality is that anyone determined can get through any security system and wreak terror. The response is to not be terrorised. It is to live well and not in fear. It is to have made their actions completely pointless.


Airport security is a stupid idea, it's a waste of money, and it's there for only one reason: to make white people feel safe! That's all it's for. To provide a feeling, an illusion, of safety in order to placate the middle class. Because the authorities know they can't make airplanes safe; too many people have access. You'll notice the drug smugglers don't seem to have a lot of trouble getting their little packages on board, do they?......

—George Carlin, “Airport Security"


I remember this stand up, which was actually before 9/11. He goes on in that standup to say here are lethal items you can take on board: "a knife, an icepick, a chainsaw... and the only thing they'll tell you is that you have to fit it under the chair in front of you". Things have changed in that respect, I guess.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQdC-e82gmk (language NSFW, obviously)


Want a deadly weapon you can bring on a plane?

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1...


NSFW

George Carlin was the embodiment of NSFW, he was the one who went to the Supreme Court for the right to swear on the airwaves... And lost. The “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV” was one of his legendary routines.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Carlin


Huh, I didn't know he went all the way to the Supreme Court.

I figured everyone should know George Carlin, but I added the NSFW, just in case people had their speakers up in the office (like I almost did - even though I'm a huge fan, it just slipped my mind). The "obviously" was a reference to him being the epitome of NSFW.


Air travel is insanely safe. Ridiculously so. At some point we hit diminishing returns, and I think we're far past that point now.

I'd pay extra for less-safe and more-convenient air travel personally. Then again, I ride a motorcycle, so my risk profile may well be abnormal.


Isn't the psychology half the battle? You need to convince people there exists a reasonable effort to provide some sort of security --even if it's more psychological security than not. In addition, as others have pointed out it's also to filter against known (easily replicated) attacks.


> Isn't the psychology half the battle?

That is why it is known as "security theatre". The wikipedia page is comprehensive:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_theater


I mean, that psychologically, it's like a placebo. While it may or may not actually prevent anything that people believe it does is what's important.

Somewhat similar to crosswalk buttons which don't actually provide jumping the change of traffic light phase queue.

The term Security Theater sounds dismissive and implies there is no actual benefit. It seems in the least debatable to me.


"The term Security Theater sounds dismissive and implies there is no actual benefit. It seems in the least debatable to me."

it, in fact, does not provide any benefit. Making people "feel" safer, will only worsen the problem when they finally find out that they aren't actually safe (due to an attack happening).


Bruce Schneier who coined the term in the first place did give one example where he was okay with it. It should be noted that the costs are extremely low for this example and doesn't delay anything:

http://www.wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securityma...


I would argue making people feel safer (or comfortable) to fly is a benefit they are willing to trade in for whatever might happen. They have nothing to lose. If they don't do the "theatrics" people might choose to fly less due to a perceived lack of security effort. So, in the meantime, while the theatrics maintain a semblance of security, the airline industry gets the benefit of doubt.

Once the bubble is burst, that'd be another issue. Still, I think people will rationalize it as "well, we got X years use out of the system."

Out of curiosity, what _do_ you think has accounted for the safety record? Obviously you don't believe the theater has helped. At the same time I don't believe that people (AQ) have not been plotting against transportation assets. I would ask, why would they abandon that path, if they thought the theater was just theater? Are there other mechanisms keeping them at bay?

Additionally, even if the theater contributed nothing to security and all the heavy lifting was accomplished by other means -intel, profiling, whathaveyou, the theater would act as a signal to travelers that something was being done. It would be the customer-facing expression of the work being done behind the scenes --a kind of proxy so that what's actually being done --methods and so forth could remain opaque.


I think the main reason for the safety record is that there just aren't that many terrorists out there. Of course, increased security raises the bar, so it would be more appropriate to say that there aren't that many terrorists out there with the resources and skills to pull off an attack.

But if airport security actually hindered many real attempts, why don't we hear about them?

Right up until 9/11 you could ask the same question, what accounts for the safety record? After all, many years had passed without any hijackings or bombings.

Then the bubble burst, and the only possible response was to increase security measures. Any politician not supporting such measures would have been torn apart by the media if a new attack had occured.

I think that airport security _does_ provide a deterrence to unskilled terrorists, and it provides real security against some random mentally unstable guy trying to wreak havoc.

I think everyone agrees that security theatre helps people feeling safe. It's the amount of money being spent on it that is at issue. We'd all be safer if the money spent on ineffective body scanners were being spent on making roads safer, or perhaps by building more schools and hospitals in areas of political conflict.


Somewhat similar to crosswalk buttons which don't actually provide jumping the change of traffic light phase queue.

Crosswalk buttons that I've seen do extend the green light time to ensure enough time to cross.


That may be so. Where I live, in SF, they make no difference (there are seconds indicators on the crosswalks --they do not change at the pressing of the button). Nor does pressing them at a crosswalk in the stop phase change normal traffic light phase change.

Here is some info: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/02/10/placebo-buttons/


I've never seen a button increase the crossing time, either. What I have seen, however, is that on a light that normally has, say, a 10s green with no crossing indicator, pressing the crossing button will extend the next green to something like 30s and display a crossing indicator.


I guess that's true in (some?) cities, but most places aren't cities. In most places, the crossing signal probably won't turn at all unless you press the button.


> it's also to filter against known (easily replicated) attacks.

By kludging in a filter for every known attack that's been tried you force the people doing the screening to concentrate on improbable situations. How many people have tried to use exploding shoes?

Better would be to give screeners a lot of training (and pay them appropriately) to look for "other stuff", other signs that a person might be a terrorist. Preferably that other stuff would have good research to support it.


That fails once somebody has demonstrated an easily replicated attack that works on the current system, though...


Yes - Michael Chertoff (Head of the department of homeland security 05-09) consults (TAKES MONEY FROM) the same companies that make the scanners: http://gawker.com/5437499/why-is-michael-chertoff-so-excited...

And lockheed (who has the backscatter contract) donates money all over the place: http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00303024

Follow the money, as always.


...and instead, we freak out as a nation, flush our civil liberties down the toilet to feel "safe", and let our country fall apart in the wake of our fears.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Bravo, USA, bravo. Osama is still #winning because we're still dealing with his terror of >10 years ago. Let that sink in for a bit....this is exactly what he wanted.


For the sake of honest debate... how do you know what exactly it is Osama wanted? Maybe all he wanted was to kill people and didn't care about liberty because he does not know what it is! or he wanted to send some kind of a message to westerners or something else... we will not know. Sure, liberty seems to be lesser in airports...but connecting that to what Osama wanted is a big stretch!


I think it's pretty clear that Osama wanted the destruction of the US. There's an old adage from the cold war that "You cannot show weakness to the enemy." Study how the Cuban Missile Crisis was eventually resolved, and you'll see this doctrine at work.

The funny thing is, liberty shows strength. Take one country that makes a law against criticizing the government, compared to one that professes free speech on all topics. The country with free speech is saying, in effect, "Say what you want! We're stronger than your words."

So, as the US continues to give up its liberties, the rest of the world is watching, and they see this for what it is: the US is showing its weakness.


> There's an old adage from the cold war that "You cannot show weakness to the enemy." Study how the Cuban Missile Crisis was eventually resolved, and you'll see this doctrine at work.

Not really. The "not showing weakness to the enemy" stuff was what nearly destroyed the world in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It wasn't until the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, sent a long and emotional telegram directly to President Kennedy imploring the President to join with him in taking a step back (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Missile_Crisis#Secret_neg...) that a way out of the crisis began to present itself.

From Khrushchev's telegram (full text here: http://microsites.jfklibrary.org/cmc/oct26/doc4.html):

Armaments bring only disasters. When one accumulates them, this damages the economy, and if one puts them to use, then they destroy people on both sides. Consequently, only a madman can believe that armaments are the principal means in the life of society. No, they are an enforced loss of human energy, and what is more are for the destruction of man himself. If people do not show wisdom, then in the final analysis they will come to a clash, like blind moles, and then reciprocal extermination will begin...

Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you...

Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.

Kennedy took Khrushchev up on this initiative; what defused the crisis was a secret agreement where the US agreed to remove all its nuclear missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets pulling theirs out of Cuba.


Right. What I meant was that all of the actual negotiations happened in secret. They had to, because of the doctrine. There's no shame in showing humility and even offering a friendly hand, but when the offer is made to your adversary, it is almost always done in secret.


But it's not secret from your adversary ("the enemy" that you're not supposed to show weakness to), since you're making the secret offer to him.

If anything, the lesson of the crisis is how important it can be to keep from looking weak in front of your friends. Kennedy kept the missile deal secret from the American people for a good reason: he may very well have been impeached had he made it public, and it would have shaken the confidence of our other NATO allies in our overseas commitments if they learned that Kennedy had removed the protection of (obsolete, but still) nuclear weapons from NATO-member Turkey in response to Soviet pressure. And winning even a small concession from Kennedy is probably the only thing that saved Khrushchev from being toppled in a coup by Soviet hard-liners after the Cuba debacle.

Sometimes your friends can be the worst enemies of all!


Very well put! (I was going to mention that, in reality, it's all about everyone else who's watching, but I think you did a better job explaining it.)

What's most interesting is that (based on anecdotal evidence), lost liberty and ridiculous security theater has done much more to harm America's image among it's "friends" than among it's enemies. I doubt Afghanistan or Pakistan care much about American airport security, but when I'm at Istanbul International, and the flight to JFK is the only one in the entire airport that requires extra screening, I see what that must look like to every European there (hint: they aren't thinking about what a great place this U S of A must be...).


"Sometimes your friends can be the worst enemies of all!"

Thats why you keep your enemy close, but your friends closer!


In his public statements, Osama said he wanted the US to remove its military bases from Saudi Arabia. So the US moved the bases to neighboring Iraq. Osama won.


Worse. We put the bases in Iraq specifically to get them out of Saudi Arabia. I.e. we explicitly gave Osama what he said he wanted.

The troops were in Saudi Arabia to contain Iraq. The way to get them out was to overthrow Saddam. Invading Iraq was therefore a sort of appeasement campaign.


  "I tell you, freedom and human rights 
  in America are doomed. The U.S. government 
  will lead the American people in — and the 
  West in general — into an unbearable hell 
  and a choking life." [1]
[1] http://articles.cnn.com/2002-01-31/us/gen.binladen.interview...


We know what Osama wanted, he's made many public statements. He wanted the western world to stop interacting with the Muslim/arab world because he thought the west was a corrupting influence on traditional Islamic and arab values.


Sure, he's a mass murderer. But he'd never stoop to lying in a public statement.


I get your meaning but it doesn't have much weight without any evidence. Certainly Osama has lied, and is capable of lying. But we do not automatically question the stated motives of murderers and bombers without additional evidence. We do not second guess whether abortion clinic bombers are actually anti-abortion. We do not hypothesize what the real motives of the unabomber were, we take it on face value that he opposed the advance of industry and technology etc.

Similarly, we have no good cause to question Osama's stated motives. When an organization repeatedly makes clear their motives through public statements; when that organization undertakes combat operations at such great risk and cost that they employ suicide squads to carry them out and when those operations comport with their stated motives; and when their other activities also closely align with those statements why question those motives? The only reason is because someone has a political cause they wish to shore up by portraying a major political force like Al Qaeda as something it's not.

For what it's worth, Osama was right. The west has been a corrupting influence on the Arab and Muslim world, eroding traditional values such as misogyny, oppressive political and social institutions, stultifying economic systems, etc. For the most part I think this has been a good development, as I value individual liberty, education based on rationality and science, the spread of industrialization and broadbased wealth, etc. But such things are roadblocks to the creation of a new caliphate, or something much like it, in the Islamic world, which is the ultimate secondary goal of groups like Al Qaeda after they have managed to isolate the Islamic world from external influences.


we have no good cause to question Osama's stated motives. When an organization repeatedly makes clear their motives through public statements; when that organization undertakes combat operations at such great risk and cost...

Let me ask everyone who believes OBL's stated motives: when GWB tells us repeatedly in public that we must invade Iraq because of the threat of WMD, and that the objectives have nothing to do with protecting oil supplies, should we take that statement at face value? I mean, the US through GWB has invested tons of resources, including the lives of its troops, into fighting that war, so surely the President's statements regarding the motivations can be accepted without question, right?

I'm not taking sides here. I'm trying to say that nobody ever truly knows the motivations of another person; in fact, frequently we don't truly understand the roots of our own motivations. See, for example, discussion in Mises' Human Action.


But Bush did tell us why we invaded Iraq: "He tried to kill my dad." Before he was even elected he indicated a desire to invade Iraq because he saw it as the hight of his father's presidency left unfinished. "If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it," he said on the campaign trail. He never once stuck to the WMD story; it was just what they made Powell say in public as a cover for all the other reasons he gave (see the Downing Street Memo for more details.)

If Osama had came out with a multitude of mutually-contradictory statements we'd have reason to doubt him, but he was amazingly consistent from when the CIA started funding him until the US military gunned him down.


I think GWB really did think there were WMDs there. And protecting the oil supplies from who, exactly? They were going to go onto the market anyway.


Are you really suggesting murdering hundreds of innocent people is more honorable than lying for the sake of easing people's fears? I don't respect lying either, but let's not get crazy here.


Its America we're talking about here, where every single US President of the last 100 years has been responsible for the mass murder of innocents...


I'm not defending the war crimes of the US either. All I'm saying is do not conflate lying with the obviously more extreme act of actually killing people.


I agree, you can't say they're equivalent acts, but its no surprise that lying happens after killing ..


> we will not know

We could try checking the internet

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden


Fear is not always irrational. If we encountered a large tiger while out on a walk, it would be a very beneficial response. To discuss the pragmatics, the problem appears to be the near deterministic impossibility of shutting off the defense contracting money spigot once it has been opened. It's not a business one has the power to boycott.


We know. Well, a lot of us do at least. I can only choose to live my life without fear and do my best to influence others to recognize real freedom is more important than a false sense of safety.


The response is to not be terrorised. It is to live well and not in fear.

An interesting comparison is a popular Israeli song from a few years back: Yalla Ya Nasrallah (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8pVvJIzllA). They respond to (not merely a single act, but frequent!) terrorism with taunts, humor, and an attitude of defiance.

I can imagine what a parallel song would sound like (Bring it on Osama / Blow up all the buildings you want . . . ). It would never have been written here. It would never have become popular. I see in that an indictment of the culture.


I completely agree. Any society that is not inextricably, geographically entwined with a mortal enemy is corrupt, degenerate, and bankrupt. Essentially, a society worse than the enemy society, and it deserves to be purged from within to regain the primal purity it once possessed.


Hi Guys, Jon here, the creator of the TSA video you're discussing. Thanks for picking this story up. As a tech guy myself, I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.

--Jon


Is it possible that the TSA actually observed the metallic object at your side, but decided that it wasn't threatening based on its shape?


No -- TSA policy requires them to investigate all "anomalies" with a pat-down. If they saw & ignored it, they completely broke policy, which is another problem with the nude body scanners: a metal detector has a loud alarm and can't be ignored, whereas an x-ray screen can.


The TSA generally detects my watch when I forget to take it off, and insist on rolling up my sleeve and checking despite its obvious location.

I'm not sure how shape could imply safety, either, since anything could have been concealed inside of it.



This has been what I've been wondering. While going through HNL a few weeks ago my girlfriend forgot to take her cellphone out of her bra before going through the backscatter. Nobody said a peep.


What are the chances the TSA wouldn't select you for additional screening upon detecting any metal on your person going through a body scanner? Serious question, no snark intended.


I would imagine that they would demand that every metal container be opened for inspection, no matter its shape.


Surely any TSA agent would see a concealed object on the side of a body worthy of at least an inspection/questioning.


I doubt that - they'd be taking a huge chance. Even if it wasn't explosives, the person could've been keeping drugs inside that metallic object and thus would warrant attention.


I was once subjected to further search because I had left a scrap of paper in one of my pockets.


How are you dealing with the legal bills? Do you have a team of lawyers, or a legal background as well (I see you went to Stevens Institute, so I'm guessing you have an engineering background.)

Many thanks.


Even if you were forced to stand sideways, if you had objects hanging down the sides of the inside of your legs, would it still be visible? I would think that the outer part of the leg would block anything on the inside of the legs.


Have you tried smuggling playdough filled with fertilizer yet?


Can't they just ask people to turn to the side?


You have to be crazy brave or crazy ignorant to do this kind of analysis and share it in the USA.

At a minimum his name will now show up on the no-fly list for the rest of his life. If he realized this, I am in awe.


Crazy guy who did this here. Before I made the video, I spent the last 18 months manipulating the court system against the TSA. The TSA does not want to add me to any no-fly list (or more realistically, the "selectee list") because every time a legal battle starts, I'm entitled to more and more discovery in court, and more and more of their lies come out.

--Jon


You guys are very welcome... I appreciate the support, and I feel like on this board it's coming from my own people, so thank you!!


I deeply appreciate your effort here. Is there anything that we could do directly to help you? Maybe a Kickstarter to help with some legal costs?


Yes, thanks for your courage in fighting government tyranny.


This may not be the ideal forum for lighthearted sillyness, but I still think you have won 1000 internets and a life supply of adorable kittens. Well done ;)


You are lucky that this thread is about a vaguely tech-related external topic. In any thread where money was at stake, you would be down-voted for making it more difficult for money and entrepreneurs to find each other.

In the future please limit your comments to topics relevant to the ongoing tech bubble and attendant charlatanism.


I am really, really sorry for risking upsetting the frictionless flow of money in the pursuit of comedy.


You are honestly one of my heroes. Please keep up the good fight. I haven't flown in over a year, and have never gone through a scanner, and while I love having discovered so much more of my dear old USA by car, the nearly 20K miles I've driven are starting to take a toll!

ps My favorite part of not flying has been discovering Kansas City BBQ joints. I stop each way between IL and CA. Yum. Silver lining, right?


Can you recommend some of the best?


My absolute favorite is Oklahoma Joe's: http://www.oklahomajoesbbq.com/

But really, it's kind of hard to go wrong in KC.


::hug:: Thank you.

Keep on fighting the good fight man.


As a fellow American, I must sincerely thank you for your service to my country.


As an Icelander I must ask about the origin of your nickname. Einhverfur means autistic in modern Icelandic. Einhverfr would mean the same if the term had existed in Old Norse.


A friend gave it to me. But ein- can mean a number of things (the one, also according to Kris Kershaw "paragon of") in Old Norse, right? As can hverf- (generally related to transitively or intransitively turning)?

I always joked that it could mean the "one who turns things around" or "the paragon of shifty people."

I assume the tie to autism comes from the idea that it's turning within oneself?


Yes, you're correct. Do you study Old Norse? When new technology or terms arrive in Iceland usually new words are created, or old words are given a new meaning (as opposed to adopting foreign words, such as telephone (sími in Icelandic, which is an archaic word meaning wire). Einhverfur is one of those, I suppose. It can also mean what you said.


I am studying Old Norse, along with Old English. It's a fascinating language.


You might want to visit Iceland, then. Modern Icelandic is very similar to Old Norse and to a lesser extent to Old English. The pronunciation has changed a little since the 10th century.

And there are other things to enjoy, such as outdoors thermal pools. You could strike up a conversation about the language with local people in a "hot pot" (heitur pottur), as we call the outdoors jacuzzies. :)


It's on my list of places to visit. Hopefully within a few years.


@Jon Seriously awesome work. Thank you! People like yourself raising everyone's awareness are one of the few hopes we have of avoiding the dystopian world that @ck2 and others have already resigned themselves to.


> manipulating the court system against the TSA

Can you elaborate on what you mean?


They have been blogging about it...

http://tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com/


Wow, this post is amazing: http://tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/underwear-b...

If I read this right, there is a suggestion that the US authorities deliberately put a terrorist on a plane with a bomb for propaganda purposes?


I laud your efforts against the TSA on the issue of body scanners. It was a huge waste, and they aren't effective.

But I think you'll be more effective against the body scanners if you drop the right-wing crankery at the end. The fear-mongering about terrorists isn't helpful. If they want to pull something off, they will, whatever kind of detector we're using. "Placing us all in danger" is Fox News rhetoric.

The fact that these scanners were a mistake doesn't imply that we should necessarily privatize the TSA. It needs a huge amount of reform. But there's no evidence that privatization wouldn't lead to the same kind of risk-taking and incentive problems that we've seen come to such spectacular fruition in the financial sector.

As things stand now, we have a clumsy system and there hasn't been a major attack since 9/11. Focus on the ineffectiveness, and the invasion of privacy, not on making people scared or promoting bankrupt ideas about replacing the government with free enterprise.


This is a bit off topic, but the reason the TSA exists was out of the need to address the liability issue for airlines, not to make anyone safer. It would have been easy enough to just pass a law defining what level of security was needed (there are lots of very secure, private prisons, etc.) and then forcing the private firms to pass frequent breach attempts, etc. The problem with this is that it would result in far more secure (and time consuming) security screening procedures.

Around the same time as the TSA was created, the government became the insurer of last resort for terrorism related claims over $1B. This was to avoid the inevitable consequence -- in order to be able to buy insurance against terrorism, airlines would have had to prove to the insurance company that they had reasonable security measures. This would mean a 15-20 minute screening for each passenger, etc. In other words, air travel as we know it would have ended.

The simple alternative? Let the government hire the workers and "outsource" the security duty from the private airports and airlines. Nobody is going to successfully sue the government for allowing an attack to occur, and now that it's outside the scope of responsibility of the airlines, the insurance companies are willing to insure against the remaining risk. The $1B ceiling was basically a handout to the insurance industry offered in exchange for bearing a lot of extra risk for free while the government got its act together post 9/11.

If airport screeners were private firms, then even if the insurance industry didn't force quality screening to occur, there would be public demand for it once reports of weapons being successfully brought through. In today's world, it's a crime to even try to bring a fake/harmless weapon through, so the public is essentially forbidden from independently auditing the screeners.

The blogger is playing it safe by using a metal case, but that only tests the metal/object detection capabilities and doesn't test for successful detection of any of the other potentially dangerous items (which are also likely to be easy to smuggle through).


But people, including reporters, conduct such audits all the time. I'm not sure I see the connection between private security and an increased outcry; people who don't like the current level of security wouldn't be necessarily be more vocal if it was a business instead of a government agency. In fact, I'd bet a lot of people who get extremely exercised about privacy are generally not the biggest fans of the government (understandably).


If a private firm failed to keep passengers safe, the motive for doing so would be perceived as capitalist greed. The CEO of such a firm would be paid extremely well, and failures at the airport would be viewed as the result of cost cutting measures, poor working conditions for employees, cronyism, etc.

The privacy issue is interesting, but I don't think it has much to do with the initial creation of the TSA. The main goal at the time the TSA was created was to create the appearance that leaders had things under control and to prevent disruptions caused by knee-jerk reactions (spiking market prices, etc.). In reality these would not likely have lasted long w/o government intervention, but they are the kinds of things that planners fear most.


I highly doubt he was being serious when he was "fear mongering". In context it was likely him using the TSA's logic against the scanners.

Remember, this guy has been fighting long before this vulnerability was publicly known.


@dissident: He doesn't sound like he's joking when he talks about this situation placing us in danger. If he's kidding, the presentation is quite poor and he needs to make that clearer. If this video is essentially a persuasive argument that he clearly hopes will turn the tide against these scanners, preposterously subtle sarcasm is one tool he can leave in the toolbox.


It's already been said, but can't be said enough, thank you for fighting the good fight. Thank you for being the one who stands up instead of the one who lets others stand on his behalf.


This is awesome. The time/cost of legal battles deter most folks, so I am glad you are doing what other people can't.


#shutupandtakemymoney

Thank you for your hard work.


I hate the scanners also, and I'm glad to support you in defending our freedom.


hey jon - my wife is an attorney in DC and her big law firm often takes on pro bono civil liberties cases. let me know if you're interested and i can put you in touch with her.


This is why HN is the second best community online. Authors are very likely to be here, and add to the discussion.


What's number one?


HN. It is both the first and the second. A bit like the Fight Club rules.


Love you man. You should have a donation button on your website; because you are awesome and because you may get involved in a very expensive lawsuit with the government.


There is! :) Collecting donations for my lawsuit to go to the Supreme Court. PayPal: jon [at] fourtentech.com


Well and? Is that the society you want, where you keep your head down to keep out of sight of the authorities?


I think you've missed the part where they have already won. Drones are now legal and the police are completely militarized in every major city.

Stay tuned during the RNC and DNC conventions this year to watch why it's too late as congress has voted hundreds of millions of dollars for their own security budgets during the conventions so that protesters can be surpressed as quickly and quietly as possible.

We'll never have more rights than we have right now, it's all downhill.


> We'll never have more rights than we have right now, it's all downhill.

I really dislike this rhetoric. There has always been a certain levels of "bad" in the world that swing like the pendulum. It's not constantly descending into oblivion. Try to see the good in the world.


That there is good generally in the world, one cannot entirely dispute the fact that since at least when Nixon signed the Banking Secrecy Act, we have been largely in a state of freefall regarding 4th Amendment rights.

I don't see it as a case where there is no hope however. Read all three opinions in United States v. Antoin Jones (the GPS surveillance case). Not only did the Supreme Court unanimously buck previous cases to say that this was a 4th Am search, but a clear majority (the Alito and Sotomayor opinions, remember Alito was joined by Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsberg) expressed concern about the rise of a surveillance state. We may be getting to the point where the court is starting to push back big time.


I trie to see the positv and often find it in alot of contries but the USA is basiclly all down hill.


There was a time when we didn't have the right to drink alcohol, or marry people who were colored too differently.

We do fix some stuff eventually.


Those changes weren't detrimental to the wealth of congresspeople.


You have no idea how bad it was. Look up the Alien and Sedition Acts, or the McCarthy Era.


Seems like a difference in kind and not degree.


Go back to FDR, what they did then was some scary stuff

http://www.amazon.com/FDR-Goes-War-Executive-Restricted/dp/1...


Yep, look at this guy who was arrested for his criticism of US Foreign Policy:

http://www.salon.com/2011/09/04/speech_23/singleton/


You know, all the freedom fighters have take risks. Risk to be arrested, killed, wounded, etc.

That's how it works.


he said he was the first person to sue the TSA over the nude scanners.. I'd bet he was already on it


Ooh, and it's not just the USA that will shit-list you for life. Read about what happened to Jake Applebaum here: http://174.120.17.199/index.php?topic=5698.0 , but TL;DR they detain him and hassle him every time he flies now.


As the self-proclaimed first person to file legal action over this, I'm sure he was already on a few lists, right?


Actually not on any list yet. I'm always surprised when I successfully print a boarding pass and it does not have the dreaded "SSSS" on it.


You joke, but it is seriously likely to be that easy to beat SSSS. Bruce Schneier has done a lot of work on fake boarding passes, if you're interested.


God forbid you have to copy the boarding pass while covering the SSSS with a white piece of paper =)

Kidding; I've gotten the SSSS before. No fun at all.


Or paste this in your browser to fix it before printing.

  javascript:document.body.contentEditable ='true'; document.designMode ='on'; void 0


At this point, insisting that USG is bound by laws is willful ignorance. Small battles may be won, but even the net effect of that is to mislead people into thinking they have recourse through the system. Your share of the responsibility is proportional to how much you're still paying in taxes.


What causal effect do taxes have on any of this?


Money is the energy that both keeps the illegitimate operation going, and psychologically weds its victims to it. Without funding, most of TSA (etc) isn't going to show up to "work". Without funding, agencies that exist solely to perpetuate can no longer sustain themselves. Without funding, USG can't force it's myriad of extra-constitutional regulations upon the states. Furthermore, coming to terms with your taxes being nothing but an utter waste of your life lets one move on and condemn the entire system, rather than blaming this week's bad management (that whole fallacious gripe about 'taxpayer dollars' that conservatives are so hung up on).


Not paying taxes has other unfortunate side effects.

The real way to fix is to make sure you, the voting public, is more informed, and stop voting in parties that have vested interest. Use the democracy your forefathers died to get you properly. I hear 1/4 of the people in the US don't even vote!


USG is so powerful that it peacefully usurps other 'democratic' governments, and you honestly think that it doesn't have its position cemented at home? Elected officials are merely faces that give the gullible populace new scapegoats to blame. Just because elections can shift some priorities, don't optimistically extrapolate and think they're capable of changing the entrenched powers.


The Federal Government is pretty good at spending whatever it wants without regard for revenue, though.


Odd, isn't it, in a country that represents freedom from fear of your government and all that stuff....


Rather than get rid of the body scanners, i think they'll simply just require you to stand sideways as well, or add a scanner on the side of the machine.


Creator of the video here. The other posters are correct that it's not simply a color change, it's that the backscatter effect reflects similarly from the object as it does from the wall of the device. There are no quick fixes: standing sideways might work, but now screening time doubles (which is actually a big deal to the TSA), the radiation dose doubles, and the machine's software isn't designed for that. There are different scanner manufacturers that have made machines that address this problem, but do so with 5 scans -- 5 times the radiation. Plus, there are other faults to the nude body scanners, and this is just the one I chose to publish. The scanners need to go.


Also, if you're NOT opting out of every scan, you're not helping the cause. You NEED to opt out of every single scan every chance you get, otherwise they'll eliminate the option and say "well, people seem to be OK with this since no one is opting out!"

Opted out at SFO and DTW and each time it was no big deal.


Yeah, except for the sexual assault. No big deal at all.


I go through security an average of about four times a month. I opt out any time I'm not in danger of missing a flight. Some airports are friendly and expedient about it, others (most recently, Austin) had me wait for about fifteen minutes before finding someone to do the pat down (while I tried to watch my bag/laptop/phone on the other side of the scanner).


I opted-out at SEA a few weeks ago and four old British ladies on their way home stared at me the entire time. They looked rather horrified.

Not sure if they thought I was a terrorist or if they were as disgusted by the whole situation as I was.


When you opt out you're required to get a pat down though, correct?

src: http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/11/opting-out-of-advanced-imaging.h...


Correct.


Oh i totally agree, the scanners are an absolute disgrace, i'm just very cynical and anything short of an absolute disaster caused specifically by the scanners or the TSA isnt going to get them removed. Governments are reactive to real world catastrophies and not a lot else, and thats why the TSA is there in the first place, its going to take something of equal measure in the opposite vein to remove them.


Has the TSA actually admitted that scanners give off harmful radiation at all?


That would be a reasonable and most probable bureaucratic response to this issue (apart from the option to simply ignore it), but it would double the radiation received and increase inconvenience. Ironically, the opposite of what the guy is fighting for.


Why have people stand sideways when you could sell twice the number of machines to scan people from two aspects!


Then you could hide something in the arches of your feet or under a wig.


Then they'll just extend all US scanned to 2.2m meters width and enforce scanning people lying down in both directions.


A pat down just on the sides as soon as you come out of the scan would also work.


Or have the background colour of the display changed, by contracting with the original suppliers for a few million more taxpayer dollars.


It's not a color like in a webpage. It's a measure of how many x-rays were received by the scanner, and presumably the background and the object both look the same.

Making the person stand sideways would sort of work, but it wouldn't be hard to shift the flaps of an open jacket while turning.


> have the background colour of the display changed

Have you thought this one through?


Don't be ridiculous.

Billion is the new million.


Clearly, this will require a well paid committee and 5,000 page investigation.


I once got "sharp weapons" (a manicure kit) through London's Heathrow airport.

I was connecting from Shanghai and had stupidly left a souvenir manicure kit in my bag... they found it, but after some pleading allowed me to keep it.

As per usual, I picked up a bottle of liquor at the duty free in Shanghai before I left...

Not sure if I was meant to inform them I was connecting, or they simply forgot to do their jobs... but apparently I was meant to have my liquor in a sealed "official duty free" bag when I landed at heathrow.

Long story short, I got the full attention of about 10 security officers when checking through security in Heathrow. They were entirely concerned with the liquor I had purchased in shanghai, and were so vocal about the whole thing that I personally witnessed the xray machine man turn around and see what the problem was.

Everybody was trying to be the next big hero, when the only problem was I didn't have the right security bag, and who knows what else I might have had in my carry on? (Hint: I had "weapons", I mean nailclippers).


Summary: The background around the person is black in the scanner.

Place the object slightly distant from the person so it's also in the background (i.e. not silhouetted by the person), and the object and the background will look the same to the scanner.


A pretty good video, but it is not quite convincing enough for me to email to family and friends. Still, kudos to the guy who did it.

BTW, the first time I went through the backscatter scanner, I had a killer sinus headache within about 30 seconds. I went from feeling great to shitty almost instantly. Anyone else experience this? I have refused (opted out of) the scanner ever since. My many opt-out experiences have all been OK: a quick personal search and I am on my way. That is what I recommend to my friends and family to do.

BTW, part 2: the TSA corporation employees at the security checkpoints are not the problem, so be polite to them. The problem is the bribery and corruption that lead to the privatization of airport security.


"the TSA corporation employees at the security checkpoints are not the problem"

Yes, they are. "Just following orders" does not hold any water:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superior_orders#Nuremberg_Trial...

"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

"so be polite to them"

No, THEY should be polite to ME. They are public servants.


Comparing TSA employees to the people committing war crimes during WWII is a gross overstatement if not logical fallacy. TSA employees are not "just following orders", they are following what they believe to be the morally best course of action to screen people of potentially dangerous items.

Also, TSA employees are human beings, not robots designed to ignore impolite behaviour and programmed to always deliver polite behaviour. As a fellow intelligent human beings we must understand our own limitations and the limitations of the world in which we live, and strive for mutual understanding rather than wear an attitude of self entitlement.


The TSA is partly responsible for huge numbers of people refusing to visit the U.S. for business or recreation. Think of all the U.S. cities, counties, and states spending money to get people to visit, yet many people think, "Get on a plane and allow my daughter or wife to be molested? No thanks."

Touching another person's genitals without permission is sexual assault, and many people will not put themselves in that predicament.


Why do so few people get this? Why, for example, do people continue to insist "the war is unjust, but I still support our soldiers"?


They're the same soldiers we would expect to fight the just wars. It's not as if they're the ones starting these things.


Why? Because many of the soldiers are their family and friends.


TSA should use MRI scanners - no radiation exposure and no metal objects are allowed.

As an added bonus they can use fMRI mode and ask following questions:

    1. Are you a member of a terrorist organization?
    2. Where is the Weapons of Mass Destruction?


Standing near a MRI machine is also likely to erase the magnetic material on any of your credit cards -- plus they could never shut off the machine. There's probably a bunch more obvious reasons why MRI was never chosen.

And if some metal object were to get stuck on the machine, they'd need a team of people to remove it. Every airport would also need to keep a good stock of liquid helium for the cases where machines need to be shut down.


The problem with this, of course, is the immediate (ie, sudden and possibly very visible) danger posed to people with devices embedded in them. Pacemakers and MRIs do not interact well.


I wonder if the color of the background is a simple variable or is based off physics rules? Does anybody know if they can change the color to something different?


I think it's checking how many x-rays are reflected back to the machine.

But since the background and the object are both metal they both reflect equally, and are indistinguishable.


The background is not metal, it is open space that does not reflect xrays. The targeted metal objects also do not reflect xrays.

It is more intuitive to say that these machines are not threat detectors (like metal detectors), they are people detectors. The lack of a person is considered to be a threat within the bounds of their silhouette. Place a threat outside the silhouette and it is undetectable.


So what would happen if they had a wire mesh (chicken wire, for example) for the background? An interruption in the wire mesh pattern would indicate an anomaly. They could change up the pattern every so often to thwart any attempt to match the pattern --even if it woud be difficult to match up.


The scanner images both sides of a person at the same time. To add a background, you would have to have two poses from the same side, effectively halving throughput and complicating the imaging procedure.


Can't they add some time based depth information to discriminate ?

Or add a slightly absorbing background , additional maybe. ...


Some pattern in the background maybe?


Simple, yet brilliant; equivalent to a side channel attack on most systems. I can't believe nobody had noticed that before, including myself.


The supposition here is that since magnetic scanners are being removed and replaced with xray scanners, which do not have the feature of detecting metal with magnetic fields, the new machines are more ineffective than the old magnetic scanners. This therefore single-handedly invalidates the xray machines and they should be removed.

The entire video is produced in such a way as to say this is a major discovery and that it will single-handedly trigger Congress and the TSA to backpedal on what they've been for the last 10+ years.

I disagree.

To state, I do not like the TSA. I do not like Congress very much. I have very little respect for the people that are commonly elected to government because of the long history of ineffectiveness, ignorance, and stupidity that continually seeps out when they talk and make "decisions". The best I can say about our government is that it mostly keeps the really bad people out of power. The kind that become Caesars and Napoleons and Hitlers and Pol Pots.

My issues with this video are that its too filled with a political tilt. There is a clear play on emotions and rhetoric with less emphasis on the purported vulnerability being shown.

Further, the actual nut of the video, i.e. the demonstration of the vulnerability, is so underwhelming that its impossible to take the video in its entirety seriously. First, the most important part where the speaker is actually going through security is sped up past the point of being intelligible. That's the part that might actually get some interest.

If the speaker just showed that clip in its entirety, demonstrating how to attach the pocket and further how easy it is for him to get through the scanners, and providing pure technical notes as to the background color and such, it would be easier to take seriously.

As it stands, any reasonably competent person's first thought should be "So we just put a magnetic scanner before or after the x-ray scanner. Ok, problem solved." Other thoughts might be, ok so make people stand sideways, change the background color, etc. Obvious tweaks to the system to patch over this problem.

The video doesn't address this simple point and goes on to argue that no metal detectors invalidates the entire concept of xray scanners. Its a very bad premise to base such an argument on.

The argument against xray scanners needs to be based around the already-proven points:

    *Violates people's privacy
    *Security theater (which the Pocket Problem falls into)
    *Possible negative health consequences for passengers and workers
    *Over-reaching government bureaucracy 
    *Etc.
So in summary, I don't like this video because it shows nothing really new, makes a large claim on very little foundation, focuses attention on the wrong things, and is counter-productive to the task of convincing enough "policy makers" to start doing the right thing.


All these arguments have be brought and have been heard with deaf ears.

Europe is getting out of this theater because they have no interest in these machine and they don't work. They also pose a health safety risk (hint, the Rapiscan backscatter X-Ray were NOT in service in Europe, or not for long).

Even linking US Govt officials to the manufacturers haven't raised eyebrows.

This post titled "TSA Fail" explain how bad this has become:

http://gmancasefile.blogspot.com/2012/01/tsa-fail.html

Not that I tend to believe what I just read on the internet, but most of the arguments have been repeated and confirmed. Again, deaf ears.


I also agree there is too much political stuff in the video (which I pointed out when I shared it on facebook). A simpler argument against the scanners is that they fundamentally are less effective at detecting major threats than are metal detectors. Thus whatever minimal security holes they close, they open up larger ones. Moreover these are inherent in the technology so it isn't a question of just fixing a few things.

I am not entirely anti-AIT. I think the machines can have a place, for those for whom there is some reasonable suspicion of wrong-doing, and following a metal detector. But the way they are implemented poses severe privacy and security problems, as if someone decided you could solve security problems by buying fancy machines (an unfortunately common problem).

The problem is that as long as the federal government sets standards for airport security, this will be a problem. It doesn't matter if it is the TSA or the NTSB making these decisions--- big corporations will pay lobbyists to get the message to them that their machines are better than the old stuff and therefore should be used in this way. It matters even less if the TSA agents are doing the screening or not, except that with them monopolizing that market there are fewer voices against.


> I also agree there is too much political stuff in the video

An honest question: How does one de-politicize an obvious political topic?


It's not so much de-politicizing (as you say, it's inherently political), but how much editorializing commentary you add on top of it. It's somewhat a matter of taste, but I think the same content could've been conveyed with less editorializing, which would've made it easier to share with people not politically predisposed to agree.


In this case? Just demonstrate that the machines don't serve their stated purpose. Whether or not you think a measure like this is justified, the issue here is that the machines are so trivial to circumvent that they're a pure waste of money.

Those who support security measures like this ought to be angry at that, because it means money has been wasted that could've been used on measures that might actually work. Those who don't support measures like this ought to be angry because it means the privacy invasions are for nothing.

Either way, not much commentary is needed.


Well, it is obviously political but it is not entirely clear what the solutions are. Getting rid of the TSA without anything else to replace the government's role in mandating security standards at airports will probably make the situation no better. Whoever stands in is a target for the sort of lobbying that has brought us to this point.

I think now is the time to begin a conversation and be open about where it leads. When we say exactly what must be done on an organizational level regarding the government before we really collectively think through the issues, we risk making changes that don't really change anything.


Provide more facts and fewer conclusions.


Every time I've gone through the new scanners, I've had to go through a metal detectors first, which would pick up this object. Anyone know if there are actually airports that use only the new scanners without a metal detector?


As far as I can recall, people were not required to go through the metal detectors at these airports: MIA, FLL, BNA, EWR, PIT. MIA (at least last time I was there in December) has some lines that do solely metal detectors and some that do solely scanners. That is, until the scanner lines start to get long and they start putting everyone through the metal detectors.

I've always opted out (except once at EWR when I was with a large group and the screener took longer than the 5 minutes I was willing to wait) and about half the time I've gone through the metal detectors. In fact, last week at PIT, I tried going through the metal detector on my way to the pat down area and was told to go around it.


I've traveled extensively since the scanners have been in place and I've never gone through a traditional detector before a new scanner. They're almost always side-by-side.


It has never been about real security. It's about the huge load of money that is funnelled through TSA who are set to spent it all, regardless of what they receive, on these magic wand devices or just angry personnel. Another reason is that security checks allow for arbitrary control of passengers. It's a powerful mechanism, just like a country with enough laws to make everyone guilty but where those laws are only enforced when "necessary", on a select few people. It's like legalized totalitarianism: all backed up by law and rules but the outcome is the same.


One word: lobbyists.

Nearly everything of this type is a giveaway to some private vendor with lobbyists in Washington. Whether it works or not is secondary to the primary purpose: handing money over.


So now they'll just require two scans, one turned 90 degrees.

How hard would it be to construct a prosthetic fat suit that's invisible to scanners? I bet not very.


His statement about no one boarding a plane in the US with explosives seems to be false: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-02-16/underwe....

Although he seems to be right that the detectors are useless since the guy who was pretty incompetent (set his underwear on fire) and still managed to get it on board a plane.


The "underwear bomber" boarded in Amsterdam; the plane was an international flight to Detroit.


Does the scanner not pick the object up at all (I don't see why this would be true), or is this simply a matter of needing to change the background color?


> Does the scanner not pick the object up at all (I don't see why this would be true)

The object and the background both look the same in reflected x-rays. It's not just the background color.


In that case, couldn't they put a non-reflective material behind the person being scanned?

Perhaps that would interfere with their ability to scan you from both sides, but if they have a reflective material behind you it seems like they must already have a way to scan through/around that.


And they can have a two stage process (metal detector and xray) that would solve this problem too.


Not all weapons are made of metal.


It's interesting how so much is focused on airport security. Let's assume that we figured out how to make airline terminals 100% terrorist-safe and completely secure, no exceptions. (Yeah, it's a fantasy, but stay with me...)

At that point the terrorists will give up on the airports and pick something different. Remember that the first attack on the WTC, and the (domestic!) attack on OK City were TRUCK bombs. What's to stop someone from hijacking a tanker truck and detonating it? Trucker school must be easier than pilot school, right?

And if the terrorists are still hot and heavy for airplanes, they could bring down an airplane without actually going through airport security. At most airports I know of, the planes are vulnerable to ground-based attack on takeoff and landing. Not the same as crashing one into a building, but it seems unlikely that that attack is repeatable.


I have a great solution to this. Its cheap and easy to set up. Just tell people that planes are a bit dangerous and might well be stacked with terrorists and bombs. Fly at own risk. Be grateful if you land. No? Oh well.

In all seriousness though, I do wonder given the above, how much passenger numbers would drop. Flying is known to be very safe, and there was a statistic that showed more people died after 9/11 than in 9/11 due to people taking to the roads through fear of flying. Plus, there are not that many planes blown out of the sky by terrorists. If they did nothing, planes would still be statistically safe. Its kinda like those stats that show people drive in a more reckless manner because they now have to wear seat belts and have air bags etc. Take that lot away and people tend to drive safer.

No, Im not suggesting and of this, just food for thought.


I find it a little strange that, at present, more than 400 people have upvoted the link, but the linked youtube video has less than 400 views.

Edit: I am not trolling. It was just an observation that I found interesting even though it may not directly add much to the conversation.


Popular videos stop having their view count immediately updated at around 300 views. There's probably some duplication / distribution that kicks in to spread the load, and reliable statistics then requires aggregation. Happens very predictably on new videos in some of my YT subscriptions.


I think those are updated 'eventually', to cope with the scale. I've noticed the same thing.


The introduction to <i>Thinking, Fast and Slow</i> by Daniel Khaneman immediately made me think of security theater. He starts by discussing how humans are generally rational, but intense emotions of fear, anger, etc. often cause us to act completely irrationally. While I imagine the book goes on to describe how the individual can stop emotion from perverting what should be a rational judgement, I wonder what defense we have as a society against making bad, emotional decisions on things that shouldn't involve emotions. I understand reactionary emotional decisions and opinions tending to snowball behind them, but why does it take so long, if at all, for rationality to take over?


I am a frequent flier and hate this stuff as much as the next guy, but doesn't this just argue (from the TSA point of view) that the TSA should be using BOTH the metal detector and the body scanners?


I for one would just like to take a moment to welcome our new guests, the intelligence observers!

May you be inspired by the quality of debate and not may you not add any of the good HN folks to any lists.


Most people with critical thinking are hardly surprised by this; this needs to be shown to average Joes, not hackers.

Hence I suggest to vote this up on YouTube, rather than / in addition to HN.


My guess is in the future...you will have to walk through both metal detectors and body scanners! I am not sure, if they will dump the body scanners based on this video!


From Bruce Schneier's blog scheier.com

FBI Special Agent and Counterterrorism Expert Criticizes the TSA http://gmancasefile.blogspot.in/2012/01/tsa-fail.html

(http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2012/02/fbi_special_ag...)


Interesting video.

However, I would like to have seen a controlled experiment – i.e., with the same metallic case placed in a breast pocket. Trials with only that variable changed, and yielding a different result (presumably being pulled for patdown?) would more conclusively demonstrate the hypothesis that with the side-pocket technique "anyone can beat them with virtually no effort."


Not made worthless -- revealed as worthless.


I can tell you what will happen next - instead of shutting down the whole nude-scanner program, more money will be fed into developing enhanced version of nude-scanner with built-in metal detector. All old scanner will be scraped, more billions will be pushed toward TSA to buy more nude-scanner upgrades.


Seems like they should just combine Body Scanners + Metal Detectors + Pat Downs. A weakness in one tech doesn't make the whole stack worthless.

Please don't interpret this comment as approval of the body scanners or the pat downs. I'm just trying to express that the body scanners have not been "made worthless".


It's even easier. I was carrying a metal external hard drive, put it through the belt with no problem. You could easily take out the HD and put some explosives in there instead.

edit Also, if combining fluids really is a threat, they're allowing liquid medicine bottles, now. It really /is/ theater.


I've had bottles of liquid in my carry on several times by accidents - what happens when you travel alone with a toddler and get slightly frazzled. They've never caught it.


So they should keep using the metal detectors then. I wonder if they'll make people go through both.


The ONLY way that they've been able to sell this to fliers is that it gets rid of the existing process, and maybe some time soon we'll be able to keep our shoes on.

If they now make this sequential, then it's twice the time, twice the staff to manage, and twice the inconvenience -- you now have people queueing up between the two screens, passing one and failing the other, etc.


I'm surprised they haven't built one in already.


Curiously, once upon a time the U.S. federal courts considered a police crotch grab offensive behavior:

http://federal-circuits.vlex.com/vid/oswald-blake-leonard-ea...


In case some of you haven't seen this video.

Live on Germany TV man walks through body scanner and builds explosive with everything that passed on the scanner.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idICUSiGcqo


He also said that in airports, a full scan also scans the sides of the person, in which case the video producer would not have gotten through. So... how often is a "Full" scan done?


Sadly I don't think the scans are their to protect lives, but rather to protect the machinery (and the industry.) Planes are expensive. It's trivial to kill people elsewhere. I just loathe the rhetoric.


All he did to prove his point was smuggle a small empty metallic case in his pocket and he expects all the airports to take down their scanners as a result... Makes total sense.


It wouldn't be hard to get a profile view of airline passengers by having them spin or installing additional scanners. Not that I disagree with this guy.


Just hope that somewone will be helt accountable for it. Anyway, the link to the relevant xkcd:

http://xkcd.com/651/


...so what if they get images from four sides instead of two. Doesn't that defeat the "side" method demonstrated in the video?


What really blows my mind is that Bin Laden pulled 911 off with about $400,000 - about the price of about two porno scanners.


so, if i face the scanner frontally, and the object is on my side, the object can be lost in my contour. then the TSA guy says, "rotate to right". now that object hidden on my side might as well have been taped to my forehead - what was lost in contour is now nicely in silhouette. or, i go through metal detector first, then get scanned.

no big deal?


If the TSA has to investigate abnormalities with a pat down, you might as well opt for the groping to begin with.


good thing you are hosting your blog on wordpress.com. Hope they keep it available!


it's amazing how all governments, and monopolies are alike, whether it's US or not

they will get away with it, until smacked really hard - which is almost impossible to do


What if the scanners actually take a 360 degree xray?


$1B saved by having them take a side profile shot...


Thanks. Now they'll just make us do both.


most ptz ever?


epic fail indeed...


To everyone saying that now they will make you turn sideways i have to tell you that there are many blind spots even with those two angles, think about "corners" of yourself.

An example: http://imgur.com/Q1DTp (The rolled paper represents some sort of tube)

The point is that many angles are required (or another kind of "solution")


Looks like someone could put it under their skin and the metal object will go unnoticed; heck! a terrorist could use someone else's skin...


While I think the TSA is ridiculous, can't this be solved by having the people stand at 45 degrees to the left or right, chosen at random?


That's too smart an idea. Get ready for four images instead of two. And then when somebody sneaks something past that, we'll go eight.


I always thought that the purpose of the scanners was to catch currency entering and leaving the country, not to catch terrorists.


Nobody's gonna mention Snow Crash? Really? Come on guys...


All they have to do is make you turn sideways. This video is a well intended but weak attempt


They do not make you turn sideways.


What a bizarre obsession. The only reason this is at the top of HN is because the word "nude" is (misleadingly) in there.

Obviously airline security in the US is deeply flawed because look at how many planes are being hijacked or blown out of the sky by terrorists! I mean there have been -- wait, let me count -- ZERO on American soil since September 11, 2001. With about 28,000 commercial flights per day in the US alone, approximately 3,800 days after 9/11, that multiplies out to 106 million fights without a successful terrorist attack. Not a bad batting average if you ask me.

With apologies to Churchill, I guess this airline security regime is the worst system there is -- except for all the other systems.


1. "Nude Body Scanners" is a common name for the backscatter machines, and is generally understood as such. I'm not sure if you're asserting that people are randomly upvoting this article on the off chance it contains naughty material, but quite a few people—here and elsewhere—are heavily interested and involved in the TSA's use of these machines due to their isolated and cumulative effects on civil rights, so it shouldn't be surprising that it's at the top.

2. The TSA is not the only system keeping terrorists off planes. We don't have a "double-blind survey" where half the airports were protected by the TSA and the other half weren't, so we can't make any kind of sensible comparison. (A better metric would be, "How many attempted terrorist attacks were directly stopped by the TSA during the airport security checks," and it's widely accepted that the answer is, "None.")

3. These new backscatter machines were not put in place immediately in 2001. A great deal of the time you've mentioned involved elevated security on the part of the TSA, but not specifically through the measures being discussed here, which decrease the actual security of the planes by allowing people to bring items through that would have been caught by earlier measures (c.f. the article being discussed.) A case can be made that the TSA's post-9/11 response has been useless and possibly harmful, but this article is specifically making the point that the backscatter machines are problematic.

4. There have also been zero hijackings in other countries, as well, and those countries have different (and usually much less invasive and less expensive) security measures. If we provisionally accept that it is the TSA, and not the other agencies involved, that is preventing attacks, why does it necessarily follow that the only way to keep planes safe is the drastic measures taken by the TSA? (I can quite easily rid my house of mosquitos by burning it down, but that doesn't mean the only or best way to keep my house free of mosquitos is arson.)


I have a magic rock that protects against Tiger attacks. How do I know it works? Well, in 38 years of carrying it with me at all times, I've never once been attacked by a Tiger! It's pretty amazing... if you want one, email me and I'll see if I can scare one up for ya. They're pretty hard to get so it might cost a little, but it's worth it for the sense of security you'll have, knowing that you never, ever have to sweat a Tiger attack!


That lacks a sensible baseline to compare against. The flaw that 9/11 exploited was the conventional wisdom drilled into everyone that, if your plane is being hijacked, you shouldn't resist, because hijackers just want some money/prisoner-exchange/whatever, and by resisting you'll only be putting your fellow passengers in more danger. Post-9/11, nobody believes that anymore, so the one proven hole was plugged.


You're joking right? A quick glance at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_aircraft_hijackings shows that hijackings in the USA are incredibly rare. There was the four in 2001, one in 1994, and before that the last one was 1978.

All I see when I look at those numbers, is that we're due for another one any time now.


You're focusing on the wrong thing. The problem with the American airline security system is the invasive nude imaging, needless radiation exposure, and the hundreds of millions of hours of human time it wastes annually.

Here in Japan, I arrive at the airport 20 minutes before a domestic flight, show no ID, take my lighter and PET bottle with me, and we haven't had any terrorist attachs either.




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