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Terminal Cornucopia (terminalcornucopia.com)
252 points by Amadou on Nov 15, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 108 comments

> All of these findings have been reported to the Department of Homeland Security (TSA) to help them better detect these types of threats.

The threats that the TSA itself admits are non-existent? (http://tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/tsa-admits-...)

The best I can see coming of this is that the TSA will start to ban braided leather belts and condoms.

The more ludicrous the TSA gets with its bans, the better. In the long run doing that will only make them look like clowns and make the general public resent them more.

I've been waiting for backlash against absurd restrictions to close the TSA since 2001. Don't hold your breath.

> Don't hold your breath.

Bad news ever since the TSA confiscated my toothpaste.[0]

[0] Yeah, it was actually a thing.

At least they didn't make you drink your own breast milk.


Maybe in the future they can skip the xrays and just hose us all down during pre-flight. "Good news honey, I'm home and I'm showered!"


The woman already had the milk bottled. What's the harm in drinking some of it to prove that it isn't any dangerous compound? I thought liquids from outside weren't allowed in the planes, ideally they shouldn't have allowed her in with it at all, though, but that's a different point.

> did she fail to see the connection to stopping terrorism The connection is that she could have been a terrorist, and a compound dissolved in the milk could be used to make a binary explosive.

Why is making her drink breast milk incredibly stupid? Because TSA already have equipment to test liquids for explosives without having passengers sample their own liquids.

Not to mention, breast milk has always been counted as medication, although the rule to not make passengers sample their own liquid is probably new since that incident.

Liquids from outside are allowed on planes depending on how you bring it in. My dad travels with juice/gel exceeding 3oz (with a note from his doctor). I've gotten a Costco-sized bottle of contact lens solution past TSA (so if you want to know how to sneak in some vodka...) One winter I was traveling a couple times a month with some terrible bronchitis+sinusitis issues and I had a gallon sized bag full of cough syrups and inhalers. Whatever. The only two things I remember TSA specifically tested from my bags from, at this point, hundreds of flights, is one mega sized bottle of purple drank (if you split liquid meds into a bunch of smaller but still bigger than 3oz bottles they don't seem to care) and one bottle of shampoo.

Banning people from bringing liquids on board and halfheartedly enforcing the 3oz rule when they can be circumvented so easily even with TSA approval (see TSA precheck!) is so incredibly dumb it baffles my mind.

Oooh ooh bonus points: I put something like 10 quarts worth of homemade jam in my checked luggage on one flight and TSA didn't even look at them (and good thing too, because they were all canned and I would have flipped out if the seals were broken). I wonder what you could do with 10 quarts worth of jam-consistency material in a bag. BTW hey TSA I'm not a terrorist, just someone that doesn't like you very much for making me deal with those terrible massages every time I try to get on a flight.

> so if you want to know how to sneak in some vodka...

You can just take it in <100ml bottles inside a quart bag. Although you might get in trouble if it's labeled as alcohol.

Maybe she, like many of us, simply did not see a point to "stopping terrorism" through airport security checkpoints. All they achieve is inconveniencing passengers and creating extremely attractive targets by concentrating large numbers of civilians.

I'm curious about your footnote. Toothpaste falls under the liquid/gel ban, so anything over 3oz is not permitted. Absurd, but not a surprise.

I believe this is the end game:


The real villain here is the dental floss.

More likely to ban Axe body spray and similarly pressurized canisters. Those were used in all of the combustibles.

I wouldn't be surprised if they start putting severe limits on all non-food shops in the terminals now. There seems to be no end to the ridiculous measures they'll take, no matter the inconvenience to flyers.

No, that's not the point. If you ever been through checkpoints enough times you will see TSA agents going back and forth skipping detectors all the time. If any of them can not smuggle hazardous stuff then we are living in a word where no cop is a bad cop.

Its all a show and unfortunately past examples shows that those who try to terror or did terror an airplane were either working with, willingly or not, the FBI/CIA or other gov agencies. And why wouldn't they? You take a mentally ill men, drug him big time, tell him government is bad and then you "catch" him on the plane with bomb behind his waist. Result? Another billion bucks spent on "terrorism" and Chertoff making $300MM on his radiation scanners.

So long story short; no, they are not interested in messing around with airport smallbusiness shops, even if this would stop a terrorist attack, because their mission is not to prevent one, but rather get american people used to deep searches, submission on demand and checkpoints everywhere.

If there are LiIon batteries available, why bother will all this stuff?

Just short them out and throw them somewhere strategic. Takes all of a minute.

They generally just catch on fire and smoke a lot.

They have protection against explosion. This doesn't work besides getting them hot and catching on fire, maybe.

Have you tried this?

I don't know how effective any of these techniques would be to a terrorist, however cool and ingeniously constructed the weapons were. The whole security TSA thing is mostly a show anyways.

Taking over a plane with box cutters was mostly show as well. It only worked in 2001 because people went along with terrorist theater.

If any would be terrorists tried the same tactic from 2001 today they would be mauled in the cockpit. Prior to 2001, passengers assumed they would be hostages and would come out unharmed if they cooperate. Now they assume they are potential collateral damage. That's a huge difference.

The only thing they actually need to prevent getting past screening is explosives. Every other method I can think of would not work fast enough before the passengers take you out.

The only way to overpower an entire plane full of passengers is in numbers and spread throughout the plane. Social Network Analysis can be guess if more than N passengers not sitting together (i.e. not family or friends) are likely acquaintances warranting greater scrutiny.

I would hope the passengers on a plane would be so brave, but there is a real collective action problem there for the passengers. Best case scenario, there are enough brave people on board willing to selflessly risk death to -- hopefully -- save lives. Would I? Would you? You don't know what you're made of until the moment comes, and I hope neither you nor I are ever tested in this way.

Remember, individually it's "rational" (in the game-theoretic sense) to let the other brave folks take the risk, while you sit there nervously and think about the kids/parents/pets who couldn't bear to be without you. And let someone else be the hero.

Worse case scenario, nobody is brave, and everyone dies as a result.

Considering it has happened several times since 9/11 and people HAVE taken action, I think you are wrong at this point.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/29/world/asia/china-plane-hijack-... http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=m... http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-149289/Italian-plane...

etc etc etc

It also happened on 9/11 - the plane that went down in Shanksville PA didn't make it to its target because the passengers heard about the other three planes and didn't care to run into a building at high speed.


Yeah, I knew about that particular example, but I felt that the parent could have argued that it was a special case because they had foreknowledge of what was happening, whereas these other cases they took initiative. In any case, you are completely correct.

I don't think your analysis quite works, because the scenario in which nobody acts has the worst possible outcome.

Let's make a terribly naive model in which there are 200 passengers, and the percentage chance of them succeeding in fighting back against hijackers is equal to the number of passengers who fights back. One passenger fights back means 1% chance of success, 50 passengers means 50% chance, 100 means 100% chance, and any more just saturates at 100%. This is wrong since the real-world chances are almost certainly not linear, but I think the basic idea of the chance starting at zero and increasing with the number of passengers fighting is sound.

Now, start with a case where nobody fights back. That means there is a 100% chance that everybody is going to die. Thus nobody has anything to lose. If they fight back, then they have a chance at living. If they don't, they are certain to die. The rational choice is then to fight back.

Now, some people have chosen to fight back. Do you join them, or do you wait? Joining them increases the odds of success, and therefore your risk of death. Not joining them increases your risk of death.

The one complication in this is your chance of being killed in the fighting when the hijackers are defeated. However, I think it's reasonable to suppose that your individual chances of dying go down the more passengers who fight back. If many others are also fighting, your odds of dying are low. If few others are also fighting, your odds of dying in the fight are high, but your odds of dying because they lost the fight are also high. I suspect that the rational course of action is going to be to join them as long as the fighting group is smaller than a pretty large size.

In any case, it's impossible for there to be a rational equilibrium in which nobody fights back, because all actors improve their odds of survival by choosing to fight back in that case, even if they end up acting alone. The equilibrium thus must involve some number of people fighting, and although I'm not sure how many that would be, it seems reasonable to think that it's a lot.

Your analysis needs to take into account the social psychology of conformity on individual human behavior. If not one soul acts when the gravity of the situation is made known, then the likelihood of anyone acting remains low. However, the moment a single person acts, due to conformity (see results from any experiments carried out by Solomon Asch for data[0]), the likelihood that many people will act together goes up astronomically. Now, the question to ask to determine if a single person will act is highly related to the presence of passengers on the plane that have been trained to take action, e.g. military personal, EMTs, first responders, Coast Guard, fire fighters, etc. The presence of one or more of these people on a flight greatly increases the chance of someone attempting to wrest control from any hijackers, and others quickly following suit.

Car accidents are always interesting because they often have the same dynamics, those who respond are those who have had even the most rudimentary training to respond. Almost everyone lacking such trainers waits for others to act. As someone trained to act, I've actually been in such a situation first hand as a victim and been the first to respond. I was in a vehicle traveling at ~45mph and another vehicle pulled out without looking. I t-boned her vehicle the moment my car came to a standstill, I whipped out my phone called 911 and immediately after getting off the phone with the 911 operator, I went to check on the other driver.

Trying to analyze people like economists do, considering people to be merely self-interested agents, doesn't paint the whole picture. Many people in society are trained to act in a way contrary to what a simple simulation would suggest. Among 200 people on a plane, the likelihood that there are 2-3 such people trained to respond is pretty high, and at least high enough that a would-be terrorist has no way of knowing if they are lucky enough to have picked the rare plane where no such people trained to respond are present.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments

> If any would be terrorists tried the same tactic from 2001 today they would be mauled in the cockpit. Prior to 2001, passengers assumed they would be hostages and would come out unharmed if they cooperate. Now they assume they are potential collateral damage. That's a huge difference.

How good are the new secure cockpit doors? If responsible for securing planes I would be worried about a surprise attack getting through while the door is open and then locking the doors before any of the passengers have time to react. I suspect that the secure doors may be counter-productive and less safe than a plane full of passengers able to help.

Another potential threat is one of the pilots themselves if they can subdue the other pilot and close the door can anything be done?

Equipment available doesn't really matter though short of semi-automatic weapons and explosives.

That would be hard to pull off. The cockpit door is rarely open during flight, and when the cockpit door needs to open, the flight attendants barricade the front of the plane using the food service carts locked diagonally across the isle. The door itself is only open for a few seconds, and the barrier is enough to shut it quickly if anyone even attempts to move towards the front.

If I remember correctly, the doors are closed and locked long before the plane even taxis out onto the runway.

There isn't much you can do with a plane on the ground, and the chances of taking off in one in a post-9/11 world is basically zero.

True, but it only underscores the point that confiscating, e.g., nail clippers* is stupid when one can build _grenades_ in the airport. Sure, maybe you still can't take down a plane or kill a lot of people with a "fraggucino", but you can do a lot more damage than you can with nail clippers!

*Edit: Nail clippers may be permitted now. This point may still apply to scissors greater than 4 inches in length, or screwdrivers greater than 7 inches. http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/prohibited-items

The real travesty here is that "General Aviation" flights (private aircraft) face no such TSA screening as we see in "Commercial Aviation" flight terminals.

So anyone who has the money to charter a private jet is also able to carry whatever they want onto an aircraft, which illustrates the double standard inherent in most tyrannical systems.

have no fear - our theater is 100% reactionary. when an attack like this is carried out then we'll put in onerous theater procedures to slow things down there as well.

Then... we'll wait for an attack on sea vessels. After people die that way, we'll put more security theater there, without ever reducing or removing the decade+ old theater imposed in other areas.

There already have been such attacks...


Why would it be a "travesty" than they have, whether through inattention or lobbying or whatever, managed to exempt a bunch of people from their idiocy?

Onto any aircraft?

My experience is that many Private Aircraft terminals, such as private jets, private helicopters, etc, don't screen passengers, or their luggage, the way the public is searched in "Commercial Aircraft" pre-flight screening.



The above links discuss the matter further.

This is correct. An exec at a large firm mentioned (who was speaking at a recruiting event) this lack of screening proudly as a "great perk" of flying on the corporate jet between their offices.

But do they board from the same place? I don't see a whole lot of private planes attached to commercial aircraft terminals.

"Private" is kind of a key word there.

The BLUNDERBUSSness Class is by far the best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lsem22DkIjw

TL;DR: AXE body spray is super combustable!

I love how he takes great pains to emphasize that it's "reloadable" and "break action" but when he fires it it just explodes.

it's actually sitting right here beside my desk. completely functional. ;)

Wow, it definitely looked like the person holding it would have been maimed.

Yeah... it'd be slightly less than ideal.

Have you considered fashioning some stylish yet concealed body-armour under your outer clothing, possibly using bits of left-over belt and magazines?

Not quite Ned Kelly, but might help a little.

Strap magazines on your body and fasten with belts, like in The Wire when Omar when to jail or did you have something fancier in mind?

So I was wondering, did you ever watch the two Russian "Brat" movies?


I want to watch both of these, but my Russian language (and more importantly, slang) is so poor that I'm afraid I'd miss a lot of it :/

I didn't, but I'll definitely add them to the queue.

Umm. I'm not the only one wondering where the elemental Lithium came from? Right?

I believe some disposable batteries have elemental lithium foil in them (opposed to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries).

How do you take the batteries apart without crushing the foil, shorting them, and causing a fire?

Carefully. ;)

People cooking up shitty meth apparently do it (http://health.utah.gov/meth/html/ToxicologyofMeth/Lithium.ht...) but I don't know how they do it. They might be using tools that wouldn't be available in an airport, but I'm not so sure of that.

You can do it with a razor blade and a lot of patience, or as the author shows, using a small pipe cutter that you could easily get into the airport with a carry-on.

He shows this in the Fragguccino video (http://www.youtube.com/embed/TZ5a4ycwsig): by using a small pipe cutter (on a lithium AA battery). He notes that it can be done without the pipe cutter but would take more time.

Thanks - didn't catch that's what he was doing with the pipe cutter.

This kid sitting next to me in class did it....

I think it's the heating element in a thermos; "fraguccino" uses the same technique.

Fraguccino gets the lithium from a battery.

The propellants are butane, isobutane and propane. The same sort of gases you'd use as fuel for a portable gas stove.

When I read 'Terminal' on Hacker News I don't think of the airport kind...

I also initially thought of a TTY, but there are too many definitions of the word that could still fit with this site.

But why even try to get on a plane or through "security" to plague people with mass terrorism?

Huge crowds are already caused by homeland security theater.

Are they still taking water bottles from people and throwing these "dangerous materials" right into the trash next to everyone?

That's nothing: break open many brands of low-quality leather shoe and you'll find a 3-5 inch sharp metal blade [1].

I know this because my shoe fell apart a couple of months ago and one came out: I'd been through multiple airports with this on my feet and I think it's highly likely that a majority of people are incidentally carrying sharp metal blades because of this.

[1] http://distilleryimage4.ak.instagram.com/a31902082b7911e3b58...

In court in San Diego women are not permitted to where stiletto heels to court. This is due to an incident when one lawyer took her shoe off, ripped off the heal, revealing a sharpened metal spike, and proceeded to attack the opposing console with it. This was not premeditated, apparently many high heal shoes have metal spike in the heal for support. The spikes are sharpened to make it easier to insert the heal on during manufacturing. This happened in South Bay court, if memory serves.

Putting a sharp spike under your foot just seems like a terrible idea.

I think the key takeaway here is that there are two types of people: those who grew up and eventually became TSA agents, and those who were curious about the world when they were kids and learned all of this stuff.

This is simultaneously an excellent hack, culture jam and an expose of the security theater that is the TSA.

There was also the people who were successfully able to get through with decoy explosives without a hitch, but this is much more whimsical.

I find it ironic that I'm reading this link from a Las Vegas airport gate waiting for my plane... using their wifi.

You can say, "thank you". :-)

it would be nice to have some text and photos rather than videos you can only watch if you're in Kansas City or outside the US

None of these weapons would be of much use for anything besides maiming one or two people, which could be accomplished with much simpler things. They are novel creations though.

He makes a point to say all those things can be purchased after the security check point... but wouldn't most of that stuff make it through security anyway?

In fact, airports in places such a Turkey have two security checks, one at the very entrance of the airport buliding, and the second just at the gate.

However it looks like they are relaxing that:


Forget about AA batteries, think about all the laptop batteries. All you need is 4-5 laptop batteries, and you can have a serious bomb going. And how easy would it be to carry that into the airport? Take 2 laptops with you, 2 backups, a cell phone, 3 backup batteries. No one will even blink an eye.

You're late: http://xkcd.com/651/

I cross my fingers hoping the BLUNDERBUSSness shotgun will be available in L4D3 or Dead Rising 3.

While I found the content interesting, the videos do a very poor job of presenting information efficiently and concisely. Time is wasted in the introduction, the listing of materials takes far too long when bullet points would suffice, diagrams are only shown for a few seconds apiece, and the music is downright irritating.

A bullet point list of materials, a paragraph of description, a few diagrams and an embedded video demonstration would be far more effective. A slideshow would also work well.

I apologise if this seems nitpicky, but as interesting as I found what you've done, I only watched half your videos because I found it so painful to sit through them. I doubt I am alone in this.

The music is really creepy and I am annoyed that there is no narration, considering the length of the videos. It's constructive criticism though, I like the actual info.

While this is all interesting, none of these videos show any actual lethal potential. I'm not saying that there is any, but there is no target and no way to show whether these tools inflict any meaningful damage.

You probably did not see the videos fully. Chucks of Liberty and 'Murica can crack open a human body pretty smoothly. Most lethal, in my opinion.

And even if Fraggucino and Blunderbussiness only hurt or maim someone, they are enough to strike fear among a crowd of people. Do not underestimate the implications of that.

The melee weapons are a bit silly though. Everyone knows that people can be extremely dangerous with melee weapons, or even just their bare hands.

They are demos. Did you ever think what would happen if you made a canister bomb with 12x the ingredients?


Could someone make a short montage of all the weapons firing/being detonated? Slow internet and a lack of weapon descriptions make for quite the frustrating evening.

Grab the URLs out of the page and use youtube-dl on a lower quality setting.

Yeah, we're gonna stop what we're doing, and make a montage just because you have a slow internet connection.

"Airplane Mode" claims to use a Parrot AR Drone 2.0 (~$290) for parts. The controller used is actually an infrared one from a smaller and cheaper (~$20) RC helicopter, like this: http://www.amazon.com/Syma-S107-S107G-Helicopter-Colors/dp/8...

These weapons are harmless they are not scary enough.

People know what an AK47 is and they know it will kill what it is used on.

Power lies not in the weapon, it lies in what people think of the weapon.

Another thing, since 911 passengers most likely assume they will be killed whether if they cooperate or not. Certain death in a plane crash or possible death trying to take a terrorists weapon.

I find this really interesting, but I feel like publishing it is a bad idea. The TSA could just use this as an excuse for more absurd policies, or worse someone could actually try some of these things, which they wouldn't have figured out on their own. Only a very small risk, maybe, but for what benefit?

There it is! The association between my middle eastern name and a bomb making website on NSA Database! Thanks HN!

I've often thought how interesting it would be to see a TV series about something like this.

I think it comes down to what people are willing to put up with. Personally, I don't mind any of the TSA stuff a single bit. I've stood in line for hours, missed a flight, and gotten home at 1am due to TSA and other security stuff, but I don't mind because it at the very least acts as a deterrent.

However, I think that most of these things could be solved with a second screening. None of these options would pass a secondary x-ray, for instance. Or, a better option would be to have all items purchased in duty free to be shipped as luggage, and retrieved in the destination airport. Those would both be a huge pain in the ass, however, and I doubt anyone would put up with it.

I don't mind because it at the very least acts as a deterrent.

What evidence do you have for that belief? Here's my evidence to the contrary -- if the TSA really were deterring terrorist attacks, the result would be a shift to other targets. It isn't like a terrorist is going to just give up, go home and forget about causing terror. They are going to pick another easier target. So where are all the other attacks?

Since 9/11 the number of civilian attacks has been less than the fingers on one hand, and the only one that wasn't just a bunch of mental midgets too incompetent to even ignite a bomb were the Boston Bombers.

No, there is no deterrent here because there is nobody to deter. If there were actual, serious terrorists looking at getting onto planes, the TSA wouldn't make a bit of difference. We've got TSA agents using their privileged access to smuggle drugs - it wouldn't take much to swap a couple of keys of cocaine with a couple of bricks of C4 and those dummies would end up helping the terrorists.


When you look at how easy it is to commit acts of terrorism, and how few acts of terrorism actually happen in this country, it becomes clear that the only reason for that is that there are very few motivated people.

Automatic weapons are extremely easy to come by in this country. Think of the havoc you could create just walking up to an airport security checkpoint at rush hour and opening fire. If you know a few like-minded individuals, then you could synchronize the attacks to happen simultaneously at, say, JFK, Dulles, Reagan, and LAX. The casualties would be immense, and the subsequent panic would be enormous.

There are about a million other possible scenarios you can cook up that take no more than a few semi-intelligent nutcases and a few thousand dollars. Of those million, the current system defends against perhaps ten.

Although, when you look at it objectively, those attacks do happen fairly frequently. Navy Yard, Sandy Hook, Aurora, and many more. But we don't call them "terrorism"... why? Only because it doesn't fit the overly-specific mold that "terrorism" consists of. If they were brown middle-easterners shooting up schools, we'd call it terrorism no problem, but since it's a white dude, we call it something else. And because of that, there is basically no anti-terrorism effort directed at these things, furthering the argument that such efforts are completely useless.

I like your reasoning, but couldn't you also say:

in the ten years before 9/11 the number of civilian attacks on US airplanes has been less than the fingers on one hand. After TSA 100% of these happened on non-flight targets.

Mind you, I still think the TSA is dumb.

You could say that, but it would be an intellectually dishonest framing of the facts. I feel confident that the line of reasoning I've used does not try to obscure anything. I believe it is as straightforward and honest an evaluation as anyone could make.

Deterrent? You would think death is a deterrent, and yet most terrorists aren't deterred by the prospective of death, what makes you think some overpaid government employee with far below average IQ is a deterrent for someone who is willing to die for his cause. For god sakes, most TSA people aren't even permitted to carry guns. You know why? Because they would shoot each other by accident, while taking a piss.

The only people TSA deters is honest an law abiding citizens from flying as often as they would otherwise.

I have always wondered about this. Given the kind of stuff available in these stores I think it is nearly impossible to scan all those items for security.

Seeing this 'n’s' totally takes away from what the website is trying to say.

argh... must've happened when I made a small content edit from my phone about an hour ago.


Is delivery to the stores and restaurants after the TSA related and our enforced?

OK, how about airports stop selling aerosol cans and lithium batteries after the security check-in? They seem like the worst offenders here.

Lol ... Planned Parenthood.. Why go thru all this trouble, and not just use the black rod to stab someone ? would be way more effective no ?

That all depends. Is the attacker trying to hurt someone within arm's reach, or are they trying to disable the pilot/co-pilot as they are walking back into the cockpit after a trip to the lavatory from the comfort of their first-class seat? Everybody poops.

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