Cynical Synapse

Sat, 08 Oct 2011

Saudi Attempt to Enter Cockpit is Ok; Everyone Else Gets Patdowns

Filed under: Civil liberties, Flying, Government, Hypocrits, Paradoxes, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 3:46 pm

typical flight deck door

A 20-year-old Saudi Arabian, Abdulaziz Mubarak al-Shammari, twice tried to enter the cockpit of American Airlines flight 1936 from New York’s JFK to Indianapolis On 05 October. On the second attempt, fellow passenger Rodney Bailey intervened. He asked al-Shammari if he was looking for the bathroom which evoked a head shaking no. Bailey said he has traveled “all over the world. I’m not going to die over a cornfield in Indiana.”

Operated by American Eagle, the flight landed safely in Indianapolis and al-Shammari was detained by airport police. American Eagle spokesman Ed Martelle said, “He might have briefly touched it [the cockpit door], but there is no indication that he was headed there. Those doors don’t open.” Seriously? What’s the purpose of the door, then? And al-Shammari went to the door, not once, but twice. Martelle, you weren’t there, but Capt. James K. Kolostyak told police he heard someone trying to open the cabin door and saw the interior door light come on. So, yeah, al-Shammari was trying to get in.

American Eagle aircraft

Claiming he’s a student at University of Indianapolis, al-Shammari was on the third leg of a flight from Saudi Arabia. Except the University of Indianapolis has no record of al-Shammari as registered there. Does al-Shmmari have a student visa? Were his tickets one-way? Authorities said al-Shammari is not on any terrorist watch list. Neither were the 15 young Saudi Muslim males who participated in the attacks on 9/11.

Despite a thousand holes in his story, al-Shammari was released without charges! And here’s the kicker: “The police report stated: ‘T.S.A. would not respond to the scene.’” According to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Jim Fotenos:

‘The flight landed safely and local law enforcement responded. TSA monitored the situation and was satisfied with the actions taken by local and federal law enforcement.

TSA patting down a toddler at Denver International

Obviously, TSA is too busy treating US citizens like criminals to be even the least bit interested in al-Shammari’s highly suspicious airborne activities. Never mind his story is flimsy at best and totally fabricated at worst. It’s not likely al-Shammari went through any serious security check in Riyadh. As recent as May 2011, a traveler said he found Riyadh’s “security screening laughable.”. According to TSA, Saudi Arabia has no restrictions on bringing liquids on board aircraft.

Once you’re through the security checkpoint, you have access to most of the rest of the air travel network, with exceptions, without having to go through re-screening. So, was al-Shammari confused, the excuse people are trying to make for him? Or was he making a dry run or collecting intelligence for some future jihadist act? Is anyone checking out the giant chasms of his story?

HT: Small dead animals

Sat, 03 Sep 2011

Panetta’s Trips Home: Real Issue is Government Aircraft Costs

Filed under: Budget, Congress, Flying, Government, Hypocrits, Paradoxes, Politics, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 2:47 pm

Panetta arrives in Iraq

Thursday, 1 September, the Los Angeles Times “broke” the story Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has flown home to California 5 times in his 9 weeks in office. No one begrudges the man his weekends to decompress and spend time with family. The article’s tone suggests insiders wonder if Panetta takes his job seriously and just how in charge is he. To clarify the significance of this, the Service Secretaries (Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force) and the Combatant Commanders report directly to him. He is second, only to the President, in the National Command Authority.

Curiously, the article fails to cite any specific allegation the Secretary’s shirking his duties. To the contrary, several official sources state Panetta is available 24/7 and taking care of business. Panetta is required to use government aircraft to ensure he has secure communications available. There’s no doubt Secretary Panetta has secure communications capability in his Monterey CA home, what some are calling the Pacific Pentagon. So that’s not the issue, nor is it Panetta himself. From the Times article:

It is common for members of Congress to fly back to their districts every weekend or so, and Panetta did so when he represented Monterey in the House from 1977 to 1993, and as CIA director, his first job in the Obama administration.

Some general arriving somewhere

For his trips home, Panetta must reimburse the Treasury for the cost of commercial coach fare. Since he’d never fly coach, why not require him to reimburse the cost of first class? I checked coach from DC to Monterey; round trip cost was $427. Panetta typically flies on a C-37b, the military version of a Gulfstream 550, which costs $3,200 an hour to operate. Flight time by C-37b between DC and Monterey is 4-1/2 hours, so each round trip is $33,280. After Panetta pays his share, taxpayers are left with the remaining $32,853 per trip cost. At the current rate, Panetta will make about 26 trips per year, taking $854,178 out of our pockets.

We all know, however, Panetta is not the only senior official who takes junkets in government aircraft. Suppose, for the sake of argument, the 21 other cabinet and cabinet-level officials make 10 trips per year equivalent to Secretary Panetta’s. In such a scenario, there’s an annual cost to taxpayers $7.75 million. There are 535 Sentators and US Representatives, which the Times article mentioned also make frequent trips home. Since travel distances are different for each, and some travel more or less frequently, let’s assume each makes the equivalent of 10 of Leon Panetta’s round trips per year. Under that assumption, total cost to the taxpayers for our elected officials to commute is $178.05 million. Ending this perk, just at this level, could cut the deficit by $186 million annually. That’s not much by deficit standards, but it’s a start and it doesn’t affect the little guy.

Previously on government travel costs:

Wed, 03 Aug 2011

Dollar-Foolish, Dysfunctional Congress Goes on Vacation

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Congress, Economy, Flying, Government, Indecision, Michigan — cynicalsynapse @ 9:43 pm

Oakland International tower construction

Our penny-wise, dollar-foolish, dysfunctional so-called representatives (Congressmen and Senators) in Washington barely managed to cobble together a debt ceiling deal before the economy tumbled into the abyss. Then they went home for a month-long vacation, leaving the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) without appropriations to operate. As a result, about 4,000 FAA employees are on furlough, meaning they don’t work and they don’t get paid. How many of them, do you suppose, live paycheck to paycheck? How many of our elected officials will help them out during their involuntary layoff? Add to that another estimated 70,000 construction workers idled by stop work orders on various FAA-funded projects. They’ll all collect unemployment, thus adding to the cost of doing business and the cost of government. The 74,000 laid off will also skew the jobless numbers, which will affect stocks and other aspects of the economy.

The previous FAA reauthorization expired 22 July. There has been no long-term (meaning 2-4 years) for the FAA since 2007. Meanwhile, some airlines have raised ticket prices, pocketing the previous tax amounts the government is not, presently, collecting. Do you suppose they’ll lower prices when the taxes come back on line? If you do, just start sending your checks to me—it’s more productive than just burning your cash.

Boarding a plane in Iron Mountain

At issue in the debate are, essentially, two fundamental aspects. The most publicized is the Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy, which pays airlines to provide commercial service to largely remote areas. In Michigan, that affects 8 airports with EAS subsidies:

City Airport Enplanements Non-EAS District
Alpena Alpena County 7,519 87 mi (Charlevoix) 1—Benishek (R)
Escanaba Escanaba 5,307 56 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Houghton Houghton County 25,354 68 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Iron Mountain Ford Airport 3,998 59 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Ironwood Gogebic-Iron County 1,524 68 mi (Rhinelander) 1—Benishek (R)
Manistee Manistee County-Blacker 2,087 50 mi (Cherry Capital) 2—Huizenga (R)
Muskegon Muskegon County 30,051 40 mi (G R Ford) 2—Huigenga (R)
Sault Ste. Marie Sault Ste. Marie 13,269 90 mi (Charlevoix) 1—Benishek (R)

The other key point of contention is an “anti-union provision in the House bill. At best, airlines, and in particular, Delta’s labor practices leave much to be desiredIn reality, this is a partisan matter with Republicans taking the nuclear option. Democrats paint this as Republican anti-unionism, largely at the behest of Delta Airlines.

When the House version of the bill, HR 658, passed, the vote was 223-196, largely along party lines. In Michigan’s delegation, only Justin Amash (R-03) voted against his party’s view. What’s interesting is the 8 Michigan airports at risk in the EAS are all in Republican districts, which voted in favor of ending the subsidies. Six of the eight at-risk airports are in Dan Benishek’s First District, but he spun it this way:

This FAA bill funded the EAS for two-and-a-half years. So that would be stable funding for two-and-a-half years rather than a few months at a time. I think it’s a good program and I’m all for it. As far as I was concerned, it was a vote for the program.

I can see clearly now

So, let me see. Benishek votes against the FAA reauthorization, but it’s really a vote for the Essential Air Service program. Reminds me of “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Is anyone else confused by this? That said, however, the travel distances to “non-essential” air service facilities seems to justify ending this taxpayer subsidy. Heck, I live in metro Detroit and it takes me about 45 minutes to get to Detroit Metro. Suck it up and drive an hour to another airport.

Interestingly, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-03), a Tea Party freshman from Grand Rapids, broke party lines and voted against HR 638. He’s the only Michigan representative that didn’t vote with his party. Apparently, he was opposed to the general fund subsidy, according to Amash’s Facebook post:

[Justin Amash] just voted no on H R 658, FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act. The bill authorizes FAA activities through 2014. Under the bill, the authorized FAA spending level is flat-lined at the FY 2008 level for FY 2012-2014. That is a savings of $495 million per year over current spending. Even so, the bill relies on subsidies from the general fund to cover about 25% of total costs. The bill passed 223-196.

lost tax reveuesn

Even worse than the impact on jobs are the lost tax revenues. Several taxes are no longer in effect because the FAA authorization bill remains unpassed and the previous reauthorization expired 22 July. As a result, the US Treasury is missing out on $20 million per day, an amount that will exceed $1 billion if reauthorizing the FAA stretches into September. Meanwhile, some airlines have raised ticket prices, pocketing the previous tax amounts. Do you suppose they’ll lower prices when the taxes come back on line? If you do, just start sending me your paychecks; it’s more productive than just burning your cash.

In a nutshell, Congress’ failure to reauthorize the FAA is reckless partisan politics at its worst.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011

TSA Tightens Fascist Grip; Stamps Out Competition

Filed under: Business, Citizen rights, Flying, Government, Hypocrits, Politics, Take action, Travel, Unions — cynicalsynapse @ 3:16 pm

US Department of Security Theater

Only a couple months after the uproar over full body scanners, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has put a halt to the private screening option. Only 16 commercial airports, out of 494, use private security screeners in lieu of the TSA. Amazingly, the TSA and its union are obviously intimidated by privitization. John Gage, President of the American Federation of Government Employees, said:

The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11. We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and work force.

Clearly, the union is happy to not face challenges from privatized (whether union or not) security personnel. Despite what he says, there’s no mistaking Mr. Gage’s primary concern is not losing dues-paying members.

TSA pats down old lady in a wheel chair

Just two months ago, TSA was “neutral” on private screeners. Now Administrator John Pistole’s attempt to protect his fiefdom is thinly veiled, at best. Loss of airports to private security means reductions in personnel—and funding—for the TSA. Pistole’s comment:

“I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time.

Since when does government have the authority to limit free enterprise? If private companies can meet (or exceed) the government standard of service, why are they being denied the opportunity to do so? And why is capitalism being stiffled in deference to the interests of a monopolistic government agency? If the Screening Partnership Program is no longer part of TSA policy, why is it still on their website?

More importantly, why are Americans willing to surrender more of their freedoms to Government? Ask your Congressman and Senators to question TSA’s business unfriendly position.

Previously on security theater:

Wed, 24 Nov 2010

People Like Full-Body Scanners. Why?

Full-body scanner at Detroit Metro

As most will know, there has been a lot of media hype about the full-body scanners and/or “enhanced” pat-down procedures the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) put into effect recently. Even the Senate joined the media frenzy by grilling TSA head John Pistole. He has held firm on the procedures.

We know the terrorists’ intent is still there. We are using technology and protocols to stay ahead of the threat and keep you safe. [Several near-misses by terrorists on airplane bombings] got through security because we were not being thorough enough in our pat-downs.

Excuse me, Mr. Pistole, but the last terrorists on domestic flights were the 9/11 terrorists. They used box cutters, which are detectable by metal detectors; they were permissible at the time. Since then, the shoe bomber—Richard Reid—and underwear bomber—Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab—both were stopped by passengers, not TSA or Homeland Security. And both boarded aircraft overseas, not in the US.

TSA octopus

The key concern has to do with whether full-body scanners and pat downs are a necessity or invasion of privacy. They are both invasive and not proven effective, in my opinion. Others have called for more efficient screening as well. According to US Rep. Candace Miller (MI-R), we’re quite at risk:

There are well-trained, well-armed terrorists trying to get on planes and kill us…I want to be sensitive to preserve privacy, but I don’t want to die in an airplane getting blown up.

So, when’s the last time Rep. Miller flew on a regular airliner like the rest of us? And does she go through the screening like the rest of us? Any bets?

TSA enhanced pat down

Ancillary to the issue of the full-body scanners and “enhanced” pat downs is a backlash against TSA. Feeding this frenzy is US Rep John Mica (R-FL), who calls TSA “dangerously ineffective. Its specialty is what (its) critics call ‘security theater’.”

Most of us are accustomed to TSA officers at the screening point. There is a growing movement to ditch TSA without realizing private screeners must meet the same standards. While the law permits using non-TSA screeners, it does require adhering to TSA security edicts, so the same rules about scanners and enhanced pat downs apply.

Police and TSA at Newark

Despite the fact our country is fast becoming an overbearing police state, there remains popular support for the invasive screening procedures. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 64% favored full-body scanners and 48% had no issue with enhanced pat-downs. How can people be so willing to give up their freedoms for no tangible purpose or benefit? Reminds me of the 1967 Country Joe and the Fish song lyrics:

And it’s one, two, three, four
What are we fighting for?

Seems to me, the terrorists have won, with so many people willing to surrender their dignity, rights, and freedoms all in the name of security. Problem is, it’s not real security. There are 494 airports with commercial airline service, but full-body scanners are in place at only about 70 airports. That leaves 424 airports serving commercial air travel with the old-fashioned metal detector only passenger screening procedures. TSA head John Pistole withheld information on the new procedures until implementation so they would make us safer.

I wish I could say somebody else was responsible for that, but that is my decision and it was a risk-based decision. … In this instance my concern was … that we not publicize that because it would then provide a roadmap or blueprint to terrorists.

Just so I understand, Pistole didn’t want terrorists to figure out how to get around the new screening procedures before they rolled out. Will they somehow not be able to figure that out now that millions of law-abiding citizens must suffer invasive screening? That logic is so flawed as to warrant John Pistole’s resignation or firing for exceptionally idiotic and poor judgment. I live about 45 minutes from Detroit Metro Airport, which has millimeter wave scanners installed. About an hour away is Flint Bishop Airport, which does not have full-body scanners. For an extra 15 minutes, I can avoid the whole process. So what’s the point of wasting taxpayer dollars and punishing rule followers? Pistole said it himself—terrorists will find a way around the system.

The furor has been good for at least one entrepreneur, however. He’s marketing special underwear to prevent TSA from seeing your privates. At best, wearing these is likely to get you a free follow-on full-body massage in the form of an “enhanced” pat-down.

Previously on security theater:

Sun, 14 Nov 2010

Fight the Invasion of the Body Scanners

Millimeter wave full body scanner

Ever increasing numbers of airports have full-body scanners, euphemistically called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) in use by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While manufacturers tout their safety and eficacy, there is little empirical data regarding either. There are two types of scanners. Millimeter wave technology bounces electromagnetic waves—which TSA terms as harmless—off the body to create the passenger’s image. Backscatter technology bombards passengers with low level X-ray over the body to generate a reflection displayed on the monitor.

Electromagnetic radiation is the same radiation as in the somewhat controversial health concerns with cell phones. X-rays are ionizing radiation and there is no doubt they present a health risk. What’s under scrutiny is how much health risk does body scan radiation present. Increased dosage will represent an increased risk. On that basis, frequent fliers are more likely to suffer health impairment as a result of full body scanning. And, for pilots, it becomes an occupational hazard. But, ironically, those most at risk are the TSA agents who work around them all day.

Image from advanced imaging technology

For most people, the issue with the full body scanners is a privacy issue. TSA says they are secure and no images will be stored. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and the watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) disagree. EPIC says the machines are hackable, can have external storage devices attached, and agents could easily take cell phone pictures. Citing privacy concerns, EPIC filed a lawsuit requesting suspension of full body scanning with the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC.

Unions for two airlines advised pilots no opt out of scanning citing privacy reasons for their members. Pilots at US Airways and American Airlines, numbering about 14,000, were told to go the route of the “enhanced pat down” instead. Those who decline the scanners are subject to thorough pat down searches.

TSA patting down child and woman

There is growing pushback to TSA’s intrusive screening measures. Last month, ExpressJet First Officer Michael Richards refused both the scanner and pat down. As a pilot, Richards has already had a through background check and he’s low risk at wanting to blow up his own plane. His fundamental concern, for which he intends to file a lawsuit, is violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.

Yesterday, passenger John Tyner opted out of scanning. Tyner says he checked the TSA website before going to the airport to see if San Diego was listed as using the scanners. Even today, San Diego Airport is not listed on TSA’s site as using AIT. Tyner recorded the encounter with his cell phone. Many think TSA is heavy-handed and here’s what the TSA agent said at the metal detector:

Anything else in your pockets, paper, everything needs to come out…paper needs to come out, otherwise I’ll pat you down.

TSA pat down

After the TSA agent explained the “standard pat down”, Tyner inquired if they were going to pat down his groin. The answer was an indirect affirmative, to which Tyner responded, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” While waiting for various levels of supervision to sort this out, the TSA agent said, “By buying a ticket you gave up a lot of your rights.” I don’t think there’s anything about buying an airline ticket that suspends provisions of the US Constitution, including it’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

An interesting side note is the similarities between Mr. Richards’ and Mr. Tyner’s cases, which took part at two different airports. They were both courteous and non-confrontational. Yet, in both cases, resolving their declination to abdicate their rights would be considered an unlawful detention. And, in both cases, as they were about to leave the airport terminal, they were subjected to yet another unlawful detention.

Some commenters have questioned Mr. Tyner’s motiviation for declining both virtual strip search and sexual molestation by TSA. His eloquent reply:

Every attempt to blow up a plane since 9/11 has been stopped by passengers after the government failed to provide protection for them. Every incident, however, has been met by throwing more money and less sensibility at the problem.

Bill of Rights

And each new effort to address the threat results in a further erosion of citizens’ rights. TSA maintains their right to full body scans or “enhanced” pat downs is lawful. The Fourth Amendment was intended to protect us from overreaching government intrusion.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Stand up for your rights. Send a clear message to the US Government and TSA. Join the National Opt-Out Day, 24 November 2010. Either way, you should probably plan to arrive at the airport several hours before your flight that day.

Previously on security theater:


20 Nov 2010

I have to retract my implication the use of full-body scanners and/or “enhanced” pat downs at airports represent a violation of the Fourth Ammendment. While I believe those procedures are invasive and their efficacy and health effects unknown, they are easily avoided by not flying. Travelers can choose any of a wide variety of alternate modes of travel.

That said, I still believe these procedures represent a further totalitarianization of the so-called Land of the Free. And while alternate methods of travel are available, the cost- and time-effectiveness of air travel make it the only practical choice in many circumstances.

A recent CBS News poll found 80% support full-body scanning. They may change their mind when it becomes their turn, but for now, the will of the people is clear.

Fri, 29 Oct 2010

Europeans Call for Curtain on Security Theater

department of security theater

Earlier this week, European airline and airport executives decried the burdonsome security requirements, labeling them “unnecessary and overly intrusive”. British Airways’ chairman started the furor in remarks he made before the UK Airport Operators Association.

Martin Broughton complained specifically about separate checks of laptop computers and forcing people to take off their shoes for checking, saying that such measures are “completely redundant,” the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

UK pilots, Heathrow airport’s operator, several European airlines, and even security experts welcomed Broughton’s observations.

“We need to keep passengers safe, but there’s also a whole bunch of security rules that could be eased out,” said Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst in London.

The requirement to remove shoes for screening, for example, was “the knee-jerk reaction after Richard Reid.” The newest metal detectors would sense any metal such as wiring in shoes, he contended.

tsa frisks terror suspect

Much of the security charades are simply feel-good measures with no significant security value. There are substantial costs in time, productivity, real estate, equipment, and manpower. Some have even referred to TSA—Transportation Security Administration—as Thousands Standing Around. Removing shoes was a knee-jerk reaction to the lone shoe bomber, Richard Reid. The plastic baggies and liquids limits resulted from the liquid explosives plot in the UK. Emphasis and speed-up on installing full-body scanners is because TSA knew they couldn’t demand we take our underwear off so they settled for a virtual strip search. The problem is these approaches are not effective.

However, all that “security” is not all that secure. According to articles by the BBC, Time, and Discover Magazine, pat-downs do not detect devices stowed in bodily orifices and invasive body scanners do not detect liquid, the most common form of explosives used by airborne terrorists. The Wall Street Journal notes that hardened cockpit doors and a trend of terror threats coming from coach class hint that deterrence may not be the main reason that federal marshals fly first class.

Are you kidding me? Air Marshals fly first class? If Osama Bin Laden himself was sitting in the window seat in row 38, what do you think the chances are of stopping him from blowing up the plane with his “netbook”? Netbooks don’t go through separately like laptops. An Air Marshal in first class would have had zero chance to stop the underwear bomber.

security screening

All the so-called security measures seem to address a real and reasonable threat. They should be reassuring. Instead, the process is dehumanizing and conducted with much the same compassion as sending cattle down the chute to the truck for the slaughterhouse. It feeds on and expands the irrationality of fear that is all around us.

Nevertheless, we should be thankful TSA is working so diligently to save rule-following, law-abiding citizens in close coordination with other countries around the world. In response to Broughton’s comments, a TSA statement said the US:

works closely with our international partners to ensure the best possible security. We constantly review and evolve our security measures based on the latest intelligence.

Previously on security theater:

Sat, 23 Oct 2010

Pilot Says No to Security Theater of the Absurd

Filed under: Behavior, Citizen rights, Civil liberties, Flying, Government, Legal, Oppression, People, Technology, Terrorism — Tags: — cynicalsynapse @ 3:31 pm

ExpressJet pilot Michael Richards

ExpressJet First Officer Michael Richards refused to be abused by airport security screeners at Memphis International Airport on 15 October. This is the same screening point he’d gone through every week for the past 4-1/2 years. The difference? Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials asked Roberts to go through the newly installed full-body scanner. TSA calls this opting out, so Roberts was told he needed to go through the metal detector and undergo a hands-on search, a pat-down. Again Roberts declined, so he was told he could not pass the checkpoint.

Roberts’ fundamental concern, for which he intends to file a lawsuit, is violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. Roberts said:

It’s an outrage. The Fourth Amendment is there for a reason. It’s not dispensable for the sake of security, just to make us feel better or that something’s being done.”

full body scan image

Clearly, Roberts disagrees about the effectiveness of either the scanners or the patdown in ensuring security of the travelling public. Even security experts disagree on the full-body scanner’s effectiveness. Israeli security expert Rafi Sela testified before the Canadian parliament:

I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport.

His message to TSA: “No groping me and no naked photos.” Roberts finds TSA’s virtual strip search or fondling options overburdonsome. On top of all this, he still had to take his shoes off. In my mind, that could have been the only benefit of what TSA calls Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT).

security screening leaves little to hide

Ever since shoe-bomber Richard Reid tried to light his foot on fire, TSA makes law-abiding citizens take their shoes off to pass through security screening. Following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up his underwear, TSA has wanted to be able to make passengers take off their underpants. Knowing that would never be tolerated, TSA is implementing virtual strip searches. But Richards is not one of the sheeple.

In addition to their questionable security effectiveness, what are the health implications of full-body scans? There are two types of full-body scanners. One uses millimeter-wave radio frequency energy supposedly 1/10,000th that emitted by a cell phone. The other uses backscatter technology in the form of ionizing radiation at a dosage about equivalent of two minutes on a cross-country flight.

HT: Dewey from Detroit

Previously on security theater:

Mon, 14 Jun 2010

WWII Vet Honored on Eve of Flag Day

Filed under: Flying, Heroes, History, holidays, Military, Patriotism — cynicalsynapse @ 8:11 pm

WWII B-25 pilot Larry Kiger with his hat and medalion from the Yankee Air Museum crew

My Dad bought rides for himself, my brother, and me on the Yankee Air Museum’s B-25 Mitchell bomber on 13 June. Lots of people don’t get to see historic aircraft like that, let alone ride on one. The event was part of a fly-in at the Mason Jewett Airport in Mason MI. Generally, these are events with historic and experimental aircraft and a lot of comeraderie among the pilots and crews. The weather was kind of punk, however, with low visibility and low ceilings, meaning cloud cover was close to the ground. As a result, attendance was low and not that many aircraft had flown in.

FAA regulations require 3 miles visibility and 1,500 foot ceilings before the B-25 could take on passengers. It was almost 2 PM by the time those conditions finally materialized. Persistence pays off and the lucky 7 got their ride on the Yankee Warrior, the only B-25D documented combat medium bomber still flying. During the flight, passengers were able to explore the dorsal turret, which is actually remote-controlled, and the waist, tail, and nose gunners’ positions.

B-25D Yankee Warrior

What truly impressed me, however, was when we landed. After the 7 passengers got certificates signed by the pilot, the Yankee Air Museum crew presented World War II veteran Larry Kiger with a medalion and thanked him for his service. This is all the more significant since Larry was a B-25 pilot during the war. One of the Yankee Air Museum folks told me that, when we were preparing to taxi for take-off, Larry said he could remember feeling the vibration from the controls in his hands. What an amazing connection to history!

Most of the B-25s were flown by the Army Air Corps. It’s only fitting we were able to be part of honoring Larry’s service on the eve of the Army’s 235th birthday, 14 June 2010. I’m proud to have been a part of this small ceremony in mid-Michigan and to have honored such a great American. I’m sure Larry doesn’t think of himself as a hero, but there’s no doubt those of us who met him consider him such.

In the US, 14 June is also Flag Day, representing the day our Stars and Stripes were adopted as the US Flag. Flag Day has always been an under-recognized holiday. This year it took on a grand new significance, at least for me.

Tue, 09 Mar 2010

Security Theater Leaves US More Vulnerable

Filed under: Flying, Global War on Terror, Government, National security, Terrorism, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 7:38 pm

Schiphol airport

Dutch investigative reporter reporter Alberto Stegeman exposed a serious gap in airline security from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. In a piece broadcast March 7th on Undercover in Nederland, Stegeman showed how he bought a fifth of alcohol, then replaced it with water, and was able to bring the bottle onto a US-bound airliner.

How does this square with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “3-1-1” rule? It should sync right up, since Netherlands agrees with the 3-1-1 concept. Only, I can bring a fifth of a gallon of liquid through security at Schiphol, but I can’t bring more than 3 ounces through security at Detroit Metro. What’s up with that?

Y’all probably know someone who has brought so-called contraband onto a flight. Airport security is not a perfect system and never will be. But, several fifth-gallons of liquid? There’s a big problem here.

Full body scanner

In the meantime, TSA is moving forward on fielding full-body scanners at US airports. Personally, I’m not in favor of these, unless it means I don’t have to take my shoes off. Still, I disagree with the Fatwah claiming the scanners violate Muslim decency. Please feel free to travel by any other means, such as tramp steamer, train, or car. If I’m going through the scanner, so are you. Too bad, so sad.

The illusion of safety leaves us more vulnerable. Because we think we’re safe, people tend to be less vigilant. But, the reality is we are at greater risk today than ever before. And yet, the authorities continue to focus on “feel-good” measures, like the 3-1-1 rule and take your shoes and belt off. I’m not aware of any terrorist or hijack incidents or attempts involving belts, are you?

Effective airport security boils down to behavioral profiling. That’s how the Israelis have been so successful with their air travel safety. Electronics, trained dogs, and schooled security personnel are all essential elements in a system. Paying attention to anomolies, however, will disrupt terrorists just as terrorists hope to circumvent machines. The human factor, through training and even “gut instinct”, is unpredictable, however, leaving terrorists to rely more on luck than skill. As Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan (ret) said, “Hope is not a method.”

Israeli airport screening

So, what’s keeping us from implementing good, sound security procedures? First, it’s our tendency to put a lot of faith in technology. Technology is totally objective so no one has to justify subjective decisions. An even bigger problem, however, is an effort to not offend or hurt anybody’s feelings. Officials want to avoid complaints of racial profiling. I’m quite certain most Muslims are not radical extremists, but all of the 9/11 terrorists, the shoe bomber, and the undie-bomber were all Islamist jihadists. Which leads to the third issue—TSA would have to train screeners to observe passengers to pick out those most deserving of additional questioning or screening, something they’re not too good at right now. And that means they’d have to also trust their people to do the right thing. When’s the last time you encountered a fairly senior government official who trusted the little guy? Besides, those things require thinking and making decisions. We’d rather have everything be predictable and adhere to easy-to-follow flowcharts.

We continue to harass the rule followers while ignoring bigger issues. It seems security theater still has a long run ahead of it.


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