Effect Measure

Theater of the Absurd at the airport

As a frequent traveler I am all for measures to keep me safe. Someday maybe I’ll see some at the airport. While I dutifully stand in line with the other sheep, taking off my shoes, emptying my pockets, taking my laptop out of my briefcase and putting it in a separate tray (why?), taking my jacket off, etc., etc., anybody with half a brain and the intention to do it can sneak on a plane. How do I know? Consider this career criminal who wanted to get from Washington state to Dallas, Texas.

He stole a car and led police on a wild ride at speeds of over 90 miles an hour, finally blowing the engine and crashing over a curb at an exit. He was arrested but later released in the custody of a family member. So off he went again to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and told the agent at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter that a relative was already in the boarding area and he needed a boarding pass. Two flights later, while trying to transfer to a Dallas flight in San Antonio someone figured out he didn’t really deserve a boarding pass for the flight. In fact he didn’t even have a ticket. He was detained again.

Master criminal? Maybe. But if so, quite precocious. Semaj Booker is 9 years old and in the fourth grade.

Airport security is theater. Theater of the Absurd.

Comments

  1. #1 CPG
    January 18, 2007

    Revere

    Maybe time again to discuss the Tamiflu vs Relenza ( other antiviral ) debate.

  2. #2 SmellyTerror
    January 18, 2007

    Airport security is not quite as idiotic as it looks. See, spot checking is not supposed to actually catch people. All those spot checks, if that was what we were relying on to catch bad stuff, does not have even remotely acceptable chances of catching a bad guy at that point.

    The idea is to make the bad folk nervous. Screening staff *should* be trained to detect involuntary fear responses in people with a guilty conscience. Because they know they *might* get caught, they are vastly more nervous than the average schmo (yes, even the most committed of suicide attackers. They really don’t want to fail).

    …which is the reason it has to be completely random. Give people a sense of control over the process (“I don’t fit the sterotype, they won’t pick on me”) and you won’t see a response.

    …but it’s also the reason you need to show restraint. Once you make *everyone* nervous you’ll have too many false positives to deal with. If you pick on a particular cetegory of people (eg. middle-eastern men), all of them feel nervous whether guilty or not, so you lose the real responses in the noise. Sadly, these are points that seem lost in the present system.

  3. #3 carl
    January 18, 2007

    Also worth noting in the absurdity of alleged security; there are exactly zero instances of airport x-ray screeners finding a real bomb. There are instances where a bomber has been caught prior to departure etc.(for example El Al catching an Irish female who had a bomb in the luggage unknown to her via questioning and examination of the luggage by real security personnel), but none – none – where the screener caught a bomb on the x-ray scanner.

  4. #4 iGollum
    January 18, 2007

    Speaking of absurd, I’ve got one for you. Last week I flew back home to Belgium from Boston, Mass. with a trio of live lobsters for my folks (family tradition, long story) in my hand luggage (in appropriate packaging). Of course they were packed in with quite a lot of ice to keep them cool during the long trip… At the security checkpoint, the x-ray guy flagged my lobsters and I was told they couldn’t let me pass with the ice, since liquids weren’t allowed. The staff were very friendly and apologetic (I could see they found it as absurd as I did) so I opted not to debate the finer points of physical states and phase diagrams, and we worked out a mutually satisfying arrangement. They dumped the ice, let me keep the plastic bags, and I went to get a refill from the Wendy’s food stand just a few metres further away. Twelve hours later, the little guys proved delicious and well worth the hassle.

  5. #5 A Babe in the Universe
    January 18, 2007

    Airport security is really insecurity.

  6. #6 SmellyTerror
    January 18, 2007

    “Also worth noting in the absurdity of alleged security; there are exactly zero instances of airport x-ray screeners finding a real bomb.”

    Please see my post above. It’s not expected to find a bomb – it’d be nice if it did, of course, and it has to be at least slightly credible that it might, but that’s not the main intent.

  7. #7 Lea
    January 18, 2007

    One very industrious young man, with higher than normal street-smarts, unwilling to stop until he reaches his end goal.
    We could use more Military Reserves in the airports, just for added show.
    Wonder how this episode will affect the airports now. A little, alot, not at all?

  8. #8 M. Randolph Kruger
    January 18, 2007

    Well, we know that they generally wont come in thru the front door. We also know they are capable now of making a binary weapon. We also know that they can make a shoe bomb. Revere, not only are they x-raying your laptop, they are sniffing it at the same time.

    Carl, they have caught black powder, rubbing alcohol, benzene, lighter fluid and a lot of knives of all types. But its all about getting control of the aircraft and denying certain people access to the controls. The latest idea is that upon a deviation that is unauthorized of more than a few degrees the little red phone lights up in Omaha and the 20 alert F-16’s go onto the powercarts and the engines are lit in the revetments. Finally, if an aircraft doesnt follow instructions an active air defense scramble goes into effect and you see the response of 9/11 to it. It would be much more orderly than it was last time. It took too long though. It was asserted here a bit back that the US should have been able to find one aircraft in a lot less time. Thats simply not the case. There were thousands of targets on the scope. The FAA radar is not an air intercept type that scans for azimuth and altitude. If you arent transponder equipped or if you have it turned off, you are not going to be found. So little people who want a boarding pass are very creative, and very much not carrying anything. What happened is a violation of the airlines security procedures and the people who did it should be discharged. We wouldnt want Revere being blown to bits by a 9 year old and I dont say that to be funny. Someone flat fucked up and they should pay with their jobs. Someday, we will relax these procedures but not right now. Semaj should also be in a nice little reformatory with Joan Crawford as the warden. The parents should be locked up on general principle and the airline given a really nice litle fine as a reminder.

    Of course, we will blame Bush for this incident too.

  9. #9 caia
    January 19, 2007

    As a dyed in the wool liberal, I hate to say this, but… maybe this kid could use a bit of juvenile detention. Scare him straight, maybe, while he’s still young enough to be scared. Being a runaway is one thing. (We have no idea what his home life was like, maybe escape was warranted). Being a car thief and taking police on a high speech chase is another. He could have killed somebody. I consider that far more serious and dangerous than lying and duping some airport security.

  10. #10 revere
    January 19, 2007

    Randy: They can’t make a shoe bomb. Read the link I provided. You can’t make a shoe bomb or use a binary bomb in an airplane according to the experts. It’s bullshit.

  11. #11 carl
    January 19, 2007

    Randolph – you indicated that “..they have caught black powder, rubbing alcohol, benzene, lighter fluid and a lot of knives of all types.” True enough, but the have never caught such materials from persons who had an intent to hijack or destroy the aircraft. That is part of the larger problem the USG takes in treating the entire population as if they were all equally likely to engage in terrorist activities creating an army of “Bobby Air-Raid Warden” types who are under the mistaken impresion that they know something about terrorism in general or Islamic terrorism in particular. A telling illustration of this was the recent events wherein reporters asked US officials involved in CT and the great bulk didn’t know the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’a then had the audacity to say it didn’t make any difference in their ability to do their job. Most of the folks allegedly dealing with this have no knowledge at all of Islam or Middle Eastern history or culture and we certainly wouldn’t want anyone who speaks arabic. The only folks I know of who ARE doing a good job with this is NYPD that set up an intel entity intended to protect the city against future threats (since they wisely did not want to depend on Washington having a clue). Anyway, they work in background, have done a lot of good and don’t paralyze travel with silly make-work security projects.

  12. #12 Marissa
    January 19, 2007

    iGollum: LOL. Dear oh dear, our illustrious screeners don’t seem to even have any basic science in their heads. Scary. I hope no one points out to them that glass is a supercooled liquid; we’ll be in real trouble then.

  13. #13 Beth
    January 19, 2007

    Theatre?? More like comedy!!
    Do we really think the average minimum wage screener is competently trained to “profile”-lucky if they are looking at your bag as it passes under the screen! Most airports do not even have the equipment installed to detect bomb making residue. What about the caterers? Baggage handlers? Concession stand workers? It’s a feel good system designed to make the sheeple think Homeland Security “is really protecting you”. Pleez no more kool-aid.

  14. #14 Beth
    January 19, 2007

    Theatre?? More like comedy!!
    Do we really think the average minimum wage screener is competently trained to “profile”-lucky if they are looking at your bag as it passes under the screen! Most airports do not even have the equipment installed to detect bomb making residue. What about the caterers? Baggage handlers? Concession stand workers? It’s a feel good system designed to make the sheeple think Homeland Security “is really protecting you”. Pleez no more kool-aid.

  15. #15 Beth
    January 19, 2007

    Theatre?? More like comedy!!
    Do we really think the average minimum wage screener is competently trained to “profile”-lucky if they are looking at your bag as it passes under the screen! Most airports do not even have the equipment installed to detect bomb making residue. What about the caterers? Baggage handlers? Concession stand workers? It’s a feel good system designed to make the sheeple think Homeland Security “is really protecting you”. Pleez no more kool-aid.

  16. #16 Beth
    January 19, 2007

    Theatre?? More like comedy!!
    Do we really think the average minimum wage screener is competently trained to “profile”-lucky if they are looking at your bag as it passes under the screen! Most airports do not even have the equipment installed to detect bomb making residue. What about the caterers? Baggage handlers? Concession stand workers? It’s a feel good system designed to make the sheeple think Homeland Security “is really protecting you”. Pleez no more kool-aid.

  17. #17 Greg
    January 19, 2007

    Bruce Schneier, well known and respected security consultant, frequently comments on airport security theater.

    http://www.schneier.com/index.html
    http://www.schneier.com/blog/

  18. #18 M. Randolph Kruger
    January 19, 2007

    9 year olds generally cant make a bomb Revere. But there are some very determined people out there. The days of minimum wage screeners at the airports is over too. Those guys make about 36,000 a year plus gov. bennies.

    You wouidnt think that a 9 year old could drive a car at high speed without killing himself or someone else but there it is. 3rd time out for this kid or so. NASCAR should be recruiting him.

    As for bomb making, better get used to the idea that another airliner or building is going to go down. It only takes about a 3 pound charge at 10,000 feet to pop a hole in an airplane. Less if its a shaped charge on or near a window.

  19. #19 Ana
    January 19, 2007

    “There were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the United States in 2005. The financial cost of these crashes is more than 230 Billion dollars. 2.9 million people were injured and 42,636 people killed.”

    http://www.car-accidents.com/pages/stats.html

    Say. For example. One can quibble about the numbers. Yes.

  20. #20 Anne Laurie
    January 20, 2007

    Tangential, but when I read about this kid on another blog, I thought it was a textbook example of a public health problem in America. This is a nine-year-old who’s been picked up as a runaway 9 times, stolen cars 3 times, and generally demonstrated that he’s not a happy camper. His overwhelmed single mother (she has three other boys, none of whom are pulling stunts like this) tried to have him committed to a juvenile facility:

    Semaj was brought to Remann Hall, Guttu said. Officials declined to detain him because he didn’t score high enough on the facility’s risk assessment test and because of his age, said Shelly Maluo, juvenile court administrator. “Putting a 9-year-old in our facility with our population is not a good thing,” she said.

    Maybe the kid’s just high-energy, too smart and too creative for his circumstances. But he needs some kind of help before he ends up killing himself or someone else, and he’s not getting it. There just aren’t enough trained child psychiatrists, child psychologists, even social workers trained to work with children at risk — much less enough beds for all the kids who need more supervision than their parents can provide. Even college-educated, upper-middle-class parents with good insurance coverage too often can’t get help for kids who are just too far off the bubble for mainstreaming but not damaged enough to qualify for permanent residential placement (or warehousing). The careful wording in the article about “scoring high enough on the facility’s risk assessment test” sounds like they’re triaging, keeping the beds they have for the biggest, craziest, most dangerous teenagers. America has decided that it “can’t afford” to spend money providing services (even dedicated after-school programs) for desperately unhappy 9-year-olds. But when he grows into a 14-year-old alcoholic who stabs someone that reminded him of a former abuser, or a 16-year-old who kidnaps and rapes a neighboring toddler, then we’ll find a cell for him — and do a lot of finger-pointing about whose fault it was that such a “monster” walked among us in the first place. It’s about priorities, and of course kids are America’s highest priority… not!

  21. #21 M. Randolph Kruger
    January 20, 2007

    Annie L. Good post, and no matter who has been in the White House, the State House or the Governors mansion the problem is the same all over the country. The kid just didnt get it and while he is only 9 years old he is on his way to becoming a sociopath. The only house he is ever going to know is the Big House. It reminds me of the 13 year old who snuck out here in Memphis and one by one stopped by the houses of kids and picked them up having stolen daddy’s new TransAm. Of course they live on rent subisdy but Dad has a new Trans buggy. Over the hills and down to the place they call the jump they go and they fly into the air at an estimated 120 mph and no, none of them made it after the car flipped in the air and landed top first with six 13-15 year olds in it some 180 feet from the jump. Talk about the sinking feeling.

    Prior to this adventure the kid apparently had been caught once doing it, admitted to doing it three times before and he was still not in custody. His punishment? They took away his cellphone. So with such great parents the suggestion is that we should go out and spend some money and think that it will change this kind of behavior. Its not governments responsibility to parent. It is the reponsibilty of government to govern and enforce the laws and not turn it into a socialist state where discipline of kids is in the hands of that government. Nor is it the responsibilty of government to provide programs for at risk youth. Hell, lets just go and make babies and just give them to the government to raise. We pay for them to have babies as it is so we can just decide that government is responsible for little Semaj the asshole who is the child of a pair of assholes who shouldnt have had kids in the first place.

    No accountability. You can teach Semaj not to climb onto planes illegally, its just a matter of voltage that needs to be applied. Pavlov’s dog. What ? He needs counseling? Sure he does, but start with a butt burning spanking then traumatize him a little more by taking him down to the local jail as my mom did when I shot fireworks into a neighbors shed and set the thing on fire. She left me there for a day and I got the message. There is an end of the line. Semaj will see it soon enough. But we will have to blame goverment for the failings of two parents to parent their child and not the parents. It has to be the lack of counselors, after school this and midnight basketball. I know its not an answer to the problem but the parents are repsonsible for Semaj, lets make them accountable. None of this “I am doing the best I can” because her best isnt good enough for the rest of society. Take the kids into custody for a weekend, put the parents in jail and come Monday morning they will be all over those kids that are so abused already. Will some slip thru the cracks? Sure they will. But if you lock the parents up for just a tad they too will get the message that society expects them to do better or to keep Semaj in line until he is 18. Then the system can take over from there. If it continuously happens then yeah the parents have done all they can and the kid should be put in the box. But it shouldnt be done lightly and nor should it be done without those rebellious little turds having to see the inside of a jail cell. Real live one and introduce them to Luther, the 325 pound double rapist, child molester who is currently in the box for murdering his family. Let Semaj know that he is going to be his bunkmate If the behavior continues after that little adventure, then so be it. Take him away.

    By the way Revere-Its very easy to make TATP from binary liquids-acid and peroxide specifically. All you have to do is mix it, slip it into a shoe in one of those bladder types, let it dry and put it into your carry on. Pull your bag down carefully from the overhead, then slip your special shoes on and all you have to do then is slap your foot down hard. Pretty wicked stuff actually and an electrical charge or concussive impulse (stomping of the feet) will set it off. No detonator needed. About two shoes worth or some of those cold gel packs or something like it. A baggie with water carried in your jacket pocket is also good enough. We are not set up for sniffing that at the airports either. More than enough to blow a window out and take a few seats with it. If it were a 777 or Airbus or heavy aircraft the total airflow thru the window would over stress the area around it and blow it out the rest of the way. Remember too that I am in aviation, I graduated from Embry-Riddle and have two degrees from there, was a program manager for Fedex in aircraft maintenance and engineering so i disagree that its bullshit.

    Me though I would simply make a zip gun out of phenolic and use a single .22 mag shell in it and pop a hole into the fuselage. Same effect at 35,000 , just no mixing. So messy….

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