Monday, December 28, 2009

Air travel security stupidity

So some jackass tried to blow up a plane during the last hour of flight as it was in-bound to Detroit from Amsterdam on Jesus' birthday.  And what did da Gubment do in response?  What it does best: It overreacted.

This time the TSA has decided that air security will be "unpredictable".  That is, there will be different restrictions in place at different airports.  Several of these "unpredictabilities" (if that is a word? ... another wordicle!) include only allowing each passenger a single carry-on bag (therefore more moola for the airlines in the form of additional checked bags that we get to pay for), not allowing anyone out of their seat during the last hour of flight (i.e. no potty breaks --- Clamp it off!  CLAMP IT OFF!!!!), not allowing any passengers to have anything on their laps during the last hour of flight (oh for those of us with kids --- that'll be fun), and leaving the cabin lights on during take off and landing (uh ... just not sure what sort of sarcasm to inject for this one since it kinda stands on its own in the land of the stupid).

A while back I used to read a monthly column/blog by a security expert, Bruce Schneier, called Crypto-gram.  This guy has been around for quite a while and has a very good reputation throughout the entire security industry as having expertise in IT security issues (you know, like cryptography and such, keeping your computer data safe), personal information security (preventing ID theft) and physical security issues, under which topics like air travel security fall.  Surprisingly, these three issues which at first glance appear to be very different are actually very similar in the overall theories behind the scenes (like using various layers of security (the "peeling the onion's layers" idea) or having multiple methods to authenticate the system's users (as in requiring a username AND a password AND a PIN)); where they differ is in the actual implementation.  In days past, after the whole 9/11 debacle, Mr. Schneier used to constantly rail on how poorly the then-new TSA would handle each and every new type of security breach.  One guy tried using his shoes.  Another guy tried using liquid in bottles.  This latest guy tried using some as-yet-unknown type of high-yield but very small explosive that he evidently hid in his underwear (big UH OH!!! for us).  And each time the TSA would react to THAT SPECIFIC THREAT.  Per Mr. Schneier, this is wrong, stupid and costly.  He calls these "movie plot scenarios", because each one of them would make for a really cool Hollywood movie, but trying to react to them all in reality is just impossible.  His solution for this type of security, by the way, is:
  1. Better intelligence.  We should dump a lot more money into our intelligence apparatus, simply because being able to tell ahead of time what might be happening down the road might just turn out to be a good idea.
  2. Better security training.  We should train our security screeners to be more alert for anomalies, you know, like the guy who is acting just slightly stranger than everyone around him, or the other guy who is wearing that big ol' trench coat in mid-Summer.
Mr. Schneier has even gone so far as to have "movie plot scenario" contests in which his readers submit the most wacky and outlandish yet feasible ways in which terrorists might inflict the most damage (physical or otherwise) to us, giving the winner one of his signed books or something.  His point: There are too many individual ways that we can be attacked and we cannot prevent them all individually.  So, rather, we must be vigilant and try to look ahead via intelligence and see what is happening now via well-trained security agents.  This just makes sense.

Contrary to this, the TSA is jumping, again, right into the movie plot scenario minefield.  This supposedly-a-terrorist guy tried to blow a hole in the side of his plane on Jesus' burthday, and so, once again, the TSA is going to try to restrict us from doing every single little thing that he was attempting to do to fulfill his so-called mission.  You know, like maybe taking a whiz during the last hour of our flights.  Or perhaps reading a book as the plane lands.  Or wearing underwear.  Thank that will help us?  I don't.

Here is a small selection of snippets from a few of the websites associated with this or commenting on it.  Note that, this time at least, I don't blame the airlines for the stupidity.  That is all on da Gubment.

British Airways website security statement:
Only one item of hand luggage is allowed for all passengers travelling to the US from Heathrow, Gatwick or London City. This applies to passengers whose journey originates in London, as well as those who are transferring flights. They are advised to check-in as normal.
I assume that this means that people flying from other UK airports won't be carrying any bad stuff.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's statement, from the TSA website:
Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place. These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere.
"Designed to be unpredictable".  That statement scares the living crap out of me.  Da Gubment is so bad at being predictable that it makes me very uncomfortable wondering how they will be intentionally unpredictable.  Wow!

This is a fantastic opinion piece from the USA Today website.  They absolutely pegged it: the TSA failed to "connect the dots".  This guy should have been IDed in so many ways, but he wasn't.

And this one from
One passenger out of a million failed to blow up one airliner out of a thousand on one day out of the year, so we should let the TSA strip scan anybody they want to.
And this is where we are probably heading ...

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