Archive for the ‘terrorism’ Category

Airport Security: Don’t touch my junk

November 18, 2010

There is a great deal of comment on U.S. programming right now on the new airport security rules and the choice being given of going through the new scanner units that essentially strip you naked electronically or a very personal physical pat-down by security personnel.

The big story the past few days was about a traveler who was ejected from the San Diego airport for refusing to go through the scanner or agree to the physical pat-down, telling the screener, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested,”

I was the recipient of the procedure going through the Vancouver airport a month or so ago.

On general principles I turned down the opportunity to use the scanner (I don’t know exactly why, as I volunteered to go through one a few years ago in the Kelowna airport at a time when they were just testing them out. I suspect I was just succumbing to the old cranky man syndrome this particular day).

Anyway, in Vancouver because I passed on the scanner, I received the obligatory pat-down. The security fellow abd I had a far too personal experience. I had the feeling (actually, he was doing the feeling) that he was a tad more uncomfortable with the procedure than I was.

Regardless, I don’t think I would take that route again.

In fact, flying out of Kelowna a few days ago I was honoured by being picked for a more detailed security check – at least I hope that it was  a random check as I would hate to think that I have been elevated to some government security risk list, although I might qualify for the one that includes ‘cranky old men’.

This check required me to step inside the de-clothing scanner and also required me to take off my shoes and have the interior of my carry-on bag manually inspected. All very politely done though.

Now, if truth be told, I really have no problem going through the scanner. If they want to inspect my private parts via electronics they are welcome to scan away. If perchance the people viewing my electronically de-clothed  body get some titillation from the viewing that is their personal problem. However I suspect that viewing my body parts on a monitor will never gather a crowd in the booth.

But I can certainly see where some travelers would have a problem with the process.

The scanning is supposed to be private and the image is supposed to be deleted immediately after the scanning. But there have been some stories to indicate that this is not always the case.

People are cynical about promises coming from the bureaucracy. This is more than understandable when you think about the recent incident where trained police officers – supposedly professionals – watched sexual activities in one of their jail cells as though it was a private porn show.  It certainly casts doubt on any assurances that airport security personnel can somehow be expected to rise to the occasion and be more professional and discreet.

The other thing is whether all of this additional screening actually makes flying any safer or whether it simply boils down to an attempt to make the public feel as though they are safer.

When you think of it, every new procedure to control the traveling public comes after some failed attempt rather than before.

After the 911 attacks where the terrorists used box cutters to take over the plane, for a time they banned safety razors in carry-on bags. A regulation that didn’t survive the stupidity test.

When there were stories of terrorists bringing dangerous materials on the plane in containers they limited the size of the toothpaste and shaving cream, etc containers that you could bring on in your carry bag.

After the shoe bomber they started making you take your shoes off.

When the underwear bomber was caught they decided that they needed to peek into your pants.

The bad guys just seemed to move on to the next scenario.

I do wonder at what point the powers-that-be will have the epiphany that the way to keep the airspace completely safe is to simply keep people off the planes. Problem solved.

I have always felt that a real weakness in the security system is all of those people who work behind the security wall on a regular basis. This would include the contracted luggage handlers, the mechanics, the people who clean the planes and even the security personnel themselves. Are there ongoing security measures in place that are at least as stringent as those that the flying public are put through?

From my personal point of view flying has become so unfriendly that I tend to avoid it unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it continues to become even more unfriendly – as it undoubtedly will – I expect that I will find more and more reasons why I don’t have to fly at all.

I remember with some fondness when air travel was fun. Those days, unfortunately, because of events and the times are long gone.

Today flying is akin to bus travel with wings. In fact traveling in today’s modern buses with their air conditioning and on-board entertainment may well be a lot more fun, albeit much slower, than flying.


Airline security, terrorists and Fort Hood

December 31, 2009

My post on the attempted terrorist attack on the Christmas flight into Detroit beat on the officials who, in the aftermath, put numerous ridiculous restrictions into place that in no way improved security for the flying public but did manage to make the miserable experience that commercial flying has become into a more miserable experience.

My theory was that having done little to nothing meaningful to improve real security in airports since the tragedy of 911 they had to come up with some kind of a short-term plan to convince the world that in actual fact they had a handle on the situation. Their solution was to come up with a lot of dumbass restrictions on the paying customers that would make air travel so inconvenient and so difficult that the flying public could only assume that their new rules and regulations had merit. After all, why would anyone deliberately make your life that miserable for no good reason?

But then I looked at the killings on the Fort Hood army base in Texas by another terrorist and the security measures that were put in place after it was over.

There is a pattern.

On November 5, this year, an army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik went on the Fort Hood army base and shot and killed 13 people and wounded 30 more. He was stopped by the courageous action of a female police officer, the first armed responder, who engaged Malik and with the help of a 2nd officer put him out of commission, although she was wounded as well in exchange. Malik lived.

As the investigation of the event progressed it was discovered that Malik had sent e-mails to a radical Yeman cleric where discussed the killing of American soldiers by Muslims serving in the US forces. This information was intercepted by US Intelligence who passed it on the the army, but nothing further was done.

There were other hints as well.

There was the classroom presentation that justified suicide bombings. Comments to colleagues about a climate of persecution faced by Muslims in the military. Conversations with a mosque leader that became incoherent.


Danquah assumed the military’s chain of command knew about Hasan’s doubts, which had been known for more than a year to classmates in a graduate military medical program. His fellow students complained to the faculty about Hasan’s “anti-American propaganda,” but said a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim student kept officers from filing a formal written complaint.

There were problems, people knew there were problems and nothing was done.

So when the facts were in and all was said and done, what solution did the military come up with to make sure nothing like this could happen again on the Fort Hood army base?

Fort Hood officials announced Thursday a new command policy regarding registration requirements for privately-owned firearms was signed into effect Tuesday by Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, III Corps and Fort Hood commander.

The policy, and Fort Hood Regulation 190-11, requires all service members and their families living, residing or temporarily staying at Fort Hood to register any privately-owned firearms kept on post with the Directorate of Emergency Services, a Fort Hood press release states.

The announcement comes more than a month after the Nov. 5 massacre on post claimed the lives of 13 and injured more than 30 – victims were shot by a soldier using a privately-owned firearm.

The new policy details how soldiers, family members and even civilians must go about reporting privately-owned weapons being taken on post.

“Service members living in barracks or in post temporary housing must notify their immediate commander of the possession of POFs and keep the weapon in their respective unit arms room in accordance with Army Regulation 190-11 and Fort Hood Regulation 190-11,” the policy reads.

Under the new policy, service members and their families living, residing or temporarily staying at Fort Hood are required to immediately notify DES of any “sale, purchase, trade, gift, exchange or any other action that changes the ownership or long-term possession of a POF kept on the installation.”

Besides detailing the responsibilities of service members, the policy additionally states that “all persons, whether service member or civilian, who intend to transport a privately-owned firearm onto Fort Hood must first register that firearm with DES.”

It goes on to state that when entering Fort Hood, all persons are required to declare to access control point personnel that they are bringing a privately-owned firearm onto the installation.

“POFs being transported onto Fort Hood will, at all times, be accompanied by post registration documentation and are subject to inspection,” the policy states.

The announcement Thursday specified that the new policy is “punitive in nature” and applies to all III Corps and Fort Hood service members, major subordinate units, tenant activities and family members across Fort Hood.

In the aftermath of a tragedy that was begun by an army officer who came on to the base with the sole intent of murdering as many people as possible and was only stopped by the arrival of two armed police officers, the army’s solution is to crack down on legitimate gun ownership on the base.

Unlike the new restrictions on the flying public that would inconvenience them even further while actually providing no increase in actual security, the army brass went one step further. Their new security regulations would ensure that a terrorist of the same ilk as Hasan would again have the opportunity to gun down his comrades with impunity until hopefully someone who was allowed to be armed on the base came forward to stop the carnage.

If this is the clearheaded military thinking that is leading the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq then the troops are in serious trouble.

In a 4 part article (1,2, 3,4) in the on the new Fort Hood firearms regulations, the author concludes:

Unfortunately, “the obvious” solution is not necessarily the easy solution; anyone who tries to create a culture that demands loyalty and willingness to follow orders in the U.S. military will certainly face charges of fascism, McCarthyism, racism, and any other -ism that seems likely to damage a reputation.  Although there’s still time for more substantial changes to be made, Fort Hood’s new regulations are worrisome signs that the powers that be think they can avoid doing the hard work of getting rid of terrorists in their own midst if only they make a convincing show of cracking down on the weapon the last terrorist used . . . but even if the next terrorist grants us the courtesy of doing only what he saw on TV the last time, it’s hard to see how that could be enough.

All of which leads me to modify my thinking to accept the fact that there is probably no deviousness in the new airline regulations nor the Fort Hood gun rules. I think, as the author of the Examiner article says, there is a natural inclination to look for the easy solution but apparently little to no ability to analyze that solution to assess whether it will actually have any effect on the problem. And there is absolutely no inclination to try and deal with the realities.

It is always easier and safer to penalize the innocents and simply ignore those that cause the problem.

Terrorists and the sad state of security

December 30, 2009

As is the norm, in the aftermath of the terrorist attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 flying into Detroit on Christmas  day, those who would save us from ourselves proclaimed a new set of rules for passengers flying in or into the US.

Also, as is the norm, the new security rules did not make any of those passengers any safer while they were in the air (or anywhere else).

The rule (again, as is the norm) just made what has become a miserable traveling experience even more miserable for those so unfortunate to be flying the past few days.

In a bit of brilliant analysis these security experts put into place a number of restrictions as their solution to avoiding any further attacks on the flying public.

  • Because the perpetrator got up from his seat in the last hour of the flight and went to the washroom, all passengers were relegated to their seats for the last hour of their flight.
  • Because the perpetrator covered his lap with a blanket in order to hide his attempt to activate the explosive he had strapped to his thigh, in the last hour of the flight no passenger could have a blanket or a pillow at their seat. (In fact on some flights passengers were told to keep their hands in full view).
  • They initially banned all carry-on luggage with only a few exceptions, such as computers, cameras, medication and small purses for example. (They seem to have now moved back to one carry-on bag but I heard reported today that they would not allow carry-on luggage with wheels. I suppose that somehow the wheels on a piece of luggage presents a clear and present danger to passenger safety).
  • Then, to add insult to injury, some flights told passengers that they could not access their carry-on material during the last hour in the air – even magazines to read.

None of these precautions – if you can call them that – have anything to do with safety. In fact they are simply put into place as feel-good measures to make the public think that they are in fact doing something and to direct the attention away from the real issue,which is the fact that the security procedures that they currently have in place are a failure.

Because, in fact, security was already screwed when this terrorist made it on to the plane.

This was a guy who was already on the watch-list, whose father had contacted authorities with concerns about his son, and was able to board, apparently without a passport. But while you and I can’t get through airport security with a bottle of water, this turkey, who should have merited some extra-special consideration, breezed through with an explosive device strapped to his crotch.

Once you have let a terrorist on the plane, with a bomb ready to go, all of the stupid rules and regulations that the bureaucrats put in place to make us think they are taking security seriously are simply for show.

Christopher Hitchens puts it in historical perspective and also notes:

Why do we fail to detect or defeat the guilty, and why do we do so well at collective punishment of the innocent? The answer to the first question is: Because we can’t—or won’t. The answer to the second question is: Because we can. The fault here is not just with our endlessly incompetent security services, who give the benefit of the doubt to people who should have been arrested long ago or at least had their visas and travel rights revoked. It is also with a public opinion that sheepishly bleats to be made to “feel safe.” The demand to satisfy that sad illusion can be met with relative ease if you pay enough people to stand around and stare significantly at the citizens’ toothpaste. My impression as a frequent traveler is that intelligent Americans fail to protest at this inanity in case it is they who attract attention and end up on a no-fly list instead. Perfect.

That is the sorry state of government action and not only as it applies to airport security.

In addition, not only were many of the new rules ridiculous, it was also confusing to everyone.

You are now free to move about the cabin. Or not.

After a two-day security clampdown prompted by a thwarted attempt to bomb a jetliner, some airline officials told The Associated Press that the in-flight restrictions had been eased. And it was now up to captains on each flight to decide whether passengers can have blankets and other items on their laps or can move around during the final phase of flight.

Confused? So were scores of passengers who flew Monday on one of the busiest travel days of the year. On some flights, passengers were told to keep their hands visible and not to listen to iPods. Even babies were frisked. But on other planes, security appeared no tighter than usual.

The Transportation Security Administration did little to explain the rules. And that inconsistency might well have been deliberate: What’s confusing to passengers is also confusing to potential terrorists.

“It keeps them guessing,” transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said.


If the objective was to befuddle, then on Monday it was mission accomplished.

On one Air Canada flight from Toronto to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, crew members told passengers before departure that they were not allowed to use any electronic devices – even iPods – and would not be able to access their personal belongings during the one-hour flight.

The questions came as President Obama ordered a review of air-safety regulations. TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne declined to offer details other than to say the agency would “continually review and update these measures to ensure the highest level of security.”

An hour before a US Air flight from Manchester, England, to Philadelphia landed, flight attendants removed passengers’ blankets and told them to keep their “hands visible,” said passenger Walt Swanson of Cumbria, England.

Even bathroom visits were affected on some flights.

On Continental Flight 1788 from Cancun, Mexico, to Newark, three airport security agents frisked everyone at the gate, including babies, prompting one to scream loudly in protest. On the plane, crew announced that the toilets would be shut down the last hour of the flight and passengers would not be able eat, drink, or use electronic devices.

The warning that the bathrooms would be shut down led to lines 10 people deep at each lavatory. A demand by one attendant that no could read anything either elicited gasps of disbelief and howls of laughter.

And here’s a dandy.

One of the Transportation Security Administration restrictions that most annoyed the airlines was an order to shut off in-flight entertainment systems on international flights. Airlines objected, and on Sunday night, the TSA apparently relented and left it to the discretion of airline crews to decide whether to turn off the systems.

I wonder who the hell thought up that key security measure?

Some further comments.

Here’s what’s not being addressed during all of this:

• On U.S. domestic flights, while the TSA is still strip-searching nuns looking for tweezers, a majority of the cargo carried in the very bellies of those flights is not inspected.

• Most technology being used at airport security screening checkpoints is not able to recognize PETN or other chemical explosives. And let us not forget that a syringe is not a prohibited item.

And the TSA is fighting this by prohibiting us from having a blanket, book or pillow during the last hour of our flight — all because one person tried — unsuccessfully — to blow up a plane and he used a blanket during the last hour of HIS flight to try to conceal his poor attempt at detonating a chemical device?

This has nothing to do with what we do on the plane. It all has to do with how we are supposed to clear security ON THE GROUND before we ever get on the plane!

The REAL key here is that either you clear through security and the security systems are effective, or they’re not. Denying me an extra carry-on bag, or a book, or a blanket, or not allowing me to leave my seat during the last hour of flight does little to camouflage the weakness of current airport security systems on the ground.

And so, once again, as well-intentioned as these new rules may be, they are reactive in nature, have no basis in common sense, and are punishing us in the air for the failure of security agencies on the ground. Thousands upon thousands of passengers will be delayed and / or inconvenienced, and the actual level of security will essentially remain the same, at best.

And some travel advice.

And in the meantime, my advice: Get to the airport two- to-three hours early for domestic fights, four hours early for international flights and, if at all possible, on domestic flights, do what I do — courier your bags ahead of time. I use FedEx, but there are 16 other services, including UPS, that can do this for you. In the past, I’ve saved two-and–a-half hours PER FLIGHT by not checking bags. Now, I’ll probably save even more time.

Things will gradually work back to normal, but the message is clear. No-one learned anything of any real value from 911.

There is the technology out there to make a significant improvement to airport security. Somebody just has to make it happen. But judging from this latest experience, it probably won’t be the hacks that are currently running the show.