TSA Security Gaps make for good Security Theater

Submitted by admin on Tue, 12/21/2010 - 23:33

Long before pat downs and body scanners I would laugh at the TSA's protocols and say its was merely there to make grandparents feel safe. Today they call that Security Theater. According to wikipedia, "Security theater" is a term that describes security countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve security. Honestly we all live with and accept risk in our everyday lives. But some how America has taken a position of zero-risk no matter what the cost when it comes to airplane travel. Just like security theater this doesn't make sense.

I thought I would compile a top 10 list of the TSA's best Security Theater to see if you found it entertaining or just a crazy mess of wasteful spending. Note that I am not "educating terrorists" as these are all well known weaknesses and any idiot could figure them out even without a Google search engine.

"the bad guys aren’t helped — because they almost certainly already know a system’s weak points — and that disclosing the weaknesses brings pressure on government agencies and their suppliers to improve security for the good guys."  The New York Times

Point #1 - Layered Security

Experts all agree on one thing. The best security is a layered approach. Airport security should start at the entrance as vehicles attempt to enter the airport they should be screened the same way its done at the US Borders. Next behavioral screening should be conducted when the ticket is issued (by a really person, see #2) and by agents in the waiting line. Travelers should be asked even the simplest of questions, because even terrorists will act odd knowing they are about to die. The TSA claims they have a layered approach and two years ago the TSA said they would expand random screenings to the terminal gates. But of course none of this happens.

Point #2 - Kill a tree and Stop Paperless Tickets

I fly every week and I love my eTickets but lets face it, my 12 year cousin could fake a boarding pass. In fact people have websites to make it even easier. But the TSA doesn't want to stop this "paperless loophole" because its a revenue machine for the airlines.

Point #3 - The Prisoners Dilemma - Pat Downs don't work

The TSA should take note that even high security prisons have all kinds of contraband smuggled inside - drugs, knives, weapons, cellphones, etc. Drug mules have known for years that officers don't do cavity searches. So just how far is the TSA willing to go because terrorists are already doing it? And according to the TSA the agent will use the palm of the hand and go up until they "meet resistance". So what happens if I wear a sports cup? What happens if the "resistance" isn't genitals or a cup but PETN shaped like a summer sausage?

Point #4 - AIT Scanners are not fool proof

40 grams of PETN could be pressed into a 1mm thick "pancake" that would not be visible to AIT backscatter xray scanners. The explosive pancake would appear as normal flesh. Not sure why the University of California researchers chose pancakes, it seems like you could shape it into a summer sausage just as easily, but they claim that the AIT scanners would not have caught the underwear bomber. Since the TSA doesn't have scanners at every airport and not every passenger is scanned the statistical odds are in favor of the terrorist passing through undetected. Of course it helps if the TSA doesn't turn them off. The TSA says its not worried about cavity loopholes because they are in the "risk management business" and it would still require an external initiator that the AIT scanner would see. But that assuming a terrorist has the initiator connected when they go through security and not something they would connect at leisure in the airport terminal.

Point #5 - The No Fly list's Carousel effect

Having a No Fly list is great but it doesn't make us safe. Terrorist merely have to find ONE volunteer and testing the No Fly list is easy. They just have to send 10 people through with no explosives. Anyone that makes it through the first time can come back over and over again without worry. Or they might just might not use their real name.

To slip through the only check against the no-fly list, the terrorist uses a stolen credit card to buy a ticket under a fake name. “Then you print a fake boarding pass with your real name on it and go to the airport. You give your real ID, and the fake boarding pass with your real name on it, to security. They’re checking the documents against each other. They’re not checking your name against the no-fly list—that was done on the airline’s computers. Once you’re through security, you rip up the fake boarding pass, and use the real boarding pass that has the name from the stolen credit card. Then you board the plane, because they’re not checking your name against your ID at boarding.” from The Atlantic

Point #6 - "You look familiar" Part 1: Outdated no fly lists

Speaking of No Fly lists, even being on the list doesn't stop someone from actually boarding a plane. Tickets purchased at the last minute, and often with cash, don't get scanned in time by the TSA. The no fly list didn't stop the Times Square bomber and despite warnings the Underwear Bomber wasn't even listed.

Point #7 - "You look familiar" Part 2: Multiple entries and why plastic baggies don't help

This one drives me crazy. The TSA limits travelers to only ONE plastic baggie of liquids but the TSA doesn't have ANY limits on the number of times a traveler can pass through security. Even if the TSA did impose a limit they have no tracking technology in order to enforce a limit. A traveler could easily within just a few hours prior to departure pass a gallon of liquid through security. DFW airport has 15 different security checkpoints with a convienent train system inside of security making the 3oz restriction just a bad inside joke.

And why allow huge bottles of Saline if no one ever checks the contents?

Point #8 - $2 Billion on scanners but not enough training for actual staff

The TSA will spend over $2 billions on AIT body scanners and yet the actual agents trying to find the terrorists are underpaid and under-trained. ABC news says that recent tests of the TSA, 20 out of 22 fake guns/bombs were missed but the same thing happened back in 2006. A loaded gun made it through without notice. Looks like the TSA is buying shiny new toys from the good old boy network without focusing on real issues.

Point #9 - The "SS SS" of the TSA isn't really random

The airline prints SSSS on your boarding pass if you are selected for a random screening by the TSA. You can clearly see this and would then know to NOT go through the security check point. Or you could just switch boarding passes. And speaking of random why does the list of people that are expect from screening keep growing larger? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? I just have to volunteer at the airport and then I can skip right through security?

Point #10 - "These aren't the items you are looking for"

The TSA has a historic trend at knee jerking a listed of Prohibited Items. Not only does the list itself seem to change on a regular basis but each agent and their supervisor interprets the list differently. This causes the agents to focus all of their attention on ITEMS rather then on actual THREATS. Despite being approved on the TSA website, mothers are being detained for breast milk, little children are being strip searched, and I have been stopped several times for a 1/2 inch Swiss+Tech micro screw driver. All the while real threats continue to pass through without detection.

Why ban ink printer cartridges and force agents to scan for yet one more ITEM when terrorists have already "been there done that" and now are moving to more advanced threats like surgical implants?

Point #10.5 - Personal annoyance

Why do travelers have to lay the shoes they are wearing out with nothing inside of them but the shoes I stuffed into my carry-on can be covered with power cords, sunglasses and batteries?

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