Steve Riley on Security

Formerly of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group.

Airport security silliness

Airport security silliness

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So today (Thursday 21 July 2005) I flew from Seattle to Dallas for a customer meeting. Since it's a short one-day affair, I packed my small carry-on size suitcase. In it was a pair of shoes, one pants, one shorts, two shirts, a toiletry bag, and my collection of wall warts (AC adpaters). Seems normal, so far.

As the suitcase passes through the x-ray machine, the TSA droid's brows begin to furrow. "Oh crap," thought I. They run the bag a second time. More furrowing.

"Is this your bag?" they ask. There seemed to be a bit of trepidation combined with glee in their attitude -- or maybe I was just imagining it.

"Yeah, can you tell me what's wrong?"

"There's something that we can't figure out what it is. We'll need to do a secondary screening."

So then they carry it to one of those infernal explosive detection machines. You know, where another doughnut-gorged TSA droid sticks a little chamois pad on the end of a wand and lovingly caresses your bag's zippers, then inserts the chamois pad into the detection machine. There was nothing, of course. As far as I can tell from my research, none of these machines in any airport in the United States has ever actually found an explosive. What an absolute waste of time, money, and resources.

Then -- get this -- Mr. Doughnut hands me my bag! So let me get this straight. The supposedly highly-trained x-ray operator can't figure out something inside my bag, and so they inspect the exterior zipper? What are these people smoking, and why don't they share? Sheesh! Security theater, indeed.

Comments
  • Steve, back to the old rubber glove treatment at the security outpost, eh? It seems like they always pick on you, which sucks.

    For some reason, Seattle seems to be very stict as far as security. I have made a science of going through screening without beeping or having the bag searched or run a second time. But, for some reason Seattle seems to do it to me too.

    Reagan National is also a little funky. I never have figured out why they check my boarding pass and initial it, I go through the metal detector 10 feet away, and then they check my boarding pass again.

  • Yeah, I'm trying to figure out which profile a bleach-blond shorts-wearing backpack-toting million-miler matches... ;)

    A few months ago I was going through security with my rollerblade bag. In the bag I (used to, now) kept an allen wrench for removing wheels, in case I needed to effect repair. Ten or eleven times this was never a problem, until a trip to Singapore a couple months ago -- they threw away my wrench. What where they afraid of? Did they think I was gonna dismantle the plane or something? More silliness.

  • Steve, I regularly fly out of seatac. I have a 100% correlation between the attention TSA gives me and the length of my hair. If it's just been cut short, they wave me through. If it is long and fuzzy, my bag gets searched and I get patted down.

    Clothes, bag, and amount of electronic gear is identical every time. It's all about the hair.

    Even bad action movie directors know you have to have your hijackers dress like business travelers. Why hasn't the TSA figured that out?

  • Tsk. I agree there is much silliness regarding airport security. But to be fair, that wand was presumably picking up microsamples of any chemicals that might be given off from unknown substances in your bag. They can't do that with every bag; it adds 30 or 60 seconds to the process, which is considerable if you have a hundred passengers boarding a plane. I suppose that whatever puzzled the X-ray operator, it didn't look like a weapon (as would nail clippers, allen wrenches, etc.).

  • Ah, but nothing beats September16th 2001, transiting through LAX. After waiting in a very long line so a squaddie with an M16 could glare at me, I went through the metal detectors, demonstrated my computer was actually a computer and not a bomb (And of course the AC adapter was really filled with transformer) and generally got prodded in places I'm not to keen on the missus exploring.
    Finally, they were satisfied that I wasn't a terrorist and let me through.
    Ah bliss - LAX's concourse - where I can buy food and coffee. Not in that order. So, having got my latte, I proceed to some restaurant and sit down for some dinner. I ordered steak, which arrived sizzling hot and medium rare; just as I like it. It also arrived with a five inch long serrated steel steak knife...
    I thought I might go and tell aforementioned squaddies about the knives being given out after their security check ... but given their mood, I just kept quiet.

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