TSA’s New Security Procedures: A Different Perspective

There’s been a lot written about the TSA’s new airport security procedures lately. We’ve heard from airline pilots, passengers, security experts, Constitutional law experts, high-level TSA officials, and low-level TSA agents, but one group has remained conspicuously silent — the terrorists themselves. That silence is about to be broken; what follows is a partial transcript of a recent meeting of a terrorist organization. All participants are referred to by code names.

Python: Okay, so the plan is to blow up Oceanic flight 42 leaving LAX at 2:13pm next Tuesday.

Dingo: Wait — is Oceanic even a real airline?

Python: It doesn’t matter. We’re generic fictional terrorists in someone’s blog. We don’t need real airlines or even a real ideology, other than general evilness.

Dingo: Is evilness even a real word?

Python: As I was saying — Lemming, you’ll hide the explosives in your underwear and board the plane …

Falcon: Actually, we have a problem. The TSA now has backscatter scanners in some airports. You can opt out of the scan, but if you do, they’ll do a very thorough pat-down. And sometimes they do both.

Grapefruit: Umm… I hate to suggest this, Lemming, but you could stick the explosives up your —

Lemming: That’s disgusting. I’m not going to do that.

Grapefruit: You know you’re going to die when the plane explodes, right?

Lemming: Yes, but I have my limits.

Grapefruit: I’d be willing to hide the explosives in one of my body cavities and then give them to Lemming once we’ve cleared security.

Everyone except Grapefruit: Ewwwwww.

Lemming: How would we make the transfer?

Grapefruit: Well, we’d go into the bathroom together, and …

Lemming: No! I will not go into the bathroom with another man. People will think we’re gay. And we hate gay people.

Grapefruit: We do? I thought we were generic terrorists with no clearly defined ideology other than a commitment to evil.

Python: We are, but seriously, have you ever heard of a terrorist organization operating in the United States that doesn’t hate gay people?

Dingo: Why are we all saying “gay people”? Shouldn’t we be using some sort of epithet?

Python: Can we focus on how we’re going to blow up the plane, please?

Falcon: I think I found something. Apparently, the TSA will only pat you down if you “alarm a walk through metal detector or AIT machine or opt out of the AIT”.

Lemming: AIT?

Falcon: That’s what the TSA calls the scanners. So if you go to an airport that doesn’t have a scanner, and you don’t set off the metal detector, you’ll get through.

Lemming: But how do we figure out which airports have the scanners?

Falcon: There’s a list on the TSA website. And more detailed information elsewhere.

Lemming: Remember, though, that we agreed that destroying Oceanic Flight 42 would strike terror into the hearts of both Lost fans and Douglas Adams fans. We want to target that flight, not some random flight from a scanner-free airport.

Falcon: No problem — we’ll just book an itinerary that has its first flight at a small regional airport with a connection to Oceanic 42. You won’t have to go through security again at LAX if you’re making a connection from another domestic flight.

Lemming: But I already bought my ticket.

Falcon: So?

Lemming: It’s non-refundable. They’ll probably charge me $150 to change it.

Grapefruit: You know you’ll be dead before your credit card bill arrives, right?

Lemming: Oh. Right.

Python: Okay, it sounds like we have a plan. The only thing that could possibly thwart us now would be if the TSA changed its policy and started doing random pat-downs at airports that don’t have scanners.

Grapefruit: Even if they did, they’d only select a small percentage of passengers for the enhanced searches. If we sent several people as backups, at least some of them would be sure to get through.

Python: But what if one of us is selected for a pat-down?

Grapefruit: We can just refuse the search and leave the airport.

Falcon: No! We can’t do that! Once you start going through security, you can’t stop. It’s against the rules. If they want to pat you down, and you leave without letting them, you’re subject to an $11,000 fine.

Python: Well, we certainly can’t risk that.

Grapefruit: This is going to sound a little crazy, but what if we don’t blow up an airplane at all? If our goal is to disrupt air travel and kill a bunch of airline passengers, why don’t we just put a bomb in a duffel bag and blow up the security line? We wouldn’t even have to bother putting stuff in our underwear.

Lemming: That would be kind of wasteful, wouldn’t it? You have to buy an airline ticket to get into the security line, and with this plan, you’d never get on the plane.

Grapefruit: Good point. Never mind.

The transcript ends there. After reading it, one thing became abundantly clear to me: I could never take part in a terrorist conspiracy. The planning meetings must be excruciating.

8 thoughts on “TSA’s New Security Procedures: A Different Perspective

    1. I think that people have the right to know what procedures they’ll be subjected to — but even if you wanted to keep this information secret, I don’t think you could. 100 million Americans fly each year (actually, I have no idea how accurate that statistic is, but I’ve seen it in a couple places), and basically, each one gets a hint (i.e., their own experience and observations when they go through the security line). It’s really hard to keep a secret when you’re giving hints to that many people.

      1. You’re right in this instance where there is a direct effect on the public i.e. they have to go through the scanners.

        I was thinking more in other situations. A couple of years back there was an analysis done on the vulnerability of computer networks in the US. Quite a detailed report was made available online. I also feel that e.g. TIME magazine often does an in depth story on a situation which has security implications (e.g. articles on the Iraq War regarding military strategies) which is quite a risky think to do. It’s interesting, but do I really need to know this? There needs to be a balance between what the public has a right to know, and what doesn’t belong in the public domain.

        I’m sorry I’m going off-topic here . . . your post just reminded me of this. :-)

        1. I’m not sure there really is such a thing as “off-topic” here, so don’t apologize. :-)

          I agree it’s a tricky issue. Giving out too much information can be a problem, but in computer security, at least, publishing detailed information about how things work often actually makes systems more secure (because vulnerabilities are identified/fixed more quickly).

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