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Schneier Talks to the Head of TSA 342

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the go-to-the-source dept.
Bruce Schneier recently had the chance to sit down with Kip Hawley, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and discuss some of the frustrations travelers experience head-on. "In April, Kip Hawley, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), invited me to Washington for a meeting. Despite some serious trepidation, I accepted. And it was a good meeting. Most of it was off the record, but he asked me how the TSA could overcome its negative image. I told him to be more transparent, and stop ducking the hard questions. He said that he wanted to do that. He did enjoy writing a guest blog post for Aviation Daily, but having a blog himself didn't work within the bureaucracy."
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Schneier Talks to the Head of TSA

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  • Ask him... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 30, 2007 @11:52AM (#20044455)
    Ask him the procedure for getting yourself off the no-fly list.

    I'd ask myself, but I'd rather stay off that list, and since no one can say how you get on, this post might put me on that list, but I wouldn't know it until I couldn't fly next week.

    P.S. Ask him if he admires Kafka and is trying to emulate his writings...
  • by garcia (6573) on Monday July 30, 2007 @11:53AM (#20044467) Homepage
    Bruce Schneier recently had the chance to sit down with Kip Hawley, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and discuss some of the frustrations travelers experience head-on.

    I have flown quite a bit this past year and visited airports across the country (for pleasure, never for business) and have never once had a run in with the TSA. My issues are solely with the airlines and their "customer service".

    Last night was a prime example. Flying from SAV to ATL and on to MSP. My flight out of SAV was delayed from 19:42 to 22:15 and then in ATL we were originally delayed out until 01:20 then moved back to 22:10 (which I would have missed the connection) and then back to 00:10 (which was actually 00:30). We arrived at MSP 45 minutes late (which isn't that bad overall).

    The flight from ATL to MSP has a TERRIBLE track record according to Flight Stats [flightstats.com] (0.9 out of 5 stars).

    Then with Northwest's pilots calling in sick and them dropping ~9% of their flights for the weekend (170 to 200 flights) is just a joke.

    The TSA hasn't exactly been friendly or courteous but at least they are doing their job. The airlines, OTOH, aren't doing anything except making a big hole and getting bailed out by the taxpayers while paying their CEO's millions.
    • And the worst part of it all... you can't complain for fear of the airline throwing your ass off the flight.
    • Airlines have problems because travel gets bigger every year, but airports (generally) do not. There's a bit they could do to resolve problems like yours (for instance, keep more pilots in reserve so pilots calling in sick doesn't affect flight schedules), but a lot of those delays are simply too many planes and too few runways/gates.
      • by ivan256 (17499)
        Let me add to your list of things they could do to help:

        • Stop overbooking. Just stop. No conditions, exceptions, nothing.
        • Allow tickets to be transferable. That would allow people's plans to be more flexible (but prevent some of the ways they price gouge).

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by wiggles (30088)
            Not to defend these abhorrent procedures, but these are two ways they use to reduce the overall ticket price at the expense of people who don't actually use the tickets they pay for. If you kill these practices, then the average ticket price would necessarily go up. If only one airline killed these procedures, then the market would drift away from them as their prices rise. If these practices are ever done away with, it will have to be due to an act of congress or the FAA in order to raise all ticket pri
            • Here's something I observed, and fortunately was not directly affected by:

              United flight from Hong Kong to Chicago. There's two of these a day. The day before our flight, both flights had been overbooked and everyone showed up. So they had to pay people effectively $1200 each to stay an extra day in HK. The day we were flying everyone showed as well as the people who had been left over from the previous day. They paid 56 people $1400 to wait around in the hopes of getting the second flight that day. One of them had been bumped twice the previous day and had no reason to hurry home so he had gotten a total of $5000 in order to delay his flight a day or so. Keep in mind the plane tickets themselves were $1200 each when we purchased them.

              The weird part is that once we were on the plane and they had already paid 56 people who were at the gate to not get on the plane, they had to ask another 10 to get off because of weight restrictions. So the airline paid out $92000 on that flight alone because they overbooked it. This is why the airlines are going bankrupt, because their predictive models of who is going to no-show isn't working anymore. I have several relatives who always build an extra 2-3 days into their travel schedules so they can volunteer to be bumped. As a result they usually end up essentially getting upgraded to business or economy plus AND getting to fly for free.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Stop overbooking. Just stop. No conditions, exceptions, nothing.

            Overbooking happens because on a certain percentage of flights business travelers always fail to show up. By overbooking the flight they can sell the seats of those no-shows. More bums in the plane = Cheaper airfares. Therefore, I don't want them to stop overbooking as airfares I pay will by extension go up. Bumping = cheaper airfares. Typically most overbooked flights are swarmed with volunteers willing to be bumped in exchange for per

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by ivan256 (17499)

              If you show up sufficiently early to check in it's unlikely you'll be bumped due to an overbooking scenario.

              More time waiting is equivalent to a higher cost ticket. Perhaps your time is worthless?

              Tickets *are* transferable if you purchase the correct fare class.

              Tickets are transferable if you give up any money you would have saved by purchasing early. In reality, ticket prices should go down as the flight nears, in order to encourage sales of the remaining seats. Additionally, agencies should be able to

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                More time waiting is equivalent to a higher cost ticket. Perhaps your time is worthless?

                Nope, but if I'm travelling in business I can just get to the airport and work on my laptop. Who cares whether I'm at my desk or at Starbucks? And if I'm travelling for pleasure I've already taken the day off so who cares if I'm hanging at home or at the bar in the airport?

                In reality, ticket prices should go down as the flight nears, in order to encourage sales of the remaining seats.

                Incorrect - The vast majority

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by ivan256 (17499)

                  The vast majority of people who purchase tickets "last minute" are people who MUST travel on date X at time Y. As a result, the airline can and does charge more for these seats, for the 'privilege' of booking last minute. If you study airline economics you'll see that there isn't a pool of last-minute travellers who snap up the cheap seats. There is, however, a pool of last-minute travellers who will pay more to travel right now.

                  You've got the cause and effect backwards. The only reason the airline can ch

                  • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                    The only reason the airline can charge more is because they can prevent you from buying a seat from a third party.

                    Yes and no - United says 'we're the only ones who can sell you a ticket' but they can't prevent you from buying a ticket on Southwest, JetBlue or Delta. They're in effect the 'third party' - The competition. Competition in major markets has also pretty much determined the lowest fare available anyway - So even if these mythical 'third parties' could resell tickets they probably wouldn't have

      • Every time I fly, there's some screwup due to the TSA. More than once in the last two years I've been picked out for "special screening". The last time I flew was out of McCarron in Las Vegas, and the security lines were 90 minutes long. Even having Penn and Teller record a stupid video to "entertain" us while waiting didn't help.

        More people are beginning to understand that security theater is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. But not enough to end this lunacy any time soon, I'm afraid. Some peopl

        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday July 30, 2007 @01:12PM (#20045687) Journal

          On my last few trips to the USA I have been pulled over by the TSA on about a third of the flights (several internal flights on each trip), and by customs once. Since they were not pulling over one third of the people in the line, I presume something about me had me flagged as a potential terrorist. Every single time, the operatives have been polite and efficient.

          Last but one time it was not at all surprised to be flagged, since I had only noticed that there was a screw up with my booking when I went to collect my ticked and I was, in fact, booked on the flight exactly one month earlier (fortunately the airline just charged me a token 'don't be a numpty again' fee and let me on). Even I can see this is quite suspicious behaviour (although the fact my connecting flight was booked on the correct day would have been evidence of incompetence, rather than malice, on my part). The guy who checked my hand luggage was very friendly, and since I wasn't in a hurry (and the airport wasn't busy at that time) we chatted for a bit after he had decided that I probably wasn't a terrorist. I was a bit worried about being searched then, since my laptop had one broken hinge and being opened carelessly would have probably snapped the other one and pulled the screen off, but they let me open it and after I pointed to the damage were very careful with it. They wouldn't let me have another go in the machine that blew a puff of air at you from all directions to find explosive residue though.

          The next time I think the security personnel were more interested in seeing what the Nokia 770 I was carrying could do. It took about five seconds to assure them it wasn't a bomb, and then another five minutes of demonstrating the various features and discussing with them and whether they should buy one. I felt like I was trapped in a parallel universe where 'does it run Linux' was a more important question than 'is it a bomb.' While that might be true on Slashdot, it probably shouldn't be to security people.

          I haven't been in an airport where I couldn't see at least a couple of ways of bypassing the security[1], but I've also never been inconvenienced by it. At Narita, I arrived at the check-in desk as they were packing up and my flight was due to start boarding. They rushed me through the pilots-only lane in security and got me from the airport entrance to the boarding area in ten minutes (it would be the furthest terminal away from the entrance when I was running late...). It's a shame airports aren't always this efficient.

          [1] Interestingly, some of the security is expressly designed this way, as a honeypot. They make a few ways of bypassing it obvious and then have a secondary check which picks up the people who do.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Last night was a prime example. Flying from SAV to ATL and on to MSP. My flight out of SAV was delayed from 19:42 to 22:15 and then in ATL we were originally delayed out until 01:20 then moved back to 22:10 (which I would have missed the connection) and then back to 00:10 (which was actually 00:30). We arrived at MSP 45 minutes late (which isn't that bad overall).

        I have found the problem with your flight already. You were going through ATL. It is almost a necessity at times, sadly, but this is one of the nations busiest airports, which makes travel into and out of ATL a royal pain. I try to avoid it whenever possible and usually do.

        The TSA hasn't exactly been friendly or courteous but at least they are doing their job. The airlines, OTOH, aren't doing anything except making a big hole and getting bailed out by the taxpayers while paying their CEO's millions.

        I am not going to completely absolve airlines, but some of them have been willing to pay for TSA screw ups. Let me give you my one example (that actually led to me flying a lot less). If you have ever flown through IAD, you know th

      • I was a long-time flier of Northwest Airlines. I'm done with them after my experiences this summer. They've canceled too many flights on me due to not having enough pilots. If you don't have enough pilots, don't schedule the fvcking flight.
    • by Bongo Bill (853669) on Monday July 30, 2007 @11:53AM (#20044471) Homepage

      Bruce Schneier: By today's rules, I can carry on liquids in quantities of three ounces or less, unless they're in larger bottles. But I can carry on multiple three-ounce bottles. Or a single larger bottle with a non-prescription medicine label, like contact lens fluid. It all has to fit inside a one-quart plastic bag, except for that large bottle of contact lens fluid. And if you confiscate my liquids, you're going to toss them into a large pile right next to the screening station -- which you would never do if anyone thought they were actually dangerous.

      Can you please convince me there's not an Office for Annoying Air Travelers making this sort of stuff up?

      Kip Hawley: Screening ideas are indeed thought up by the Office for Annoying Air Travelers and vetted through the Directorate for Confusion and Complexity, and then we review them to insure that there are sufficient unintended irritating consequences so that the blogosphere is constantly fueled. ...


      And they really seem to get into the details of airport security. Certainly doesn't seem like PR fluff, could be an interesting read.
      • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:15PM (#20044779)
        That's just the "disarming joke" that you're supposed to tell to let everyone know that you're going to be talking with them like a regular guy and not some PR flak.

        It's an attempt to confuse the when you do follow the scripted PR.

        I often read blog posts about how someone could just take all their three-ounce bottles -- or take bottles from others on the plane -- and combine them into a larger container to make a bomb. I can't get into the specifics, but our explosives research shows this is not a viable option.

        Right ..........

        That seems completely illogical to me. And the attempt at evading the specifics just illustrates how much of a PR flak he is.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I often read blog posts about how someone could just take all their three-ounce bottles -- or take bottles from others on the plane -- and combine them into a larger container to make a bomb. I can't get into the specifics, but our explosives research shows this is not a viable option.

          Right ..........

          That seems completely illogical to me.

          Actually, it would be perfectly logical if you assumed that explosives research showed that using larger containers was also not a viable option. It'd be like telling someone that you can bring a small order of fries on the plane, as your explosives research shows that combining small orders of fries into a larger container is not a viable option. Nowhere have *you* said that explosives research has shown that a supersized order of fries *is* a viable option (although there was that rumor about how that

    • Define Bureaucracy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 4solarisinfo (941037) on Monday July 30, 2007 @11:55AM (#20044493)
      Most of it was off the record... I told him to be more transparent, and stop ducking the hard questions. He said that he wanted to do that.

      Hey buddy, if you want to be more transparent, hold less of your meeting 'off the record'.
      • by furball (2853)
        Let me give you a preview of an "on the record" interview.

        No comments.
        No comments.
        No comments.
        We're not ready to make a comment at this time.
        No comments.
    • Ha! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iknownuttin (1099999) on Monday July 30, 2007 @11:59AM (#20044543)
      Based on the scientific findings...

      Since this 3oz liquid horse shit has been going on, Hawley has been saying it's based on "scientific findings" like a broken record. But he has yet to show these "scientific findings".

      So what would the justification be for prohibiting lip gloss, nasal spray, etc? There was none, other than for our own convenience and the sake of a simple explanation.

      There you have it folks, Hawley freely admits that he's stupid and lazy.

      Oh, I'll report if I get on the "No-fly" list for this. Because, obviously, I'm a "threat" for pointing out Government stupidity.

      • by Vellmont (569020)

        Hawley has been saying it's based on "scientific findings" like a broken record. But he has yet to show these "scientific findings".

        That's because most of the public will just blindly accept anything that claims to be based on "science, or research". They might be a little suspicious, but people haven't been taught to think critically about how science is done. (Or on the other hand have to accept the conclusions of well done science even when it challenges what they believe). Science is too often presen
      • Look at the possible threats involving airplanes. And then consider how much damage is possible and how to best reduce the threat or eliminate it.

        #1. Flying planes into buildings. Lots of people die. Lots of damage. Lots of expense. So you fit the flight deck with a secure door. One that can keep out the terrorists long enough for the pilot to land somewhere.

        #2. Blowing up a plane. About 200+ people die. You lose a plane. It might hit something on the way down. So you check passengers AND crew AND support s
        • Why even bother blowing up the plane? With airports congested as they are with huge lines of passengers it makes more sense to wheel in a big piece of luggage packed with explosives and blow up a hundred people during a holiday crush. You wouldn't even have to go with it, you could leave it in line while you nicely ask the person behind you to "Please watch it while I go to the bathroom?" then dissapear. You could even trigger a jam in the lines by creating a security event somewhere else ahead of time.
          • by khasim (1285)
            Once you've secured the planes, the next problem spot would be the terminal itself. And you didn't go far enough with your scenario. Imagine doing that at 5 different airports at once. ALL air traffic would be shut down, again.

            You can mitigate that by moving the vehicles away from the terminal. The passengers would need to unload and move to an initial screening point.

            And so on and so forth. You'd have to have enough redundancy to handle the holiday rush so that you'd have no more than 20 - 50 people stuck
      • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:32PM (#20045071)
        > Since this 3oz liquid horse shit has been going on, Hawley has been saying it's based on "scientific findings" like a broken record. But he has yet to show these "scientific findings".

        I can partially sympathize with him. The TATP plot wouldn't have worked, but there are probably other things that could be smuggled onboard and used to bring down a plane. By limiting quantities and the sizes of things that could be used as mixing/pressure vessels, some risk may have been mitigated.

        > Hawley has been saying it's based on "scientific findings" like a broken record. But he has yet to show these "scientific findings".

        And I can even go so far as to say I agree with him on his lack of specifics. There's no need to censor recipes, but there's no need to publicize them. Better to let the bad guys Google it themselves, wind up with something copied out of a 60s-era cookbook, and Darwinize themselves out of the gene pool without hurting anybody.

        > Oh, I'll report if I get on the "No-fly" list for this. Because, obviously, I'm a "threat" for pointing out Government stupidity.

        And therein is the root cause: bureaucracy. Kip Hawley may not be an idiot [kiphawleyisanidiot.com], but he's a bureaucrat. It doesn't matter how smart you are if the system you're working with is fundamentally flawed. That applies from Kip all the way down to the goon who barks at you for failing to remove your shoes soon enough, or the goon who barks at you even louder for removing your shoes before you were ordered to.

        Since the typical TSA Goon is too poorly-educated to understand chemistry, and the typical civilian is too poorly-educated to understand either chemistry or risk, that neither audience needs to know.

        There's the first idiocy: A bureaucracy is happy to tell you "what" (three ounce containers, one Freedom Baggie) to do, but never "why". The TSA goon enforces the policy with mindless efficiency; he is trained to be mindless. His civilian subjects see the policy as wholly arbitrary unfounded in reason or logic, because no reason or logic has ever been supplied, and treat him as the goon he is -- and he likewise learns to regard the cilivian subjects as idiots, because they're too stupid to follow a rule as simple as "3 oz containers in a 1-liter baggie".

        And here's the second level of idiocy: Since nobody has a "need to know" the reason, nobody's allowed to know, and it's not too big a step before you get is afraid to know and is afraid to even think.

        Some guy ahead of me was raising a fuss about the 3/1/1 rule, and I would have loved to have explained to him the reasoning behind the rule. Of course, I didn't. If I'd said "Dude, it's about limiting the size of reaction/pressure vessels and the amount of reagents that can be smuggled in without having more than a certain number of people buying airline tickets within a certain timeframe, just chill out and toss the toothpaste", I'd probably still be in some black hole somewhere.

        It's this second level of idiocy that's the real problem: the notion that, in a bureaucracy, anyone who does think through the reasoning behind a policy, must be a threat.

        More than however many years since (a plot that's mentioned in TFA that I no longer want to type on a web form), more than 5 years since 9/11, two years since the bogus liquid plot, and only now, on an obscure web forum, does the bureaucracy actually come out and admit why the rules are what they are.

        The original policy isn't a great idea, but it isn't exactly a dumb idea either. But it's taught arbitrarily to the goons, it's enforced arbitrarily against the goons' victims, and ends up with all three sides (Policymaker, Goon, and Civilian alike) regarding each other with nothing but contempt and suspicion. To the point that I (like

        • by profplump (309017)
          By limiting quantities and the sizes of things that could be used as mixing/pressure vessels, some risk may have been mitigated.

          But they didn't do that. I'm still allowed to bring a hard-side plastic or metal case and as many plastic bags or other small containers as I like on to the plane, so long as none of them have liquid in them when I do it.

          Don't make excuses for stupid rules -- someone might believe you.
    • by mpapet (761907) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:00PM (#20044555) Homepage
      told him to be more transparent, and stop ducking the hard questions. He said that he wanted to do that

      There's a million reasons why there will be practically no transparency. While it's easy to point fingers at the current administration and break out the tin foil hat, most blame goes right back to non-voters and voters alike.

      It's nice that the TSA head honcho knows how to play Good Cop but that's about all one can expect.
    • Dignity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mi (197448) <slashdot-2014@virtual-estates.net> on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:01PM (#20044565) Homepage

      Treat passengers with dignity. That, in my opinion, is the most important part. It does not cost very much — hardly anything at all.

      For example, if you force people to remove their shoes (and I always refused to do that, when it was still optional — until a year or so ago), do keep the floor sparkling clean in the area — and make sure, TSA employees are bare-feet too as a reassurance. Thousands of people cross those spots daily — it is not only undignifying, but also unsanitary to be walking there without footware.

      For crying out loud — a Ukrainian airport provides travelers boarding a JFK-bound flight with disposable footwear. Can JFK not do the same?

      When I made myself a pair out of paper-towels, the TSA-thugs at JFK (both the drone and his supervisor) insisted, I take them off too...

      Of course, my calling them names (as I just did) only further alienates them and contributes to the problems, which Mr. Hawley is trying to solve...

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by alienw (585907)
        I think you just have major OCD. There is nothing unsanitary about walking a few feet without shoes, especially on a dry, hard surface. You can't spread any diseases that way. If you are so concerned, wear socks or something. People walk barefoot all the time at the beach, which is far more unsanitary -- you could step on something sharp, for instance. And I've never been at an airport where the screening area was not perfectly clean.

        As far as having the TSA employees barefoot: that's just an incredibl
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by kevin_conaway (585204)

          I think you just have major OCD. There is nothing unsanitary about walking a few feet without shoes, especially on a dry, hard surface. You can't spread any diseases that way. If you are so concerned, wear socks or something. People walk barefoot all the time at the beach, which is far more unsanitary -- you could step on something sharp, for instance. And I've never been at an airport where the screening area was not perfectly clean.

          Are you serious?

          Hard, flat surfaces are a breeding ground for athletes foot, plantar warts and other lovely fungii that would love to accompany you on your destination. The likelihood of contracting one these issues is magnified when the surface is wet which happens when your feet are sweat or someone elses were

        • I've actually survived eating food I've dropped while camping, not to mention on clean rugs. I'm more troubled by the leg and back pain I've suffered from being crammed into a tiny airplane seat for hours on end.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mi (197448)

          There is nothing unsanitary about walking a few feet without shoes, especially on a dry, hard surface. You can't spread any diseases that way.

          Viruses can survive on the dry, hard door knobs for 24 hours [google.com]. If whoever walked through the gates 5 minutes before me had a viral foot illness of some sort (such as HFHF [cdc.gov]), the subsequent passengers can pick it up — even through the socks — a wonderful thing to bring with you to vacation or a business trip.

          If you are so concerned, wear socks or something.

          • Of course, there needs to be. You can't just call something stupid (credibly or otherwise) without substantiating. What's wrong with the idea? If the place is good enough for us to walk, certainly it is fine for the TSA folks.

            First, it would be downright uncomfortable to have them stand around with no support for 8 hours a day. Second, it limits their ability as a security officer. Imagine them having to give chase to someone while in your bare feet.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by riceboy50 (631755)

          I think you just have major OCD
          There is no need to make derogatory remarks about his desire to be more sanitary. There was a time in this country when one was free to exercise a level of hygiene that suited them. Who are you to pronounce judgment on his preferences? Even supposing that the risk was indeed low, as you claim, why should we be subjected to the risk—just so you can feel more safe?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anne_Nonymous (313852)
        >> When I made myself a pair out of paper-towels... insisted, I take them off too...

        Yeah, well, they won't let me wear my tin-foil shoes either.
    • Negative image (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mh1997 (1065630)

      he asked me how the TSA could overcome its negative image.
      How about looking for terrorists/bad guys and not toothpaste, water bottles, mouthwash, etc. I realize all those could hide bad stuff, but several terrorists with sharpened pencils and metal pens can do a lot of damage in a confined area like a plane.
      • Re:Negative image (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:07PM (#20044667)
        A terrorist with 5 pounds of C4 surgically implanted in his abdomen can do far more damage than I could with the liter water bottle that TSA just made me throw away.

        But there is no effective screening method for that, so we'll pretend that little problem doesn't exist.
        • A terrorist with 5 pounds of C4 surgically implanted in his abdomen can do far more damage than I could with the liter water bottle that TSA just made me throw away. But there is no effective screening method for that, so we'll pretend that little problem doesn't exist.

          They're not out to stop every single possible threat. Its all about risk vs reward

          • by ivan256 (17499)
            If they're not going to try and stop every possible threat, then the person wanting to cause harm is going to choose the option they're not trying to stop. So what "reward" are we getting for all this money we're spending and time we're wasting again?
          • Re:Negative image (Score:5, Insightful)

            by plalonde2 (527372) on Monday July 30, 2007 @01:32PM (#20045915)
            Once the terrorist decides to suicide, there's nothing to stop him. Risk/reward doesn't come into it then. And any action against an airliner is now suicide. My water bottle isn't the problem with this thinking. The grandparent nailed it.
        • Re:Negative image (Score:5, Interesting)

          by pz (113803) on Monday July 30, 2007 @01:49PM (#20046217) Journal
          A terrorist with 5 pounds of C4 surgically implanted in his abdomen can do far more damage than I could with the liter water bottle that TSA just made me throw away.

          But there is no effective screening method for that, so we'll pretend that little problem doesn't exist.


          Ever departed from the Tel Aviv airport? That, my friend, is security. Sure, they have all of the neat whizzy gizmos that TSA has (better, probably, but it's been a while since I've been through TLV), but the crux of what they do is to interrogate the passengers. Not kidding. They stop and intensely question each and every passenger and assess their motives for being there. I was on a professional trip as part of a scientific delegation, and had to not just produce documents to that effect, but demonstrate that my name was in the conference program, and give part of my talk (naturally, since the agents aren't in my particular profession, I doubt they cared about what I was saying nearly as much as how I was saying it, and whether it appeared I was demonstrating fluency in some topic). There's about 10-20 minutes of this, and it's intense. They're trying to trip you up, to find someone who has something to hide. Like motives for having had surgery to implant C4 in their abdomen, as the parent post suggests.

          The part that makes this mechanism tolerable, this mechanism which provides far better security than any purely technological solution, is that they have sufficient bandwidth to process many people despite imposing a 10-20 minute delay on each. There are banks and banks of agents, not just 2 or 3 inspection booths as in the US.
      • Re:Negative image (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cowscows (103644) on Monday July 30, 2007 @01:28PM (#20045871) Journal
        You're never going to be able to stop everything bad from happening. If some bad guy really wants to hurt someone, they'll find a way. I could do a lot of damage to the guy sitting next to me even if I brought nothing on the plane. I could get those headphones from the stewardess, and strangle the guy while he's sleeping. Or I could just sucker punch him in the face with my fists.

        The hope is that methods can be developed that limit the amount of damage that a person can do. Bombs on planes are pretty scary because in one instant, a person can feasibly bring down the whole plane and everyone on board dies. That same guy can stab someone in the neck with a pen, and it certainly sucks for that person, but it'd only be a matter of minutes before other passengers have subdued the attacker, and he's no longer a threat.

        The terrorists on 9/11 apparently hijacked the plane with box cutters. That only worked because the passengers figured that the hijackers were going to follow the standard hijacking script of landing the plane somewhere and making demands to release the hostages. If the passengers had in any way thought it probable that the hijackers were going to purposely crash the planes into buildings, they would've resisted. They'd have had nothing to lose, seeing as the other alternative was certain death. And five guys with box cutters aren't likely to survive too long against 150 passengers fighting for their lives. There's not likely to be another attack like 9/11 where a plane gets hijacked and flown into a building. The standard response from the passengers would be different now. It'd still suck if someone jabbed a pencil into your stomach on a plane, but that sort of thing isn't really any more likely to happen on a plane than anywhere else. The attacker wouldn't gain anything by being on an airplane, they'd just make their escape much less likely.
        • Re:Negative image (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Control Group (105494) * on Monday July 30, 2007 @02:06PM (#20046475) Homepage
          That's the most insightful thing I've seen on /. in a long time; thank you for that.

          That's the part everyone missed/is still missing post-9/11. There's no security that can overcome the compliance of all the people on the plane. The problem wasn't lack of security in boarding, or lack of air marshals on the plane (which may or may not have helped*), or even easy access to the cockpit.

          The problem, as you state, was that everyone from the passengers through the captain was trained to do what the hijackers wanted. The (presumed) worst-case scenario was they'd all have a frightening three months in Tehran, then they'd all get to go home.

          That is no longer the presumption; that attack will never work again. Flight 93 demonstrates that perfectly well. I imagine the group of people most irate at the 9/11 hijackers are all the other organizations who were thinking about hijacking a plane in the more traditional fashion; now they can't.

          All the new tightening of security is, literally, meaningless. Boxcutters weren't the problem; the attackers having a scheme whereby everyone on the plane is helping them was the problem.

          *Odds are not bad that the air marshal, even if present, would have judged the risk to the plane of acting against the terrorists not worth it - that's certainly what everyone else judged the case to be.
    • by sjonke (457707) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:04PM (#20044623) Journal
      n/t
    • KH: "If the TSO throws your liquids in the trash, they don't find you a threat."

      If they really think it's not a threat, why throw it in the trash?

      And I can take larger bottles of saline solution on-board, but not my Venti mocha-decafe Starbucks drink I bought just yards from the checkpoint?!

      Dodging the issues, indeed. I thought his first answer was just in jest and sarcasm, but after reading the article, I'm beginning to wonder if he wasn't being honest.
    • I fly through Canada when possible.

      A customs check is annoying but less annoying than dealing with US airlines.
    • The TSA lost its already-miniscule credibility when it announced [tsa.gov] it would stop confiscating cigarette lighters. It took an act of Congress [tsa.gov] in 2004 to overcome the cigarette lobby. Less than two years later, Congress flip-flopped [akamaitech.net], and now the TSA has discovered the cost of disposal is too high and is allowing them again.

      Personally, I'd like to see a purely private system of airports open up in the U.S., whereby said system posts a $10 billion bond to cover terrorist attacks. Then we would see practical, m

      • by TheWoozle (984500)

        Then we would see practical, market-driven, security.
        Because private companies have done sooooo well with the security for voting machines, credit cards (and credit information in general), etc.[/sarcasm]
        • voting machines
          The customer is government, so the market cannot work there.

          credit cards (and credit information in general)
          Problems here include immunity provided by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and that the FBI refuses to pursue fraud for anything less than $100,000 or so (yet the FBI has a monopoly on interstate law enforcement).
    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:17PM (#20044815)

      I told him to be more transparent, and stop ducking the hard questions. He said that he wanted to do that.

      Maybe he does (bwahaha, you don't get to a federal government position that high up by being "transparent", Bruce) - but if you think the Bush administration was controlling with scientists and public health officials (see recent stuff from surgeon general), I bet his control of "security" people is even worse.

      Most of it was off the record, but he asked me how the TSA could overcome its negative image.

      First off, why didn't Bruce say, "I'll only come if everything is on the record?" As it stands, this is basically a PR puff piece for nerds.

      Second, to actually answer the question:

      • Don't make mothers drink their own breast milk. When stupid shit like this happens, INVESTIGATE, and criminally charge the officers involved (Color of Law, anyone?) Punishing for "abuse of power" should be your #1 or #2 priority.
      • Don't confiscate ANYTHING without tagging it and giving someone a claims ticket for the trip home, unless storing it does represent a danger. Or, destroy everything instead of forking it over to a well-connected-guy's pawn shop where they make millions selling everything, even items with clear identification. Conflict of interest, anyone?
      • Stop thefts at the screening line by scam artists who employ complex plans such as "wait for the sucker to put his laptop on the belt, then slow the line down with a guy with tons of metal objects on him."
      • Actually screen your employees. Arrest and jail them for falsifying a statement if it turns out they lied. Right now, they just get booted out the door, right?
      • Stop luggage theft. It's pretty embarrassing when baggage handlers walk in and out of an airport with whatever they please. I remember seeing on national TV security camera footage of a woman hauling garbage bags filled with clothing out to her car.
      • Stop harassing the shit out of private aviation pilots. Oh, btw, if you send a blackhawk after some poor guy that wandered into restricted airspace, make sure the civilian-aviation-frequency radios on the blackhawk actually work.

      I'm too disgusted to keep thinking about this. Overall? Don't do something unless/until you can do it competently.

    • by erroneus (253617) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:20PM (#20044869) Homepage
      ...I feel pretty qualified to suggest how to improve things:

      Fire all the dumbasses that think they are either "federal agents" or otherwise "law enforcement."

      They need to focus on customer service and let one or two guys at any given checkpoint be "the bad cop" in that the primary mission and focus for screeners would been to assist passengers in compliance with regulations rather than "getting the cattle through the meat processing plant" mentality that we have now.
      • Start with the airline counter staff, some of whom have a serious superiority attitude and can basically threaten to ruin your day any time they like.
      • by schwaang (667808) on Monday July 30, 2007 @01:01PM (#20045513)
        Many TSA screeners -- not most, but enough to matter -- exhibit an attitude towards the public that should be flat unacceptable. And that makes jumping through the hoops all the more irritating, and hurts TSA's image more than anything.

        This attitude problem isn't unique to TSA. It happens frequently to low-status people who are given more authority than they know how to handle. It happens to cops and to computer systems administrators who forget that they are ONLY working for the benefit of the people they are mistreating.

        If TSA wants to fix it's image, they should look around to law-enforcement and other public-facing agencies and find ones who have been effective training their front-line employees to be both firm and courteous, both vigilant and respectful.
    • by christurkel (520220) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:33PM (#20045077) Homepage Journal
      He said, "Can we have another option to fly? We'll call it Fly At Your Own Risk Airlines. We won't screen for anything and you can pay for your tickets five minutes before your flight just like in the old days-1997."
      • by gnasher719 (869701) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:37PM (#20045147)
        '' He said, "Can we have another option to fly? We'll call it Fly At Your Own Risk Airlines. We won't screen for anything and you can pay for your tickets five minutes before your flight just like in the old days-1997." ''

        Can you imagine the hilarity when you find out that the other 199 passengers are carrying bombs as well?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by chill (34294)
        Bill Maher did NOT have it right, he got the premise wrong. They're aren't screening people to protect the others on the plane, which is what his request would address. They're screening people with stuff to physically use the plane itself as a weapon. Are those people in the building they want to crash it into a part of Bill's grand scheme? Did he get waivers from all of them as well?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by (H)elix1 (231155) *
        He said, "Can we have another option to fly? We'll call it Fly At Your Own Risk Airlines. We won't screen for anything and you can pay for your tickets five minutes before your flight just like in the old days-1997."

        They have this - commonly known as 'private' jets - though they are usually a comercial charter as well from a paperwork perspective. Thing is, most folks can't afford it.
        • by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday July 30, 2007 @03:58PM (#20048361) Homepage Journal

          He said, "Can we have another option to fly? We'll call it Fly At Your Own Risk Airlines. We won't screen for anything and you can pay for your tickets five minutes before your flight just like in the old days-1997."

          They have this - commonly known as 'private' jets - though they are usually a commercial charter as well from a paperwork perspective. Thing is, most folks can't afford it.

          Especially not terrorists. They could never charter a jet and then smash it into a building.

    • by MadHungarian (166146) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:35PM (#20045119)
      "Terrorist - a person who terrorizes or frightens others." http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=terrorist [reference.com]. Looking at all the FUD from the TSA, Homeland Security, and the Airlines. I think the terrorists have accomplished exactly what they want - cause as much disruption in America's (and other countries) as possible.
    • by SethJohnson (112166) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:41PM (#20045205) Homepage Journal
      Bruce should have asked him why "Toy Transformer Robots" are included on the Permitted / Banned items list [tsa.gov], but the threat of actual Trasnformer robots are ignored by the TSA.

      Haven't they seen the documentary [transformersmovie.com] currently playing at theaters across the nation?

      Seth
    • by PPH (736903) on Monday July 30, 2007 @12:57PM (#20045455)
      The reason, IMHO, that the TSA isn't "more transparent" is that most of their security measures are just for show and designed to comfort the flying public. I'll admit up front that I'm pissed right now because an airline lost my luggage on a recent flight. But with that aside, this is what I observed:


      Flying from Seattle to Amsterdam on British Airways recently, I watched as their boarding pass barcode scanner went on the fritz. It appeared to be unable to scan about 25% of the E-ticket (printed at home most likely on an empty toner cartridge) passes. They had no backup procedures and simply waved passengers through when their passes didn't scan. I didn't think much of that until they lost my checked bag. Upon filing a claim and attempting to track it through their (practiaclly inoperative) on-line claim system, I realized that they don't have any idea where bags are in ther system. They think they know exactly where it is but seem unable to actually make it appear.


      So, after doing a bit of thinking, I've already come up with several ways of exploiting their systems' flaws to get an unaccompanied suitcase loaded onto an airplane.


      Does anyone care? Nope. As long as we have to take our shoes off (another interesting story there) and subject ourselves to a bunch of pointless searches (yet another story) that make the general public think they are safe, that's all that matters.


      Interesting note: Before the infamous 'shoe bomber' and 'liquid bombers' I purchased a comfortable pair of walking shoes with gel insoles. Since these events, I've worn them (and had them x-rayed) numerous times. Nobody has ever raised an eyebrow.


      Interesting story: A friend of mine was supposed to be across the state to meet some people. Upon attempting to drive, his car quit. Now late and in a panic, he called a local commuter airline and booked a flight at the last minute. After rushing to the airport (SeaTac), he boarded his flight and arrived successfully. Only after all of this he realized that he had just boarded and flown across the state carrying one pistol (he has a carry permit) on his person, plus another and ammunition in his carry-on luggage. Security never noticed anything.

    • by MadMidnightBomber (894759) on Monday July 30, 2007 @01:11PM (#20045669)

      Since no one else has posted yet: http://geekz.co.uk/schneierfacts/ [geekz.co.uk]

    Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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