Gadgets of Mass Destruction

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Your friends at the Department of Homeland Security are set to issue a warning that cameras, cells, and laptops—the belts and suspenders of life in the 21st Century—pose a terrorist threat. The worry is that the items could be used to conceal weapons like box-cutters.

It is a common-sense observation, but you know how it will be applied. Some airport security type will leave your spiffy new PDA a $500 paperweight when he's done searching it.

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  1. Working in the industry, I used to be very cynical about the “appearance” of security when there really wasn’t very much, at least not much that had any real effect. But the theory behind it, I came to understand, was this: you couldn’t stop some terrorist or anyone else who was really determined to kill on or using an airplane. You just can’t unless you run a chemical test on every square inch of everything going on the airplane and ban all metal objects, and x-ray each passenger. And even then someone would figure out a way around that. What the illusion of security does is two things: yes, it makes people feel less afraid about flying, but more importantly, it has a deterrent effect: fewer non-terrorist people will try to sneak guns through, believing it is likely they will be caught and the penalties will be high. Terrorists who wish to blow up planes continually have to adapt ther tactics because of increased screenings- we just raise the threshold of how easy it is for them to do. They used to carry bombs on to the plane, but we installed metal detectors and carry-on screening. Now we have checked baggage screening, as well. They have hidden bombs inside radios and shoes, so we have to at least make an effort to deter those methods. They used to give unsuspecting passengers bombs to carry, now passengers know better. If the terrorists want to sneak their bombs and razorblades inside little gadgets, well, now that’s an unacceptablie risk for them to do, because there’s a 50% chance that it will be found.
    That’s their argument, anyway. I think it’s pretty weak. My opinion is put a loaded gun in the seat back of every airplane seat. You can’t keep the terrorists from bringing guns on the planes ( let alone box cutters) so why not arm everyone and count on the non-terrorists greater numbers to give them the advantage. Reinforced cockpit doors should prevent hijacking. The big worries should remain bombs, and chemical/biological atttack in-flight.
    A bio attack on a full plane of 250 from say, London to NY to Chicago to LA, with a highly contagious but slow-showing strain of ebola on it- infecting passengers before their connections, where they in turn infect others, who get on other flights and infect others, etc- could kill 25,000 people before anyone knew what was happening-if the bad guys booked their flights right and used the right bug.

  2. I find it interesting that everyone is so confident that would-be hijackers will now be thwarted by brave passengers, while simultaneously resigned to the inevitability of losing their laptops/cellphones/PDAs to a bunch of incompetent security screeners.

    Don’t get me wrong…I’m inclined to agree on both counts…but you have to admit it’s pretty pathetic.

  3. The odds would be related to the quantity of gas and stun guns used by the hijackers, the presence of their gas masks, and access to the cockpit door.

  4. It’s a roust. The point is to annoy and inconvenience people where you can’t do anything. The counter-roust is vote the bastards out.

  5. Between the pilots and the marshalls, there are more guns on planes now than ever.

  6. Man, I sure as hell terrorists don’t take up Kung Fu.

    Apparently, if they do we are all going to be totally fucked.

  7. PASSERBY: What are you doing?

    TSA AGENT: Looking for my keys.

    PASSERBY: Did you loose them here?

    TSA AGENT: No, I lost them near the house.

    PASSERBY: Then why are you looking for them here under the street light?

    TSA AGENT: Because I can see better here where there’s more light.

  8. The large airlines are breathing a sigh of relief. Once laptops, CD players, cell phones, Game Boys and PDAs get packed in checked luggage, they’ll see quite a rebound in their headset-rental revenue. At ten bucks a passenger for the only relief from the crushing whine of the engines and the sound of the crying baby in row 24, they’ll be back to profitability in no time.

  9. “The advisory does not reflect new intelligence, the official said, ”

    No shit!

    Let’s see… discourage more people from flying, which will increase their automobile driving, which will increase our dependency on foreign oil… yep, sounds like a government plan!

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/printedition/chi-0308050319aug05,1,3700984.story?coll=chi-printnews-hed

  10. As a former ground security coordinator for a midwestern airport, it was my duty to test security screeners ( pre-federalization) and let me tell you, they were lousy. The most fun part of my job was to run FAA-approved security test, where I got to legally sneak guns, simulated bombs, grenades and such through security checkpoints.
    Now, these were real guns, basically- except for the insides were modified somehow to be unworkable. Anyway, I always got them through. Always. And they KNEW that they were probably being tested anytime I walked through with a bag, with my airport ID on…and they still missed it. When they miss a gun you can’t just whip it out in front of everyone and panic the passengers- you have to show the supervisors a little card first that says “You have just failed an FAA/TSA security test, the agent will now show you what you missed” or something similar.
    My point with this anecdote is that they miss GUNS, BOMBS, GRENADES, and KNIVES- they still do. ( even after being federalized, imagine that!)
    They Still miss guns 25-30% of the time, and knives 70% of the time, and simulated explosives 60%according to CBS News.
    Somehow I don’t think these new security directives will accomplish one single thing. I have seen a number of these directives before ( such as when we had to start checking laptops and cameras to make sure they are functional rather than clever bomb casings. Not that you need to be clever to sneak a bomb on to a plane- it’s surprisingly easy to defeat x-ray scanners and magnetometers. Out of common decency I will not break the magician’s code, however.

  11. Err…can someone explain to me what the odds are of air travellers another hijacking to take place now that they remembered what happened on 9/11? I think the Clippers have a better chance of winning the NBA Finals.

    That’s what’s truly maddening about all the intrusive airport security regulations passed since 9/11: 90% of them are utterly useless. I could understand screening for explosives, but nothing short of a submachine gun will be enough to hijack a plane anymore. 9/11 guaranteed that something 9/11 will never occur again, at least not in this part of the world. But I don’t think bureaucrats have ever cared much about such details when it comes to their lust for power and federal funding.

  12. I have to take 2 trips of 1000+ in the coming weeks, and whereas I once probably would have flown both, I’m now driving one and taking a train for the other.

    This decisions was not made out of fear, because I’m not really worried about a plane getting hijacked. Sure, there’s a chance some one might get stabbed or have their throat slit, but that’s a risk you take walking around in any major city. Bottom line is, I don’t think it will work. The people on board know what is at stake now, and even if the terrorists were to jump their numbers up to 6 or 7 on a team, they’ll be severely outnumbered. Sure, an explosive device is a possibility, but I’ve been very aware of that possibility since PanAm 103.

    The decision not to fly is simply that it has become too annoying. I got the full service special last time I flew (shoes, hair, etc.), and that was just for a weekend trip with carry-on. One of my upcoming trips is for a weeklong conference and I’ll likely have a laptop and other assorted electronic items. I sure as hell am not going to pack them, given that the bags can no longer be locked. I have two colleagues that have had things in their checked baggage stolen/missing or damaged. The airline’s response was considerably less than apologetic. Now I run the risk of having things taken apart by the same security guards that were getting nervous about my steel-toed shoes. I just don’t need the hassle.
    I know the airline business is going under, but that’s not my problem. I don’t really have any solutions about how to run things differently, so that I might consider flying as frequently as I used to, but they aren’t paying me as a consultant either. Until they make it an expeience worth the hassle and the money, I’m only doing it when time dictates I have no other choice.

  13. Can’t the terrorists just charter a flight to hijack a plane for flying-into-a-building purposes?

  14. Re, amen. In the last two years I’ve flown multiple times to NYC and to Florida. On all but one leg of one trip I passed through security with a large pair of scissors in my purse, which I keep for my inveterate coupon clipping.

  15. I mean exactly how closely do we expect these people to check electronic gear? The Israelis blew off Yahya Ayyash’s face with a cell phone while he was on a call, so just seeing it work is no guarantee that it’s not a bomb. Unless DepHomSec is prepared to get Nokia, Samsung, Toshiba, etc., to loan them a couple thousand technicians who can stand in airports popping the covers off of cellphones and saying “Hey, the red wire’s not supposed to be connected to that…” what exactly does giving ‘greater scrutiny’ accomplish?

  16. It’s not about security. It’s about the appearance of security. That’s why toddlers and 80 year old biddies in wheelchairs get searched. “See, we’re on the job!” Like people above have said – no one is ever going to sucessfully hijack a plane again and that’s not because of a govt program.

  17. I agree with Eric (that 9/11 will never happen again so any security measure not directed against explosives and/or submachine guns is idiotic) and disagree with dude (who says 80 year-olds and toddlers shouldn’t be searched). Let me explain:

    As Eric has pointed out, the next attempted hijacking of a flight within, to, or from the US will fail. People will fight back. People on the first 3 9/11 flights didn’t fight, because it used to be that if you didn’t fight you’d have a pretty good chance of being released. People on those first 3 flights still thought that way, or at least they did until it was already too late, so they took what they thought was the safest course of action.

    People on the 4th flight knew what was pending, so they fought. Yes, their plane crashed and they died. But the terrorists failed in their objective, and if the passengers had known even sooner (e.g. right when the hijacking started) then the terrorists probably would not have been able to kill the pilots. So let’s face it: Hijackings won’t succeed anymore, unless maybe the terrorists have submachine guns (good luck getting those on board). The only things we really need are good cockpit doors and screening for explosives.

    But I disagree with dude: To the extent that searches are necessary (e.g. to catch explosives) then we should screen children and the elderly just like everyone else. This has NOTHING to do with fairness. Have you ever heard of criminals talking semi-senile seniors into giving up their credit card info, their bank account info, and mortgaging their house to donate to a “charity”?

    Now imagine some very suave terrorists. They live in the same apartment building as a semi-senile widow. She thinks it’s so nice that those boys are always praying and studying to be pilots. And they’re so polite to her. They always empty the trash for her, they help her buy groceries. So now it’s Christmas, and she needs to fly out of town to visit her grandchildren. Those nice boys help her at the airport, and they just ask if she’ll do a favor and keep something in her purse so it doesn’t get lost. So she does.

    I know, the conservatives will start saying I’m some naive ACLU type. Far from it. I just know that elderly people who fit a certain profile are prime targets for criminals of every sort. So I have no doubt that Al Qaeda would find some really nice and semi-senile widow and have her unwittingly carry the bomb onto the plane if we gave the elderly special treatment at airport security. Sure, it might only work once, then they might move on to some other technique. But it would still work that one time, to devastating effect.

    Go ahead, call me a liberal Democrat.

  18. I should clarify:

    We also need to search non-elderly people too, because there’s more than one way to smuggle something past security. I’m just saying that if we exempt one group, terrorists will find the most easily manipulated members of that group and take advantage of them.

    Also, I suppose that the nice guys down the hall from that dear old lady would be studying chemistry, not pilot school. Hijacking won’t work anymore, but bomb-making will…

  19. back in the day, a british woman who was dating a man from a certain area that is a little east of israel and west of jordan went on a flight. her loving boyfriend gave her a package to take for her

    it was one of the msot interesting and destructive ways to ever break up with someone…

    and we’ve all seen the pictures of child martyrs, and read about the 12 year olds who go off on their own futile jihads

    so it makes sense from a bombing pov

    no hijackings of commercial, and private would need surprise since all pilots will likely go for an unrecoverable dive to shake off attackers or else take away the weapon

    for best travel, it is netjets, or marquis (available for a commitment of as little as 50 hours… its relatively cheap.. they’re an affiliate of netjets)

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