Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Traveling With Homemade Gadgets

The internet, as I am sure you all would agree, is a marvelous thing. People from coast to coast and around the world have used it for everything… researching term papers, reading the news, paying bills and even writing blogs. The internet is also a marvelous tool for those looking to save or spend money. These tough economic times have led many passengers to search for discount flights on the Internet and even, as we have learned at TSA, used the Internet to learn to make homemade gadgets. It’s these gadgets that have caused some …. How shall we say, second and third looks at the checkpoint. By second and third looks I’m not talking about just TSA, I’m talking our Bomb Appraisal Officers (BAO) and local bomb squads. In a matter of minutes this morning, Blogger Bob found Internet sites with “how to build” instructions for a desulfator and radio receiver in a common mint tin (a desulfator is used to put high voltage pulses into a battery), a guitar amp out of a cigarette pack, a mint tin made into a guitar and a circuit bender made from an old plastic parts kit. While none of these items are threatening in and of themselves, imagine what a mint tin with wires, batteries and a switch looks like in an x-ray machine. While each of these items gets the award for creativity, it might be a good idea to put these items in your checked baggage or maybe even leave them at home. However, if you have to bring them with you, maybe letting our folks know that you are the master innovator could prevent any unnecessary surprises from occurring. Nonetheless, expect some extra scrutiny… What do I mean by further scrutiny? Yesterday, March 24, an item very similar to those described above, was blown into a zillion pieces in Palm Springs, California, because neither our officers, our BAO or the local bomb squad could determine with 100% certainty the item didn’t pose a threat after seeing it on the x-ray. So, if you are traveling with a homemade charger, amp, desulfator or anything with batteries, screws and wires sticking out of it that could be deemed out of the ordinary, please tell us. It will probably allow us and the local bomb squad to help keep your items in one piece, not a zillion. Probably… Nico - EOS Blog Team 
UPDATE: Based on the comments, Nico & I felt a clarification was needed. This post purposely never mentioned a passenger because the bag was left unattended and there was no passenger available to interview. We're not implying that you cannot travel with these types of items, we're just pointing out that they could be of concern, or possibly even hold you up a little bit. Listen, we think these things are cool too, but this is just a friendly "heads up" and not a threat. Also, explosive detection systems would not identify these types of items in checked baggage, because they aren't explosives. Our checked baggage machines use CT technology and can actually recognize and alarm on potential explosives.  
Blogger Bob EOS Blog Team

112 comments:

Clark said...

Then perhaps the TSA needs to get its out head out of its not-invented-here-butt and buy some sniffers so it can actually secure this country AND protect the rights of the people so only a truly dangerous device will cause "extra scrutiny."

Anonymous said...

What you are really saying is, you don't trust boxes that don't have corporate logos on them. Hence we should all slap a "Sony" logo on any of our home made electronics and spend as much time on the box as the innards. This then means of course that only someone with a LOT of motivation to hide something would bother going through that hassle, but would have no problems because as long as it is black, shiny and has a corporate logo on it you will beleive it is benign.

So basically, you don't want citizens to do lawful things, but simply so you are not inconvenienced not because it improves security. And to drive the point in, you picked someone to make an example of.

RB said...

What do I mean by further scrutiny? Yesterday, March 24, an item very similar to those described above, was blown into a zillion pieces in Palm Springs, California, because neither our officers, our BAO or the local bomb squad could determine with 100% certainty the item didn’t pose a threat after seeing it on the x-ray.
........................
Not snarking,

Did they ask the owner what the device was before blowing it up?

If an item such as you describe was in checked baggage as you suggest would not the end result be the same.

Xray would identify an unknown item with wires causing additional inspection, TSA would not know what the item was and precautions would be taken (item blown to bits).

K. T. Stevenson said...

I would like to think that officers assigned to x-ray screening, secondary screening, and especially bomb squad members would have basic electronics training. After all, aren't the behavioral assessment (I forget the proper term) officers specially trained?

While I understand that an abundance of caution is the order of the day, making the automatic assumption that anything that looks homemade and contains wires and electronics parts constitutes a threat strikes me as poor policy. A little training, coupled with the other checks (like explosive residue sniffers) that are already in place would make much more sense than blowing up a homebrew iPod battery extender that an electronics hobbyist assembled in an Altoids tin.

Anonymous said...

"In a matter of minutes this morning, Blogger Bob found Internet sites with “how to build” instructions for a desulfator and radio receiver in a common mint tin (a desulfator is used to put high voltage pulses into a battery), a guitar amp out of a cigarette pack, a mint tin made into a guitar and a circuit bender made from an old plastic parts kit. While none of these items are threatening in and of themselves, imagine what a mint tin with wires, batteries and a switch looks like in an x-ray machine.

While each of these items gets the award for creativity, it might be a good idea to put these items in your checked baggage or maybe even leave them at home. However, if you have to bring them with you, maybe letting our folks know that you are the master innovator could prevent any unnecessary surprises from occurring. Nonetheless, expect some extra scrutiny…

What do I mean by further scrutiny? Yesterday, March 24, an item very similar to those described above, was blown into a zillion pieces in Palm Springs, California, because neither our officers, our BAO or the local bomb squad could determine with 100% certainty the item didn’t pose a threat after seeing it on the x-ray."


Do you guys enjoy posting flamebait? Now when I travel with my gadgets (err...personal property) that you only deem 99.9% safe, you're going to demolish it into a million pieces??? Here come the en-masse lawsuits. Who are you to tell me to leave my non-dangerous items at home? Why do we have to justify everything to you? Makes me sick!


Bomb Appraisal Officers (BAO) - learned a new TSA acronym today!

Anonymous said...

Can you reassure us that if we tell the TSO about our custom-made devices, he won't automatically prohibit them? What recourse do we have if he does? I suspect we're better off saying nothing and hoping they don't notice.

Not too long ago, TSA confiscated/stole a home-made battery pack even after determining it was not a threat. Then they touted the confiscation/theft on their web site as a success story.

A few years ago, TSA sent a flyertalker's laptop to the bomb squad for detonation. Of course, it was harmless. The passenger never received an apology, let alone compensation. It was not an isolated incident.

The burden of proving that a device is safe should not be on the passenger; the burden of proving it dangerous should be on the TSA. Hint: if it passes an ETD swab, it's almost certainly not an explosive. If it's not a weapon, explosive, or incendiary, you have no business with it.

Oh, and if we put it in our checked baggage, as you suggest, not only do we risk the item being stolen by a TSO, but we risk the item being destroyed by the TSA/bomb-squad "out of an abundance of caution" without them ever asking the passenger about it.

I'm an electrical engineer, have traveled with custom or modified devices several times, and have been scared of what TSA would do each time. Fortunately they've never bothered to take note. But IMO warning TSA about the device in advance is just asking for trouble.

brandon daniel said...

As someone who builds and travels with said gadgets, "Check them or leave them at home" is completely insufficient as a response. The *point* of these gadgets is to extend the life of our portable electronics on long flights on outdated airplanes lacking in power outlets. Checking them or leaving them at home defeats the purpose of *having them*.

How about reccommending that travelers remove the batteries prior to xray (reducing the suspicious profile in the xray), make the screening agent aware of it's existence, and, if need be, show the device charging one of the traveler's portable electronic units to the screener?

Bomb squad calls and detonation was completely avoidable. I hope this traveler was compensated for his loss and caught his flight without delay.

Anonymous said...

While I'm sure there have been plenty of TSA over reactions, any security checkpoint would probably freak out seeing one of these on an X-Ray. Use common sense people - don't bring your IED look-a-likes on a plane.

Jim Huggins said...

So, if you are traveling with a homemade charger, amp, desulfator or anything with batteries, screws and wires sticking out of it that could be deemed out of the ordinary, please tell us. It will probably allow us and the local bomb squad to help keep your items in one piece, not a zillion. Probably…

Except if your name is Scot Peele.

Jay Maynard said...

So, I guess I shouldn't ever travel with my TRON costume any more, since the armor pieces have batteries and wires running all over the place (the glow effect is from electroluminescent wire). I am DAMNED sure not going to check it, since it's an extremely attractive target for theft, being both famous and unique, and I'm not going to ship it, since I don't let it out of my custody.

So far, I've had it ETDd a bunch of times, and one extremely zealous TSO insisted on removing it from my suitcase and running it back through the X-ray, but it hasn't been taken from me and destroyed...

I don't know how much it's worth. I do know it's valuable, and since other things that are associated with Internet fame have gone for five-figure sums on eBay, I have every reason to believe it would be worth a substantial amount of money. I sure hope the TSA keeps that in mind.

Abelard said...

What you are really saying is, you don't trust boxes that don't have corporate logos on them.

Nope. That doesn't work either.

Remember, the TSA caused a passenger to miss his flight because they didn't understand what a Mac Airbook was.

http://tinyurl.com/2lq4dl

Don't worry, though. No matter how legitimate the item is, if a TSO doesn't feel comfortable with it, you wait or lose it.

I would suggest the TSA require their TSOs to read up on electronic and medical gadgets and such, but that won't do any good.

Most of my friends still say they get grilled about their CPAPs every time they fly.

Trollkiller said...

While each of these items gets the award for creativity, it might be a good idea to put these items in your checked baggage or maybe even leave them at home.

Let me get this right, if you can't tell what it is in a carry on you will blow it up, BUT if we put in in checked luggage it should be fine.

This tells me that the TSA is not as thorough at checked luggage security as it is carry on. Either that or you expect the device to be stolen before it gets on the plane.

Oh wait I now get it, if I place it in my checked luggage you can pilfer it and destroy it without any chance of me protesting your stupidity.

After the fact as you and I both know the TSA will shrug its collective shoulders and say "it must have been the airlines".

Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Nice post guys... never knew this kind of stuff was made, but certaily makes you thnk twice....

Anonymous said...

awesome.. i'm a security geek (by occupation) and i often travel with these sorts of gizmos *constantly*.. in fact many times these gizmos are why people hire me... not being able to travel with these would offically put undue restrictions on my biz travel..

way to go TSA, Kip hawley does it again!

Anonymous said...

Rb says...
If an item such as you describe was in checked baggage as you suggest would not the end result be the same.

Xray would identify an unknown item with wires causing additional inspection, TSA would not know what the item was and precautions would be taken (item blown to bits).

March 25, 2009 6:56 PM

Yet another example of how much you dont know. The baggage xrays do not look for wires im afraid. Your credibility here is on par with bernie madoff in wall st.

Tomas said...

Back when working at an internationally renowned research lab, it was fairly common for me to travel to various locations with valuable one-of-a-kind prototype devices for testing in the field.

Those trips were via commercial air.

I suspect that many of the devices would have been totally non-understandable to the average TSO, their supervisors, their managers, or anyone else employed by TSA.

Those devices were usually hand carried because they were valuable, fragile prototypes, and often the ONLY one in existence.

There is no excuse for the ill-prepared non-experts destroying things like some primitive tribe because they don't understand them.

(Yes, TSA has done this before - July, 2008, Replicating Rapid-prototyper.)

Tom

CJ said...

I'm confused - why should telling you what it is prevent it from being blown up? Otherwise a super clever terrorist could just tell you it's a homemade iPod charger when it's actually a bomb....

Face it - you need to let electronics through, or evaluate all them thoroughly. Homemade devices can be innocent; commercial devices could have been modified. You can't use that a criteria.

Bubba said...

"Yesterday, March 24, an item very similar to those described above, was blown into a zillion pieces in Palm Springs, California, because neither our officers, our BAO or the local bomb squad could determine with 100% certainty the item didn’t pose a threat after seeing it on the x-ray."

So if you can´t determine with 100% certainty it is safe, you just blow it up? What happened to presumed innocent until proven guilty? Seriously, absolutely nothing can be determined to be 100% safe, which within this logic allows you to blow up anything you want to!

TSORon said...

One of the biggest challenges in my time on the checkpoint has been trying to interpret a 2 dimensional picture into a 3 dimensional object. In other words, trying to figure out what that is on the screen. To the average layman who has no experience with X-Rays other than what their doctor shows them when they break something, the pictures we see seem to represent something from another planet. With training and experience one can usually look at an object on the X-Ray screen and determine what it is, but that takes time. We have some really good training aids for this, but as most people know no matter how hard the professionals try the aids never really live up to the actual thing. And remember, there are highly educated doctors that get paid a great deal to do what we do, and they usually know what they are looking at before they ever have to view the picture.

We depend a lot on personal life experience when we interpret the images we see, and in those times when we see an image we just cant get our minds around we will ask for assistance from either another TSO or one of the Leads or Supervisors on the checkpoint. Ultimately, the decision to hand check a bag or item rests with the X-Ray operator. If we just cannot determine what an object is, or if a known object appears to have been modified, then a hand check of the bag is required.

So, building a radio into an Altoids can is more than reason enough for me to have it hand checked. Usually this will include an ETD test and a few questions of the owner. Depending on the outcome of that the passenger may be able to continue their trip with their home made whatever. Most bombs now days are home made as well, so to expect to go through a checkpoint without your radio or charger being given more than a casual review is an unrealistic expectation.

GSOLTSO said...

Anon said "awesome.. i'm a security geek (by occupation) and i often travel with these sorts of gizmos *constantly*.. in fact many times these gizmos are why people hire me... not being able to travel with these would offically put undue restrictions on my biz travel..

way to go TSA, Kip hawley does it again!"

Way to keep up with your current events Anon, Kip has been gone for a bit. As for the content of the post, if the item poses a possible threat, we will call the BAO (and probably the BDO, the LEO and any other acronym we can come up with) to ensure that we clear the item properly. I think it is excellent that we now have the BAO's available to help us! Most of the BAO's have been hands on with more explosives than most demolitions experts in the business world! If there is a valid concern about an item, then it has to be cleared.

GSOLTSO said...

TrollKiller said "Let me get this right, if you can't tell what it is in a carry on you will blow it up, BUT if we put in in checked luggage it should be fine.

This tells me that the TSA is not as thorough at checked luggage security as it is carry on. Either that or you expect the device to be stolen before it gets on the plane.

Oh wait I now get it, if I place it in my checked luggage you can pilfer it and destroy it without any chance of me protesting your stupidity.

After the fact as you and I both know the TSA will shrug its collective shoulders and say "it must have been the airlines"."


I will take a stab in the dark here, but some of the baggage areas (admittedly not all of them) have better screening equipment that operates in a different way. You guys can all look up the machines and some of the tech specs and all that, but the basic reason it stands a better chance of making it through checked baggage with less opportunity for more physical scrutiny is the way the machines operate. There are several types of baggage x-rays that operate on more than just imagery. Hope that helps a bit, not the best explanation, but at least a basic one.

RB said...

..................................

Blog Ops, if this post is a near duplicate please toss. First post attempt resulted in a posting error.
..................................


Anonymous said...
Rb says...
If an item such as you describe was in checked baggage as you suggest would not the end result be the same.

Xray would identify an unknown item with wires causing additional inspection, TSA would not know what the item was and precautions would be taken (item blown to bits).

March 25, 2009 6:56 PM

Yet another example of how much you dont know. The baggage xrays do not look for wires im afraid. Your credibility here is on par with bernie madoff in wall st.

March 25, 2009 9:49 PM

............................
To Anon, I make no claim to being an expert in xray imaging.

I asked a question and then set up an example of what I was talking about.

However, I find it interesting that you claim that a device with wires coming out of it would not be detected by the xray systems used to clear checked baggage.

So if a person did as Nico suggested in his post and placed the item in a checked bag that device would go undetected.

If that is truly the case why would an employee of TSA disclose that type of information?

I find your remark comparing me to Madoff a bit odd. Did it make you feel good doing that? What is not surprising to me is that you hide behind the "anon" tag. You do validate my opinion of the typical TSO.

Bob said...

I just added an update to this blog post.

Thanks!

Bob

Eos Blog Team

Patrick (BOS TSO) said...

This here is an IRA firebomb.

This picture came out of a book I got as a kid.

Thankfully, The Troubles are over (though the RIRA and CIRA beg to differ).

Of course, for 30-40 years, these devices and countless others wreaked havoc across across Northern Ireland killing and maiming thousands.

And can you not look at that and tell me that doesn't look much different then many of the items, Bob showed above.

Now I feel for electronic hobbyists as I'm aspiring one myself... though I haven't picked up a soldering iron in a while. (Thinking of buying myself a Ramsey Electronics aircraft band receiver kit, but that's beside the point.)

Here in TSA... we have an acronym, it's called...

PIES

Yes, it sounds silly but that's what it's called.

PIES means this:
Power Source
Initiator
Explosive
Switch/Timer

Power Source is what more or less powers the bomb of course... as in the switch and provides the electrical charge to the initiator.

The initiator? Well... that's a good ole' detonator.

Explosive (or in this case an incendiary) is self-explanatory...

And the Switch is what will
activate the bomb and well... BOOM... unless the terrorist decided they wanted a timer instead.

Now what's in that fire bomb can also be found in many electronics.

And it's what we're trained to look for... the BAOs are especially trained to look for and not only that but analyze it and determine and what bomb squads are obviously trained in finding, analyzing and defusing.

And trust me... the BAOs are trained because they're required to be as pointed out in our hiring FAQs

And I'll quote it too:
To serve as a BAO it is a requirement that an employee be a graduate from an accredited Improvised Explosive Devices/Bomb Disposal Course, given by the FBI’s HDS or the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal School, and has field experience as a military or civilian Explosive Ordnance Disposal or Bomb Technicians. This education and experience is required as a minimum deciding factor for selection as a BAO. If an individual does not possess this education and experience, they will not be considered for any BAO vacancies.

And now if our own internal bomb tech and external LEO bomb techs can't determine that they device the destroyed was 100% safe, I'm going to stick by them because their trained to determine whither or not it's an IED... and they felt it wasn't. Although, perhaps... they should have swabbed it.

Anywho, if have a prototype device and that you think will look unique and strange tell the TSO to treat them very carefully... because I do.
Trust me, I will slow as molasses when taking something fragile out of a bag.

If you don't feel safe trusting it with a TSO... tell them you want STSO (a supervisor TSO) and tell them you want this handled carefully as can be, they will usually comply... but if they don't ask to speak to the screening manager and they will most likely take it seriously into to consideration.

That there is my advice, and I'd say the best advice there is because that's practically the only way it go about with something like that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks TSARon. I think your comments would be received much better if they were similar to this one.

Anonymous said...

I have a small oscilloscope mfg by Tektronix. I had one TSO comment on the nomenclature on one of the ports (maximum 600 Volts) and was asked what that meant and if it was dangerous. At that point I said "that is the maximum input voltage and it outputs nothing." Was asked by another TSO what it did and I said "it provides an amplitude vs time display for electronic signals." Again I suspected that they were going to confiscate it. Needless to say that it stays home when I fly anymore. Can't trust TSA to do the right thing.

Sad, that something as harmless as a digital o'scope gets view as being suspect. It even has the Tektronix logo prominently display on it and all of the accessories.

Sad.

Bob said...

Mr.Oscilloscope Said:
Sad, that something as harmless as a digital o'scope gets view as being suspect. March 26, 2009 12:02PM
---------------------------------
Hmmm. Let's see... Your O-scope was always allowed to travel right? You stopped bringing it on your own account.

I find nothing wrong with our TSOs asking questions about something that looks odd. And yes, an O-scope image on the x-ray looks odd.

Bob

EoS Blog Team

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Let's see... Your O-scope was always allowed to travel right? You stopped bringing it on your own account.

I find nothing wrong with our TSOs asking questions about something that looks odd. And yes, an O-scope image on the x-ray looks odd.

Bob


I stopped carrying it because of issues at the checkpoints, not because of anything else. Since it is expensive (>$2,000) it didn't get checked. Baggage thieves again (both TSA and airlines). Didn't want any of the accessories taken out due to a sharp point on the scope probes. This wasn't an issue before TSA took over.

RB said...

Bob, I find it interesting that someone left an unknown electronic item at the check point.

Could have just been an honest mistake but I can see how this type of event set off a chain of events.

Knowing the full story helps with why the item was destroyed.

Had the owner been present I am sure the outcome would have been different.

I, and I would think other readers appreciate having "The Rest of the Story".

Anonymous said...

Here come the en-masse lawsuits.
___________________________________
What a joke. You people always bringing up the TSA and lawsuits. You guys are really funny. Don't you think that TSA has a team of law professionals who give them the go ahead before they do anything. Because they do. And everyone and their make believe law suits are funny. Makes me laugh everytime someone says they are going to sue.

Anonymous said...

Not too long ago, TSA confiscated/stole a home-made battery pack even after determining it was not a threat. Then they touted the confiscation/theft on their web site as a success story.
___________________________________
A battery is a main component of an IED. Why would anyone think that it is ok to carry a home-made battery that probably looked terribly suspicious through an airport checkpoint. Leave that kind of garbage at home. I would have taken it too.

Phil said...

In an update to the original post, Bob at TSA wrote:

"explosive detection systems would not identify these types of items in checked baggage, because they aren't explosives. Our checked baggage machines use CT technology and can actually recognize and alarm on potential explosives."

Earlier, Nico at TSA wrote:

"Yesterday, March 24, an item very similar to those described above, was blown into a zillion pieces in Palm Springs, California, because neither our officers, our BAO or the local bomb squad could determine with 100% certainty the item didn’t pose a threat after seeing it on the x-ray."

Bob, your information conflicts with Nico's. If your equipment can determine that the object was not a bomb, then why were your staff, BAO (whatever that is), or the local bomb squad so concerned that it might be a bomb that they "blew it into a zillion pieces"?

--
Phil
Add your own questions at TSAFAQ.net

Anonymous said...

Bob,

Thank you for tackling this issue on the blog. It's a step in the right direction that TSA administration is at least nominally aware of maker culture.

There have been some valid points raised in the comments, like how commercial electronics in fancy casings will automatically receive less scrutiny than something in an altoids tin. (How do you respond to that?) Anonymous 7:22 also asked why explosive detection swabs are not used in cases like this, and I feel that is worth your time to address too.

I understand your position that home-made electronics stand out and so get further inspection, it makes sense in a certain way, however it seems like a simple solution would be to train TSOs in basic electronics, and expose them to X-Rays of many many different kinds of electronic devices as part of their training. You guys are looking for things that stand out as different, and while TSOs can't be expected to be able to immediately identify everything that comes through the XRay machine, I think in the case of electronics it is worth investing in training to recognized different electronics. If the airport employee who panicked when she saw Star SImpson's shirt had remembered her high school physics unit on electricity, we might not have needlessly terrorized and imprisoned a 19-year-old girl.

Matthew M. (Washington D.C.) said...

A tough policy on homemade electronics is simply a common sense step that all TSA can take to prevent possible incidents. If it means leaving homemade electronics at home, it is a small price to pay for both the safety of passengers and the efficient expedition of security checks. TSA safety checks screen thousands of individuals daily, so leaving electronics at home that may raise warning signs is an easy way to speed up the process. If ensuring my safety takes a little extra time, I am more than willing to leave for the airport a half hour early.

Stringent checks such as these prevent numerous incidents yearly and are part of a policy that has ensured that no terrorist attacks on planes have occured since 9/11. I am glad to see that the TSA is taking the safety of the American people seriously.

Anonymous said...

So, I guess I shouldn't ever travel with my TRON costume any more, since the armor pieces have batteries and wires running all over the place (the glow effect is from electroluminescent wire). I am DAMNED sure not going to check it, since it's an extremely attractive target for theft, being both famous and unique, and I'm not going to ship it, since I don't let it out of my custody.
___________________________________
OMG a TRON costume. I knew it. This is exactly what I picture the people who are constantly complaining sitting aroung on the computer wearing while they are blogging. HA!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Most of my friends still say they get grilled about their CPAPs every time they fly.
_________________________
I doubt that anyone is getting grilled about their CPAP. But yes, A CPAP is an electronic that is tested everytime that it comes through a checkpoint. Thanks.

RB said...

A battery is a main component of an IED. Why would anyone think that it is ok to carry a home-made battery that probably looked terribly suspicious through an airport checkpoint. Leave that kind of garbage at home. I would have taken it too.

March 26, 2009 1:28 PM

...........................

"I would have taken it too."
..................................


So even if it is determined that an item is not a hazard you would "take it"!

That is confiscation or put more simply just plain theft.

So much for the assurances that TSO's never "take" things.

Anonymous said...

I find your remark comparing me to Madoff a bit odd. Did it make you feel good doing that? What is not surprising to me is that you hide behind the "anon" tag. You do validate my opinion of the typical TSO.
___________________________________
Whatever this post is that you speak of it was not me. Although I too post ANON. Why? Because it is no ones business who I am. I can still give my opinion with out my identity. Have a nice day. :)

Anonymous said...

"A battery is a main component of an IED. Why would anyone think that it is ok to carry a home-made battery that probably looked terribly suspicious through an airport checkpoint."

You are aware that there are batteries in your cell phone, camera, laptop, dvd player, watch, PSP, etc... You think they can't be used as power sources? Oddly, we are not even talking about home-made batteries which would have to be very carefully made to not leak acid all over the place, but rather home-made devices, such as battery packs, with purchased batteries in them. But please, feel free to continue talking.

Nobody is saying it makes sense to bring a home made battery pack charging a warming wire embedded in a 2 pound block of cheddar cheese controlled by a cell-phone timer... for on the go racellete.

Almost anything is a power source and ignition these days, the only thing you can screen for is the chemical energy store.

Mr. Gel-pack said...

Bruce Schneier on "The War on the Unexpected". And the unmentionable acronym describing TSA's security model.

The louder TSA cries "Wolf", the more we pay them.

Anonymous said...

You are aware that there are batteries in your cell phone, camera, laptop, dvd player, watch, PSP, etc... You think they can't be used as power sources? Oddly, we are not even talking about home-made batteries which would have to be very carefully made to not leak acid all over the place, but rather home-made devices, such as battery packs, with purchased batteries in them. But please, feel free to continue talking.
___________________________________
Sure I am aware that these batteries exist. Thank you for the information though. Everyone can travel with all of these batteries, but there is no reason to tamper with batteries, wheather it is innocent or not. To bring something like this through a checkpoint is not neccissay. Leave it at home.

If someone is traveling with a stange prototype or a weird machine that we never see. So what! It is tested and on their way they go. I have never had a problem of that sort.

Anonymous said...

One person's experience about talking a Supersize Minty Boost through TSA. (With Cops!!)

Jay Maynard said...

Anonymous@1:35PM 3/26: Not just a TRON costume..the TRON costume that's famous around the Internet. I travel with it to do TV segments and make personal appearances and the like. On those trips, that costume is the reason for the trip. If I can't travel with it, there's no point in making the trip.

Wheresmydrive said...

Now what's in that fire bomb can also be found in many electronics.

Uh...what? Except for the initiator and the explosives, you mean? Every electronic device - homemade or otherwise - is going to have a power source and most of them have a switch of some kind - possibly several.

RB said...

___________________________________
re: Whatever this post is that you speak of it was not me. Although I too post ANON. Why? Because it is no ones business who I am. I can still give my opinion with out my identity. Have a nice day. :)

March 26, 2009 1:48 PM
...........................

Please see post March 25, 2009 9:49 PM on this thread, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous@1:35PM 3/26: Not just a TRON costume..the TRON costume that's famous around the Internet. I travel with it to do TV segments and make personal appearances and the like. On those trips, that costume is the reason for the trip. If I can't travel with it, there's no point in making the trip.
___________________________________
Wow not impressed, no need for an explanation on "THE TRON" costume. I didn't even know what it was until I googled it. And how can I put this nicely, I couldn't be more uninterested in it.

TSO-Joe said...

"Then perhaps the TSA needs to get its out head out of its not-invented-here-butt and buy some sniffers so it can actually secure this country AND protect the rights of the people so only a truly dangerous device will cause "extra scrutiny.""

Last I heard (and we all know how reliable THAT can be!) is that the sniffers work really well in the dust-free lab, but out in the real world, dust and other contaminents cause too many "false postives. We were to get these sniffers at MSP, but they have not been installed due to the reason above.

TSO-Joe

Anonymous said...

"Remember, the TSA caused a passenger to miss his flight because they didn't understand what a Mac Airbook was."

Even though the passenger didn't fault TSA for missing his flight since he said he was running late. Thou remember only what thou wants...

Jay Maynard said...

Matthew M. from DC said: Stringent checks such as these prevent numerous incidents yearly and are part of a policy that has ensured that no terrorist attacks on planes have occured since 9/11.

Gee, you sound like you work for the TSA.

You're saying that we should trust the government, in this case the TSA, to work in our best interest. Unfortunately, we have no reason to trust them, because they haven't given us any. That there have been no terrorist attacks on airplanes does not mean that that's because the TSA stopped them. It simply means there haven't been any. There haven't been any crazed elephants rampaging through the terminal at MSP, either...gonna credit the TSA for that one too?

TSO-Joe said...

"Let me get this right, if you can't tell what it is in a carry on you will blow it up, BUT if we put in in checked luggage it should be fine."

Trollkiller, I'm surprised at you! Even you know that the CTX machine will scan the homemade item an with the lack of explosive, organic material, never alarming the bag it's in so we'd never see it.

However, if you stick a hunk of cheese in it, it may alarm if you really want us pilfer it and destroy it without any chance of you protesting our stupidity.

TSO-Joe

Clark said...

"Our checked baggage machines use CT technology and can actually recognize and alarm on potential explosives. "-Updated Post

So why don't you have these for the checkpoints? Then the liquids ban becomes pointless as any liquid detectable by the checked baggage machines is detectable in a 20oz shampoo bottle. Then gadgets won't get a second look if they can't do anything harmful.

Anonymous said...

This post purposely never mentioned a passenger because the bag was left unattended and there was no passenger available to interview. We're not implying that you cannot travel with these types of items, we're just pointing out that they could be of concern, or possibly even hold you up a little bit. Listen, we think these things are cool too, but this is just a friendly "heads up" and not a threat.

Maybe you missed this part of the story...so no just because something looks threatening doesn't mean it is goin to be "blown up". Come on use some common sense.

TSO-Joe said...

I'd have recognized Tron if ya came through my checkpoint. Sadly, my kids and wife have no idea and don't care, either. *sigh!*

TSO-Joe

Trollkiller said...

TSO-Joe said...
I'd have recognized Tron if ya came through my checkpoint. Sadly, my kids and wife have no idea and don't care, either. *sigh!*

TSO-Joe


That is the saddest thing I have ever read on this Blog. I feel for you man.

Anonymous said...

I think the explanation of a homemade electronic device falls along the same lines as explaining a medical device. It would be great if every TSA employee knew everything there was to know about the advances in the medical field that brings about these many wonderful devices that keep people healthy and alive. It would also be great if every TSA employee was an electronics expert that had such an expanisve knowledge of how to make a homemade battery charger or other similar items. Unfortunately this is not possible.
Therefore, when you have a need to travel with such devices for whatever reason, be prepared to explain what it does. Understand that, while to you it makes perfect sense, to someone without your knowledge or your interest in electronics, it may seem suspicious. As with medical devices of an unusual nature, a simple explanation may be all that is needed to clear you through. If you have a concern that your item may be deemed harmless and "blown up into a zillion pieces", I would suggest asking to speak with a supervisor before you even submit it for screening. Then you could explain what the item is as well as how it should be handled to prevent damage (if it is something fragile) so that you can avoid any problems that might occur once it is viewed on the x-ray and deemed suspicious.
The goal here is to get your items through to your destination in the safest way possible with (hopefully) the least amount of hassle. It takes work on both sides to accomplish this.

Anonymous said...

Bob, did you learn anything from the Scott Peele incident? Once again you put up a post trying to show how vital the TSA is and how stupid passengers are, except that you left out some of the details. Had I known to begin with that the bag had been abandoned, the passenger could not be found, and you weren’t sure what a piece of electronics was from the X-ray. I would have agreed that blowing it up was the right call. Instead you gave us half-truths that upon full disclosure changed the nature of the story. So tell me, just how often do you really run into home made electronics and are they a problem?

Putting them in your checked luggage is not an option because they are at risk of getting stolen or the bag may never arrive at your destination because it will be held by the TSA until the passenger can verify the contents. Try flying with specialized equipment in your carry on is no easy task. The TSO’s don’t know what they are looking at, no matter how much you dumb down the explanation they are using a narrow and secret criteria that does not make sense.

In the future try telling the truth, we can handle the truth.

Eric
One of the 5 or 6

Anonymous said...

I thought I would repost this link about a guy who got delayed, and had the police called on him at the checkpoint because he had a mintyboost. (A homebrew battery-pack for USB-powered devices)

It is a tale that many of us have heard, or lived. TSA freaking out at something they don't recognize. A lack of knowledge and common sense, and an overabundance of fear. His descriptions of "Donna" are classic TSA: ignorant, fearful, and unwilling to the bitter end to consider that she might have made a mistake.

Bob, what is being done to make sure we can travel with harmless homebrew electronics with confidence? We shouldn't have to put them in checked baggage. There is nothing illegal or harmful about a mintyboost. I think a serious evaluation of the education and intelligence levels of TSOs needs to be done. As it says in the article:

"A handful of people with no knowledge of physics, engineering, or pyrotechnics are responsible for determining what is and what is not safe to bring on a plane"

Sounds like a problem, Bob. Thoughts?

Patrick (BOS TSO) said...

Clark said...
So why don't you have these for the checkpoints? Then the liquids ban becomes pointless as any liquid detectable by the checked baggage machines is detectable in a 20oz shampoo bottle. Then gadgets won't get a second look if they can't do anything harmful.


I've wondered the same thing, but I've come to realize it's because of the size of the things, they're huge and you couldn't fit these in most checkpoints.

I mean, what's used here in BOS is made by L-3 Communications' Security and Detection Systems division. In fact, I believe this is the monster we use to scan them!

Luckily, I can just drive 15 miles down the highway and pop into their corporate HQ and ask them that very same question you're wondering about... ;)

However, we finally got our first aTiX X-ray. Which does automatically detect explosives like the checked baggage systems making it more more easier for us. However, it doesn't have a super cool CT scan... but it does have two X-ray scans, the good ole' top down view and now a view from the side!

Actually, we're pretty lucky since most of the OEMs of our equipment are located a stone's throw from the airport! Makes maintenance a lot more easier. ;)

Wheresmydrive said...
Uh...what? Except for the initiator and the explosives, you mean? Every electronic device - homemade or otherwise - is going to have a power source and most of them have a switch of some kind - possibly several.


You got me there. I'll be honest, I was finishing up the post right around them I left for work so I only had to fix spelling mistakes pointed out by Firefox, and not check for grammar issues... so I kinda just posted what I had and rushed out the door to get to the checkpoint on time.

But really... anything electronic as long you have the background can be made into a bomb. Although it's good to have a background in other fields so you don't blow your fingers off.

Phil said...
Bob, your information conflicts with Nico's. If your equipment can determine that the object was not a bomb, then why were your staff, BAO (whatever that is), or the local bomb squad so concerned that it might be a bomb that they "blew it into a zillion pieces"?


Because, this took place in the checkpoint with an unattended bag. If the person was there... they could possibly have talked to the guy and determined it was safe. However, he wasn't there.

The reason it couldn't be put into the Explosives Detection System is that they are in the checked baggage area and usually the systems are inline. As in, it goes down the conveyor behind the ticket counter, goes through the X-Ray and since there was no mass... it would go straight onto the plane via the baggage trams.

However, if there is a mass, it would be pulled aside and examined. Yes, it would be nice if they had a ticket area EDS like the old days when 100% baggage screening began, but those were done away for these inline systems.

Anyways... would you REALLY want to introduce a potential explosive device into a system were it could explode and kill employees and passengers and possibly destroy all or most of the terminal/concourse/airport's checked baggage system?

The economic damage that would result would be countless.

Mr. Gel-pack said...

The first part of the story gives us advice to leave homebrewed electronics or they might be scurtinized into to zillions of pieces.

The update does indeed say that the destruction was of an unidentified electronic in an unattended bag, something anyone would expect of sloppy security.

But we're still left wondering what the point of the post is:

A) TSA can take our stuff and blow it to smithereens.

B) Leave unusual items at home. (or not?)

C) The automated equiment used for checked baggage does a better job of identifying threats than TSA "officers, our BAO or the local bomb squad".

D) Talk to your friendly BDOs (or not)

E) TSA couldn't Google the #1 mint-tin travel gadget on the internet: MintyBoost!

What lesson are you trying to teach us?

Anonymous said...

"It is a tale that many of us have heard, or lived. TSA freaking out at something they don't recognize. A lack of knowledge and common sense, and an overabundance of fear. His descriptions of "Donna" are classic TSA: ignorant, fearful, and unwilling to the bitter end to consider that she might have made a mistake."

Note that in the case you link to, the matter was resolved quickly when real law enforcement -- that is to say, someone with a real badge and uniform, not TSA's fancy dress outfits -- arrived. The conclusion one should draw from that is to demand that TSA summon the police any time they get that really confused look on their faces.

Anonymous said...

> Also, explosive detection systems would not identify these types of
> items in checked baggage, because they aren't explosives. Our checked
> baggage machines use CT technology and can actually recognize and alarm
> on potential explosives.


So, you're saying you can't detect them as explosives or you can? If you can't, why are you scanning all baggage? If you can, why do you need to blow up something that definitively came up as NOT an explosive?

Just what can be explosive about a non-explosive? Ah ha, you're just not admitting what you cannot detect, which is a nice workaround.

What you're doing it blowing stuff up at taxpayer expense and making your reports show "destroyed one possibly explosive device" - so you can get more money to blow up more devices so you can explode more things.. so you can...

You clarification occludes.

Anonymous said...

"So, you're saying you can't detect them as explosives or you can? If you can't, why are you scanning all baggage? If you can, why do you need to blow up something that definitively came up as NOT an explosive?"

Some people just do not get it. They try to make the TSA look foolish and it backfires. Perhaps some reading comprehension courses could do wonders for some.

Patrick (BOS TSO) said...

Mr. Gel-pack said...

A) TSA can take our stuff and blow it to smithereens.


No, but the local bomb squad can and it's their choice. Not ours.

Anonymous said...

Can you blow up an old lady's pie that she's bringing to her family for a gift?
Now that 3-1-1 has "gained international acceptance" security people all over the world can be free to harrass everybody on the basis of a security protocol to protect against an essentially impossible type of attack...
maybe we should all just fly only in special tsa issued clothes too or just naked?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/6175427.stm
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/17/flying_toilet_terror_labs/

Chris said...

The point of the original blog was to ask people to consider what their home made electronics may look like to an x-ray operator. Home made electronics vs. factory made appear very different and can appear to be threatening. Some of the commentors on this need to drop the "TSA is out to get me" mentality and just see this for what it is.

Jay Maynard said...

Chris, the problem is that, from the point of view of the traveling public, it's impossible to tell that the TSA is not out to get us. It's that trust issue again.

The TSA needs to understand that people need to travel with stuff that's not factory built, and learn to deal with it appropriately - and that does not mean "force everyone to travel with only factory built stuff".

Mike said...

Imagine for a moment you are driving your car to the supermarket. Up ahead, on the side of the road, you notice a bag of trash someone has left behind. You probably don’t even look twice. At most you think what kind inconsiderate person dumps garbage on the side of the road. You think this way because you are an American, living in a country in which you never have to think about the possibility of what a bag a trash could actually be.

If you are a soldier in Iraq you would be thinking I.E.D. You would be thinking about the enemy, the insurgent, the terrorists whoever you want to call them. You would think about the fact that the people who want to hurt you will hide the most dangerous items you can imagine in the most common place things they can find.

This is how some in TSA think. They don’t think about the shoes on your feet as shoes. TSA thinks about the fact that those shoes could be a common place cover up for something truly dangerous. Why do they think this way? We pay them to think that way. America pays Transportation Security Officers to think about all the horrific things that could happen so that the rest of us don’t have to.

Anonymous #234 said...

I took the time to read only a handful of the ridiculous comments and assertions made by people who still don't get it. There are thousands of reasons for doing the things we do. Some make sense, some don't. Some are obvious and some the public just doesn't need to know (for different reasons of their own). All the post is saying is take extra consideration before you bring some simple minded home made device to the security check point. It's easy to throw out the quick self-important assessment that we as highly trained specialists should be able to tell the difference between an Altoids iPod charger and an IED but I can tell you that with over 20 years as one of those trained professionals, the only way to know for sure is to look directly at the item. If that means blowing your precious little ten dollar battery charger to smithereens so be it. Better that than someone loose his or her life. Make your trip and our job easier, think and use a little common sense when travelling. For every one of you self-important blowhards that comes huffing and puffing up with your lower lip stuck out in a pout, chip already placed on your shoulder, there are thousands of travellers that know what it takes to get through painlessly. They participate in the process and get on with their lives. Learn from them. Oh, and I completely expect one of you whiny Libertarians to label those people sheep.

Anonymous said...

"TSA thinks about the fact that those shoes could be a common place cover up for something truly dangerous."

However, TSA fails to think about the incontrovertible fact that no one since Richard Reid has tried to use a shoe to harm an airplane in any way shape or form; the incontrovertible fact that no one was been found trying to use a show to harm a plane since Reid; the incontrovertible fact that in nations without the mandatory shoe carnival, no one has tried to use shoes to harm a plane; or the incontrovertible fact that no one tried to use shoes to harm a plane during the period when TSA did NOT require the mandatory shoe carnival.

Against these facts, TSA's shoe policy is revealed for what it is: an absurd overreaction to a nonexistent threat.

"Why do they think this way? We pay them to think that way."

No. They think this way because they don't know anything about smart security.

"America pays Transportation Security Officers to think about all the horrific things that could happen so that the rest of us don’t have to."

Nonsense. TSOs have no say over policy; their job is to carry out the policies set much higher up in the organization. (Excepting, of course, the fact that TSOs are authorized to make up policies on a whim!)

Jay Maynard said...

Anonymous #234: "There are thousands of reasons for doing the things we do. Some make sense, some don't. Some are obvious and some the public just doesn't need to know (for different reasons of their own)."

You're asking us to trust you. Why should we?

RB said...

Anonymous #234 said...

................
As another stealth TSO you certainly demostrate your lack of respect and disregard of the flying public.

With the continued decrease in people flying and the airlines cutting schedules maybe it's time for thinning the ranks of TSO's.

A good old RIF is always a good thing!

Anonymous #542 said...

Anonymous #234 come up with your own original name :-/

TSORon said...

Jay Maynard said:
"You're asking us to trust you. Why should we?"

Do trust or dont Jay, its your choice. I'd rather you did, but either way you get to deal with the consequences of your decision. What is said here is not going to make that big a difference, but what happens to you on the checkpoint will, at least to you.

Anonymous said...

RB, I dont think its a "lack of respect and disregard of the flying public", but a lack of respect and a disregard for those who cannot get along with others. The TSA is here to stay, and your ongoing inane rants and complaints tend to show just how little you really know about both the flying public and the TSA.

Jay Maynard said...

TSORon, I'd love to be able to trust the TSA. Unfortunately, that's simply not possible in the current environment where the TSOs arbitrarily and capriciously get to make their own rules at a whim at the checkpoint and have them backed up all the way up the line, even when those rules contravene TSA's stated policy. It's not possible when the TSA makes rules and decisions that they utterly refuse to defend in public other than saying "that's the way it is". It's not possible when the TSA refuses to disclose more than a tiny minority of the rules it demands the traveling public obey, claiming we don't need to know them. It's not possible when the TSA offers no means of effective recourse even when it makes an obvious, blatant mistake. It's not possible when the TSA never, ever, ever admits fallibility or error.

I've seen lots of complaints from TSA employees on this blog about how they don't think the traveling public should be so defensive. Until the reasons we can't trust the TSA change, though, the traveler has to defend himself from the TSA, and that's the way things are going to stand.

Mike said...

The fact that no one has attempted to use a bomb hidden inside of a shoe since Richard Reid means one of two things. First, TSA’s policies work. I am quite sure that many of the readers of this blog will scream out of rage at this idea but it is a fact that the purpose of the shoe removal policy was to stop people from smuggling bombs in their shoes and that is exactly what has happened.

Second, Terrorists are patient. In 1993 Al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center in New York with the expectations of toppling the buildings with a car bomb. In 2001, over 8 years after the first attack Al-Qaeda again attacked the same building. Terrorists are willing to wait until America drops their guard before attacking again. Only a few months ago we passed the 7 year anniversary of the terror attacks which utilized weaknesses in America’s commercial aircraft security.

This is not a time to complain about having to go through security; this is the time to renew our guard against the threats to our nation. Terrorists are patient and America must not forget what is at stake.

Jannis said...

Most of the posts I have read on this blog are sent in by people who are only angry with TSA because security is stricter than it was before September 11, 2001. The reality of life in the 21st century is that the United States government has exactly two choices, 1) To make it citizens safer by increasing security (regardless of skeptical whining this is what TSA has done) or 2) To allow its citizens to die at the hands of radicals.

The choice is ours. Risk is a part of life and if we as Americans fully accept this fact then TSA can ease off their security measures. As I recall, in the days and weeks following 9-11 the American people rose up and demanded that the government protect them. This is why TSA was created. If you really want to get rid of TSA then you need to convince your fellow Americans that you and they should be willing to give your lives so that you can wear your shoes through the checkpoint and take your own water bottle on the plane.

Jay Maynard said...

Mike: it is a fact that the purpose of the shoe removal policy was to stop people from smuggling bombs in their shoes and that is exactly what has happened.

There's a logical fallacy in this argument: for it to be true, you must also show that people have attempted to smuggle bombs in their shoes, and have been stopped by the TSA. This has not been shown. Whether it's because people have been deterred by the policy, or have been caught in the attempt, or simply have not wanted to try, cannot be shown by the mere fact that it hasn't happened again. TSA may have further data that would inspire confidence, but it doesn't think the American public can be trusted with that information.

Mike again: Only a few months ago we passed the 7 year anniversary of the terror attacks which utilized weaknesses in America’s commercial aircraft security.

There's another anniversary that we passed at the same time: the anniversary of the American public waking up and realizing that a hijacker requires their cooperation in order to succeed. The people of United 93 showed that that cooperation can never again be assumed by a hijacker. The terrorists have learned that lesson. When will TSA?

Jannis: Most of the posts I have read on this blog are sent in by people who are only angry with TSA because security is stricter than it was before September 11, 2001.

I, for one (and, I strongly suspect, others here as well) am not angry at the increase in security. I'm angry at the increase at government agents running amok performing what recognized security experts all agree is nothing more than security theater, and being arbitrary and capricious in the process, costing people their property, their health, and their liberty for no justifiable reason and with no recourse when wrongs happen.

Jannis again: To make it citizens safer by increasing security (regardless of skeptical whining this is what TSA has done)

When recognized security experts with no axe to grind (and not TSA shills) agree that TSA is not doing security theater, but real security, then I'll grant this point. Not before.

Jim Huggins said...

Jannis writes:

As I recall, in the days and weeks following 9-11 the American people rose up and demanded that the government protect them. This is why TSA was created.

But is the manner in which TSA is fulfilling that demand the best? Are TSA's current practices both necessary and sufficient to ensure the safety of commercial airline travel? Or are there better ways?

The way in which TSA executes its job has changed over time. Lighters used to be banned in carry-on luggage; now, they're permitted. Liquids used to be permitted in all quantities, then (briefly) banned in all quantities, now allowed in small quantities. Laptops used to have to be removed from sleeves for screening; now, laptops can remain in certain types of sleeves.

I won't speak to anyone else's motivations here. I'm not calling for the abolition of the TSA. But I would like to see TSA do a better job. And, thankfully, TSA wants to do a better job, too. So we debate and criticize here as a means to achieve this shared goal of making TSA better.

In short: the mission of TSA, and the means by which TSA executes its mission, are independent. Criticizing the latter does not necessarily imply a criticism of the former.

Anonymous said...

"First, TSA’s policies work. I am quite sure that many of the readers of this blog will scream out of rage at this idea but it is a fact that the purpose of the shoe removal policy was to stop people from smuggling bombs in their shoes and that is exactly what has happened."

Well, no, no it isn't. It's not what's happened in any way shape or form. If that were the case, there would be shoe bombings on flights all over the world in countries that don't have the TSA shoe carnival. There would have been shoe bombings during the period before the shoe carnival in the US became mandatory. None of those things happened. That's not an indication that TSA's policy works, that's an indication that TSA's policy is pointless and unnecessary and greatly inconveniences travelers for no increase in security.

TSORon said...

Jim Huggins said...
“The way in which TSA executes its job has changed over time.”

Thank you Jim. Security has always been an evolving field, working towards making itself better than it was last week. Missteps are occasionally made, but not intentionally. Security is also a “reactive” field. We do what we can to anticipate problems but can never anticipate them all. That’s why one of the hallmarks of a great security force is flexibility. The ability to change procedures and adapt to changes as they happen are a critical part of the job we do. One that we are fairly good at, but with a workforce as large and diverse as the TSA is it can sometimes not be either fast enough or exactly what is needed. But I for one appreciate it when someone is both willing to make suggestions and recognize the difficulty of the tasks we perform.

Anonymous said...

"There's a logical fallacy in this argument: for it to be true, you must also show that people have attempted to smuggle bombs in their shoes, and have been stopped by the TSA."

I find a logic failure in that arguement. We have at a shoe bomb and bomber, and he GOT IT PAST SECURITY ONTO THE PLANE!!! If he hadn't had the thing on his feet for 2-3 days, it may have worked. What more do you want to know? That TSA has stopped an attemtped shoe bomber is irrrevevant. If I know TSA What I find interesting is that the bomber tried and succeeded in getting thorugh European security, not TSA, as they had not been created yet.

TSO-Joe said...

"When recognized security experts with no axe to grind (and not TSA shills) agree that TSA is not doing security theater, but real security, then I'll grant this point. Not before."

The problem I have with this is that said security experts do not really say what real security is, just what security theater is. Course they don't get paid if they cough up what we could do to have real security. TSO-Joe

Anonymous said...

"We have at a shoe bomb and bomber, and he GOT IT PAST SECURITY ONTO THE PLANE!!! If he hadn't had the thing on his feet for 2-3 days, it may have worked."

Reid is the only person to attempt to hide explosives in his shoe in recent memory, and that was over a half-decade ago. Nations that do not mandate show removal have not experienced a wave of shoe-smuggled bombs, nor did the United States when shoe removal was optional as it was before August of 2006. These strongly indicate that TSA's policy is an unnecessary overreaction to a threat that does not really exist. TSA apologists refusal to acknowledge or engage these facts further supports the hollowness of both TSA's shoe carnival policy and defenses of same.

Anonymous said...

How many of you have actually seen a modified acoustic guitar made to be an electric guitar on an x-ray? I can tell you this. It closed my checkpoint because it contained all of the components of an I.E.D. It made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. Did I panic? No. Did we blow it up? No. Our Bomb Appraisal Officer questioned the passenger, and after a short inpection, the item was cleared. This item was of special value and cost a lot of money to convert the guitar. Improvised electronics will be scrutinized, so what! Would you rather it not be and take the chance of your plane going down?

matt said...

In the picture it looked like a home-made explosive device. I could Imagine how people reacted when they saw that. interesting stuff people make out of homemade items.

Anonymous said...

@anon "How many of you have actually seen a modified acoustic guitar made to be an electric guitar on an x-ray? I can tell you this. It closed my checkpoint because it contained all of the components of an I.E.D. It made the hairs on the back of my neck rise."

Which part of that could have looked like the chemical energy store? Maybe if they stored several pounds of clay in there...

If you freaked out simply because the device had wires and an IC chip (OMG) but no corporate logo, yet would blandly pass any shiny industrially made instrument, then we have a serious problem.

I mean seriously: you can take a cell phone smash it against a wall and use the wires from a pair of headphones clipped to the ringer and presto everything but the chemical energy store... So if you want to follow your logic you better not permit ANY cell phones or headphones!

Anonymous said...

So you can't figure out what's a bomb and what isn't.

Gods, but I hate the TSA.

Cliff said...

It really makes me feel great that a team of LEO's and explosives experts couldn't figure out if a small electronic device was dangerous or not. With such 'experts' standing guard, we should all feel much safer!

Stephen said...

@TSA Bloggers

So... could we get some numbers here. How many of these devices have gotten so much extra scrutiny? How much time has been devoted, on average per device? Say... since 9/12

Also, how many bombs and confirmed malicious devices have been found in the same time period?

Essentially, what is the real false positive rate here? Afterall, isn't that a VERY important measure of the effectiveness of a security measure?

How many false positives, and what is the average cost in man hours per incident? Average cost in dollars of those man hours? Average number of hours each false positive costs the traveler under question?

If you don't have averages, I would be happy to take raw data and crunch the numbers myself.

What sort of review is being done of these policies with regards error rates?

I might add that an economics book I was reading recently (More Sex is Safer Sex) pointed out that with a 5% false positive rate for HIV tests, and only .6% of the population actually infected, that means that the 5% false positives outstrip the true positives by so much, that recieving a positive result still only gives you a relatively small chance of actually being infected.

Now, since I would estimate far less than .6% of the population are malicious with respect to air travel... that means you should expect hundreds and hundreds of false positives before you ever get a true positive.

Anyway, having this data would allow the actual effectiveness of this police to be assessed. Wouldn't you agree thats a good thing?

-Steve

Stephen said...

Of course as we all now know... even cash can't be trusted: http://youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DXMB6L487LHM

Good to know that the TSA doesn't endorse the use of cash.

More and more it sounds like the TSA policy is "Be as bland and as much like sheep as possible: originality will be punished"

Sure he was only detained, and questioned, and insulted, and threatened. However, he had cash on him, thats suspect now.

Thats what this degenerate gets for being slightly abnormal.

If there is any justice these TSA officers will be fired, and if there are no charges to bring them up on, the law should be fixed so the next ones who do it can be tossed in jail where they can't continue to be a detriment to our society.

-Steve

Stephen said...

TSO-Joe:

They don't? Clearly you don't read Cryptogram on a regular basis. Or read any books on the topic (by some of these same people).

I happen to read cryptogram every month, have it delivered right to my mailbox. Its free you know. Bruce writes a lot about security from many aspects. Sure he doesn't have a direct prescription for the TSA, but I bet the TSA could afford to hire him as a consultant.

His message has been consistant: Less emphasis on "movie plot threats". More "shoe leather police work", more generic emergency readiness.

Bombs and guns are merely one way a person might attack, and planes are meerly one way someone might attack. Thus, overemphasis on protecting them (like forming the TSA, spending gobs of money on milimeter wave machines and bomb detectors) is simply not helpful because all it can even hope to do is cause an attacker to choose a different target.

So unless TSA offical policy is "Lives in flight matter, people in bus terminals and trains can all die for all we care" then its not really helping.

As I have pointed out several times, this method is a real slippery slope. Keep going down this path and we will need a security checkpoint in front of the line for the security checkpoint.

When you factor in the fact that there are so few real attackers that, their numbers approach 0.... then all you have is a vast system generating false positive after false positive. Making nobody safer, and everybody inconvinienced.

Want to help? Direct that money at first responders. Direct it at the agencies that will find and catch these criminals and their supporters.

Because the minute you change your security posture to stop bombs hidden in peoples jock straps, they are going to start shoving them in rectal cavities. The moment you detect all known explosives, they will look for an unknown... they choose the method and the vector of attack.

Essentially, your entire model is flawed and useful only for deterance, which it does.... but.... it did it just fine in the late 90s, did it just fine in the early 90s. did it fine in the 80s.

-Steve

Stephen said...

@Matt

It did? What does a home made explosive device look like? How do you know?

Sounds to me like you think you are some kind of expert. Are you a bomber? Who are you working for? Where did you learn what "home made explosive devices" look like? huh?

You sound pretty suspicous to me.

Better put you on the no-fly list.

-Steve

Stephen said...

@Patrick (BOS citizen)

You are right, the troubles are over, and these firebombs no longer maim and kill on a regular basis there.

So tell me... it was what that ended the troubles? Oh right... the agents of the crown got soo good at detecting bombs that the IRA just couldn't operate anymore... thats why they don't even exist today... right?

I think you make my case for me here. These devices can be made to any shape, any size (this one being about 2.3 or so AA batteries square) even made modular and reassembled.

Try out reading Lawrence Lessig's essay "Insanely Destructive Devices". Its a really good read (google it) and see what the take-away is for airport security.

You know... I am not even going to summarize it.... because I think its an important read for anyone who cares about security.

While you read it do think about that.... what was it that ended the troubles?

-Steve

TSO-Joe said...

"They don't? Clearly you don't read Cryptogram on a regular basis."

I don't, but will now. Thanks!

BK said...

It's a dangerous notion to believe that an expert should be able to tell weather a package contains an IED by using an x-ray alone. An expert knows when to take the proper precautions. During my time as EOD in the military our most important rule was life before property, meaning we never took unnecessary risks. Expert doesn't equate to perfect. Just ask the Woodburn Oregon Police Department

Ponter said...

@Stephen: How many false positives,

Classified (Secret)

and what is the average cost in man hours per incident?

SSI

Average cost in dollars of those man hours?

Classified (Secret)

Average number of hours each false positive costs the traveler under question?

Classified (Secret)

What sort of review is being done of these policies with regards error rates?

SSI

Anyway, having this data would allow the actual effectiveness of this police to be assessed. Wouldn't you agree thats a good thing?

The effectiveness of all TSA policies is assessed regularly through classified reviews and audits. The results of the assessments are classified, but in general the assessments consistently demonstrate that TSA policies are highly effective at keeping the traveling public safe and secure from enemy threats while fully respecting the rights and privacy of travelers. Any recommended corrective actions are expeditiously dispositioned in accordance with TSA policy.

If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

Jay Maynard said...

Ponter: "If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them."

Right. By posting the same non-answers as you did to the questions you non-answered?

"in general the assessments consistently demonstrate that TSA policies are highly effective at keeping the traveling public safe and secure from enemy threats while fully respecting the rights and privacy of travelers."

We have only your word for that. Why should we trust your word, especially when this blog is full of comments from folks whose rights and privacy were not respected in the slightest, never mind "fully respected"?

Yet another TSA shill posting empty words. Give us a real reason to believe you.

RB said...

Ponter said...
@Stephen: How many false positives,

Classified (Secret)

and what is the average cost in man hours per incident?

SSI

Average cost in dollars of those man hours?

Classified (Secret)

Average number of hours each false positive costs the traveler under question?

Classified (Secret)

What sort of review is being done of these policies with regards error rates?

SSI

.....snipped,..

If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

April 6, 2009 12:07 PM

Since you indicate you are an authority of how things are classified at TSA would you mind telling us what office you hold at DHS/TSA.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Man you people are funny. What is a bomb? I believe in the general sense from movies or basic freakin common knowledge that it is a home made ALTERED ELECTRONIC DEVICE full of explosives. Even the bomb squad and freakin swat team though that little altoid can was a bomb so maybe there has to be something to this whole little home made gadgets thing look bad. Sure TSA is trained to find bombs and I would understand being worried about my gadgets if it was just TSA making that call but the BOMB SQUAD AND SWAT TEAM! I am leaving my home made gadgets at home like I always do. Oh and I have sent my gadgets through checked baggage before and never have been bothered by it so maybe their fancy x-rays in baggage work differently then the ones in the checkpoint.

Thomas Farrell said...

"We're not implying that you cannot travel with these types of items"

Yes you are. You're saying that even if we notify you in advance and are there with our bag that it will only "probably" not be blown up. If I invest a lot of time making a handmade piece of electronic gadgetry with an innocent and harmless purpose, I am not going to be willing to bring it through TSA security without a guarantee that you won't take it from me and blow it up.

Effectively, you have threatened to blow up my property if I bring through something that isn't a mass-produced consumer item. Seems pretty unamerican of you to me.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say thanks for this blog - and I wish people would even realize how awesome it is to even have such a forum to give your point of view - 99.9% of the rest of the world would never have anything like this - and their security staff would not feel the need or see your right to have an explanation of their decisions. Get a life and get beyond your so tiny world view - try traveling through London, Doha/Qatar, Singapore, Hong Kong, or other places and that will give you a clue to how strict the rest of the world operates and how privleged you really are!!! Can you not give up even an iota just in the name of security and smooth flying? What you carry on to airplanes is NOT a slippery slope of losing rights!!! (although I do always carry an empty water bottle to fill up at water fountains - I feel I have a human right to water!)

50806 BLOG said...

The fact that no one has attempted to use a bomb hidden inside of a shoe since Richard Reid means one of two things. First, TSA’s policies work. I am quite sure that many of the readers of this blog will scream out of rage at this idea but it is a fact that the purpose of the shoe removal policy was to stop people from smuggling bombs in their shoes and that is exactly what has happened.

Second, Terrorists are patient. In 1993 Al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center in New York with the expectations of toppling the buildings with a car bomb. In 2001, over 8 years after the first attack Al-Qaeda again attacked the same building. Terrorists are willing to wait until America drops their guard before attacking again. Only a few months ago we passed the 7 year anniversary of the terror attacks which utilized weaknesses in America’s commercial aircraft security.

This is not a time to complain about having to go through security; this is the time to renew our guard against the threats to our nation. Terrorists are patient and America must not forget what is at stake.

Steve said...

I guess your homemade device should be left where they were made, at home and not on a plane.
Though the cigarette Guitar amp was a good one though. I play rock guitar myself and a little amp would be handy.

Fancy Dress Man said...

Makes me think that the terrorists are winning when we are afraid to innovate and create in our own countries . . .

Anonymous said...

I have nothing but contempt for the TSA for this post. The photo of the device laid out as it was proves you knew it wasn't explosive. You blew this up out of pure malice.

Fire the 'expert' who identified this as a risk. I could probably replace him, and I wouldn't shut down an airport for a non-issue in the process.

Care to guess what the aggregate cost of this shutdown was?

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding..this entire thing is just an excuse for the TSA to play with their toys and call the cops. This way they can point to this entire incident as a reason for them to exist. By god who knows what kind of homemade gadgets people would be sneaking onto the aircraft if they weren't around. DHS and TSA are the biggest waste of money since the IRS...and about as useful..

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the story of the mathematician who wouldn't fly because he figured the odds of getting on a plane with a bomb were too great. A friend later found him at the airport getting ready to get on a plane and asked how he got over his fear of getting on a plane with a bomb. The reply was that he'd figured out the odds of getting on a plane with TWO bombs was so minuscule compared to getting on a plane with one bomb that he improved his odds by bringing one of his own.

I doubt that the current efforts by the TSA could stop a really dedicated and creative terrorist from getting an explosive device onto a plane.

Anonymous said...

So how come I have to take off my sandals and belt at US checkpoints, but I don't have to in Tel Aviv??????

Jamie X said...

It is complete and utter stupidity like this that makes the rest of the world so very glad that they are not American. There was a time, not that long ago, when America was the envy of the world, now it is just a joke. I have no desire to even visit again as I cannot imagine why anyone should have to put up with this sort of thing. The irony is that this is now less likely to happen in somewhere like Russia.

Anonymous said...

Your security is a joke if I...no, no, if someone wanted to blow up a plane you think they are gonna put the device inside an obviously homemade device? Really Your lack of creativity is frightening. Is it not more likely that a commercial product would be used and the insides modified. You already admit you can't tell with certainty what homemade items are not bombs, (also how are your bomb technicians not able to isolate an explosive component?)I am willing to bet that same uncertainty exists for consumer grade products which I bet your less likely to confiscate there for showing the fraud that is your security protocol.I suggest you are just magic show of smoke and mirrors trying to convince the public they are safe.....an illusion by definition.

Anonymous said...

Further I think that once the TSA invests a certain amount of man hours in figuring out if the device is deadly or not they just blow it up any way because try proving it wasn't a bomb now ehhh ehhh and then it can be added to the tally sheet of deadly devices stopped.