Airport Security

Very interesting article from Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic.  He, working with Bruce Schneier, tried to get caught going through airport security with fake boarding passes, carrying large amounts of liquids and generally looking suspicious.  All to no avail.

Some of the best bits:

During one secondary inspection, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America device called a “Beerbelly,” a neoprene sling that holds a polyurethane bladder and drinking tube. The Beerbelly, designed originally to sneak alcohol—up to 80 ounces—into football games, can quite obviously be used to sneak up to 80 ounces of liquid through airport security. (The company that manufactures the Beerbelly also makes something called a “Winerack,” a bra that holds up to 25 ounces of booze and is recommended, according to the company’s Web site, for PTA meetings.) My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly, contained two cans’ worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government.

Of course, terry-rists don’t drink beer, so they would never use a beerbelly device.

Schnei­er took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”

“It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.

“What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”

“Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”

They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schnei­er held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”

“Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schnei­er would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)

The article reaches the same conclusion that most investigations of airport security do.  If you’re a really stupid terrorist, you’ll be caught.  If you’re an even vaguely intelligent terrorist, you can do what you want.  If you’re a Joe the Plumber/Paddy the Plasterer trying to get on a plane, you’ll get inconvenienced for very little gain.


Kip Hawley, head of the TSA, responded to Schneier, and Schneier responded back.  Amazingly, he actually praises an element of Dublin Airport security (down at the end of the post).  Imagine – the Department of Transport doing something right!  Don’t worry, though.  As Iarnród Éireann always tell us, “normal service will be resumed as soon as possible”.

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