Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Free gropes for travellers

Over at BoingBoing, Cory points to a USA Today story at NewsIsFree about more screening. There seem to be four components:

  • Explosives Detection Secondary screening will now always include nitrate detection swabbing. This is a fine step, but why has it taken 3 years to come in? (In fact, every time I’ve been thrown into the secondary system, my bags have been swabbed, so I’m surprised that it’s new.)
  • Outer garment removal Remove bulky outer clothing. Again, I thought this was already in place.
  • More discretion “TSA screeners will be given greater authority to refer passengers for extra scrutiny if clothing looks bulky, misshapen or otherwise suspicious. Some passengers also will receive expanded pat-downs when screeners consider it warranted.” I have very mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, it may make the life of a terrorist harder. The 9/11 hijackers knew what they were allowed to take, and the screeners didn’t have much discretion. On the other hand, it’s going to lead to more abuses where the screeners make strange or offensive decisions. Those incidents (“drink your own milk,” “drop your trousers”, etc) will greatly outnumber terrorists caught, however good the screeners are. There are a lot more innocents than terrorists traveling and so the silly-season perception of screeners will increase.

    As to the “groping,” it was inevitable. If the goal is to keep all knives off planes, then you need to rub-frisk every passenger. Maybe they can at least hire better looking screeners to do it?

  • Document scanners “For traces of explosives,” they claim. No, its more reliable data capture, and an attempt to cut down on fake ID being used. As if any of the terrorists ever travelled with fake ID. They travelled on fraudulently issued ID, a market driven by the immigration and work policies of the US.

4 comments on "Free gropes for travellers"

  • Scott Blake says:

    Full frisking of every passenger is remarkably effective, especially when done in combination with a hand-held metal detector. I was subjected to this flying from Frankfurt to London, as was every other passenger entering the departure lounge.
    One (among many) fatal flaw in security for American airports is the design absence of separation between airside services and actual plane departure point. Travelers can do far too much in airside facilities before boarding the plane.

  • adam says:

    Absolutely, it’s effective at finding things that the passengers are carrying. It needs to happen in conjunction with good baggage control and good aircraft servicing controls.
    And as you say, there are many flaws. I’d like to see them addressed somewhat systemically, rather than in a series of apparently random moves.
    It all boils down to the cost of the security measure vs. the payoff, and how you count each.

  • Justin says:

    Fraudulently-issued ID? really? I wasn’t aware of that — I thought their ID was 100% valid, under their own names, etc.

  • adam says:

    A facilitator named Victor Lopez-Florez was convicted of helping hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi get a Virginia state ID card he shouldn’t have had. It was in his real name, but it was fraudulently issued. See (I’ve written about this more in (or

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