Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


What Kip Hawley Doesn't Understand About Terrorism

Former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley was on NPR a few minutes ago, opining on the 2nd panty bomber. He said two remarkable things. First, that the operators of nudatrons, who see thousands of naked people per day, would notice the bomb. Second, he didn’t understand why Al Qaeda would continue to focus on underwear bombs. […]


The TSA’s Approach to Threat Modeling

“I understand people’s frustrations, and what I’ve said to the TSA is that you have to constantly refine and measure whether what we’re doing is the only way to assure the American people’s safety. And you also have to think through are there other ways of doing it that are less intrusive,” Obama said. “But […]


It's not TSA's fault

October 18th’s bad news for the TSA includes a pilot declining the choice between aggressive frisking and a nudatron. He blogs about it in “Well, today was the day:” On the other side I was stopped by another agent and informed that because I had “opted out” of AIT screening, I would have to go […]


Transparent Lies about Body Scanners

In “Feds Save Thousands of Body Scan Images,” EPIC reports: In an open government lawsuit against the United States Marshals Service, EPIC has obtained more than one hundred images of undressed individuals entering federal courthouses. The images, which are routinely captured by the federal agency, prove that body scanning devices store and record images of […]


Dear England, may we borrow Mr. Cameron for a bit?

Back when I commented on David Cameron apologizing for Bloody Sunday, someone said “It’s important to remember that it’s much easier to make magnanimous apologise about the behaviour of government agents when none of those responsible are still in their jobs.” Which was fine, but now Mr. Cameron is setting up an investigation into torture […]


Terrorism Links and quotes

Ed Hasbrouck on “Lessons from the case of the man who set his underpants on fire” A Canadian woman who’s been through the new process is too scared to fly. “Woman, 85, ‘terrified’ after airport search.” Peter Arnett reported “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a TSA major said today. He […]


The New School of Air Travel Security?

As I simmer with anger over how TSA is subpoening bloggers, it occurs to me that the state of airline security is very similar to that of information security in some important ways: Failures are rare Partial failures are generally secret Actual failures are analyzed in secret Procedures are secret Procedures seem bizarre and arbitrary […]


What the FBI Was Doing on Beethoven's Birthday

This is unfair, but I can’t resist. Nine days before we found out again that PETN is hard to detonate, the FBI was keeping us safe: FBI FINALLY MAKES AN ARREST OVER ‘WOLVERINE’ LEAK The FBI has announced the capture of an individual connected with the leak of 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” … […]


Abdulmutallab/Flight 253 Airline Terror links

Air Canada is canceling US flights because of security. (Thanks, @nselby!) The New York Times reports that “Britain Rejected Visa Renewal for Suspect.” NPR reported that the State Department may have raised some sort of flag, but I don’t have a link. ABC is reporting that two of the “al Qaeda Leaders Behind Northwest Flight […]


Observations on the Christmas Bomber

Since there’s been so much discussion about the Chrismas Bomber, I want to avoid going over the same ground everyone else is. So as much as I can, I’m going to try to stick to lightly-treaded ground. This is a failure for the terrorists. A big one. Think about it; put yourself on the other […]


Abdulmutallab/Flight 253 Airline Terror links

The Economist “The latest on Northwest flight 253:” “the people who run America’s airport security apparatus appear to have gone insane” and “This is the absolute worst sort of security theatre: inconvenient, absurd, and, crucially, ineffective.” Business Travel Coalition, via Dave Farber and Esther Dyson, “Aviation Security After Detroit:” “It is welcome news that President […]


New Restrictions: No Using Electronic Devices for the Last Hour

Apparently, in the wake of thousands of deaths from idiots paying more attention to GPS, cell phones, GameBoys, iPods and other such electronic devices, TSA has announced a ban on all use of such devices for the last hour of your commute. No, just kidding. Apparently, they may be imposing new secret restrictions on use […]


BBC Video of Liquid Explosives

The BBC has some really scary video “Detonation of Liquid Explosives.” However, as I thought about it, I grow increasingly confused by what it purports to show, and the implications. At the end of the day, I think there are two possibilities: It’s a fair representation, or it’s not. I’m leaning slightly towards the second. […]


Actually, Randall, We Tried That

And the reason it doesn’t work is that just because you’re allowed to own something doesn’t mean you’re allowed to export it. The use, ownership, production, etc. of crypto was never restricted, only its export. In an Intenet-enabled world, export control brings lots of hair with it, which is why it was important to fight […]


Responses to Terror: Boston and Ashdod, Israel

An Israeli teenager has been arrested after he donned a mask and prowled the streets of his town with a big rucksack and toy gun for a school project. The boy, 15, was seized by police in the southern town of Ashdod suspecting he was a Palestinian militant. The student was quoted as saying he […]


Ridiculing the Ridiculous: Terrorist Tweets

A group of soldiers with the US Army’s 304th Military Intelligence Battalion have managed to top previous military research on terrorist use of World of Warcraft. Realizing that mentioning the word “terrorist” can allow researchers to acquire funding to play the popular MMOG, they turned attention to the popular, if architecturally unscalable micro-blogging system, Twitter. […]


Death Penalty Protestors are Terrorists

The Washington Post reports upon the further cheapening of the word “terrorism” in, “Md. Police Put Activists’ Names On Terror Lists.” The fifty-three people with “no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime” who were put on a list of terrorists include anti-death-penanty protestors. It’s really hard to keep from laughing about this. Are […]


Laptops and border crossings

The New York Times has in an editorial, “The Government and Your Laptop” a plea for Congress to pass a law to ensure that laptops (along with phones, etc.) are not seized at borders without reasonable suspicion. The have the interesting statistic that in a survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, 7 of […]


Who Watches the Watchlists?

The idea of “watchlists” has proliferated as part of the War on Terror. There are now more than 63 of them: As part of its regular “risk management” service, which provides screening, tracing, and identity and background checks on potential clients or trading partners, MicroBilt will now offer a “watch list” service that checks these […]


Reality imitates the Onion

I’m somewhat sure this is a real AP story, “Al-Qaida No. 2 says 9/11 theory propagated by Iran.” The Onion scooped them, with “9/11 Conspiracy Theories ‘Ridiculous,’ Al Qaeda Says.” Unfortunately, no progress on the “fake tape” issue: The authenticity of the two-hour audio recording posted on an Islamic Web site could not be independently […]


People Not Being Terrorized

Recently, a group of passengers on the London Underground performed the dance from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in front of an unsuspecting audience. Shockingly, no one panicked. You can see one passenger move out of the way, but people otherwise just sat there and watched. When the performance was done, the fellow-passengers applauded. Security was not […]


This stock is da bomb!

OK. So while researching the stock tout scam noted in another post, I came across a blog which discussed a similar mechanism, but one using text messages. An obvious variant, but the part I absolutely adored was when they linked to this August 31, 2007 article from (emphases added to save your time): An […]


Bayesian battlefield

According to court papers referenced in this VOA report, U.S. sniper teams in Iraq are using an interesting tactic: [A] so-called baiting program developed at the Pentagon by the Asymmetrical Warfare Group….the baiting was described as putting items, including plastic explosives, ammunition and detonation cords on the battlefield then killing suspected insurgents who picked up […]


MIT, Logan, the Chilling Effect and Emergent Chaos

If you’re not hidden under a rock, you know about the latest bomb scare in Boston. Some MIT kid forgot that Boston cops think anything with an LED on it is a bomb. A lot of people are saying she got what she deserved, or that she’s lucky to be alive. These people probably think […]


Steganography in the News

In Australia, Jeffrey Ismail has been convicted of “using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend” meaning using his mobile to coördinate reprisal attacks against a rival gang. Despite registering his phone under the name “John Gotti” and being careful enough to tell his “clerics” to “bring ‘ankshays’ and ‘atbays’” police recorded his calls […]


A Small Breath of Sanity in Airline Regs

The New York Times reports, “U.S. Will Allow Most Types of Lighters on Planes” Federal aviation authorities have decided to stop enforcing a two-year-old rule against taking cigarette lighters on airplanes, concluding that it was a waste of time to search for them before passengers boarded. The ban was imposed at the insistence of Congress […]


Failure of Imagination

USA Today tells us, “Sci-fi writers join war on terror,” in which, “the Homeland Security Department [sic] is tapping into the wild imaginations of a group of self-described “deviant” thinkers….” There are many available cheap shots as well as fish to shoot in that barrel. I’m going to take a cheap shot at one not […]


Billions for Fashion Police, but Not One Cent for Tribute Bands!

Woo hoo! I feel so much safer! The TSA reports, “Transportation Security Officers SPOT Passenger in Fake Military Uniform at Florida Airport.” Picture at right is my foofification of the picture on the TSA site. Our brave protectors write: A TSA behavior detection team at a Florida airport helped catch a passenger allegedly impersonating a […]


Shock Horror! Ashcroft Am Not Devil Incarnate!

In 27 B Stroke 6 Threat Level, Kevin Poulsen writes, “News from Bizzaro World: Ashcroft Opposed Taps.” Kevin, your reality tunnel is showing. There are many things that Ashcroft was (I apologize for using the past tense), starting with prig and prude. I’m not particularly a fan of his, but the Venn diagram of what […]


Astronauts and Terrorists: Limits of Screening

So we here at Emergent Chaos have carefully refrained from using the phrase “astronaut in diapers” not because we think that it is now incumbent apon the blogosphere to maintain what little dignity remains in American journalism, but because, within about nine minutes of the arrest of Lisa Nowak, the blogosphere had thoroughly digested the […]


From the "A Child Shall Lead Them" Desk

Response #24 in a discussion on FlyerTalk: My 10-y.o. son, like many kids, believes that backpacks have to be overloaded to work. Recently, at LAX T-6 (shoe carnival central), the TSA removed 2 partially full water bottles from his backpack after x-ray screening. On the return flight, at JFK T-9, they found 2 more, both […]


Old-Fashioned Values

This is probably the most important minute of video you’ll see this week, but on a better week, it won’t be. Thanks to manfromlaramie for finding this.


Robert Anton Wilson Defies Medical Experts

Robert Anton Wilson Defies Medical Experts and leaves his body @4:50 AM on binary date 01/11. All Hail Eris! On behalf of his children and those who cared for him, deepest love and gratitude for the tremendous support and lovingness bestowed upon us. (that’s it from Bob’s bedside at his fnord by the sea) RAW […]



How’d you like to be the person at British Airways who has to write the letter to 30,000 people explaining that they might have been exposed to a radioactive poison while traveling on BA flights? Remarkably, authorities will not confirm that the substance detected was Polonium, yet passengers on the flights are being asked to […]


I couldn't have said it better, myself

Pseudonymous contributor “DK”, of Josh Marshall’s blog expresses several worthy thoughts about national character with a brevity and nuance I envy: OK, I’ll admit to a bias here. I think the Netherlands is one of the best places on the planet. They have our entrepreneurial spirit, but with good taste. Like us, they have completely […]


Inconceivable Levels of Destruction

There’s been a great deal of talk around the London plot about the impact of the destruction of ten airliners. Senior US officials called it inconceivable. Now, destroying 10 planes might be murder on the scale of 9/11. It would certainly be shocking and despicable. I’d like to point out that the Iraqi people can […]


On Terror and Terrorism

“Is There Still a Terrorist Threat” asks Foreign Affairs. Bruce Schneier considers “What the Terrorists Want,” and also offers up a useful roundup of “Details on The British Terrorist Alert.” In that details space, Phil offers up thoughts on what a “Temporary Flight Restriction” meant to his travel. Meanwhile Kung-Fu Monkey asks “Wait, Aren’t You […]


Nothing To Fear Except Fear Itself

Last night, passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight misbehaved until the airline took two “Asian” men off the flight. See “Mutiny as passengers refuse to fly until Asians are removed” in the Daily Mail. For me, this raises a number of questions, in no particular order: Why weren’t the unruly passengers arrested? Who was forcing them […]


New Security Measures: Effective, Non-intrusive

Or not. The BBC reports that “10,000 bags misplaced at airports,” and a “Boy boards [a] plane without tickets (sic).” Meanwhile, here at home, we have a program that engages in behavioral profiling in some airports. How effective is it? The New York Times reports in “Faces, Too, Are Searched at U.S. Airports:” In nine […]


Fear Wears Off: More UK Liquid Explosives Plot

As the shock and awe wears away, we learn more about what happened and why. Perhaps this plot was not about to go operational, as MSNBC reports that “U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests.” Meanwhile, after years of debate over warrantless surveillance, the Washington Post reports that a “Tip Followed ’05 Attacks on […]



Is that enough acronyms yet? In Adam’s previous post, Justin Mason commented: There’s another danger of this — even if the number is an opaque ID, the *presence* of the RFID chip means than an attacker can remotely detect the presence of an I-94, therefore a foreign passport, therefore a tourist ripe for a mugging […]


In every dream home, a heartache

Barry Ritholz, an NYC hedge fund manager, blogs about a WSJ story. The gist: On Sept. 21, 2001, rescuers dug through the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center. Across town, families buried two firefighters found a week earlier. At Fort Drum, on the edge of New York’s Adirondacks, soldiers readied for deployment halfway across […]


The Costs of Torture

I usually try to cut down quotes. This essay by Siva Vaidhyanathan in Slate’s Altercation is worth quoting at length: I was wondering something. Maybe somebody could help me out here. Yesterday a federal jury decided appropriately that this country shall not execute Zacarias Moussaoui, a wanna-be-mass murderer who also happens to be a mentally […]


Bin Laden Tape

Walid Phares summarizes the new Bin Laden tape at “New Bin Laden Tape: Ten Main Points,” and analyzes it in “Bin Laden’s ‘State of the Jihad’ Speech:” One more time Al Jazeera pomotes an Usama Bin Laden speech. After airing portions of the Bin Laden audiotape al Jazeera posted large fragments of the “speech” on […]


Have the Terrorists Won?

On Wednesday, officials closed down all security checkpoints at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Aiport when a “suspicious device” was detected in a screening machine. … All departing flights were stopped, and arriving flights were delayed 90 minutes, affecting 120 flights during the day’s peak travel time, according to the Associated Press. However, after two hours, […]


"The Far Enemy"

I’ve been meaning to blog about “The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global ” by Fawaz Georges for quite some time. The book is a fascinating look at the internal debates of the various Jihadist sub-groups, and takes its title from an argument over targeting the “near enemy,” or local government, or the “far enemy,” […]


Lapel Pins?!?

There is an AP article in todays Washington Post about Cynthia McKinney, a Georgia Congresswoman who was in a scuffle with the police today after refusing to identify herself upon entering one of the House buildings in the “Capitol Complex”. The truly scary part of the article was this: Members of Congress do not have […]


More CFIUS fun

UAE running our ports? CFIUS is cool with that. Israeli ownership of an IDS company? Now hold on there, pardner. Hat tip to Richard Bejtlich.


John Robb on the Next Attack

John Robb has some very interesting thoughts on the next major al Qaeda attack on the United States in “The Next Attacks on America:” The impact of these attacks, particularly if they are numerous (attracting copycats?) and spread out over an extended period of time will be severe. Given their lack of symbolic content (and […]


Hasta La Vista Secure Flight

As mentioned on Freedom To Tinker and by Lauren Gelman, at the Center for Internet and Security, the TSA has mothballed it’s plans to deploy Secure Flight. Though the TSA will surely come up with something else, this is definitely a step in the right direction.


Responding to Terror

Once I was loose on the streets of the city, I continued to be impressed with what I saw. Spain is definitely no stranger to terrorism. They suffered the Madrid bombings just over 18 months ago and have been living with the current form of the ongoing sometimes-violent Basque Separatist movement since 1968. Somehow, though, […]


Russell Tice and NSA Wiretaps

Democracy Now has a radio interview, downloadable in several formats, and a transcript at “National Security Agency Whistleblower Warns Domestic Spying Program Is Sign the U.S. is Decaying Into a “Police State.” Reason’s Julian Sanchez has an interview “Inside The Puzzle Palace:” REASON: You’re referring to what James Risen calls “The Program,” the NSA wiretaps […]


London and Terror Threats

The BBC reports that the Mayor of London says “there had been 10 attempted attacks since 11 September 2001, two of which had come since the 7 July bombs.” (“Threat to London ‘disorganised’“) Where are the perpetrators? Are they free, because of insufficient evidence? Are they in jail? Were they killed by security forces? Claims […]


Nuclear Surveillance

In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous […]


Do Wiretap Revelations Help the Terrorists?

The question is a fair and natural one to ask, and I’d like to examine it in depth. I think my intuitive answer (“revelations about wiretaps don’t help the terrorists”) is wrong, and that there are surprising effects of revealing investigative measures. Further, those are effects I haven’t seen discussed. Allow me to explain the […]


I'll have to check with my manager

If you watch “The Simpsons”, you’ve probably seen “Puberty Boy“, the pimply-faced kid who appears in many episodes in a variety of menial jobs. Well, it looks like he may be working for the NSA: Q If FISA didn’t work, why didn’t you seek a new statute that allowed something like this legally? ATTORNEY GENERAL […]


Book: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why

I found “Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why” in a used bookstore for $2.99, and it was worth every depressing penny and more. The book is a US government funded study from 1999. It’s not clear if this work would be possible today or not. Much of the body of the book is a an […]


"To none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or justice."

The United States senate voted today to deny habeas corpus to prisoners at Guantanamo. The United States Supreme Court had recently held that United States courts have jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. The vote today would […]


Gordon Johnston vs. The NFL Who Cried Wolf

Gordon Johnston didn’t want to be frisked. So as the 60-year-old high school teacher approached the gates of Raymond James Stadium here for a Buccaneers football game last month, he lifted the team jersey he was wearing to show it wasn’t necessary. He was concealing no bombs. It didn’t work. So reports the Washington Post […]


Digital Pearl Harbor

[U]se of commercial products with unbreakable cryptography could seriously undermine the ability of law enforcement to perform critical missions such as protecting against threats posed by terrorists, organized crime, and foreign intelligence agents This from a rather lightweight report prepared by the Congressional Research Service. I may have read it with a jaundiced eye, but […]


The Cost of Following The Money

[Update: There’s a fairly long clarification in the middle of the post, which expands on a sentence that was too brief to be understandable.] One of the fond dreams of the counter-terror community is to be able to take Deep Throat’s advice, and follow the money. In “New Anti-Money Laundering Regulations and Compliance Solutions Announced,” […]



As we now know courtesy of the Philippines’ National Capital Regional Police Office, a typical terrorist is “a man aged 17 to 35, wearing a ball cap, carrying a backpack, clutching a cellular phone and acting uneasily” []. This critical piece of intelligence, I am sorry to report, seems to have taken a step closer […]


CounterTerrorism and Bureaucracy

In “Bureaucracy Kills,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes (quoting CNN): FEMA halted tractor trailers hauling water to a supply staging area in Alexandria, Louisiana[.] The New York Times quoted William Vines, former mayor of Fort Smith, Arkansas, as saying, “FEMA would not let the trucks unload. . . . The drivers were stuck for several days on […]


FinCEN Effectiveness

At the Counter-Terror blog, Andrew Cochran writes: “Treasury Department’s FinCEN Unit Recovering From “Cyberjacked” E-Mail System:” The most important impact of the cyberjacking has been to shut down the automated system whereby FinCEN and law enforcement request and receive information from financial institutions for use in terrorism and money laundering cases. The system, enacted under […]


Never Enough

After the 7/7 London bombings, France decided it was not enough. So, even though France has already one of the toughest anti-terrorism judicial arsenal in Europe, it is adding to it. Indeed, French newspaper Le Monde just revealed the clauses of the new anti-terrorist law due to be formally presented to the government on October […]


More Toys: Suicide Bomber Barbie

Yes, its suicide bomber Barbie! Click the picture for a few more views. Toy supplier Shuki Toys, responsible for the distribution of the stickers, said in response, “We were very surprised to see the stickers in the shop, the several sheets of stickers have been pulled of the shelves.” “We check all the stickers, thousands […]


Four Alleged Terrorist Plotters Indicted in LA

The head of a radical Islamic prison gang and three others were “on the verge” of carrying out attacks against U.S. military sites, synagogues or other Los Angeles-area targets when police foiled the alleged plot, prosecutors said. From “Four indicted in alleged terrorist plot against LA-area targets.” The Counterterror blog has some analysis and links […]


Robertson Lies In Apology

The dominant headline around Robertson’s attempt to retract his comments is that he “apologized.” That is false. He claimed to have not called for an assassination: “I said our special forces could take him out. Take him out could be a number of things including kidnapping.” Mark, at Cutting Edge of Ecstasy takes out goes […]


US Air Force Hack and TSA

I just blogged about a breach of data which could be used for ID theft in “US Air Force, 33,000 SSNs, Hacker.” I’d like to tie that to a story I mentioned earlier this week, “TSA May Loosen Ban on Razorblades, Knives:” The Aug. 5 memo recommends reducing patdowns by giving screeners the discretion not […]