[ISN] TSA "security" measures are internally inconsistent

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Tue Jan 02 2007 - 00:36:18 PST


By Charlie Demerjian
31 December 2006

ONE OF THE more interesting things I noticed while unpacking my bags in 
a TSA security line for the 73rd time this year was that the new 
'security' features are not even internally consistent. No, not a way to 
sleaze around them, just the simple fact that they don't do what they 

The two dumbest reactionary 'security' measures enacted recently are the 
remove all shoes and x-ray them and no fluids/gels. The first one may 
have a precedent, Richard Reid did try to blow up a plane with 
explosives in his shoes. The liquids/gels thing was comprehensively 
debunked, someone needed a press distraction, but even I forget what 
for. Basically, it never happened.

In any case, the TSA put in place placebos to make us quake in fear, 
cheese us off, and generally do nothing for our security. If you look at 
what they do, it flat out does not work, much less do what they say.

The purported purpose of removing your shoes is so you don't smuggle 
explosives in, and possibly so you don't hide a knife or other sharp 
object in there. Sounds good, right? Well, last time I checked, and I 
have enough chemistry under my belt to choke a horse, plastic explosives 
don't show up on x-rays. Duh!

If you want to smuggle a knife through the security, it sure will be 
seen by the x-rays no question there. It will also however be picked up 
by the metal detector you walk through after you put your carry-ons 
though the x-ray machine. If the knife won't set off said detector, 
there is no incentive to hide it, put it in your pocket.

Basically, the whole shoe removal thing is internally inconsistent. It 
does not do what it says, would not have prevented the attack it was 
meant to, and in essence does absolutely nothing other than to annoy and 
inconvenience travelers.

The other one is no liquids and gels in carry ons unless they are less 
than 3.4oz and in a clear plastic bag under one quart unless it is a 
tuesday the 17th, then you are permitted 7.3oz, but if you are 
accompanied by a zebra named George which allows you 19.1oz bottles. 
Maybe I am making some of this up, but the rules sure seem arbitrary 
enough. This prohibits you from bringing a Coke on board, sealed or not, 
baby food and other medical items are technically exempt but make the 
hassle of getting on a plane even more extreme.

Lets pretend that there was an actual plot to blow up a plane with 
liquid explosives, which there was not. What does putting the items in 
plain sight do again? What does x-raying them do again? Nothing. Really. 
If you want to bring prohibited items on board, you simply do so now, 
and they get x-rayed for no particular reason.

There are explosives detectors in all security checkpoints, they are 
right behind the x-ray machines. If the TSA is worried about people 
bringing in explosives, shouldn't they use the machines designed to do 
just that? They are there, they detect bondo, I can personally attest to 
that when I brought a costume mask made out of it to Defcon, what a 
laugh riot that turned out to be. What the TSA is saying is that they 
may be expensive, slow and annoying, but they won't detect explosives.

The quantity limits are a joke, if you can't think of 12 ways to get 
around that one in a minute you aren't trying hard. The TSA has to 'do 
something' to prevent this scourge that never was, so like the shoes, we 
are all being collectively punished. Our punishment will however not 
detect the crime.

Don't get me started on the remove laptops and video cameras bit either. 
Having traveled extensively overseas, the US seems to be the only 
country that cannot train its baggage screeners to differentiate between 
a laptop and a laptop in a bag. The Netherlands, Germany, Japan and 
Taiwan all seem to have no problem picking out the lack of a bomb in a 
laptop when surrounded by x-ray transparent cloth.

What it comes down to is that the TSA seems to react to every headline 
in the dumbest possible fashion. What they implement does not do what 
they want, or at least what they say it will. That would be fine if they 
realised this and backed away when it was obvious that they were 
spending millions of dollars hiring people to ask if you have any 
liquids or gels in your bag. I personally would prefer my share of this 
went to equip our troops properly in order to actually fight terrorism.

For some unknown reason, once these ineffectual annoyances get put into 
place, they never get rolled back even when it is clear they do nothing. 
I have long past the point of appealing to governmental common sense, 
and am not sure what if anything can be done to fix these abject 
stupidities. Anyone got any thoughts?

Note: This was written in the Indianapolis (almost) International 

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