Saturday, April 12, 2008

Terror Talk

Update: Saturday, 10am The point I actually want to make with this post is not so much the inanity of TSA searches, as that ABC News considers this to be "news," worthy of broadcast.

ABC News did its periodic “terror talk” this week, giving us the Bush Administration’s latest scare message about how the vigilant and intrepid Department of Homeland Stupidity is keeping us Safe And Secure In Our Air Travels by apprehending Scary Devices That Can Destroy Airplanes In Mid-flight and, of course Kill Everybody on board.

Part of this is due, of course, to the trial in England of the plotters with liquid bombs who were going to blow up planes bound for North America. The people with no tickets, or reservations, or even passports. But at least England has a decent enough case to put them on trial, unlike all of the plots that our intrepid DHS and Federal Bureau of Ineptitude have busted.

If you can deal with that much fear and anxiety, you can read the entire ABC News item here, but I’ll provide you with some highlights.

The centerpiece is that they say the terrorists are now “turning some everyday items into lethal devices.” They then show what looks like an ordinary wristwatch. Turning it over, they pull the back off to show that it has been hollowed out and the actual watch replaced with a sophisticated military detonator. That is not quite “turning an everyday item into a lethal device,” but rather is a case of buying a relatively non-lethal but very difficult-to-obtain device and putting inside an ordinary item. By itself the detonator might blow the terrorist’s hand off, but that’s about all it would do.

So how do they imagine this device being used? Get ready for this. They show a cartoon of the watch being strapped around a sports drink bottle filled with pink fluid, following which a cartoon airplane goes up in a horrendous explosion. The “liquid bomb in a sports drink bottle” myth has been so thoroughly debunked that Batman Comics doesn’t even use it any more.

They describe an alternate use for this device. It can be smuggled through airport security and “then you would actually be able to press it up against a bomb-laden vest.” They do not describe how the bomb-laden vest would get through security, nor exactly why the detonator would need to be smuggled through separately.

There was also a toothbrush that was truly terrifying. Children might be reading this, so I will not describe the awfulness of this device.

So we’re good until the DHS needs for ABC News to scare us again.


  1. Anonymous7:20 AM

    TSA was on the ball last week in the Rochester airport. They caught a the marine in front of me with an empty plastic water bottle, which was immediately confiscated. It could hold more > 3 oz and could be "used to mix stuff." Poor fellow - he was forced to replace it a considerably larger but otherwise identical model purchased from an airport gift shop. Ah, yes, you may say, "But the gift shop container was already full!" I wonder, however, whether someone who was really, really clever might figure out how to get around this problem. Hmmmm....

    Then it was my turn - they caught me! I had a 4 oz toothpaste tube that was tightly rolled and held at most .1 oz toothpaste. The skies are certainly safer knowing that someone has been denied the chance to add extra toothpaste to this tube.

    1) While still lacking access to that incredibly useful empty toothpaste container, I could still carry 30+ oz of highly explosive toothpaste in, just as long as I took it in 10 3oz containers

    3) You say, well 30 oz of toothpaste isn't enough? Well, maybe 2 of us can *each* carry 2 lbs of toothpaste in and meet on the other side. Still not enough? I can leave my stash of toothpaste w/ my comrade, exit security, grab another baggie, re-enter. Repeat as necessary.

    Bottom line:
    1) Anyone who wants to can get any amount of toothpaste onto an airplane that they so desire.
    2) Deadly containers, both glass and plastic are for sale throughout any airport. Some even come pre-loaded pre-loaded with tasty flammable liquids.
    3) TSA believes that someone, sufficiently motivated, can get toothpaste back into a tube.

    a) Like the worried looking kids who used to wander our airports with loaded automatic rifles, this whole show is to make us *feel* safe, not *be* safe (Those kids are the scarriest thing I've ever seen in *any* airport that I've ever visited...)
    b) The TSA clings to the belief that terrorists are incredibly stupid. Terrorists do not book round trip tickets when they know that the flight will not be one way. Terrorists will not book first class if they know they won't have time to enjoy the main course. Terrorists do not check luggage, as it will be of no use to them where they are going. (This belief appears to have a basis in reality, btw. Fuses in your shoes? Give me a break! Come to think of it, being a terrorist really *is* a dumb idea - bowling is lots more fun)
    3) This is all about plausable deniability. As long as you are doing *something*, when something bad happens, your ars is covered. Especially if that something is highly visible and, ideally, obnoxious.

    Question: are balloons allowed in carry on baggage?

  2. Anonymous7:45 AM

    Good lord - toogle switches and wire inside tennis shoes! What nefarious and terrible scheme could this portend? This is especially frightening considering that toggle switches and wire are easily acquired at the Brookstone store once you get through security. Those terrorists must be veeeery clever, yup, yup.

    Do you think, just maybe, that they caught some poor kid with homemade flashing tennis shoes instead?