Airport “Security”

Although I don’t fly nearly as often as some people I know, I am in and out of airports regularly enough to get a pretty good feel for the way things work. It has recently become quite apparent to me how utterly useless, inconsistent, and innefectual most (if not all) airport security measures are.

On a recent trip, in accordance with recent new regulations regarding liquids, I dutifully packed my toiletries into a 1 Quart ziploc bag and headed to the airport. Going through security at my starting point proved to be no issue, other than the exceedingly long lines caused by the new rules, but coming back was a different story. You see, my toothpase was almost all used up, so I had folded the empty “tail” of the tube in order to save space and make distributing the minty-freshness onto my toothbrush easier. As I was heading through security, the TSA screener told me that if the toothpaste was more then 4 fl. oz. I could not pack it in my carry-on. My first thought was that the screener was referring to my screen/glasses cleaning solution that was also in the ziploc bag, as he had not specifically used the word “toothpaste,” but had simply gestured toward it whilst asking. In response to my “Huh?,” the TSA man informed me that if the unfolded volume (marked volume) of my toothpaste was more than 4 fl. oz., it would be considered contraband. I didn’t want to cause a fuss, and as the toothpaste was almost finished anyway, I offered to throw it away. It wasn’t until I had reached my gate that the ridiculousness of the situation actually hit me. What difference does it make how much paste the tube originally had in it; it currently has far less than 4 oz of liquid. The terrorists weren’t going to blow anything up by mixing the “essence” of what once was contained by any given container, but the absolute contents of the containers of the time the liquids were mixed. Additionally, regulations allow for the carrying of multiple 4 oz containers provided they fit into aforementioned ziplock bag. Who is to say a savvy terrorist wouldn’t simply put 4 oz of substance x into bottles labeled as containing substance y; thus allowing him to carry more than 4 oz of any given liquid.

It is possible that this incident was simply a product of the screener’s idiocy, but I fear that it is evidence of a far larger issue inherent with the system. My worry is that the regulations put in place by the TSA are not there to actually protect anybody, but simply to ease the worries of Jack and Jill American. Any reasonably intelligent person who takes the time to think about the state of security today realizes how easy it would be to sneak prohibited items onto a commercial aircraft. If the terrorists are half as smart as I am, they would have no problem executing a devastating attack on a passenger airliner. Not only that, but if I am able to think of ways to do this after a few seconds of pondering, think of what a fiercly dedicated extremist could think up in months or years of planning. This in mind, its not hard to believe that the whole fuss about airport security is a sham with two concrete objectives; to instill fear in the minds of the average air traveler, and to then ease this fear through a farce.

I understand that some assertions made in this post are fairly extreme and conspiratorial, and I don’t neccicarily hold all of them, but they none the less something to ponder and entertain yourself with the next time you fly.

1 Response to “Airport “Security””

  1. 1 Peter Feb 8th, 2007 at 8:23 am Quote

    Dan -

    I just read this blog entry having googled the rules for taking a flight. I thought it would be worth a moment of my time to clarify your question, having just read everything the tsa seems to say on the issue and reading between the lines a bit.

    The issue with the toothpaste, ludicrous as it is, isn’t a problem of potentially bringing too much toothpaste into the plane. You’re seemingly a smart guy, so you’re missing that the rules were not designed for smart people. They were designed specifically so that no decision-making happens on the part of the tsa screener. They are not expected to be smart. They are not expected to understand the mechanics of bombmaking. They are not expected to properly weigh the likelihood of you being a terrorist against the lives of the 200 or so people on your plane and the countless more your plane might harm on the ground.

    They are given rules that have been meticulously thought through to weigh exactly those likelihoods. They are, by law, not allowed to bend those rules because it is assumed they are far less informed than the people who wrote the rules. Like I said, nobody wants them making field decisions based on their experience.

    Keep in mind that the rules are not designed to prevent a terrorist attack. They are designed to make it more difficult to perpetrate and, in so doing, make it easier to detect. The ziplock restricts the total volume of liquid. The need to contain it in 3oz portions further limits the volume because of the space taken up by the nonuniform containers themselves as well as the loss of liquid due to its clinging to the inside surface of each container. Sure, a terrorist can make perfectly shaped containers to maximize the volume, but it would certainly get him taken from the line for additional scrutiny.

    As for your point about how easy it would be to mount an attack regardless of these rules, I can’t say that I think you’re wrong. But this particular rule seems to be pretty well thought out.


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Geek Friendly is the personal blog of Dan Lurie, a Graphic Design and Neuroscience student based in Denver. [more]