Sunday, January 03, 2010

Air Security Theater Takes Another Hit

Terminal C at Newark Liberty Airport has been put into lockdown following an individual managing to enter the terminal through the exit without being screened.
Terminal C at Newark Liberty Airport terminal was locked down and flights were delayed after a man walked the wrong way through a checkpoint exit.

The Transportation Safety Administration said police are still searching for the man, according to CNN.

The man entered the "sterile" section of the airport and apparently bypassed security screeners by going the wrong way through a checkpoint exit.
All the money to buy and install new body scanners means nothing if facilities aren't secured to prevent access in the fashion noted in today's breach.

Strip searching Muslims wont get the job done. Instead, the TSA will be giving additional scrutiny to those coming from specific countries.
"TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening," a statement read. "The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights."

A senior official identifies the relevant" countries of interest": Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Yemen, or one of the following countries designated as a state sponsor of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.
There are issues with even that approach given that terrorists may simply recruit members from countries that aren't on the list, or that the terrorists may forge passports and visas to gain entry to the US.

Still, this is a first step, though one shouldn't rely too much on the increased scrutiny by security screeners. If they aren't given access to the most current threat data, they may not know to look for certain individuals or behaviors to watch for. Terrorists may further attempt different methods to attack the US.

What it takes is a layered defense against terrorism. Body scanners may be one part of a security protocol, but it isn't the cure-all. Yet, while there is significant merit to the body scanners, some people still think that the privacy concerns outweigh the usefulness.
Forty units are in use at 19 airports, including Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports. The Transportation Security Administration said it has ordered 150 more scanners to be installed early this year and has secured funding for an additional 300.

Passengers selected for a full-body scan can decline, but if they do, they must submit to full-body pat-downs by a TSA officer. The technology was introduced a couple of years ago, but U.S. airports have been slow to install the machines, partly because of privacy concerns raised by some members of Congress and civil liberties groups.

Seeing passengers beset by years of an ever-evolving airport drill -- at first handing over belts, cellphones and laptops for screening, then shoes, and later, dealing with restrictions on gels and liquids -- some activists and experts are asking how much compliance is too much in the name of homeland security.

"The price of liberty is too high," said Kate Hanni, who as founder of, an advocacy organization for air passengers, shuttles regularly between her California home and Washington to lobby Congress. Hanni said many of her group's 25,000 members are concerned that "the full-body scanners may not catch the criminals and will subject the rest of us to intrusive and virtual strip searches."
There are ways to assuage the privacy concerns, such as projecting the images on to neutral figures, avoiding direct contact between the screener viewing the body scan and the individual themselves, deleting all such records of scans, etc.

Still, a body scan may not detect all kinds of explosives, but that isn't the only kind of threat. Baggage screening is still an issue, and there are other threats that we have yet to fully recognize. In the US in particular, Amtrak and other commuter rail systems are also threatened by terrorism and have a fraction of the security systems in place.

Ultimately, it will take a vigilant public to make sure that different modes of transit are safer.

UPDATE 1/4/2010:
There are continued delays a day after the security breach as security tries to catch up in rescreening passengers along with incoming arrivals to the airport. What a mess.

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