Security theater

In the early morning of April 20th, a 15-year-old kid named Yahya Abdi causally hopped a fence at San Jose International Airport and later climbed into the wheel well of a Boeing 767 bound for Hawaii. Miraculously, he survived the five hour trip at altitudes of subfreezing temperatures and thin air. Usually this doesn’t happen.

The press seems to have moved on but I can’t help thinking of the implications this incident has on air safety. This kid only wanted to see his mom in Somalia, but what if he had more sinister plans? What if the kid had left a backpack of explosives in the wheel well?

All the baggage screening, pat downs, and porno scanners are powerless against a kid leaping over the airport fence. Think about that.

High-Tech Border Checks Will Blow Spies’ Cover

Wired has an absolutely fascinating story about how the U.S.’s border security paranoia has unwittingly made it very difficult for spies to use false identities. With biometric checking in effect, the days of a spy entering a country on a false passport are quickly coming to an end.

The increasing deployment of iris scanners and biometric passports at worldwide airports, hotels and business headquarters, designed to catch terrorists and criminals, are playing havoc with operations that require CIA spies to travel under false identities.

Busy spy crossroads such as Dubai, Jordan, India and many E.U. points of entry are employing iris scanners to link eyeballs irrevocably to a particular name. Likewise, the increasing use of biometric passports, which are embedded with microchips containing a person’s face, sex, fingerprints, date and place of birth, and other personal data, are increasingly replacing the old paper ones. For a clandestine field operative, flying under a false name could be a one-way ticket to a headquarters desk, since they’re irrevocably chained to whatever name and passport they used.

“If you go to one of those countries under an alias, you can’t go again under another name,” explains a career spook, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he remains an agency consultant. ”So it’s a one-time thing — one and done. The biometric data on your passport, and maybe your iris, too, has been linked forever to whatever name was on your passport the first time. You can’t show up again under a different name with the same data.”

via CIA’s Secret Fear: High-Tech Border Checks Will Blow Spies’ Cover | Danger Room | Wired.com.

Porno scanner vs. metal detector

Yesterday I passed through security at RDU Airport. There were two lines to screen passengers and I was in one with the metal detector. Though there was a crowd of people in the other line, waiting their “turn” to pass through the porno scanner, I was made to wait at the entrance of the metal detector though no one was in front of me. Only once another TSA agent saw that the porno scanner wouldn’t be empty any time soon did I get waved through the metal detector.

This is in contrast to my last visit to the airport, where the metal detector crowd was unimpeded. I don’t know if yesterday’s behavior is the norm now but it certainly seemed unusual.

God, I miss my civil liberties.

Porno scanner

I made my first trip through the porno scanner at RDU’s Terminal A. Didn’t quite mean to, but I didn’t look up from my rush to get through security to realize in time why the line I chose was so short. Almost all the other travelers were choosing to use the metal detector but I failed to notice until my bags were on their way through the X-ray.

I stood on the mat as instructed as the TSA guy said “and your pockets are completely empty, right?”

“Yes,” I said, absent-mindedly.

“Do you have a belt?”

“Yes, I do.”
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Family wants to know how teen snuck onto plane

It’s truly a tragedy that Delvonte Tisdale fell from the wheel well of an airplane. That said, I don’t understand how the family can blame airport security when it was apparently this young man’s poor decision which resulted in his death.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Family and friends of a North Carolina teen who fell from the sky after stowing away in an airplane’s wheel well say they are haunted by the boy’s death and wondering why security didn’t stop him from climbing onto the aircraft.

via Family wants to know how teen snuck onto plane :: WRAL.com.

Iowa bound

I’m in the Chicago airport on my way to Cedar Rapids, IA. This is a follow-up trip to my last trip, and I hope it’s a formality after what we did two weeks ago. It does provide my first-ever trip to Iowa, however, and I’m looking forward to it for that, among other things.

It was hard leaving the family today, and I dread having to pack for my trips, but I am really loving my job. If I have to make a few trips here and there to make things happen, I’m ok with that. I don’t expect I’ll continue to be this busy. It’s the end of the year and that’s a typically a busy time for sales.

This time I’m flying American Airlines, and RDU is one of the handful of airports that have the new porno-scanners. AA uses Terminal 2, and I don’t recall seeing the porno-scanners in Terminal 1, so there was a possibility I could’ve been scanned. So far I have not been selected to pass through one but I intend to submit to alternative screening (i.e. “fondling”) should I ever get tapped. I think our airport-security bureaucracy has crossed a line of decency with these scanners. Also, as my buddy Ken Thomas pointed out, these machines don’t really make us safer.

This trip, I’ve decided to bring the Nikon along. The business associate I’m meeting is a pretty good photographer and has offered to take me on a quick photo-safari around the area this week. Hauling the camera around is a bit of a pain but I hope it provides me the opportunity to learn a few tricks.

Smiling in passport photos

Don't dare smile

I just had two sets of passport photos taken, one at work and one at the local Costco. Both photographers told me not to smile in my photographs: that they could get rejected by the State Department’s passport processing if I were smiling. I thought that was ridiculous but to hear it from two photographers made me wonder.

Checking the Internets, I see there are differing opinions on whether this is a legitimate requirement. A few web forums say smiling is (and is not) allowed. The U.S. Consular Services in Canada office (where one would expect to find the official word) says you may smile if you wish.this is because smiling breaks the facial recognition software. Now, I would think any facial recognition software that can be defeated by the bad guy smiling isn’t worth much. I chalk it up to more security theater.

Interestingly, the Costo guy asked if my photograph was for a U.S. passport or a Canadian one. Apparently you can still smile in your Canadian passport photographs. No wonder Canadian travelers get better welcomes than Americans.