Abdulmutallab/Flight 253 Airline Terror links

  • The Economist “The latest on Northwest flight 253:” “the people who run America’s airport security apparatus appear to have gone insane” and “This is the absolute worst sort of security theatre: inconvenient, absurd, and, crucially, ineffective.”
  • Business Travel Coalition, via Dave Farber and Esther Dyson, “Aviation Security After Detroit:” “It is welcome news that President Obama has ordered an airline industry security review so long as it is strategic in nature.”
  • Stuart Baker, “Six Uncomfortable Answers” which seems to boil down to “identity-based security has failed, let’s not address the good reasons why, and build more of it.” Usually Stewart has been more insightful than this. But then he writes “I asked several questions about how good the screening was in Nigeria and at Schiphol. I now think that it barely matters how good a job those screeners did. Without a reason to treat Abdulmutallab differently from other passengers, the current level of screening wasn’t likely to find the explosives.” Actually, as he points out, no acceptable level of screening is likely to find the explosives.
  • The New York Times points out that “Questions Arise on Why Terror Suspect Was Not Stopped :” “That meant no flags were raised when he used cash to buy a ticket to the United States and boarded a plane, checking no bags.” It used to be that that got you extra screening. Why did we stop?
  • Gawker, “The Shady Mainstream Media Payday of Flight 253 Hero Jasper Schuringa
  • I lost the link, but someone else pointed out that the new, alleged TSA rules would have made it a crime to get up and stop Abdulmutallab when he tried to set off his bomb.
  • This comment on the Flyertalk thread raises the interesting question: are terrorists planning to fail, expecting over-reaction by governments? Provocation would not be a new page in terror playbooks.
  • Alleged text of SD 1544-09-06
  • Every international traveller to the US is being asked to spend an extra hour on these measures. Cormac Herley’s “So Long, and No Thanks for the Externalities: the Rational Rejection of Security Advice by Users” is absolutely irrelevant, unless travel to the US falls. Again. Which, of course, makes the odds of each remaining traveller being a terrorist materially higher.

New Restrictions: No Using Electronic Devices for the Last Hour

Apparently, in the wake of thousands of deaths from idiots paying more attention to GPS, cell phones, GameBoys, iPods and other such electronic devices, TSA has announced a ban on all use of such devices for the last hour of your commute.

No, just kidding. Apparently, they may be imposing new secret restrictions on use of electronics during the last hour of flight.

How can we break the cycle of terrorist does something irksome, we all pay forever? Our current oversight isn’t restraining DHS or TSA.

BBC Video of Liquid Explosives

The BBC has some really scary video “Detonation of Liquid Explosives.” However, as I thought about it, I grow increasingly confused by what it purports to show, and the implications.


At the end of the day, I think there are two possibilities: It’s a fair representation, or it’s not. I’m leaning slightly towards the second.


If it’s a fair representation, then why are we still drinking on planes? What’s the point of allowing us to bring in smaller amounts of stuff if a 16 ounce bottle can be bought at the airport, washed out, and used to contain whatever that is?

The second choice is that it’s misleading. First, we don’t see what’s being mixed: we see an orange powder poured into a liquid, with a jug labeled water nearby. We the expert tilting the bottle back and forth to mix it. Second, we don’t see how it’s detonated. Third, we don’t really see the placement of the bottle, or how many bottles are placed. There’s an implication that it’s one, but no statement. (In fact, there’s a lack of a statement of how much of a liquid bomb was used. The BBC website say “a liquid bomb.” We don’t see if there were squibs or other games played.

The BBC ought to tell us more about what they showed.

Actually, Randall, We Tried That

Crypto + 2nd Amendment

And the reason it doesn’t work is that just because you’re allowed to own something doesn’t mean you’re allowed to export it. The use, ownership, production, etc. of crypto was never restricted, only its export. In an Intenet-enabled world, export control brings lots of hair with it, which is why it was important to fight export restrictions. I could go on, but I’ve already ruined an otherwise amusing strip.

Responses to Terror: Boston and Ashdod, Israel

An Israeli teenager has been arrested after he donned a mask and prowled the streets of his town with a big rucksack and toy gun for a school project. The boy, 15, was seized by police in the southern town of Ashdod suspecting he was a Palestinian militant. The student was quoted as saying he was researching police reactions in the town and “just wanted to get an A+”. The stunt was considered highly risky in Israel, where attackers are often shot by police or civilians.

The youth was later released on bail and was not charged.

“It’s fine – he tested the police reaction,” [Ashdod police commander] Elgaret said. (From the BBC, “Israel teen ‘gunman’ wanted an A+

Contrast that response to that in Boston, where the police said Star Simpson was “extremely lucky she followed the instructions or deadly force would have been used,” and where she was then charged with wearing a fake bomb.

In both cases there was a failure of judgement on the part of the kid. In the Israeli case, the failure was substantially larger: he tried to look like a terrorist, rather than doing so accidentally.

But in Israel, the police didn’t over-react, and didn’t charge the student.

The Israelis have regular incidents of terrorism, they know that being tested is an important part of maintaining their readiness. Much more importantly, their leadership that knows that panic and terror are exactly what the terrorists want. What societies facing terror should want is exactly what the Ashdod police displayed at all levels: a professional and restrained response.

Ridiculing the Ridiculous: Terrorist Tweets

A group of soldiers with the US Army’s 304th Military Intelligence Battalion have managed to top previous military research on terrorist use of World of Warcraft.

Realizing that mentioning the word “terrorist” can allow researchers to acquire funding to play the popular MMOG, they turned attention to the popular, if architecturally unscalable micro-blogging system, Twitter.

Surpassing the threat-analysis skill of super-spy Chad Feldheimer from the recent documentary “Burn After Reading,” they mention not only the threat of “socialists,” “communists,” and “anarchists,” in using Twitter to “communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences,” but the wider and more up-to-date threats from “religious communities,” “atheists,” “political enthusiasts,” “human rights groups,” “vegetarians,” and last but not least, “hacktivists.” They notably left out delinquent teenagers, so one presumes they don’t use systems like Twitter.

The Military Intelligence group also discovered that people can use GPS in phones like the Nokia 6210 and Nokia Maps to know where they are. This could let terrorists who want to illegally cross a border know where that border is, or to know that a certain large triangular stone thing is the Pyramid of Cheops (category: Attraction).

The report’s cutting edge thinking also discusses how terrorists could use voice-changing software such as AV Voice Changer Diamond to make prank phone calls and effectively hide under an abaya.

The full report, marked “For Official Use Only,” can be found here. It also redacts with a dark gray splash of ink the email address of sarah.e.womer@ugov.gov, from whom you can get a copy of the report if you do not have access to INTELINK, Cryptome, or the Federation of American Scientists.

I think the report speaks for itself. I just can’t make this stuff up, apart from the bit about hiding under an abaya.

Death Penalty Protestors are Terrorists

The Washington Post reports upon the further cheapening of the word “terrorism” in, “Md. Police Put Activists’ Names On Terror Lists.”

The fifty-three people with “no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime” who were put on a list of terrorists include anti-death-penanty protestors.

It’s really hard to keep from laughing about this. Are we going to see next, Terrorism With Intent to Kill, so as to differentiate it from Terrorism With Intent to Stop Killing? Whatever your feelings about the death penalty, this ain’t terrorism, guys.

The Post reports a number of things Police Superintendent Thomas Hutchins said that he’ll be ashamed of once the meds kick in.

After “stunned” state senators called him to task about the spying, Hutchins said:

I doubt anyone who has used that term has ever met a spy … What John Walker did is spying.

Please don’t make me paste in dictionary definitions, Mr Hutchins. Quoting the dictionary is the last refuge of two-bit pedants and I’m at least a sixty-four-bit pedant. The Maryland committee you embarrassed yourself in front of has in fact seen a spy. If you need help, I recommend a mirror.

Hutchins also said that some of the names might have been shared with the NSA as well. Might have. That’s “might” meaning “definitely,” I presume. If you’re going to spy on peaceful protestors, but them on terrorist lists, and share that with the intelligence agencies, have the courage to say so.

Here’s a final quote from the Post:

Two senators noted that they had been arrested years ago for civil disobedience. Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery) asked Sheridan, “Do you have any legislators on your list?” The answer was no.

That’s how we know they knew it was wrong.

Laptops and border crossings

The New York Times has in an editorial, “The Government and Your Laptop” a plea for Congress to pass a law to ensure that laptops (along with phones, etc.) are not seized at borders without reasonable suspicion.

The have the interesting statistic that in a survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, 7 of 100 respondents reported a laptop or other electronic device seized. Of course, this indicates a problem with metrics. It almost certainly does not mean a 7% seizure rate, as I’ve seen this inflated to. These seizures are such an outrageous thing that the people who have been subjected to them are properly and justifiably outraged. They’re not going to toss the survey in the trash.

I’m not sure how much I like the idea that Congress should pass a law to ensure that the fourth amendment is met. Part of me grits my teeth, as I think it should happen on its own. But if the courts aren’t going to agree, that probably has to happen.

Who Watches the Watchlists?

The idea of “watchlists” has proliferated as part of the War on Terror. There are now more than 63 of them:

As part of its regular “risk management” service, which provides screening, tracing, and identity and background checks on potential clients or trading partners, MicroBilt will now offer a “watch list” service that checks these individuals against 63 different lists from 35 sources, including OFAC, the FBI, and Interpol, Bradley says. (“Companies May Be Held Liable for Deals With Terrorists, ID Thieves“, DarkReading)

I say more than 63 because some unknown number are secret. The poor souls who find themselves on these lists have, in essence, no recourse. Convincing 35 or more agencies that their presumption of your guilt is incorrect might, in theory, be possible. In reality, the agency has no reason to do anything but drag its feet: there are no penalties to them for declaring you guilty. In contrast, a failure to put your name on the list risks them not having prevented you from your future thoughtcrime.

But there’s hope. And it’s not in MicroBilt’s stock price (MicroBilt is a subsidiary of First Advantage). Rather, it’s in the courage of a judge, who ruled that any American who has been routinely detained because they are on a watch list knows that they are on a list, and thus the government’s ‘State Secrets’ privilege isn’t applicable:

since the government admits it has stopped the six men and two women more than 35 times, federal Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier of the United States Northern Illinois District Court dismissed that argument. Instead he found that the government “failed to establish that, under all the circumstances of this case, disclosure of that information would create a reasonable danger of jeopardizing national security.” (“ Court: Government Must Reveal Watch-List Status to Constantly Detained Americans,” Wired’s excellent 27B-6 Mk IIa blog)