Tuesday, July 8, 2014


TSA gets it


In a headline from The Wire web presence we learn that The TSA Might Make You Turn Your Phone On to Prove It's Real.

Let's see, it's only been 25 - almost 26 - years since Pan Am 108 was blown apart over Lockerbie Scotland by a bomb placed in a portable radio carried by the temporary girlfriend of a Moslem terrorist.

Perhaps if someone had insisted that the radio be turned on the Pan Am flight would have made it to the States as planned.

So, nearly 26 years later the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is finally realizing that electronic gear can go BOOM!

To be fair, TSA has been making us remove computers of all types for special inspection, but cell phones and digi-cams, while scanned, are generally given only a cursory glance (else why the sudden interest in making passengers turn on a cell phone?).

The Wire's article suggests that confirming that a cell phone is operational will cause delays in the inspection process is almost funny.

The travelers I've seen are reluctant to turn their communication devices off at ANY time, even after being told to do so by the electronic flight attendants. In other words, there should be no delays - just open the phone to see the display.

Of course seeing the display really doesn't prove the communications device WORKS, but it probably will be enough to convince TSA.

If TSA really wants to check phones ask passengers to call a dummy number then listen for the response.

For me, however, there is one minor problem.

My cell phone service is restricted to the Several States. When I board a flight from the States I remove the battery and put it back in only on final approach to my return destination. My cell phone company charges dear for international calls on my plan, ergo the no battery option. No battery, no accidental phone activation = no charges for messages, etc.

Despite all its precautions, it still is easy to plant weapons on a plane.

Shortly after 9-11 (2001) I wrote an article pointing out the weak points in airline security. The article was reviewed by an airline security chief who said "it can't happen that way."

But it does and it has and I think the airline has a new security chief.

Unlike El Al - or perhaps the "old" El Al - most airlines "trust" vendors who board the aircraft when the aircrew is elsewhere. Although baggage handlers are airline employees, is anyone from security inside the baggage hold as luggage is loaded? How much are baggage handlers paid - enough to prevent temptation by a person with evil intent?

The problem in the U.S. is that when journalists managed to sneak weapons past TSA, the journalists were arrested for committing a crime, when in fact they proved the inadequacy of TSA screening. Instead of a reward they received punishment (but still got their story).

Israel used to blatantly profile passengers boarding planes to or from Israel. It worked. Most passengers, even Arabs, moved quickly through pre-boarding checks. Now Israel has "modernized" and, if there IS profiling today, it is covert; the emphasis seems to be on electronic detection of undesirable materials. I liked the old way better, but maybe profiling still is taught and implemented and I just failed to recognize it.

Asking passengers to turn on their cell phones should not be a problem; most cell phones are on anyway. But why stop at cell phones; have computers - notebooks, tablets, etc. - turned on a well. Just don't make anyone wait while the operating system's graphical user interface loads - THAT WOULD delay the line.

While TSA is busy checking cell phones - and I agree that this should be done - maybe it ought to consider checking all electronics, including portable radios, hearing aids, and all computing devices.

Or, although the Supremes declared it illegal, train TSA personnel to profile passengers in addition to the luggage and body screening.

And retrain some of those food sniffing puppies in the baggage claim area to detect explosives in shoes and underwear in the passenger (and crew) screening areas. (While it is unlikely a crew member would sabotage his/her own plane, a uniform and an ID badge is enough for anyone to access a plane at the jet way.)

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