Search Mailing List Archives

Limit search to: Subject & Body Subject Author
Sort by: Reverse Sort
Limit to: All This Week Last Week This Month Last Month
Select Date Range     through    

[liberationtech] [silk] Security theatre, once again...

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Mon Jan 21 07:44:40 PST 2013

----- Forwarded message from Deepa Mohan <mohandeepa at> -----

From: Deepa Mohan <mohandeepa at>
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2013 05:18:25 +0530
To: Intelligent Conversation <silklist at>
Subject: [silk] Security theatre, once again...
Reply-To: silklist at

If I were a terrorist, and I’m not, but if I were a terrorist—a
frosty, tough-like-Chuck-Norris terrorist, say a C-title jihadist with
Hezbollah or, more likely, a donkey-work operative with the Judean
People’s Front—I would not do what I did in the bathroom of the
Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, which was to place myself
in front of a sink in open view of the male American flying public and
ostentatiously rip up a sheaf of counterfeit boarding passes that had
been created for me by a frenetic and acerbic security expert named
Bruce Schnei­er. He had made these boarding passes in his
sophisticated underground forgery works, which consists of a Sony Vaio
laptop and an HP LaserJet printer, in order to prove that the
Transportation Security Administration, which is meant to protect
American aviation from al-Qaeda, represents an egregious waste of tax
dollars, dollars that could otherwise be used to catch terrorists
before they arrive at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport,
by which time it is, generally speaking, too late.

I could have ripped up these counterfeit boarding passes in the
privacy of a toilet stall, but I chose not to, partly because this was
the renowned Senator Larry Craig Memorial Wide-Stance Bathroom, and
since the commencement of the Global War on Terror this particular
bathroom has been patrolled by security officials trying to protect it
from gay sex, and partly because I wanted to see whether my fellow
passengers would report me to the TSA for acting suspiciously in a
public bathroom. No one did, thus thwarting, yet again, my plans to
get arrested, or at least be the recipient of a thorough sweating by
the FBI, for dubious behavior in a large American airport. Suspicious
that the measures put in place after the attacks of September 11 to
prevent further such attacks are almost entirely for show—security
theater is the term of art—I have for some time now been testing, in
modest ways, their effectiveness. Because the TSA’s security regimen
seems to be mainly thing-based—most of its 44,500 airport officers are
assigned to truffle through carry-on bags for things like guns, bombs,
three-ounce tubes of anthrax, Crest toothpaste, nail clippers,
Snapple, and so on—I focused my efforts on bringing bad things through
security in many different airports, primarily my home airport,
Washington’s Reagan National, the one situated approximately 17 feet
from the Pentagon, but also in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago,
and at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (which is where
I came closest to arousing at least a modest level of suspicion,
receiving a symbolic pat-down—all frisks that avoid the sensitive
regions are by definition symbolic—and one question about the presence
of a Leatherman Multi-Tool in my pocket; said Leatherman was
confiscated and is now, I hope, living with the loving family of a TSA
employee). And because I have a fair amount of experience reporting on
terrorists, and because terrorist groups produce large quantities of
branded knickknacks, I’ve amassed an inspiring collection of al-Qaeda
T-shirts, Islamic Jihad flags, Hezbollah videotapes, and inflatable
Yasir Arafat dolls (really). All these things I’ve carried with me
through airports across the country. I’ve also carried, at various
times: pocketknives, matches from hotels in Beirut and Peshawar, dust
masks, lengths of rope, cigarette lighters, nail clippers, eight-ounce
tubes of toothpaste (in my front pocket), bottles of Fiji Water (which
is foreign), and, of course, box cutters. I was selected for secondary
screening four times—out of dozens of passages through security
checkpoints—during this extended experiment. At one screening, I was
relieved of a pair of nail clippers; during another, a can of shaving

During one secondary inspection, at O’Hare International Airport in
Chicago, I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America
device called a “Beerbelly,” a neoprene sling that holds a
polyurethane bladder and drinking tube. The Beerbelly, designed
originally to sneak alcohol—up to 80 ounces—into football games, can
quite obviously be used to sneak up to 80 ounces of liquid through
airport security. (The company that manufactures the Beerbelly also
makes something called a “Winerack,” a bra that holds up to 25 ounces
of booze and is recommended, according to the company’s Web site, for
PTA meetings.) My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly,
contained two cans’ worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection.
It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on
bag, however, was seized by the federal government.

On another occasion, at LaGuardia, in New York, the
transportation-security officer in charge of my secondary screening
emptied my carry-on bag of nearly everything it contained, including a
yellow, three-foot-by-four-foot Hezbollah flag, purchased at a
Hezbollah gift shop in south Lebanon. The flag features, as its
charming main image, an upraised fist clutching an AK-47 automatic
rifle. Atop the rifle is a line of Arabic writing that reads Then
surely the party of God are they who will be triumphant. The officer
took the flag and spread it out on the inspection table. She finished
her inspection, gave me back my flag, and told me I could go. I said,
“That’s a Hezbollah flag.” She said, “Uh-huh.” Not “Uh-huh, I’ve been
trained to recognize the symbols of anti-American terror groups, but
after careful inspection of your physical person, your behavior, and
your last name, I’ve come to the conclusion that you are not a Bekaa
Valley–trained threat to the United States commercial aviation
system,” but “Uh-huh, I’m going on break, why are you talking to me?”

----- End forwarded message -----
Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820
8B29F6BE: 099D 78BA 2FD3 B014 B08A  7779 75B0 2443 8B29 F6BE

More information about the liberationtech mailing list