Airport screeners miss most fake bombs

You may have seen this story in the USA Today, `Most fake bombs missed by screeners`.

Despite 9/11, nothing has changed.  Those in the field of EOD and bomb investigation have known this since, well, forever.

First, the background of the story itself:

WASHINGTON -- Security screeners at two of the nation's busiest airports failed to find fake bombs hidden on undercover agents posing as passengers in more than 60% of tests last year, according to a classified report obtained by USA TODAY.

More than 60%.  You spend an hour in line, taking off your shoes and having your bags searched and they miss more than 60% of fake bombs.  You can be denied the right to even board the plane because we have a No-Fly list, but, they miss over 60% of fake bombs.  You might be profiled, pulled into a back room, held until you miss your flight, but they miss over 60% of fake bombs.  But, as I said, this isn't new:

In the late 1990s, tests showed that screeners missed about 40% of fake bombs, according to a separate report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

In the early 1990's, before the 1993 WTC attack, that number was up around 75-80%.  By the late 1990's, after the 1993 WTC attack, it dropped to 40%.  Now, 6 years after 9/11, it is once again back up to 60-75%.

There are two main problems; 1) attention span, and 2) quality of training.

An x-ray screeners attention span, where they are truly alert and effective is about 20 minutes at a stretch.  For bag screeners, it is a matter of speed; the faster you go, the more you miss.  The quality of training a screener receives determines what type of devices they will be able to detect consistently; with only rudimentary knowledge in IEDs, you miss everything but the most rudimentary of devices.

When I left Iraq in 2006, I had to pass through Kuwait City International Airport.  I had 4 large A3 bags, which is military terminology for big, canvas bags that holds lots of stuff and 2 carry-on bags.  The A3 bags were filled with military gear, knifes, clothes, personal items, and many other things.  The airport in Kuwait had 2 stations you processed through with x-ray units; one at the entrance to the airport, another in front of the concourse access way.  All passengers baggage went through the x-ray units at both stations and passengers went through the magnetometer stations.  It took about 20 minutes at each station from the time you got in line to getting through the station.  Oh, and bags weren't even searched unless the x-ray screener saw something on the x-ray screen and alerted the handlers to search the bag.  At both stations, the x-ray screener was able to pick out both of my pistol magazines from x-ray alone.  Needless to say, the level of competence of their security was amazing.

When I flew into the United States, my 4 A3 bags were automatically transferred to the connecting flight, but, I still had two carry-on bags and a security station to navigate.  The airport screeners put me into the "sniffer", a cubicle that once you are closed within, it sniffs the air for chemicals used in explosives.  In other words; I missed my flight.  

I had just spent a few months doing ordnance demolition in Iraq, destroying up to 26,000 pounds of high explosives a day.  Of course my bags, my computer, my shoes and my hat were covered in explosive residue.  Yes, the sniffer went crazy.  The bells and sirens going off and the two TSA screeners almost pee'd themselves.  I spent another half hour with these two TSA screeners that searched everything but my cavities, despite the fact I had DoD travel orders, a GS-12 rating, and enough paperwork verifying that I was an explosives technician in the employ of our government who just returned from Iraq where I was doing explosive demolition.

But, airport screeners are missing over 60% of FAKE devices going through the security checkpoints.

These are not state of the art "fake" devices.  This is not James Bomb exploding pens.  This is a battery and phony explosives in a hollowed-out book they can't find.  This is fake dynamite and timer in a toiletry kit they can't find.

This is what you get when you higher people to do airport screening who have no clue about IEDs and are getting training that, compared to an EOD tech, would be like sending a 6th grader to teach college.    

Are you feeling safer yet?  I'm not.  I'm feeling like our airport security is a joke, the No-Fly list is nothing more than a political punishment tool and we are not only not safer, but, with the Iraq war, we are less safe.

< Still Another Stupid Idea | Omnipotence and the War In Iraq >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    fwiw (none / 0) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 12:58:11 PM EST
    On NPR this AM they said that the fake bombs are constantly being made more and more difficult to identify as screeners get better at finding them.

    So once a particular level of difficulty is found by the screeners pretty regularly, they then increase the level of difficulty.

    I guess that can be read a number of different ways, but that's what they said.

    To your greater point of do we feel safer, for me, no, since 9/11 I feel less safe. Not that I think a more pragmatic view of the world around us is neccassarily a bad thing, mind you...