Recent Speculation About New Risks of Death-by-Terrorist Attack Prompts Speculation About Death-by-Speculation

 [Originally published August 12, 2013]

terror-risk resized

The recent, widely publicized U.S. terror intelligence — which, among other things, speculated upon two new methods by which to potentially be killed by Al-Qaeda on an airplane, including a “Clothes Bomber” and “Frankenbomber” — has led to further speculation about the possibility of death being caused by the speculation itself.

“Heck, I don’t know if me or my family are going to be killed by an Un-American Apparel Bomber or Frankenbomber,” said William Bledsoe of Tullahoma, Tennessee, “But I do know that I laughed so danged hard when I heard that radio announcement that I nearly drove my truck off the road.”

Mr. Bledsoe, safely resting after hearing the warning about a possible Un-American Apparel Bomber.

Amid the flurry of satirical commentary on Twitter under the hashtags #Un-AmericanApparelBomber and #Frankenbomber have come very real concerns that such announcements by U.S. intelligence officials may be causing Americans to become distracted while partaking of actual, everyday dangerous activities, such as eating, walking, and pulling out of their driveways.

“I would say that last week’s announcement of intelligence on a potential Fashionbomber and Frankenbomber caused at least 3-6 people to veer off the road and die horrible deaths,” said David Milbrook, president of the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

29-year-old Amy Yu of Portland, Oregon claims that the ABC News recap of the possibility of a future Frankenbomber nearly led to her demise.

“My boyfriend and I were enjoying a nice dinner of braised balsamic chicken when the news report came on ABC News, about the terrorists who may be out there planning to dip their clothes in liquid explosives and let them dry, turning their outfits into fashion bombs and all. When the part about the possibility of a ‘Frankenbomber’ with a surgically-implanted bomb destroying an airplane came on, my boyfriend got up from the table and started doing a Frankenstein imitation, arms out, sort of stumbling around the living room.”

A possible depiction of a homegrown Frankenbomber

“He was all, ‘Urrgh, urrgh, look at me, I’m Khalid-Mohammed al-Frankenbomber, I’m going to kill you the next time you fly on an airplane, Amy.’ He looked really ridiculous, and it was funny, because you know, it’s not like I’m ever actually going to be killed by a Frankenbomber. But it made me laugh so hard that I choked on a piece of chicken, which almost did kill me. Luckily, my boyfriend knows the Heimlich maneuver,” said Yu.

The dish that was allegedly rendered deadly by U.S. intelligence

“Braised balsamic chicken is supposed to be really healthful, but when you add U.S. intelligence to it, it can turn into death chicken,” added Yu. “I just think people need to be aware of that.”

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If you’re on Twitter, so am I.

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A Black Woman’s Hair Becomes Target in TSA’s Security Theater

[Originally published August 10, 2013]

OK, so the original title of the story is “Black Women’s Hair Becomes Target of TSA’s Security Theater,” but I couldn’t find it within myself to reproduce that level of sensationalism. In short, MSNBC host and author Melissa Harris-Perry has discovered that the full body scanners put bounding boxes on her braids every time she goes through, necessitating an idiotic TSA “resolution inspection” of her braids. It’s not just black women’s braids that cause this; the shitty L3 scanners cause everyone with braids or similarly dense hairdos to receive such an inspection. Actually, the L3 scanners show head-area anomalies on about 1 out of every 8 passengers, for various mysterious reasons.

As a TSA screener, this was one of the things I hated most when working the body scanners. Inspections such as the hairdo check usually represent the quintessential example of security theater at the TSA in this, the current Body Scanner Era. Watch a TSA agent resolve a hairdo alarm, and you’ll see a hell of a piece of security theater in action, almost every time. What the agent will usually do is put on a show of looking at the passenger’s head from all angles (knowing that his or her supervisor may be watching, and that the performance is on-camera) maybe do a little theatrical pat-down of the hairdo, and then let the passenger go his or her way.

The ridiculous part of all this is that the hair is usually either A) Obviously just a case of braided or accessorized hair that anyone can instantly see is not concealing anything, and doesn’t actually require any more attention than a glance or B) A nearly impenetrable fortress of an elaborate hairdo that could not actually be cleared of containing a threat short of asking the passenger to pull apart the hairdo on the checkpoint.

An example of the above Type A hairdo is this:

Exhibit A

An example of the Type B hairdo is this:

Exhibit B. She’s taken. Sorry, guys.

Women on their way to or coming back from weddings or fancy events are the most common cases of hairdos that trigger an anomaly on the scanner that can’t actually be cleared of containing a threat, short of asking the woman to pull the hairdo apart. But the majority of TSA screeners want to avoid the appearance of being total assholes whenever possible, believe it or not, dear passengers, and so restrict themselves to putting on a little security theater show of looking at the hairdo with great concentration (presumably with Superman x-ray vision that trumps the full body scanner’s shitty x-ray vision) and then doing a gentle blue-gloved massage of the hair.

For a reasonable TSA screener working with an idiot of a TSA screener on the full body scanner, the most frustrating thing is when encountering the A type hair style– a case of hair that doesn’t even warrant more than a quick look. Watch the two TSA screeners working the full body scanners, and you may see one of them actually take a full 30 seconds to peer deeply into the mysterious, impenetrable abyss of potential smuggled terror that is this:

“Is there a gun in there? A tool kit? A stick of dynamite? What does that clever lil’ terrorist think she’s trying to get past this here full body scanner?” TSA Officer Fife, High Sheriff of Jackass City will think, wasting 30 seconds of everyone’s life by pausing the whole full body scanner operation to investigate the situation. (Sometimes, in all fairness, it’s a case of a recently hired TSA screener who doesn’t know any better, or who is scared that one of the idiotic managers or supervisors that he or she has to deal with is hovering nearby or watching the checkpoint on remote camera, waiting to write a screener up for not dancing a little theatrical routine around a girl such as the one in the above picture.)

The worst thing for a TSA screener who tries to use common sense is that some of the mentally challenged TSA screeners out there will actually run to the supervisor’s podium and lobby to get a screener written up for daring to let Little Miss Exhibit A pass without a serious looking-over and scalp massage. When this happens, a climate of fear reigns over the full body scanner operation, everything slows down, and the lines get longer, as even the TSA screeners who try to use common sense are dragged into putting on elaborate security theater shows, for the satisfaction of the lowest common denominator

But wait, there’s more. (I apologize, dear passengers, but working the full body scanner with an idiot of a co-worker was one of the things I hated most about working at the TSA toward the end of my time there. No, actually, it was the number one thing I hated about it.)

The absolute, number one, most idiotic example of security theater that anyone, absolutely anyone, can witness at nearly any time at a TSA checkpoint’s full body scanner is this: when a TSA screener investigates a passenger’s watch after the full body scanner indicated an anomaly on the passenger’s wrist. Want to know why it’s idiotic? Sure, I’ll tell you.

The best theoretical reason they’re fondling your watch is due to the possibility that it might be modified for use as a timer in an IED. Fair enough, I guess, sort of: Ramzi Yousef tried that in 1994 on PA Flight 434. So TSA screeners invariably put on a little show of sort of peeking under the watch when you come through the scanner, to make sure there’s no terror under there, and then, satisfied that your watch is terror-free, let you continue on as clear. But do you know what the one thing that the average Joe Shmoe airplane-obsessed terrorist isn’t going to need? That’s right, a timer. Want to know why? Because HIS FUCKING THUMB-AND-MENTAL-COUNTDOWN-TO-ETERNAL-MARTYRED-GLORY IS GOING TO BE THE TIMER.

And do you know what the one thing that a brilliant terrorist who figured out a way to use the watch that he’s wearing to double as a timer on an airplane-planted IED is going to have? A plain-looking watch that’s either imperceptibly modified, or that he’ll modify after passing through security. So do you know what you just cheerfully and confidently let pass through security with your diligent, theatrical, by-the-book inspection of a passenger’s watch, TSA screener Barney Fife? One of the components of a brilliant terrorist’s IED, because IT’S A FUCKING DIGITAL WATCH; IT CAN ONLY EVER BE SO “CLEAR” IN THE POWER SUPPLY+ INITIATOR+ EXPLOSIVES+ SWITCH/TIMER= AN IED EQUATION.

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To close out Kip Hawley week: As a fomer TSA employee, I can emphatically say that Hawley and the New York Times were definitely right about one thing: “TSA officers need to be encouraged to think on their own, not disciplined for it.”

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If you’re on Twitter, so am I.

Related TSA articles from my archives:

“I’ve Been a Current TSA Employee, Not a Former TSA Employee, All Along.”

“The Most Awkward Moment for a TSA Screener.”

“No, You Don’t Know What It Is”

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Behavior Detection Gets Slammed in the New York Times

The SPOT program– the program that has agents walking around airports looking at your body language, facial expressions, and behavior so as to try to identify terrorists– is mostly just an enormous waste of money, is the article’s conclusion, as everyone seems to conclude again and again.

This program is such a well-documented case of wasted taxpayer dollars that I can’t believe it’s still alive.

I would say that I feel sort of bad for all the perfectly nice “Behavior Detection Officers” out there who will eventually see their program cut (plus the average BDO is a little sharper than the average TSO, in my experience) but it’s not like they’ll be laid off or anything; they’ll just be reassigned in some manner, most likely. But then again, looking at this program’s history, it may very well turn out that it will continue to exist year after year despite a constant barrage of scientific studies pointing to its inefficacy.

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Quick Message to Fellow WordPress Bloggers

I am going to follow all of you back, soon. Please understand that I am in a unique situation which had me acquiring 300 new WordPress followers in the span of a couple weeks. I’m in grad school, plus doing other writing for publications, plus trying to run this blog, plus other things. I am going to set aside a couple hours soon so as to follow back approximately 300 bloggers, one by one.

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Plots the TSA Imagines it Protected Us From: Third-Place Contest Winner– “The April Fool’s Plot”

It was set to take place mid-afternoon on March 31, 2012, on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The team was broken up to take upon themselves various elements of the task at hand.

“Down With Freedom,” we chanted during the meeting the night before.  The cry was deafening, but the message imparted. Before going to sleep, we ran through the plan one more time.

-Tango was to bring aboard orange juice of content purest.
-Sierra was to manage bringing fire to the sky.
-Alpha the underage, was to get a glass container of sand finest.
-Uniform, of name stupidest, was to bring tape of duct.
-Charlie to bring as much flammable material as possible.
-Kilo was to bring a kilo of purest soil.
-And I, Tasucks, would bring the dry ice.

The plan was therefore to be successful upon my own command. Together these materials would help us accomplish our mission.

As we arrived the next day Sierra came up to me shaking with fear. She needed, more than anything, to get all of her things through security. Sky fire is central to inducing fear in people and therefore was a critical element of the plan.

I told her, “No random screening is truly random.” I instructed the operatives to look as though they were going on vacation from their day-to-day, highly paid lives and to therefore look joyous or excited.

She gave me a cautious nod, not really believing me, and we went on ahead.

Smiles covered our faces as we lined up but this became difficult to maintain as the line stretched around the next bend for many an hour. Time stretched on as the line zombie-crawled forward. We peered around the corner and saw the slow pace was caused by a child being given a full pat-down and chemical screening, his father waiting for him and watching cautiously. Needless to say, he saw us all peering around the corner, smiling at his child in this situation and soon after the head of security came to us, frowning poignantly.

“Excuse me, I received a complaint that you people were smiling at a child being patted down. This is not tolerated! Happiness, under any circumstances, is not tolerated within these facilities…”

“I am truly sorry, Sir, I…”

“…because security, national security, does not ever take a break. We as a nation must be ever vigilant in ensuring our security and your happiness, is not allowing this. So please, stay in line, and take your safety seriously.”

Stunned silence faced the team as the lined stared at us with depressed frowns. I was first in line, willing to be searched, so I showcased a smile to dazzle the world. I was then called up to the counter and had my boarding pass scanned.

“Mr. Ta-shucks…”

“Tas-ucks”

“Bless you. You are travelling to New York, yes?”

“Why yes, thank you, Miss. I am actua…”

“PLEASE remove any liquids and place them on the tray along with your laptop and any metallic items and proceed through the gate… NEXT!”

I placed my clearly labeled box of dry-ice onto the conveyor and it went through. Security personnel glared at me. I was patted-down and swabbed. While I was expecting this to be unpleasant, Uniform had it worse:

His bags were searched and his plastic comb removed due to a potential safety threat caused by the pointed handle. Still smiling more than a child in a candy store, he was subjected to the full-body scan, which detected his shoes contained pointed composite supports. He was detained and questioned.

-Alpha passed through without any complications.

-Tango had the sealed juice container taken away and was made an example of by the head of security . “NO LIQUIDS ARE ALLOWED!” Soon after he went and bought a container of apple juice at the store across from security. Bloody pricey, but it was needed.

-Sierra passed through no problem. He hid the flammable alcohol in the travel Listerine and brought on a gas stove sparker easily enough, concealed in his book. The scanner operator didn’t bother flipping through the settings, just sent things through.

-Charlie brought a small cache of musical instruments, all of which were maimed in some way: The ukulele had to have its strings removed, as they could be a lethal weapon. The banjo was taken outright, and the toy guitar taken as it could be used to injure a passenger and take up too much space. Not a total loss; we had enough wood to proceed with the string-less uku.

-Kilo had brought a tree, therein the soil which we required. The tree died passing through the scanner, leaving a trail of strewn pine needles, but no one cared.

Unfortunately we missed our flight, because all passengers MUST go through this single line of security and we had to wait for Uniform anyway, so we opted to take a later flight. When he was finally allowed to fly, we were taking the red-eye to New York. Easy enough.

As the plane flew over North Carolina, we gathered at the back of the plane and began to gather our materials. This is where the plan went awry:

The dry ice mixed with the apple juice, causing an abundant and overwhelming odor. In response, Kilo threw his soil onto the mixture, causing the smell to intensify as the scent of manure filled the cabin. The passengers didn’t care about the odor; they were not willing to make a fuss and instead opted to dig their faces in their shirts for protection. This is when the flight attendants came by and asked what was going on. Alpha used the glass container and knocked her out with a fell swoop. I then took the alcohol and poured in onto the dry-ice and tried to light it with the sparker. The carbon dioxide prevented the alcohol from lighting, and the extremely low freezing temperature of the alcohol caused the dry ice to evaporate faster, causing an immense apple-and-manure-scented fog to disperse throughout the cabin, only to be spread further by the air system.

Unfortunately we then passed out and awoke surrounded by police officers in the hospital. The plane made an emergency landing in Delaware, much to the passengers’ overwhelming and ecstatic approval. We didn’t even know Delaware had an airport.

The TSA gave the announcement that the “April Fools Plot” was a bust due to their advanced screening system. Because of their constant and persistent vigilance they were able to prevent the banjo from being allowed on the flight, thereby preventing its metal casing to be used as a broadcasting dish. They claimed that, coupled with cell phone signals, the banjo had the potential to disrupt the angular momentum of the trailing aileron edge which would have resulted in a failure of software intelligence within the manifold.

Lives saved, nation! Lives saved!

Fictional plot submitted by Alex from Calgary.

(Note from the author: “The character Alpha is based on my experiences travelling out of Chicago when I was 19. Yes, I was searched. Yes, they found the empty glass bottle of Jack Daniels. Yes, they let me take it. No questions about why I had the bottle or even about my age. I was just a nervous Canadian wanting to go home.”)

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Letter from a Passenger : “Every Time I Fly, I Have to Explain My Private Medical Condition to a Perfect Stranger.”

Here’s a letter from a blogger named Matthew Grant McDaniel. He has an ostomy bag due to the fact that he had to have his large intestine removed as a result of Ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s disease. This letter and article from Matthew is redolent of my post “The Most Awkward Moment for a TSA Screener” (I have a strange feeling that post is going to become one of the top 5 most popular of all time on this blog fairly soon). As with “The Most Awkward Moment for a TSA Screener,” I can only imagine how awkward and humiliating this routine experience is for Matthew and other passengers in similar situations. I would now like to add that the number 2 awkward moment for me as a TSA screener involved this…

Hi. My name is Matthew Grant McDaniel. 

I’m writing because I wrote something a while back that may or may not be useful to you. I’m sure during your time with the TSA you occasionally came across passengers who had ostomy/colostomy bags. I, myself, unfortunately had to have my entire large intestine surgically removed because of Ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s disease a few years ago (when I was just 26 years old). Most folks with an ostomy are survivors of very rough diseases and conditions (the majority of them either UC/Crohn’s or colon cancer). As a way to provide a service to these people, and after a particularly jarring experience, I wrote something on my blog, which is still among my most popular. I’ve met a few people who were in the same situation. They found my blog because they, too, have an ostomy and were scared shitless (pun definitely intended) about getting through TSA screening without being humiliated.

-Matthew Grant McDaniel
twitter: @mgmcdaniel
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TSA Screeners Think Bitcoins are Physical Coins

Over at tsanewsblog.com, Lisa Simeone has posted a pretty amusing story. Apparently, TSA agents in New Hampshire harassed a passenger named Davi Barker due to the fact that they came to believe he was in possession of Bitcoins. “We need to determine if you’re carrying more than $10,000 on your person,” one of the agents informed the passenger, as the TSA agents continued to rifle through his bag. The one thing that Barker’s rather convoluted interpretation of the entire event on his blog didn’t take into account is the fact that obviously, as Lisa Simeone points out, “What Barker doesn’t seem to get is that those TSA screeners have no idea what Bitcoin is. They don’t know it’s a digital construct. They were looking for actual, physical coins.”

Click here to read.

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