[ISN] Report: Private Screeners Outperform Gov't Workers (Not Suprising!)

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Wed Apr 20 04:12:52 EDT 2005

Forwarded from: William Knowles <wk at c4i.org>


Associated Press Writer
April 20, 2005

A congressional investigation found airport screeners employed by 
private companies do a better job detecting dangerous objects than 
government screeners, according to a House member who has seen the 
classified report. 


I don't find this suprising, my good friend who graciously has been
hosting C4I.org on his box since day 1, joined me for the flights to
and from Cleveland to attend NOTACON [1] He hasn't flown very often
since 9-11 and usually it's for longer trips where he checks his
luggage with anything that he knows might be questionable by TSA
standards tucked inside.

So we flew out of Chicago O'Hare uneventfully, my friend who was
running late to begin with, had sailed through security without issue
even though he'd packed a Leatherman multi-tool [2] and a Swiss Army
CyberTool [3] in his dop kit inside a gym bag with his clothing.  He
made it to the gate just in time and left the bag on the ramp to be
stored in the cargo hold of the jet powered puddle jumper we were on.

Both items have blades on them, the Leatherman blade comes in just at
or over the 3" rule the security screeners go by.  You can imagine the
hypothetical situations where this could really be a dangerous item
onboard, but the item never made it into the passenger cabin of the
tiny Embraer RJ135 that my friend compared unfavorably to a school bus
in terms of space and cabin-height.

The blade on the Swiss Army Knife could barely stab someone serving in
the Swiss Army let alone injure them.

So, coming back to Chicago from Cleveland on Sunday evening, they make
you take off your shoes, (If they look like they are thick enough to
do a shoe bombing with) there are no posted signs that you may or may
have to take off you shoes, (The locals know this, but I rarely fly
and rarely to Cleveland) nor does O'Hare make you take off your shoes,
I didn't have to again, at O'Hare, (again the worlds busiest airport),
and at Cleveland there is no signs if you didn't know better, I don't
take off shoes, but everyone around me was.

I had to take off the shoes, (No problem but I missed the area to take
your shoes off, everyone else meekly took theirs off and I have my
laptop and TravelPro bag to watch) During the routine x-ray search of
the carry-on bag, the TSA finds my friend's Leatherman stashed in his
dop kit. The TSA agent asked if they could search his bag, looking for
the the item they saw in the x-ray, they dug in the bag and finding
the dop kit.  Then the TSA opened the dop kit where both tools were
packed and ONLY GRABBED THE ONE.  How they missed the Cyber Tool is
beyond me.

This is especially troubling with 2-3 TSA agents hovering over my
friend checking out all the other tools on the Leatherman like they
are Kalahari bushman and they have never seen a multi-tool before,
they are opening all the tools, having no clue how to close them and
trying to figure if this is a prohibited item or not.

So the lead TSA Golden Retriever tells my friend within earshot of me
tells him that he won't face a fine, if he does one of the three
following things...
1.) That he could toss it in the garbage (a $50+ Leatherman)
2.) Mail it back for $7 and take your chances with their TSA
authorized mailing provider no pinching it for themselves.
OR... 3.) Check a bag with the TSA manager placing the item in
themselves into the bag under their watchful eyes.

My friend was willing to check his bag, but being basically a duffel
bag with no locks, I offered to check my TravelPro bag since it was
lockable (not realizing that made ultimately no difference).

"So here's where it became the Keystone Kops of Cleveland time." 

It was damn close to the time of departure with this delay I had no
idea that my luggage would make it through to the plane but we never
had a chance on boarded with it.

BUT, the TSA didn't tell us we'd miss our flight, also this being a
Sunday, with everyone getting out of Dodge we were in the general
queue for searches, I fly with Continental out of Chicago for the
upgrades to first class (This might be considered odd when I have
United as my hometown airline but eternally in bankruptcy court), we
tried for the VERY empty first class line and was told we weren't
first class, we couldn't use that lane.

Who pays for a first class ticket on a plane with no first class cabin
[4], there was a workaround to that, but I wasn't thinking, I was
thinking about sleeping in my own bed for once. So we both missed our
flight back to Chicago.

Sitting around the gate (not more than 20 paces from the security
checkpoint) wondering where the plane is, I called the airline and
found out that we missed the flight. However, my bag DID fly ahead of
me, and would be waiting for me, (Unlocked, since Cleveland's checked
bags explosives detectors are under the airport and I had to unlock
the bag) we had to leave the gate and go back to the front and get new

We explained to the nice lady at the check-in desk what happened, got
tickets with no fees, thank God (and Continental), and went through
security for the second time, and what happens this time around?!?!?

TSA discovers the Swiss Army Knife...

The one they conveniently had missed with their deft little gloved
hands previously.  My friend isn't stupid and noticed this the first
time around.  But he assumed, right or wrong, you don't volunteer
anything in a situation like that - hell, more than likely they'd talk
over you explaining that "they're just doing their job"."

The TSA agents had no clue who we are, they forgot in the timeframe of
half an hour that we were went through before, and that we had to take
off our shoes again, it was like the Cleveland TSA office was managed
by pet-quality Golden Retrievers in snappy TSA uniforms, nice looking,
but dumb as a bag of hammers.
Another condemnable fact is that both of us, having gone through the
SAME exact screening line 3 times, never got so much as a visual
acknowledgement from the 4 or so TSA agents on our subsequent trips.  
It so happens on my friend's last run through the gauntlet he was
asked by the agent at the metal detector "How's your day going?".  
Incredulously my friend said "You should know!  This is my third time
through here!".  Forget any notion that should a photograph ever be
circulated amongst these 'agents' that that person might be caught in
line.  They pay zero attention to the people they herd through their

You have to really wonder about these TSA agents that should be really
flipping burgers at the airport Burger King if there was no TSA or
private screeners, but they're high on the buzz of authority, knowing
they can't do anything wrong, and if you get out of line with lip and
talking back, secondary searches can and will happen. Mind you, all of
this wasn't a punitive search just procedural, lock-step,
rule-following security drones there really for the Govt paycheck.

Airport/mall rent-a-cops can get fired for royally screwing up, TSA
agents can't really get canned, unless its something that they 
really screw the pooch over.

So my friend checked the Cyber Swiss Army knife in the bag he was
originally going to check for the Leatherman in. 

What really irked me, was there was not likely going to be some report
about why they missed the items at O'Hare, and why they missed the
Swiss Army knife after the first screening with the Leatherman and a
gaggle of TSA agents and managers, why wasn't there a secondary search
for more items, more knives, box cutters, explosives, etc. when coming
back to Chicago.

Also the TSA will escort you out of the checkpoint, but wasn't able to
escort him through the whole mess from the ticket counter back to the
security checkpoint without any real justification especially when the
evening rush was over and the TSA agents were all hitting the Burger
King, and Ben & Jerry's for dinner and snacks, at 6PM, it was just
that dead there.

As much as I have scary National Guard security stories, (Everyone
does) when they were placed at the airport in those trying weeks after
9/11, I think I miss them over the TSA since they had at least six
weeks intensive basic training under their belts, over maybe one week
of training a bunch of slupoffs who left their jobs as Taco Bell line
cooks to work for the TSA.  Besides, the Army National Guard members
were better cleared for doing security in the f&cking first place.

As a information security professional that regularly meets with my
physical security counterparts, I can't believe there is a definite
lack of standards and compliant rules on what happens when a
prohibited item is found and why there isn't any reports being taken
as a lesson learned for next time.
It boggles the mind, Grandma that maybe fly's once every three years
(Grandma can fly with her knitting needles [5]) likely feels more
secure, me personally, I don't, I feel less secure since 9/11/2001 and
because of that, either take the train or drive.  :(

[1] http://www.notacon.org/
[2] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000WU85A/c4iorg
[3] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005ML8H/c4iorg
[4] http://www.continental.com/Travel/inflight/aircraft/erj135.asp
[5] http://www.tsa.gov/public/interweb/assetlibrary/Prohibited_English_4-1-2005_v2.pdf

"Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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