The Economist: Watch That Twitch

Old Jun 16, 07, 1:38 am
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The Economist: Watch That Twitch

How airport security identifies suspicious characters

WHEN in August last year Britain's security services uncovered an alleged plot to smuggle the liquid components of a bomb onto an aircraft at Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport almost ground to a halt as additional passenger checks were ordered. It was not just flights starting from Heathrow that were delayed or cancelled, but many incoming services too. In the following days British Airways alone cut more than 1,200 flights.

There seemed to be total confusion. Could mothers take baby milk on board? Should medicines be put into checked baggage? Had duty-free been banned? And what about people arriving on connecting services from airports where no such checks were being carried out? Rules appeared to change by the hour.

“That sort of confusion can cause passengers not to want to fly with us any more,” says Georgina Graham, IATA's head of security. She thinks the industry has begun to co-ordinate better, but wants more to be done. Rules still vary in different parts of the world, leaving passengers puzzled.
Related Items
In this special report:
* Fear of flying
* In the land of free flight
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Old Jun 16, 07, 4:38 am
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“There are identifiers of people who have hostile intent that you can pick up,” says Kip Hawley, the head of America's Transportation Security Administration. “Our testing indicates an extraordinary high degree of success.” This is not the same as building profiles of possible suspects and looking out for those sorts of people. “It doesn't do any good to say, ‘this is what I think a terrorist looks like and I think I'm going to frisk him,'” he explains.


Ok Kip, whatever you say.

Analyzing behavior patterns is a sneaky way of targeting anyone they choose and bypassing their rights. It's very subjective and would almost have to vary from person to person. "That person was acting funny so we detained him." Goodbye Bill of Rights.
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Old Jun 16, 07, 5:39 am
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Kip Hawley is "smoking rope" if he doesn't think false positives will overload a system or that this would become anything but the opening of a window for "security" to pick on whomever they like (actually don't like), even when the passenger is no terrorist.

These "security" people are too often failing to even catch explosives, so now they are going to be provided resources to do another thing before even fixing their failures to do the basic identify and removal of explosives.

Kip Hawley, why do you try so hard to make a fool of yourself at our expense?
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Old Jun 16, 07, 6:51 am
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Security officials with the Israeli airline El Al already spend a long time questioning passengers in order to identify behavioural traits that mark them out as dangerous. But El Al is small and America's airports would grind to a halt if such time-consuming procedures were adopted everywhere. So the system that will emerge in America is likely to involve pre-screening of passengers right from the time they make their reservation.
Emphasis Mine.

This is what concerns me the most. Kip and Company is smoking rope.

I believe the TSA is determined to get Secure Flight going under the guise that is will stop flagging people incorrectly with the no fly list and selectee list. The mission of the pre-screening program will creep and it will become a huge data mining and data storage program.

Such a program will further erode our civil liberties which are on a slippery slope at the moment.

In theory, behaviour analysis makes sense - in reality it won't work and will allow screeners to discriminate. For starters, we can't train the existing TSO's to operate checkpoints in a working, efficient manner. Tests conducted by the red team indicate the system doesn't work with respect to detection of explosives and weapons. Let's fix this first. TSO's need better technology at checkpoints, including CTX technology for 3D x-rays.

Secondly, it will be difficult to train TSO's to conduct behavioural profiling. To have any real behavioural profiling, you need highly trained professional employees. Are TSO's that don't even understand the liquid restrictions and basic units of measurements going to understand this?

Instruction that they will be given is likely to be basic and not effective. Given the experiences people have had with the TSA, just going through a TSA screening is enough to cause some travellers to exhibit signs of stress and discomfort, which could be 'detected' and cause such travellers to be labelled suspicious. Others have fears with flying and others are bound to show different behaviours because of the stress with travel, reactions to the poor service, concerns about connections, luggage -- you name it.

What are we going to do? Give special screenings to everyone who seems edgy, tired, and/or nervous? Aside from observations, when screeners engage pax in conversations -- how many passengers really want to talk to the screeners aside from the good morning, good evening, please and thank you's.

Last but not least, the other article "In the Land of Free Flight" is interesting and raises good points about the state of the current aviation system and ATC in the United States. We need major ATC changes & upgrades -- but we need them now. Commercial carriers are paying most of the fees while executive jets (more & more people are using executive jets) aren't, but are getting the same ATC services.

I am a GA pilot but not current at the moment. The local GA field here is becoming overwealmed with small jet traffic. I live under the path for one of the runways that is frequently used because it keeps traffic away from the KSDF approach and departure routes. I also live under a "downwind" approach route for KSDF -- large jets often fly over the area on the north heading at a decent altitude (noise is low, but I can usually make out the airline and a/c type) -- but at lower altitude there is a lot of small jet traffic flying east and west into the GA field (KLOU). I would often take a similar path when flying GA, but I would stay under 2000 ft to keep out of class C airspace.

I know I've strayed off-topic here somewhat, but ATC upgrades would also make the system safer. The fact that executive jet traffic has soared also indicates to me that many travellers are now flying private because of the airport hassle factor. The #1 cited airport hassle factor is the TSA & security.
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Old Jun 16, 07, 7:05 am
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Originally Posted by viking407rob View Post
“There are identifiers of people who have hostile intent that you can pick up,” says Kip Hawley, the head of America's Transportation Security Administration.
One of those indicators is "press release."
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Old Jun 16, 07, 8:02 am
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I wonder if the mystique of behavioral analysis is more important than the analysis itself.

Given my limited experience with profiling interviews in South America, Europe, and Israel, there is nothing magical about behavioral analysis. The legendary Israeli security seems to be based on the notion of, "see if the story checks out."

Of course if you're sweating like crazy, evasive or markedly inconsistent in your answers, that raises their eyebrows. It's not the same as a "SPOT" trainee watching to see if your eye twitches while you get patted down.

The issue of "pre-clearance" is interesting because we already have some of that through CAPPS as well as the widely-publicized DHS system for outbound international flights. What sort of ADDITIONAL pre-clearance could be accomplished?

I actually support pre-clearance as the lesser of two evils. If the TSA would really like to see my MasterCard statement or credit score, fine. If that means they won't scream in my face, make me take off my belt, and pat me down for sweating too much or pull me out of line for "continuous screening," they can have access to whatever information they would like. I don't like it, but it seems better than their current nonsense.
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Old Jun 16, 07, 8:48 am
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With the DHS apparent emphasis on wanting pre-screening/pre-clearance for ALL passengers, this is looking more and more like something from the old Soviet Union.

Pre-screening = pre-approval - citizens may fly only with prior approval from our benevolent Big Brother.

Whatever happened to the "Land of the Free"?
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Old Jun 16, 07, 9:45 am
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Originally Posted by Mats View Post

Of course if you're sweating like crazy, evasive or markedly inconsistent in your answers, that raises their eyebrows. It's not the same as a "SPOT" trainee watching to see if your eye twitches while you get patted down.

What if you need to sneeze and are trying to hold it back? I've done that and I'm sure my face was twitching like crazy. Would that make me "dangerous" or a "threat" to transportation security???

I am quite sure this practice will open the doors to discrimination. If someone is having a bad day or has some personal prejudice against you, you might not fly. It's sad to say but our rights and privileges are getting fewer by the day.

Is this mass raping of rights is what Kip and crew refer to as "vigilance"???

Last edited by viking407rob; Jun 16, 07 at 9:50 am
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Old Jun 16, 07, 9:58 am
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Originally Posted by viking407rob View Post
What if you need to sneeze and are trying to hold it back? I've done that and I'm sure my face was twitching like crazy. Would that make me "dangerous" or a "threat" to transportation security???
That would be a fun: an ADA lawsuit against the TSA from someone with allergies.
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Old Jun 16, 07, 10:26 am
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“There are identifiers of people who have hostile intent that you can pick up,” says Kip Hawley, the head of America's Transportation Security Administration. “Our testing indicates an extraordinary high degree of success.” This is not the same as building profiles of possible suspects and looking out for those sorts of people. “It doesn't do any good to say, ‘this is what I think a terrorist looks like and I think I'm going to frisk him,'” he explains.

Would you like some sand with that mallet, kippie?

The only conversation I'm going to have with a TSA employee is similar to the one that Tommy (Joe Pesci) has with Officer Bing in Goodfellas.
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Old Jun 16, 07, 11:15 am
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Originally Posted by Spiff View Post

The only conversation I'm going to have with a TSA employee is similar to the one that Tommy (Joe Pesci) has with Officer Bing in Goodfellas.

"So what are you gonna tell me now, tough guy???"
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Old Jun 16, 07, 11:24 am
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Originally Posted by viking407rob View Post
"So what are you gonna tell me now, tough guy???"
"Bing! Whadda you doing here?!?..."
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Old Jun 16, 07, 11:31 am
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“There are identifiers of people who have hostile intent that you can pick up,” says Kip Hawley, the head of America's Transportation Security Administration. “Our testing indicates an extraordinary high degree of success.”
Testing ? A bunch of TSA clowns pretend to be terrorists by "twitching" so another bunch of TSA clowns can identify them. GMAFB.

Or was the extraodinar(il)y high degree of success the actual capture of some actual terrorists that somehow hasn't been made public ?

Visual behaviorial profiling is an art which takes an innate aptitude and a lot of training and experience. Sound like the TSA to you ?
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Old Jun 16, 07, 12:32 pm
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Originally Posted by SDF_Traveler View Post
I believe the TSA is determined to get Secure Flight going under the guise that is will stop flagging people incorrectly with the no fly list and selectee list. The mission of the pre-screening program will creep and it will become a huge data mining and data storage program.

Such a program will further erode our civil liberties which are on a slippery slope at the moment.
And, mark my words, it will go FAR beyond the guise of airport security. Once the data is collected and kept for 40 years, it'll be an easy process for the IRS to obtain that data to look for patterns (credit scores) that might indicate a tax cheat ("you have a lower score because you have no car loan, comrade, then you might be a tax cheat"). And so on, across every government program and function.

Where are the "small government" folks when you need them?
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Old Jun 16, 07, 2:01 pm
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Originally Posted by Global_Hi_Flyer View Post
And, mark my words, it will go FAR beyond the guise of airport security. Once the data is collected and kept for 40 years, it'll be an easy process for the IRS to obtain that data to look for patterns (credit scores) that might indicate a tax cheat ("you have a lower score because you have no car loan, comrade, then you might be a tax cheat"). And so on, across every government program and function.

Where are the "small government" folks when you need them?
Sadly, I believe you're absolutely correct. Furthermore, the TSA can't keep their own employee records safe - they left a copy on a laptop that someone walked off with, IIRC. What kind of 'voodoo' security do they have in place at their headquarters of all places that would allow this to happen?

For starters, you never, ever leave data such as this on a laptop. If you must access it from a laptop, it should be stored on a secure server and accessed through an internal network connection inside a secure facility or from a VPN if in another location. Sensitive information like that should never go onto the hard drive of a laptop. That made the news, but I wonder how many other data security foul-ups have they had that didn't make the news?

A couple years ago a financial institution I have a brokerage account with was shipping account data from one location to another. The data with my personal information was potentially compromised in the process. This financial institution did a stand-up job by (1) notifying me, (2) providing me with credit monitoring services, and (3) worked with law enforcement with respect to the breach. If the TSA starts to collect personal information and build a database for purposes of pre-screening, will they notify me and take accountability if my information is released as a result of poor data security measures?

Pre-screening to start at time of ticket purchase; this means the airlines will have to pass the PNR to the TSA/DHS. However, I don't believe the data in the PNR alone will be enough for them. In some cases the airlines will already have a lot of data on the passenger if they're a frequent flyer - but what if I buy a ticket on WN; I don't have an FF (RR) account with them, and I'll take it a few steps further -- use a disposable debit card, provide a bogus address (they don't need my address, do they?), and use a disposable phone number such as a 'disposable mobile' or a temporary VoIP #.

Will the govt require more information at time of ticketing, or would I simply be flagged as a very high risk? If this isn't requested initially, I believe the TSA/DHS will at some point want a SSN #, Drivers License #, or a Passport #.

The DHS/TSA has no business collecting personal information and matching it against databases (or building their own database) for me to travel within the United States. With pre-screening at time of ticket purchase, they are esentially setting up internal border controls.

Kip Hawley, Chertoff and gang could all go pound sand.
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