Inside a suspicious package

Old Oct 14, 07, 11:53 am
  #16  
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The evacuation was not necessary. However, there are a couple points that I think need further clarification.

Firstly, we're not really sure what it was that alarmed the CTX. The reporter only lists the items she believes are significant enough to have possibly caused the alarm. No doubt that she had "Dyna-Lite power packs, three flash heads, light stands, umbrellas, and a black bag containing wires and cables for...radio remotes" as stated in the story. From my experience with the 2500 and 5500 CTX models, none of these items would alarm in the manner described in the story. The Little Rock police officer's reference to an item appearing bright red on the x-ray screen tells me that she had a paste, gel or other substance of similar consistency and density inside her bag. Could be that she didn't think it was significant enough to include in the story. After all, in her mind, the focus of the inquiry appeared to be on all the wires and cables inside the bag. But I cannot rule out the possibility that she was told the cause of the alarm was a jar of peanut butter, tubes of toothpaste, etc. which would take the wind out of her sails if the purpose of her story is to portray airport security as absurd. I make it a point to tell passengers exactly what caused the alarm, but I can't assume that all leads/supervisors do the same. Some are so wrapped up in secret squirrel nonsense that they think such explanations would compromise SSI.

Secondly, once the airport police are notified on any incident, it's their show. A lot of the blame is place on TSA in this and other similar instances; however, when the airport police are notified, they assume control of the situation and make all the calls. The trick is for TSA supervisors and managers to make sure LEO notification is necessary. Some portions of the SOP allow no flexibility, but others do. Even so, in the coordination process, the TSA supervisor should have detailed the possibilities to the LRPD officer responding to the call. This is especially true if a detonator wasn't visible. It's the difference between "there's no detonator present" and "we can't see the detonator." In one case, the x-ray operator is confident of what's inside the bag and even though there appears to be something consistent with an improvised explosive device, there's nothing that resembles a detonator or, more significantly, the detonator is not where it should be. In the other case, the detonator isn't visible because it may be concealed or hidden from view or, more significantly, it cannot be ruled out. This spells the difference between calling an evacuation because of something that looks a helluva lot like an IED and calling an evacuation just to be on the safe side. From what I read in the story, I'm not sure all the necessary steps were taken to communicate the situation effectively so that a decision could be made based on sound information rather than "an abundance of caution" or other bullcrap rationale.

Thirdly, the current SOP, recently revised and distributed to the field with an effective date of two months ago, prevents unnecessary evacuations, or at least allows for other options before evacuating a terminal. And while I won't elaborate on this point any further, I'm satisfied that had the STSO followed the current SOP, this evacuation probably could have been avoided. But I don't know the local politics involved since that could also play a role.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 4:42 pm
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What I don't understand is why TSA didn't simply page her on the PA system and ask her to come and explain what was in the bag? Much easier than a terminal dump.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 5:04 pm
  #18  
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Originally Posted by Andy1369 View Post
What I don't understand is why TSA didn't simply page her on the PA system and ask her to come and explain what was in the bag? Much easier than a terminal dump.
They did page her -- after they dumped the terminal.

Originally Posted by Bart View Post
From my experience with the 2500 and 5500 CTX models, none of these items would alarm in the manner described in the story. The Little Rock police officer's reference to an item appearing bright red on the x-ray screen tells me that she had a paste, gel or other substance of similar consistency and density inside her bag. ... But I cannot rule out the possibility that she was told the cause of the alarm was a jar of peanut butter, tubes of toothpaste, etc. which would take the wind out of her sails if the purpose of her story is to portray airport security as absurd.
Bart, you are usually a TSA voice of reason around here. Are you really saying that dumping the terminal because someone packs peanut butter or toothpaste in a checked bag is not absurd? Given the current rules, those items can't be in carryon bags. They are pretty common items.

The CTX scanners are said to falsely alarm for books and chocolate too. How comforting to know that we should apparently add peanut butter and toothpaste to the list
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Old Oct 14, 07, 6:30 pm
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Originally Posted by xyzzy View Post
Bart, you are usually a TSA voice of reason around here. Are you really saying that dumping the terminal because someone packs peanut butter or toothpaste in a checked bag is not absurd? Given the current rules, those items can't be in carryon bags. They are pretty common items.

The CTX scanners are said to falsely alarm for books and chocolate too. How comforting to know that we should apparently add peanut butter and toothpaste to the list
Not at all. I'm saying that there probably was something with the same consistency of peanut butter or toothpaste that caused the CTX to alarm. Combined with all the wiring, I can understand the concern. There are other procedures in place that could have mitigated the alarm. However, as I pointed out, it's the LEOs' call whether or not to evacuate a terminal. TSA does not make that call.

In this instance, talking about carry-on items simply doesn't apply in this case. Checkpoint x-ray operators make judgment calls. CTX machines are designed to alarm on items that contain properties similar to explosives in terms of density and other characteristics. In 99.999999999% of the cases, it's easy to determine that the CTX alarmed on a jar of peanut butter or a tube of toothpaste. This happens every hour of every day and is handled quite routinely. However, there is that one time when something else gives it the appearance of being something more than just a jar of peanut butter or tube of toothpaste. And a bag with a bunch of wires and cables in it will certainly do that. Still, there are other procedures that allow such situations to be mitigated. Then again, I wasn't there, so I don't know how the image appeared on-screen.

The missing detail in this story is what was on-screen and what was communicated between the TSA STSO and LRPD LEO. Keep in mind, LEOs are not experts at x-ray image interpretation yet they decide whether an x-ray image warrants evacuating a terminal. Not trying to criticize LEOs; just pointing out that they have the authority to make those calls. Hopefully, there was good communication between the STSO and LEO.

And as I pointed out, there are other factors such as the local politics at a particular airport. Not trying to question the professionalism of the LEOs; however, there are some airport chiefs of police who believe they should have their own little bomb disposal unit assigned to the airport. (I happen to disagree, but that's another topic.)

I still question the integrity of the news article. I see lots of gaps in information. I see the report has the illusion of being researched, but there are lots of holes in the reporter's story.

Again, I agree that the evacuation was not necessary and could have been avoided.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 9:35 pm
  #20  
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Thanks for your detailed reply!
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Old Oct 16, 07, 12:19 am
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Originally Posted by FliesWay2Much View Post
You should wait for, if nothing else, to make sure they don't steal from your bag.

We actually would prefer you wait, for nothing else but for us to ensure that you do not make those false theft claims.
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Old Oct 16, 07, 12:24 am
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Originally Posted by Spiff View Post
All 43,000 TSA employees + their jackass bosses.
Oh, dumb dick again...
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Old Oct 16, 07, 5:14 am
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Just a quick question... coming back from Germany, the Duty Free sales clerks recommended against bringing back products with marzipan in them as they would be confiscated due to their "resemblance" of a certain material. Curious if you've run into that... or if they were just over-reacting. This would be for carry-on, and not in luggage that would be going through the CTX, just X-ray for a secondary upon re-entering the US at a connection.

Thanks! and appreciate the info on how things "should" be handled... they do need a "Bart Primer" downtown at the ivory tower.

Originally Posted by Bart View Post
Not at all. I'm saying that there probably was something with the same consistency of peanut butter or toothpaste that caused the CTX to alarm.
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Old Oct 16, 07, 12:49 pm
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Originally Posted by Bart View Post
But I cannot rule out the possibility that she was told the cause of the alarm was a jar of peanut butter, tubes of toothpaste, etc. which would take the wind out of her sails if the purpose of her story is to portray airport security as absurd.
Why would that not be absurd? Even if it's not one of the "99.999999999% of the cases" where it's easy to determine that it's peanut butter or toothpaste, the terminal dump was still absurd.

What percentage of TSA screened bags have had bombs in them? Something like 0% (at least detected). Even if the bag was not easily cleared, the terminal dump is still an example of absurd airport security. As far as most of the public, including myself, are concerned, LEOs are part of airport security, even if they aren't part of the TSA.

Terminal dumps are a bigger security threat than the unidentified item in the bag. If you are going to bomb an airport, a great way to do it would be to first initiate a terminal dump (fake bomb, abandoned bag, etc.) and then get everyone in the big crowd outside.

BTW: Welcome back Bart!
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Old Oct 17, 07, 5:48 am
  #25  
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Originally Posted by ralfp View Post
Why would that not be absurd? Even if it's not one of the "99.999999999% of the cases" where it's easy to determine that it's peanut butter or toothpaste, the terminal dump was still absurd.

What percentage of TSA screened bags have had bombs in them? Something like 0% (at least detected). Even if the bag was not easily cleared, the terminal dump is still an example of absurd airport security. As far as most of the public, including myself, are concerned, LEOs are part of airport security, even if they aren't part of the TSA.

Terminal dumps are a bigger security threat than the unidentified item in the bag. If you are going to bomb an airport, a great way to do it would be to first initiate a terminal dump (fake bomb, abandoned bag, etc.) and then get everyone in the big crowd outside.

BTW: Welcome back Bart!
My point was how that .0000000001% warrants suspicion by the x-ray operator. I didn't say anything about evacuating a terminal. In fact, I agree with you that evacuating a terminal does more harm than good.

As for your other comment, we do find grenades, flammables, acids and other similarly dangerous items in checked baggage. I mentioned grenades because of all the military personnel who process through here. There's always some young troop, in spite of all the briefings given to him at a firing range, who thinks that an unexploded munition would make a "neat" souvenir. Other grenades found are things like CS gas cannisters, artillery simulators, trip flares and such. While these items are designed for a very limited explosion that is more flash than bang, that limited explosion in the wrong place inside the belly of an airplane can turn into a huge secondary explosion.

Flammables and acids are from people who just don't think about the consequences of certain items either spilling in flight and causing a bio-hazard as they drip or have contact with other passenger bags OR fumes making their way throughout the cabin (for carry-ons) OR other catalysts that may cause a flammable to erupt or catch on fire.

And just to correct you, LEOs are not part of TSA. Airport LEOs are either state-licensed police officers who work directly for the airport (city) or city/county police officers who are detailed to work at the airport. TSA has no authority over them even though there are working agreements between them. I make this point because folks in here are quick to blame TSA for terminal evacuations. If anyone is interested in facts, then I point out the fact that the decision to evacuate comes from the airport management not TSA. One final point: as an old EOD tech once told me, "if you can see the bomb, it can certainly see you," meaning that evacuation distances in open spaces such as an airport lobby when taking into consideration the blast and its secondary effects almost always require a complete evacuation.......when it is appropriate to evacuate. And that is the tough call.
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Old Oct 17, 07, 6:01 am
  #26  
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I told them I had flown into town the day before with the bag. Andrea was taking notes. Someone asked to see my driver's license. What was my date of birth, my address, my phone number? This couldn't be happening.
I'd tell them what my name is, but that's all. They have no legal right to that information.
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Old Oct 17, 07, 6:03 am
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It does not make sense to have a terminal dump if you find a suspicious bag.

As a terrorist, I would want the bag to explode in the aircraft, not in the terminal, so I would have presumably made sure it doesn't go off before.

If I wanted to have an explosion in the terminal, I would just take my bag to the long security lines. Much more effective there, and no screening before then.

So, a terminal dump does not make sense.

SmilingBoy.
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