Be scanned or be banned

Oh, great.

PASSENGERS at airports across Australia will be forced to undergo full-body scans or be banned from flying under new laws to be introduced into Federal Parliament this week.

Well, if that’s the attitude then I bloody well will drive, fuck you very much. Well, really I mean I’ll carry on driving because this airport security theatre bullshit has been building up to this for several years, and since I really object to paying a lot of money to be treated as a potential terrorist instead of a paying customer I’ve sworn not to fly unless it’s really urgent and/or there’s an ocean in my way. If I can plan ahead I’ll go overland, even if it takes a few days.

Fuck. You. All.

In a radical $28 million security overhaul, the scanners will be installed at all international airports from July and follows trials at Sydney and Melbourne in August and September last year.

And this is what I hate about security theatre. We’ve been sold this technology as a solution but really we’re no safer. The bombing at Domodedovo airport in Moscow a year ago demonstrated how much damage and death could be dealt by a suicide bomber in a crowded terminal, and I can’t see how things would be much better if someone did exactly the same thing in an airport with scanners. Hell, they could do it in the queue for the scanner and wreck the bloody thing as well as kill a bunch of people, and what would the scanner’s contribution have been? Apart from to use up several million dollars that could have been spent on something else.

The Government is touting the technology as the most advanced available, with the equipment able to detect metallic and non-metallic items beneath clothing.

Would that include metallic objects such as guns? I ask only because it’s barely a year since we heard that an undercover TSA agent was able to smuggle a gun through the body scanners at Dallas-Fort Worth airport on multiple occasions by the devious technique of – and I’m not making this up – hiding it in her knickers.

Still, they know about it now so they’ll have fixed that problem, eh? Er, no. Because an 65 year old woman boarded a flight with a gun in her carry on bags after going through the screening, and this happened just a few weeks ago. At Dallas-Fort Worth. And it wasn’t the scanners that saved the day either. The gun was spotted when the bag went through the X-Ray machine – you know, that layer of security that’s been around for years and suddenly isn’t up to snuff any more. So how’d she get on board? Because she was able to pick up the bag with the gun in it and wander off “before the TSA could notify police”. Presumably the multi-million dollar scanners just sat there holding their electronic dicks having contributed precisely nothing, and humming with embarrassment over their 51% false positive rate and their inability to tell the difference between explosives and someone’s sweaty pits.

And we’re buying these things? Oh, fucking great. I feel so much safer now.

It’s also keen to allay concerns raised on travel online forums that passengers would appear nude on security screens as they had when similar scanners were introduced at US airports.

The technology will show passengers on a screen as stick figures of neither sex.

Not the point. As I’ve explained above and at some length in the past, my objection was never that someone might see my knob or my wife’s tits, it’s that neither of us are terrorists and there’s not a single goddamn thing in the whole fucking universe to suggest that we are. In the days when the IRA were blowing up bits of London and other British cities I could have understood if my Irish surname briefly raised an eyebrow if I tried to get in certain places, though I’m sure that as soon as the inevitable computer check came back and said that (a) I was born in England and (b) was about 14 I’d be instantly ruled out as almost certainly not an Irish Republican terrorist and allowed to carry on. Similarly I feel that it’s not unreasonable that I don’t get treated as a possible member of Alkyfuckingaida at airports, especially when the bastards know who I am well before I fly and can assess my potential risk in advance, leaving not much more than a need for me to satisfy them that I am, as I claim, Mr A Exile who’s never been in trouble with the police and was vetted before getting an Australian visa.

The system has approval from the Privacy Commission.

Well, good for the fucking Privacy Commission, and if it had more than two fifths of fuck all to do with privacy concerns I might even give a shit that they approve.

The proposed Aviation Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 will make it mandatory for any passenger selected to participate in undergoing a body scan.

The “no scan, no fly” amendment closes a loophole in the legislation, which allows passengers to request a pat-down instead of having to pass through a metal detector.

Which won’t be welcomed by those concerned by the potential health risks, such as the EU who are worried about the risk of cancer. I’m not convinced by this myself, but I’d always have gone for the pat down just to take the extra opportunity to register my objection to and contempt for the whole, sorry, pointless exercise. Maybe others already have and this is because too many of the fare paying flying public are failing to behave like the self loading freight and passively march through the scanners. Fine, we understand what’s wanted from us now:


Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said mandatory body scans were necessary to ensure the safety of airports.

No it isn’t necessary, Tony, you abject twat. It’s not fucking necessary at all. Go to Israel and see how they do it. They’re surrounded by people who either hold a cordial dislike for Israel and Jews or who want them wiped off the face of the planet, so of course they inflict this bullshit security theatre on the flying public? Er, apparently not, and they haven’t had an incident for bloody decades.

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Ben Gurion is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

“Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” [Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy] said.

Once you’ve parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters.

Armed guards outside the terminal observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion’s half-dozen entrances, another layer of security is watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer.

“This is to see that you don’t have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious,” said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes – which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela.

Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.

At the check-in desk, your luggage is scanned immediately in a purpose-built area. Sela plays devil’s advocate – what if you have escaped the attention of the first four layers of security, and now try to pass a bag with a bomb in it?

“I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with Play-Doh in it and two pens stuck in the Play-Doh. That is `Bombs 101′ to a screener. I asked Duchesneau, `What would you do?’ And he said, `Evacuate the terminal.’ And I said, `Oh. My. God.’

“Take (Toronto’s) Pearson (airport). Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let’s say I’m (doing an evacuation) without panic – which will never happen. But let’s say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, `Two days.’”

A screener at Ben Gurion has a pair of better options.

First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain `bomb boxes.’ If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

“This is a very small, simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports,” Sela said.

Five security layers down: you now finally arrive at the only one which Ben Gurion airport shares with Pearson – the body and hand-luggage check.

“But here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America,” Sela said.

“First, it’s fast – there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you,” said Sela. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”

The goal at Ben Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in 25 minutes tops.

Twenty-five minutes? For Christ’s sake, I’ve been at western airports where I’ve spent longer than that in each of several queues, surrounded by people any one of whom could have been about to do a Domedodovo for all anyone else knew.

And then there’s intelligence. In Israel, Sela said, a coordinated intelligence gathering operation produces a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.

“There is absolutely no intelligence and threat analysis done in Canada or the United States,” Sela said. “Absolutely none.”

No, but there’s lots of rote working to checklists that will only spot a terrorist who’s too stupid to have spent some time considering ways around the bored staff doing mindlessly repetitive tasks. Jesus, they once confiscated a small blunt butter knife to prevent it being used to hijack the cockpit despite the fact that the guy they took it from was one of the fucking pilots.

Do you see the problem, Albanese? Do you really expect us to believe things will be markedly better here? Do you really expect it not to deteriorate into queues and queues of people doubled up like game snakes waiting to be herded through the scanners? Do you see why a trip to Tel Aviv to learn from a country that’s no more loved by the Islamaloons than us or the UK or the US but has had just one incident in the last decade, which even then was a frigging mistake, could have been so much more effective?

Because if you can’t then I’m inclined to put it down to one of two things: you’re either a fucking incompetent waste of meat or you’re a sucker for a sales pitch (supported by some lobbying, natch) for some expensive piece of kit that promises to make your scary problem go away. I very much hope that it isn’t the third possibility, that like some American politicians you bastards in Canberra have been buying shares in L3 Communications, the company that makes the scanners used at Aussie airports.

Oh, and also the gun-blind ones at Dallas-Fort Worth.


Posted on February 7, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Domodedova was a bit of a special case. It was one long rectangular floor plan and so a bomb in the middle would radiate to both ends. I believe they’ve rebuilt it differently now.

  2. Another great post, thanks.

  3. They should have invested in a bunch of these instead!

  4. It is exactly this “Security Theatre” which leads me to prefer the car, ferry and train over planes. Since I’ve reached the point in my life where I can relax a bit more in getting from point A-to-Point B, I’ve purchased a small motor home.

    Sure, my journey from the North of England to the South of Spain takes a bit longer, but I can do what I like along the way (French Aires are a speciality) and no need to get a “Statutory Grope” or irraditated bollocks to get on a plane.

  5. I know I’m late to comment here but I’ve spent the last few days writing to/emailing everyone from the PM down to try and get them to see the sweet reason you have so eloquently put on to the net here. It probably won’t do any good because the Israeli method isn’t the stuff of sexy soundbites on the TV, is it? Shiny new things are so much better than boring old intelligence gathering.
    On a related point, my husband and I recently flew from Sydney to Hobart. We checked in on a computer terminal and loaded our own baggage by computer. Not once did anyone from the airline we were using interact with us, let alone look us in the eye. This system is ripe for abuse but, never mind, we’ll have body scanners soon. That’ll stop all those nasty terrorists.

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