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Rantings of a Sandmonkey

Be forewarned: The writer of this blog is an extremely cynical, snarky, pro-US, secular, libertarian, disgruntled sandmonkey. If this is your cup of tea, please enjoy your stay here. If not, please sod off

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Loophole in Airport security!

Slate has a very interesting article on Airport security and how there is this huge loophole that would make the "No-Fly" list, well, kinda useless against stopping suspected terrorists of boarding US planes. Here is how they use the "NO-FLY" list now: 1) Right before you go through security, a security guard checks your boarding pass against your government-issued ID, making sure the names match. This check does not include a scan of the barcode, in part because the same security checkpoints process passengers for multiple airlines with different computer systems. Occasionally a second security guard at the metal detector will double-check the boarding pass, but again, not by scanning it. 2) Once you get to your boarding gate, the barcode on the printed pass is finally scanned just before you enter the Jetway. However, as the boarding agents remind you over and over, you no longer need to show your ID at the gate. (The TSA estimates 80 percent of U.S. airports have done away with ID checks at the boarding gate.) I've noticed that many passengers still have their driver's licenses or passports in hand as they approach, remembering post-9/11 enhanced security. But the agents cheerily tell them to put their IDs away—they're no longer necessary. Here is the flaw if you didn't catch it: Do you see the big flaw? At no point do you have to prove that the person in whose name the ticket was bought is the same person standing at the airport. At stop 1), the name on a home-printed boarding pass is checked against an ID, but not against the name stored in the airline's computer. At stop 2), the name on the printed pass is checked against the name in the computer, but not against an ID. Now here is how the potential terrorist could use this to his/her advantage: So all a terrorist needs to breeze through this loophole are two different boarding passes, both printed at home, that are identical except for the name. Check out the mock-up I made on Microsoft Publisher in about 10 minutes, using a real boarding pass I was issued last month. On the first one, you see my real name. On the second, the name has been replaced by that of Mr. Serious Threat, who we will pretend is on the No-Fly List. Say Mr. Threat and his nefarious associates buy a ticket in someone else's name (perhaps by stealing a credit card number—something criminals do without immediate detection all the time). In this case, the name of the card-theft victim (me) will be printed on the boarding pass. Mr. Threat can be pretty sure a common name like mine won't trigger the No-Fly List as his would. Then he prints out the two boarding passes: the original in my name and an altered duplicate in his name. At the first security checkpoint (the one where no scan takes place), he can breeze through using any name he wishes—even his own—just so long as his photo ID matches the altered boarding pass. Unless the security guard has the entire No-Fly List memorized, she isn't going to stop Mr. Threat. On the way to his gate he does the old switcheroo, and produces the pass with my name, which will match the computer record. Child's play. His real identity has never set off the computer's alarm bells. Now, the reason i am posting this, is because i get harassed by airport security every single time i've arrived/departed at a US airport ever since 9/11. And i am ok with that. The head of the Hijackers came from Egypt, arabic names sound alike, and at the end of the day its US airports, so the US could do whatever the hell it wants to keep its flights safe. I understand that and i don't mind it cause i know i have done nothing wrong. But if i have to go through all that and some freakin terrorist manages to sashay his ass past security because of this stupid loophole, well, then excuse me if i am a lil pissed off that my time is getting wasted by procedures that aim to make you feel safe instead of actually protecting you. I agree with the Author of the piece that the No-Fly list is kinda stupid and pointless, but it is there and it gets used. Since this is the case, make sure that the people who are using it use it correctly. I don't know how you would do it, but talk to someone in the FAA, or your airport's managment or even write your congressmen or senator or something. But have them fix the system and protect you, before it's too late again.


At 2/08/2005 09:56:00 AM, Blogger AlanK said...


hey your not the only one, I had an interesting experience in Austrailia when after a 18 hour flight i was deemed to look suspect as was backpacking at the time, got plenty of subtle questions like are you a drug dealer etc

also that is suprising thought US security had at least improved after what happened


At 2/08/2005 05:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Now, the reason i am posting this, is because i get harassed by airport security every single time i've arrived/departed at a US airport ever since 9/11. And i am ok with that"

I'm so glad you are not a citizen of the United States of America.

At 2/08/2005 05:21:00 PM, Blogger Kat said...

for the record, I am a white female with a surely anglo christian name and have been flagged for secondary search via the process (not the "no fly list" but because I checked in late) several times. Generally, I do not find it instrusive. Of course, I have not been strip searched, but certainly my bags have been tagged, flagged and searched by the TSA on a number of occassions, along with me and any carry ons. The people who are complaining about the process probably don't fly very often.

As a frequent flyer, the slate article is wrong on several accounts. The "no fly list" is supposed to work at the time that the ticket is purchased so if Yousif al Aziz is on the no fly list and purchases a ticket, he will be identified through the computer system and a line of x's placed on his ticket (by the way, i got flagged like this for buying a one way ticket because I was making a three stop flight and one leg was of course a "one way" ticket). It is not at the time of the security guard checking your ID at the security line.

The x's on the ticket flag the security guard, not your name. so, the process that he indicates is not the hole in security. The hole in security would be the would be perpetrator faking the pass enough to erase the x's.

However, this even presents a problem because the bar code on the ticket is then ran through the scanner and your name comes up, who ever purchased the ticket as the passenger. If you are on a no fly list, you will be stopped at the gate. it doesn't matter what you did to the ticket. This is why your ID is not required at the gate.

Now, the only hole that is left is a hole that basically can't be sealed unless every airport in the country could access every states identification system and swipe the ID. Even that won't stop it. That hole is for someone to use a friends credit card and a matching ID, whether faked or close enough to look like the friend. In which case, if that name is not on the no fly list, there is little anyone can do about it.

In the end, that is why the tertiary defense against terrorism on board a plane is you and I the passengers along with the crew being observant and not being afraid. Other security measures may not be exact, such as bag screening or cargo, but the screening process (regardless of some folks claims that the few items that have gotten through represent a huge hole) is statistically against someone sneaking something on bigger than a blade from a razor or other small sharp object.

Think about the numbers of incidents reported compared to the number of passengers that are screened. The error ratio is less than 5%. It might not be comforting to think that there is a 5% error ratio but the statistics of a terrorist making it within that 5% is still slim to none.

Even if a razor was snuck on to the plane, how many passengers today do you think will set there and let someone hijack their plane without taking immediate action?

It is no longer a game of hostage, negotiation, release. 9/11 set the record straight. This is straight up life and death and, as a frequent flier, I guarantee you that I'm not going down without a fight. If it appears someone is going for the cockpit, they're going down.

At 2/08/2005 06:09:00 PM, Blogger Kender said...

My wife is a frequent flyer. She is a six foot tall caucasian women with red hair, blue eyes and pale skin. He last name is Owen. She has endured a second screening EVERYTIME she has flown since 9/11, including having to remove her shoes. She used to travel in her favorite pair of cowboy boots. Now she wears sandals.

At 2/10/2005 11:44:00 AM, Blogger WakkaJewbacca said...

Sandmonkey, where have you gone? Have you been detained by airport security? Come back soon.

At 2/10/2005 04:05:00 PM, Blogger Tina said...

OK, where are you? Why aren't you posting? Is your mom OK?


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