Previous “Security Theater” posts

I Feel Safer Already 

This is not very sanitary.

Today in security theater, don’t try to fly with one big old bag of cannoli cheese. Instead, distribute that same quantity of cannoli cheese across multiple cannoli.

The Real Mystery Is Why Almost a Quarter of a Million Accounts Follow the TSA on Twitter

This is weird and dumb.

If you like seeing eight consecutive drives end in a punt, then Super Bowl LIII was the game for you! And if you attended the game, and purchased a program, you should apparently not check it in your luggage on the way home:

[Via a tweet from @TSA]

That’s really weird. We’re talking about a publication printed with ink and paper. What exactly could be going on here? And how is it safe enough to fly, but not to be checked?

These questions led me to the TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” list. There, I found just nine items which are permitted in carry-on bags, but not in checked luggage. I’ve reproduced them below, exactly as the TSA’s poorly edited list shows them:

  • Butane Curling Irons (cordless)

  • Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping Devices

  • Lithium batteries with more than 100 watt hours

  • Live Coral

  • Live Fish

  • Medically Necessary Personal Oxygen

  • Power Banks

  • Power Charger

  • Safety Matches

The TSA’s tweet doesn’t show the full program, so I had little choice but to assume it contains a small compartment with a goldfish inside of it, like Disco Stu’s disco shoes:

Cartoon shoes with fish in the heels, sadly dead
As seen in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

Eventually, I discovered the real issue. An earlier tweet with the same content also included a semi-helpful reply from TSA spokesperson Mark Howell. Under the atrocious username of “@TSAMedia_MarkH”, Howell explained the reasons for this instruction:

The programs are produced with materials that causes our screening tech to alarm, requiring a physical bag search by an officer. Carrying it with you to the security checkpoint and placing it in a bin will allow us to visibly inspect it without having to do a bag search.

If false positives are getting triggered by a Super Bowl program, perhaps better screening equipment is in order, rather than trying to get tens of thousands of people not to check an item that shouldn’t be an issue.

You Get What You Don’t Pay For 

Unpaid TSA workers are blasting explicit music in some airports. That seems fair.

The TSA has frequently been criticized, including on this very blog, as “security theater”. Still, they’re really not supposed to have a soundtrack, explicit or otherwise.

More Floppy Ears 

They really do seem less threatening.

Much of what the TSA does in America is rightfully criticized as security theater. Far too often, this agency does things which give an appearance of security while actually doing very little to provide it. However, a forthcoming change they plan is both all about appearances and likely a good move. In an effort to avoid frightening travelers, the TSA will be employing more floppy-eared dogs instead of pointy-eared dogs.

Your Move, TSA 

Apparently, the TSA is standardizing their pat-down procedure, with “enhanced” measures. The LA Times has more information, including this note:

Passengers have the right to request a private pat-down screening and ask to be accompanied by a companion of their choice.

“Yes, I’d like to go to a private room, and I’d like Tina Fey to join us. I think she’ll keep things light!”

Previously in Security Theater: Meet the Resistance

They Literally Could Have Just Used Quarters 

If you had to guess which awful government agency paid as much as $1.4 million to have computers perform coin flips for them, how many tries do you think it would take you?

So Long, Rapiscans 

Speaking of the TSA, I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to the (relatively) recent news that Rapiscan1 backscatter x-ray machines are being removed from airports throughout the country. Why? Incompetence, mostly.

Ridiculously, Rapiscan was unable to meet a government requirement which mandated that they integrate Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software, which produces for a much less invasive image from the scanner. The company couldn’t get it done by the original deadline of June 1st, 2012, and even after a reprieve, they can’t get it done by June 1st, 2013 either. As such, their piles of potentially-hazardous-to-your-health electronics are being yanked out of airports. Huzzah!

That said, the safety concerns surrounding the millimeter wave machines which will remain in use haven’t been answered either. The National Academy of Science will be studying both types of machines soon.

The TSA has long maintained both machines are safe, but recently signed an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to study the scanners. The study will continue even though the machines are being pulled, the TSA said, because they could be reintroduced in the future.

Until further information is provided, I’ll be hoping for good old fashioned metal detectors, and otherwise continuing to have the TSA meet the resistance.


  1. Pronounced “rapey-scan”. ↩︎

Five Questions for the TSA

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, Wiffle bats are free to be carried on domestic flights at last.

Acceptable and Unacceptable Bats

This change will come April 25th, 2013, when the TSA implements their updated Prohibited Items List (PIL). One of the many changes is the ability to carry on small and/or light bats. After looking over the full PIL1, I have a few questions.

Five Questions for the TSA

  • How is a box cutter any more dangerous than these knives?

  • Who the hell carries on ski poles, pool cues, golf clubs, or hockey sticks?

  • If someone carries on golf clubs, what the hell good will a maximum of two clubs do them?2

  • What is changing on April 25th to make these items suddenly safer?

  • Setting aside the reinforcement of cockpit doors touted even by TSA critic Bruce Schneier (which were ordered before the TSA was even created anyhow), have any of the changes to airline security the TSA has implemented ever had any impact on our real security whatsoever?

I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that last one.


  1. The revision from the time of this post is archived here. ↩︎

  2. Maybe a perfect golfer could make due with a driver and a putter? ↩︎

The Naked American Hero 

Back in April, John Brennan stripped naked during a TSA search at Portland Airport. Yesterday, he was found not guilty on indecent exposure charges, with the ruling upholding the right to nudity as a form of protest speech. Brennan’s quote explaining the situation really nails it:

“I was mostly motivated by the absurdity of it all. The irony that they want to see me naked, but I don’t get to take off my clothes off,” he said. “You have all these machines that pretend to do it.”

Banned Booty 

Ever wondered what happens to all the contraband the TSA confiscates? My pal Kim Lisagor has the scoop on Banned Booty, a set of art works by artist Steve Maloney using confiscated goods. Maloney was able to purchase your items back from the government by the pound.