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The Men Who Stare At Airline Passengers, Coming To the UK 468

An anonymous reader writes, "The Economist's Gulliver reports on a story in Nature that questions the current airport security regimen," excerpting: "Over the past four years, some 3,000 officers in America's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been specially trained to spot potential terrorists at airports. The programme, known as SPOT, for Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, is intended to allow airport security officers to use tiny facial cues to identify people who are acting suspiciously. The British government is currently launching a new screening regime modelled on the Americans' SPOT. There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective. The whole thing is mostly based on pseudoscience, Sharon Weinberger reports in Nature." Happily, Nature's original article is available in full, rather than paywalled.
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The Men Who Stare At Airline Passengers, Coming To the UK

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  • Might as well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xacid ( 560407 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:01PM (#32480086) Journal
    Chalk it up as a boondoggle and consider it part of the economic recovery plan.
  • Evidence (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:05PM (#32480104)

    There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

    And this matters to airport security because?

  • Effective... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:08PM (#32480118) Homepage
    Not effective? How is that different from any other aspect of the American airline security policy?
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:11PM (#32480136) Homepage Journal

    from January 2006 through to November 2009, behaviour-detection officers referred more than 232,000 people for secondary screening, which involves closer inspection of bags and testing for explosives. 1,710 were arrested. Those arrests are overwhelmingly for criminal activities, such as outstanding warrants, completely unrelated to terrorism. The program has never resulted in the arrest of anyone who is a terrorist, or who was planning to engage in terrorist-related activity.

    Shut it down!! This is an incredible waste of passenger time and taxpayer money. I wonder where they got those numbers from.. I'd love to see more numbers.. like how many actual terrorist arrests there have been for all passengers screened.

  • Re:Effective... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lorenlal ( 164133 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:13PM (#32480152)

    Well, the stronger cockpit door was an improvement... But for everything else, it's all about "appearing" to be more secure.

    The post-9/11 airport has been all about security through showmanship.

  • tiny oxymoron (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rastoboy29 ( 807168 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:14PM (#32480154) Homepage
    Anyone who is that good at reading people,
    has a better job than TSA screener.
  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:19PM (#32480176) Homepage Journal
    The sociopaths and other determined criminals will slip through the cracks. If you were looking forward to seeing 72 virgins or having the opportunity to stick it to your arch-enemy, would you not greet them with genuine smiles and cheer in anticipation?

    Particularly, it makes me sad when people say that aversion of gaze is an indicator of dishonesty. Autistic or Asperger-types would be treated like crooks simply because eye contact is too overwhelming for them. Visual people may glance away after a question because they are diverting their resources to minimize distractions to use visual memory answering the questions(many people like to say that looking up == honest while looking down == dishonest -- sounds like a lame generalization to me).

    Others may glance away because being preemptively treated like a crook is intimidating, especially because dealing with the DHS is often a staring contest. Questions asked are rapid-fire, meaning that a person appears to be in the wrong if analytical or insecure types have the honesty to give a complete answer. Microexpressions are often ambiguous and the interpretation of them is tanted by the subject being under pressure.

    In short, it's a dumb idea and it makes me angry.
  • Re:Evidence (Score:4, Insightful)

    by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {ytinulatigid}> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:21PM (#32480204) Homepage

    It seems to matter not to law enforcement in general. The mere pretense that something is being done is good enough.

  • Re:Effective... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:25PM (#32480220)
    Well, that and sexual abuse. Having to decide whether to be patted down or viewed naked is more or less the definition of sexual abuse.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:26PM (#32480224)

    More like: Look! An old lady! Let's check her out too so nobody thinks we're profiling!

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:30PM (#32480244)
    The fact that there were no attempts or successes during that period is evidence that it's not needed. Terrorism is a very small threat compared with things like cancer, dieing in a non-terrorist plane crash and any number of real problems. Terrorism happens to be very flashy, but the reality is that even with the policies in place prior to 9/11 it was a very unlikely event that terrorists would have any meaningful luck.

    Whereas you've got the government scaring the crap out of people without terrorist help. Of course terrorists aren't bothering to do it, the US government is doing a superb job of keeping people terrified.
  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:37PM (#32480300) Journal

    The violation of a civil liberty is a loss that cannot be regained.

    Can you explain how having an officer look at you is a violation of civil liberties?

    You're in public, after all. It's not like you're being observed in your home. While I don't see how the SPOT program actually accomplishes anything, I really don't see how it's going to violate our freedoms. Law enforcement doesn't need a warrant to check you out as you stand in line to check your luggage. And it might just be that having trained observers in airports would force terrorists to work a little harder.

    We've got to be careful of crying wolf when we complain about intrusion into our lives. We gave away most of our liberties in the US with the PATRIOT Act and the warrantless wiretapping. For us to now say "you can't look at us" is taking our eye off the ball, which is to reverse the outrageous parts of PATRIOT and return some sanity to counter-terrorism.

  • Re:Evidence (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:43PM (#32480322)

    well, how may airliners that take off from Israel have been hijacked since the 70's?

    How many terrorists have been caught by Israeli airport security since the 70s? More importantly, since I believe the answer is a handful in the 70s and 80s, how many have been caught since 2001?

    they "SPOT" people too.

    Which is easy when the targets are Jewish, anyone who's not Jewish is a potential threat, and they don't give a crap about whether those people ever fly in or out of Israel again. People visiting Britain and America would not put up with the kind of intrusive measures taken in Israeli airports and would find an alternative destination in future.,, nor would politically correct British or American governments put up with similar screening measures that concentrated on Muslims.

  • by __aajfby9338 ( 725054 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:47PM (#32480340)

    But catching 1710 criminals is meaningful, for the slight inconvenience the others faced. What's wrong with catching criminals?

    0.5% of the people selected for secondary screening by the SPOT officers ended up getting arrested, and thus 99.5% of them did not. Is there any data that suggests that such an arrest rate is substantially higher than could be expected from any random sampling of air travelers? If not, then the SPOT officers don't appear to be doing anything worthwhile.

    What you really need is a truly random selection, and figures for how many criminals were caught that way to see if what they are doing is making a statistical difference from truly random additional screening.

    Agreed. Given the mere 0.5% arrest rate, I'm pretty skeptical that such figures would show that the SPOT officers earn their pay.

  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Andorin ( 1624303 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:49PM (#32480354)
    The point is not that an airport official will be watching passengers in an attempt to spot terrorists. The point is that there is a possibility that someone stressed, sick, distracted or socially inept- all of which could make a person seem "suspicious"- will be accosted or even held despite complete innocence of terrorism. It's "security theater" to a T: it gives the appearance of safety and security without actually providing any of the substance.
  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:50PM (#32480364)

    If you were looking forward to seeing 72 virgins or having the opportunity to stick it to your arch-enemy, would you not greet them with genuine smiles and cheer in anticipation?

    Of course, that would give them away. No one goes through a US airport with genuine smiles and cheer anymore.

  • Re:Effective... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mishehu ( 712452 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:53PM (#32480378)
    They actually interview every single passenger though. That's the difference.
  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:54PM (#32480386)
    The fact that there were no attempts or successes during that period is evidence that it's not needed.

    what kind of fail logic is that? In what upside down world does running a program to prevent something, and having no instances of what your trying to prevent happen, constitute failure??!!

  • Re:Effective... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Andorin ( 1624303 ) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:57PM (#32480406)

    Yet, somehow, there haven't been any more planes bringing down skyscrapers or smashing into the Pentagon. Maybe the showmanship is having the desired effect?

    Right, because that sort of thing was so common until the post-9/11 airport security crackdowns. So clearly, since it hasn't happened since then, the mass inconveniences- to put the TSA's tactics lightly- have been worth it, right?

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:09AM (#32480466)

    It's far better than racial profiling - we don't all want to live in Arizona.

    Do you seriously think that Israeli security don't pay far more attention to Arab passengers than others?

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:17AM (#32480514) Homepage Journal

    Sorry.. if police were grabbing 200k+ people a year to do searches and only charging less than half a percent of them with crimes you would shut down the police... or at least enact laws that protect people from unlawful searches.. hey, wait a minute, that's a great idea!!

  • Re:If only. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:29AM (#32480572)

    Passenger looks annoyed, angry, uncomfortable - turns out they have to go through pointless security jumps that could be made to be efficient and less invasive but then the terrorists win, so person is hassled to the point of breaking and is made late by a line that can't possibly move slower. Also they had to leave home really early to get to the airport hours in advance.

    Honestly, how do you not look "suspicious" by their guidelines when the process is the most annoying part of flying to some people. Self fulfilling prophecy.

  • Re:Might as well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Low Ranked Craig ( 1327799 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:34AM (#32480592)
    Yeah. Why not give them weapons and put them on planes? An officer a the back of the plane with a Glock would be a better use of resources.
  • Re:Effective... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:36AM (#32480602)
    What the TSA should be doing is doing is handing out pamphlets as you board the plane:

    "Your responsibilities in the case of terrorist attack:
    Given the recent tactics employed by hijackers, travellers should be aware that, in the unlikely event that assailtants gain control of the aircraft, survival of crew and passengers is unlikley.

    Should beligerent persons attempt to gain control of the aircraft, it is the duty and obligation of every able-bodied passenger to resist with deadly force and the expectation that failure means certain death.

    To assist you in this contingency, combat knives and rope have been placed under every seat in the aircraft. If unsure whether the aircraft is in the process of being hijacked, please ask a member of the crew for clarification."
  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skuzzlebutt ( 177224 ) <> on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:41AM (#32480610) Homepage

    Beard? You're suspicious.
    Dark skin? Pulled out of line.
    Head or face covering required by your religion? Come to the airport an extra hour early.

    White, clean-shaven, wearing a Yankees ballcap and a Tap Out t-shirt? We're cool, keep moving.

    That's why it potentially violates civil rights: it's a codification of reasons to discriminate based on outward appearance which, I absolutely guarantee, isn't limited to "flopsweat in 70 degree weather and looks like he's ready to bolt for an exit".

  • by edibobb ( 113989 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:51AM (#32480668) Homepage
    When you have access to virtually unlimited budget and manpower, you have to be creative when coming up with new ways to expand your empire. I think homeland security in the U.S. and the U.K. would be much more efficient and quite possibly more effective if we cut their budget by 50%.
  • Re:tiny oxymoron (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:53AM (#32480680)

    Anyone who is that good at reading people,
    has a better job than TSA screener.

    ^ the most intelligent observation yet.

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:57AM (#32480702)

    From the fine article:

    Basically, Ms Weinberger suggests, they made the whole thing up. Some other scientists have been unable to replicate some of the work of Paul Ekman, the psychology professor on whose work the SPOT program (and the television series Lie to Me) is based. Most of Ekman's peer-reviewed work was published decades ago. He says he now avoids peer-reviewed journals because they're read closely by scientists in countries that America considers to be threats.


    But he's opposed to anyone actually trying to test SPOT scientifically. That would be "totally bogus,"

    You have got to be kidding me.

    This is the new phrenology.

    I'll state his real reason for avoiding peer review, it's taken from the above quote:

    He says he now avoids peer-reviewed journals because they're read closely by scientists

    Soon, someone is going to revive the phlogiston theory of fire.


  • Re:If only. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @01:42AM (#32480918)

    Head or face covering required by your religion?

    No religion requires this, only small minded religious leaders drunk on their own power..

  • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:21AM (#32481088) Journal
    "having everybody be sedated and tied to their seats"

    Personally I think that would be the best way to fly long distance.
  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:27AM (#32481114)

    Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater.

    No. Observing passengers for MEANINGLESS cues is security theater,

    Finally, for an insight into how and why it works, look at the security at the Tel Aviv airport.

    Yes, let's look at what happens at Tel Aviv - they extensively interview every passenger. SPOT does not even come close to what happens in an israeli airport. Nor do we face the threat that israeli airports face either. They have a much higher risk and a much lower number of passengers - roughly one day's worth of passengers through Kennedy is equal to a year's worth of passengers through Tel Aviv.

    So basically the behavioural profiling that is applied to israeli flyers has nothing in common with SPOT- and it never will because applying the same techniques to flyers in the USA would require tens of billions of dollars.

  • Re:If only. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:31AM (#32481148) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, but you lose me with the face covering thing. I just don't CARE about the "rights" of those who CHOOSE to cover their faces. If you can't show your naked face, don't go out in public, and don't expect to use any infrastructure or any facilities where the people just MIGHT want to see your naked face.

    Those who wish to live in the 10th century are welcome to do so. Ride a frigging horse or a camel to go where you need to go.

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:41AM (#32481190)

    No, I quoted in full in the top.

    I cut off the end to demonstrate the *actual* reason.

    Read it again.

    Active avoidance of peer review is the first red flag that should pop up for anyone looking for kooks with unreproducible results. The "cuz the terrorists might see it" stuff is a red herring. I didn't fall off the kielbasa wagon yesterday.

    Real science gets peer review. Junk science and pseudoscience gets press releases, c.f., cold fusion.


  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unkiereamus ( 1061340 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:08AM (#32481306)
    What else should we do? All I see for it is to accept the risk an move on.

    Don't get me wrong, there have been more than a few nice saves by real security, and I expect that as the technology progresses, they'll get better, but on the scale of risks including airplane hijacking or terrorism, I take a much larger personal risk every time I drink the water around here, let alone drive somewhere.

    You can't make life safe. Not from accidents and certainly not from the deliberate acts of other people. If you can't accept that, then you might as well euthanize yourself, because you'll spend every waking moment in fear of what could be.
  • Re:If only. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:24AM (#32481372) Homepage Journal

    Reductio ad absurdum - did I spell it right? Whatever.

    Societies and cultures around the world recognize that the pubic and the breast areas should be covered, no matter how backward they might be. Tribesmen in the most forgotten parts of the world covered themselves hundreds of years ago, when they were first discoverd by Europeans. Some very few permitted females to show their breasts in public, generally they all covered them up.

    How many societies, or cultures require women to hide their faces?

    Call me a bigot, but majority rules here. I don't respect the tradition, I don't respect those who insist on observing it, and I don't respect your argument.

  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr. Freeman ( 933986 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:30AM (#32481406)
    "But behavioral observation ... is the only real profiling technique that has any chance of not falling into obvious traps."

    What nonsense did you use to arrive at that conclusion?
    SPOT has been proven ineffective. Searches are partially effective. How can you say that only SPOT has any chance of success?

    Furthermore, you assert that having innocent passengers subject to extra search. How far are you willing to take this? Anyone that looks suspicious should be turned away from the airport? You've arbitrary drawn the line at "it's acceptable to subject innocent people to extra searches", there's no reasoning not to draw the line at any other place.

    We simply have to admit that FLYING ISN'T FUCKING 100% SAFE BECAUSE NOTHING IS. It's safer than driving a car for fuck's sake, if you're willing to drive a car then you should have no problem flying in a plane. At least with a terrorist you have the chance to tackle them on the plane and beat them to a pulp before they can blow anything up. You don't even have a fighting chance against, say, a drunk driver running a light.

    PROTIP: See someone trying to light their shoes or balls on fire? Tackle them.
  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dhalka226 ( 559740 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:50AM (#32481454)

    Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater.

    I have no particular problem with the idea of observing passengers for suspicious behavior. It's security theater because it doesn't work.

    Read the Nature article that was linked, and you'll see the following statistic: From January 2006 to November 2009, these SPOT officers singled out over 232,000 people for further inspection. Of these, 1,710 were arrested. Of THOSE, zero were terrorists.

    Let's set aside the fact that these programs are ostensibly about stopping terrorism and instead consider it a victory if anybody was arrested for anything at all--a metric which makes it look much better. 1710/232000 is 0.74%. They have a success rate equal to grabbing one out of every 134 people who pass through the security checkpoints randomly.

    Now I'm not sure what a philosophical debate on what a successful program is would turn up, but surely we can agree that 1% success rate is a failure? And this aspires to that level of failure. If these 3,000 officers make $50,000 a year each, we paid $575,000,000 in that approximately 46 month time period to catch 1,710 people of various, non-terrorism-related crimes. Or about $336,257 per arrest. Roughly two officers employed in the program per arrest made.

    Now fast forward back to reality where the purpose of these programs is to make airports and air travel more safe and realize its complete and utter lack of success. Go further in understanding that while these numbers are helpful in making an evaluation, these numbers are PEOPLE who are questioned, searched, potentially delayed and detained to arrest a criminal less than one percent of the time. Take another step and consider the philosophical implications of detaining people because they look wrong to you, and the horrendous abuses--conscious or unconscious--that this permits.

    Hoo boy. That's why this is ridiculous security theater, and why it needs to be stopped.

    What's the solution, you ask? Honestly, I agree with another reply to you: The solution is to accept that there is a risk in flying and move on. The reality is that there is more risk of you dying in a plane crash than a terrorist activity aboard your plane, and obviously far less risk of dying related to air travel than there is simply driving to work in the mornings. And really, the best this airport security can ever hope to accomplish is to force a terrorist to detonate their bombs in crowded security lines instead of crowded airplanes.

    Why we've spent hundreds of millions on this program and billions overall on the charade... well it isn't beyond me, it's politics. It's not about safety. It's about an illusion of safety. There's some value to that, but not so much as we spend.

  • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:55AM (#32481468)

    ***Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater. Then explain to me, how exactly is airplane security is going to work?***

    It's going to work exactly the same way that it did on 9/11 and does today -- not very well. The ability of 19 hijackers to get past security on 9/11/2001 came as no surprise to seasoned air travelers, and there isn't much doubt that the next bunch of hijackers or bombers won't have any trouble either. What'll they use for weapons? I have no idea. They have years to work on that problem. They'll come up with something.

    In point of fact, things like the US's No-Fly list have -- so far as we know -- a perfect record. They have never, to our knowledge, impeded anyone who was an actual threat.

    This sort of foolishness is an example of "We must do something even if it is dead stupid" thinking.

  • Re:Might as well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by omni123 ( 1622083 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:57AM (#32481478) Homepage
    Even if we ignore the fact that the Federal Marshals use regular .357 hollow points nowadays (as that wiki article even states), as far as I am aware the idea of de-pressurising a plane with a bullet is greatly [] exaggerated [].
  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:12AM (#32481518)

    Don't get me wrong, there have been more than a few nice saves by real security,


    I try to pay attention and I haven't seen a single one in the news.

    What I have seen are people getting busted for drugs and people stupid enough to forget they have a gun or knife in carry-on. They even busted a guy in florida for having bomb materials - unassembled and in his checked luggage. They even chalked that one up as a win to this SPOT program - despite the fact the guy had no intent or ability to harm the flight, my guess is that he was baked and they cued in on that, expecting another drug bust.

  • Re:Effective... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:18AM (#32481548)

    Except when, oh i don't know, the oxygen supply fails in the cockpit and the pilot and co-pilot pass out from hypoxia. And nobody else on the plane can get through the reinforced door to save them, or anybody else on board for that matter.

    Can't happen in America, the pilots are too well trained to make any mistakes, so don't worry.

  • by recrudescence ( 1383489 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @05:01AM (#32481662)
    Don't tell me I'm the only one who thought of Blade Runner while looking at the machines used to detect physiological cues in TFA.
  • Re:If only. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @05:14AM (#32481716) Homepage Journal

    Also, let me add that whatever is acceptable IN THEIR SOCIETY may or may not be acceptable in other societies, ie, societies that build and fly airplanes.

    When I was in the service, and when I had liberty in other countries, I was ALWAYS warned that I must observe these laws, and those traditions, if I were to visit and enjoy the society that was hosting our ship. I conducted myself ashore so as not to offend anyone, no matter how silly I thought the rules might be.

    I expect as much consideration here, in MY homeland. It's just fine for women to hide their faces in Mecca. It would be extremely stupid of me to take offense that they do. But, here, in Manhattan, or San Diego, or Kansas City, we don't do that. Anyone who insists on doing so is welcome to walk wherever they need to go, but they can't board a plane or get a driver's license.

    Call me arrogant - but this is MY LAND, not Islam's land.

  • Re:If only. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @05:41AM (#32481794)

    Societies and cultures around the world recognize that the pubic and the breast areas should be covered, no matter how backward they might be.

    This is total horseshit. There are endless examples of tribes who ran round naked and were made to cover up by European missionaries who considered it indecent. In an area of China I visited last year the men traditionally worked naked and they only covered up in the last 20 years when tourists started coming. There is no universal standard for what amount of nudity is acceptable. Don't try to pretend that your prejudice is some kind of natural law.

  • Re:If only. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vegiVamp ( 518171 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @06:15AM (#32481918) Homepage
    "The impact on human physiology of planning a suicide" ?

    These people have not a single spot of doubt in their mind that they're boarding a direct flight to paradise, virgins included. They're not afraid, they're probably even happy. At best, they'll be a bit nervous, but that probably won't show any more than on someone who never flew before.
  • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lundse ( 1036754 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @06:21AM (#32481940)

    They should just buy a huge plate of ham sandwiches, and those who take a bite and swallow are waved through, while the rest get the royal treatment.

    This might be frighteningly close to the truth. I am not claiming this is the (only) motive behind SPOT - but it does make it possible to single out all those suspicious-looking non-aryan foreigners, while ensuring the persons who do so have a vocabulary of bullshit to draw on if questioned (so we can avoid the true, but unmentionable, "he looked muslim").

  • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @06:43AM (#32482016) Homepage

    As securing all passengers with 100% failproof methods is far more intrusive than what's currently proposed, we need to look elsewhere.

    That's the problem right there. It is impossible to 100% guarantee safety. Once you accept the fact that travel is risky you are just quibbling about what level of inconvenience is acceptable for whatever level of safety is provided. For me, I'd prefer less inconvenience for a slightly higher risk, because the level of risk is actually really low anyway! More people die on the road just in the US per year than are killed worldwide by terrorism of _every_ kind, let alone just from flight-related terrorism.

    Let's take it to the limit and envisage some wonder-security that could guarantee 100% safety but that takes, say, 6 hours extra per flight and costs so much that flying is no longer an option for the vast majority of people (which is at least somewhat realistic!). OK, so flying is "safe" now, but no one can afford it. That is obviously never going to happen because the airlines all go out of business.
    ... and Tel Aviv is a special case because the risk is higher there, and it takes hours extra to get on a flight and they themselves will tell you it doesn't 100% guarantee your safety!

    So we have to accept some level of risk if we wish the convenience of air travel.

    During the height of the IRA bombing campaign in London we took reasonable steps (don't leave unattended bags anywhere, etc) to reduce the risks but in general we just got on with it. That is by far the best way for society to deal with these sorts of problems.
    Much like paying off hijackers/kidnappers - now we've learnt that lesson for air travel and yet the big shipping companies keep paying off the Somali pirates. That should be illegal. It is obvious, as an observer, that paying off hijackers/kidnappers is the wrong thing to do, so perhaps the UN should pass a resolution saying that no nation or organisation should ever pay them off. That will be bad for some individuals but will be good for society.

  • Re:If only. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:35AM (#32482180) Journal

    Ever tried to be cheerful with an airport employee?

    Yup. I've actually had a long chat with a couple of airport security people in the US. I met one in Salt Lake City airport who was planning a visit to the UK soon and wanted some suggestions about things he should see. Another one, at JFK, saw me playing with a handheld computer and wanted some advice about what he should buy.

    I do quite often get pulled over for an extra search (seems to be about a 50% chance when I fly that I'll be stopped at security or customs at least once - sometimes at both ends), but I've generally found the people doing it to be courteous, polite, and friendly.

    Baltimore is the only airport where I've encountered sullen and grumpy airport security people.

  • Re:If only. (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:00AM (#32482548)

    If you are concerned about being hijacked, fly El Air

    Rather, if you wish to fly to a racist, apartheid state, fly El Al.

  • Re:If only. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bigstrat2003 ( 1058574 ) * on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:11AM (#32482668)

    We simply have to admit that FLYING ISN'T FUCKING 100% SAFE BECAUSE NOTHING IS.

    You're correct. The problem is that many (the pessimist in me says "most") people in the US are not mature and level-headed enough to accept that everything in life has risk. They operate under the delusion that if something isn't risk-free, it's unacceptable.

  • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Monday June 07, 2010 @10:20AM (#32483416) Homepage Journal

    What's the solution, you ask?

    I'll answer: The solution is for passengers to recognize that hijackers are trying to kill them, and to respond appropriately. Of course, that solution was implemented shortly after the first plane struck the first tower on 9/11.

    The strengthened cockpit doors are nice, too, but the attitude change of the passengers has already made turning an airliner into a missile unworkable. All that's left for terrorists is to blow up the plane itself, which has a very limited terror payoff and even pre-9/11 security makes it a somewhat difficult target. You could kill a lot more people by setting off a bomb in a crowded shopping mall, and there's no security whatsoever there.

  • Re:If only. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aaandre ( 526056 ) on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:28PM (#32490546)

    What else should we do? All I see for it is to accept the risk an move on.

    I agree with accepting the risk. We could also lower the risk by taking actions to go down the list of the most hated nations on the planet.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI