Airport security is a joke. It only exists to make some people feel better. Case in point:
HOUSTON – A college student’s checked luggage on a Continental Airlines flight to Houston from Argentina on Friday contained dynamite, and federal authorities are investigating why he had it and what he intended to do with it, an FBI spokeswoman said.
“Certainly we are doing a thorough investigation and trying to find out what this individual’s intention was in trying to bring dynamite here,” FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap said Friday.
The dynamite was found during a luggage search in a federal inspection station at Bush Intercontinental Airport shortly after Continental Flight 52 landed about 6 a.m. Friday. Marlene McClinton, spokeswoman for the Houston Airport System, said a bomb-sniffing dog “had a hit” on explosive residue during a further search.
Read that closely. They found the dynamite AFTER the plane landed.
This has to be one the easiest to detect cases. One of the problems with explosives sniffers is that someone can custom make an explosive that isn’t detected by existing detection devices. The problem is similar to the computer anti-virus vendors. They have databases of “virus signatures” they compare suspect attachments and files to. If it matches something they have in their database they flag it as a virus and handle it appropriately. If a new virus shows up they have to update their database with the new signature. Commercially available explosives, such as dynamite, should be within the capabilities of the explosives sniffer.
Even in this easy case the system failed. We don’t yet know why it failed this time but in general it’s an exceedingly tough problem because of what is called the “attack surface”. There are many hundreds of airport, thousands of sensors, doors, gates, fences, and walls defining the “secure” areas, and tens of thousands of people with privileged access to the “secure” areas. Each of these airports, each of these secure areas, and each of these people is a potential point of attack. Together they form the “attack surface”. Because the attack surface is so large the probability of their being a weak spot someplace is very high. Hence the problem is very difficult to solve.
IMHO the problem is so difficult to solve using the existing paradigm we should divert all the existing resources to a different paradigm. That new paradigm is being on the offense rather than being entirely defensive/reactive. First (back in the 70’s) we defended against guns, then box-cutters and knives, then cigarette lighters, and most recently liquids and gels. We are always defending against the most recent attack. We need to make them be defending against our attacks. This paradigm change would also stop the infringment of some of our rights.
But, as you know, airport “security” isn’t about actual security. It’s about making some people feel better.
Update: I forgot to mention that Sean gave me the link to the article.