Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I Feel Safer Already

I. For Your Health and Comfort You Will Be Collared

One is never sure how seriously to take The Washington Times. Any publication which is owned by Sun Myung Moon is at least suspect in my book. But taking this blog entry at face value we may soon be flying the friendly skies secure in the knowledge that we are safe. Or at least that we will be unsafe in new and exciting ways with security failure modes we had never dreamed of before.

Lamperd Less Lethal has kindly provided a video of their latest product the Air Traffic Security Method, System and Device. Briefly stated travelers would no longer have boarding passes. Instead, each would be fitted with a bracelet before departure which would be removed upon arrival. The bracelet would serve as a boarding pass, contain unspecified personal and confidential information and function as remotely-activated stun gun.

The video begins with obligatory 9-11 footage, just in case people had forgotten about it. Security methods like biometric recognition, bomb detection, are pooh-poohed. "Technology," they correctly say, "is only as good as the people using it, and employees working at minimum wage seldom have the necessary police training and certification to be 100% effective." Pilots and crew, opines Lamprey Limberlost's earnest voiceover, are the last line of defense against Islamic militants. "Terrorists are well-trained, religiously motivated and committed to suicide." Armed Air Marshals (they don't even consider the possibility of armed pilots) are "extremely" likely to puncture the aircraft of shoot innocents. Reinforced cockpit doors, so they say, are vulnerable to plastic explosives.

The solution, of course, is to buy Lackwit Lugnuts' patented slave collar, err, pardon me, "ID Bracelet". It will contain "all pertinent information" and include GPS capability to track passengers and ensure that there are no checked luggage "tampering or diversions". The piece de resistance is "Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology". In other words, every bracelet is also a remotely activated stun gun.

About this time the video started waxing enthusiastic about how the tracking device would be a "small inconvenience to ensure their safe arrival". "We feel that given a choice...most passengers would happily opt for the safety and security of the EMD safety bracelets."

Well, that's the rosy picture they paint. According to this and this at least one high official in the Department of Homeland Security was taking the proposal seriously at least as recently as the middle of 2006.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

II. So What's Wrong With What We've Already Got?

"Religious motivation" doesn't mean the thin end of diddly squat whittled down to a point. That and the pictures are simply designed to make the sheep frightened of the Sinister Swarthy Oriental(tm) and more likely to run to Limprod Losers so that they can Feel Safe.

Adding lots of stupid people to a security system will not stop smart, motivated people. That's absolutely true. The correct thing is to add smaller numbers of smart well trained people. Even the TSA is starting to do this. The same techniques are available to the rest of us in books like the Terrorist Recognition Handbook. But even with "police certification" no method of prevention is 100% effective. We can do an excellent job of sniffing out explosives in carry on luggage. It won't catch all, but it will catch most.

The defensive capabilities of law enforcement and crew can not be overestimated. Airplanes are not 100% airtight and develop small leaks all the time. A decently trained Air Marshal with MagSafe, Glaser or some other brand of low-penetration ammunition doesn't represent much of a threat to innocents. The same goes for those few pilots who have run the gauntlet and can carry pistols in the cockpit. Failing that, the reinforced door and a co-pilot playing Horatio at the Bulkhead with the rescue axe presents a serious obstacle to someone with a box cutter or improvised knife.

That doesn't even begin to embrace the capacity for terrified violence of a plane full of passengers. Since September 2001 there has been a sea change in air travelers' sensibilities. Where the conventional wisdom used to be "Shut up. Sit tight. Do whatever the hijackers say" it is now "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit we're gonna die!" Standard Operating Procedure is now to swarm the bad people and beat them into submission or red goo.

III. And What About the Bright Shiny New Toy They Want to Sell Us?

Let's consider the ATSMSD.

Most people now approach air travel with barely concealed hostility. We may not be disgruntled, but we're certainly not as gruntled as we used to be. The TSA line doesn't help matters. We're starting to take buses and trains. AMTRAK can not keep up with ridership these days. All the airlines need is one more thing to make the passengers feel like cattle. If this scheme is ever adopted it will be the last day I fly. If I want to visit the Holy Land I'll book passage on a freighter. It takes longer, but it's cheap, and I can catch up on some reading and wood carving.

What sort of information will be on these bracelets. "All pertinent information" covers a huge variety of sins considering what's in store for driver's licenses under the RealID Act one can only speculate. The information doesn't do law enforcement any good. They already have the information and would detain anyone among the hundreds of thousands on the no fly lists including Air Marshals , three year olds and US Senators.

I'll tell you who will benefit. Phreakers, crackers, identity thieves and pranksters will go into orgasmic trance at the prospect. If the information is remotely accessible it's only a matter or weeks if not hours before someone makes a device that extracts it remotely. Depending on the hardware it may be possible to alter the information with all sorts of amusing results.

That's assuming that the bracelets stay on. It is easy to buy devices that remove security tokens from clothes at the boutique and CPU boxes at the electronics store. No doubt similar keys will become available for the bracelets.

The shock box capabilities are equally impressive. If they are triggered by a remote signal that signal can be jammed or counteracted. And the transmitter can be copied and used to tickle everyone except the bad guys. Or it could be a hilarious trick to while away those long flight hours. A few random shocks around the cabin could provide all sorts of amusement. I'd be sure to slip a really dense rubber or plastic insulating pad between my arm and the bracelet. No $10/hour stewardess gets to apply electric shocks to me unless she's wearing high heels and a spandex frog suit. I haven't been Tasered, but I have been on the receiving end of extra-special high voltage stun guns amped up beyond manufacturers' specifications. In one exercise getting zapped was the signal to empty my magazine at the range. I got all but one in the ten ring. In others it was the signal to drop and roll into a fighting posture. That one worked, too.

How will the remote control operate? It can't be something keyed to the passenger manifest. Imagine searching a 747's worth of names even with the possible new racial profiling guidelines. Nope. It's going to be point-and-shoot. That means innocents will get zapped. It also means it will be easier to come up with an unauthorized remote control.

Those are just my first impressions. I leave it to the real security geeks in the audience (Toby, are you listening?) to come up with other holes in the scheme. I expect the more imaginative could get ten or twenty in the first three minutes. The only things we can be sure of is that this won't be the last stupid plan that comes down the pike. And it will spill all sorts of taxpayer-subsidized black ink on certain balance sheets. Meanwhile, look forward to the Middle Passage Airline where we will be stripped naked, cavity searched, sedated and stacked like cordwood at the beginning of every flight.


Irene said...

Well, it's not the stupidest idea I've ever heard of, but it's up there. I'm afraid it's not even the stupidest idea I've seen formally briefed.

One thing about new and improved ways to detect explosives in luggage... um... how many bombs have we found so far in checked baggage? How many hijacking attempts have there been since 9/11?

Why bother hijacking a plane when it'd be so much easier to carry your bomb into a shopping mall?

Sean said...

Cory Doctrow (from BoingBoing) would love your idea. He is pretty sure that, in the future, a ninja will sneak into your bedroom, hit you with a blowgun dart, pack you in a tyvek suit, bring you and your stuff to the airport, fly you to your destination, bring your stuff and you to your hotel room, give you the antidote and voila! Stress-free, evil terrorist free travel.

Dan Gambiera said...

Sean, if I were a book I would want to be the literary love-child of Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross. But rather than stress-free travel, consider what the British government did a year or so back. For safety and security they banned books, electronics, toys, games and "excessive" diapers or infant food. Imagine a trans-Atlantic flight with a child, a toddler and an infant. Imagine Dante adding another circle to Hell which would have the Damned begging to be thrown into the river of boiling blood or be devoured eternally by Satan...

Irene, I've seen very very few news stories about attempted hijackings in the past six and a half years. They have all ended with "the suspect(s) was(were) subdued by passengers and crew" or in a couple cases "suffocated under a crush of bodies". One individual with enough real-world experience to qualify as a reinforced company of Marines said "Fear is the only productive emotion you can bring to a fight." A plane full of terrified passengers who believe they have nothing to lose can be pretty darned productive.

Sean said...

Dan - Charlie Stross? Have you read the ATROCITY ARCHIVE or JENNIFER MORGUE? OMFG he is great.

Worse than that (and a true story) - last row of the plane (after losing my bulkhead seat to a handicapped guy), at the window (and I am 6'4), 2 women with babies between me and the aisle (and the kids were big enough that their poo was really stinky), someone had an "episode" in one of the bathrooms in the back after takeoff to the point where they had to shut for the rest of the flight (meaning one long ass, plane long line for the other one)... and with the rush to load the plane, they only had softdrinks... no beer. On a six hour flight to Vegas. Good times man, good times.

And to the second point, I am still amazed, after 9/11, that the passengers of the shoe-bomber's plane didnt kill him. Not in the course of restraining him, but one of the passengers behind him realizing it would be easier to reach over and *snap* his neck. That kind of restraint was impressive.

Ralph Phelan said...

I think the chances of this ever being imlemented are pretty close to nil - people would stop flying, and the airlines know it.

LLL would be better advised to pursue the individual market instead - I can't be the only perrswon who wants one of these for his spouse!