Showing posts with label TSA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TSA. Show all posts

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The State of Aviation Security

I have often said our biggest vulnerabilities can be found in places where people congregate. Human targets are often selected by bad guys simply because they are part of a crowd. This goes against our natural instinct to believe bad actors won't pursue us in a crowd and will wait until we're alone. This is true for some attackers. However, terrorists and active shooters pick crowds because our intolerance towards suffering any casualties makes a target-rich environment like a mall an almost irresistible target. The meme above personifies how often we protect against the last known vulnerability and losing sight of the vulnerabilities we create or ignore.

Here's the scene of a major airport's TSA screening area. Notice the crowd aka potential targets.

Monday, June 3, 2013


I often dish out a lot of criticism towards he Department of Homeland Security. However, it is not without understanding the sheer vastness of what their work undertakes. I often peruse their site (and so should you) to gain insight into what they face. This site has always been a great information source and has been very responsive towards citizen queries. Though, I'm sure some would disagree. After you take a look, I highly recommend giving their site a look.

Department of Homeland Security Site:

Friday, January 25, 2013

INTERVIEW: The Coolest Mass Spectrometer At the Airport You Know Nothing About - The Griffin 824

Griffin 824 in operation (Photo FLIR)
Last week, I had the privilege and esteemed honor to interview Garth Patterson from FLIR about a product I’m dying to tell you about – the Griffin 824.  Before I begin, I’d like to remind you I was in military law enforcement/security for 10 years.  However, my knowledge of the science behind the Griffin 824 is cursory at best.  So, I called every person I knew who understood mass spectrometry to give me a brief tutorial.  As you can tell, Garth explained things perfectly.

Garth, can you tell me about your background and the product?  Let’s begin with you and then what it actually does?
Well, I’m the program manager for the Griffin 824.  I previously worked for Griffin before it became a part of FLIR.  The device is a mass spectrometry device which analyzes chemical compounds at the molecular level.  It is used in a variety of field applications ranging from corrections, law enforcement, border crossings, airports, etc. It looks for explosives and narcotic traces from a user-gathered sample.
Wow, that sounds pretty interesting.  How exactly does it do that? *At this point, I’m hoping Garth doesn’t go over my head.*
What happens is the user swipes a surface with a 1-inch paper-like sheet.  The sheet contains a surface area that picks up trace elements from the surface to be examined.  The user then inputs the sample in the Griffin 824 which then inserts the sheet between two stainless steel plates.  The plates are heated to vaporize the sheet and the elements.  The ions are then manipulated using electromagnetic fields and an analysis is conducted using software in the Griffin 824.  The device can differentiate between “junk” and actual compounds.  Something ion scanners previously weren’t so good with. 
How does a user know they have a “hit”?
The machine will display a green light at the initial startup and will then go to yellow when analyzing.  After the analysis is complete, the light will either go green again to signal a negative result or go red to annunciate a positive result.
How long does it take to start up the 824?
It takes approximately 20 minutes. Though, analysis takes about 10 seconds.
Why mass spectrometry?
It’s the standard for quality lab analysis for chemical compounds.  It’s also court-friendly.
So what separates this from the lab?
It can be taken into the field.  Mass spectrometry uses a lot of big expensive equipment in a lab, as is the case with Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.  Because it’s transportable as a single unit and has many field user-friendly applications, it’s a natural fit for field analysis.
Going over some of the literature, it claims the 824 is equipped for both audio and visual alert cues. 
Yes.  We felt there was a need for operators not to have a loud, audible cue annunciate in front of a subject.
Are there any other applications that set the Griffin 824 apart from other technology?
It’s network addressable.  This means you can presumably plug the 824 into a network and have results shared over a network to a command and control center.  The 824 also has administrative and user profiles for individual operators in addition to a USB report for flash drives.  The screen is also a touch screen.  There is also no carrier gases needed which means no big helium tanks.  The unit is self-contained.  Given its ease of use, it takes a little under a day to train personnel on how to use the 824.
Garth, to say I’m impressed is an understatement.  How long from inception to production?
About 4 years.  We have another mass spectrometer, the Griffin 460 where we received feedback from operators wanting something for field use for narcotics and explosive detection analysis.  We saw the biggest need initially in airports for trace detection.
Garth, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me.  It was truly an honor.  

For more on the Griffin 824, please click on the links below.

FLIR Griffin 824 web page

FLIR Griffin 824 Datasheet 
To see the Griffin 824 in action check out the video below (no audio)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Turkish Airport Security Caught Playing FPS Game On-Duty

First person shooter games are all the rage now and have clearly defined a new era of gaming.  However, as this picture below from Istanbul demonstrates, there is a time and place for everything.  Perhaps, playing Call of Duty, while on-duty as an airport security officer in a major international airport, is neither the time or the place.

(Captured from user 26985's post on 1/2/2012)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

TSA vs The Cupcake Lady

Folks, I really do believe TSA has the toughest job during the holiday season.  They screen millions of travelers from all over the world.  Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the TSA has successfully kept America's skies safe.  That being said, there a few times in which the commit some of the dumbest mistakes in the name of security.

According to the Washington Post,

"Rebecca Hains said the Transportation Security Administration agent at McCarran International Airport took her cupcake Wednesday, telling her its frosting was enough like a gel to violate TSA restrictions on allowing liquids and gels onto flights to prevent them from being used as explosives." Here's the question that's going through my head - "Seriously?"

As a former military law enforcement officer, I can appreciate the zero-tolerance enforcement standards TSA has. In some security environments, it is best to enforce the rules with no exceptions. I also get the logic this TSA screener had. He or she saw the cupcakes with the glazed frosting which by the way probably looked nothing the ones above and assumed it was best to "play it safe".

Here's where things get strange. The cupcakes are allowed by TSA's regulation. I got this off of their blog listing typical "holiday items" you're allowed to bring on the plane:

Foods: Cakes, pies, bread, donuts, turkeys, etc. are all permitted. Here is a list of items that should be placed in your checked bags or shipped: cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with liquid or gel food items (salsa, jams and salad dressings), gravy (mmm gravy), jams, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, sauces, soups, wine, liquor and beer.
Is there "more to the story"? Probably. I think Ms. Hains encountered a very strict screener who was performing their duties as prescribed by law. Nothing wrong with that. However, the question which never crossed the screener's mind and is indicative of every foothold we in security take was "Is my taking this cupcake worth having my boss and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security hearing about through the Washington Post?" There are times when as a security officer you have to stick to your guns and take a stand no matter who it is you said the dreaded "no" word to. I'm just not sure two cupcakes from a previously screened passenger (remember she went through two airports to get to this point with zero issues) is worth it.

So what do you do? There is no right or wrong answer. You have to be there to figure it out. Perhaps, I would have inquired whether she had the icing with her (i.e. Is the icing cup in your carry-on). Had she replied that she did, then I would have inspected the icing and made a determination from there. I do find it ironic this screener is with an agency which just implemented a risk based philosophy towards passenger search criteria which is supposed to use intelligence, behavioral, and travel pattern data to eliminate these sorts of things from happening.

For a complete list of prohibited items, go to

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You found what in his pants?!

So this has been a rather peculiar week for the guys and gals at TSA.  Check out the latest find a screener made this week in Buffalo.

A passenger opted out of the body scanner at Buffalo (BUF) and during
the pat-down, a 9” nonmetallic serrated knife was found in his pants pocket.
The passenger stated later that he opted out of the body scanner  because he was
trying to get the knife through security.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

That's not C-4.....It's my denture cream!!

So, you going see your grandfather at the retirement village he now calls home.  During that visit, he tells you about his planned trip to Detroit.  As a security expert, you warn him about crime and other security-related issues there.  He politely nods and then reaches for his ankle and says, "Stop worrying......I got this covered", as he pulls up his trousers to reveal a fully-loaded semi-automatic pistol on his ankle.

The good folks at TSA stumbled upon one such "packing grandpa" at Detroit Metro Airport.  During a routine scan using "imaging technology", a .38 handgun was found on the unidentified 76 year old's ankle.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Survey says.....

Please, take a few minutes to answer my survey and provide whatever commentary you want below.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Finally...Some Good news

It looks like the TSA has found something other than actor Dennis Farina's gun. Shemeka Greaves, a TSA officer at O'Hare International Airport, read a newspaper account about Janisia Grant, 8, who had disappeared with her mother a week ago Thursday, the TSA said in a news release.

According to the article, "Greaves checked the security tapes and confirmed that Janisia had been through an airport security checkpoint and boarded a plane to Atlanta with a companion, the TSA said. "

As you might imnagine, Grant's mother does not have custody of the child.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Old Scary news from Phoenix

I just finished watching some pretty scary footage of airport security at Phoenix International from July 2007. ABC15 News did an expose of security issues at SkyHarbor . The information they reported was quite scary. They found the City of Phoenix used a private security firm (more intel on that as I get it) who provided security during non-flying hours. Does anybody remember the days before TSA? TSA can be scary but at least they're an improvement from where we were at before. The City of Phoenix had certainly forgotten this.

The results were disastrous almost. The news crew found bags were not searched adequately or not at all. Employee badges were checked by a guard who may or not have been following standard security procedures. Many times entire suitcases and huge newspaper dollies made their way in. At one point the news crew found a guard sleeping who readily admitted sleeping on the job for periods at a time. You don't have to be genius to figure out that some got fired (as they should have been).

Any time a news crew (no offense) can expose the flaws within your security you've got problems. Phoenix has made some improvements, but I would bet their weakest link is their people. Watch the video here. It speaks volumes.

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