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TSA Software Bug Creates Airport Bomb Scare 276

Posted by Zonk
from the somebody-just-got-fired dept.
192939495969798999 writes "An article at CNN's website reports on a serious software bug at the Atlanta airport." From the article: "TSA screeners are given tests around the clock to check their alertness. Images of bombs and other suspicious devices that are hard to detect are put up on the X-ray machine, followed after a brief delay by an alert that reads, 'This is a test.' After reviewing a tape of the images, Hawley said the software failed to alert the screener of the test."
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TSA Software Bug Creates Airport Bomb Scare

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  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:15AM (#15173655)

    I didn't know the TSA employed such software to test their screeners. This incident raises the possibility of tampering with the software to either:
    1. purposely display an image of a dangerous item where none exists, inciting a scare like the one witnessed Wednesday, disrupting thousands of lives and paralyzing a major terminal, or:
    2. display an image of an innocuous item instead of the actual image of the luggage containing a dangerous item, allowing terrorists to smuggle said items onto aircraft. Obviously, this scenario will require far more sophisticated timing of the false image than the previous scenario, but it should still be possible.


    Given these possibilities, and given the fact that Wednesday's incident proves that such a thing is possible, I'm betting the TSA is currently debating whether or not the decision to make the scanners capable of displaying false images in the first place was a wise one.
    • by Ihlosi (895663) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:25AM (#15173760)
      This incident raises the possibility of tampering with the software to either



      3. Display "This is a test" right after Mr. Terrorists luggage containing dangerous items has passed through the X-Ray machine.

      • Horrifying but probably true. I guess the idea of having "mystery shoppers" with "suspicious devices" passing through their checkpoints instead is a little too simplistic. This breakdown of grey matter and safety when we're supposed to be experiencing *enhanced* security is the main reason I don't fly.
        • Actually they do the "mystery shopper" thing too. Recently something like 21 airports were testing in this manner and 100% of them failed.

          Honestly I'm not terribly concerned about safety. The ONLY reason the 911 terrorists succeeded was because of our policy of cooperating with hi-jackers which was based on the presumption that they wanted to survive the effort themselves. That policy is no more. Frankly I feel we'd be better off if everyone came on board armed with knives or sidearms (if properly trained).
    • by apoc.famine (621563) <apoc...famine@@@gmail...com> on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:29AM (#15173811) Homepage Journal
      Worse than that, it shouldn't be too hard to display the "that was just a test" message on a more and more frequent basis. As the screeners are already familiar with this notice, they'll probably start to become desensitized to it. Then it becomes pretty easy to slip stuff past them.

      This is very, very similiar to the "click ok to continue" problem which plagues Windows, and is really the root cause of many spyware installs. If warnings are too frequent, users treat them as irritations that they need to get around rather than important info that they need to read, understand, and pass judgement on. In this case, all that needs to be done is to up the frequency, something that shouldn't be too hard to do.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        No. It's nothing like the Windows "Click OK" problem at all.

        With "Click OK", you are expected to respond to a warning/message box. You become desensitized to the warning and just click "OK". The system provides no feedback about this whatsoever. Click OK, and you're finished, you don't learn the repercussions of your act until weeks later (if ever).

        With the airport software, the screener has to respond to images of contraband on the screen. In theory, after each test image appears, there will be a messag
      • by griffjon (14945) <GriffJon&gmail,com> on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:31PM (#15175007) Homepage Journal
        Or, more fun, write "this is a test" in lead on your luggage :)
    • It is a wise one: it keeps the screeners from getting to bored with their jobs. Since something they have to react to comes up moderately often, they will stay alert enough to react to it. If it didn't the fact that months go by without them having to actually react to any of the bags will mean they stop expecting to react, and then stop noticing what's actually in them.

      This is all standard psychology: People aren't good at finding rare exceptions in repetative data. That is one of the reasons we invente
      • by advocate_one (662832) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:03PM (#15174168)
        It is a wise one: it keeps the screeners from getting to bored with their jobs. Since something they have to react to comes up moderately often, they will stay alert enough to react to it.

        does it heck... they'll still be bored to tears...just petrified of missing one of the random tests... can you imagine driving along the highway minding your own business when software in the car does an awareness check on you by popping up an image of a kid running across the road??? well this is similar...

        they've got devices coming out for cars and trucks that test driver awareness far more subtly than just popping up a test picture at random... the software actually monitors the drivers eye movements and other parameters... so there shouldn't be anything stopping them from doing something similar for this x-ray scanner application...

        Then again, perhaps it would be better to dump the human out of the loop altogether and rely on AI to determine if an item of luggage warrants further attention... but these days it's still cheaper to use people to do it and pay them peanuts at the same time...

        • Then again, perhaps it would be better to dump the human out of the loop altogether and rely on AI to determine if an item of luggage warrants further attention...

          We need a science of AI first before we can do that.

          but these days it's still cheaper to use people to do it and pay them peanuts at the same time.

          A machine is (almost) always cheaper than a human. It can work 24 hours a day, doesn't need health insurance, doesn't need days off, etc, etc. The problem is that some jobs can only be done by hu

        • they've got devices coming out for cars and trucks that test driver awareness far more subtly than just popping up a test picture at random... the software actually monitors the drivers eye movements and other parameters... so there shouldn't be anything stopping them from doing something similar for this x-ray scanner application...

          Those can tell you if the driver is awake, but not if they are paying attention. Fortunatly, someone driving a car has to pay attention fairly routinely just to stay in the l

          • Those can tell you if the driver is awake, but not if they are paying attention.

            I'm not familiar with the devices in question, but I imagine it's fairly easy to tell if the driver is aware - when you're driving your eyes are constantly moving to scan the road for hazards. If you stop concentrating it's reasonable to think that you'll probably stop moving your eyes (so much) or at least the pattern of eye movement would change.

            Fortunatly, someone driving a car has to pay attention fairly routinely just to s
            • I'm not familiar with the devices in question, but I imagine it's fairly easy to tell if the driver is aware - when you're driving your eyes are constantly moving to scan the road for hazards. If you stop concentrating it's reasonable to think that you'll probably stop moving your eyes (so much) or at least the pattern of eye movement would change.

              And all of that looks much like looking around at the scenery, or looking for animals in the fields, or... None of which is concentrating on the road.

              A suffi

          • Fortunatly (sic), someone driving a car has to pay attention fairly routinely just to stay in the lane and on the road, so 'awake == aware' (generally) in that situation.

            You obviously don't drive very much, do you?

        • by Illserve (56215) on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:30PM (#15175000)
          It's not about testing humans for alertness, you misunderstand the purpose of the lures.

          The fake bomb images are there to IMPROVE performance.

          The DHS & TSA fund research into optimizing human search. This implementation is a practical application of very recent research.

          I refer you to
          http://search.bwh.harvard.edu/pdf/WolfePrevalenceN ature05.pdf [harvard.edu]

          which is part of the research of Jeremy Wolfe's lab
          http://search.bwh.harvard.edu/ [harvard.edu]

          Just read the first the first few paragraphs of the Nature paper I linked to understand the point.

    • capable of displaying false images in the first place was a wise one.

      I've had design meetings practically come to blows when similarly asinine suggestions were made in the context of things that by comparison were about as critical as a recipe database. Yes, you would think in "system to positively identify bombs" the flowchart box labeled "automatically and without further inquiry disregard positive image of bomb" would raise a few eyebrows. Geezuz.
    • purposely display an image of a dangerous item where none exists, inciting a scare like the one witnessed Wednesday, disrupting thousands of lives and paralyzing a major terminal

      More importantly: After enough false alarms, the screeners will more likely not react should a real bomb appear. "Oh well, surely just another software fault, just like the three we've had earlier this week. We better don't scare our passengers again ..."
    • It is not only a wise decision, it is essential.

      The TSA funds fundamental research in sustaining human performance in search tests to ensure that these baggage screeners are performing well.

      One thing that has been found is that the human brain cannot keep searching efficiently for something that never appears, you just tend to zone out. We're not robots after all, and searching day in and day out for a 1 in a million event that may not occur for months or years is not a task we're equipped to do.

      By giving
      • Let's play these two scenarios out, then see what changes in the asessment:

        False image is displayed. System does not notify user that the image is false:
        As we have seen, the terminal grinds to a halt until a programmer can validate that ther really is no bomb.

        Actor hired by the TSA, carrying proper ID, passes a false bomb:
        The actor and bomb, both easily verified by the use of ID and a trained bomb responder, are taken aside and safely dealt with. The terminal continues on business as usual in a matter of mi
        • This has happened one time.

          To do the job of this software hack you would need actors working every airport in the country, day and night. The costs would be staggering.

          • To get full time checking, you are right, the software hack is capable of being everywhere all the time. On the other hand, it has a failure rate, as does the actor solution, as does any system. Provable correctness is an inverse function of complexity.

            Another possibility is to have the software notify the supervision prior to the image and require acknowledgement, and notify the screener after. That way, false alarms are minimized since the management should be aware, and no test is conducted without human
          • And the "mystery shopper" system has worked fine for years. You were saying?
    • I suspect they would become suspicious when some one starts taking apart the machine to get at the system.
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:16AM (#15173660) Homepage
    Fortunately the innocent traveler whom TSA employees gunned down on suspicion of being a terrorist had no immediate family, so the chances of a wrongful death lawsuit are slim.
    • Re:The good news.... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 955301 (209856)

      No no, this happened in the US, not in the UK.

      The US security would have gunned down the people around the suspicious traveler and missed him entirely.

      Besides, the flight attendents for Delta pass out weapons during the flight. They come by with a cart full of aluminum soda cans which make very effective shanks. Just flatten the center of the can, give it a twist and voila! A metal cutting edge.You can even serrate it with a diamond hole puncher:

      http://www.onlineriver.com/doorway/holepunchworld. cfm [onlineriver.com]
  • by God'sDuck (837829) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:17AM (#15173673)
    better than the parallel-universe headline: study shows screeners oblivious to obvious bombs in test images...
    • better than the parallel-universe headline

      Well, it wasn't exactly a "parallel-universe" as much as this chick from the future who took back her gun parts before this scientist dude put them back together and accidently killed himself, thereby sending shockwaves into the future, and creating the destruction of all mankind. Then there were lots of cool explosions around the time gate just before the brains in a bottle blew up. It's quite simply, really.
  • by rewinn (647614) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:18AM (#15173684) Homepage
    ... that is cannot be implemented badly.
  • by syousef (465911) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:19AM (#15173691) Journal
    That's insane. Images to test their alertness sure, but images of bombs? That's just plain crazy. All you're doing is desensitising them and guaranteeing that even if they're alert they won't get the adrenaline rush they should. What brainiac thought this one up?
    • Images to test their alertness sure, but images of bombs? That's just plain crazy. All you're doing is desensitising them and guaranteeing that even if they're alert they won't get the adrenaline rush they should.

      It depends on what they do with the tests. If there are severe consequences for the operator if they miss one of the test images, then I doubt they'll be desensitized. On the other hand, if there's no consequence for being a slacker, you'll see a group of operators hudding around the display la

    • Yes, instead of a "serious" scare, they should go for a humorous scare, for example trying to slip bizarre marital aids through the x-ray.
    • by rayde (738949) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:27AM (#15173777) Homepage
      should they get an adrenaline rush? wouldn't that lead to potential panic? I think i'd rather if they were able to calmly react to such situations, knowing that most often it will be a test. i think they'll more likely play by the book in those situations, than do something more emotionally driven.
    • by moop (140175) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:37AM (#15173901)
      I think it can be beneficial. I think it causes the TSA's to be more alert all of the time because they they are being measured by these tests. Thousands of people will go through the screening before a red flag item goes through. This could lull the TSA's into complacency and they could miss a real item.

      I'm sure if they miss several of the test images they could get fired or reprimanded. Just like any job, once you are monitered people are forced to work better, for example my job, if a copy of my desktop was captured and sent to my boss at a random interval I would not be making this post.

      • Let me get this straight. You're saying people working like robots is a good thing???

        Hope you're never my boss! By the way my bosses would never question a little personal web browsing so long as it doesn't interfeer with getting my work done.
    • That's insane. Images to test their alertness sure, but images of bombs? That's just plain crazy. All you're doing is desensitising them and guaranteeing that even if they're alert they won't get the adrenaline rush they should. What brainiac thought this one up?

      That doesn't even make any sense. This is training, you WANT people to see these things. You WANT them to have experience reacting to stuff they think is real. How do you expect them to identify bombs in suticases if they've never seen examples,
      • No, it's you that's not making sense. You're saying that in order to train someone to react to an extreme situation you have to constantly bombard them with false examples of that situation?

        It's one thing to learn to identify a bomb on an X-ray machine. It's quite another to have them randomly flash the image through when you're actually doing the work then a "just kidding" message.

        Hell that's like always training with live ammo. Sure you'll get soldiers who are use to the pressure but expect to send a few
        • There's no indication of how often these false images are injected, so it's not clear they're being "bombarded" with false events. If it's too many and there's no penalty for missing a few, then it's a bad move. However, 99.99% or more of all airport screeners will never see a real event. It's not something you're going to get experience seeing or handling if there are not drills.

          The only way to test the screeners and keep them alert is to give them events to respond to. The problem with the system as d
          • Okay if you were on a plane, and an inflight emergency was declared because an engine had died, and you later found out it was just a drill would you argue that it's okay that you thought you were going to die because most pilots and passengers will never see a real event? Now what would happen if a loved one died because a drill like this went wrong? I bet you'd sue the company black and blue

            You do realise they shoot suspected terrorist bombers and ask questions later don't you?

            Come on. There's a flaw in y
    • by ScentCone (795499) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:48AM (#15174018)
      That's insane. Images to test their alertness sure, but images of bombs? That's just plain crazy. All you're doing is desensitising them and guaranteeing that even if they're alert they won't get the adrenaline rush they should. What brainiac thought this one up?

      The same ones that know that combat simulations help cops and soldier generally make more level-headed decisions. The same ones that know that simulating in-flight emergencies in flight simulators takes the "holy crap!" out of handling such things. There are VERY good reasons that you want your bag screeners to be able to react calmly or subtly to what they see on the screen in front of them. They may need to be able to signal armed support, depending on their assesment of the person in line, without Freaking Out while they're looking at their equipment. These are supposed to be professionals, and it sounds like the person involved acted like one (absent the "this is a test" message).
      • *shakes head* I can't believe lots of people are saying things like this. No offence but you have no idea what you're talking about.

        To use your own example you don't simulate in flight emergencies on real flights. You do it in a controlled environment usually in a simulator. If you don't have access to that or want to do more realistic simulations you're very careful about recovery conditions (eg. you simulate an engine failure by throttling back to idle, but you don't actually cut your engine).

        Similarly it
        • To use your own example you don't simulate in flight emergencies on real flights. You do it in a controlled environment usually in a simulator. If you don't have access to that or want to do more realistic simulations you're very careful about recovery conditions (eg. you simulate an engine failure by throttling back to idle, but you don't actually cut your engine).

          Unfortunately, there are plenty of situations where training has to occur in situ for it to be realistic. Obviously you're not going to perform
          • I don't know. If a situation where you suspect someone of carrying a bomb is not life or death what is? You realise suspected terrorists have been shot dead on less don't you? It's 3am here so I can't be bothered linking.

            There's another thing to be mindful of here and that is that military applications are different to civilian (or at least should be). Your average citizen should not expect to be put in a life or death situation, whereas that is what the military is paid to do - defend even at the cost of t
        • adrenaline should be flowing

          Adrenaline is not your friend. Sure, when we where hunter/gatherers it could help put a little pep in your step when the tiger charged, but in modern times, adrenaline almost always makes you make bad decisions in emergency situations. The point of having drills over and over is to get you to keep your head level and not freak out and run. There are many more proper responses to emergencies than fight or flight.
    • You don't want them to have an adrenaline rush. You want them to react as trained not to panic and put peoples lives at risk. Anyone trained to use deadly force goes through this procedure. You drill and drill and drill so that finally when faced with an stressful situation, you don't panic but rather can rely upon your instinct to allow you to do the right thing.
    • This Braniac did (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Illserve (56215)
      What brainiac thought this one up?

      Jeremy Wolfe, possibly the world's foremost expert on human performance in visual search tasks did.

      You can read about his research on his publications page here.

      http://search.bwh.harvard.edu/recent_publications. htm [harvard.edu]

      Check out the one called "Rare items often missed in visual searches. " This research, among others in the field, is funded by the DHS for precisely this purpose. May I add that the turnaround time from primary research to application is excellent. Jeremy and
    • This is sort of symptomatic of the Bush bureaucracy's approach to accountability: find a way to hold everyone accountable for his performance, but only do it in meaningless ways (in terms of philosophy, it's of a feather with No Child Left Behind). This way, if anyone asks, "Yes, the TSA has found a way to make sure that employees pay attention to security screens," and no one bothers to follow up with, "Does it actually work?" or "Does it help them spot real terrorists?" A better solution, to my mind, wo
  • by Keruo (771880) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:19AM (#15173692)
    [At the Airport Security Walk-through]
    Airport Security Checker: What is this?
    Snake: A garbage disposal.
    Airport Security Checker: A garbage disposal?
    Snake: Portable.
    Airport Security Checker: You'll have to turn it on.
    Snake: It's got a timer.
    [turns the switches of the bomb on]
    Snake: Grounds up your garbage, while you're out.
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrotherNO@SPAMoptonline.net> on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:19AM (#15173694) Journal
    While screening carry-on luggage, a TSA employee identified the image of a suspicious device but did not realize it was part of routine testing for security screeners because the software failed to indicate such a test was under way, Hawley said.

    Willie Williams, the airport's federal security director, said the screener saw something suspicious and notified a supervisor. The two manually rechecked all the bags on the conveyor belt but could not find anything resembling what was seen on the screen, Williams said.

    Put aside the software failure and I'd say this was a more successful test than the actual test. I mean, if screeners know this kind of thing is going to happen every so often and they see something suspicious, they may become a bit jaded after a while and assume it's a test, even if the indication doesn't appear. This screener took no chances and called a supervisor and then went about trying to find the device. I believe that's how the system is supposed to work.

    So the software failed, but in the end it didn't really fail, because it showed someone was doing their job as they were supposed to be.

    • They're supposed to report all incidents to the higher ups.

      So if they become jaded and just let anything pass assuming it's a "test" then they would fail the test.

      So I don't think this will result in them letting bombs and weapons through because they assume it's a test.
      • So if they become jaded and just let anything pass assuming it's a "test" then they would fail the test.

        Well, the supervisor didn't seem to know it was a test, or he wouldn't have gone to all the trouble to stop the conveyor and search for the bag. So in essence it tested not just the screener, but the screener's supervisor as well.

        So I don't think this will result in them letting bombs and weapons through because they assume it's a test.

        Maybe not, but never underestimate the apathetic state of the go

        • Oh don't get me wrong. I largely think security is moot. I just don't think this test will cause problems.

          For instance, I flew to Ottawa [from Toronto] a few weeks back. I had a motherboard with me. I told the security guy "please don't open that box it's static sensitive". So he didn't.

          That right there should be a red flag.

          Often I carry dozens of adapters and cables and boxes and such in my knapsack. Sometimes they actually take their time looking at the mess [occasionally sending it through a 2nd ti
          • It's especially annoying on smaller jets like an ERJ where there is barely enough room in the overhead for each passenger to stow a briefcase and people are carrying full size suitcase with them. So the airliner just makes them leave their luggage by the door and then they load it right before we take off and unload it right after we land, which means everyone that was smart enough to check their 50 lb bag at the counter has to wait twice as long to get it.
            • The way I look at it is like this.

              These "self-important" folk who put off everyone else for their own selfish needs... well if they were so important the meetings would wait for them. Or if they were so professional they'd be smart enough to book flights with enough time to get where they need on time.

              I like that while I fly I don't need to be replying to emails or that I can take a 20 minute "tom time" break between events and shit.

              And really, I don't dress up and talk all MBA'ish but I still work at the
    • Tell that to the 10 people that recieved full body cavity searches that just happened to be in line at the time.
    • Except for the fact that the entire airport shut off and hundreds if not thousands of people fled in fear and confusion. Aside from that, the play was fine.
    • So the software failed, but in the end it didn't really fail, because it showed someone was doing their job as they were supposed to be.

      Actually, the sad thing is that it was the software that failed and the human factor that did the right thing. I always thought the opposite was more likely to happen.
    • So you feel a successful test is one that shuts down the entire airport?
    • So the software failed, but in the end it didn't really fail, because it showed someone was doing their job as they were supposed to be.

      So in your opinion it didn't fail, and it's a reasonable arguement but what about from the traveller's perspective? I have been on the recieving end of a mistaken item in my bags.

      airportsecurity: "What do you have in your bag that is a metal coil?!"
      Me:"Nothing."
      airportsecurity:"Tell us what you have in your bag that is a metal coil before we check it or we will be fo
  • Race conditions... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GillBates0 (664202) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:19AM (#15173699) Homepage Journal
    TSA screeners are given tests around the clock to check their alertness.

    How frequent are these "tests" given? Once every 10 minutes...30 minutes? What are the chances that they coincide with an actual suspicious device, which the screener would then assume was part of the "test" which happened to occur simultaneously.

    • by Kjella (173770)
      How frequent are these "tests" given? Once every 10 minutes...30 minutes? What are the chances that they coincide with an actual suspicious device, which the screener would then assume was part of the "test" which happened to occur simultaneously.

      I assume they "cut in" these test on the conveyor belt, meaning you see n+1 suitcases instead of n real ones. So if you see two suspicious devices and one "this is a test" message, you'll know that message doesn't cover both of them. I suppose it could happen that
    • What are the chances that they coincide with an actual
      suspicious device, which the screener would then assume was part of the "test" which happened to occur simultaneously


      What difference would that make? Whether it's assumed to be part of a test or not, sole acceptable action is the same: report it and don't let the luggage through until the issue is resolved.

  • Good! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AntiTuX (202333) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:22AM (#15173723) Homepage
    To be honest, I think it's a great thing. Least I know that they're following protocol. The guy did exactly what he was supposed to do.

    As for the software, all software has bugs. I'm just glad that someone found out that it wasn't something terrible getting on a plane.

    • How do we really know a bomb did not get on a plane? They could be spreading the "it was a software bug" story to cover the fact that they detected a freakin bomb but lost it before the guy reading the machine could react.

      Guess we will have to wait a few days to see if one goes down.
    • by stm2 (141831)
      Least I know that they're following protocol. The guy did exactly what he was supposed to do

      I think that is the main problem. As you said, all software has bugs. That is why humans should not work like a robot following protocols, without using their brains (this way you are using the brain of the guy who designed the protocol, who may not forecast all possibilities). I'll bet the next big strike against US will be done by someone who will find a glitch on a security protocol and will exploit it, the same w

  • Brazil.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by ronfar (52216) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:23AM (#15173733) Journal
    JACK: Well, your A. Buttle has been confused with T47/215, an A. Tuttle. I mean, it's a joke! Somebody should be shot for that. So B58/732 was pulled in by mistake.

    SAM: You got the wrong man.

    JACK: (a little heated) I did not get the wrong man. I got the right man. The wrong man was delivered to me as the right man! I accepted him, on trust, as the right man. Was I wrong? Anyway, to add to the confusion, he died on us. Which, had he been the right man, he wouldn't have done.

    SAM: You killed him?

    JACK: (annoyed) Sam, there are very rigid parameters laid down to avoid that event but Buttle's heart condition did not appear on Tuttle's file. Don't think I'm dismissing this business, Sam. I've lost a week's sleep over it already.

    SAM: I'm sure you have

    JACK: There are some real bastards in this department who don't mind breaking a few eggs to make an omelette, but thank God there are the new boys like me who want to maintain decent civilized standards of terrorist eradication. We've got the upper hand for the moment, but they're waiting for us to slip up, and a little slip- up like this is just the chance they're looking for.

    --- Brazil [corky.net]

  • Or, is it?

    Oh well, guess we'll shut it all down.

    Okay haven't they already thought of this scenario? Isn't there an alternate verification process that doesn't involve computers?
    Oh well, I learned to give up worrying altogether when flying.

    Oceanic Airlines [oceanic-air.com] has a very good safety record, I think I will fly them next time.
    I feel safer already.
  • by FerretFrottage (714136) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:26AM (#15173766)
    The TSA screener terminal can also be heard producing the sounds "Would you like to play a game?" as the image appeared on screen.

  • by creimer (824291) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:31AM (#15173840) Homepage
    A real bomb wouldn't explode until it got into the luggage handling system. After all, how do you explain all the luggage that disappears from the airports?
  • by VxJasonxV (792809) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:45AM (#15173988)
    Why put in images of bombs and such? Someone eyeballing that that isn't a screener would blow a gasket if they saw it.

    How about pictures of assorted dildos/vibrators? No, I'm serious. That'll catch your eye, male or female.
    How about 'to scale' midgets (wow, that sounds awful... as much of a joke as it is) fighting in a mini suitcase?
    Or a very carefully and perfectly laid out bra of panty?

    Seriously, give these people something they wouldn't mind seeing (well, sans the dildo/vibrator) and you'll get (1) a chuckle and (2) some extra energy for productivity.

    You know, on second thought, I'm going to patent the concept, brb.
    • Even better: a nice, well laid out bra, a large dildo, and... a less exposed pipe bomb, or something like that. Now that is a test! Plus, it's likely to happen - if you're going to risk getting a suspicious item on the plane this way, the least you can do to raise your chances is provide a distraction.
    • You wouldn't recognize a bomb in a screening device if it was slapping you on your face. You have to be trained to pick these things out, they are usually hidden very well and shaped to look like they belong with everything else. It isn't like a cartoon, you don't see 8 sticks of dynamite tied together with an alarm clock on top. Some explosive devices I guess you might recognize just by shear suspicion and it appearing to be out of place, but a good chunk of them are much harder to decipher, especially usi
    • Let me get this straight - you propose to train TSA inspectors to find bombs and weapons by showing them pictures of dildos and vibrators? [sarcasm] Clearly showing them pictures of the things they are suppose to find is a bad idea.[/sarcasm]
  • I must say I am greatly amused. Those jackasses are just there to collect a government paycheck for doing next to nothing. So invariably they are caught with their pants down each and every time something unexpected happens.
  • by subtropolis (748348) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:54AM (#15174073)
    Was Diebold involved with this software, by any chance?
  • by PTBarnum (233319) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:56AM (#15174100)
    Way back in 1986 I had a summer job as an airport screener. Back then it was all private companies, of course, and we all got minimum wage. We didn't have the fancy computerized tests, but the supervisors (and occasionally FAA inspectors), had a collection of fake weapons/bombs that they could slip onto somebody's x-ray machine.

    The operator would observe the item, stop the machine, look up, and the supervisor would then inform them it was a test. If you failed the test, you'd be disciplined. Fail too many, and you'd be fired.

    You might think that this test would be too easy because you would see the supervisor approaching, but most of the time the operator is so focused on their screen that they don't look at the passengers. Still, there were only a limited number of fake items so you got good at recognizing them. It seems like these new electronic tests have the advantage of offering a much larger variety of images.

    On the plus side, if you actually caught somebody trying to smuggle a bomb onto a plane, you were eligible for a massive $100 reward. I always thought the risk/reward ratio of X-ray work was too low, so I preferred to do less stressful jobs like escorting children and disabled passengers.
  • by buckhead_buddy (186384) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:01PM (#15174145)
    Having lived within broadcast of the metro Atlanta news for decades, I find the explanation that this was just a software glitch to be somewhat suspicious.

    Blaming technology is an easy thing to do, and very common in Atlanta. It is an explanation that makes people laugh with frustration and lose interest quickly in the story. Even better, there's no one that has to take the fall and take the blame for the problem. It's a common tactic that's been used a lot. In a city that doesn't want to scare or blame any person or corporation, technology is an easy scapegoat.

    Certainly the situation could have been a technology failure. The problem is that it took so long for them to let the public know what the cause was. The security lines were opened, what?, two hours or so after the panic that caused them to be closed. But no explanation then. No explanation came forth until the next day in fact. Either they opened up the security lines when they were unsure of what was on those screens (gleep!) or they knew what the explanation was and knew there was no real security risk. But why keep the cause secret for so long afterward if it was a simple technology error? My opinion was that they needed to find a better scapegoat; and concocting a plausible way to blame technology (as usual) took a bit of time.

    While the baggage screeners might not know when random tests are run, their supervisors damn well should. If baggage inspection is a real time operation it'd be tragic if a "test" image with a fake bomb appeared over baggage with a real bomb. While the screeners are in the dark as to when the tests are run, the security system itself should clearly know when the tests are run.

    Hey, here's an idea. Cut some metal words out of old scrap metal and make the phrase "This is a test" and put it inside your luggage. I wonder what kinds of things you could get through the screening system :-)
  • A terrorist places a briefcase with a bomb inside on an x-ray machine, then places a plastic box with letters that spell out "This is a test" made out of lead.

    How retarded can we get?
  • Worked for TSA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I worked for the TSA for a year and it was important to see the images of bombs and knives and grenades to keep people on their toes. In case you're wondering about the machine itself it's a german machine running linux and is updated by zip disks. So if you want to put new images in, which they do quite often, then it is put in through there.

    The bombs by the machine are often obvious and are placed in funny spots where normal packing wouldn't be, so it's usually fairly easy to identify them.
  • by jridley (9305) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:56PM (#15174662)
    So I can put some handguns into luggage, but I need to cut out the words "this is a test" out of lead sheet and put it in the liner of my suitcase, so it'll show up on the x-ray.
  • by griffjon (14945) <GriffJon&gmail,com> on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:25PM (#15174954) Homepage Journal
    baggage,baggage,baggage,baggage,baggage,baggage,ba ggage,baggage, laptop laptop! baggage,baggage,baggage,baggage,baggage,baggage,ba ggage,baggage, laptop laptop!
    snake! snake (this is a test)

    And repeat.
  • I was there when this happened. They first closed down main security but still had security for the T-Gates open which is like trying to drain an oil tanker with a straw but I think they shut those down as well soon after. Here was the crappy part: they didn't tell you what was really going on. You entered the airport and everyone was standing around and had a different story. About an hour and a half into this, some airport cop (not a whiteshirt) comes up on his Segway with a bullhorn and reads a paragraph that said basically that there was a security incident and thanked us for our patience. That is as specific as they got! They didn't SAY anything. There was no mention of a suspicious device and when they went to open it up, they just dropped the ropes and gave us an "enjoy your flight" look.

    They were real good about opening up all the security lanes to clear the backlog. Actually, I had subscribed via web to the airport line monitor service. My first page before I left to the airport was 10 minutes and this was after a buddy at the airport told me to get my butt down there for my flight early. The second page said "over 2 hours", the third was 30-45 minutes and the last said 1.5 hours to get through security. Seems like this is based on wild ass guess rather than more industrial engineering means.

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