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“Test the TSA” Token

Are you smarter than a TSA screener?
  (+10, -1)(+10, -1)
(+10, -1)
  [vote for,

The biggest flaw behind the whole concept of airline screening is they are constantly looking for yesterday's threats. Meanwhile, they unknowingly leave open glaring loopholes that could easily allow a clever terrorist to sneak contraband through—all while managing to make air travel a miserable and humiliating experience for everyone involved.

But enough editorializing. Here's a way they could crowdsource the process of looking for /tomorrow's/ threats, and hopefully raise a bit of cash to boot. “Test the TSA” tokens would be available for purchase for $50 each. The token would be a bit bigger and heavier than your average firearm or explosive device (although not shaped anything like an actual weapon), and clearly marked as to what it is. It would be made of metal, and would be easily detectable by x-ray and any other type of scanner in use. It would also be impregnated with a chemical that readily alerts when swabbed for explosives.

The goal is to smuggle this token past security the next time you travel. If you fail and the token is discovered, it is confiscated and you are sent on your way. If you succeed, however, you receive a bounty of $5,000 upon completing an interview with the TSA as to how exactly you managed to get the device past security undetected.

It's a win-win for the TSA: If their security systems aren't up to snuff, they find out exactly what they need to do to improve them; and if they're as on top of things as they claim it's an easy way to raise some extra cash.

ytk, Dec 28 2012


       That's actually really smart. Not like that retarded animal librarian idea. I imagine this idea could be useful in other areas as well. I once proved that stealing was easy. Security looks for obvious hints, but neglected to see me standing outside thier open door holding stolen merchandise for 3 consecutive minutes before returning the random things I grabbed.
Brian the Painter, Dec 28 2012

       Well, maybe so. But then, if they can't even get a handle on yesterday's threats, they don't really have any hope for dealing with tomorrow's anyway.   

       For what it's worth, I'm thinking about things like making people take off their shoes after the shoe bomber, or restricting the amount of liquids that can be carried on a plane because someone tried to make a bomb that way. There must be hundreds of other ways to smuggle contraband aboard an airplane that haven't even occurred to the TSA. At least this idea would help figure some of them out.   

       My guess? If the TSA actually tried to implement this, they would abandon it almost immediately once they starting hemorrhaging money and looking like the incompetent boobs they really are. There's a reason that those in the know refer to the whole airport screening process as “security theater”.
ytk, Dec 28 2012

       If you can pass the token; you'll be a suspicious forever.
piluso, Dec 28 2012

       Step one: fill suitcase with (1) TSA token and (2) bomb
Step two: have TSA token found and then get sent on your way
Step three: ka-BOOM!
calum, Dec 28 2012

       The reason TSA would cite opposing this is that terrorist would naturally test out various methods of sneaking weapons aboard using the TSA tokens, and then if they succeed, they would not declare it, and then they would subsequently use the same method.   

       Of course, if registration were required for buying the things, that might help.   

       Also, i would have a variety of tokens for realism. Bottles that are too big with a nitrate solution inside, blunted box cutters, fake guns, fake dynamite, etc.   

       Someday, terrorists are going to use surgically implanted explosives or even explosives that can only be found with a body cavity search. Might as well stop flying if that happens.
Kansan101, Dec 28 2012

       Better yet, sodium hydroxide and anhydrous ammonia.   

       Or nitroglycerin.   

       I fly maybe twice a year, was never seriously searched, although I have lost a lot of toothpaste.   

       I had a friend who flew routinely with a knife in a belt buckle.
Kansan101, Dec 28 2012

       What if 1000 people, each carrying a token, storm the security line and break through it? (This would be easy since it's usually a sparsely staffed operation with lots of aisles not in use.) Would the TSA have to pay out $5 million?
phundug, Dec 28 2012

       No, because in that case there'd be no danger of the token (or rather, what the token represents) getting on an actual flight. Similar incidents have occurred in the past (people storming through security or leaving the checkpoint without being cleared) and they simply shut down the terminal and ground all outgoing flights.   

       Also, they'd all be arrested and charged with felonies, so it'd be tremendously unlikely to happen.
ytk, Dec 28 2012

       //simply shut down the terminal and ground all outgoing flights//   

       Do they then search the entire terminal with a metal detector? Because one of the stormers could hide the token in a toilet or something and then an accomplice could retrieve it after the all-clear is given.
phundug, Dec 28 2012

       //Test the TSA//
//win-win for the TSA://

       These two things don't go together; "win" for the TSA definitely does not involve being tested.   

       //Are you smarter than a TSA screener?//   

       <inhales/><exhales/><checks pulse/><checks blood pressure/> Yeah, probably.
lurch, Dec 28 2012

       //Do they then search the entire terminal with a metal detector?//   

       I believe they effectively do just that after any kind of security breach, even if they have no specific reason to believe contraband has been smuggled past the checkpoint.   

       //Because one of the stormers could hide the token in a toilet or something and then an accomplice could retrieve it after the all-clear is given.//   

       Replace “token” with “gun”, and you can see that this is exactly the point. If the strategy would work to smuggle a token, it would work for a bomb or a gun as well.   

       Anyway, organizing a conspiracy of dozens or hundreds of people willing to risk arrest and a felony conviction (and God knows what else they do to you if they brand you a “terrorist”) for a chance at a measly share of $5,000 seems a bit unlikely.
ytk, Dec 28 2012

       //Let's say they find the token or tokens during the post-swarm search, then get complacent because they then know it was just a test, and fail to find the real bomb hidden by the real terrorist who slipped in during the confusion.//   

       Let's say they find a real gun, and then get complacent because they've already found the gun, and fail to find the bomb that was hidden by an accomplice of the terrorist who slipped in during the confusion.   

       Either you have a procedure in place for effectively searching the entire terminal, or you don't and your entire security system is flawed.   

       //The reason TSA would cite opposing this is that terrorist would naturally test out various methods of sneaking weapons aboard using the TSA tokens, and then if they succeed, they would not declare it, and then they would subsequently use the same method.//   

       Terrorists can already do this. It's called a “dry run”. You simply conceal something that looks suspicious, but is ultimately innocuous. Or conceal nothing at all, but use the dry run as a way to probe their security system. For example, let's say you bring an object capable of concealing a weapon through the metal detector, and despite triggering the alarm you can somehow persuade them not to search it or run it through the x-ray machine. Believe it or not, I've seen this happen—and it was actually the inspiration for this idea.
ytk, Dec 29 2012

       I nearly (and quite accidentally) got onto a flight with my pocket folder in October. I carry it with me every day, and completely forgot that I had it with me when I entered the terminal. I took off my boots and emptied my pockets into the bin and put in on the conveyor, where it passed under visual and x-ray inspection without comment. When I met my belongings at the other end of the line, I realized my mistake and carefully alerted the nearest officer, who put it in a box with a special sticker and checked it as baggage for me. Fortunately, we were driving back.   

       Based on this experience, I'd say they'd be running a tighter ship pretty quick if the five grand payout came directly out of screener's salaries.
Alterother, Dec 29 2012

       Just out of curiosity, suppose you taped the token _under_ one of those thick plastic trays they give you -- and then put random metal stuff in the tray. The TSA might search the tray-- but would they think to look underneath it?
phundug, Dec 29 2012

       It happened in Portland, ME; Mainers are generally nice people who will do somebody a small favor unsolicited. I was boarding a flight to Atlanta with a transfer in Phillie, so even though I could have slipped it back into my pocket and carried it with me, I didn't want to risk it being discovered in a region where folks aren't quite so helpful.   

       My point is kind of that if the terminal screeners miss banned items so frequently that there's a special baggage sticker for them, then clearly the system is a mess. According to some waiting-room copy of Time or Newsweek I recall reading, the TSA already tests itself with some similar in-house version of this idea, but there are no measures taken, either disciplinary or motivational, when somebody slips up.
Alterother, Dec 31 2012

       This assumes the purpose of the TSA is to discover and prevent threats to air travel.   

       But it's not - it's just another security theater act. Actually putting them to the test would negate the intended effect.
tatterdemalion, Jan 01 2013

       Not only that, but exposing their incompetence would threaten national security. They would never go for it.
phundug, Jan 01 2013

       To the credit of the poor unloved schmucks that comprise the TSA:   

       I don't know how competent or incompetent they are, but they seem to have found 100% of the over-sized toothpaste tubes my wife packed for me over the past few years.   

       To me that means that they are at least mostly trying to do an effective job.
Kansan101, Jan 01 2013

       The TSA is a jobs and pork program. Those running it are interested more than anything else in increasing the TSA budget and size. This idea would embarrass the TSA. therefore it wouldn't ever actually happen.

As for the idea itself, [+]
Voice, Jan 01 2013

       I see that nobody's addressed calum's obvious loophole yet.
RayfordSteele, Jan 02 2013


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