Just flew up to Anchorage and back on Alaska Airlines. It’s pretty much a monthly exercise in what Bruce Schneier refers to as “security theater”. [Note: Schneier's blog, Schneier on Security, is a must read antidote to TSA.] It boggles the mind how some incompetent decided that using an uncalibrated x-ray scanner was an effective way to detect explosives. Without a densitometer or an IQI run at the same time as the scanned article, all the x-ray scanner does is provide a rough differentiation based upon density. So any material of approximately the same density as an explosive material, say C-4, shows up on the scanner looking like C-4, leading to either a unacceptably high level of false positives or a significant possibility of failure to detect. If it’s not shaped like a weapon, it will probably pass unnoticed.
And of course, you have to take your shoes off. After x-raying millions of shoes, TSA declared that they had a winner! Some unfortunate bloke in Anchorage won the “special treatment” after TSA found a toggle switch in his/her shoe.
OK, so found the proverbial needle in a haystack. Listen carefully… by itself, it doesn’t mean shit. The inference that TSA would like to impart is that the switch and wire is part of a nefarious terrorist plot. That is an unfounded inference, without merit. Without corroborating information, a toggle switch is just a toggle switch.
Why would someone have a toggle switch on a length of wire in their shoe? Ah, let me count the ways:
- This was in Anchorage, Alaska. What happens when you’re out in the bush and your snowmobile has a frozen ignition because it’s -40? You carry a toggle switch and wire with you to bypass the ignition so you can get home before you freeze to death.
- You’re a forgetful car thief, and forgot that you had that wire and switch to bypass car alarms in your shoe.
- You shoplifted Radio Shack on the way to the airport.
- You work in an electronics supply store and pilfered some parts for your home computer.
- You’re a really stupid terrorist wannabe trying to see what you can get away with.
- You’re a really stupid terrorist.
Notice that there is only one possible line of reasoning that is a terrorist, but several that don’t. So the probability is quite high (83% or higher) that the shoes do not belong to a terrorist.
[Update - 23 March 2008] – I posted basically the same information on the TSA blog a few days before this post. As of today, my blog comments to their shoe security is still unposted. Maybe TSA doesn’t like being told that their basic premises are flawed?