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TSA's travel tips for terrorists

Wear slip-on shoes. Don’t wrap gifts. And if you’re planning a terrorist attack aboard a plane bound for the U.S., don’t fly through Yemen or Somalia or Saudi Arabia.

Those are among the travel tips that can be gleaned from the Transportation Security Administration Web site in the wake of the attempted bombing on Northwest Flight 253.

TSA has announced “enhanced screening” for passengers “traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest.” As Post reporter Carol Leonnig translates, that means “full body pat-down and physical inspection of property” for people who are citizens of or are flying through or from Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

No doubt TSA is trying to seem on top of the terrorism threat. I understand the desire to beef up security and that the aforementioned measures are a temporary stop-gap until more permanent screening procedures can be put in place. But if anything, the agency's announcement has led me to feel even less safe.

In publicizing its new approach, TSA has all but handed terrorists a blueprint to avoid detection. Since flights originating in or passing through Sudan and Libya will attract heightened scrutiny, operatives simply will be deployed elsewhere.

I also worry that TSA isn’t devoting sufficient attention to “safe” countries. Let's not forget that Paris was the point of origin for Richard Reid, a British citizen. Would TSA's current scheme have smoked out Reid before he tried to ignite his shoe? I doubt it.

Instead of half-cocked half-measures, we should be installing full-body scanners in all U.S. airports and encouraging foreign airports do the same to screen all passengers, regardless of country of origin or nationality. The scanners -- and there are at least two different models -- run about $150,000 each. The U.S. government has ordered some 110 for delivery this year and has plans for some 300 more in the future. Total cost: roughly $60 million. Tens of millions more will have to be spent to adequately equip all U.S. airports. But this seems like a reasonable investment -- and certainly better than the billions in pork routinely wasted by Washington each year.

I'm not exorcised over the alleged privacy violations that some civil liberties groups are bellyaching about. (I'm sure some of these folks also screamed about the invasive nature of the metal detectors that are now common features at airports, courthouses and other public places.) Full-body scanners produce outlines of the human body and can detect material stowed underneath articles of clothing. They do not produce what most of us would consider pornographic photographs; from what I've seen, the subject's face is not even recognizable. If anything, these machines may not be invasive enough for my taste, since they appear unable to detect explosives or other substances hidden in body cavities. We may have to wait a bit longer for development of a machine that can detect both. But I'm not willing to wait much longer for implementation of the technology we already have. These types of screening measures were recommended by the 9/11 commission years ago. They should be put in place as soon as possible. I value my privacy, but my privacy is worth nothing if my safety and that of my family, friends and fellow air passengers is compromised.

By Eva Rodriguez  | January 4, 2010; 2:17 PM ET
Categories:  Rodriguez  | Tags:  Eva Rodriguez  
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Next: I'll take the full-body scan


Wouldn't dogs like beagles and bloodhounds be just as, or more effective, and less costly? Presumably they might even be able to detect explosives hidden in body cavities. Every passenger and every carry on bag gets sniffed by Snoopy or you don't board. You don't like dogs... too bad.

Then of course, we could link that with profiling and insightful questioning of suspect passengers like the Israelis do.

I know the scanner industry can supply us with more jobs, but safety is the issue. The highest technology is not always the best answer to terrorism, although we seem to be in love with it.

More common sense, less PC, more intuition, and some good old highly trained dog noses.

I understand a beagle's nose is 1,000,000 times more sensitive than the human nose. I wonder how that compares to a high tech puffer machine?

Posted by: captn_ahab | January 4, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

If privacy doesn't matter if it gets in the way of safety, then I suggest Eva Rodriguez be singled out for full-cavity searches not only when flying, but also when passing through toll roads, entering public buildings, or walking into private shops.

After all, it's in the name safety.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 4, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

great, so now the terrorists will just stick explosives in body cavities. i'm sure you will submit to a cavity search every time you get on a plane, right? for safety? idiots.

Posted by: gbeegs | January 4, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Just curious...

Since you support increased scanning scrutiny for everyone... what about full-body searchs ? Where does collective punishment end ?

Why can no Post columnist talk about that dreaded word "profiling" ?

Why can’t a single red flag qualify a person for secondary screening ? Three or more flags: no-fly. How hard is that? Until young, single, Muslim men who represent 99% of the terror threat are routinely given extra scrutiny... like the safest Airline in the world El Al does... we are ALL in danger.

Posted by: pvilso24 | January 4, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous commentary - but it highlights the idiocy of our media and leaders. We're going to spend billions to buy full body scanners when the terrorists will just attack a different target. What's to stop them from coming in to our country - buying explosives/weapons once here - and then taking over a grade school or other institution.

What we need to do is kill them where we find them. We need to attack them in their lairs. Instead we've let Yemenis go from Gitmo who've gone on to attack us again. We need to be brutal. The Christmas Day bomber should be tried quickly and executed. "Major" Hasan should be tried quickly and executed. The five Northern Virginia "Americans" who've recently been picked up by the Pakistanis should be tried and put away forever. And we should stop pussyfooting around where the source of the terrorism is - not all Muslims are terrorists but virtually all terrorism directed at the West is conducted by Islamofacists. Teams of our special forces should be scouring the world to take out these people. They are not criminals, they are at war with us and we'd better recognize it soon. And we should demand that moderate Muslims stand up against them.

Posted by: jersey2000 | January 4, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Well, there. You said it yourself. The scanners can't detect explosives in body cavities. Someone who was determined to blow up a plane* could shove some plastic explosive up his sphincter or her vagina and sail on through.

So the scanners don't deter real terrorists, rape our civil liberties, expose us to unneccesary radiation, and are probably pursuing the wrong avenue of attack anyway. I expect the next attack to be a barrel of sarin dumped in the drinking water supply of a major metropolitan area. (A crop duster carrying a payload of anthrax flying over the Super Bowl is also a possibility. Why not try to stay one step ahead of these "people," and not try to microreact?)

*or train, because the spectre of these devices being deployed on Amtrak routes is also ever-present

Posted by: bucinka8 | January 4, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Eva's comments are spot on. And some of you who have made comments are dead-wrong.

jersey2000, terrorists have always been able to easily hit other targets in the U.S. Yet they consistently go for planes. Why? Terrorists, as indicated by their name, are interested in inspiring fear and, quite frankly, blowing up planes is one of the best ways to inspire fear. It's also quite spectacular, thus giving them aura of amazing power. They will continue to try to hit planes and we should target our resources there.

bucinka8, you're right that they can still hide explosives inside their bodies. However, as you should note from al-Qaeda's previous attempt to do this in Saudi Arabia, it turns out that the amount of explosives that you can stuff inside your rectum is not sufficient to kill someone next to you (which means it is also insufficient to bring down a plane -- remember a plane can even handle a hole in the fuselage so you need a pretty serious blast to bring down a plane). It turns out that the bodies of the terrorists absorb quite a bit of the blast, leading to the most serious problem for passengers on such a plane -- terrorist guts and feces scattered on everyone nearby.

Posted by: rlalumiere | January 4, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I would expect that Rodriguez, as a devoted liberal, would be pleased at how easy the Obamaites are making it for islamic terrorists to bring about more "man-caused disasters" as Obama's Head of Homeland Security has called terrorism. But even Rodriguez is rational enough to see the stupidity of the current adminmistration as it flails about trying to deal with terror. The truth is that Obama and his liberal gang have no idea what to do. Giving US constitutional rights to first Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, and then to the Nigerian, are monumentally stupid and dangerous acts. Let me be the first to suggest that Obama merits impeachment for his actions. His duty is to protect Americans and not the non-existent rights of people who want to kill us.

Posted by: mhr614 | January 4, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

It's in everyone's interest to claim there was an al Queda tie (think about that), but it seems unlikely al Queda would come up with such an amateurish effort as NW 253.

The TSA did not disclose any information that a mid-level al Queda operative wouldn't already know. TSA and Homeland Security are not going to give us anything that is really secret. Nor should they.

Posted by: StevenGrossman | January 4, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

So, mhr614, when Bush decided to treat the shoe-bomber Richard Reid as a criminal and bringing him into the criminal justice system, you also thought Bush should've been impeached?

Or are you just the usual Republican hypocrite?

Posted by: rlalumiere | January 4, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

So, mhr614, when Bush decided to treat the shoe-bomber Richard Reid as a criminal and brought him into the criminal justice system, you also thought Bush should've been impeached?

Or are you just the usual Republican hypocrite?

Posted by: rlalumiere | January 4, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Okay we've tried the PC route and the bad guys keep trying to subvert our efforts. Europe, Asia and Africa could care less about our plight. So much for the "soft touch". I, for one, am all in favor of profiling and all the nasty things available to protect this country. For me America First is a very real reality. Politicians have been living in a sealed reality and have been manipulated by foreign countries for their benefit. I do like the old times during the cold War when the Secret Services did much to protect this country with most of it done behind closed doors. Why columnists think they'll get an award for trying to subvert their countries efforts is beyond me. I;m also aghast as to why a foreign national gets to be covered by my countries laws. A terrorist is at war against this country. I would consider them fair game to be treated as barbarically as possible. Eventually, I've we stay the course of nastiness, they will stop listening to their Imams and realize it just isn't worth it anymore.

Posted by: rhulten1 | January 4, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: vblocker | January 4, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Who makes the full-body scanners? Maginot, Inc.? We LOVE to do the most expensive and least practical thing possible.

Posted by: steveboyington | January 4, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

I agree with these comments - especially profiling...

PROFILE, PROFILE, PROFILE --- now say it with me Washington Post...

Posted by: Logan1245 | January 4, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

"I'm not exorcised over the alleged privacy violations that some civil liberties groups are bellyaching about. "

Eva, you are a coward. God, what is wrong with people in this country? Have you no respect for the principles behind our nation? It's pathetic how happily sheep will give up everything just so they can feel safer, even if they're not.

Tell me, oh safety conscious reporter, what happens when the next terrorist puts a bomb inside his rectum? You DO realize that's where it's going, right? What will you demand then?

Posted by: ihatelogins | January 4, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

We are wasting our nation's treasury in Afghanistan and people are worried about 60 million for body scanners.

We can't even get this Congress to vote on improving cyber security. The body scanners would still be on the back burner if it wasn't for the Christmas incident with the Nigerian. Congress and Obama wait for the tail to wag the dog.

Posted by: alance | January 4, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

We are sheep-like idiots, waiting for government to come up with a magic solution to "keep us safe."

Guess what? There is no such thing as "safe." You're all going to die, eventually. The only question is: will you die bravely, or will you die as cowards, after having given up all of your rights and all of your dignity?

You shout for "profiling" as if it were a magic bullet, as if it weren't a profoundly un-American measure, and, most importantly, as if terrorists hadn't shown again and again and again that they can recruit people who will defeat any profiling.

You demand more intrusive searches at airports. "Take pictures of me naked, please!" As if this hugely expensive technological measure can't be trivially defeated by the long-proven tactic of smuggling contraband in body cavities.

Let's face reality: the determined terrorist will always, always, always succeed. He will always be a step ahead of our security measures, because he is nimble and bureaucracies are not.

The best and only response to the occasional terrorist attack is to give them the finger and go about our business.

The only way a terrorist can truly win is by making us crazily over-react. So far, the terrorists are winning.

Posted by: web_user | January 4, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

According to a video, TSA gives men an opaque panel to slip into their pants in order to hide their genitals from the scan. Would that also have hid the device sewn into Abdulmutallab's underwear?

Posted by: BTMPost | January 4, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Shave your beard, wear a suit with a cross in a lapel pin, carry a bible that's been soaked and dried out with nitroglycerin, and hey, welcome aboard Mr. Christan.

Using canine teams makes more sense than these stupid machines. However feeding government contractors & keeping works from forming unions is really more important than anyone's safety.

The underwear bomber wasn't the only one blowing smoke out of his butt.

Posted by: Nymous | January 5, 2010 3:17 AM | Report abuse

Love the opening humor "Travel Tips for Terrorists!" What I ascertained from this posting is that somehow we are not doing enough to safeguard our airports. Hello!!! Has it ever occurred to anyone that 9/11 would not be an occurrence every decade, but would be something happening on a daily basis, if terrorists had their way?

Our Homeland Security along with the 17 other Intelligence Agencies, coupled with a a dozen private contractor "intelligence" companies, see to it that we are all safe. The "geek factor" alone may allow something to slip by every 10 years, but that would be of hundreds of failed attempts and with the best of plotting from terrorists.

But we as Americans take offense that "they" whoever that bogeyman is, is not doing enough. Perhaps to keep us safe we also need to keep our checks and balances under "classified" terms so the terrorists do not out-smart us. Trust guys and gals that we did not become the super power of the world for just any old reason.

There was also mention that International Airports should tighten up security. Again, nobody leaves or arrives in this country, escaping the ever watchful eye of the Central Intelligence Agency. Let them do their jobs and feel safe. Anything shorten of that and you play right into the terrorists agenda; they propagate fear, mistrust and anxiety for the American people and other Westerners. What stance will you take?

Posted by: Get-A-Trip | January 5, 2010 5:03 AM | Report abuse

Yet the FACT remains that TSA, and all the prior security guards etc., have NEVER even ONCE, EVER, found a real bomb that anyone was intending to use to blow up a plane in the United States. Nor have they EVER, even ONCE, EVER found weapons that someone was intending to use to hijack an aircraft.

Posted by: orange3 | January 5, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

All air travel in this country ought to be banned. After all, we ARE the worlds biggest state sponsor of "terrorism", as well as a provider of safe haven to world known "terrorists".

Posted by: barbablanca | January 5, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

My dog, Terri the Terrorist Terrier, says she'll happily volunteer for search duty at our nearby airport (SRQ) as long as she gets treats. Being a Terrorist Terrier, she is 100% qualified. We know she's good at her job because no terrorists have attacked us since we got her from the pound five years ago.

One thing Terri warns us is that Al Queda disguises many of its operatives as cats, which is why she barks so loudly at any cat who tries to come onto our property.

"WOOF!" says Terri. And she reminds us, too, that she is computer literate and even has her own Twitter account (@TerriTerrier) so she would accurately record each suspected terrorist's smell and pass it on to Terrorist Terriers doing guard duty at other airports.

Again, Terri says, "Woof!" and, "Woof! Woof!"

Posted by: roblimo | January 5, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

First off roblimo, that was a strange comment. My two cents, use the machines, but also use dogs. If people are too afraid to be sniffed at by dogs, offer them to be screened in private. We must try to make these things so that people feel like they are not giving up too much privacy, however we are still protecting ourselfs. The body scanning machines though bring up a good point though, that should be discussed. Are people being forced to give up their right to privacy with use of the machine? Finally mhr614 what Republican kool aid are you getting high off? Impeach Obama? Yes I think we need to all understand he has a hard job. We need to look at it this way. He has to run the country, and fix the country. Now let's take a look at say an easy target, President Bush, he ran the country and he messed up. Now Obama has to fix the countries affairs from the past 8 years, while running the country while he's still on this term in the White House. I think we give him a little more time, we have to anyway as he still have years left, and I think he will improve in quality of the running and repairing of the country.

Posted by: johnlights92 | January 6, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

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