TSA's Instagram Account Full Of Confiscated Weapons Photos Only Looks Like 'Safety'

from the appearances-still-preferred-to-results dept

News of the TSA's new Instagram account has been pinballing around the net. It's a violent hipster's dream, filled with heavily-filtered photos of confiscated weapons. One might be tempted to buy into the TSA's unspoken narrative that all these confiscations are making flying safer, but Cory Doctorow points out where that thought process hits a logical dead end.
The TSA has launched an Instagram account, showing all the "dangerous items" they steal confiscate from air travellers. The message is clear: we are keeping you safe from in-flight danger.

But what they don't show is all the grand-jury indictments for conspiracy to commit air terrorism that they secured after catching people with these items -- even the people who were packing guns.

That's because no one -- not the TSA, not the DAs, not the DHS -- believe that anyone who tries to board a plane with a dangerous item is actually planning on doing anything bad with them. After all, as New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler said (quoting Tom Wolfe), "a grand jury would 'indict a ham sandwich,' if that's what you wanted." So if there was any question about someone thinking of hurting a plane, you'd expect to see indictments.
This is undeniable. If attempting to carry a weapon onboard is evidence of a true threat, we'd expect to see more would-be fliers headed off to prison, or at least arraigned on terrorism charges. But that's simply not happening. Instead, the weapons are confiscated and they face, at most, a felony charge for attempting to board a plane with a weapon.

This sort of thinking falls right in line with the TSA's liquids policy. Prohibited liquids are tossed into nearby trash receptacles, giving lie to the reasoning that the questionable liquid could be some sort of explosive. Throwing away potential bomb components a few feet from a frequently-crowded TSA checkpoint right on the concourse seems incredibly irresponsible if you truly believe the fluid is dangerous. The fact that this happens several times a day in hundreds of airports across the US proves that not even the TSA agents believe the confiscated liquids pose a threat.

The TSA agent Doctorow spoke with about these seizures said he didn't believe the people who'd had their weapons confiscated posed a threat. But he did come up with a rather novel theory as to why these confiscations took place.
"But," he said, "maybe someone who did want to crash the plane might take the bad thing away from them and attack it."
Doctorow responded that this scenario seemed way too far-fetched to mesh with reality.
"That doesn't sound like a very reliable plan," I said. "If you were a terrorist and that was your plan, you'd have to spend a lot of time in the air waiting for someone to open his laptop bag and show you that he forgot to take his handgun out of it before he boarded."
Based on recent history with would be terrorists, it's more likely the smuggled weapon would be used by passengers against the terrorists, rather than the other way around. This new Instagram account is just the TSA soft-selling its brand of "safety," but the implied narrative doesn't hold up to scrutiny.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:13pm

    Isn't the point the attempts that aren't made? Meaning the potential terrorists who are are intimidated, knowing how paranoid the regulations are?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:50pm

      Re:

      The regulations aren't even paranoid, they're just braindead. As mentioned, confiscated liquids are just tossed into the trash with no attempt made to determine if they actually are dangerous. If I was a potential terrorist, taking out a single plane is small-time. At the most I'd be able to get air traffic grounded for a short time, but more than likely it'd be treated as any other plane crash. If I wanted to do damage, I'd target the airports themselves. Air traffic definitely would be grounded for a longer period of time, and, if it's a large enough airport, a huge volume of traffic would be impeded as the airport was undergoing reconstruction. To top it all off, I'd probably be able to get away with it scot-free if I knew what I was doing: since everything is just tossed in the trash, they'd have no way of knowing what among it was responsible.

      TSA's policies are effectively making airports less safe, which is the really scary part.

       

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        Nick (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:57pm

        Re: Re:

        That is exactly what I was thinking as I read this article. With all these regulations and slow security checkpoints, it's reasonable to think that there are now more people crammed into a small confined area BEFORE security (such as the line for security) that would be a prime spot for an explosion. It could cause more human life damage than a single plane falling, isn't currently preventable, and would shut that airport down for months.

        Guess we need to have pre-security to get into airports now. But wait, what if we have someone intend to attack the massed people at THAT security point? Then I guess we just need another security checkpoint before that for THAT security point, and another for that, and another for that, and...

        Oh shit, why not just install cameras in all our heads and monitor what we do all the time? Then they can DEFINATELY keep us all safe!

         

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      Rob, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:59pm

      Re:

      That would certainly be a better response to Doctorow's question than the cockamamie theory that terrorists are just waiting for someone else to accidentally get on a plane with something dangerous.

      It's disappointing that a TSA spokesman, knowing that he's gonna be interviewed about seized items can't prepare a statement even half as reasonable sounding on the subject of seized items.

       

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    Lord Binky, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:17pm

    I would think the most likely thing for a terrorist to do is become a TSA agent.

    That or a baggage handler. Throw a Bad Thing(tm) onto many different airplanes and not even have to be there for the Bad Thing(tm) to work.

     

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    Applesauce, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:33pm

    Obedience Training

    By now, we should all understand that the TSA's purpose is not air travel safety but is obedience training for the public.

     

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    Chris Brand, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:41pm

    Don't worry

    I'm sure the FBI have plenty of people flying around, carefully opening their bags so that their Muslim neighbors can see that they are carrying weapons. They probably make a point of saying things like "I sure nobody on this plane tries to force it to fly into a major tourist attraction, don't you ?".

    After all, how else are they going to catch terrorists ?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 12:49pm

    it's just more of the same old shit trying to legitimize a process that does nothing except delay both people and flights. if the sophisticated scanners etc that are already being used to eliminate terrorist attacks dont work, i very much doubt that all the TSA officers on duty at any one time is likely to eliminate an attack either. more than anything, in true USA fashion, it's a show put on to demonstrate that it can do it (waste time and money, find non-dangerous items and delay flights), so it will do it! what other airports world wide have gone to these lengths and found them to be productive?

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:09pm

    The filters make the weapons look scary, therefore we all must fear.

     

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    PRMan, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:15pm

    I know why they confiscate liquids

    I saw an episode of Locked Up Abroad where they liquified heroin and smuggled it in water bottles. They got away with it for years before being caught. It has NOTHING to do with airline safety and everything to do with stopping people from smuggling more than 3 oz of heroin.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 3:37pm

      Re: I know why they confiscate liquids

      It has NOTHING to do with airline safety and everything to do with stopping people from smuggling more than 3 oz of heroin.

      Never heard that one before. But it raises the obvious question: if that's true, why do they allow liquids to travel in checked luggage?

       

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      That One Guy (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 7:54pm

      Re: I know why they confiscate liquids

      Would think a simple way to counter that would be to make the owner of the container take a sip and swallow it.

      Takes less than 10 seconds, and if they immediately start having a fit or object strongly, probably a good indicator that it's not a harmless liquid.

       

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        Andy (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 11:34pm

        Re: Re: I know why they confiscate liquids

        I'd rather not carry liquids in hand luggage than be forced to sip contact lens cleaner, sun lotion or whatever else I might otherwise carry that might not be drinkable, thanks!

         

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          That One Guy (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 4:00am

          Re: Re: Re: I know why they confiscate liquids

          Point, it's not quite a good solution, but it would be better I'd think that the current 'Just dump it straight into the trash' policy they've got now.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 6:03am

      Re: I know why they confiscate liquids

      People smuggle things in their rectums. Should we not allow assholes on planes too?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:21pm

    With all this business of trying to make it look like all the stage theater of security is doing it's job, no one is talking about how the US is becoming a place tourists don't want to visit by choice. Thus dodging all the crap with the TSA.

    Many of the European air ports don't do this. Because it is easier with less hassle to go spend their money at resorts and tourists places around Europe, the US is loosing much of this holiday money. No matter, whether the flights leave the US or not, supposedly we are safer. /s

    So how many more will now dodge the flight to the US rather than deal with all the privacy breaks now revealed the NSA does?

    As a last thought on this mock security business, would any self respecting terrorist attempt to fly in anymore with guns and explosives? Why not do as McAfee revealed, fly into Belize, buying a new identity through corrupt officials that says your Bleizain, and go visit the drug lords for the way in. If they can do drugs into the US, they can sure do terrorists.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:39pm

    Liquid explosives

    Prohibited liquids are tossed into nearby trash receptacles, giving lie to the reasoning that the questionable liquid could be some sort of explosive.


    The particular liquid explosives they're worried about are binary ones -- they come as two parts that have to be mixed to produce the explosive (kindof like contact cement, but with more bang). Throwing the confiscated liquids away doesn't present any increased danger as each individual component is not dangerous by itself.

    That said, the whole thing is still a bit silly.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:55pm

      Re: Liquid explosives

      Would it be possible to set up a couple of bottles to leak after being thrown away and having a sufficient amount of the explosives mix in the trash receptacle?

      Wouldn't it be useful for statistics purposes, or at least for crowing about another foiled plot, to identify these binary liquids anyway?

      And are there any liquids that would be dangerous by themselves? If so, isn't it a problem to just worry about the binaries?

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 2:20pm

        Re: Re: Liquid explosives

        Would it be possible to set up a couple of bottles to leak after being thrown away and having a sufficient amount of the explosives mix in the trash receptacle?


        It would be possible, but pointless. Not enough liquid would mix to be dangerous (outside of maybe starting a fire), and the reaction would not be contained in a pressure vessel.

        Wouldn't it be useful for statistics purposes, or at least for crowing about another foiled plot, to identify these binary liquids anyway?


        Yes. Interestingly, the last time I flew, I accidentally left a small (6 ml) bottle of liquid in my pocket. Instead of throwing it away, they tested the contents and let me keep it once it passed.

        And are there any liquids that would be dangerous by themselves? If so, isn't it a problem to just worry about the binaries?


        There are such liquids (nitroglycerine, for example). But they tend to be unstable and not safe to carry around -- that's why they're made to be binary in the first place. An explosive is pointless if it goes off before you intend for it to.

         

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      Lord Binky, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:56pm

      Re: Liquid explosives

      Unless they throw away TWO bottles with each of the liquids in them or two people throw one bottle in each... The bottles could be leaky or whatever is necessary.

       

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      btrussell (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 6:13pm

      Re: Liquid explosives

      They still aren't being charged.

       

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      JMT (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 7:47pm

      Re: Liquid explosives

      "Throwing the confiscated liquids away doesn't present any increased danger as each individual component is not dangerous by itself."

      But they're not by themselves, they're in the same rubbish bin! It's very unlikely any of these containers can be truly called 'leak proof'.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 10:50pm

      Re: Liquid explosives

      Unless there's a container inside a container waiting for a jolt(like tossing it) to break the inner part and mix the 2 components.

       

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    RP, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:45pm

    Safety and Convenience

    It's pretty inconvenient to board a plane with all these checkpoints. It feels like going into a maximum security prison. Flying is just not what it used to be. The terrorists are winning just by costing the government more money in carrying out these security checks. It's a catch 22.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 1:54pm

      Re: Safety and Convenience

      Not really a catch 22, since there's not loss of actual safety by dropping these ridiculous policies. None of the post-9/11 policies have made us safer.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 2:24pm

    Seems about right, I mean the TSA will blow someones head off for trying to board with a pair of clippers.

     

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    Uriel-238 (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 2:40pm

    As per the NSA

    The first order of the TSA is the continued survival of the TSA.

     

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 2:56pm

    This is undeniable. If attempting to carry a weapon onboard is evidence of a true threat, we'd expect to see more would-be fliers headed off to prison, or at least arraigned on terrorism charges.

    Do you have half a brain, (if so it's lonely), IF you carry a gun on a plane what fucking purpose is that gun for

    why carry a gun on an aircraft, no they are probably not charged for terrorism, they are probably charged for carrying a concealed weapon.

    But I will leave it up to you to work out why anyone would carry a gun, and for what purpose. Guns perform basically one function. If you can think of a reasonable excuse to want to carry one, or another function for that gun (apart from KILLING THINGS), you could possibly have a valid argument.

    But what your saying is it's ok for people to take gun on planes, as long as they are charged for terrorism if they do.
    And if they are not charged for terrorism, then again it's ok for them to carry guns on a plane.

    I personally think you should all be issued guns, and the most likely person you will kill with it, IS YOURSELF or one of your family members.

    But if it makes you feel like a MAN, it's a small price to pay.

     

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      Who Cares (profile), Jul 9th, 2013 @ 3:44pm

      Re:

      Seems you are missing a brain. There is a simple reason to bring a gun onto a plane. To carry it from A to B while it just being of the right size to fit in the hand/carry on luggage class.

      There is another purpose for guns. It is called recreation and no that is not an euphemism for shooting at people.

      Your next paragraph is word salad that makes even less sense then the preceding (or following) paragraphs.

      Your experiment of handing out guns has already been done. Unfortunately the results do not bear out your prediction. Just ask the Swiss who hand out guns to their reserves to keep at home.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2013 @ 4:18pm

      Re:

      Just another brainless attack on the Second Amendment.

       

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    Wolfy, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 4:48am

    You are under more of a threat from your own government, than you are from a religious idiot.

     

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    Rich Cream, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 10:46am

    Contraband testing failure rate

    Another thing they are tacitly saying is since we fail to find half the contraband items during testing, there are just as many of these things going on-board as not.

     

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    Uriel-238 (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 11:40am

    Have we ever seen a positive test?

    A drill, perhaps?

    Has the NSA ever actually detected and confiscated some liquid explosives?

    I remember that a test group was able to get weapons onto the plane at one point, and they figured out how to get plastique past the pornoscan (or a pat down).

    Has the liquids thing ever been tested?

     

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    Nico, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 10:55pm

    Is TSA being lobbied by corporations?

    Have you considered that the ban on liquids, which at the moment really covers bottled water, is really being pushed by airport vendors like "Hudson News"? It would seem these vendors have a significant amount of revenue to lose if our water bottles could make it through security.

    I sometimes even wonder if the airlines are in on it too. Come on, is that tiny little glass of water and ice enough to keep a human hydrated for a X hour flight?

    The airlines allow cartridge razors, however ban safety razors (double edge). Safety razors provide a close shave and are extremely economical. I highly doubt someone could hold a safety razor in their hand and attack someone. It's almost the equivalent of saying a mechanical pencil could be used as a weapon. Gillette, BIC, etc... are they lobbying to keep old school safety razors out too as it would impact their cartridge razor sales?

    Back to water bottles. If they could really contain a threat of explosive liquid lets just screen them. Our government spent millions of dollars on specially developed body scanning technology. How about they create a screening system to detect liquids in bottles. The person who invents it and their lobbyist friends can both get rich, we get to save $$$ brining water back on the plane again.

     

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