Chicago Transit Cops Start Up Their Own Security Theater, Will Start Randomly Swabbing Bags For Explosive Residue

from the what-can-we-do-that-would-be-WORSE-than-nothing,-CTA-asked dept

It appears Chicago wants to get in on New York City’s racket — steamrolling civil liberties because of a supposed terrorism nexus. For New York City, it’s been every day since Sept. 11th, 2001, greatly aided and abetted by a nanny statist mayor and a police commissioner who’d never seen a personal freedom he didn’t immediately dislike.

For Chicago, the terrorism connection isn’t nearly as clear. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any justification for the deployment of random explosive-residue-swabbing checkpoints at public transit stations.

There is “no known terrorist threat” that prompted the new procedure slated to begin the week of Nov. 3, Nancy Lipman, Chicago police commander for public transportation, said Friday at a news conference announcing the initiative.

OK… With that, um, cleared up, here’s how the TSA-Lite random acts of intrusion will go down.

Chicago police say they will randomly select one rail station each day to set up the screening table outside the rail turnstiles during rush hour. Lipman said most of the stations will be downtown but other stops will be included as well.

A team of four to five officers will man the table, which will have two explosives testing machines.

One rail station… out of dozens… selected randomly… with each search also being randomly generated.

Police will approach riders, whom they have randomly selected by picking a random number that morning, Lipman said.

For example, if police pick the number 10, they will ask the 10th person who enters the station, then the 20th and so on, Lipman said.

This randomly-selected person — if carrying a bag — will be asked to submit to an explosive residue test. The bag will not be opened. Unless it tests positive, in which case further impositions will be imposed.

A positive test triggers a search request. Commuters can refuse but they won’t be allowed to board their train and will be asked to leave the station. Almost “free to go,” but not quite. Chicago transit cops will be free to perform less voluntary searches should they decide “probable cause” exists to do so. Given that a bag has just tested positive for explosives, that should be all the justification they need.

Police spokesman Marty Maloney calls this random act of security theater a “proactive, protective measure.” Nearly everyone else, if given a few minutes to think about it, will call it “futile.” Or “stupid.”

The multiple layers of randomness are essential to preventing charges of discrimination or other civil liberties violations. (This is what makes DUI checkpoints and the TSA’s “enhanced screening” Constitutional — you either have to stop everybody or be truly random.) But this precaution also undermines the effectiveness of the effort. In fact, everything about this program borders on uselessness.

Anyone can refuse the initial test. They can also refuse to have their bags searched if they do test positive for explosive residue. Both actions will likely be viewed with suspicion but neither leads directly to detainment.

The city boasts more than 140 entry points, just for this mode of public transportation. Anyone who would rather avoid the “random checkpoint” will have plenty of options. The program checks a random entry for random people, rather than making any attempt to truly spot suspicious individuals or behavior. The Transit Authority takes great care to explain just how painless the process will be, what with limited checkpoints and no mandatory searches, but these words of comfort only highlight the fact that the screening system is almost entirely composed of security holes. The chances that this will actually prevent an attack are so close to zero as to be completely indistinguishable from doing nothing.

In exchange for its half-assed efforts, the city will likely net itself a few additional lawsuits, thanks to that inevitable byproduct of poorly-thought-out and poorly-implemented security theater programs: civil liberties’ violations.

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Comments on “Chicago Transit Cops Start Up Their Own Security Theater, Will Start Randomly Swabbing Bags For Explosive Residue”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This won't end well

Keep in mind that this is a police force which ran a torture ring for years and continues to pay the guy convicted of organizing it:

So anyone refusing is likely to be arrested, detained, beaten, and yes, tortured.

Incidentally, I’m familiar with Chicago’s transit system, as I’ve ridden various portions of it off-and-on for decades. Anyone who makes even a cursory analysis of its security vulnerabilities will quickly conclude that it’s indefensible against any adversary with the tiniest clue. Which isn’t surprising: it wasn’t designed to be defensible. So while these idiots are busy harassing commuters (and not coincidentally, training them to give up their Constitutional rights), actual real live threats — like muggers, who frequent the El — can look forward to enhanced opportunities to “ply their trade”.

Anonymous Coward says:

So you go from no threat and lousy police reputation in the city to a thread of the local thugs known as police searching you. Of course while you can refuse the search, how far do you think you’ll get before another cop wants to see what you’re carrying?

Mission creep will have nudie scanners next and since they’ve put so much money into the program, they’ll have a problem with anyone that refuses to pass through.

Remind me to never take the subway in Chicago. That’s another experience I can do without.

Anonymous Coward says:

>The bag will not be opened. This is not very invasive compared to what NYC officials announced back in September which barely any press coverage.

>They announced what they call a new, unprecedented level of law enforcement at subway commuter and Amtrak train platforms and more random searches of baggage.

>“Commuters, citizens will see an increased presence,” Cuomo said. “That shouldn’t raise anxiety. If anything, that should provide a calming effect.”

Anonymous Coward says:

1 station ?

So if a terrorist wanted to blow something up, all they have to do to guarantee getting an explosive to it, is to send 2 bombs thru via 2 different train stations? Even if 1 does get caught, the other is going to make it thru.

More stupidity from our nations finest. They must have gotten a grant they need to spend.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: 1 station ?

Bomber plants bomb at station, and waits until the day that police happen to pick that one. Watches social media for messages indicating that they’re on-site and detonates it remotely.

I think the point we’re all making that — as a security tactic — this is WORSE than nothing. It’s so profoundly stupid that it has failed to survive 30 seconds of casual analysis from observers. No doubt someone who invested an entire day studying this could generate a catalog of failure long enough to occupy multiple pages.

Therefore we are left with two possible conclusions:

1. The Chicago police do not know that this is truly stupid. In that case, they are incompetent and those responsible for this fiasco should be publicly identified, publicly fired, and publicly blacklisted from police service for life: after all, we the public should not be paying people who lack baseline competence in their field.

2. The Chicago police do know that this is truly stupid. In that case, they are knowingly engaged in security theater in order to harass, intimidate, abuse, and frighten the very people that they are sworn to serve and protect. Once again, the people responsible should be publicly identified, publicly fired, and publicly blacklisted from police for life, as those who cannot fulfill their sworn obligations are unworthy to serve.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: 1 station ?

Or just drops a package in the trash can and walks away.


Because unlike the UK during the IRA “troubles”, in which authorities made a meticulous effort to relocate all trash containers away from crowded places like queues at train stations and airports, in the US there always seems to be a big trash can smack dab in the middle of the most crowded places.

As such extreme levels of idiocy can’t be accidental, it’s probable that the private security consults hired to “keep everyone safe” are intentionally leaving conspicuous chinks-in-the-armour while hoping for the next big terrorist attack, knowing that it will bring in more lucrative no-bid contracts for them to profit from.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is “no known terrorist threat”

– This is very similar to starting the sentence with:
I’m not a scientist, but …

“Police will approach riders, whom they have randomly selected “

– Yeah, and this will not be based upon race.

“The multiple layers of randomness are essential to preventing charges of discrimination or other civil liberties violations.”

Err – wut? … lol, what a bunch of idiots.

Doug says:

Do the math

Aside from obvious guaranteed ways to not get caught (e.g. Anonymous Coward’s 2-station approach), just do the math:

There are 1.7M riders per day, and 145 Stations (from

Suppose they pick 10% of the people at random. That means they are selecting 10% * 0.69% = 0.069% of the people. So there’s a 99.931% chance of not being selected. If there is one terrorist out of 1.7M *every day*, it will take 1005 days (2.75 years) of random testing before it even becomes more likely than not that the terrorist is caught. It would take 4343 days before you have a 95% chance of catching the terrorist on just one of those days.

This isn’t about security. It’s about allowing your PR team to *say* you are taking a “proactive, protective measure” without *actually* lying while saying it.

saulgoode (profile) says:

Re: Do the math

If there is one terrorist out of 1.7M *every day*, it will take 1005 days (2.75 years) of random testing before it even becomes more likely than not that the terrorist is caught.

And assuming a success rate of 99.9% for the swabbing test, during that period, over 1000 innocent people will have been falsely identified as terrorists (base rate fallacy).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Remember this

…travel anywhere will require stopping at checkpoints…

Toll roads? Already have those in some places; many existed before 9/11.

Agriculture Inspection Stations? Already have those in some places; many existed before 9/11.

Commercial Vehicle Inspection/Weigh Stations? Already have those; many existed before 9/11.

Border Patrol Checkpoints (miles away from the border)? Already have those; many existed before 9/11.

Airport Security Screening? Existed before 9/11; got worse after.

Security Screening to enter government buildings? Existed before 9/11.

In my above examples only one does not require everybody to stop.

Now if we’re talking about having to stop more often

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

More like random compliance with authority checks.

This is just to get people used to the idea that you do whatever someone in a uniform tells you. Anyone with something to hide won’t go anywhere near one of these checkpoints, so the only thing ferreted out will be people who believe they have the right to travel unmolested in their own country. Who will probably be taught a ‘lesson’ about asserting their rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

boiling frog

They may use sniffer dogs in an attempt to find explosives. But since these sniffer dogs will also be trained to find drugs … yeah, you got it!

Just like all those INS highway checkpoints near the Mexican border, that were supposed to be set up to find illegal aliens. Since immigrant smugglers have for years completely avoided these checkpoints, they’ve been turned into drug and cash searches on surprised American travellers.

Anonymous Coward says:

For example, if police pick the number 10, they will ask the 10th person who enters the station, then the 20th and so on, Lipman said.

So, occasionally they’ll “randomly” pick “1” or “2”. Then it will be:

For example, if police pick the number 1, they will ask the 1st person who enters the station, then the 2nd and so on …

John85851 (profile) says:

What's the randomness

So, what exactly is the randomness? Is it every 10th person or 20th? Or is the number randomly pulled out of a hat?
How long will it take for the officers on the scene to think this randomness is too much work and start pulling over every 5th or 3rd or 2nd person? Heck, why not stop everyone and be done with the whole randomizing procedure. And who cares if people get delayed in the name of security (theater)- it’s not like people are trying to get to work in rush hour.

But, like other people are saying, how long will it take for this to get out on Twitter and people start avoiding stations with checkpoints? I guess the police have done their job: if no one uses the station, then no terrorist will blow it up… or whatever it is they’re trying to protect.

ECA (profile) says:


So, how many BOMBS have been USED, in the last 13 years?
Can you prove any of those used the transit system? insted of just walking down the street and blowing up a 7/11 for the ATM?

HOW many transit officers is this going to take? MORE money out of your taxes?

If the CORPS dont take it, the STATE will tax you for it..
BE SAFE, dont pay attention to the idiot next to you, LET the Gov do its job, keeping you safe…

Out of the war, how many TARGETS did we have? HOW many Civilians did we kill?
Are you REALLY safe?
NOW you are forcing those carrying BOMBS to have a quick kill button on the BOMB.

But REALLY…WHERE would be a good place for a bomb?
At a marathon, ending when 90% of the people have GONE HOME?
Look at the other countries, that HAD BOMBINGS..
A Subway during NOON to RUSH HOUR would be a GREAT spot..
Why hasnt it happened already? ITS A BIG EASY TARGET.

Anonymous Coward says:

"This is what makes... the TSA's 'enhanced screening' Constitutional"

Has the TSA enhanced screening been found constitutional? IIRC, the general principle has been that minimally invasive searches can be conducted and can only be escalated if they reveal something. The “enhanced screening”, by contrast, starts with an invasive search based on nothing.

“We think the search for the sole purpose of discovering weapons and preventing air piracy, and not for the purpose of discovering weapons and precriminal events, fully justified the minimal invasion of personal privacy by magnetometer. […] When the high metal indication of the magnetometer was not satisfactorily explained by Epperson, the subsequent physical “frisk” of his jacket was entirely justifiable and reasonable under Terry.” United States of America, Appellee, v. Cecil Kenton Epperson, Appellant., 454 F.2d 769 (4th Cir. 1972)

tqk (profile) says:

Stupid, stupid, stupid, ...

In response, I propose random acts of disobedience. If your debarcation point is the station to be “checked” that day, reach into your bag for the rotten tomatos you brought and pummel the bastards. In court, you can tell ’em it’s 1st Amendment protected speech and, “Fuck you!” On day two, they’ll all be wearing raincoats and face shields, and won’t that look hilarious on the 6:00 news?

If your station wasn’t picked, walk by city hall and pummel it. Perhaps when the steps of city hall are bleeding red with a river of rotten tomatos, they might re-think this ridiculous, worthless intrusion into the lives of those paying their salaries.

Secondly, dust your bags with a bit of nitrogen fertilizer. Overload the machines with false positives.

Can you imagine the lineups when every second person in line is to be checked? “Hello boss? I’m not going to make it into work today.”

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Stupid, stupid, stupid, ...

I just realized I can make a kil … er, lot of money here by setting up a vegetable stand at the entrance of all the train stations. There’s no overhead! I can get my supply of rotten tomatos at any grocer’s dumpster or any food bank.

I’ll be rich! Thanks Chicago. Ah, the land of the free, capitalism’s great!1!

Vladilyich (profile) says:

Chicago Searches

I wish I lived in Chicago! I would carry a supply of “smelling salts” (Ammonia) on me at all times. The swabs and the detection devices test for only one thing…nitrogen compounds. Since 90% of all explosives contain nitrates, ammonia would fire off a false positive every time. That might get me banned from the El for life, but watching them go bananas would be worth it.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Chilled speech

Speaking of chilled speech. I really so wanted to bring up that old well-wish for actors and actresses, “break a leg”. I wanted to write a reply along the lines of, “Hey, ________ _______ _______ guys, break a leg.”

I find I can’t bring myself to do it…at least not with a name in the blank: There’s simply too much chance some authoritarian goon would take it as a threat; and if so, I’d find myself under investigation or arrest.

It’s sad that our authorities have so little respect for Rights that we must restrain ourselves from making even the most mundane jokes, to avoid official attention.

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