TSA Decides Sorority Souvenir Book Carried By Dozens Of Travelers Probably A Bomb

from the some-sort-of-terrorist-convention...-even-the-letters-aren't-English dept

Hundreds of travelers attempting to fly out of Houston's Hobby Airport were delayed for hours as TSA agents confronted the massive security threat posed by a book. Actually, several books. Several identical books. Carried by several fliers leaving the same event. (via Lowering the Bar)

"We had a large group with a large number of bags to be checked and because of a certain item in those bags there was additional screening necessary," said Bill Begley with Hobby Airport.

A spokesman for the airport says the sorority members were apparently given thick booklets at the convention that could be mistaken for explosives when packed into checked bags. The booklets forced TSA officials to hand check most of the luggage.
Nice use of the word "forced." Even if the book appeared suspicious at first, perhaps the inference could have been drawn that other passengers wearing the sorority insignia on their almost-universally red clothing were carrying the same non-threatening book. Or does "Behavioral Detection" -- the TSA's mind-reading initiative that watches for suspicious patterns -- only detect suspicion, not the lack thereof?

Here's the "bomb," as displayed by one passenger during KHOU's televised report:






Better safe than sorry -- the TSA's strangulated way of thinking -- kept this from being pursued logically, as Kevin Underhill points out.
Of course, I suppose it's not impossible that ISIS coordinated an attack plan with the annual Delta Sigma Theta convention. But the chances of that are sufficiently close to zero that I'd feel safe waving these ladies through.
Maybe it wasn't ISIS. Maybe it was hundreds of "lone wolves," all wearing red and white clothing and all carrying the same bomb/book!

Instead of seeing this common element as something non-suspicious after the first thorough search, the TSA apparently treated every repeat "incident" as its own particularized threat. Flights were delayed, but not a single one was made any safer by these extra inspection efforts.

So far, the TSA has yet to comment on its actions, leaving that unenviable task to airport officials. Meanwhile, travelers continue to give the TSA more credit than it deserves.
"I'm sure they were doing their best that they could, but it just wasn't enough it wasn't enough," [sorority alumus Cassandra] Tomes said.
Their "best" is routinely terrible. And for all the talk about becoming a smarter, more responsive security agency, the TSA continues to brute force its way through the day-to-day business of keeping up appearances.


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  • icon
    GMacGuffin (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:28am

    Probability Math

    No matter how many times a flipped coin comes up heads, the probability remains the same on the next flip. Hence, just because one or even dozens of sorority souvenir books are not bombs has no bearing on the probability of the next sorority souvenir book not being bomb. Duh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:59am

      Re: Probability Math

      Also, a trick coin with both sides as heads has the same probability of coming up tails as each of these sorority souvenir books has of being a bomb, no matter how many times it goes through airport security.

      Probabilities can be tricky, ya know. Be glad the TSA didn't fall for them and is ensuring that many things that are not bombs do not end up on planes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      mcinsand, 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:01am

      Re: Probability Math

      Slight correction: the *chance* remains the same. Chance is tied to individual events, where binomial probability distribution relates to event populations.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:14pm

      Re: Probability Math

      So if you flip the book in the air and it lands cover side up, it’s a bomb?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:18pm

      Re: Probability Math

      The first book could be a book or a bomb, 50% chance.
      That the first and second books are books and not bombs is 25%.
      Third,2nd and 1rst, 12.5%....
      After checking 10 bags/books the chance that all those books are actual books is close to 0%! So in their mind it's close to 100% certain that the next book will be a bomb.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 2:23pm

        Re: Re: Probability Math

        There are three sorority sisters with bags, and the TSA is only allowed to search one. After the agent decides which one to search, one of the one of the two not selected opens her bag and reveals her book to be nothing more than a book... I think everyone knows where this is going.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Unanimous Cow Herd, 3 Aug 2015 @ 3:50pm

      Re: Probability Math

      By that logic, Occam's razor probably wouldn't warrant a search at all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:44am

    I suppose the books could have had a large, friendly letters that said, "This is not a bomb."

    But then maybe TSA employees can't read.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kaden (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:46am

    Delta Sigma Theta is a black sorority.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:47am

    Does TSA require a ...

    ... lobotomy as a requirement for employment?

    It's definitely looking like they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:06am

    Creeps

    We all know why the TSA had to look through this particular group's bags.

    After they got to rifle through a bunch of sorority girl's luggage, did they also make them go through the naked scanners?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:09am

    Must be something more...

    Those were BOOKS. You know, those things people buy at stands in the airport right before getting on a flight so they have something quiet to do during a long and boring flight? I'd guess that probably half of everyone boarding a flight has a book, so there has to be something else going on here. Maybe an "anonymous tip" to the TSA about a "large group of similar women" all taking flights at the same time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:16am

    I agree, they were doing the best they could...

    I agree, they were doing the best they could...and there in lies the problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:01pm

      Re: I agree, they were doing the best they could...

      "bless their hearts they are doing the best they can" which I understand to be southern for "May the idiots rot in hell"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:19am

    TSA agents Looks at Delta Sigma Theta on cover. 'Gee this isn't an english letter it must be Arabic Script that I don't know.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 5:06pm

      Re:

      You are on to them, watch yer back.

      Remember that time a TSA agent told a passenger their drivers license was no good because it was foreign? It was issued by Washington DC which this TSA agent claimed was not part of the USA.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lollypop (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:22am

    I would like to make an announcement

    "A lot of you are carrying a book which looks like this (points to book.) Please remove the book from your carry-on luggage and place separately in a bin.

    Thank you."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:34am

    I suppose that this isn't unique to sorority books.

    There's probably a new TSA panic with every NYT bestselling doorstopper that comes out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Digitari, 3 Aug 2015 @ 2:42pm

      Re: I suppose that this isn't unique to sorority books.

      or some whistleblower tell all about the TSA theater!!!!


      (That "could" be a bomb to the TSA)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Yakko Warner (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:52am

    How does a book look like a bomb?

    thick booklets at the convention that could be mistaken for explosives when packed into checked bags


    What is wrong with their detection equipment that a book looks like a bomb?

    How many college students will have to go through this if -- god forbid -- they dare to take a textbook on a flight?

    Or maybe that's the whole plan, to keep people dumb by forbidding books....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 3:57pm

      Re: How does a book look like a bomb?

      This was my reaction as well. The fact that they couldn't tell a simple book from a bomb tells me they lack proper training. This is a failure of the TSA training, not the public.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 4:46pm

        Re: Re: How does a book look like a bomb?

        Perhaps the book had gold leaf or some other metallic inlay that could be mistaken as wiring and/or batteries.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 6:23pm

          Re: Re: Re: How does a book look like a bomb?

          Now THERE'S an idea - publish a book that's full of Public Domain childrens' tales that scans to look like a bomb, gun, and drugs all in the same package. Then get a MILLION people to carry it through the TSA lines all at the same time. Maybe something might get done then.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baffled, 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:53am

    This is CHECKED luggage

    According to the reports, the problem was with books in checked luggage, which usually gets scanned well after you've checked in and handed it over. We're not talking about the usual TSA security checkpoint where you take certain items out of your carryons. That would seem to moot the comments about noticing the sorority Tshirts or skin color, or "remove the book" announcements; unless Houston Hobby is set up differently from practically every other US airport?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy Lyman (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:13pm

      Re: This is CHECKED luggage

      I don't understand why checked luggage would make the security checkpoint lines overflow outside.

      Some airports have x-ray machines in the lobby that you have to run your suitcase through before turning it over to the airline. Perhaps that was the case here? But again, a general announcement about removing the book would work for that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Jeremy Lyman (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:31pm

        Re: Re: This is CHECKED luggage

        That actually makes a lot of sense. The book, because of the type of pages it uses, reflects with a signature that the TSA is trained to identify as a possible explosive. The bags are scanned after the passenger checks in, but before passing the checked luggage to the airline. This means that the TSA personnel needed to manually open each bag after identifying its owner and stepping into the secondary screening area. Enough consecutive hits and the conveyor belt has to stop moving, the line stops moving, and the check-in counters stop moving.

        Yes, after the first couple dozen hits turn out to be the same book, they're probably expecting to find a book. But they still have to open every bag, because the scan matches the explosives image they're trained for.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:49pm

          They could have gathered all the sorority luggage together...

          And quickly ruled it out by giving it a sniff with an explosive detection dog or two.

          ...If the TSA actually has any qualified detection dogs.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            tqk (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 3:23pm

            Re: They could have gathered all the sorority luggage together...

            And quickly ruled it out by giving it a sniff with an explosive detection dog or two.

            Naah. These were black women. TSA thought they were inundated with a hoard of drug mules. They'd need to use a "War On Drugs" detection dog.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:49pm

          Re: Re: Re: This is CHECKED luggage

          ...because of the type of pages it uses, reflects with a signature that the TSA is trained to identify as a possible explosive...

          And WTH paper is that? Are these sorority books the only books that use this paper? Or is this paper used in other books and we are ONLY NOW finding out about this issue?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          User555, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:56pm

          Re: Re: Re: This is CHECKED luggage

          I would even argue this is likely a miscalibration of the machine.

          I fly about 35 weeks a year and use an HP Elitebook which has a magnesium case. About 1/4 of the time I have my laptop case hand checked because I see my laptop get flagged as a suspicious item. Onscreen a red square appears exactly around the shape of my laptop. I have another laptop in the bag as well and when they do the side profile I can see both laptops independently of each other but again the red square is around the HP laptop but not my other one. Something about the size and density is triggering the machine. Again, I think it is a miscalibration.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:56am

    This was likely the fastest way to proceed

    They had more agents certified for searching the luggage than supervisors permitted to let it be skipped.

    If all your tools are hammers, there is no point in not hitting those screws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:13pm

    If it has to do with college, it's got nothing to do with the TSA.

    Intelligence = over qualified in TSA parlance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:16pm

    Death by a thousand (paper) cuts

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:21pm

    DDoS?

    I'm actually kinda pleased that they didn't just stop scanning bags. IF the scanning is a necessary and effective means (not just theater) of securing travel, you shouldn't just be able to blow off your responsibility because the process got slow.

    If the system isn't working you need to revise the system, not just randomly turn it off when overloaded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:46pm

      It's been long established...

      ...that there are known vectors a determined terrorist could exploit to smuggle weapons or explosives onto a plane past (or more offensively, through) the TSA checkpoints.

      ...that the TSA is more of a means to make the uninformed American laity feel better, and doesn't actually serve as effective security.

      ...that the TSA is also a vector by which desirable property can be detected for later seizure by law enforcement via the civil forfeiture programs.

      You're not going to be able to reform or revise the system given that much of the TSA budget goes towards ensuring they will be on the budget next year, which includes efforts to attack anyone who might try to reform or revise the system.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:34pm

    i've heard before how certain published pieces had been 'explosive'. i obviously thought something else was being referred to. seems i was wrong!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:37pm

    Dark Skin?

    Guys:
    The absolutely beautiful black skin of the person flipping through the book in the photographs suggests that books were a flimsy coverup for the true motive of this search: lashing out at people whose skin is the wrong color, i.e. dark, and who were getting "uppity", i.e. very nicely dressed in red and white.

    TSA, for shame!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:06pm

    TSA Security Theater 101

    "We had a large group with a large number of bags to be checked and because of a certain item in those bags there was additional screening necessary," said Bill Begley with Hobby Airport.

    Wow, weee.

    The keystone security posers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)are at it again humiliating, degrading and delaying countless travelers due to TSA's harebrained security schemes.

    How many terrorists have the keystone security posers uncovered in the 13 years of TSA's existence and with billions of passengers screened?

    None as in zip, zing, nada, zilch, zero.

    Do away with the Transportation Security Administration, critics implore. It's all just security theater, useless measures meant to make people feel safe. No terrorist plot has ever been stopped by the TSA, they insist.

    TSA Administrator John Pistole has heard all the criticism of his agency — created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and charged with screening more than 630 million fliers per year. Pistole acknowledges TSA has made mistakes, and continues to adjust its policies and techniques to protect U.S. travelers.

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-travel-briefcase-20140804-story.html


    In May, the Government Accountability Office released a report noting that SPOT's annual cost is more than $200 million and that as of March 2010 some 3,000 behavior detection officers were deployed at 161 airports but had not apprehended a single terrorist

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2010/11/does_the_tsa_ever_catch_t errorists.html

    TSA doesn't have a clue about security but they sure do have humiliating, degrading and delaying travelers down pat.

    TSA also apparently knows how to spend our tax money better than we do funding countless boondoggles such as but not limited to:

    Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques (SPOT)

    Rapiscan Secure 1000 whole body x-ray scanners

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    yankinwaoz (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:25pm

    Mission Creep

    From what I've read, the TSA sometimes gets some success enforcing laws that have nothing to do with flight security. Specifically money laundering, narcotics, and immigration enforcement.

    Somehow these TSA idiots, who are NOT trained law enforcement officers, have either decided to, or were told to, enforce laws way outside of their core mission.

    I don't care that a passenger has some drugs on him/her. I don't care that a passenger is carrying $100K in cash. Nor should the TSA.

    I suspect this is the real reason the TSA is still here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:26pm

    Worst part of all this is the TSA regularly (as in dozens/hundreds of times a day) take bribes to let drugs, explosives, and basically anything you want through any airport.
    All it takes is a small brown envelope and you're waved through....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dr evil, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:51pm

    Solution

    Require ALL TSA employees to take and pass all of the classes a police officer must take.. Except for the draw weapon, shoot before thinking one, of course.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 3:48pm

      Re: Solution

      What are you talking about? That's the only class required to be a police officer. The courts have long since decided knowledge of the law and how to enforce it is at most recommended, and at worst a severe handicap.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:52pm

    Repeat Typo

    [blockquote]"I'm sure they were doing their best that they could, but it just wasn't enough it wasn't enough," [sorority alumus Cassandra] Tomes said. [/blockquote] She went on to add, of the TSA agents, "However much they pushed it around, it wasn't enough," and the agents kept insisting that she should, "Let me hold it up; just one more go." Holding it up for just once more.

    But it was never enough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 2:47pm

    Call me a pessimist, but I'm starting to suspect that the TSA may not be 100% effective and efficient.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 5:10pm

    Soon there will be a new TSA ruling on books.
    A book can only have 150 pages or less.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me@me.net, 4 Aug 2015 @ 4:15am

    incompitence

    oh yeah....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 4 Aug 2015 @ 5:07am

    The Baggage Doesn't Have To Go With The Traveler.

    Well, I understand that experienced business travelers send their baggage ahead by Fed Ex, and, if necessary, maintain multiple suitcases. The airlines could adopt a similar system as a whole, and simply get out of the checked baggage business. A rough guideline might be that anything which cannot, for one reason or another, be upgraded to carry-on should be Fed-Ex-ed. Of course there would need to be Fed-Ex stores at airports, so that people could simply drop off sundry purchases to be shipped home, instead of putting them in their baggage. Laundries in hotels might similarly accept dirty clothes, clean them, and ship them home for the customer. In both cases, the store would ask if the customer wanted air or ground shipping. Ground shipping can move at a thousand miles a day, apart from collection and sorting time. In many cases, that might be good enough.

    Of course, the TSA would not like this scheme, as it would tend to deprive them of their ability to steal from baggage.

    I heard about one model of Russian airliner, which is designed to be 100% carry-on. It's a wide-body type, so the cargo bay is high enough for people to walk around in. Passengers carry their luggage up the first flight of stairs to the cargo bay, put their bags in bins, and proceed up a second flight of stairs to the passenger cabin. Of course, a lot of Russia is like Alaska, with whole cities which have no road access to the outside world. People fly because it's the only way to get there. So Aeroflot needed something not quite as refined as a Boing or an Airbus, a bit more like a Greyhound bus. The Russians also developed the Antonov An-22, which can approximately be described as "the world's only flying dump truck," designed to lift an eighty-ton payload out of a dirt runway somewhere in Siberia, and fly it a couple of hundred miles to some place where there was land or water transport.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NoahVail (profile), 4 Aug 2015 @ 6:11am

    TSA - always striving to make the worst possible choices

    My son just returned from an out of state church trip.
    He noted that the only youth to receive the full TSA package, also happened to be the only young black man with them.

    The young men were actually ribbing him ahead of time that he should expect extra TSA 'treatment'. When it actually happened, that young man was the only one not surprised.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Seegras (profile), 4 Aug 2015 @ 8:46am

    I don't think THIS:

    "I'm sure they were doing their best that they could, but it just wasn't enough it wasn't enough," [sorority alumus Cassandra] Tomes said.

    Is giving the TSA any credit. It's "they're totally incompetent idiots" said nicely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RocRizzo (profile), 4 Aug 2015 @ 12:10pm

    TSA

    TSA = Totally Stupid Agency.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tim, 4 Aug 2015 @ 3:47pm

    Broken record

    "..but it just wasn't enough it wasn't enough"

    Talk about a broken record.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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