Friday, October 24, 2014

Terror: Vulnerability Through Decent Acts

We try to be real nice and friendly to people, but sometimes they take advantage of that. - Layne Staley

Sometimes you try to help people, and it backfires on you, and then they try to take advantage of you. - Bill Cosby

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

It had been a long day and Jim stood wearily in the TSA security line at Newark International Airport, a bag slung over his shoulder and a large, framed Ansel Adams photo in his right hand.  When his turn arrived for his security check, he dutifully slung his bag, the photo, his shoes and his belt on the conveyor belt, flashed his boarding pass and proceeded to walk through the magnetometer.

As he stood on the exit side of the x-ray machine, a TSA agent approached him with his Ansel Adams photo.  “The photo is too large to pass through the x-ray machine”, she said, “May I inspect it by hand?”

“Of course”, Jim replied and with that permission, the TSA agent carefully slit the package open.  As she inspected the photo, Jim’s heart sank.  He realized that a large photo with a metal frame (that could be broken apart and used as knives), glass on the front instead of plastic (which could also be broken apart) and the picture wire (which could be used as a garrotte) were all present.  His prized photo was sure to be rejected as acceptable for carry on and would thus be condemned to a certain death as checked luggage.

“It’s all fine”, the TSA agent said, smiling. “Let me tape this back up for you.”  Taking a role of tape with a TSA holographic logo on it, she slipped a couple of wraps of tape around the photo, handed it to Jim and with a smile, wished him a safe flight.

Jim thanked her and 30 minutes later, was sound asleep on a flight bound for Toronto.

Two hours later after an uneventful flight and an equally uneventful stop at Canada Customs, he found himself once again in a security line for his connecting flight in Canada.  He was surprised that once one went through border inspection, one was outside of the secure zone and had to go through security again for connecting flights.

When it was his turn, he offered his Ansel Adams photo to security and made an observation that it was likely to be too large for x-ray as noted in Newark and would therefore need to be inspected by hand.

“No need”, the security individual replied.  “It has the TSA tape on it and therefore doesn’t need to be inspected by us.”.  With that, he passed the photo around security to waiting personnel at the end of the security zone.

Jim frowned but said nothing as he proceeded to go through the magnetometer.  He waited for his bag to come through x-ray for a while and noticed the equipment operator frown as his bag was repeatedly backed up on the conveyor belt and x-rayed again.

“Is there a problem?”, asked Jim.

“Possibly”, sad the operator, “We have mostly emptied your bag and something is still showing up on the x-ray that we can’t find.”  With that, the operator invited Jim around to view the screen and he politely explained what the different colors meant from a security standpoint.

“I don’t think you should be telling me this”, Jim said to the operator, who replied that it was quite ok.

Jim recognized the shape of the object in question as his spare laptop battery and pointed out that it was located inside a zippered compartment deep in the bag to prevent it from short circuiting.

With the security matter addressed, Jim left the security area and sat down to put his shoes on.

He was feeling disturbed now as he realized that he had carried a potential weapon on an aircraft and that going through security in Toronto, his package had not even been inspected because it was wrapped up by “magical TSA tape”.  He shuddered at the thought of what someone might accomplish if they got their hands on a roll of it.

At that moment, he looked up and noticed a member of the security detail waving a cleaning woman and her cart around security.  She quietly pushed the large cart to a bathroom entrance and went inside the bathroom, leaving the cart by the door unattended.

Jim frowned and thought “If the cart is passed through uninspected, all someone needs to do is place something on the cart before it enters security and have someone else take it off the cart after it has been waved through security.  In fact, the many acts of decency I have witnessed today may have put others at risk.”

Disturbed by this thought, he pulled out his laptop to send an email to authorities when he noticed an obviously nervous individual, sweating profusely and walking quickly down the corridor with a large box under his arm.

They locked eyes for a moment and Jim could see the animal look of fear and anger in the eyes of the person who stared back at him.

They both shivered.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Background / Food For Thought:

All of the events actually happened to me and when I reported them to authorities, I was told to mind my own business because “I wasn’t an aviation security expert”.  I was surprised by this response because we as citizens are always advised to be alert and diligent when we see something wrong.

The final event … well …. that’s just fiction, isn’t it?

Series Origin:

This series, a departure from my usual musings,  is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

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