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A photo from the Boston Marathon scene earlier this week
As a manhunt takes place for those responsible in the bombings of the Boston Marathon of earlier this week, the entire city of Boston is on lock-down (subway "T" service and the Amtrak between NY and Boston is suspended), airlines continue to help out travelers trying to travel to and from the city.
Boston-Logan International Airport is still open and flights are operating as normally as possible, though travelers can expect very high security within the terminals.
Current waivers, which allow customers to switch their flights and travel days at no extra charge, are available for most of the US carriers, plus some international ones. Here's the list, complete with links for more details:
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This afternoon, as the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon was under way with approximately 27,000 runners, two explosive devices detonated in the vicinity of the Finish Line, near the downtown Boston intersection of Boylston and Essex Streets. Initial reports state that the bombs were in trash cans within a block of each other (we've pinpointed the locations on a map below) and the explosions caused storefronts to explode as well as serious injuries for bystanders.
· 10pm: American Airlines is also offering a change waiver for flights to/from Boston. The Wall Street Journal tweets: "Officials found what they believe are 5 additional, undetonated explosive devices in Boston area."
· 8pm: One of the two confirmed dead is an 8-year-old boy.
· 7:15pm: The London Marathon is scheduled for this upcoming Sunday. Organizers are working with US authorities to review security and the potential for a copy-cat crime. The London Marathon is expected to have 37,000 runners. [Source: NBC News]
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The Center for Investigative Reporting's CaliforniaWatch project just posted an article about companies that are benefiting from the switch to new full-body scanners. Jaunted readers will be familiar with the broad outlines of the story: first there was a huge influx of money into pro-scanner lobbies working in DC, then TSA spent hundreds of millions of dollars on scanners that weren't ready for prime time, then they had to spend all that money again on Gingerbread Man scanners that were more acceptable to the public. And throughout everything scanner companies pocketed the spending.
But as outrageous as all that isand make no mistake, it's totally infuriatingthat's not what this post is about. Instead what caught our eye was something toward the very bottom of CaliforniaWatch's report, in the second to last paragraph. Apparently the companies that make technology for the full-body scanners can kind of do magic. For instance American Science and Engineering, a company that works on full-body scanners, also makes another kind of mobile x-ray machine that "can reveal hidden items inside passing vehicles."
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In recent months counter-terror officials have broken up plots to murder Israeli tourists in Cyprus and Egypt and Bangkok and Tunisia and India. Warnings were also issued to Israeli tourists regarding possible plots in Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Today a bomber managed to slip through the net and carry out an attack at the Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing at least six Israeli tourists and injuring more than 20 others, including an 11 year old boy and two pregnant women.
The details of the blast are still changing, to the point where no one even knows what kind of bomb exploded. Eyewitnesses describe a female suicide bomber who leaned into a tour bus filled with Israelis and detonated, while Bulgarian officials have reportedly told the Israelis that it was a suitcase bomb loaded into the luggage carriage. Whatever it was, the bomb was powerful enough to blow the front off the bus and set two nearby buses (also filled with Israeli tourists) on fire. Photos are here but please observe a strong content warning.
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When a blogger figured out how to defeat TSA's million-dollar scanners and posted the proof to YouTube, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that she literally hadn't heard about it. When a report by DHS's inspector general uncovered systematic TSA security breaches and issued a report, officials from the airport security agency told Congress that fixing things would take a while.
But spill one dead guy's ashes all over security at the end of a very bad PR month, and suddenly there are new rules on top of damage control on top of new rules. And to think, some critics suggest that TSA responds faster to public relations issues than they do to security issues!
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This was quite the eventful weekend for air travel in the Northeast. First, severe thunderstorms struck their lightning bolts for a few hours on Friday, delaying and diverting flights. This was immediately followed by a damaging fire at an FAA air traffic facility in New Jersey that caused airport, aircraft and ATC communication issues.
It only got worse on Saturday when a West Palm Beach-bound JetBlue flight had a bird strike on one engine and returned (safely) to Westchester County Airport. Finally, to cap off the weekend, an x-ray machine started smoking at the security check at one of the terminals of LaGuardia Airport, forcing the evacuation of all passengers for a few hours and further delaying and mixing up flights.
WHEW. Welcome to summer travel, eh?
Amidst all that breathless breaking news, the local broadcasting stations briefly glazed over what we thought was really the most intriguing story of allthat of a massive terror drill at JFK Airport.
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You'll recall that last April we gave you a heads up on TSA's new ID scanners, which are designed to speed up security and close a notorious and well-known loophole in American airport security. The so-called "CAT-BPSS" (Credential Authentication TechnologyBoarding Pass Scanning System) scanners were supposed to bust fakes more quickly and efficiently than humans could. That was supposed to be "fantastic" for getting people through checkpoints.
We complained that it wouldn't really speed things up since security bottlenecks happen at the metal detectors and scanners, and not at the ID checks. But we assumed that the scanners worked, and they plugged a hole that needed plugging, so overall we were pretty positive about the roll out. You know what they say about assuming, right?
We can't quite decide whether this storywhich involves a traffic stop in Connecticut but which we'll connect to airport security in just a secondis quietly reassuring or deeply creepy. The things that police officers and security officials can do, and the different ways they can do them, are becoming harder and harder to catalog.
Stratford firefighter Mike Apatow was driving along a Connecticut interstate when he found himself getting pulled over for no discernible reason. It turns out that Apatow has high blood pressure, and just that morning he had been to the hospital for a medical stress test. Doctors had injected him with just a tiny amount of radioactive material so they could track what was going on with his blood. Hours later, the leftover isotopes in Apatow's body were still enough to light up his car as it drove by a state police vehicle equipped with a mobile radioactivity detector.
Keep in mind that he was on an interstate. That means he was either driving 65mph+ or stuck between a lot of other cars. Either way, the sniffer still picked him right out. Hmmm.
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Would TSA scanners have caught the non-metallic underwear bomb at the center of the latest Al Qaeda plot? That was the discussion late last week and over the weekend, after the public learned of the planned attack via the Associated Press, which learned about it from an anonymous leaker who now may well go to jail.
The ex-TSA chief who bought the scanners says yes, because of course he does. A Congressman who routinely bashes TSA says no, because of course he does. But "candidly, no" was also the answer given by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who would know. And the consensus of experts also seems to be that scanners would have missed the bomb.
Meanwhile there are good reasons to believe that more underwear bombs are in the wild and that a "wave of plane attacks" might be on the horizon. Happy Monday!
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Fake boarding passes and fake IDs have been an obvious hole in TSA's security theater for over half a decade. We know it's been that long since we wrote about it a bit in 2008 and then at length in 2009 and then offhandedly in in 2011. That whole time terrorists were able to evade the no-fly list either by getting a fake ID that matched their real boarding pass or by generating a fake boarding pass that matched their real ID. Options!
Perhaps realizing that the situation was not conducive either to objective security or to the public's perceptions of the agency's reliability, TSA announced last fall that they would be rolling out new machines to bust fake IDs and boarding passes. Fast forward half a year later, and they're now actually doing it.
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You've seen the video, now read the TSA pushback (and if you haven't seen the video, we've embedded it at the bottom). The airport security agency is facing renewned criticism triggered by a 27-year old Florida man's viral video, in which the man appears to use the world's dumbest hack to smuggle metallic objects through TSA's super-expensive full-body scanners.
Now Blogger Bob has taken official notice of the controversy and posted a response. Except his response very pointedly does not deny that the hack works. Instead he only says that TSA can't talk about security protocols, and besides the agency has multiple layers of security, and besides the machines can detect objects hidden in lots of ways. Other TSA officials are telling journalists that the machines are "safe." All of that is interesting, but it's not an answer.
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Responding to criticism like ours over the failure of TSA agents to stop a loaded gun from being checked onto an LAX flight, the security agency leaped into action this week and declared that they will make absolutely no changes to airport security procedures at the airport.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez explained that there's no danger of having loaded guns in checked baggage, because "no one has access to them." So as long as it's true that loaded guns never ever fire accidentally, you can all go back to feeling safe now.
Speaking of which. A day before we posted about how loaded guns on airplanes make us uncomfortable, we discussed our deep skepticism about the training that TSA agents in charge of "chat-downs" were getting. Chat-downs, remember, are the Israeli-style security line interviews that TSA has been testing out in Boston-Logan and now in Detroit-Metro Airports. Agents ask you personal questions, you give personal answers, and then they read your body language to see if you're lying. In theory.