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Very quickly - before we get to the travel news in this post - can we just make a simple request? As you're about to read, airport security is getting bumped up across the world. This happened just as the 4th of July weekend kicked off. So things are going to be hectic enough without you idiots grinding checkpoints to a halt by trying to smuggle actual, real life, exploding fireworks on board airplanes. For fuck's sake.
Now that that's out of the way.
As we told you last Monday, various branches of the U.S. intelligence community have concluded that Yemen-linked jihadists, operating out of Syria, may be plotting to take down American and European airliners. The scheme would involve terrorists with Western passports slipping through security armed with a new generation of undetectable explosives. We suggested you might soon be seeing enhanced screening procedures.
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This is a downer of a Friday story, but it's already getting some traction on travel sites. Plus it's going to be airport security news for the next few weeks. Plus it's probably going to affect your actual, physical airport experience. So you might as well get it on your radar now.
The short version - and you can read longer takes with details and videos here and here - is that the spring issue of Al Qaeda's lead magazine Inspire had a picture of the SFO AirTrain, which they captioned "Stand up, pack your tools of destruction, assemble your bomb, ready the detonation." You can understand why some people are talking about this.
Recent assessments from the CIA indicate that Al Qaeda-linked terrorists are creating new shoe bombs that have the ability to generate multiple casualties on airplanes. Reports of the new threats came alongside other warnings - specifically but not entirely related to the Sochi Olympics - that terrorists are seeking to hide explosives in toothpaste and cosmetic tubes. Happy middle of the week everyone!
Putting aside the crazies who say that news about terrorism is designed to scare the American sheeple into letting the United Nations inject our kids with vaccinated fluoride (or whatever) there are usually two ways that people react kinds of stories of heightened threats.
Searching Google Maps yields all kinds of "Easter Eggs"little surprises tucked away but discoverable to those paying close attention. For example, there's planes flying by, Britain's most picturesque streets, and even the world's largest slip and slide. But it's a feature found in the no-man's-land Ténéré region of the Sahara Desert that really raises eyebrows. Enter coordinates 16° 51′ 53.75″ N, 11° 57′ 13.36″ E into Google Maps and find a tiny dot that is actually a massive shape of an airplane.
This, a landmark hand-built of rock and one of the aircraft wings, is actually a memorial to the 170 people on UTA Airlines 772 who perished when a terrorist suitcase bomb exploded the aircraft in 1989.
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Today we remember the lives lost during the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
While crowds and ceremonies will likely restrict access to the 9/11 Memorial at the actual World Trade Center (which requires advance tickets anyway), there are a variety of other sculptures and remembrance parks within the area deserving of a little attention.
Here are seven other NY/NJ area September 11 memorials to visit year-round:
· Jersey City, NJ "Empty Sky" (above)
One of the newer memorials, it's also our personal favorite for the modern design and poignant placement just across the harbor from where the Twin Towers once stood. "Empty Sky," opened in 2011, sits in Liberty State Park and consists of two 30-foot-high rectangular towers, etched with the names of the 746 New Jersey-resident victims. The negative space between the monuments is oriented to highlight the area on the Manhattan skyline where the actual buildings once were.
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It's that time of the year again, when two powerful lights take up their brief residence in lower Manhattan to remember the thousands of lives lost during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This year marks the twelfth anniversary of the attacks, but the tenth for the lights themselves. Officially the installation is called "Tribute in Light," and it takes 88 searchlights to form the seemingly never-ending beams. Nearly every year they've appeared was said to be the last, but here they are still.
Tomorrow and through this upcoming weekend, expect lower Manhattan to be heavily policed, and hordes of visitors to descend upon the area around the 9/11 Memorial.
If you just want to see the lights, however, they're perfectly visible from popular tourist sites such as the Staten Island Ferry and Empire State Building visitor deck. Also, search the #TributeinLight hashtag on Instagram for hundreds of images.
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It's August. We're traditionally supposed to be talking about baby animals and the zoos where you can visit them, perhaps during "brew at the zoo" events. Instead there's this global terror alert that the United States issued last week, and one scenario is that Al Qaeda has figured out an "ingenious" new way to attack passenger airliners.
Let's run through this terrifying (and, for TSA critics, frustrating) scenario. ABC News outlined it yesterday.
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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!