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The lunacy of bottle embargo: think more water bottle, think drug mule, think both


Paralyzing air travel, grossly inconveniencing travelers and creating chaos over the emptying of every conceivable bottle before a passenger can board an aircraft gains little and if continued will soon join the obsolescent but annoying tactics in place from 2001-2005. Merely substitute a zip-locked bag tapped to the body for the external bottle. And don't overlook the 'transporters' that every felon, male and female, learns to move goods into, around and out of confinement. Everything one needs could be cavity transported. Are we to cavity search every passenger? Cavities need not be limited to immediately external parts of the body. If drug mules can swallow well over 80 capsules of heroin, often more, a suicide bomber could swallow the primary charge and need only produce the detonator and booster charge from another cavity or another coconspirator. As microelectronic timers shrink in size, one of the capsules can house the timer and detonator such that the suicide bomber is self-sufficient. Sensors that can detect the outgassing from solid explosives such as C-4 and Semtex will be challenged to detect that mode of delivery.

We could easily slide back (also here) to the pre-2005 period before DHS adopted a Threat, Vulnerability, and Consequence-based Risk Analysis in place of previous scenario-based analyses, and when largely superficial measures where invoked that did little to deter terrorists but greatly inconvenienced passengers. In 2005 the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reevaluated security measures put in place since September 2001 to ensure their validity for 2005 threats and available resources. Risk analysis concluded that the primary threat was now a suicide bomber boarding an aircraft, yet "security screeners spend too much time trying to find nail scissors and not enough time focused" on a suicide bomber, an already difficult problem as the TSA has a very limited capability to detect explosives under clothing. Struggling with budget and headcount reductions, air traveler complaints over flier unfriendly measures and new risk analysis to airliner safety, the TSA proposed removal of empty "feel good" security measures while focusing on "keeping explosives off the airplane."

The opportunities open to an asymmetric attacker are great as the exploitable vulnerabilities of a free society are enormous. In such an environment, the identification of atypical trends or asymmetric action is not easily observable. Successful interdiction requires:

  • Ongoing observation and data combing
  • Broadest permissible analysis and surveillance systems
  • Rapid feedback for investigative follow-up
  • Surveillance needs to focused and specific rather than broad and routine

In this porous environment, risk options largely devolve to three variants:

  • Do nothing, accepting risk by default – an exceedingly undesirable option
  • Perform a risk assessment, managing risk by installing reasonable mitigation measures
  • Harden the system against all threats, achieving least risk with possible business efficiency degradation

Narcotics drug mules, human smugglers carrying drugs in their stomachs, offer a means to carry more than a kilo of high explosives onto an aircraft:

The advent of the jet era and the proliferation of international air routes opened up an efficient new method of smuggling illicit narcotics from producer countries to consumer markets. One method of avoiding detection was swallowing pellets containing drugs, or inserting them into the body. The first reported case of "body packing" was in 1973 in Toronto, when a man was admitted to a hospital with a small-bowel obstruction developed 13 days after he had swallowed a condom filled with hashish. Officials at JFK International Airport first began to encounter and interdict drug swallowers and inserters in the early 1980s.

Given the illicit nature of drug trafficking, data regarding mules is necessarily incomplete. The statistics cited below are intended only to provide background context for the story told in [the film] Maria Full of Grace.

  • Average amount of heroin or cocaine contained in an individual pellet swallowed by a drug mule: 10 grams (approximately 0.4 ounces)
  • Number of pellets an average swallower can ingest: 80-125 (800 grams – 1.25 kilograms)
  • Number of internal drug mules (swallowed and inserted) intercepted at JFK for Fiscal year 2003 (10/1/2002-9/30/2003): 145 [38 female, 107 male,] Oldest: 65 years of age
  • Number of internal drug mules (swallowed and inserted) intercepted at JFK for fiscal year 2004 to date (10/1/2003 through 4/30/2004, not counting seizures currently in process: 57 [23 female, 34 male] Youngest: 16 years of age, Oldest: 72 years of age

One returning currency smuggler for the cartels "was found to have $197,000 worth of euros in his stomach" in the larger 500 euro denomination compared to the largest US denomination of $100 USD.

We need only blend suicide terrorists with felons to produce other means of transport:

Suspects and inmates can be highly creative in using their bodies to conceal contraband. For example, objects may be concealed by inserting them in the rectum. Illegal drugs can be placed in condoms and temporarily stored in the colon. Cylinders such as cigar tubes are used to hide money, intravenous syringes, and knives. Duplicate handcuff keys can be concealed in most body orifices. These goods are considered valuable inside a prison and can pose a security risk to staff and inmates at such facilities.

Further, not all contraband flows into the prison. Inmates affiliated with the Irish Republican Army were known to write assassination lists on cigarette papers and hide these lists beneath their foreskins.

In a thorough visual body cavity search, a flashlight is used to illuminate body orifices, including nostrils, ears, mouth, male penis (urethra and foreskin), female vagina, and rectum. Generally, the detainee is required to manipulate these body parts so that they can be examined.

On-body and cavity transport of contraband pose their own unique demands to a clothed (pat), strip or cavity search. Consider what is required for the middle search classification, the strip search (which contains many steps of the pat search) - and still contraband gets through:

1. Maintain safe distance.
2. Strip searches should be done away from other inmates to protect dignity of inmate.
3. Strip searches should be conducted by the same sex: female inmate by female officer and male inmate by male officer.
4. Instruct prisoner to empty pockets; remove coat, hat, tie, shoes, and belt.
5. Flex shoe, bend in several directions; hold shoe by toe, strike against floor to break open possible fake heel.
6. Inspect belt for contraband visually and by rolling it up.
7. Tug on belt buckle.
8. Inspect the belt seams by twisting the belt to see if it separates.
9. Check coat for contraband.
10. Remove trousers; inspect seams, pockets, waist bands, and cuffs.
11. Remove shirt; inspect collar, cuffs, pockets, and seams.
12. Remove socks; crush between hands.
13. Remove underclothing; check seams and inspect.
14. Remove and inspect wig.
15. Inspect hat or other headgear by running fingers around crown. NOTE: Watch for razor blades or pins.
16. Inspect sweat band of headgear for contraband by turning it down or out.
17. Have inmate turn away from you.
18. Check bottom of feet, one at a time.
19. Check anal area.
a. Have inmate bend over, and spread buttocks with hands.
b. Visually inspect the anus.
20. Have male inmate face you and instruct him to lift testicles; visually inspect. If individual is uncircumcised, have him pull foreskin of penis back.
21. Have inmate raise both arms, check armpits.
22. Have inmate extend arms in front; check palms and between fingers.
23. Tell prisoner to lower head and run a comb or fingers through hair. NOTE: Watch for razor blades concealed in hair.
24. Have inmate open mouth, lift tongue; visually inspect.
25. Check behind ears.
26. Use other applicable techniques.
a. Generally, the procedures for searching females is the same as males with the following exceptions:
b. Upper foundation garments, e.g. bra
c. Have inmate remove any tampons; visually inspect vaginal area.
d. Lower foundation garments.
(1) Girdles
(2) Panty hose
(3) Some girdles and bras contain METAL supports or underwires.
e. Have inmate lift breasts one at a time. Examples: Syringes, etc. can be taped under breast and hidden effectively.

A suicide terrorist could combine both 'mule' and 'cavity' transport, individually or severally. Bomb component miniaturization is only going to make the interdiction task more difficult. It is an axiom at our shop that "items at the edge of technology" are often unrecognizable or unidentifiable by inspectors unfamiliar with the technology. Two characteristics most contributed to a lack of recognition, robbing the viewer of visual cues as to function:

  • Miniaturization – a reduction of size and form
  • Integration (often a handmaiden of miniaturization) – the combination of functions of multiple items into a single item, itself often miniaturized

Recognition of miniaturization and integration are crucial components in risk evaluation of any class of item. The emergence of Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) (also here) exhibiting both miniaturization and integration will affect the embargo/alert environment Current watch list items will be continuously affected. How will we uniformly shift screening focus as the function of the larger, more recognizable items are performed by a proliferating class of the smaller, cheaper items?

We expects the following fluid conditions:

  • Unexpected, innovative and non-traditional methods will proliferate, finding broad applicability
  • Targets will have changing vulnerabilities, technological abilities and associated risks
  • Terrorist tactics will evolve in methods and operational activities from internal technological "lift" and as a response to changes by the targets
  • Short of nation state confrontations, conventional operations will draw less interest as adversaries will look to escape retaliation and the cost of investments required to underwrite an overt effort
  • Unless we design around the asymmetrical adversary, such adversaries will continue to find ways to bypass our defenses and exploit our vulnerabilities. Such asymmetric operations will have common characteristics:
    • Small-scale high-impact operations
    • Operations performed with greater efficiency and effectiveness, both to minimize footprint and discovery and to conserve organizational resources, in order to achieve maximum results
    • Rise in operations taken to address ideological causes – and this applies equally to fringe Muslim fundamentalists and single-issue groups such as Earth Liberation Front (ELF)

Current events are tracking with my prediction in the aftermath of the strikes on New York City and Washington DC that the "war on terror" would be as intractable as the war on drugs. Combine that with the increasing sophistication and capacity open to an asymmetrical attack and it is clear that lethality will rise even as components shrink. Business as usual cannot continue indefinitely.

Focused on 9/11, U.S. Is Seen to Lag on New Threats
New York Times
August 12, 2006

Liquid Threat Is Hard to Detect
New York Times
August 11, 2006

Foiling the Would-Be Hijacker
Reuters 08:00 AM
Aug, 11, 2006

Agent infiltrated terror cell, U.S. says
Air travel in chaos after plot to bomb airliners exposed
Friday, August 11, 2006; Posted: 3:33 p.m. EDT (19:33 GMT)

New rules put laptops in checked baggage
After bomb scare, U.K. authorities ban all electronic items from carry on luggage
By Jeremy Kirk
IDG News Service
August 10, 2006

what a fucking crock (updated)
Pirate's Cove
Aug 10, 2006 @ 11:58

Register: Fliers stripped of hi-tech, remote detonation a possibility in terror plot
Posted by David Berlind @ 6:50 am
Between The Lines
August 10, 2006

Planes Remain Vulnerable Targets
Associated Press 13:15 PM
Aug, 10, 2006

Update on Foiled Airline Terror Plot
OSAC Hot Topic
Americas, Europe - United Kingdom, United States
10 Aug 2006

In This War, Technology Is Key
Who is more tech-savvy—drug traffickers or federal agents? The answer may determine who wins the war on drugs
By Alex Halperin
Business Week
AUGUST 10, 2006

The Drug War's Technology Tricks
Here are some of the techniques and tools that government officials and traffickers use - from special greenhouses to Predator drones
By Alex Halperin
Business Week
AUGUST 10, 2006

'Airlines terror plot' disrupted
Published: 2006/08/10 14:16:12 GMT

RFID passports with improper shielding triggers bomb in simulation
Posted by George Ou @ 12:17 am
August 9, 2006

In the fight against terrorism, the long war is the wrong war
Sooner or later, terrorists will get, and use, WMD
John Arquilla
San Francisco Chronicle
July 16, 2006

Airline Security Changes Planned
Threats Reassessed To Make Travel Easier for Public
By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post
August 13, 2005

Remarks for Secretary Michael Chertoff U.S. Department of Homeland Security George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute
George Washington University
Homeland Security Policy Institute
March 16, 2005
(Remarks as Prepared)

FM 100-14, Risk Management
Field Manual Headquarters
Department of the Army, Washington, DC
23 April 1998

Search of Inmates – 01-97
Instructors Guide
Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education (TCLEOSE)
January 1997

Inmate Search
Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education (TCLEOSE)

Gordon Housworth

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