See Something, Say Something Doesn’t Work When You Don’t Know What You’re Looking For

We’re told “if you see something, say something.” But as security expert Bruce Schneier has pointed out, when you get amateurs doing security you get amateur security.

The problem is that most bad actors at the airport aren’t as obvious as in the movies. And most of us aren’t trained to know what to look for. Instead we substitute prejudices, what we’ve seen on television, and our imagination.

Monday night an Alaska Airlines employee “spotted two men who she thought looked suspicious” at Newark airport. She “approached them, the men started running and she screamed “evacuate.”

The Alaska employee “hit an alarm..and nearly 200 passengers evacuated the gate.” Passengers ran, hid under seats, and reportedly there was “glass..shattered from people jumping.”

It was all a nothingburger. Police identified the two men that the employee found suspicious. The men were questioned and released.

The same ‘see something, say something’ idea caused an economics professor to be removed from a flight over suspected weapons of math instruction.

Unfortunately we can’t rely on the supposed experts either. For instance TSA agents once ran through New York JFK screaming about a bomb and a shooting victim. All that had actually happened was that passengers in the terminal cheered Usain Bolt’s Olympic win.

Also in New York a screener sexually assaulted a passenger, and customs employees are reportedly hazed on rape tables with the theme to jackass playing in the background. Security staff livestreamed sex instead of working as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It’s only designed to make everyone feel more aware. 1/10 you may get lucky with a tip. 9/10 its a shitshow.

  2. Don’t worry, that whole sentiment will leave the airport world if these stupid redflag laws get passed.

    More security theater is all we neeeeeeeeed!

  3. This post got me thinking about the 2001 show bomber. The perpetrator, Richard Reid, a radicalized Muslim, was wearing a shoe bomb. Other passengers noticed and jumped him before he could set off his shoes and blow up the plane.

    Sometimes vigilante action is needed. By the time you see something, notify the authorities, wait for the authorities to act, it is too late.

  4. Presumably airline employees are, in fact, given some training and therefore don’t qualify as complete amateurs. The linked article gives no information whatsoever on the basis for the employee approaching the men, so it’s impossible to tell if the employee was way out of line or just following training. If the men did, in fact, run upon being approached that is somewhat in the employee’s favor but it’s hard to tell if that part of the story is correct either.

    In NYC, where “If you see something, say something” is widely publicized it mostly appears to be targeted at asking people to report abandoned parcels and luggage. Given that we had a case of someone dropping off rice-cooker IEDs in a couple of subway stations about ten days ago I’m not sure we should be so quick to give up on that part of the message.

  5. No, but it sounds good, especially in London waiting on the Tube. Sounds better with a British accent.

  6. Just shows the extent of gun violence. Jittery population. Worse than an African failed state. But then, what other country has a major gun massacre a week?

  7. Nothing to worry about. Trump has all the answers:
    It’s either “We’ll see what happens” or “Sending thoughts and prayers.”
    A true genius is in charge.

  8. Everything is Trump’s fault, huh Juanito?

    The adults in the room know that there will always be false positives, the question is how many are acceptable to avoid false negatives?

    See something say something is also an empty statement if every time there is an inevitable false positive then the person is villified as racist, lose their job, and shunned from society. Hoping for blind luck randomness to catch terrorists is pretty stupid too, but if you can’t do intelligent profiling, then we are left with a system where 80 year old grandmothers from Wisconsin are strip searched and everyone else is afraid to mention suspicious activity.

  9. WR2: Did I say everything was Trump’s fault? It would just be refreshing to hear an intelligent comment come out of his mouth when he responds to these shootings.
    Am I hoping for too much?

  10. I plan to take full advantage of these Reg Flag/See Something Say Something laws by reporting literally everything. 300 to 400 reports per day. I saw a squirrel. It looked scary.

    That’s the only way to end this institionalized stupidity, paranoia and fascism promoted by these mentally unstable people that want to ban everything.

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