This past weekend I was traveling for a conference and was feeling rather impish. Perhaps inspired by the fear mongering rhetoric of the junior president, I decided to test out some security defeating technology I got a number of years back. I wanted to pit this rather old school technology against the terrorist predicting computers, ultra-sensitive bomb sniffers, and bleeding edge x-ray machines. Could I defeat the heightened security measures of the most powerful nation on the planet using technology that was created at the start of Gen X? Could I outsmart screeners, sniffers, marshals, scanners and fear itself, using little more then my brain, some aluminum foil, duck-tape and a paperclip?
The challenge I set for myself was rather simple; could I, a lowly economy class passenger with a very Arabic name, get from Atlanta to New York without losing any of the lotions, creams, pomades or liquids I had in my carry-on luggage? If I was successful I would be rewarded with luxuriously silky skin, fresh smelling underarms and an alluring aroma emanating from my person. On the down side, if I was caught, I’d loose about $50 worth of chemicals created through the torture of rabbits and perhaps be sent to a secret CIA interrogation facility in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. With the stakes this high there was little room for error.
I had a computer case and garment bag, I wore flip flops, shorts (I was commando on this mission), a t-shirt (with a picture of el Che) and a nondescript grin that I hoped made me look fairly banal but might have been mistaken for a developmental disability. In my carry-on I had a cosmetics bag, minus all the expensive lotions and liquids I wanted to get past security, two suits, black slacks and shoes. I was sure that an half-empty cosmetics bag would arouse suspicion and get me sent to the “special room” where a large man named Zed would instruct me to strip so that he could perform a cavity search. So I placed a few decoys, bottles of toiletries pilfered from various hotels, in my cosmetics bag where even a blind screener would be sure to notice them. I then put another pilfered bottle of lotion in the outside pocket of my computer case and one in the pocket of my garment bag nestled between some boxer shorts. These were decoys as well, but it was important that I hide them all in plain sight so any “aggressive screeners” could feel a sense of accomplishment when they found them.
The real stuff, the things I wanted to use when I got to NYC, I put in the pockets of my clothing. My L’Occitane essential cream went in the jacket pocket of my gray pin stripe suit along with small tube of Nivea lotion. I put a tube of Fresh Mint tooth polish from Melaleuca in a pair of black shark skin dress pants along with a small bottle of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s “Le Male”, eau de toilette. To make the stakes even higher I put an unopened bottle of Alfred Dunhill’s Desire, inside my shoes. Now to hit security.
I dont know if it was the ratty t-shirt, the worn flip-flops or the freeballing, but when the screener called out “bag search, creams and liquids” as my bag passed under the x-ray machine, I knew the game was on. Around 3 different screeners decended on my position and were standing at the ready as the one who had manned the x-ray machine politely murmured instructions to me. “Can you open this bag please?” he asked, “Do you have any creams, gels, or liquids?”
“Ahhh, no, I dont think so.” I lied as I slowly opened my garment bag with a profoundly innocent look on my face. I started to rifle though the bag pretending to look for any offending objects, I found and opened my cosmetics bag, with the pilfered hotel lotion plainly in sight. I looked the screener right in the eyes and with all the innocents and cheer I could muster I said “See, nothing” holding the bag out for him to inspect. He smiled slightly as he took the lotion out of my bag and put it up to my face, “do you have anything else like this?” He said in what I suspect was his forceful commanding tone, generally reserved for non-english speaking retards. “No, I dont think so.” I lied again, feigning pure angelic innocence. He looked at me with a slightly raised eyebrow and said, “OK, fine. Go ahead.”
And that was it. I was through. The other screeners evaporated back into the scenery and I walked off to my gate. Noone checked my computer bag, noone searched my clothes or shoes or anything else. I had done it, I’d defeated all the sophisticated security measures of the US government using little more then deception, lies and bluster. I didnt even need the ducktape, paperclip or alumnum foil I had stuffed in my short pockets, just in case I had to escape CIA custody McGuyver style.
Alas, my victory was short lived and somewhat hollow. Fear-mongering security concerns aside there is a much better reason not to travel with creams, lotions and gels in your carry-on luggage as I was to discover when I got to my hotel in NYC. Thats right, my jacket pocket was now full with the creamy white contents of the formerly full tube of L’Occitane essential cream and my black pants now smelled minty fresh thanks to Melaleuca’s tooth polish.
The lesson for me was that while its true your natural software can always defeat any man-made technology, it’s not always the smartest thing to do it. While my keen wit and natural intellect allowed me to get to NYC with $50 dollars worth of crap I never use, it cost me $250 to replace my ruined suit (thank god for Macy’s) and $30 to get the cloyingly sweet stench of minty fresh tooth polish out of my pants. Truth be old I’d rather have spent the $280 on a new iPod.
The new security measures seem more about reminding people that they need to be ever watchful and ever fearful, heck even your lotion and deodorant could be weapons for the “evil doers of evil”.