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Incident on Flight 253 and TSA’s Role in International Security

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Friday, January 08, 2010
plane

Over the holidays, I was home with the family in southern Ohio watching the news of the incident on Christmas Day unfold amidst a surreal smattering of garland and wrapping paper. As you can imagine, I got lots of questions from friends and family (including my crazy uncle) back home, as well as right here on the blog, and I'll be covering a few of those topics now that I'm back in the blog team cockpit.
 

One of the biggest misperceptions I found was that people thought that TSA conducts screening in Amsterdam and in other places around the world. Not so. We only screen passengers at airports in the United States and U.S. Territories . Each country has their own screening workforce - some are government, some are private sector, some are even military.
 
While each country has sovereignty over their aviation systems and controls the level of security measures at their airports, over 190 countries worldwide—including the United States—use the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) standards and recommended practices for civil aviation security as their baseline. In the United States, TSA has built even further on these standards with security initiatives like Behavior Detection Officers and Advanced Imaging Technology . The United States also sets additional security standards on top of ICAO's for U.S.-bound flights coming into or through the United States from international airports. If those standards aren't met, the U.S. can deny entry to a specific flight, airline, or flights from a specific airport.
 
On Dec. 25, TSA took swift action immediately following the incident to strengthen those standards even further at airports across the country and around the world—enhancing screening for individuals flying to the United States and deploying additional airport law enforcement, air marshals and explosives detection canine teams, among other security measures. Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening. TSA’s new directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights. This means the majority of ALL international travelers will go through enhanced screening under this new security directive.
 
Moving forward, we will continue to work with our airline and international partners to ensure they meet both international and TSA security standards. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday outlined five recommendations —part of her report to the President on aviation screening, technology and procedures—for actions to protect air travel from terrorism. These include a wide range of enhancements, from modified criteria and process used to create terrorist watch lists to partnering with the Department of Energy to develop better technologies to deploying far more advanced imaging technology and Federal Air Marshals throughout the aviation system. It also includes continued work with international partners to strengthen international security measures and standards for aviation security. Secretary Napolitano announced she will travel to Spain later this month to meet with her international counterparts in the first of a series of global meetings intended to bring about broad consensus on new international aviation security standards and procedures. We are looking to enhance global aviation security standards, increase information collection and sharing and improve and deploy more detection technology.
 
So, while we have our Transportation Security Officers screening passengers and bags in the United States, we are also committed to strengthening coordination with international partners to implement stronger and more effective measures to protect U.S.-bound flights, with a goal of keeping people safe when they fly.
 
Thanks,
 
Blogger Bob
 
TSA Blog Team

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob,

Can you please explain how you plan to resolve WBI images in the underwear area? Are you going to visually inspect all sanitary napkins and adult diapers?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I am happy to see the agency begin finally looking at a few characteristics that seem to link many of the most recent terrorist acts, i.e. where the terrorist brain child is from. We can thank the ACLU and a wishy-washy Congress for slowing this common sense idea down for so long.

Now, about those body imagers: Folks, grow up and stop assuming you know the Constitution. There is no "right to privacy" in the constitution. For those conspiracy theorist and black helicopter folks who think the TSA and their officers are secretly recording or sharing their images- I repeat, grow up. They don't have time to store your image and realistically, why would they want to. Even if you're as special as you think you are, the officer watching those screens will never see you and "NO", they're not running talking about you after you are gone. There conversation is far more likely to be the same you hear at any factory or office. I believe the courts have already ruled that the images are not an unconstitutional search, especially given that the image is not retained so that weak argument is also out.
Please, if you don't want them to look at your silly, naked, cartoon image then take a bus and let me and my family board the plane knowing we're safer than we were before.

Submitted by Carp on

> There is no "right to privacy" in the
> constitution.

I agree...the constitution is incomplete and needs to be fixed.

You want everyone else to grow up... well adults sometimes disagree. Like, I disagree with a policy that doesn't work.

My definition of "work" would be stopping terrorists from operating. My definition of "work" is NOT simply raising the bar on what they tried last time so they have to change tactics.

ANY measure that simply moves these extremely rare events from air planes to movie theaters is simply, not working.

These events are too rare and too easy to adapt to different situations (like hitting theaters, trains, open markets etc) to be worth trying to imagine scenarios for the future and protect against them... even if those scenarios are "what they did last time".

Thats just the end of the story for me. You are asking me to give up my privacy for... a pipe dream of puppy dogs and safety blankets.

Thanks, but no thanks. I am not happy at all about being forced to buy what you are selling me.

Let me know when your talking about beefing up first responders, or starting anti-jihadi educational programs or...well... things that have a chance in hell of actually working rather than just putting on a good show.

-Steve

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob, given that the WBI does not detect explosives (nor do x-rays), just how is WBI going to make air travel safer? Please give a straight answer because were pretty tired of the song and dance coming from our government officials.

Submitted by Russ on

This comment has been removed by the author.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anonymous said:

Please, if you don't want them to look at your silly, naked, cartoon image then take a bus and let me and my family board the plane knowing we're safer than we were before.

***********************

Drudge had a front view of a woman up for a little while. You could tell she wore pants, see her belt, see what style of underwear she wore, and see that if she was wearing a bra that it showed pretty much what she would look like if she had removed her top.

It left little to the imagination. Would that make you feel safer if it were your 13 yr old daughter?

If you wear an ostomy bag would you like that displayed? If you wear a catheter would you like that displayed? If you wear adult diapers would you like that displayed?

Those machines do no detect explosives.

Submitted by Jannis on

I believe that it is time for better threat assessment from both TSA and the anti-TSA bloggers here. I read through the comments on this site from time to time and I am constantly reading about people who don’t like TSA screening, don’t like to be touched, and don’t like TSA WBI machines. Problem is, the non-TSA security experts say that if the guy with the bomb in his pants had been patted down, or screened using a WBI, or given extra screening, he would not have been able to smuggle the bomb onto the plane.

Some of TSA’s policies are absolutely ridicules and don’t provide true security (cannot carry a two inch knife but you can carry four inch scissors). Some of the anti-TSA attitude to bury ones head in the sand instead of understanding that people around the world want to kill Americans is equally ridicules (not enough Americans have died in terrorist’s attacks to make security statistically important). We need to find a balance between the two mindsets in which the American people are reasonably protected from the thousands of people who want us to die.

I don’t mind when TSA does extra screening on me. If they do, and they have, I know they are doing it to other passengers and my flight WILL BE SAFER.

Submitted by Dan Kozisek on

Anyone who voluntarily submits to a strip search, virtual or otherwise, just to board a plane is a coward. You have a greater risk commuting in your car everyday then you do flying. If you're that terrified that you feel the need to strip, stay home!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob, give it up. Go home. TSA and its blog are pathetic. When people wanted answers you were nowhere to be found.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Please, if you don't want them to look at your silly, naked, cartoon image then take a bus and let me and my family board the plane knowing we're safer than we were before."

No, you're not, since the strip-search, like most of TSA's security theatre, does nothing to make anyone safer.

Submitted by Sandra on

For anybody who thinks they are safer because of WBI, I have a bridge that I can sell to you real cheap.

NOTHING the TSA does makes your flight any safer.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The argument against body scans seems to revolve around whether some screener will use body scans for perverse purposes. After just spending a week at a beach resort, it seems that those with good-looking bodies are anxious to show off as much as possible. What's the big deal about grainy, black and white, unposed images?

Submitted by Al Ames on

Anonymous, you really need to go back to your high school civics class as you clearly don't understand the Constitution (a bit ironic you calling others out on that). The Constitution is not a limit on the people's rights, but it is a limit on the government.

Let's take a look at the 9th and 10th amendments to the Constitution. Found at Cornell Law School's online legal library.

Amendment IX - The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X - The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Founding Fathers knew that they couldn't enumerate everything, nor could they conceive of every possible thing in the future. So they erred on the side of protecting the people's rights and limiting the government - the right thing to do.

If the courts have already ruled that the images are not an illegal search, then please provide a ruling.

Let's keep in mind that no technology is perfect and the WBI does NOT detect explosives. It relies on the human operator to identify them. And given TSA's ability to identify things in the x-ray now, they'll likely do just as poorly with this.

You are already safe on a plane. Even with TSA and it's ineptitude, air travel is still the safest mode of travel. Read the study here to see your odds of dying in a terrorist incident on a plane. It's 1 in 10,408,947. In layman's terms, "This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning." Consequently, your odds of getting struck by lightning are 1 in 500,000 and your odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 12,300.

Can you honestly tell me that we should be going this crazy over something where you over 20 TIMES more likely to be struck by lightning than die in a plane crash? By your logic, in the interest of safety, we should all be wearing lightning rods.

Security should be based on facts, not emotions. Your argument is based on emotion and is weak. If you want something that would detect explosives, get the puffers working properly. Those actually detect explosives and would have detected this bomb.

Now, back to Bob's posting, can you please tell us why DHS is making recommendations to foreign nations when it's clear that DHS and TSA can't secure a paper bag? Considering the fiasco's we've had over the last couple weeks with the terminal dumps at Newark and Bakersfield (that dangerous honey!), security cameras not working (good think Continental had ones working for TSA to look at!) and fighter jets escorting planes (what were they really going to do - shoot down the plane before a "bomber" would blow it up instead), is DHS REALLY the one that should be advising other nations on security?

Please.

TSA may not have been the ones doing the screening, but the people in AMS were following TSA standards and using TSA sanctioned spotters and STILL wasn't detected. Let's remember that if security doesn't meet TSA standards that airlines won't be permitted to land in the US. You can try to blame it on the Dutch all you want, but it's TSA's standards that failed here. Or is it TSA's practice now to throw its partners under the bus and disavow knowledge for doing what TSA asked them to do?

You guys are the last people who should be lecturing the world on airport security.

Al

Submitted by Anonymous on

I am very happy with the incident and its outcome so the people who were whining for their privacy and "constitutional rights" can stop complaining. I really like this article, take a look: http://tinyurl.com/yf8m59a

Freedom is not free. Get in the line and do the scan so we are all safe. the terrorists can blow up themselves to kill Americans and you just refuse to give up your little privacy? Shame on you!

Submitted by Sandra on

Anonymous, please give us a citation for the court ruling you "believe" has been made:

"I believe the courts have already ruled that the images are not an unconstitutional search, especially given that the image is not retained so that weak argument is also out."

Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Now, about those body imagers: Folks, grow up and stop assuming you know the Constitution. There is no "right to privacy" in the constitution. "

The constitution is not intended to limit the rights of the people to those specific provisions contained therein; rather it's supposed to limit the powers of the government (10th Amendment).

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why does TSA always wait for something to happen before strengthing security? We know where the vulnerabilities are; do we really have to wait for somebody to try and exploit them first?

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Please, if you don't want them to look at your silly, naked, cartoon image then take a bus and let me and my family board the plane knowing we're safer than we were before."

If repeated exposure to radiation induces cancer, I am sure you have an answer for that as well- take the bus.

Submitted by Dunstan on

Lets get to the heart and meat of the most recent TSA mistakes. F15s, F16s, Newark, at least the tip of the holiday blunders.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Folks, grow up and stop assuming you know the Constitution. There is no "right to privacy" in the constitution. "

Um, I think I know it a little bit better than you. Ever hear of the ninth amendment? It reads: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Courts have consistently held that the right to privacy is one of the unenumerated rights. So how about you stop lecturing me on something that you clearly know nothing about?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Really, Bob? The blog goes silent for 2 weeks, and this is what we get?

Please, please look through the comments on the previous thread. There are, as you can see, a lot of them. Answer the questions there. Don't answer the questions that you want to have been asked, since they're easier to answer.

If this is truly going to be a blog to facilitate conversation between the TSA and the travelling public, you're going to have to answer the difficult questions.

Submitted by Trollkiller on

Why does the TSA insist on pushing a device that invades the privacy of innocent people, costs $170k each, and can be beaten by simply stuffing the contraband under your breast and wearing a bra?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm done here. This blog is totally worthless and is a waste of taxpayer resources.

TSA is incompetent.

Submitted by Anonymous on

FBI taking down terrorists nearly every month of last year in the United States, and some of you people think it would be just as safe without TSA? I guarantee if Mr. Abdulmutallab had tried to come through an American checkpoint, he would have been caught. Go ahead and do away with our security procedures, see how quickly those odds change.

Submitted by Patrick on

I would truly like to know why the US Transportation overseers don't just scrap the whole TSA random screening nonsense in favor of something actually effective like the Israeli system, where they actually scrutinize people who are likely to be offenders. You know, rather than 10 year old boys and 85 year old grannies in wheelchairs. You call it profiling, I call it a proven effective law enforcement technique. Stop herding, for the purpose of appearing effective, and actually BE effective.

Submitted by Khurt on

"One of the biggest misperceptions I found was that people thought that TSA conducts screening in Amsterdam and in other places around the world. Not so. We only screen passengers at airports in the United States and U.S. Territories. Each country has their own screening workforce - some are government, some are private sector, some are even military."

The TSA may not but the US Customs and Border Protection does:
http://nassau.usembassy.gov/cbp.html

"Preclearance for US Customs and Border Protection is established through Bilateral Agreements signed between the United States Government and the host nation. Preclearance has been operating in Nassau and Freeport for almost 30 years."

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm not concerned about TSA employees seeing me undressed. They're very well paid, and can afford much better "visual aids" if they like.

I am concerned about the radiation exposure from full-body X-ray scans. Given the history of misinformation and incompetence from the TSA, I see no reason to believe their explanations. I believe that screening will kill far more passengers from cancer than could possibly die from terrorism.

Submitted by Andy on

Now that you're back, you can start trying to to spin all of the other problems the TSA has had while you've been on vacation. You've got the Newark Shutdown, the harassment of bloggers, the honey shutdown, and the LAX "God."

Submitted by Anonymous on

So if naked scans are the TSA's solution to the Underwear Bomber, does that mean that mandatory cavity searches will be the TSA's solution when someone tries a tampon bomb?

You guys are turning this country into a police state and worse.

Submitted by Dave on

Hi, Bob-- thanks for the comments. I had read a similar (may be the same with a different title) article as an earlier anonymous poster: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/744426--what-israel-can-teach-... and had some of the same questions-- can TSA comment on whether "Israeli-style" security would work in a US context? I see two problems-- the Israeli security force is much smaller and I've always been told is mostly ex-Mossad and I'm not sure we have enough similarly trained people. The other is that, as you mention, US carriers have always relied on foreign government native security while the Israeli carriers have hired their own, even for foreign boardings (even for US boardings).

But still, the article makes a powerful case that the security can be more effective, less instrusive, and more acceptable to people who object to physical search procedures.

Submitted by TSO Jacob on

Anon said… “given that the WBI does not detect explosives (nor do x-rays), just how is WBI going to make air travel safer?”

Simple answer, any kind of imaging technology allows the security officers to see the explosives. It is not the machine that detects the explosive; it is the security officer who will detect the explosive. We then use additional technology to confirm our observations.

Submitted by TSO Jacob on

"Israelification" - Interesting article.

Let’s see, TSA has implemented the use of Behavioral Detection Officers which many here have stated is a waste of money. TSA knows that behavioral detection is a proven science and an effective means of security that is deployed in some of the most dangerous areas in the world.
I would love is the bomb boxes were put into use in all airports in the US. It also makes sense to have small bomb resistant areas to screen checked baggage. The only thing stopping this from happening is money. Every airport in the country would have to be remodeled. Every airport in the country would have to spend millions to make this a reality. They simply aren’t willing to spend that kind of money to make you happy.

Love the ID checks, but for some reason the American people don’t believe security has anything to do with checking your ID.

Submitted by RB on

If this is truly going to be a blog to facilitate conversation between the TSA and the travelling public, you're going to have to answer the difficult questions.

January 8, 2010 9:31 PM
.............................
It's apparent that Bob and the other bloggers do not have the permission of their handlers to respond to the public.

Submitted by Carp on

Lets keep this in perspective here. I don't care about the nudity factor. Hell, if there was nothing else to complain about, I would complain about so called "decency laws" that say I can't fly naked (even though I never would... traveling without pockets... no way)

But remember... you are asking us to give up ALL of our privacy as to whats in our pockets and under our clothes....

all to protect us from something thats less likely to kill us than a mechanical failure, car accident, or lightning strike.

This seems like a bad trade off to me.
This is the sort of mentality that had me deciding to spent 14 hours driving rather than subject myself to the local airport for a couple of 1 hour plane rides.

Yup, I drove 1300% more than I needed to because I didn't want to be subject to pat downs and having to answer for my personal belongings.

Good job guys. Cost me as much in gas as the round trip would have too.

Submitted by KDT on

Um, Bob? Did you turn around and look behind you? See the 500+ comments on that last post? Yeah, those. Maybe you wanna take a gander at a few of them and let us know what the TSA has to say about the public's reaction to the TSA's "swift action immediately following the incident to strengthen those standards even further at airports across the country and around the world."

Submitted by Anonymous on

Jannis, please show us several places where "non-TSA security experts say":

"that if the guy with the bomb in his pants had been patted down, or screened using a WBI, or given extra screening, he would not have been able to smuggle the bomb onto the plane."

WBI would not have picked up the explosive nor would a pat down have done so unless the screener put his hands far into the man's crotch, which no screener is allowed to do and which the flying public will not stand for if TSA attempts to institute such searches.

“The full-body scan is not the answer,” said Charles Slepian of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center in New York. “Even with a full-body scan if you went through there with nothing on but you had something in the crevices of your body you won’t see it in the full-body scan.”

Think about it, Jannis. No one has come forward to refuse the comments that one can hide someone on or in one's body and defeat WBI. What does that tell you?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I just flew back from Canada and encountered two new security measures that made absolutely no sense to me. First I was not allowed to bring on my very small rolling carry on but was allowed to bring my briefcase with my laptop, gloves, headphones, books, papers, toothbrush and other items. When I asked what the actual rules where they gave me a slip that said:

"Passengers travelling to the United States are not allowed to bring carry on bags into the cabin of the aircraft, with some exceptions. Passengers may carry with them one or more of the following items: medication or medical devices, small purses, cameras, coats, items for care of infants, laptop computers, crutches, canes, walkers, containers carrying life sustaining items, a special needs item, musical instruments, or diplomatic or consular bags."

This statement is full of ambiguities like "small purses". Furthermore, when they did the third screening after the metal detectors and xrays they patted me down and asked me to turn on my "electronics". My iphone's battery was completely dead and would not turn on. The security guy stood there with a dumbfounded look on his face telling me I had to go back and "xray" the device. I reminded him it was made of metal and would have set off the detector had I not xrayed it already. Another dumbfounded look. He "let that one slide" and proceeded to my laptop. It did turn on, in my mind, only proving that had I had some sort of explosive inside it my triggering system was operational and the battery that could be used to ignite it had power. Please help me understand:

How 1 carry on instead of 2 makes us safer?

How one can know based on these rules what is and is not allowed?

What does turning on an electronic device do for security?

What good the last point is if the device is simply out of battery and is therefore still allowed through.

Should they have forced me to "turn on" my electronic over the ear large Bose head sets?

Thank you.

Submitted by Mrairplaneman77... on

TSA, you guys are seriously taking things WAY too far.

Security is just an utter joke now. What happened to the times back in the day where aviation was actually a JOY, especially to aviation enthusiasts? Now it's an utter "lockdown" of any form of freedom or enjoyability.

Yes, I agree that you should arrest bombers and terrorists and people who carry such items on board, but arresting innocent people unaware of the rules or shutting down an airport entirely and fining people hefty amounts is just INSANE, STUPID, and UNNECESSARY.

Get that through your minds, TSA.
FULL flight security will NEVER be reached unless baggage (carry-on or checked) is prohibited ENTIRELY and everybody flies naked.

Submitted by Natalie on

“I just flew back from Canada…”

Then why are you presenting your questions to the US government????

Submitted by Sandra on

@carp:

"Good job guys. Cost me as much in gas as the round trip would have too."

But just think of the small carbon footprint you left on the world.

(PS - my word verification was FRESH - which is how you left our air by not flying. Thank you for choosing to drive.)

Submitted by Sandra on

TSO Jacob, please explain to us completely how checking ID has anything at all to do with security.

You can't do it, can you? You know why? Because it doesn't.

Submitted by Frequent Flyer on

I just don't understand the logic of the TSAs critics. They say nothing the TSA does works. I wish everyone who is unhappy with the TSA security policies would write their own idea of how to prevent weapons and bomb parts from getting on a plane. I'll bet they can't. I can guarrantee you that the TSA officers want to have much stricter rules and profiling of passengers like on EL Al flights but that the ACLU has their hands tied. I see alot of people complaining but nobody coming up with solutions. All I hear is "I don't want to be touched, I don't want to be seen in my underwwear. I want to carry my knife or gun on a plane because it's my right".

For everyone who says the TSA isn't trying to do a good job, may i suggest they take a month off and let anyone who wants to fly with no security in. no lines, no ID check, no metal detectors. No bomb sniffing dogs. Everyone flies with a ticket that reads John Doe. Yeah, bring back the good old days.

This Blog needs a new policy. you can't post a gripe without a solution to your gripe that would make flying 100% safe and not involve touching you, seeing you or your property. Ready, set go.

Submitted by Earl Pitts on

@Anonymous: "FBI taking down terrorists nearly every month of last year in the United States, and some of you people think it would be just as safe without TSA? I guarantee if Mr. Abdulmutallab had tried to come through an American checkpoint, he would have been caught. Go ahead and do away with our security procedures, see how quickly those odds change."

I'd take that bet - and you'd lose.

Once again, we see the straw man that if you don't like TSA's brand of security that you must not want security at all. Can you apologists and TSA folks try a different, intelligent argument please?

The fact of the matter is that despite TSA's incompetence, we're still safer flying than with many other things including auto travel, train travel, and lightning. I'd dare bet that we'd still be just as safe if we went to 9/10/01 screening standards as we are now with TSA's "security."

Earl

Submitted by Earl Pitts on

Jacob, Behavioral detection was deployed in Amsterdam and was an EPIC fail. How do you reconcile that with it being good science? And considering TSA's other "science", how can you call it science at all?

TSA seems to be the only one that believes this "science." If anything, it's more of an art and it's not one a spotnik will learn in a 4 day course and some OJT.

Earl

Submitted by Anonymous on
Anonymous said...

Why does TSA always wait for something to happen before strengthing security? We know where the vulnerabilities are; do we really have to wait for somebody to try and exploit them first?

TSA can only do what the people allow them to. TSAs hands are tied by the many advocates that dislike what TSA does. If you want a good solid security you will never have it in the USA because of advocates. If something were to ever happen within the USA aviation infrastructure then everyone would blame the TSA but it is those very people that also want to limit the TSA and what they can do to provide security.

-James
Submitted by Lucidlunacy on

It seems to me that at a certain point the TSA cannot be held responsible for the safety of a flight. We're looking here at the case of a flight originating outside the United States. Unless TSA agents are placed internationally there is nothing to be done by the agency about such flights.
It must also be considered at what point it is worth the effort. It's easy to say that any cost is worth it to protect American lives, but if that was the case we'd have agents screening every flight internationally with so much as a single American citizen on it. Clearly absurd.

Submitted by Scott G Lewis on

Carp says ---

ANY measure that simply moves these extremely rare events from air planes to movie theaters is simply, not working.
-------------------------

As far as the TSA goes, I think movie theaters is of little concern. If they provide enough anti-terrorism security measures such that terrorists give up on aviation, I think they've done their job.

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