There’s nothing here that the would-be terrorist doesn’t already know. There’s nothing here that isn’t possible to find elsewhere, by compiling and analyzing multiple on- and offline sources. Everything here is for informational and educational purposes only. In instances where techniques for execution of security checkpoint circumvention is described, these are only for theoretical purposes and “paper tigers“. Any and all attempts at such techniques may (and probably will) land you in jail – for a short, or quite likely, a long time. In cases of extreme “unluckiness”, they might get you injured or killed.
In short; this is for educational purposes only. Do not attempt.
All right, that’s the disclaimer done, now onwards.
1; Why try to get illegal items through airport security checkpoints?
There are lots and lots of reasons why someone would attempt to get something deemed illegal through the airport security checkpoints, past x-ray scanners, profilers, metal detectors, human security officers (screeners/TSA agents, security controllers…). The person might be a terrorist, of course. That’s the first one that comes to mind for most of us. They might be out to take over a plane for ideological reasons or for personal reasons – or for personal or organizational financial gain. Taking a plane hostage, and in turn its passengers, makes sense if you’re prepared to die for what you believe in. Impact on the public is high, and the law listens to the public.
Or, the person trying to bring something illegal through the airport might be someone who just bought a new perfume, or a bottle of 40 year old Scotch, and they’re just trying to avoid the liquid-restrictions. Somewhat more harmless, but still illegal.
Or, someone might want to carry with them some sort of weapon for personal protection, should that first scenario take place. A knife, perhaps, a pair of long scissors, a scalpel or just that extremely nice Swisstool with a hundred and three different thingamajigs on it. Or a gun. Or two. Maybe in pieces.
It’s far from impossible, and it’s being done every day, in more places than one. For years a Texas man would walk onto airplanes with a massive belt buckle on, that had two small derringer design double barrel pistols in it, in plain view. The thing would have passed through x-ray many, many times, but security officers believed them to be ornamental, and so allowed the buckle without much scrutiny.
Even with sensitive metal detectors, it is possible, even easy, to bring both knives, scissors and other sharp objects through the ceckpoint, by means of several different techniques and factors. We’ll get to that later. The point is that while a terrorist is uncommon, illegal items brought through the airport is not. The reason (and reasoning) behind them are as many as there are people who’ve tried it.
2; Detection Methods
In order to deter passengers and staff from bringing in illegal items, airport security has several methods of detection that are designed to bring to light items that have been concealed. We have a metal detector portal, which passively scans whatever passes through for the “critical mass” of metal that is needed to set it off. Any metal detector portal can be adjusted to various levels of sensitivity, something that is critical for the person needing or wanting to bring something through it that shouldn’t be there.
Metal detector portals use either sound or light or a combinaition of the two to alert the human operator of a possible hidden object.
The x-ray machine uses a high-voltage coil to generate low energy x-rays that penetrate everything up to the density of thin metal. The x-ray scanner’s outer shell of sheet steel is not penetrated. An image is then generated that will show the operator what is inside the item, be it a bag, box, suitcase or other, in a density dependent color scheme ranging from black/blue to orange and green. Metals are colored black to blue, plastics and composits turn out blue to green, and anything organic will be shades of orange. Shapes are clearly outlined and an experienced operator can in some cases even tell you how much the coins in your wallet add up to.
The system’s main vulnerability is the experience needed to operate it efficiently, and the issue of angles. X-rays go from bottom to top inside the machine in a roughly 45 degree angle, and this means the image generated is somewhat skewered. If a thin object is positioned so as to pass through the machine in an angle matching the x-rays, it will show up as nothing more than a thin line, in most cases invisible to the pressed-for-time operator.
Last in line is the human element. Any passenger can be selected for a hands-on “pat-down” or secondary screening. That goes for your bags too, mister. The human element is the step where most attempts to bring illegal items through security is thwarted, either by secondary screening based on a machine warning, or a random search on the whim of an officer at the checkpoint.
Usually, if one of the human operators catch you, you’re done for, but we’ll discuss that too later.