back to article Trouser-bomb clown attacks - how much should we laugh?

As the smoke clears following the case of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the failed Christmas Day "underpants bomber" of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 fame, there are just three simple points for us Westerners to take away. First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners. Second: This does not …


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  1. Hermes Conran

    Be sure to write a will,

    before packing your pants with explosives.

    Otherwise you could die intestate!

  2. Tony Green

    It's got more to do with scaring us

    The authorities already know how tiny the dangers are. But they desperately need "attacks" like this one so they can pretend there's a justification for all the attacks on our civil liberties and get themselves a nicely cowed populace. You can see how much the Yanks are taking the piss by the fact that one of the charges was "attempting to use a WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION".

    Al Qaida and the like are analogous with Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984. A bogeyman to frighten the people into accepting the autocracy of our governments.

    1. Stevie


      Once again, rampant yankophobia shuts down the brain and blinds a commentator on the facts.

      I'll explain for the slow amongst us: There are many Catholics in Detroit and also many such people were on the plane itself. Had this attack worked, it is likely that some would have been hurt and unable to go to church on Sunday.

      The weapon would, for those people, have destroyed the Mass.

      Please think things through before putting fingers to keyboard next time.

  3. Tom 15

    But still...

    There would be more potential cuts if we cut down airport security. We still have a duty to make it as hard as possible and to keep people as safe as possible. And bringing in the new airport scanners isn't a bad way of doing that.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      No, Sorry, the point, that you missed, went that way.....

      Lewis has it spot on.

      The remaining threat is vanishingly small. It is just not practically possible to eliminate the terrorist threat entirely. Just look at the number of people that died in the west from terrorism compared to other factors of sudden death: drunk driving, electrocution, heart attack, and many others. Terrorism just doesn't even appear on the radar.

      If I decided tomorrow to go into a shopping centre with a big knife and hack a load of people to death, there is absolutely nothing anybody could do to stop me. The only thing that keeps our society together is a certain amount of trust and most people's abhorrence of such acts.

      The issue comes down to a case of what it is reasonable to do to prevent possible attacks given their likelihood, the cost and the effect that those measures have on our daily life.

      I for one think that full body searches and expensive scanning machines are a step too far.

      What happened to the British wartime spirit? All the way through the Irish terror attacks and WWII, the message was "They will never change our way of life. We will continue living as we always have despite their best efforts."

      The aim of these groups is not practical disruption, it is psychological disruption and fear.

      Unfortunately, the politicians and the media are doing that quite nicely for them.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        We're Not Afraid

        "What happened to the British wartime spirit? All the way through the Irish terror attacks and WWII, the message was "They will never change our way of life. We will continue living as we always have despite their best efforts.""

        That spirit is alive and well.

        In the days following the London bombings of 7th July 2005, the spontaneous response from the people was, "We're Not Afraid". It wasn't politicians, police, etc, who led that response. It came straight from the people.

        It's our so-called leaders, the government, etc, who are the cowards.

        When terrorists see how we, the people, respond to terrorism, they see how futile their efforts are. Even when they kill 52 of us, and injure many more, we don't just say, "We're Not Afraid", we actually do Keep Calm and Carry On. It's a response that achieves far, far more than any amount of body scanners, no fly lists, Big Brother databases, etc, etc, can do.

        But when the terrorists see our government react to terrorism by diverting excessive resources to fighting terrorism, they see that as an opportunity to do real economic harm. And likewise when it comes to our rights and freedom. This cowardly government is stupidly playing right into the hands of terrorists. And they're too stubborn, reactionary and cowardly to see that.

        When we consider the billions being diverted from elsewhere in the name of fighting terrorism, it becomes clear that far from reducing the effects of terrorism, this government is actually vastly amplifying its effects. This government has successfully turned what was originally a failure - the so-called 7/7 bombings in which 52 people were murdered - into a great success for the terrorists.

        By diverting such significant resources away from elsewhere into counter terror stuff, this government might actually be attracting more terrorism as a result.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      Security theatre

      "...keep people as safe as possible. And bringing in the new airport scanners isn't a bad way of doing that."

      Bollocks! These checks and scans are just security theatre. They don't do anything useful. All they do is give the stupid the illusion that Something Is Being Done to make them feel safer. Oh and it gives the goons who operate these scanners the opportunity to steal your nail clippers and gran's perfume in the name of "security".

      Tom 15 obviously didn't read the reports which quoted airport officials and security experts who said that these new scanners would be unlikely to have detected the pants bomber. IIRC one of those experts was from the company that makes the scanners.

      Besides, has there ever been a recorded instances of these checks actually finding something really nasty like explosives or firearms?

      Paris icon 'cos she knows a thing or two about getting probed.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice one!

    Nice to see a sensible level-headed look at the threat of terrorism for a change.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So, can we drop the security circus? The governmental privacy attacks? Can we go back to carrying RFID- and biometric-free passports, get rid of the silly databases that help about as much as watchlists, can I have my customary litre bottle of water back?

    No, of course we can't, because none of that has anything whatsoever to do with security, only with scaring us-the-citizens into warn and fuzzy feelings of security because after all, the government is pretending to do something.

    If there is one thing that terrorists have shown us, is that our governments are spineless and untrustworthy. They've failed us when we needed them most, and instead took our liberties and our privacy. And they're not giving any of it back.

  6. Steve X
    Thumb Up

    Well said!

    That's all.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And of course...

    Any half intelligent future terrorist will avoid all security problems and secure a much larger kill by casually walking up to the airport security line with a backpack full of good old fashioned dynamite and nails.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Is Your Comment Lawful?

      Is your comment lawful? Or are you committing a crime under the Terrorism Act 2006 by posting your comment?

      For example, in Section 1, "Encouragement of terrorism":-

      "(2) A person commits an offence if—

      (a) he publishes a statement to which this section applies or causes another to publish such a statement; and

      (b) at the time he publishes it or causes it to be published, he—

      (i) intends members of the public to be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate acts of terrorism or Convention offences; or

      (ii) is reckless as to whether members of the public will be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate such acts or offences."

      I haven't read most of that Act (or other terrorism-related Acts generally) so I don't know what else your comment might possibly fall foul of.

  8. CraigRoberts
    Thumb Up

    Once again...

    ... Another well written article from Lewis that goes against the usual hype from the government and the mass media and tells it like it really is.

    Why oh why is Mr Page not on every news program in the land explaining this to the Sun readers?

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: Once again

      Why oh why is Mr Page not on every news program in the land explaining this to the Sun readers?

      Because he uses words of more than two syllables, but mainly because he won't get his tits out for the lads.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lewis and Sun readers

      This is a brilliant plan but falls down with Lewis' unprovoked use of wit, sarcasm, punnery, semicolons and three-syllable words.

  9. Sergie Kaponitovicz
    Thumb Up

    Terrific piece

    I salute you (although I may outrank you).


  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Excellent article

    A great read Lewis, a timely reality check thanks!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Most sensible thing I've hear since the bombing well done, supposed to be flying Sunday, and only worried by the weather.

    Always did wonder why when the conversation was about more "Bobbys on the Beat" its all countered by "Intelligence led Policing" but its the other way around with airport security?

    BTW I did just Invent the "Knicker-Bomber-Glory" all on my lonesome, make it stick people!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Knicker Bomber Glory

      Either that or Fruit of the Boom.

      1. Merchman

        What do you mean 'Title required?'

        You sir owe me a new keyboard!

  12. Anonymous Coward


    Most countries use either dogs or electronic devices to detect the small amount of explosives that is left on your person or luggage, so unless you modify the explosive particle so that it 'smells' differently (which is likely to reduce it's detonation speed unless you're a good chemist, so no joy), or can hermetically pack it so that no particle can pass through the packing, and you remember to clean the outer surface and your whole body, then you're out of luck.

    And anyways, why would you do all this if one can make an IED from stuff which you can buy after security check?

    Also, for the information of any law enforcement out there not liking what I've just written: I'm not a terrorist, neither do I plan to be. But once I finish my studies and know much more, I'll be the guy who charges you exorbitant fees for consulting your new security systems.

    Mine's the one being checked by overzelous security guards, possibly planting some RDX in there as was the case with that poor Slovakian chap recently (at least their government was brave enough to admit that it's them who planted it).

  13. Aaron Em

    So instead, of course, the TSA gropes people's genitals.

    Seriously, somebody -- the Reg, I think -- published their procedure update they did in response to Mutallab's comedy attack, and now everybody gets patted down with a special concentration on the "abdomen and upper thighs area", I believe it was.

    Cowards. Fuck 'em, I'll take the train.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    I quite agree....

    I grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70's and completely agree that these 21st Century terrorists are clowns compared to the IRA of the 70's and onwards. Sure they were riddled with informers but so was the police force and to a much lesser extent the army, and they still managed to carry out an extended campaign including blowing up Maggie's cabinet in Brighton, Warrington, Canary Wharf etc. etc. etc. without resorting to suicide attacks.

    There can only be a finite number of these easily persuaded mental defectives that are willing to blow up their own underpants and themselves with them. But if they can't even manage that properly I reckon we have much more to fear from bird-strike. It's just another complete over-reaction to something we can never hope to prevent. If someone is willing to kill themselves in order to kill some people, and they are smart enough or just have some imagination (or read enough Tom Clancy etc.) they will be impossible/extremely difficult to stop.

    I for one pissed myself laughing about this Pant-Bomber all through Christmas Day. Does anyone have his address so I can bill him for a new keyboard?

    1. TimeMaster T

      Something to keep in mind

      The whole motivation of an Islamic extremist committing a suicide attack is to die a Martyrs Death in a Jihad, that is to die protecting his/her religion. Thats the only way they will go directly to Paradise and get the 72 virgins (or become on if its a she).

      In Christianity suicide is the an "unforgivable" sin. Do it and you go straight to Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect 72 Virgins.

      Murder is forbidden by the Quran, as it is by the Torah and Bible and just about every other religious text out there. In the case of the Torah, Bible and Quran its spelled out pretty clear by the 4th commandment, you know the one "Thou shalt not kill."

      And yes, the Commandments are part of the Quran and Torah as well as the Bible. In fact Islam, Judaism and Christianity share >90% at their foundations, its the ->interpretation<- of the 90% that causes people to think the rest is worth killing/dying for.

  15. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Or are they just being kept busy?

    Regarding Israel and the lack of attacks, I think you'll find the much more stringent security, the wall, and the in-fighting between the Palestinian groups are the main reasons. To pretend that there are not large numbers of Palestinians just itching to go postal in Isreali towns is to ignore the large numbers of attempts and the continued statements of the Palestinian groups (even Fatah's Al Asqua Matyrs still rant about killing Israeli civillians). But then admitting that Israeli security precautions and the wall save Israeli lives just isn't PC, is it?

    The argument that we have had no repeats of 9/11 because AQ is short of willing kamikazes would ring a bit more true if you consider that is because the majority of candidates and their commanders have been caught or killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and even Chechnya. Indeed, 9/11 was a result of the Clinton administration "backing-off" from confronting Bin Laden and other extremists. When AQ has time and space (as it did in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan) it turns its resources to striking at the West. When it is constantly being fought, harried and attacked in their safe havens then it foucses on survival and pushing the agenda of local associates, with the occaissional half-planned effort for the propaganda purposes. Even our own half-baked, PC-bound efforts are still spotting the links between AQ and British Asians.

    This is why AQ has been focusing with mixed success on finding suicide operatives that don't look Asian, such as Caucasian Chechnyans (culturally not keen on the whole matyrdom trip) and now sub-Saharan Africans muslims (who seem likley to fall for the old "kill the nasty infidels and get your seventy-two virgins" deal). So, if you accept that keeping AQ and associated groups busy, that means we also have to accept strong and continued intelligence involvement in not just Afghanistan but other potential muslim hotspts, such as Somalia, Kenya and Nigeria. And that means we need the minimum political fudging with the CIA, less of the political blame game, and more of politicians letting them get on with their job.

    /mines the coat with the logo stating "Predator - keeping pantybombers from amusing us since October 2001".

    1. Hermes Conran


      I think you'l find that after the USS Cole was attacked the Clinton administration had a pretty full-on bombing campaign against training camps in Afganistan. That was only brought to a close when that famous peacenik George Walker Bush took power in 2001. That's when Bin Lauden was given the space to dream up his jolly 9/11 japes!

    2. MarkW

      That had to be one


      congratulations for having the most thumbs down post here.

      Your post can be summed up neatly: let's kill more dark skinned people and steal their land.

      If they complain, we'll just blow them to pieces with a UAV missile strike operated by some jar-head in a control room in Qatar (or, perhaps Dallas).

  16. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Keystone Cops Script

    "Mr Mutallab should go down in history not as the underpants bomber, but simply as the completely pants bomber. ®

    *Mutallab, quite apart from having a rubbish bomb which he should have known probably wouldn't work (he didn't study proper engineering as widely reported, but "Engineering with Business Finance") committed several other blunders. "

    Lewis, you seem to have omitted to share that it was an "ATTEMPTED USE OF A WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION attack .......

  17. Anonymous Coward

    ElReg converts to the dark side


    and the evil terrorists have been given enough information to probably take a plane down...

    now all of us reading this are on a NSA/GCHQ watch/no-fly list....

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Essential precaution...?

    " NB: Any terrorists reading this should be aware that an essential precaution has been left out of all the bombing plans above, without which any attack is 90 per cent or more likely to fail due to a classified security tactic in use by the UK (and presumably the US). "

    Sir! Sir! I know, sir!!!

    "Don't look like a Brazilian electrician."

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Damn you AC

      And I thought that reading El Reg with a coffee was safe now that the BOFH kinda retired. Damn you AC, damn you.

  19. maple

    Great editorial

    Well reasoned, informed and presented. Lewis you are a credit to El Reg and the cause of rational people everywhere -- I'm convinced that there are more of us than the mass media would have us believe -- and it profoundly saddens/annoys me that the "terrified" masses have so far to go to catch up. Keep fighting the good fight!

  20. Spectrokid

    tax free bombs

    Bombs need a detonator and a propellant. For a detonator, your legal 100 mL is more than enough. As for propellant, they sell that stuff in the tax free shops by the gallon. Any chemist want to predict what is going to happen if a 100 mL glass bottle of dehydrated sulphuric acid gets smashed between two big bottles of vodka?

    1. Tom Chiverton 1 Silver badge


      Yes... a puff of smoke. You'll be needing to confine that (for a short time) in order to get it to go super sonic...

  21. CreamyInTheMiddle
    Thumb Up

    Great Article

    Nice to read a level-headed, sensible piece from someone who knows what he's talking about.

    Keep 'em coming Lewis!

  22. Neal 5

    security based on fear is worthless

    whilst I do not doubt for a moment the terrorist threat exists and is real, a nice little article listing all of 2009 fatal air disasters, too many to count, but only a very small minority were intentinally caused (terrorist or otherwise).

    The truth is, you've more likelihood of being injured or killed, queing up to get through airport security, than on an exploding aircraft, whether that's because of the enhanced security currently in operation is rather moot, given that the discussion is to make it practically impossible to travel by air anyway.

  23. Klaus
    Thumb Up

    Common Sense

    Great article. Why is it that this obvious common sense is never applied by those in the airline security business?

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      There is a simple reason

      The answer is simple - Its significantly more profitable to over react... All of these new fangdangled full body scanners cost a lot of money (no doubt with significant kickbacks to all of the appropriate officials/MPs) and so everyone gets a little bit richer (at the taxpayers expense), so everyone making the decisions is happy.

      Its just simple economics...

  24. Vincent Ballard

    Fighter planes

    You observe that "If all these fail, following the bloodbath at Ground Zero fighter pilots will not hesitate to shoot."

    I would have thought that to be a great outcome from the terrorists' point of view. Having the plane shot down kills as many people as blowing it up and probably causes far more political (and diplomatic) rumpus.

    1. LaeMing

      If the plane is the only target, yes.

      But I think the idea is shooting down the plane before it can be crashed into a high-density of grounded population. I feel it likely the 4th 9/11 plane passengers had the same idea - they were dead anyway, but best not take anyone else with them.

      1. Vincent Ballard


        I agree that from the point of view of the defenders it makes sense to shoot the plane down, but I'm more interested in the point of view of the attackers.

        Given a choice between trying to take over the plane and have it shot down or trying to blow it up, which is preferable? I'm pretty sure it's the former, which means that unless blowing the plane up appears easier than hijacking it the rational attack is the hijack. It's not clear that Lewis Page had considered that angle, which is why I wanted to point it out.

    2. SkippyBing

      Yes, but

      Less than flying it into a building, or indeed blowing it up over a populated area. Do keep up.

  25. Gianni Straniero

    [Citation needed]

    I am currently growing a Sagaretia theezans bonsai tree. According to Wikipedia, "when ground up and mixed with salt, it forms a minor explosive capable of shattering glass."

    So there's another suggestion for would-be jihadis. Anyone want to be labelled the "bombsai bomber"?

  26. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Great read

    Nothing to say, but well written article

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Moral of the story is

    Have some viagra before going to security checks. Have an erection and then they will feel embarrassed about checking that area.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      You're mistaken..

      You forgot they're the ones with the rubber gloves..

      Doormat icon for comic effect..

    2. Anonymous Coward

      No thanks

      With my luck I'd get the gay security guy...

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Yes, but.

        If you actually were a jihadi equipped with an explosive bottom, as there's another meaning to the term "arse bandit" that could be considered a result.....

    3. Snert Lee


      Possibly excited at the prospect.

      If you were a TSA screener, would reluctance or eagerness be more likely to get you the groin groping job?

  28. Stuart Rogers

    How about a full body scan protest contest?

    The introduction of full-body scanners is just crying out for some form of protest, and if we can get hold of the scanner images we have the basis for a protest slogan competition.

    You'll need some lettering made of a non-metallic dense material that will show up on the scanner but won't trigger a metal detector. A set of fridge magnet letters (sans magnets) should do.

    All you have to do is come up with a suitable protest phrase, sew it on to your under garments, and get in line at the airport. Getting a copy of the scanner image to verify your competition entry could be tricky. Bonus points for getting arrested for the most trivial slogan.

    1. LaeMing
      Black Helicopters

      Forget the tinfoil hat!

      Where are my tinfoil knickers??

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's awesome!

      'Heathrow was reduced to giggling chaos this afternoon when a passenger was found to have written 'Fuck You Alan Johnson' across his buttocks in magnetic poetry'.

      And getting hold of the image would be the best DPA request ever made.

  29. John Savard


    Even most of the new security measures brought in after 9/11 aren't "needed" in a sense, because the awareness of what a hijacked plane can do will make passengers and pilots behave differently.

    One post noted that part of the cause for the paucity of successful terrorist attacks is that al-Qaeda is being kept busy. But there's another missing piece of the puzzle.

    Now that al-Qaeda has shown us how it's done, it is not beyond a stretch of the imagination that some man, distraught because his wife has left him, will decide to go out with a bang. Without tight security, there could be enough such attempts for one to succeed.

    The terrorists, when not kept busy, may look for other force multipliers becides airplanes. Some news stories questioned whether India did enough to investigate the possibility that Soviet agents, rather than Union Carbide, were really responsible for the Bhopal disaster. Deliberately causing something like that is very likely to be one possible plan they're investigating.

  30. Remy Redert

    re: Fighter planes

    But denies the terrorists the far greater potential kill count, should they crash the airplane into a building packed with people.

    When worst comes to worst, it's better to shoot it down over uninhabited areas than to let it fly into a highly populated region and kill hundreds or even thousands more.

  31. Brian Miller


    Who needs a bomb? Just throw out birdseed around the airports, and then wait. What happens? Birds are attracted to the birdseed, silly. Birds get sucked into the engines. Down goes the jet, or at least various flight travel plans are disrupted because an engine is out. Bird strikes can be quite a problem.

    But of course, that isn't as glamorous as a big, firey explosion. Which is why the terrorists want big, firey explosions.

    As for IRA terrorists being on-the-ball, there was a TV program back in appx 1996 about the IRA. All of us at work happened to watch it, and we all decided that any of us could do a far better job than any of that lot, and it was a good thing that intelligent people went into lucrative careers, rather than hang out with losers and kill people for sport.

  32. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    "fighter pilots"

    I think that's exactly what we need. Fighter pilots with the guts to shoot. Should be one in every plane actually, taking out the terr'ists with the HK417 in his right hand while emergency-landing the plane with his left hand alone (and without even looking). Awesome.

    Oh wait. That was not what you meant, was it?


  33. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    @Vincent Ballard

    "I would have thought that to be a great outcome from the terrorists' point of view. Having the plane shot down kills as many people as blowing it up and probably causes far more political (and diplomatic) rumpus"

    Not really. More like <600 mixed (I some non US citizens) Vs 4500 from the good ol US of A.

    No contest really.

    Ever wondered fhwt the phrase "The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few."

    You can guess what DVD's in my side pocket.

  34. jake Silver badge

    My only question is ... and a side note.

    Why in the fuck are we spending so damn much money on machines to find explosives? Any scent hound can be trained to sniff out explosives, and the shelters are full of them! For a couple thousand dollars in food, water, vet bills, and training I'll give you a machine that you can not (that's CAN NOT!) get explosives past. The fact that you'll have a wonderful family pet is just gravy.

    And as a side note, the completely pants bomber didn't have a weapon of mass destruction.He had a weapon of ASS destruction ... which became a weapon of mass distrAction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      sniffer dogs

      Maybe there's some sort of chemical that can mask the odours in the same "register". For all I know (and I don't), something as low tech as crushed nettle leaves might do the trick.

      On a related topic, though, I wonder if any risk assessment data has been published for the expected rate of cancer increase due to use of x-ray scanners in airports. I would guess that even if the numbers are very, very low, there's a distinct possibility that they could cause more loss of life than they're supposed to prevent. Of course, as the article suggests, a lot of these security measures don't really make sense anyway.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @AC 00:53

        "Maybe there's some sort of chemical that can mask the odours in the same "register"."

        Nobody, ever, has been able to fool the dogs I train. And they keep trying.

        Drugs, explosives, cadavers, live humans, bones, all have very specific scents to a dog.

        Try to remember, when you drive past a hamburger joint with your dog, he doesn't smell toasted bread, cooking meat and deep fried potatoes ... He smells the wheat in the bun, the canola in the bun, the yeast in the bun, the ethanol in the bun (and assorted sugars, esters, fusals, aldehydes and occasionally methyl mercaptin in the less reputable outfit's offerings). He also smells the beef cooking, and the pork fat in the bacon (along with the corresponding individual various sugars caramelizing into their components as a result of the Maillard reaction). He smells the individual components of the pickling spices in the pickle, and the different chlorophyll in the pickles, lettuce and tomato. I could go on (vinegar varietal in the ketchup, the bird the eggs came from to make the aioli, and the lemon and mustard varietals in same, the milk (or lack thereof) in the cheese, etc. ...) but I'll spare you.

        Trust me, dogs can sniff out explosives and their not-so-explosive components far better than any machine made by man can. You can't fool them in any way that isn't immediately apparent to the observer.

        Today I heard on the news one explanation, from Dianne Feinstein: Apparently the .gov thinks that having dogs around to sniff out explosives in people's knickers is somehow "intrusive" ... As if a rather severe matron, hair pulled back tighter than a chavette's, white latex gloves at the ready, going over my nether regions in search of ... whatever ... is somehow less intrusive? (I was transferring from a Chicago flight at Denver, heading for San Francisco last week.) Yeah, sure, right, Dianne.

        Face it folks, the .gov is either full of shit, or they have drunk the coolaid. Or both.

        1. Fatty Treats

          Sniffer dogs

          I believe you can't (easily) confuse/trick a sniffer dog as their sense of smell is highly developed, but surely you can mask it entirely with a strong odour (chilli, peppers?) in same the way that despite our superior vision we can't read the number plate of an oncoming car if its headlights are on.

          Wait and see, next we'll be banned from wearing aftershave/perfume/deodorant when flying.

          1. jake Silver badge


            Nope. Not even the proverbial "ground coffee", as much loved by Hollywood. Dogs are capable of sorting it all out, essentially focusing on whatever specific scents you train them to alert on. Mythbusters tried with all the variations you mention, including dousing Adam with perfume (aftershave? I don't remember), the dog still had no trouble tracking him. Works with explosives, too. Basically, you train the dog to ignore everything except what you want them to tell you about.

            Once the dog is properly trained to alert on <substance(s)>, you cannot mask it. Not in any way that wouldn't be immediately suspicious, anyway. One of the police dog training areas here in the BayArea has half an ounce of plastic explosives buried under about a foot of concrete, in the middle of a driveway. Most of the dogs alert on it.

  35. Mr Young

    I liked the text...

    "But people who are willing to kill innocents en masse as a primary goal are fairly rare birds.". I might be mistaken but that actually sounds like somebody talking UP humans for a change - good. Hmmm? I guess I'll never get a look oot a pilots window now. Waah, waah, moan - Jim'll fix it maybe?

  36. Nusato

    Can we get an icon specifically for Lewis Page fanbois/girlz?

    That way we wouldn't have to type out how much we love, admire, and agree with everything he writes every time he writes a new article.

  37. Clive Harris

    Darwin award?

    Well, someone's got to ask!

    Did he do enough damage to himself to qualify for a Darwin award?

    (i.e.did he remove himself from the gene pool?)

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Highly likely ...

      ... even if he didn't toast his tackle to the point of no return, he is unlikley ever to see the outside outside of a prison this side of total senility. Chances of reproduction are. therefore, very slim!

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Drip, drip, drip

    Mr Page regards the attack as a failure because the bomb didn't / couldn't go off. Au contrair, the attack was a magnificent success. Look at the panic, the hysteria, the money wasted on futile high-tech machinery, the further degradation of us 'citizens'. All for a few thousand pounds in cost. Look at the return on investment of the 9/11 attack - 19 blokes, a million dollars in costs (generous estimate) and the yanks have spent hundreds of billions, possibly trillion ultimately, on futile folly in Afghanistan and Iraq, now Somalia and Yemen. And that's just the US. Keep dribbling the intrusions through and eventually we will be bled dry financially and enslaved by our own leaders and our own stupidity. The March of Folly is eternal.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      The attack WAS a failure

      It is only the government using the attack as fodder to increase surveillance that makes it a success. It is only the media's morbid interest in anything remotely scary that can be printed or broadcast that makes it important.

      Which clearly means that our governments are the true terrorists. Bin Laden & Co are giggling with glee in their Hilton suite - uh, cave. They spend, oh, $2000 telling fibs to an idiot and let him fool around with moderately dangerous, inexpensive components, and our enlightened leaders budget $20,000,000 to "improve" our security.

      The true terrorism is economic, and we're doing the job on ourselves.

      Winston Churchill would round up the lot of them and have them shot in the backyard for treason, no trial required.

  39. Anthony Cartmell

    WMD in pants

    Perhaps that's why they didn't find Saddam's "Weapons of Mass Destruction"? - they were probably in his underpants!

  40. Martin Usher

    The bomb didn't have to work to be successful

    The whole point is to have people and governments running scared. You don't actually have to blow anything up to do this, its optional (and probably the reason why the attempt was made during the end of the flight -- if the plain disappeared over the Atlantic like the Air France one did who's to know it was a bomb?).

    The biggest deterrent to a wannabe terrorist is the certain knowledge that they're quite likely to get torn to pieces by the rest of the passengers.

  41. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    Bravo Lewis!

    Whilst I may not agree with a lot of what you write, in this article you have hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Those who are implementing and carrying out the Security Theatre are not interested in the real risks involved, they just want to be seen to be Doing Something in order to justify their "need" for greater powers and more money in order to build their personal empires a bit bigger.

    Several of the possible threats you mention are ones that I have thought up myself as potential attack methods and I don't even have the background you do, just an interest in science and a knowledge of how people think (or don't think!) so we're left with the conclusion that either a) the terrorists have nobody with any brains to think of these things or b) they have thought of them, but simply do not have anyone able or willing to carry them out.

    I know which my money is on...

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not laughing?

    Really, I've hardly stopped, although my initial laughter at the complete munter of a bomber has been subsequently equalled by the humour of the headless chicken response.

    If you're doing this for a 'cause', surely you'd really want a PR fallback position if it went titsup, whereby you'd end up some sort of moderately dignified martyr, who, whether dead or jailed, would have people printing your image on posters of saying a prayer of thanks for your sacrifice. But I can't imagine them queuing in the aisles to piously give thanks in memory of how you gloriously ended up with your cacks and wedding tackle painfully ablaze at 20,000 feet. Damage to western imperialism; one slightly scorched blanket. Does god even allow people that fucking useless access to one slightly soiled and dubious virgin, let alone the full Gods Little Warrior retirement package?

    Along with the Arsehole Bomber and the brain dead Richard Reid, I don't think Mutallab will be sitting anywhere near the right hand of god, who surely has at least some standards.

    In the same vein, I doubt any of the three will be much use as material in recruiting more muppets for potential self-detonation; nothing to show but a scorch mark that could be mistaken for a skid mark and a lifetime of enforced sexual activity of the kind generally proscribed by religious scholars hardly qualifies as "glorious".

    But funniest of all is the "why"; trying to take the lives of several hundred people inspired by the medieval equivalent of a 419 scam is just plain humorous.

    1. Quando

      #include <requiredtitle>

      "inspired by the medieval equivalent of a 419 scam"

      Phrase of the year so far.

  43. gollux

    Soon to be available on

    "The Autoerotic Manual for Fapping with PETN, Sulpuric Acid and Fire"

    by Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab

    "How to Imitate Headless Poultry, While Shutting the Barn Door After the Equine Occupants Have Escaped", offical DHS PR manual on managing unknown attacks by preventing prior attacks.

  44. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

    Excellent article

    This was an excellent article. Now I will simply link people to this, rather than arguing with republicans.

  45. Dick Emery


    Just because I find it annoying when us British continue using an American date order.

    1. jake Silver badge


      We get to name it, because it happened in the United States.

      Remember, names are just convenient handles to describe something. If you talk to anyone, anywhere about the 11/9 events, they will look at you blankly. Talk to the same people about 9/11 and they will know exactly what you are talking about.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        They're talking about a back-heavy German sports car!

        1. jake Silver badge

          @AC 18:31

          "They're talking about a back-heavy German sports car!"

          Sorry, but "9/11 events" does not equal "penis compensation", no matter how you look at it.

        2. Anonymous Coward


          It's an emergency phone number, innit?

  46. Jelliphiish
    Thumb Up


    @Lewis. an article on the viability of dirty bombs/dimethylmercury at major sporting events and why hasn't that happened yet(?) and when would it be apparent, given the apparent lack of joined up thinking we do in this country? or is that just a cunning ploy: 'we're too dis-organised as a country to spot it ' but really we're sh1t hot..

    just your perspective would be entertaining..

  47. ElFatbob

    Odd, isn't it?

    How someone managed to pay for a flight to the US in cash, board with no luggage and make his way through all the 'security' before trying to set fire to himself on the plane.

    And the very next day, the genuine privacy issues surrounding these body scanners are swept aside with one fell swoop and we will all be subject to them.

  48. Dayjo
    Thumb Up


    Great article.. something people should already know, but you laid it out just right.

  49. gizmo17

    Pants bomber jokes

    Right on Lewis, as usual. We need some 'pants bomber' jokes. I offer these poor attempts in the hopes that someone with a real sense of humour will improve on them:

    q: What's the preferred brand of underwear for terrorists?

    a: Fruit of the BOOM!

    How stupid do you have to be to show up in heaven for your 72-virgin payoff having blown off the equipment?

    1. Jimmy 1

      boom boom

      Check out first post on page 1 of this thread. That should tickle your testes.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Must have had an MBA

    "Engineering with Business Finance" --- Probably had an MBA, in which case he was sure to be incompetent.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I follow many "papers of record" various "well regarded alternative news sources", and this is the most insightful, in depth and realistic take on this issue I've seen.

    Interesting the register decided to write about security policy issues, glad you did.

  52. bmuckknock
    Thumb Up

    Well done.

    Did i mention i laughed when i read the news?

  53. mmiied

    for the todd

    I got a weapon of mas destrcution IN MY PANTS

    exploisive 5

  54. Anonymous Coward

    security is pants

    i inadvertantly carried 2 liters of water throught a US airport in a bladerpack of a backpack it went through 4 times as there were some wire cutters in aside pocket(also forgotten about).

  55. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    anti terrorism act

    hmmm, i note the disclaimer at the end of the article...however the ATA specifies:

    >providing instruction or training in the use of firearms, explosives or chemical, biological or nuclear weapons

    that Act doesnt specify how much training or how EFFECTIVE the training needs to be - I think just giving someone the right direction to go in and a suitable method might be enough to find someone in trouble. hope the Reg towers are clear of any interesting chemicals this afternoon! ;-)

  56. MarkW

    Who benefits?


    great article.

    You forgot the key results:

    Tabloid TV gets more advertising revenue

    'Security experts' get paid more commissions. They naturally conclude that you need more security, guaranteeing their existence

    The defence [sic] industry makes more money from selling overpriced scanners

    Government ministers line up another company to whose board they will shortly be sitting (come May this year)

    Government gets to collect more data on its citizens

    I'll get my coat...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Benefits 'Industry'

      It's so effective that you wonder why some government somewhere doesn't 'fake' an attack, as the 'benefit's' that accrue from hugely increased security budgets, identity cards and databases, and the ability to use the 'Distracting the Masses Weapon' are huge.

      Naaahhh, they wouldn't do that, would they?

  57. Anonymous Coward

    @Security is pants

    So let me get this right then, you carried your 4 litres (liters (for harmonious reg posting)) of water and wire cutters around the US and I got stopped for putting a half litre bottle of water I bought at the airport shop which they sealed in a bag so I could take it on the plane when I last flew to the Czech Republic......

    US need to get some better scanners/staff it seems.

    BTW - Notice I said to the Czech Republic, I also remember flying back from the Czech Republic once with my wife and sister-in-law a couple of years ago when they found a cutlery set in my sister-in-law's bag which had been given to her as a gift. The security personnel found it and said she couldn't take it on the plane, so she told them to throw it away. They gave it back to her and told her to put it at the bottom of her bag. I couldn't believe it, but she just shrugged and said we are Czech we won't throw anything away....

    I guess if there had been any terrorists on that plane then at least we could have taken them on with our knives and forks!

  58. VulcanV5

    Well done, Lewis

    One thing Lewis didn't mention, but I'm guessing he's well aware of, is that the trash who embark on such pointless (because yes, it is pointless) slaughter have been as obsessed with creating 'prestigious' events as the Provos were, once upon a time. ('Spectaculars', as they're known.)

    Thus the spectactularly cretinous Christmas Day bomber was aiming to do just that: not merely blow up the plane, but blow it up close to an urban area.

    But a swing away from the 'spectacular' is now more likely than not.

    Currently, the only thing that increased airport security will achieve is to ensure that even more people are gathered together in one specific place. That doesn't add up to an appropriate context for the kind of "spectaculars" so long in vogue, but it's as equally lethal to human life and international commerce.

    Of course, trying to even hint at that to po-faced security guards earning overtime checking out all those potential terrorists on a Thos Cook flight to Malaga is pointless: make 'em queue; make 'em group together all in one place -- whoa-hey, that's the way to ensure everyone's safe!

    Centuries ago it was the case that an entire population could be made pliant either by whispering 'Papist Plotters' or even 'Bonaparte is coming'

    Nowadays all that's necessary for any totalitarian regime to achieve the destruction of individual liberty is to spread fear and terror about exploding underpants.

    And unbelievably, it's 2010 now.

  59. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: Peacenik

    "I think you'l find that after the USS Cole was attacked the Clinton administration had a pretty full-on bombing campaign against training camps in Afganistan. That was only brought to a close when that famous peacenik George Walker Bush took power in 2001. That's when Bin Lauden was given the space to dream up his jolly 9/11 japes!

    Actually, Bill became prez in 1993, the year before the Taliban started their rise to power in Afghanistan. In his first term, his administration stood by and did nothing whilst the Taliban and their AQ chums set about dragging the country into the dark ages, much like Carter did with Iran. In his second term, when not spilling sauce on Ms Lewinsky's dress, he botched three clear opportunities by insisting that the CIA had to kidnap Bin Laden, not kill him, before finally trying to hide the Monica affair by generating some headlines by firing cruise missiles at known (and often deserted) AQ camps and villages. The latter were often selected as targets upon ISI advice, the last being not very smart as the ISI had just spent ten years cultivating and developing the Taliban and AQ in the Pakistani madrassas. This was even worse considering that he had refused to act on good intel supplied by the Sudanese (who were seriously worried that the US was going to push for an UN force to topple their regime), despite this giving good info later used to target AQ in Kenya and Somalia. Instead, Clinton insisted the CIA share everything with the same ISI people helping AQ plan their way round US security.

    When Bush Jr got in the completely ineffective bombing offensive was already over. At that point, planning and preparations for the 9/11 attacks was already complete, and Clinton's misdirection of the CIA had left the vital clues that could have prevented the attack undetected.

  60. Jacko

    As Benny said

    The odds against there being a bomb on a plane are a million to one, and against two bombs a million times a million to one. Next time you fly, cut the odds and take a bomb.

    — Benny Hill

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Comedy gold

    Another breath of fresh air from Lewis

    If we don't laugh at these fools (preferably reporting their antics with the Benny Hill chase theme playing in the background) and instead we act terrified, then the terrorists have achieved their goal: terror.

    So come on news media, next time an idiot sets his wig on fire in an attempt to scare people, get the canned laughter track out. And the PMs/Presidents should get their best scriptwriters to craft some oneliners, rather than the ponderous "we will not be defeated" line.

    1. Ned Fowden

      @JSP - comedy gold

      unfortunately there's more money to be made in scaring than there is in fun

      at least for people with governmental links & especially tabloid media (as well as most other media)

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