Morning Security Brief: Airport Security Line Reform, FBI Uses Surveillance Tools on Activist, The Metaphor Program, and More

By Matthew Harwood


♦ Drexel University law school professor Adam Benforado outlines a plan to make airport security lines more efficient in The Philadelphia Inquirer today. "Any effective system would provide fliers with more information and choice. As just one example, imagine an airport with three security lines: general, priority, and express. At the beginning of each line is a constantly updated sign that shows the anticipated wait time and a price to enter that line. Just as a person mailing a package is provided with an array of estimated delivery dates and corresponding prices at the post office, a traveler at the airport could be provided with similar facts to facilitate a free, informed choice," explains Benforado. "Always arrive early for your flight and want to travel at the lowest possible cost? Choose the free 'general' line. Get caught up at a meeting and arrive at the airport 25 minutes before departure? Swipe your credit card and join the 'express' line."

♦ An Austin, Texas, anarchist's Freedom of Information Act request on himself has unveiled how the FBI has used its counterterrorism resources to watch over nonviolent political dissidents. "The agents watched from their cars for hours at a time — Mr. Crow recalls one regular as 'a fat guy in an S.U.V. with the engine running and the air-conditioning on' — and watched gatherings at a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock coverage, they attached a video camera to the phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue," reported The New York Times over the weekend. "They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls and e-mails and combed through his trash, identifying his bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have been served with subpoenas. They visited gun stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly in one document that a vegan animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.)"

♦ Can analyzing metaphors lead the U.S. to national security threats? The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity believes so and wants to automate it. The "little-known agency is developing The Metaphor Program to 'reveal the underlying beliefs and world-views of members of a culture' by examining the subtle differences in their choice of metaphors," reports The Telegraph. "It will pluck figures of speech from vast numbers of statements by Farsi, Russian, Spanish and English speakers, label them with precise meanings, and store all this in a computerised 'metaphor repository.' Analysts would then be able to compare real-life statements against the database to predict the intentions of people who may represent a threat to the US or who are involved in international conflicts.

♦ NPR analyzes core al Qaeda's corporate structure in the aftermath of raid that killed Osama bin Laden and scooped up massive amounts of intelligence. "As odd as it sounds, al-Qaida had excellent HR benefits. The seized documents showed that al-Qaida paid an unusual amount of attention to its fighters and their families. Married members were allowed to have seven days of vacation for every three weeks worked. Bachelors got five days off a month," reports NPR. "Married members also got a salary of $108 a month. The pay was smaller for single men and larger if the fighters had more than one wife. Now that the organization has less money and is under such pressure, it is unclear whether the benefits are as generous as they used to be."

♦ Over at, security expert Andreas M. Antonopoulos explains when a company's IT department has gone overboard with security. "Mostly, it means that the company's security is too rigid. The rules and policies have gradually expanded and become more restrictive, until they are too rigid to allow the company to compete and innovate. Perhaps it wasn't always like that. At first, a lot of the policies make sense and are easy to understand and implement," he writes. "Over time, however, various decisions, compromises and technology constraints lead to more policies and stricter policies. Every new policy should be balanced against the opportunity cost and competitive cost of that policy, but after a while it becomes about security for security's sake, the reasons long forgotten, the compromises adding up to less flexible operating practices until security is slowing everything down."


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