British Airways lets Osama Bin Laden try their new mobile boarding pass solution [Updated]

In a serious case of “what were they thinking”, a British Airways company magazine used a boarding pass issued to Osama Bin Laden to show off their latest mobile ticketing service.

The name was obviously put there as a joke, but the timing couldn’t be any worse – a month after severe disruptions caused by volcanic ash, British Airways is now in the middle of a series of five day strikes – so customer satisfaction is already at a pretty low point.

A British Airways spokeswoman told ABC News that “A mistake has been made in this internal publication and we are working to find out how this occurred”.

According to the boarding pass, Mr Bin Laden flies in First class, and has a frequent flier number with Northwest Airlines. Sadly, knowing the brilliant minds behind the anti-terror organizations, the terror level will be raised to “red hot” on October 26 2010 while airport police all around the world try to figure out which airport the most wanted terrorist in the world will be flying to.

UPDATE from @BritishAirways, via their Twitter stream —

@Gadling A mistake has been made in this internal publication and we are working to find out how this occurred.less than a minute ago via CoTweet

Car bomb defused in Times Square

A car bomb was discovered shortly after 6pm yesterday in Times Square, the busiest tourist destination in New York City.

A street vendor spotted an SUV parked at the corner of 45th Street and 7th Avenue with its hazard lights on and smoke issuing out of some of its vents. Police evacuated the area and called in a bomb squad. The vehicle contained three propane tanks, two five-gallon containers filled with gas, fireworks, two clocks with batteries, wiring, and a locked metal box. The bomb was defused and forensic experts are studying it.

A large area from 43rd Street to 48th Street, and from Sixth to Eighth Avenues, was evacuated for most of the evening.

Times Square attracts nearly 40 million tourists a year and its hotels alone make $1.6 billion annually. Saturday evenings are one of its busiest times, with tens of thousands of people out for a night on the town or visiting one of the area’s 39 theaters. Even a brief closure for one evening could have an economic impact in the millions of dollars. Numerous businesses and theaters were closed but outside of the evacuation area activity mostly continued as normal.

The Department of Homeland Security has not yet called the incident a terrorist action and has maintained the national threat level at yellow (elevated) while the threat level for domestic and international flights remains at orange (high). In a statement to the press, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the device “looked amateurish.”

At the time of this writing there have been no arrests and no suspects named. It has yet to be determined whether the bomb would have exploded or how much damage it might have caused.

Somaliland: the other Somalia

There are some places you just can’t consider for a vacation. While even Iraq has recently opened up to carefully handled tours, Somalia remains out of bounds. What with an Islamist movement proudly proclaiming its ties to Al-Qaeda, and a decades-long civil war between rival clans, there’s no chance of exploring the Somali culture and landscape, right?

Actually, that’s only half true.

The Republic of Somaliland is the northern third of what most maps show as Somalia. Anyone paying attention to the news knows that Somalia hasn’t been a unified nation for quite some time, but this one region, a little larger than England and home to 3.5 million, has managed to bring stability and a developing democracy to its people. Born out of the colony of British Somaliland, it gained independence in 1960 and immediately joined former Italian Somaliland to create what we now know as Somalia. A brutal dictatorship and a civil war later, it declared independence in 1991 and has quietly built a nation as the rest of Somalia disintegrated into chaos.

But no other country recognizes Somaliland as an independent state, which makes it very hard to get international investment and attention. Now Somaliland officials are hoping an increase in tourism will help to literally put their country on the map. It already has regular contact with its neighbors Ethiopia and Djibouti, and has representatives in several major capitals. The Tourism Ministry is busy making plans and there’s a good website highlighting Somali Heritage and Archaeology.

%Gallery-84671%With a countryside only thinly populated by nomads, Somaliland has good potential for safaris. Lions, cheetahs, zebras, antelope, and other animals are easily spotted. Even more stunning are the well-preserved paintings at Laas Geel, believed to be some of the oldest in Africa. They’re located near the capital Hargeysa and remained unreported until 2002. Colorful paintings of hunters and animals date back an estimated 9,000 years.

Other towns to check out are Barbera and Zeila, two ports with excellent coral reefs as well as old colonial buildings from British and Ottoman times. More important than bricks and mortar, though, is the chance to interact with a culture that has had comparatively little contact with the outside world. This is a rare chance to see a country unaccustomed to tourism, where there are no “tourist sites” and “local hangouts”. For the adventure traveler, it’s still pretty much uncharted territory.

After almost 20 years of independence, Somaliland is beginning to get some recognition from adventure travelers. The most recent edition of Lonely Planet Ethiopia has a short section on the country, and three young backpackers recently posted a video of their trip there on YouTube. A reporter from the Pulitzer Center has also covered the country on an online video. Somaliland could become the adventure travel destination of the new decade.

While Somaliland has some good potential, travelers should take care. Government bodyguards are required (costing $10 a day each) and there are few facilities for visitors. The country has also attracted the ire of Al-Shabab, an Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda that wants to take over the Horn of Africa. In 2008 a series of deadly car bombings blamed on Al-Shabab left two dozen dead in Hargeysa. Also, the countryside is not yet safe enough for foreigners to travel overland from Ethiopia on public transport. There are regular flights to Hargeysa from Addis Ababa and other regional capitals. The office for Somaliland in Addis Ababa (which is not recognized as an embassy by the government of Ethiopia) can issue visas and give advice. If you do decide to go, it’s best to plan well in advance and talk to the government as soon as possible.

BREAKING NEWS: New security regulations updated – go into effect midnight tonight

After over a week of uncertainty, subpoenas to bloggers and false positives, the governement has settled on a comprehensive package of new security measures following the failed terror attempt on Christmas day. appears to have the first mention of these new measures. As usual, the government is slow on releasing their own news.Tomorrow, we’ll probably see some official mention from the DHS web site, unless they plan to keep it a secret, and wait for bloggers to leak it again.

The measures include:

  • 100% of passengers flying to the United States from a country on a “state sponsor of terrorism” list will be patted down, and will receive enhanced luggage screening.
  • Passengers from Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen will be added to a list of “countries of interest” and will also receive additional screening.
  • Passengers from all international airports will receive random enhanced screening. This could be a pat-down or screening through advanced imagers (whole body imaging), explosives puffers or other equipment.

As much as I love to complain about airport security, these new measures seem to make perfect sense. There are of course still some unknowns – how will passengers transiting be screened, and how quickly will international airports be forced to introduce upgraded screening equipment. [Ed. note: this is particularly interesting in light of the revelation that a full-body scan wouldn’t have detected the Christmas Day bomber, anyway.] There is of course also the issue of how the Department of Homeland Security plans to enforce the new measures, and how they plan to audit foreign measures, especially since they have a hard enough time keeping an eye on their own domestic security.

In the end, we’ll probably all need to get used to enhanced screening for flights heading to the United States, at least until someone wishes for “world peace” and has their wish granted.

UPDATE: The BBC has a more comprehensive report on the upcoming changes. Mainly pointing out that “terror-prone” countries will be targeted.

UPDATE 2: The TSA has found someone to update their web site on a Sunday evening -but their statement is short and contains no new information.

UPDATE 3: An unidentified member of the TSA has listed the 14 “countries of interest” that will trigger these additional measures. Interestingly and unusually, this directive does not have an expiration date and is intended to be “sustainable and long term.”

Additionally, pilots still have the ability to curtail pillow and blanket use, and limit passenger movement in the cabin during any portion of the flight.

UPDATE 4: The TSA is serious about breaches, folks. On Sunday night, flights out of one terminal at EWR were halted for seven hours as officials investigated a possible security breach. Unfortunately, the person who caused the alert was never located.

PRO TIP: Leave the rhinestone-encrusted grenades at home. Don’t even put them in your checked bags.

: Despite the obvious need for leadership from TSA, the Senate is still locked in a standstill over the President’s nominee to head the TSA.

Interestingly, even US citizens flying into the US from overseas will face enhanced security inspections, which may include full-body pat-downs. And by “full-body,” we mean “private parts,” too.

Body scanners wouldn’t have caught Northwest bomber

Here’s another hit for airline security. Not only have we discovered pat-downs aren’t effective, now it turns out that full-body scanners wouldn’t have detected the Christmas bomber on Northwest Flight 253.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was overpowered by passengers and flight crew after trying to detonate nearly 3oz of the chemical powder PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) hidden in his underwear with a syringe containing a liquid accelerant to set it off. Neither of these items would have been detected by the scanners because they use a millimeter-wave technology that´s only good for detecting dense objects such as metal, plastic explosives such as C4, and thick plastic. Powders and small amounts of liquids can’t be detected.

Conservative Minister of Parliament Ben Wallace, former adviser at the defense firm Qinetiq, which developed the scanners for airport use, said that in test trails the millimeter waves passed through not only clothing, rendering it invisible, but also liquids, powders, and thin plastics. The very things Abdulmutallab hid in his nether regions to avoid detection in case he got patted down, which he didn’t.

Wallace said that x-ray scanners probably wouldn’t have worked either.

The machines’ limitations were confirmed by Kevin Murphy, product manager for physical security at Qinetiq. The company is developing an improved version.

Last week the Transportation Security Administration ordered $165 million worth of millimeter-wave and x-ray scanners at about $150,000 a pop.