The MSP-Airport Shutdown: The makings of a million-dollar mistake


At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport went on lockdown when a bomb-sniffing dog sat down in front of a ratty pink bag on a carousel used by Continental Airlines.

The dog's handler sprang into action, immediately notifying her nearby supervisor. Under advisement from the Transportation Security Administration, the head of airport security's command staff called for the evacuation of half the baggage claim and ticketing areas in the Lindbergh Terminal and closed down a nearby road, causing a traffic jam.

The next step in airport protocol was to find the owner of the suspicious bag. Security contacted Continental to identify the passenger. That's when someone from the airline realized it was actually Continental's "last bag," a gaudy piece used to signal the end of the line. It was about 2:30 p.m. and every news outlet and Twitter user in town was reporting that the suspicious bag had come off an in-bound flight, which is what MSP had told reporters.

Even though security now knew the bag belonged to Continental, the high-alert and lockdown continued for another hour. Patrick Hogan, Metropolitan Airport Commission spokesman, defends the decision.

"The dogs are reacting for a reason," says Hogan. "They're only trained to identify a certain chemical that can be used in an explosive. When they respond we are going to get everybody out of harm's way."

In this climate of hyper-sensitivity to national security, it's to be expected that airport officials would make the cautious call, says Bruce Schneier, international security guru and author of "Schneier on Security."

"It doesn't matter what's right, people will do the thing that is most conducive to keeping their career," says Schneier. "Because being wrong, no matter how rare it is, is disastrous to your career."

Airport security brought in a second of their six canines to test its reaction to the bag. The second dog also hit on the luggage.


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