The TSA: Security theater?

The premise of this video, from the show “Adam ruins everything” is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is worthless for two reasons: it hasn’t yet stopped any terrorist attacks by discovering weapons or explosives, and, by making public its methods and what has been confiscated, simply encourages terrorists to come up with new methods.

I agree that the TSA’s procedures are inefficient and intrusive, and I’ve objected several times to being groped in my nether parts. And of course there are other ways to improve security, including beefing up the presence of armed air marshals on flights.

But consider this: if you think the TSA is pure “security theater”, do you think we should do away with screening entirely, as was the case 15 years ago? If we did that, the terrorists wouldn’t need to come up with new methods; they’d simply carry on their guns and bombs. And air marshals aren’t very effective against bombs. Perhaps the TSA hasn’t stopped a terrorist incident already in play, but surely it’s prevented some from being conceived. Imagine what would happen if there were no screening!

Saying that the TSA is useless because it hasn’t stopped terrorism is like saying that the police are useless because we still have crime. Perhaps there are some readers who think that we should dispense with screening entirely, and deep-six this “security theater.” If so, weigh in below and justify your ideas.

h/t: Kieran


  1. Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    We should dispense with the entire airline industry, if you ask me. (I know – no one asked me.)

  2. Delphin
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    This is an argument I have had with some hardcore Libertarians. The relevant statistic is not how many terrorists the TSA has caught but how many have succeeded after being screened.
    We do have some baselines to compare to, such as the 1970s, before screening.

    Another case for comparison: El Al has extensive security. I have not read of them arresting hordes of men with bombs and glocks trying to board, but El Al seems pretty safe to fly. No-one really suggests they stop their screening.

    I think there is an objectionable element of theatre, and things could be run better. But they found Canadian coins in my pocket and that gives me some confidence the guy after me wasn’t able to sneak through a box cutter or stiletto.

    • W.Benson
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      If we are at risk of box cutters and stilettos, shouldn´t there be security checks on every street corner? For air safety, the important threats are bombs, poison gas, and the like, and keeping the aircrew safe from hijackers (and mental illness).
      Once I had a can of cranberry sauce (justly) seized by NSA but do not know if they had the courage to post it on instagram. My son had his empty shell-casing charm (unjustly) taken from him. What offends is the pig-headed stupidity.

      • Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        I am at a complete and utter loss to even begin to comprehend what hypothetical security threat is posed by a can of cranberry sauce. The mere notion that its seizure is somehow justified or even justifiable is an affront to the very fabric of civilization.

        Now, if this were the type of cranberry sauce that retains the shape of the can even after you dump it into the bowl, that might be a different matter…but, even in such a case, I believe summary execution is a much more appropriate punishment, wouldn’t you agree?


        • Merilee
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          You coukd whack someone on the head with it?

          I actually like the retains-it-shspe type on crangleberry sauce, or rather, jelly.

          • Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            Well…we won’t hold it against you. After the execution, we’ll just bury you with the cans of sauce. In a suitable HAZMAT location, of course.


    • anoNY
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      “Canadian coins”

      I hope they took you in the back room for a strip search, you Looney-lover…

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        Haha. Bet he likes the twonies too.

        • Posted October 10, 2015 at 2:07 am | Permalink

          Canuckistan. Obviously an Islamist hotbed.


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted October 10, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

            Ahem, that’s “The Republic of Canuckistan”.

          • Mark Perew
            Posted October 10, 2015 at 8:57 am | Permalink

            They even had a TV show about it. “Little Mosque on the Prairie”.

  3. Joseph McClain
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    If you think the TSA is security theater, I invite you to come to Williamsburg, Virginia and ride the Jamestown Ferry. This free ferry goes across the James River and you are almost guaranteed a sighting of one of the many bald eagles. On each side of the river, there is a security station, which I think are manned 24-7. They will pull an occasional car over, request that you open the trunk, look underneath with the mirror on a stick, etc. It is not a TSA operation, but rather the state hires a private security firm. But the whole show is mandated by the fed Maritime Security Act of 2002.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      I had no idea we were doing stuff like that!

  4. Maurits van der Veen
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    The point is that the security theater is immensely expensive in terms of resources invested and traveler time lost (wasted), while the payoff is unclear.

    The solution is not to get rid of the theater, and your comments there are exactly right. But it does not follow that the solution is to blindly maintain it either.

    Instead, what is really needed is some systematic research about which features of the security process are essential, which are not, and whether any alternatives do better. Right now alternatives are always additive (i.e. we need to jump through new hoops, but the old hoops remain too), and surely that is both costly and suboptimal.

    Why don’t we allocate, say, 0.5% of the TSA budget to a group of people whose sole function is to systematically test how well the security procedures do at intercepting problematic things: what percentage of serious knives gets caught? what if the knives are ceramic? do different airports differ? does the time of day or the size of the line matter?

    Also, crucially, how do these results change when we make the procedures probabilistic? (i.e. some random proportion doesn’t have to take their computer and their toiletries out of their bags)

    I strongly suspect something like this is already being done. The problem with publicizing and responding to these findings is threefold, however:

    1. If you find that making everyone take their belt off is kind of pointless, and stop requiring it, you’ll get lots of flak from people who ask why they had to do this for so long.

    2. If you announce that you will never test belts separately again, an enterprising malevolent person might focus their efforts there

    3. No security measure is 100% useless. What if you decide making people take their belts off is largely pointless and stop doing it, and then some malevolent person sneaks something on board in their belt? Regardless of whether or not this person would have been caught with the belt-checking in place, the career of the person authorizing the policy change will be effectively over.

    In other words, while the economic upside of ending the theatrical parts of the security theater is considerable, politically the downside is probably far greater.

    • eric
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Instead, what is really needed is some systematic research about which features of the security process are essential, which are not, and whether any alternatives do better.

      DHS does that. Without some deus ex machina invention, there are pretty much no good answers; there is currently no good way to detect with a high right *and* not be intrusive and slow.

      Right now alternatives are always additive (i.e. we need to jump through new hoops, but the old hoops remain too), and surely that is both costly and suboptimal.

      Untrue. DHS has instituted a PreCheck system which allows pre-screened people to go through faster and with less intrusive measures (you can keep your shoes on, etc…). But people complain that it’s a security gap. They also instituted something called ‘managed inclusion’ for a while where they would semi-randomly pull people out of regular security lines and send them through the faster precheck system – hey, just like you suggested! But people complained about it because it reduces security and it was perceived as unfair (‘why does that guy not have to wait in line when I do?’). Because of the public backlash, they were forced to end it. So they are kind of in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation.

      Why don’t we allocate, say, 0.5% of the TSA budget to a group of people whose sole function is to systematically test how well the security procedures do at intercepting problematic things

      They do that too. As well as developing complex models and simulations that seek to assess how different configurations of security measures result in different amounts of detection, speed, cost, etc…

      The truth is, this is like taxes: there is no realistic solution that is currently acceptable to the US public. If they institute very good security, everyone complains about the time and intrusiveness (and the residual risk they didn’t cover). If they institute faster or less intrusive security, people complain that it’s not secure enough. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could invent a tricorder that non-intrusively scans thousands of people simultaneously for every known chemical and solid object, and has a smart enough AI to just alert on the weapons. But we don’t have that; right now the best system for detecting solid objects on people is pat downs and pulse induction portals (walk through metal detectors); the best systems for explosives is chemical sniffers like they use, and the best system for detecting solid objects in carry-on luggage is x-ray machines.

      Personally I think some of the more ‘reactive’ measures are silly, but the basic concept of running people through a metal detector portal while you scan their luggage using x-rays and chemical sniffers is solid. Yes it can be beaten, but its still the 80% solution. Not all terrorists are James Bond or Ethan Hunt; many are stupid or mediocre at defeating security measures, and if we can catch those guys, it reduces our risk.

      I also think the US public needs to get seriously educated and have a serious conversation about just how much risk for cost (in time and money) they are willing to accept. Right now everyone has, IMO, very unrealistic expectations. Again, kind of like taxes.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Ditto for pocket knives. They announced that they were going to allow knives like my little Victorinox because they realized that no one is going to hijack an airplane with such a little knife currently. Then the flight attendants, and some others, pushed back and they backed off that plan (MUCH to my chagrin, as I always have the thing in my pocket and have lost a couple to forgetting to move them to my checked luggage).

        But the fact that the TSA is in a political bind does not make their current policies rational, it just makes their policies reflect the irrationality of the public. As you note, the problem lay with the public’s unrealistic expectations for risk/cost tradeoffs (that is, they expect 0 risk for a reasonable cost, and end up getting a small risk for substantially greater cost, including the friction costs, that a rational system might incur).

  5. Mark Perew
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t mind some sensible TSA screenings. What we have, even after 14 years, still seems like random guess work combined with Congressional pork barrel politics.

  6. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I would agree that it is a bad idea to do away with screening altogether but it would help if the screening process could be improved to eliminate arbitrary and pointless elements of it.
    For example: a year or so ago I forgot I had my toothpaste and shampoo etc in my hand baggage and they were duly detected by the scanner. The bags was opened and the offending articles waved under my nose and I I was given two options: (i) go back out, put the toiletries in a see-through bag, re-enter the queue and send the clear plastic bag through the scanner on its own or (ii) have the toiletries confiscated. Unsurprisingly I opted for option (ii) and continued my journey but it is far from clear how this assured anyone’s safety or in what way it was anything more than just the security official exerting his power over a hapless passenger.
    This was not in the US but I believe that similar issues arise in airports around the world.

  7. Randy Schenck
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I’m sure they could do better and be more effective but couldn’t we say that about anything. Would not think it practical to simply do away with it.

    The locked separation between the people and the cockpit was likely the best thing they ever did and it’s too bad it did not happen years early during all those airplane highjackings. Just think – there would have been no 9/11, no Afghanistan or Iraq war.

  8. darrelle
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    The TSA is a travesty. Yes, there should be security and security screening at airports. The TSA, however, is so screwed up that it probably should just be euthanized and a completely new organization created to replace it. At the least TSA needs a complete makeover from policy to procedures to employees, especially at the executive and managerial levels. The culture within the TSA is rotten and that is a very hard thing to fix. It can only happen from the top down.

    A related issue is the DHS. I think the creation of the DHS was complete and utter bullshit. It was a costly bit of theatre intended to assure the masses that the Bush administration was doing something about 9/11. It was stupid on the same level as attacking Iraq was. Now, a decade and a half later, it has evolved and some aspects of it seem to be worth something. But those bits of worth could have been achieved at much less cost and much less damage.

  9. Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I was talking with a woman inside the security area of a particular airport. She opened up her purse and dug around for something. With a look of amazement, she pulled out a 6in Bowie knife.

    A friend of mine had a Swiss Army knife confiscated from her in another airport. She’d had in her purse for over 6 months and traveled through that same airport 4 times before they caught it.

    I know that these anecdotes are not data. But they are an indicator of things that the TSA does not catch. I’m sure that most every frequent traveler could provide similar stories.

    It’s not the checks I object to, but the capriciousness of them. One flight, the reject my TSA approved bag and I still have to take my laptop out of the bag. The next flight, I can keep my shoes and jacket on and don’t even have to open the bag. Same airport, same time (early morning), probably the same day (I always fly out on Sunday or Monday). Yet the variance in what is allowed is pretty high. Is this supervisor whim? Is it due to long or short lines? Is it due to heightened state of alert? I have no idea.

    I would also like to point out that, not that it’s strictly related to airport security, that there are some serious bad apples among the TSA agents. Thefts by TSA agents of personal belongings seems to be high.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I’m all for evidence based improvements. I haven’t seen that these methods have helped. Why not adopt the strategies Israel uses. They know how to deal with terrorism.

    • Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      I believe they do religiously based profiling, which hugely enrages some people.

      • Paul S.
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        When people complain that profiling is discriminatory and doesn’t work, I like to point out that the insurance industry, as much as they irritate me, is based on profiling. Maybe the TSA isn’t profiling accurately, but actuaries are quite good at risk assessment.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          Maybe we could outsource it. Require individuals to buy “terrorism liability insurance” with their ticket and let insurance companies decide what your rate should be. Then we could just screen people who paid more for insurance than the cost of their ticket. 😉

        • Richard C
          Posted October 11, 2015 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

          Both religious and ethnic profiling (which is what “looking ” really is) are unconstitutional. They violate both the equal protection clause and and the First Amendment.

          • Richard C
            Posted October 11, 2015 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

            That’s “what ‘looking (religion)’ really is”

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 12, 2015 at 2:31 am | Permalink

            Unfortunately, to not do so in some circumstances violates common sense, statistics, crime data, etc.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        I thought they did a lot of questioning of passports from countries not friendly to Israel and also asked you sensible questions about what your business is entering the country. I could be wrong. I’ve never been there and I’m a white atheist so what would I notice?

  11. Scott Draper
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    “it hasn’t yet stopped any terrorist attacks by discovering weapons or explosives,”

    I don’t think that’s the sort of evidence we should expect to find if TSA screening works. It’s possible that the existence of TSA screening prevents terrorists from even attempting to bring weapons or explosives on board.

    How would we know?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      We would see terrorists attacking other targets that have less security, like train stations and shopping malls. There’s no rule that says terrorists are limited to blowing up airplanes. There are plenty of other opportunities for them to cause havoc.

      But apart from the Boston marathon bombing, attacks of this sort haven’t materialized. That suggests that the threat of terrorism on US soil is considerably less than we’ve been led to believe, and the tragedies that the TSA is allegedly preventing are largely imaginary.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        That’s a persuasive argument.

      • Posted October 9, 2015 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        It’s not just about America! Look at the world perspective. Terrorism is criminality nothing more nor less than one Mafioso eliminating anothr family of Mafiosi!

      • Posted October 9, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        Umm, London? Nairobi? I think the TSA is Over The Top and of course America knows more about terrorism than UK or Germany…well perhaps not more than their paradigm Israel, but every country is affected by politically or religiously motivated criminals who build nothing but only want to destroy what is already there.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          The TSA doesn’t operate in London or Nairobi. Its effectiveness should be measured in terms of reduction in terrorism on US soil.

  12. allison
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    We’ve had zero hijackings or airplane bombings since TSA was implemented, so I commend TSA for the job they’re doing. Perhaps some of what they do is unnecessary or annoying, but you can hardly argue with their safety record.

    • Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I have a tiger repelling rock I’d be willing to sell you.

      I find it almost eerie how prescient that episode is. It aired in 1996, but seems exactly like a post 9-11 satire.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        Reminds me of the old Lonesome George Goebel line that, while he was stationed as a US Army air corps fighter pilot in Oklahoma during War 2, not a single Japanese aircraft made it past Tulsa.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          Gobel. And thanks for the ol’ walk down memory lane. 😀

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted October 9, 2015 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, Gobel. Golden Goebel was the bargain beer we used to drink back in college.

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

              That’s a new one on me!

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Way back in the day, you could get four longneck Goebels during Happy Hour for a buck. A case of 24 went for $4.44 at the package store. The pride of Detroit, distributed throughout the Great Lakes and upper-Midwest. It was the staff of life, liquid granola. Poor college kids couldn’t afford not to drink ’em.

  13. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    do you think we should do away with screening entirely, as was the case 15 years ago?

    For a large part of the world (though not, it seems the USA, goign back to the state of 15 years ago does not mean not being screened. I don’t know when x-ray machines and pat downs were introduced, but it was before I first started to fly (1987), and I can remember back into the 1970s when being searched (or one’s baggage being searched, or compulsorily put into a cloakroom, away from crowds) was a norm if you went into almost any large public building in the UK.
    Just because America thought that it didn’t have a domestic terrorism problem didn’t make that thought true. As Wossname the Una Bomber, and Timothy McVeigh proved in a hard to dismiss way.
    Whatever the reasons for the USA not having even a semblance of security on it’s flights in the 1990s (and however far back it went), it wasn’t the actual security status of the nation. Similarly, the present apparently risible overreactions are also not rooted in a rational response to actual threats. The actions of the TSA, DHS (don’t they sell furniture?) and other TLAs may be reasonable, but possibly not for the reasons that are publicly announced.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t recall specifically when US airports began screening procedures, but it was way before 2001 (although the procedures were subsequently overhauled as a result of the 911 attacks). I’ve been flying a long time and it seems there have been x-ray scanners and magnetometers around forever, since the 70s anyway. The 911 hijackers chose box-cutters as weapons because, unlike knives, they were permitted by then-extant US screening procedures.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Yeah, there has been screening as far back as I can remember. And I think the 911 hijackers probably could have taken pocket knives onto the planes with them without much hassle.

        I used to always carry a particular auto/manual folding knife with a blade length of approximately 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) in my pocket. As late as 1997 or 1998 I never had a problem taking it onto a plane, and never even thought it might be a problem. I’d just drop it in the bowl with everything else that was in my pockets that might set off the metal detector and picked it up on the other side. Only once was there a minor issue. Flying out of Buffalo NY the security person checking me through wasn’t sure about it. I argued that the blade length fell within what was permissable. He checked with someone senior to him who said, “yep, that’s fine, move along.”

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I’ve always carried a Swiss-Army keychain knife. Before 911, I never heard a word about it. After, I couldn’t take it through security, at the airport or anywhere else with a checkpoint, including the federal courts (which was ironic since mine was a gift from the federal judge I clerked for after law school, and he and I would both carry our knives into the courthouse everyday). It got so at the airport that you couldn’t clear security with a nail clipper. One time, I had to break off and toss away the little two-inch swiveling nail file before they’d let me through.

          • Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

            But you carried your driver’s license with you, right? You were, in fact, required to have your license, as well as expected to have a number of similar-sized credit cards and the like?

            Spend a minute with a sharpening stone, and you can shave with those pieces of plastic. And their “blades” are a lot longer than the minimum acceptable limit. Sure, they won’t hold an edge for long…but they don’t have to and you’ve got a wallet full of them. And it’s not like you’ll be able to do anywhere near as much damage with nail clippers.

            They’d freak out if you had some brass knuckles, right? But do they bat an eye at a ring of keys? Put the ring in your palm and stick the keys through the gaps between your fingers. You might well prefer getting hit with the brass knuckles.

            Or, Aidan’s perpetual favorite. You have socks, right? Have you any rocks? Put the rock in the sock…and, if no rocks, how about that lovely novelty paperweight you just bought in the gift shop? The can of soda the attendant can be persuaded to give you? A few iPhones?

            The passengers in the airplane are dripping with weapons far worse than the ones the TSA prohibits and confiscates. Either you don’t understand what a weapon is, or you think terrorists are incredibly naïve, or you’re incredibly naïve for thinking terrorists are so incredibly naïve, or….


            • Ken Kukec
              Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

              Where’d you do your time, Ben? 🙂 You seem to know most of a hardcore convict’s weapon-making tricks. Do you “suit-up” by taping imbricated magazines to your trunk before boarding a flight? Works as body armor in case of a shiv fight. (PS – The cases for the pillows flight attendants give you make even better saps than do socks.)

              How are you at making jail-cell hooch by fermenting canned fruit and sugar?

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                Don’t you remember?

                I was the guy three cells to the right of you at Leavenworth. Why do you think you kept complaining about why your hootch smelled of valve oil?


              • Ken Kukec
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been in Leavenworth (aka “the Hothouse”), though only as a legal visitor (so far).

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

                Dude! Did I not tell you that, despite all your protestations, you’d never admit your past once you were let out?


              • Ken Kukec
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for keeping things on the DL, cellie.

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

                Just doin’ my bit to keep it real, man.


  14. Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Terrorist attacks will happen. If it’s not airplanes, it will be subway bombings, train bombings, or even just open air bombings at gatherings like the Boston Marathon. But we don’t put up the kinds of extreme screenings for those other activities like the TSA does at airports. Last time I was in D.C., I was still able to ride the Metro with hardly any inconvenience.

    The September 11th terrorist attacks were so deadly because the airplanes were used as weapons. The terrorists didn’t just kill the passengers, but took out an entire portion of a city (and a small part of the Pentagon and a field). That type of attack just isn’t possible now. Even if it wasn’t for the locked door to the cockpit or the armed air marshal, passengers themselves would no longer idly sit by while a plane was high jacked. I don’t expect all passengers would be brave enough to stand up to the terrorists, but enough would to make a difference. Just witness United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11th or the more recent Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Christmas Day, 2009.

    The bottleneck created by TSA screenings creates a target in itself. Just imagine if a terrorist were to set off a bomb in the screening line at a busy hour. Some of the lines I’ve been stuck in have had more people than the plane I flew in. And since it would be prior to the security screening, there would be practically no way to stop such an attack.

    As others have pointed out, it’s not just that the TSA is ineffectual, but that it’s a waste of funding that could be better spent elsewhere, particularly on organizations like the FBI that ferret out so many terrorist attacks before they happen.

    At the very least, I’d like to see the screening process significantly toned down, to where you can get through the line with little hassle, without having to remove any articles of clothing, and without creating a crowded bottleneck at the screening location. Even if it marginally increased my risk of terrorist attack, that’s a risk I’m willing to live with. Just like I don’t dread getting onto subway systems lacking TSA style screenings even after all the various subway bombings, I wouldn’t dread getting onto an airplane if the current security procedures were toned down.

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Just imagine if a terrorist were to set off a bomb in the screening line at a busy hour.

      That this hasn’t happened, since it is so obvious, surely must mean something. I think one thing it might mean is that terrorists, ones who can actually pull off an attack, are actually very rare. Or rare in-country, at least. There are very soft targets everywhere. There are a million churches, malls, security screening lines, football games, schools, subways, and on and on. I used to attend a large university with a huge football stadium. 60 thousand people crowded into that stadium. From the high stands I’d look out into the forest visible across the street and extending a couple of miles and find myself wondering how many people a sniper could pick off in the crowded stands and scoot away before anyone could locate him. A lot, I think.

      If competent terrorists weren’t very rare there would be a LOT more stuff going down.

    • compuholio
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I completely agree. I don’t mind a certain level of security at the airport. A metal detector and x-raying your carry-on luggage seems about adequate to me.

      But body scanners and pat-downs are just completely paranoid. And it’s not like they do provide significantly more security. Terrorists just need to shove their explosives in a body cavity of their choice (like drug smugglers have done for ages) and the scanner will detect nothing.

      This quest for security is becoming more and more absurd. I have long ago scratched the U.S. from my list of holiday destinations. I am sick and tired to be treated like a criminal upon entry and like a potential terrorist on my way back. Unfortunately my job requires me to occasionally travel there.

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Of course, there was screening before 9/11, courtesy of the hijackings of the 60s and 70s. I don’t think that the current screening adds anything to our safety. I would prefer to go back to carry-on x-raying and body metal detection, without the removing of shoes and belts.

    IMO the real issue is that no one in government wants to take the risk of being the one who authorized reduced security if there should be another airline incident. I think the response of the government is a frenetic cover-your-ass. It’s up to us to tell government that we are willing to take a potentially great risk for less annoyance.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      >blockquote>… no one in government wants to take the risk of being the one who authorized reduced security if there should be another airline incident.

      That’s the nature of bureaucracies in general. Once something goes south, no bureaucrat wants to find his or her name in the “accountability” section of whatever report gets written by a special investigator or congressional committee.

  16. Woof
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    No, PCC, we don’t need to get rid of the police.

    But we could do without the Barney Fifes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Say what you will about Deputy Fife; he never discharged his department-issued sidearm with the one shirt-pocket bullet Sheriff Taylor allotted him. And Mayberry never turned into a Ferguson.

  17. Mark Perew
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Does anyone have a good list of hijackings of flights that originated from a US airport? The last one I can find that resulted in deaths was in 1987. That’s 14 years before 9/11. There was one attempted hijacking in 1994.

    If those are correct, then our pre-TSA days were quite safe.

  18. Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Yes, we should simply dispense with the TSA — and 99 44/100% of “security” in general.

    We don’t have “security” for a grocery store, yet you might well have more people in the grocery store than on a plane…and it’d be trivial for a few suicide attackers to coordinate an attack that killed everybody inside. Molotov cocktails at the exits, guns blazing, more fire…and, substitute footsoldiers with standard training in house-to-house warfare tactics and they needn’t even be suicidal.

    Same for movie theaters, concert halls, churches, sporting events…basically everything we do outside the home.

    Aircraft are only special for three reasons. First, historically, people hijacked them as the only way to fly to Cuba or the like. Second, the 9/11 hijackers used them as cruise missiles; the kinetic energy and fuel energy of an airliner is comparable to any of the non-nuclear monster bombs the US military has in its arsenal. And, third, because people are afraid of flying in general.

    But if you’ve secured the cockpit, the first two don’t matter any more…and the solution to people being afraid to fly is not hiring perverts to grope busty women.

    So, yeah. Ditch the security.

    And if we want people from the Middle East to stop trying to kill us, maybe we should…I don’t know…stop killing them? Crazy idea, I know, but it just might work, and we’ve already tried everything else without success….


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I wonder how many terrorist attacks it would take at a Kroger’s or an Albertsons or a Wal-Mart before we’d see magnetometers and security scanners and armed personnel just inside their sliding glass doors — or before we’d hear certain groups clamoring for “open carry” inside supermarkets?

      • Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        Of course, if you wanted to put a police state in place, that would be the way to do it.

        …and, if you really wanted to freak people out, you’d dump a bunch of smoke detectors in a reservoir and put up your jihadi YouTube video bragging about how you just made the entire water supply for [insert city here] radioactive. Without specifying how on the video, of course…but the radiation would be detected, and panic and overreaction would ensue….

        Again, the real reason most of us aren’t dead from acts of terrorism is because there just aren’t any terrorists, statistically speaking. If clueful terrorists were even half as common as people who go on gun massacre rampages, we’d be royally fucked. But we’re not, which tells us how many clueful terrorists there actually are.


  19. Steve Gerrard
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Walking through the metal detector is fine. I did that going to the courthouse for jury duty. I believe taking off the belt is about not triggering the metal detector with the buckle.

    The shampoo and toiletries thing, on the other hand, is ridiculous. 3 oz is okay, 4 oz is too much. Must fit in 1 quart plastic bag. 1.5 quarts would be too much. What?

    Also the shoe thing is silly, no one is even sure what they are looking for in the shoes.

    They should not be further searching anyone unless they have solid reasons to suspect something.

  20. Vaal
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    What always leaves me somewhat baffled is:

    Why the emphasis on airplanes?

    And I mean that as much for the terrorists as for the screening.

    It’s sort of baffling to think of why terrorists would spend a lot of time thinking about air-travel. It’s like the terrorists are saying to one another: “ok, look how hard they’ve made it to get our bombs on to planes. But we have to keep trying. We have to get really clever here
    and keep trying other methods!”

    If a terrorist wants to blow up a bunch of people surely there are countless places, easily accessible, every day – movie line ups, malls, busy intersections, businesses, you name it. And aren’t these the types of targets often hit in the middle east by terrorists there? So why the emphasis on terrorism in regards to air-flight here?

    (BTW, even just contemplating such things, let alone being aware of the atrocities of ISIS, sends my mind reeling. It’s disorientating even contemplating the mindset of people who wish to produce such human misery).

    • Vaal
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      BTW, I guess the Boston marathon bombing is an example of terrorists taking advantage of a large crowd gathering. But it’s still interesting that the subject of terrorism nonetheless seems so oriented around flight.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        I think part of it is what Ben mentioned: people are already kind of afraid of flying. So it’s easier to enhance that existing fear than it is to create a fear of, say, the grocery store.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        I agree that as primary targets airplanes are not the best category if the goal is to kill the most civilians with the lowest risk of failure. Terrorists do seem to be overly fixated on planes in that regard.

        But, hijacking planes in order to use them as weapons, guided missles with enormous destructive potential, does make good sense. Higher risk of failure but very high reward.

        • Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          But, hijacking planes in order to use them as weapons, guided missles with enormous destructive potential, does make good sense.

          Yes, but we don’t need passenger security screening to prevent that. All we need is to keep everybody but the pilots out of the cockpit.

          The really inefficient way of keeping everybody but the pilots out of the cockpit is to leave the cockpit (effectively) physically unsecured and use screening to try to ensure that the passengers lack the ability to kick down the cockpit door and threaten the pilots with a weapon.

          The obvious way of keeping everybody but the pilots out of the cockpit…is to not have any way for anybody but the pilots to get into the cockpit. Seal the bulkhead between the cabin and the cockpit and give the pilots their own entrance. Hey-presto! No more hijackings.


          • darrelle
            Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            Vaal commented about how terrorists seem to be overly fixated on airplanes. I replied to that, not about what types of security measures should or shouldn’t be used to prevent terrorists from hijacking planes.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

            Could also equip the plane so that if anyone tries to breach the cockpit’s bulkhead door — or if the pilot hits a panic button — the autopilot locks on and puts the plane on a glide path to the nearest suitable airport. Maybe also have the panic button automatically unlock a cockpit weapons locker, while automatically signaling ground control and the Air Marshal Service.

            • Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

              I’d only worry about that sort of stuff if anybody demonstrates the ingenuity to get past the bulkhead in the first place. But, then again, I’d probably just drop acetylene torches and SawzAlls from the list of permitted carry-on items….


              • Ken Kukec
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                Redundancy, lad, redundancy. Did I mention redundancy?

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, but there’s also such a thing as premature optimization. The resources for all those other measures would likely be put to much better use providing no-cost prophylactics to teens, for example….


            • darrelle
              Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              To preclude the possibility of the hijackers forcing the pilot to do what they want by threatening the plane as a whole, or killing passengers one by one, or coordinating to have compatriots take the pilots family hostage and threatening them with death, the prevention measures would have to not be dependent on the pilot.

              For example something like a separate entrance for the cockpit and a solid bulkhead with no door separating the cockpit from the rest of the interior so that once off the ground moving between cockpit & cabin is impossible (short of Tom Cruise type heroics or making a large hole in the bulkhead), along with control lock-out coupled with remote control of the plane. That could be done but there are potentially serious downsides to both of those measures as well. You’d have to weigh the risks.

          • Posted October 9, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            Hijackers could still take passengers hostage and torture or kill them one by one to make the pilot do what they wanted.

            • Posted October 9, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

              “Hijackers could still take passengers hostage and torture or kill them one by one to make the pilot do what they wanted.”

              I suspect in the post 9/11 world no pilot in his right mind would open the cockpit door, or do anything else a hijacker demanded even if he killed everyone in the plane.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted October 9, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

              Some commenters here have seen too many Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movies for their own good. 🙂

            • Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

              What pilot is going to fly an airliner into a skyscraper just because a terrorist who can’t get past the bulkhead is torturing passengers, or even the pilot’s family on the ground?


              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                Maybe you are too young to remember what hijackings are/were mostly about. Hijackers weren’t flying planes into buildings. They were going places. This was common in the 70s and 80s. It has stopped almost entirely nowadays. That’s almost certainly due to the added security since then.

                I think the many commenters here who have said that there is no threat are either very young or very forgetful.

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

                No, I remember those hijackings well enough. I’ve mentioned them in this thread.

                There will never be another successful hijacking of an airliner. There were three of them on 9/11…and the fourth demonstrated why the one that crashed into the Pentagon was the last. Since then, the shoe bomber and the underwear bombers only drove the point home.

                You can try to hijack a plane, and even tell everybody that it’s okay because you only want the pilot to fly you to Cuba. The 9/11 hijackers even did as much, which is why the three of them were successful.

                But after those three, the rules of the game have changed, and everybody knows the rules have changed. The passengers will mob you at the cost of their own lives, and the Air Force will shoot the plane down if it deviates from air traffic control directives.

                And that is and will be true no matter what sort of pre-flight passenger screening we have — and, again, no matter what sort of explanation putative hijackers might put forth.

                …and I really hope that cargo aircraft also have secured cockpits these days, because otherwise they represent the low-hanging fruit for somebody looking to turn an airliner into a cruise missile. Airliners have a near-perfect failsafe mechanism in the form of hundreds of passengers….


              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

                Lou, define “threat”. In nearly all of those 20th-century hijackings, the passengers lived to tell the tale. The total number of fatalities was quite low — certainly much lower than the number highway fatalities each year.

                If transportation safety is the goal, the TSA ought to be incentivizing air travel over car travel. What they’re actually doing has the opposite effect, increasing the risk to travelers who choose to avoid airports.

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

                Even implementing European-style road safety and driver licensing regulations would save far more lives and cost less money. And road maintenance…which would create way more jobs and long-term value….


              • Mark Perew
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

                And what “added security” would that be? As noted earlier, the last successful hijacking prior to 9/11 appears to have been in 1984. It’s just not a high risk event.

                The reduction in hijackings probably has more to do with Cuba changing its laws so that those who commandeered aircraft were sent back to the nation where the aircraft was registered.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

                The motivation for those 70s – 80s hijackings was completely different. The hijackers were trying to escape to some destination (whether Cuba or ‘the West’), they wanted to get down in one piece just as much as the passengers, so overall the threat to life was very low.
                This is probably why security measures in those days were not extensive – it was cheaper and, on average, less disruptive for all concerned for the airline to meet the cost of flying its plane and passengers back from Cuba occasionally, than to go through the whole ‘security theatre’ performance you have now.

                And of course Eastern Bloc defectors to the West were just as good for US propaganda purposes as hijackers headed for Cuba were for the other side, so nobody wanted to demonise hijackers too vigorously.


              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

                But that’s also why we don’t need the security theatre any more.

                Nobody’s even going to bother hijacking a plane to get a free ride to Cuba or wherever, so that entire class of hijackings is a set of worries we don’t need to worry about any more.

                And nobody’s going to bother hijacking a plane to try to turn it into a cruise missile. That’s obviously not going to work any more.

                There aren’t any other reasons to hijack a plane, so there aren’t going to be any more hijackings.

                Now, of course, somebody could blow up the plane while it’s in the air…but, as we’ve been discussing, there’re much easier and more fruitful targets than planes. Such as the security lines everybody is stuck in before they get to the plane.

                We honestly, truly, would be safer without the TSA at all. There’s no more risk of an attack on a plane than there is in a movie theatre, so no more reason for security at the airport than at the mall. But the TSA does create a wonderfully inviting chokepoint that’s, by definition, outside of security. Get rid of the TSA and there’s no more chokepoint, no more cluster of people standing around waiting for a suicide bomber to kill them.



  21. Mark R.
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    That’s a tough question.

    A quick google search will show some stats on what TSA finds every year. In 2014, they found 2,212 guns, mostly handguns, but also rifles and assault weapons. They also found a MK-2 hand grenade in LAX and an Avalanche control charge in the Anchorage airport. Not to mention countless knives (some very large) hidden razors and other weapons. So maybe they haven’t stopped any terrorists, per se, but they have seized many weapons that could potentially threaten many lives.

    Readers have already talked about inconsistencies and inefficient controls, but I’d also like to note that they employ over 55,000 people with decent paying jobs. ($25,500-$44,000 per annum + benefits). No one is getting rich who works for TSA, but no one is starving either. I think this large workforce is a benefit to our economy especially with a lot of the crappy jobs that are out there. And the richest country in the world I think can afford the $7-8 billion a year it costs to maintain. (A pittance of the $618 billion 2014 military budget.) I’m all for stream lining and tweeking to make it more efficient, but I wouldn’t want to see it abolished.

    I only fly a few times a year, so for me, the security lines aren’t a big deal. I can understand that frequent fliers might have a different view of all the time wasted in line…but hey, that’s what smartphones are for.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      I agree with most of your points. But if we’re going to have make-work jobs to pump up the economy, let’s put people to work refurbishing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, or engaging in other productive activities — the way FDR did with the WPA and associated work programs during the Great Depression.

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        + 1

        • Mark R.
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          Couldn’t agree more…and fixing our infrastructure would create a hell of a lot more jobs than 55,000.

    • Gamall
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      The stats in the first paragraph are interesting, thank you. However the next is a non-argument: substitute the TSA by the XYZ, whose sole purpose is hitting people on the head with truncheons.

      “The XYZ employs over 55,000 people with decent paying jobs (wielding truncheons)… … And the richest country in the world I think can afford the $7-8 billion a year it costs to maintain… I wouldn’t want to see it abolished.”

      Your arguments works for the XYZ to exactly the same extent that it does for the TSA. I hope you’ll argree that’s a problem 😛

      • Mark R.
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        Truncheon wielding? What is XYZ? A government agency that hits you over the head with a truncheon if you don’t comply? This seems a strange comparison. The TSA can’t just beat people and that is surely not their sole purpose and they don’t do that as far as I know. So I don’t really agree that’s a problem as you frame it.

        • Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

          The TSA does nothing but perform blatantly unconstitutional general search-and-siezure operations on people…and the way they do it would be considered sexual assault in any other circumstances.

          If I came up to you and demanded to paw through all your belongings, took away anything I wanted to (and didn’t pay you for it), and grabbed your butt and your balls to see what else you were packing…you’d say I had mugged you and sexually assaulted you.

          If I did all that to your school-aged children…you’d be beyond furious, no? Even if I did it “helpfully”?

          …and this is before we get to the cancerous see-you-naked machines….

          Sure, it’s not as bad as being hit over the head with truncheons…but this makes it acceptable, even desirable or admirable?


        • Gamall
          Posted October 10, 2015 at 3:35 am | Permalink

          The problem is that “it creates jobs” is not, as you framed it, a valid argument for whether an institution does something valuable.

          I have no personal opinion on the TSA; I don’t *care* about the TSA — I avoid air both air travel and the USA like the plague. I was simply inviting you to think about the invalid logic of that paragraph.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      What isn’t a big deal for you is a huge deal, often a deal breaker, for many of the elderly and disabled.

      • Mark R.
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        I thought the TSA did pretty good with the disabled and elderly. This is total speculation, but I often see TSA agents helping people with wheelchairs, and I think they accommodate the elderly if they need help. Again, I’d have to look into what it takes to get their help, but from my limited anecdotal experience, I have seen many people who need help get it…along with small kids travelling alone.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

          What you don’t see is the people who are so put off by the prospect of airport security, of having to unpack and repack their bags, and risk having their medications confiscated, that they simply stay home. The steady accretion of rules and procedures has made air travel onerous enough that it’s just not worth it to them anymore. There are a lot of elderly people in this category.

        • Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          Honestly, that’s little better than the rapist consenting to wear a condom.


          • Mark R.
            Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

            No Ben, it’s not.

            • keith cook + or -
              Posted October 10, 2015 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

              The TSA should back off, treat people with respect and concentrate not so much on terrorist if that’s what they’re doing but on the loonies with one of those ubiquitous guns some American’s demand to bear.
              As you saw with the last shooting episode there is some speculation the guy was resigned to dying, like other’s who shoot themselves so not to be taken alive.
              What’s to stop an individual boarding a plane with a gun, along with dozens of clips and letting rip with no concern for his life or any one else. Not interested in taking command of the flight deck 30,000 plus feet down is a long time screaming because no one bothered to check out a passengers bag.
              Religion is not the only motivation, any old beef will do it seems. As domestic flights in the air at peak times in the US is in the thousands, ample opportunity and a lot of targets with no where to go but down.
              The US record for gun foolery so far is something like a gruesome experiment in how many dumb ways to die but of coarse, yes that was.. but just like dying in a head on collision it’s a cost we can all do without.
              The US needs the TSA type refocused on things that matter but while you have you current gun loose individuals and some that are not even that lonely running around, I would say, something is better than nothing.
              For instance the carriage of dangerous goods would be a good start. There are a lot of high energy batteries on the market that packed wrongly could be high fire risk. It would not surprise me some unsuspecting passenger anywhere on the planet has taken voitile material in their baggage not knowing it’s potential to modifying the aircraft and the psychological angst this would cause.
              This is first world USA where barbaric doings with guns is always possible, anywhere, anytime and for any reason which makes it very unpredictable.
              But from what I hear I hope the TSA are not armed and in reality nowhere in the world is immune to loonies with guns.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 10, 2015 at 12:04 am | Permalink

          Indeed, there are some compassionate agents out there, just like every other walk of life. But even they don’t eliminate the hassles the elderly (some of them) face. Often they cannot stand in line for half an hour or more, cannot heft their baggage around, bend over to remove & replace their shoes, move quickly enough through the procedures to avoid the rudeness of the “inconvenienced.” They may not have the stamina to add the extra one-two hours one needs to allow for in a busy airport. The loud environment can make it difficult for them to hear. They often require more frequent bathroom breaks. On top of everything else it can be one big exercise in realizing how bothersome the more able-bodied regard them.

          Nothing can really replace the days when family & friends were allowed to accompany and help them, parking lot to boarding gate, and vice versa.

          • Merilee
            Posted October 10, 2015 at 10:11 am | Permalink

            When I travelled through Grand Junction, CO, last year, there were TSA signs saying that people over 70 did not need to remove their jackets or shoes. Although I don’t fall into that category, they let me walk righst through in my hiking boots.

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 11, 2015 at 3:48 am | Permalink

              That’s true, I’ve seen similar signs recently. It’s a start.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Yes! I’ve witnessed the elderly being Hollander at rudely by the TSA. It was despicable.

  22. alnitak
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    There are real problems with security theater, including the uneven application of rules.

    Alternative methods exist. In Amsterdam, years ago, you had to walk up to a security agent who examined your passport in excruciating detail, added a bit of light conversation, then just looked at you. And looked. And looked. I assume if you broke a sweat they asked for another, private, conversation.

    They also had roving teams before the security points who stopped travelers briefly, asked for plane tickets and a rundown of where you’d been, who packed the luggage, etc. Some of the teams had dogs along for the walk.

    It would be good to have studies to determine if methods like those work.

    • Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      The security in Amsterdam caught me with a small machete in my carry-on backback. It was my field backpack and the machete was always in there; I had forgotten about it and was quite surprised (as were they!)when they pulled it out of my pack. Ecuadorian security missed it!

  23. Merilee
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm | Permalink


  24. Mark Perew
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    A fellow named Evan Booth has documented how a number of weapons and explosives can be manufactured with items purchased in an airport after the TSA screening. It would seem that TSA is only catching the dump people. May the Ceiling Cat help us if some smart people decide to use an airport terminal as a Build-A-Bomb Workshop.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Could happen. Near a gate at LaGuardia one time, I got a burrito that I know had fissile material in it.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      In a very real sense that is all any security ever does, from a dead-bolt to the Secret Service. It stops a certain percentage of people. But people with enough smarts, skills and determination could find a way past it if sufficiently motivated.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        … people with enough smarts, skills and determination …

        As well as people who are willing to sacrifice themselves on a suicide mission. JFK acknowledged that everyone, even presidents, are vulnerable to such an attack before his own assassination — as did Michael Corleone when plotting the murder of Hyman Roth in Godfather II.

  25. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Imagine what would happen if there were no screening!

    I imagine nothing much, precisely as it was before it was introduced. No one has demonstrated that screening is effective against a sufficiently frequent risk, and the lack of change bears that out.

    Airplanes is among the safest transport methods we have – don’t take a walk – and the frequency of terrorism in planes even lower. It seems to be the type of accidents, the many casualties per accident, that makes people inflate the risks.

    And if people are concerned with terrorism in particular, the usual security police work is deemed satisfactorily – and indeed prevents many terrorist acts – everywhere else. Why is air traffic singled out, except for the case of border control, i.e. expressed xenophobia?

  26. Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I think it is indeed “theater”, but that’s exactly the point. They are purposely trying to produce a psychological deterrent against would-be terrorists. The absurdism and unpredictability is part of the strategy, I think. No wanna-be martyr wants to spend a long and boring life in jail if he’s caught with something bad. If the search procedures and criteria are absurd and illogical and unpredictable, he will not take the risk.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Wannabe martyrs could blow themselves up in the security line before being searched, taking dozens of infidels with them, with near zero risk of being caught.

      Yet they don’t. Which suggests that the theater is playing to an empty house: the bogeymen it’s meant to deter don’t actually exist in significant numbers.

    • Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      If the search procedures and criteria are absurd and illogical and unpredictable, he will not take the risk.


      Which is why he won’t try to blow up the plane, but instead blow himself up in the line waiting to go through security. Or set off an improvised fuel-air bomb (soda bottle filled with gasoline plus a firecracker) inside a crowded movie theatre. Or do any number of other insanely violent horrific things.

      Save for the nascent police state, there’s no upside to the security theatre.


  27. Randy Schenck
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Don’t know if they still do it but years ago over in Europe they would ask several odd questions when you arrived to check in. They would ask if you packed your own bags. Ask if you have had the bags in your possession all the time since you packed them. You said yes to all of this and then moved on. If you said no to any of it, I’m not sure what happened but your bags were opened and searched. I’m sure the guy with a bomb would say no so they could then find the bomb.\

    I think all of this was a result of the Pan Am flight that went down in Scotland.

  28. Adam M.
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Yes, get rid of it entirely.

    First, as others have pointed out, the general lack of terrorist attacks against unprotected targets clearly shows that there just aren’t many people trying to commit terrorist attacks.

    Second, Americans need to grow a backbone and get some perspective. Why do otherwise sensible people care about terrorists at all? The risk of death from a terrorist attack is infinitesimal!

    The emotional and monetary investment in combating terrorism is way out of proportion. I didn’t break down on 9/11, nor do I weep on hearing about mass shootings. And before you accuse me of being a heartless monster, consider the thousands of people that die every day of disease, much of it preventable, that we devote hardly any resources to preventing in this country. Or if disease doesn’t count, consider the people killed by regular old murders every single day. It’s equivalent to 5 or 10 mass shootings every day, half a dozen 9/11s every year. As a country, we give that problem little more than lip service. Do you get proportionately worked up over that? If not, why the disparity? Because ten people killed is a tragedy and ten thousand killed is a statistic? If you let the ten guide policy and your emotions while ignoring the ten thousand, you are being irrational.

    Terrorists are a water molecule in the bucket. This country is bankrupting itself fighting terrorists. If we really cared about saving American lives, we’d cut out the pointless security theater, end the pointless wars, and use the resources to address far greater problems. We’re wasting a trillion dollars per year on “security”. Wouldn’t it be better to instead provide food, housing, education, and health care for all Americans? Wouldn’t that save more lives and make lives better?

    Yes, get rid of the fuckin’ TSA.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Nicely said.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Why do otherwise sensible people care about terrorists at all? The risk of death from a terrorist attack is infinitesimal!

      This is because people confuse what’s scary with what’s dangerous.

      Shark attacks are scary (though they rarely kill anyone); bathtubs are dangerous (since they kill so many more). Similarly, terrorist attacks on airplanes are scary, while stepladders are dangerous.

  29. Posted October 9, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    “I’ve objected several times to being groped in my nether parts.”

    I’ve never been groped in my nether parts. Apparently it doesn’t appear I have a bomb there. 😦

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      It’s not the size of the explosives in the package …

      • Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        “It’s not the size of the explosives in the package”

        That’s a myth, the bigger the package the bigger the explosion.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

          … says the guy with the tiny bomb in his trou …

        • Posted October 9, 2015 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          <ahem />


          Biggest conventional bomb in WWII, weighed up to 6 tons, big enough to be a coffin. For a giraffe. Explosive yield: ~5 tons.

          Weighs 50 pounds, fits in a backpack. Explosive yield: variable, from ~10 tons (double the blockbuster) minimum to ~1000 tons.



          • Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:13 pm | Permalink


            Oh please, it was a joke. Someone must be feeling a bit peeved as a result of an exchange on another post. :p

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

            Can you break down the fluid dynamics of whether its the size of the boat or the motion of the ocean? 🙂

            • Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

              Hmm…that’s a bit more of a challenge.

              Superficially, the ocean has way more kinetic energy than all the ships in the world, combined. Easily. Orders of magnitude. Maybe even orders of magnitude of orders of magnitude. And, as we know all too well, a tsunami…well, is damned terrifying, really, for very good reason.

              But the question here is clearly more qualitative than quantitative…assuming (non-destructive) oscillations of comparable magnitude, which harmonic frequency is more pleasing? That answer is going to depend on the movee as much as the mover.

              I think I’m gonna have to paraphrase Duke Ellington on this one.

              If it feels good, it is good.


          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:08 pm | Permalink


            Biggest conventional bomb in WWII, weighed up to 6 tons, big enough to be a coffin.”

            Umm, nope. Not quite the biggest either by weight or size or explosive power, if by ‘conventional’ you mean ‘incorporating ordinary chemical high explosive’.

            Check out Grand Slam:

            10 tons, 26 feet long, 9000 lbs of Torpex (6.5 tone TNT equivalent)

            It was absolutely conventional in that it was designed to be dropped by a bomber on a target; possibly unconventional in that, in what must have been an impressive display of gravitational kinetic energy, it would go through up to 20 feet of concrete _before_ it detonated.


            • Posted October 9, 2015 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

              <gulp />

              I suppose I should know better by now than to misunderestimate the destructive technology of humans….

              I’ll just note, in beating my hasty retreat, that Wikipedia says 42 (!) Grand Slams were dropped, but Blockbusters were dropped like candy. And the first sentence of the Wikipedia article also calls them the largest, so it’s not just me who didn’t get that memo….


  30. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted October 9, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    If we’re going to credit the TSA with imaginary lives saved as a result of hypothetical terrorists allegedly deterred, then we should also blame them for the needless highway deaths of actual travelers deterred from air travel to a less safe form of transportation by airport congestion and onerous TSA procedures.

  31. Jonathan Livengood
    Posted October 10, 2015 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Count me among those who want to disband the TSA.

    The main point for me is a cost-benefit calculation. Consider the number of airline bombing incidents and number of people killed in such incidents. For a good summary, see: (As others have pointed out, we don’t really have to worry about hijackings if the cockpits are sealed and the passengers are convinced that a hijacking means being killed in a plane crash.)

    In the decade of the 70s, there were 29 incidents (worldwide) resulting in fewer than 1,000 deaths. In the 80s, there were 24 incidents resulting in fewer than 1,500 deaths. In the 90s there was almost nothing: fewer than 50 deaths in the entire decade.

    The TSA has an annual budget of more than 7 *billion* dollars. Let’s generously suppose that without the TSA, the number of incidents would increase by a factor of four or more and the number of deaths due to bombings of planes would increase by a factor of ten from what they were in the 70s and 80s to, say, 100 incidents and 15,000 deaths per decade.

    Now, suppose that spending 7 billion dollars per year eliminates *all* of that death and destruction. That would mean we were paying a bit more than 4.6 million dollars per life “saved.” We’d have to adjust for the typical composition of an airliner to get a serious calculation in terms of quality life years, but I’m pretty confident that we can do better for that amount of money. Really, you could make the terrorist threat *another* ten times worse than my imagined nightmare scenario — one hundred times worse than what we observed in the 70s and 80s — and I’d *still* say the TSA was a bad bet. We would still be better off investing in education or food stamps or flu vaccinations or infrastructure or (crazy thought!) invest in education, infrastructure, and healthcare in the third world, where a smaller investment has an even larger impact.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 10, 2015 at 2:58 am | Permalink

      There you go with the hifalutin “logic” and “reason.” How far do you think that’ll get you with us sentient apes dependent on the emotions and instincts we developed out on the veldt?

      • Jonathan Livengood
        Posted October 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. I don’t know why any of us bother. 😉

  32. Richard C
    Posted October 11, 2015 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    I want to see the TSA streamlined, not disbanded. Airplanes are still a target because of their high profile and value as flying weapons.

    I think the TSA should focus on ID card checks and stopping the big things like guns and bombs, and not so much on the smaller threats like pocket knives. There’s no need to remove belts and shoes and little need for any searches beyond X-rays.

    Then hire more air marshals, to handle anyone who sneaks a box cutter in their belt.

    Lastly, keep that cockpit door secured as they’ve already done (post 9/11).

    The lines would become faster, and the major terrorist threats still would be prevented. As for the small knife danger, you’ll be far safer than in any crowd on the street.

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