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March 26, 2012

TSA Successfully Identifies a Real Threat
Posted by Patrick at 04:02 PM * 57 comments

To the TSA, that is.

Looks like the TSA really, really doesn’t want to let Bruce Schneier testify in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Well, and who can blame them, considering.

Comments on TSA Successfully Identifies a Real Threat:
#1 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 04:24 PM:

It should be worth mentioning that, after more than a decade in existence, the TSA has yet to catch its first terrorist.

#2 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 05:59 PM:

Jim@1: But they did catch someone with a cupcake!

#3 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 06:24 PM:

If my mother-in-law's wheelchair had been a fiendish device of some sort they would have caught her; it took 4 TSA officers to search her, her wheelchair, and her handbag (no carry-on luggage), and they made no attempt to make things easy for an obvious 85-year-old terrorist.

#4 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 06:24 PM:

If my mother-in-law's wheelchair had been a fiendish device of some sort they would have caught her; it took 4 TSA officers to search her, her wheelchair, and her handbag (no carry-on luggage), and they made no attempt to make things easy for an obvious 85-year-old terrorist.

#5 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 06:40 PM:

And what's the count now for attackers who made it onto the plane, and were foiled by their own incompetence?

#6 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 07:11 PM:

Jim @ 1... This obviously proves the impenetrability and efficiency of those measures.

#7 ::: john who is incognito and definitely not at work ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 07:14 PM:

They did successfully detect my sinister container of cinnamon Tic-Tacs.

I remain skeptical that the metal detector actually detected that slight bit of foil at the top when it failed to sound over my metal-framed glasses.

#8 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 07:45 PM:

Serge @6: They're also loudly proclaiming their success at keeping Bengal Tigers away from the subway systems in Arkansas by the fiendish and manpower-heavy system of sprinkling breadcrumbs on the platforms.

#9 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 08:17 PM:

Ah, but it's also important to know that since the TSA has been extant, the number of phorusrhacidae has been notably low on all U.S. Passenger planes. Not a single terror bird has gotten onto a passenger plane alive!

#10 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 08:36 PM:

Megpie71... Laura Runkle... Nor have time travellers from the Far Future successfully abducted any plane's passengers and replaced them with cheap copies.

#11 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:02 PM:

Serge: are we sure? Maybe they are expensive copies.

#12 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:15 PM:

Serge @10:

There has also been a notable lack of purple people eater attacks on passenger planes. Since the creation of the TSA, not one purple person has been eaten on a passenger aircraft in flight within the boundaries of the continental United States of America.

(How can we possibly deny them these triumphs?)

#13 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 10:11 PM:

On the bright side, Bruce is giving a free talk in Chicago tomorrow for any locals here who want to see him. Maybe you can ask him what he wanted to tell the TSA.

#14 ::: Martin Haywood ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 10:50 PM:

"But unfortunately the committee went along with them."

Why? That's the interesting question here.

#15 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 01:12 AM:

Why? Because the committee is being careful not to hear something they might not like, or that might contradict something told them by Very Serious Security Officials.

The truth is out there (so slam the door and lock it quick!)

#16 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 01:51 AM:

Of course they don't want him to testify. Bruce Schneier can, after all, divide by zero.

#17 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 08:16 AM:

On the bright side, Bruce is giving a free talk in Chicago tomorrow for any locals here who want to see him.

Conceivably, I could actually attend this. Maybe I will!

#18 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 08:36 AM:

You'd be more than welcome, Bill.

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 11:22 AM:

I am getting tired of this nonsense. Is there a psychological condition called "fear of actual facts"?

#20 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 12:37 PM:

Yes, Fragano, there is. It's called Greedy Old Politician Syndrome, or GOP Syndrome for short.

#21 ::: Darth Paradox ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 02:03 PM:

It seems like a more aggressive, insecure version of confirmation bias - where, once you have a conception of how the world works, but you know there's lots of data out there to say otherwise, you don't just interpret the things you see to fit your bias, but you actually go out of your way to avoid being presented with anything that might challenge your worldview.

#22 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 08:13 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue: YOMANK.

#23 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 09:29 PM:

I can almost join in condemning the TSA's searching of an old lady in a wheelchair, until I remember that the Lockerbie bomb was not carried aboard by a bearded 20-something man but by a pregnant Frenchwoman.

That said, I doubt the TSA could have found that damned bomb.

#24 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 01:40 AM:

John M. Burt @23:

It wasn't the fact that she was searched that bugged me, it was that the search was as ham-handed and intrusive as possible. Running the wheelchair through the X-ray machine could have been done in less than a minute while she waited in a chair; instead they did a patdown of an old lady who was in early stage dimentia, and who was going home to bury her husband who had died two days before, while she was at her oldest grandchild's wedding. We couldn't get her out before that because we were in a hurricane and all plane flights were cancelled.

I'm convinced the real reason for the overzealousness of the TSA was that the airport was almost empty, and there were probably more TSA than passengers for our flight. We were on the first flight out of the Sarasota, FL. airport on the morning after the hurricane went through, and most passengers had cancelled their flights.

#25 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 03:28 AM:

Jim@1: To be fair, there hasn't been a successful attack of the type that the TSA are supposed to prevent, so the fact that they haven't caught anyone doesn't prove they weren't doing their job.
Of course the lack of attacks doesn't prove their job is worthwhile either - assuming that there would have been more attacks if there wasn't a TSA is extremely dubious.

#26 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 07:44 AM:

Alan Braggins #25: We have, however, had at least two people get their explosive devices onto the plane, only to fail because the bombs didn't work. Also, a number of other "random crazies" who got onto the plane and were then subdued (iirc, in one case killed) by passengers.

And in exchange for this, the TSA has whimsically and without appeal confiscated a huge amount of passenger's personal property, with no recourse, no compensation, and no shame.

#27 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 08:36 AM:

Alan Braggans @ 25:

Also, a number of tests of airport security in which individuals smuggled fake guns, knives, and bombs onto aircraft have shown systemic flaws in the TSA systems, as well as a large number of insufficiently trained, motivated, and/or competent personnel. TSA's public attitude towards these tests has been "Nothing to see here, no problem, don't need to change anything, wouldn't be prudent."

#28 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 08:53 AM:


The syndrome is bipartisan. I wish things were different, but they're not. Under Democratic leadership, the DHS and TSA appear to be no more competent or transparent than under Republican leadership.

Changing the top management of the Stasi, and putting a reformer in charge instead of a party hardliner, doesn't mean the police state ends, it means the police state purges different people and pursues different internal enemies.

#29 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 12:46 PM:

albatross @ 28:

it means the police state purges different people and pursues different internal enemies.

Or not. In organizations like that the lower levels are notoriously disconnected from the upper levels, and their victims are often chosen by the minions for reasons that have little to do with the policy decisions of the bosses.

#30 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 12:53 PM:

Another bit of open threadiness:

Will the Democrats change their platform on civil liberties?

A whole bunch of the 2008 platform's promises wrt civil liberties, executive power, and the war on terror contradict stuff the Obama administration has done. My guess is that they'll leave the platform intact, and just try to ignore the issue--after all, no non-Paul Republican is going to run against them on those issues.

#31 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 01:12 PM:


Yep. My point is, the kind of organization it is, its job and mission and culture and most of its employees and its expertise and resources and practices, all keep it pointed in the same basic direction. Changing the people at the top can alter some important things about who gets targeted and who doesn't, but it won't change the kind of organization it is or what it does. DHS could have its appointees chosen by Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, and it would still be a force for evil in the world, and probably continue becoming a bigger force for evil in the world as time goes by.

#32 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 01:16 PM:

Thinking about the JetBlue pilot for a minute.

1) He could have legally had a gun on the plane.
2) He (presumably) could have gotten into any of the reduced screening programs, given that he's a a pilot.
3) The only things that helped contain what happened were the crew reaction, reinforced cabin doors and passengers willing and ready to help. Not the TSA.

#33 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 02:02 PM:

albatross @ 30... after all, no non-Paul Republican is going to run against them on those issues

You still trumpeting for Paul? Come to think of it, thanks for doing that because it takes the sting out of your calling me an Obama apologist. As for your oft-repeated assertion that Democrats are the same as Republicans... I recently promised here not to use rude words next time someone suggested that, but that won't stop me from telling you to just shove it you-know-where.

#34 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 02:27 PM:

eric @ 32:

This one would have been very hard to screen against: he had been a pilot of JetBlue for 12 years, and was a personal friend of the CEO.

The one person most responsible for preventing a nasty incident was the co-pilot, who locked the pilot out of the cabin when he started to act oddly.

#35 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 02:38 PM:

Xopher: out of context of the ML history, he's right, you know - no Republican who's name isn't Paul is going to run on the "Obama promised a return to civil liberties and reneged on that promise".

Of course, the Paul that's running is in his own little world-bubble with little to no contact with reality and is as dangerous IRL as the rest. It's just a different little world-bubble with no contact with reality than the others'.

But it's really annoying that we have to hope for "brakes on the slide to Hell" (and not get it, as like as not) as a best-case scenario, because all the alternatives seem to be "why yes, there *is* a place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." Nobody cares about trying to reverse any of this, because it doesn't gain them votes (the ones that care are gamed into "voting one way anyway") or money, and the slide to Hell may not gain them votes (because the people that care are "voting the other way anyway"), but it sure does get them money. And money doesn't equal votes, but lack of money does equal lack of votes.

#36 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 02:46 PM:

My opinion of DHS, as stated by a character in some Shadowunit fanfic I wrote a few years ago:

“Listen carefully, kid, I suspect you’ve been sheltered from the real craziness at the Bureau; you need to hear what it’s like when your boss doesn’t give a crap about doing the job at all, forget about doing it right.
“I was part of the first intake, when Governor Tom set up the Department. I was facing mandatory retirement from the service in a couple of years. It looked like my best opportunity after that was to go mercenary; Blackwater was interested in me, but I knew too many of those hotdogs, and I couldn’t see being a nanny for a bunch of snot-nosed psychopaths. So when my CO passed on the memo about DHS waiving mandatory retirement for experienced counter-espionage liaison officers, I grabbed it and ran all the way to Personnel to fill out the application.
“Of course I knew what I was getting into. You can’t spend more than a decade working out of INSCOM at Ft. Belvoir without knowing how government agencies work at the high levels. I knew there were going to be epic turf battles, and that most of the people setting up the department wouldn’t have a clue about Homeland or Security. Hell, I got to meet Mother Angleton just before the CIA canned him; I know just how crazy you can get in this business even if you do know what you’re doing. But I figured that there’d be more of a chance that DHS would learn how to play nice with the rest of the intel community if someone like me was there to smooth things over and keep the phone lines open, and that if I could get some voice in the hiring decisions I could maybe bring in a few more people with clues.”

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 03:18 PM:

Why I do not like or trust the FBI, Part 1.314 e6, via /.

"According to the FBI's internal inquiry on counterterrorism training, the FBI taught agents that the Bureau 'has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedoms of others;' that agents should 'never attempt to shake hands with an Asian;' that Arabs were 'prone to outbursts' of a 'Jekyll & Hyde' nature." Even better: "That review, now complete, did not result in a single disciplinary action for any instructor. Nor did it mandate the retraining of any FBI agent exposed to what the Bureau concedes was inappropriate material. Nor did it look at any intelligence reports that might have been influenced by the training."

#38 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 05:47 PM:

Bruce C., #36: Link to fanfic?

#39 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 08:35 PM:

Serge, if you can point to ways in which the executive branch of this Democratic administration has acted significantly better than that of the previous Republican one *on the issues cited in albatross' link and the original post in this thread* (the TSA, civil liberties, expanding executive power, etc.) I'm all ears.

I'll grant they've stopped overtly torturing (even as they've let the torturers off the hook). The President also made some noises early on advocating closing Guantanamo's prisons, which he then dropped after Congressional resistance. Anything else?

(I'm also not disputing, nor do I think albatross is, that there are definite differences between the parties on a number of *other* issues. On this cluster of issues, though, there's all too much shared investment from both parties in the brutally authoritarian state.)

#40 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 09:30 PM:

I sometimes nervously wonder if they know something we don't (well, I'm sure they do, but I mean something that would justify this authoritarian crap even to us), or if the political type is just constitutionally inherently unable to give up any power once they have it.

I suspect the latter...because that's quite bad enough for my nightmares.

#41 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 01:20 AM:

Lee @ 38:

Sorry, it's not on line. It's only about 90% written (by which I mean I never finished writing the ending, right now it ends in the middle of the climactic chase scene). I keep meaning to go back to it, but there are so many other distractions.

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 01:24 AM:

Xopher @ 40:

I think that they think they know things we don't that do in fact justify what they're doing. The problem is that if we knew those things, we probably wouldn't agree that they make a good justification, and it may even be that if they were simply removed from the atmosphere of fear and groupthink that pervades the "defense" and "intelligence" communities, they might change their minds on that justification.

#43 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 01:59 AM:

I sometimes nervously wonder if they know something we don't

They know that prominent Democrats are complicit in the crimes committed by the government in the panic after 9/11. Thus the truth must never come to light. Thus the retroactive amnesty for FISA violations. Thus "we must move forward".

#44 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 04:33 AM:

John Mark Ockerbloom... We will have to disagree. No matter what I'll point out to as reminder that a President Obama is better than a President McCain would have been, it won't make a difference to your opinion of him. That being said, my apologies to albatross.

#45 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 06:51 AM:

Xopher #40: The other week I shelved a book which purported to be the author's confession for participation in the CIA/Mafia assassination of JFK. (Of course, that begs the question of why the book was permitted to be published....)

Regardless, if the storied "incoming-president's orientation" includes warnings to the the effect of "you're not actually top dog here -- let us do whatever we want, and you get to keep prancing around on stage", that would cover at least some of the bases.

#46 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 11:59 AM:

Interesting link:Lessons from the Iraq Invasion

#47 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 12:13 PM:

Bruce @ 34:

The point is that resilient, simple measures will handle unexpected issues far better than the current maginot line.

Also, two of those are Bruce Schneier's top two security enhancements since 9/11.

#48 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 02:56 PM:


I'm not offended, but I think your anger is misdirected. On the war on terror, executive power, domestic spying, homeland security, and treatment of whistleblowers, Obama did a 180 once in office and sold out voters like me who voted for him specifically on those issues. There is only one man ultimately responsible for that decision, and it's not me.

#49 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 03:13 PM:


I imagine they "know" a great many things, and some of them are even right.

The only way I know to judge is to look at decisions from the intelligence/military/foreign policy elite in the past, and see if they actually seem to be very effiicient or capable. Perhaps this is my bias, but I don't see much evidence of it. Does our performance in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Libya, say, suggest to you that the folks making the decisions really know what they're doing?

Those same elites fight like hell not to allow any oversight of their actions--as witness the hammering of whistleblowers and thuggish attempts to silence Wikileaks, or the occasional targeting of critical journalists. Look at the decision, ultimately bioartisan, not to try large numbers of terrorism suspects we claim are serius terrorists, and to try others in specially made uo military tribunals where normal rules don't apply. Does that look like the actiion of people confident they've performed well and that the public will be happy with their actions?

Look at the TSA avoiding critical scrutiny here, or refusing to tell anyone what the rules are for getting added tothe no fly list or flying with ID. Does this look like people who know what they're doing but just can't tell you about it?

The intelligence services have fought hard to avoid allowing any congressional or GAO oversight. Probably, this isn't because they are so confident that any oversight will simply confirm what upright, competent, successful agencies they are.

As it happens, I have dealt with smart, capable people in my field who do know a lot and are competent and do have secrets they have to keep. They don't come off like these overpromoted mall cops and Colonel Flag clones.

#50 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 03:33 PM:

albatross @ 48... Like I told John Mark Ockerbloom, let's agree to disagree about our respective perceptions of Obama and let's leave it at that. Maybe you're right, maybe I am, maybe we both are, but I won't change your mind or your vote, you won't change mine, so there's no point. Oh, and since this thread went from derision about a bureaucracy to one about politics, I must withdraw. I swore to myself on January 6 that I'd stay away from political discussions here and elsewhere and yesterday was a drastic lapse.

#51 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2012, 04:51 AM:

albatross @ 49:

No, that's my conclusion as well, that the people in charge of our foreign affairs, military, intelligence, counter-intelligence, and counter-terrorist agencies (and a bunch of other agencies besides), are not competent, are not particularly invested in furthering the interests of the United States as opposed to their own and their friends' interests, and are overly concerned with covering their own asses in lieu of doing their jobs.

Also that all the much-ballyhooed attempts to unify those agencies and provide oversight at least up their own ostensible chains of command have actually been counter-productive. I deduce this from the fact that as far as I can tell the CIA is running at least 2 wars all by itself (Yemen and Pakistan).

#52 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 08:14 PM:

@40: When the Iraq war started, I said something like "I really HOPE George Bush knows something I don't, or this is a stupid war for no reason." Maybe it's confirmation bias, but I can't think of any evidence that he knew something I didn't.

Didn't Robert McNamara admit, 30 years after Vietnam, that when he said "We know something you don't know" he was flat out lying?

I doubt there's a huge reservoir of secret knowledge the elites have and we do not.

Going to the specific case of the TSA:

The TSA has been given two tasks: 1) Prevent any terror on planes and 2) make people feel safer when they fly while not impeding them in any significant way. They're in a no-win situation on both of those, but they've decided to work on the first half of the second item.

Didn't Japan have a Minister of Earthquakes so they'd have someone to blame?

#53 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 02:48 AM:

Sandy B. @52

A Japanese "Minister of Earthquakes" makes as much sense as any position of political responsibility for disaster preparedness. One of the weaknesses I see in the modern world is that there is no feedback on failure. CEOs walk away from disaster with huge paychecks. Politicians who appoint idiots to power never get any comeback.

Some of the ancient corrupt practices had more feedback than any "honest" system in use. People took note, in systems of patronage, who recommended the idiots.

A "Minister of Earthquakes" might work well, if the political culture doesn't tolerate incompetence. I know we over-simplify some aspects of Japan, but there are enough earthquakes in that country that it isn't hard to imagine it as a position to appoint enemies to, complete with blood-stained office floor.

#54 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 06:26 AM:

Dave Bell #53: it isn't hard to imagine it as a position to appoint enemies to, complete with blood-stained office floor.

Or at least a nice beachfront office....

#55 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 10:58 PM:

Re the Minister of Earthquakes: If we had a Federal Office of Earthquake Prevention and Suppression, the head of FOEPAS would be praised for a "heckuva job"* and promoted even further beyond his level of incompetence.

*Now, if Bush had said Brown was doing "a job of Heck", he might have had a point . . . .

#56 ::: Tom Whitmore suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 07:17 PM:

Irrelevant content, short, and a URL payload.

#57 ::: Lila sees disgusting spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 08:59 AM:


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