Civil Liberties

Security Theater

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The Minneapolis City Pages profiles the maverick security expert Bruce Schneier, who doesn't think much of the TSA:

"There have been exactly two things since 9/11 that have made air travel safer," Schneier said recently over spring rolls at a favorite Vietnamese restaurant on Nicollet Avenue. "Reinforcing the cockpit door and telling people to fight back in the event of an attack." After a brief pause, half-devoured roll in hand, he reconsidered. "Well, maybe three," he said. "I'm on the fence about sky marshals."

For more on the TSA's sorry record, go here.

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  1. Oh, he is SO getting a full body cavity search before his next flight!

  2. Have “they” ever formally told “us” to fight back in the event of an attack? I don’t recall a policy change announcement on this issue, only some ad-hoc common sense shown by the folks in that plane over Pennsylvania.

    I thought we were still officially regarded as helpless sheep dependent upon the shepherd of authority.

  3. I thought we were still officially regarded as helpless sheep dependent upon the shepherd of authority.

    True. There has never been an overt statement, more just the lack of an official condemnation of the PA defense.

    Sucks, don’t it?

  4. On a recent morning at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Schneier set out to foil airport security.

    Dressed in a black blazer and jeans, Schneier approached a stone-faced Northwest Airlines ticket agent and informed her that he’d lost his ID.

    “Do you have a credit card in your name?” she asked.

    “No,” Schneier answered.

    In accordance with airline policy, the agent printed Schneier’s boarding pass, scrawling “NO ID” on it. Schneier thanked her and headed to the security line, where he would receive extra scrutiny.

    In the end, though, Schneier was allowed to board his plane with little difficulty, even though the airline had no idea who he was. In so doing, Schneier demonstrated why the so-called “No Fly” list-the backbone of the airport security system-is, as he puts it, “a complete waste of time.”

    Somebody should tell John Gilmore about this.

  5. OK, how does a re-enforced cockpit door and
    Audie Murphy-like passengers prevent a suicide bomber from simply taking out a plane full of passengers over, say, Los Angeles? That it hasn’t happened is indicative of a) TSA measures are working enough not to tempt suicide bombers to try or b) there really aren’t any suicide bombers lurking around the
    U.S. Discuss among yourselves.

  6. Sure, the TSA is security theater… but so is pretty much 90% of the laws and rules and regulations and programs the government implements.

    Basicly, Bush created the TSA and everyone hates Bush, so people are willing to see TSA as security theater. But remember that this kind of skeptism is not some fundamental change in attitudes towards government. While the people who are critizing security theater in this case might be right, the same people probably support “Assault Weapon Bans”, or “Drug Free School Zones”, or other equally rediculous security theater measures.

    And as soon as the Democrats take over and institute “reforms”, it will be as politically incorrect to critize the TSA as any other regulatory agency.

  7. @James B.

    Gilmore’s point wasn’t that you -could- get on a plane without an ID, Gilmore’s point was that it was a requirement communicated to passengers that was based on some ‘secret law’ that no one could conjure up.

    In this case Schneier lied by saying he didn’t have an id. But he was proving a very valid point. That checking the ID and the “no-fly” list is all just theatre.

  8. There has never been an overt statement, more just the lack of an official condemnation of the PA defense. Sucks, don’t it?

    No, it’s actually a welcome sign of realism. Ever since 9/11 people have known they have to fight back; no formal policy is going to change that. It might be nice to have that enshrined in formal policy and announcements, but it doesn’t matter much.

  9. @creech

    Because bringing what is necessary on the plane to make enough impact to the plane to crash or explode is not an easy thing to do. Especially before your fellow passengers beat you senseless. Even with the TSA missing guns and other devices through x-ray.

    However – there are other attack vectors – such as checked in luggage or wandering into the plane at night and planting something. Planes don’t have locks and frequently sit empty between trips.

    We can spend hours discussing all the possibilities but the chances of someone taking down a plane based on the old model (hijacking) is no longer valid.

  10. While the people who are critizing security theater in this case might be right, the same people probably support “Assault Weapon Bans”, or “Drug Free School Zones”, or other equally rediculous security theater measures.

    No, at least not around here. Try again.

  11. Even with the TSA missing guns and other devices through x-ray.

    Because they are too busy checking grandmas and babies for water bottles bigger than 2oz.

  12. What happens when an old-style hijacking occurs, of the sort where the hijackers really do intend to merely fly the plane to Cuba (or someplace else out of US reach) without harming the passengers?

    If the passengers fight back, and several of them are killed needlessly, the govt will again force flight attdts to instruct passengers not to fight back.

  13. Or oogling breasts through backscatter x-ray machines.

  14. crimethink-

    I very much doubt that any of those sorts of hijackings will be attempted again. Also, if a hijacking is attempted again, the incentive will be for the security agencies to insist that it really was an attempted suicide attack, not an attempted “Holiday in Havanna” attack.

  15. creech | August 27, 2007, 1:04pm | #

    OK, how does a re-enforced cockpit door and
    Audie Murphy-like passengers prevent a suicide bomber from simply taking out a plane full of passengers over, say, Los Angeles? That it hasn’t happened is indicative of a) TSA measures are working enough not to tempt suicide bombers to try or b) there really aren’t any suicide bombers lurking around the
    U.S. Discuss among yourselves.

    Probably nothing prevents a terrorist from taking down a plane in the manner you mention (assuming the technical ability to do so). The difference is that the plane cannot be deliberately flown into a tall building, killing thousands of people and plunging a country into recession. Thus, air travel itself is probably not safer for the passengers, but the suicide bombers can’t do nearly so much mayhem with the plane.

  16. So…the TSA exists to make sure we don’t have any more 9/11 style airline terror attacks. Nearly six years later, we’ve had no more terror attacks.

    So explain again how the TSA has not been effective?

    I know you guys are obligated to condemn every government program and agency as failures but at least wait until they fail.

  17. Dan T,

    I’ve also been praying for there to be no more domestic terror attacks. Six years later, we haven’t had any attacks, so does that prove my prayer was effective?

  18. Dan T & Crimethink,
    I bought an anti-hijacking rock from Timothy and so far none of the planes I have been on have been hijacked. I say my rock is doing more than the TSA or prayers.

  19. Or oogling breasts

    [pant] ogling [/pant]

  20. In defense of the TSA, I had this great plan to blind the whole crew by spewing shampoo into their eyes and taking over the plane while they helplessly rubbed their eyes. When the TSA guy confiscated by Suave, though, I had to just take the flight and cook up another scheme.

  21. Dan T,

    I’ve also been praying for there to be no more domestic terror attacks. Six years later, we haven’t had any attacks, so does that prove my prayer was effective?

    So far, it has. 🙂

    Anyway, this kind of response shows the no-win situation inherent with any kind of preventative measure – it’s impossible to prove that what you were trying to prevent would have happened had you not tried to prevent it.

  22. Dan-

    Granted, it’s easier to measure the failure rate of a preventive measure (or alleged preventive measure, whatever) than the success rate. Still, a bit of logic wouldn’t hurt.

  23. I’ve also been praying for there to be no more domestic terror attacks. Six years later, we haven’t had any attacks, so does that prove my prayer was effective?

    No, it does not. But it proves even less that your prayers have been ineffective.

  24. The TSA is a fine example of the perniciousness of government programs. Nothing can invalidate it’s existence. If we have no more terror attacks… The TSA works! If he have another airplane-based attack… We need to expand the TSA!

    This realization is the libertarian precautionary principle. Once you get a government program it never goes away.

    Name me the last government service that was done away with when it was proven to be largely useless. (And I mean, done away with, not renamed, reformed, or shifted to another area of the government.)

    Don’t we still have a strategic helium reserve?

  25. That strategic helium reserve is used for important scientific experiments, SugarFree!

  26. So explain again how the TSA has not been effective?

    Duh!! The TSA had nothing to do with the fact that there have been no more 9/11 style terror attacks.

    That was easy.

  27. OK, you’re the doctor.

    [backs slowly out of room]

  28. Don’t we still have a strategic helium reserve?

    From wikipedia:

    By 1995, a billion cubic metres of the gas had been collected and the reserve was US$1.4 billion in debt, prompting the Congress of the United States in 1996 to phase out the reserve.[1][2] The resulting “Helium Privatization Act of 1996” (Public Law 104-273) directed the United States Department of the Interior to start liquidating the reserve by 2005.[3]

    Problem solved. Only took a half century.

    (Oh, wait, on further Googling maybe it’s still in Uncle Sam’s hands.)

    The terrorists hate us for our cute squeaky voices.

  29. re: fight back policy

    Didn’t the Congress critters just refuse to pass a law protecting good-faith reporting of strange behaviour (i.e. the Flying Imans)?

    I doubt we’ll ever see an official policy to fight back, but then I won’t need a policy before I join the mob beating down the next shoe-bomber wannabe either.

  30. Darn straight, SugarFree! Not only do we use it to probe the resonant frequencies of vocal cords, we also use it to test concept aircraft involving lawn chairs and balloons.

    And you don’t even want to know what we do when we liquefy it…

  31. Duh!! The TSA had nothing to do with the fact that there have been no more 9/11 style terror attacks.

    That was easy.

    Eh, explaining something does not mean restating your conclusion.

  32. directed the United States Department of the Interior to start liquidating the reserve

    Great… liquid helium is even more fun.

  33. Let’s not go getting rid of that helium so fast.

    If we had any brains we’d be building hundreds of modular pebble- bed nuclear power plants and using that helium for cooling and to transfer the heat for power generation.

  34. thoreau,

    I imagine liquid helium goes great with Amaretto. (But, really, doesn’t everything?)

    Kap,

    Some darn fine googling there, pardner. The 2nd article not only points to the reserve existing, but seems to predict a bit of doom if it goes away.

    Government programs that never die… Vampires or Zombies?

  35. I for one welcome our terrifying and immortal squeaky-voiced overlords.

  36. telling people to fight back in the event of an attack

    Now, if the Second Amendment hadn’t been neutered by the TSA and others, we could actually do that.

  37. Kwix:
    I bought an anti-hijacking rock from Timothy and so far none of the planes I have been on have been hijacked. I say my rock is doing more than the TSA or prayers.

    I would like to buy your rock. Name a price.

  38. What happens when an old-style hijacking occurs, of the sort where the hijackers really do intend to merely fly the plane to Cuba (or someplace else out of US reach) without harming the passengers?

    If the passengers fight back, and several of them are killed needlessly, the govt will again force flight attdts to instruct passengers not to fight back.

    crimethink — And we’re supposed to take the hijackers’ word that they mean us no harm? No such thing as “killed needlessly” anymore fighting back against hijackers, regardless of what they claim is their agenda.

  39. Is Schneier really a maverick. I think of him as sort of the definition of a security expert. Wouldnt that make him mainstream instead of a maverick?

  40. Eh, explaining something does not mean restating your conclusion.

    We did explain it to you Dan. In painful detail, over and over and over. Your comeback to people explaining how the TSA was security theater was to say “But if the TSA was bad, how come there hasn’t been another terrorist attack”, so I chose to answer on the intellectual level of your arguements. The humor went over your head.

  41. We did explain it to you Dan. In painful detail, over and over and over. Your comeback to people explaining how the TSA was security theater was to say “But if the TSA was bad, how come there hasn’t been another terrorist attack”, so I chose to answer on the intellectual level of your arguements. The humor went over your head.

    Oh yes, I forgot that the TSA did “security theater” – which I guess means security techniques that don’t really work, which explains why we’ve had numerous airline terror attacks over the last few years.

    Wait – I forget. The real reason there have been no terror attacks since 9/11 is that nobody wants to commit any against us. Because if they did, it would be easy.

  42. “The real reason there have been no terror attacks since 9/11 is that nobody wants to commit any against us.”

    Maybe W got the “Nuke Mecca” threat to the right people on a back channel?

  43. “…nobody wants to commit any (terror acts)against us. Because if they did it would be easy.”

    Interesting point, made recently by a Phila.
    Inqurier columnist, Michael Smerconish. If there were lots of suicidal terrorists, and our borders are so porous, then why haven’t they pulled off dozens of the kinds of bombings they do in Iraq? You don’t need to use a plane to bring down the Empire State Building or the Sears Tower to ruin the economy. Three or four plane bombings would work (if TSA stopped checking for large liquid carryones). Failing that, our roads, etc. are
    extremely vulnerable to attacks. A truck bomb in Times Square on a Saturday night, or even at a local high school football game, or a carnival, would do huge damage. So maybe the TSA screenings are working or maybe there are few, if any, terrorists willing and able to come here and hit the U.S. on its own soil. While we may know in our “gut” that it is the latter, can we be sure enough to allow the TSA and other agencies to relax their efforts unless and until such terrorism disappears in other countries and the U.S. foreign policy stops making enemies left and right?

  44. Weeeeell, the TSA did decrease the rate of US airline terror attacks from its previous high (1 big one), to the current rate (0 since ’01), so I definitely agree that necessitating the removal of shoes and beverages and billions of taxpayer dollars is worth it.

    Think of the children!!

    That argument is a bit of a non-starter, Dan. It is like arguing about Russel’s Teapot. As was stated earlier, if there are no attacks the TSA is doing a good job, if there are attacks the TSA needs to be bigger. Like arguing that prayer works, if the desired outcome occurs, “Yay Jesus,” and if not “It was God’s will.”

    I prefer to think that armed air marshals, public willingness to fight, and more secure doors are as effective as some lowest bidder employee working a 12 hour shift taking fingernail clippers and water bottles. Air travel is much safer than driving, and there is not a DSA preventing sleepy people from driving.

  45. Is Schneier really a maverick. I think of him as sort of the definition of a security expert. Wouldnt that make him mainstream instead of a maverick?

    Well, it’s the TSA/DHS crowd that makes the rules, so for now they get to be the mainstream. In a saner world, he’d be writing the regulations and they’d be jabbering on obscure blogs.

  46. If you really wanted to stop terrorist attacks on all planes flying domestically, I would think you would have a marine outside the reinforced cockpit door, and another inside both with orders that no one but approved persons gets through the door. International flights, not sure, but I would imagine if any president could negotiate our right to put two marines on any incoming flights that president would be Bush.

  47. Check that. I should have written deter instead of stop.

  48. There has been no terrorist attacks in this country because UKERBOLD has kept them at bay with a powerful mind control beam.

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