Terrorism

The TSA Will Run the Show, With the Emphasis on Show

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Yesterday the Transportation Security Administration said it will begin taking over the responsibility of checking airline passengers against government-generated watch lists in January. It expects to be fully in charge of that function, which the airlines currently handle, by the end of next year. The TSA, which has been working on a revamped system for vetting passengers since 2001, says exciting new developments in data analysis, including the use of full names, gender, and birth dates, will help avoid the sort of confusion that has grounded or delayed tens of thousands of innocent travelers mistaken for Al Qaeda hangers-on:

Details about why certain passengers are stopped are normally not shared with travelers, who often endure long delays and pointed questions. [The Department of Homeland Security] has received more than 43,500 requests for redress since February 2007 and has completed 24,000 of them, with the rest under review or awaiting more documentation.

Even if the TSA delivers on its promise to stop confusing members of Congress with terrorists, the watch lists seem like more trouble than they're worth:

The number of people who actually match the names on the watch lists is minuscule, officials acknowledged. On average, DHS screeners discover a person who is actually on the no-fly list about once a month, usually overseas, and actual selectees daily, [TSA Administrator Kip] Hawley said.

To bolster their case for the new program, U.S. officials for their first time disclosed that the no-fly list includes fewer than 2,500 individuals and the selectee list fewer than 16,000.

I noted the slow movement of watch list reform last year. In a 2004 reason cover story, James Bovard took a broader view of TSA folly. The latest issue of The Atlantic includes an article by Jeffrey Goldberg that reaches similar conclusions, relying heavily on the insights of TSA critic Bruce Schneier. Goldberg, who snuck various banned items past TSA screeners as part of his research, dismisses airport anti-terrorism measures as "'security theater' designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists."

NEXT: And Who Will Check the Apples for Razors?

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  1. The TSA, which has been working on a revamped system for vetting passengers since 2001, says exciting new developments in data analysis, including the use of full names, gender, and birth dates, will help avoid the sort of confusion that has grounded or delayed tens of thousands of innocent travelers mistaken for Al Qaeda hangers-on:

    My god! They got ahold of a copy of DBase II.

  2. Buddy Holly,

    Come, that’s unfair. I’d say they’re at least up to dBase III.

  3. It has been long clear to me that given a choice between American’s defending themselves successfully against terrorist attack without government help, and Americans dying, the TSA prefers Americans to die.

    Again, all you airline managers, so long as the TSA exists, I will travel neither for pleasure on your aircraft nor business, unless I absolutely must (for funerals and the like).

    I used to be a regular customer. Now I am not. There are many like me. So long as you treat us, your customers, like criminals, we will withhold our money. Happy bankruptcy boys!

  4. So they’ve advanced slightly from simply asking if you were bringing a bomb on board. Nice detective work, Lou.

  5. I’m with tarran. I fly for weddings and funerals. Any distance under 8 hours will be driven.

    The airlines brought this on themselves by embracing the TSA. If you treat your customers like crap, they will find every way possible to stop being your customers.

  6. Even if the TSA delivers on its promise to stop confusing members of Congress with terrorists…

    Hey, now. Michelle Bachman hasn’t finished her investigation.

  7. “I’m with tarran. I fly for weddings and funerals. Any distance under 8 hours will be driven.

    The airlines brought this on themselves by embracing the TSA. If you treat your customers like crap, they will find every way possible to stop being your customers.”

    Great. I can see it now. “No one’s flying anymore! The airlines need a(nother) bailout!”

  8. They are proud of this new system because, if you RTFA, it will allow them to know the difference between Catherine Stevens, the wife of the criminal Senator from Alaska, and Cat Stevens.

    That, of course, is only an improvement if you think that it’s worth millions of dollars in program costs, higher air fares, and the subordination and humiliation of millions of air travelers every day in order to keep Cat Stevens off a motherfucking airplane.

  9. That, of course, is only an improvement if you think that it’s worth millions of dollars in program costs, higher air fares, and the subordination and humiliation of millions of air travelers every day in order to keep Cat Stevens off a motherfucking airplane.

    I’m more concerned with keeping Cat Stevens off the motherfucking airwaves. So far, the Keep Cat Stevens Off The Airwaves plan I implemented years ago has been 100% effective and hasn’t cost me a dime.

  10. It’s a three-ring circus.

    It’s all so unnecessary. Flight 90 proved you aren’t going to be able to hijack a plane and use it that way anymore. It was only viable until most people knew about it.

  11. “I have had it with these motherfucking Cats on this motherfucking plane!”

    (Did it have to be said? Yes. Yes, it did.)

  12. To bolster their case for the new program, U.S. officials for their first time disclosed that the no-fly list includes fewer than 2,500 individuals and the selectee list fewer than 16,000.

    I call bullshit. I was on the Selectee list for six months about three years ago. So was the husband of the woman who works across the hall from me. He works the line at Ford. I’m a professor and IT security geek. My name can’t possibly look like a Saudi terrorist name, and neither can Fred Walker’s. I wrote the TSA (so did Fred) and asked to be removed. Two months later they wrote to say that I wasn’t on the list in the first place. But somebody was responsible, for a six month period, in marking my ticket record so that I couldn’t print out my boarding pass ahead of time and had to be interviewed at the gate before I could get on the plane. With several different airlines (so it wasn’t the airline screwing up). And if Fred and I were on the list I expect there were thousands of others. Way more than their estimate.
    The TSA is lying. Duhhh…
    It’s what they do.
    Schneier invented the term ‘security theater’, and he’s got it exactly right.
    He’s not a libertarian though–I’ve argued with him about it a little.

  13. Show is right.

    The real pros will find a way to get around this and every other so called security method that screens folks getting on the plane.

    Hmmm….perhaps by using a fake identity. And they then have bribed some 9 buck an hour baggage handler, or better yet, planted their own guy as a baggage handler or plane cleaner to plant their weapons on the plane.

    Millioins wasted so the sheeple can feel good when they get on a plane.

  14. The number of people who actually match the names on the watch lists is minuscule, officials acknowledged.

    <sarcasm>You mean to say that the threat is overstated?!? No freakin’ way! Quit pulling my leg you silly bastards!!</sarcasm>

  15. So who’s liveblogging the third party debate?

  16. I’m not as picky. My driving limit is only 6 hours. The last time I did a 6 hour drive is was soooooo much better than dealing with the TSA.

    I had to fly into LAX today. Stupid TSA decided that my checkin luggage needed to be opened and all the clothes wrinkled. They also turned on all electronic devices within. Bastards. Now my limit is up to six and half hours.

  17. 13 hours.
    But i like driving and that makes NYC, New Orleans or Denver.
    I cringe at even ‘showing my papers’ within our borders.

  18. TSA or no, flying a distance of less than 350 miles is silly anyway, after you factor in the hour and a half waiting for a boarding pass, inevitable delays in takeoff, the delay in picking up your luggage, in addition to the less likely setbacks of flight cancellation and lost luggage. You’re really not saving much time vs. driving — and then you have to rent a car if you need to drive at the place you’re going.

  19. Especially, if like me, you have a 1 1/2 hour drive to the airport to start with.

  20. I have a client whose on the terrorist list. It’s a hispanic name that is about as common as Smith.

    Asselonians.

  21. Great. I can see it now. “No one’s flying anymore! The airlines need a(nother) bailout!”

    Well, that’s already in the cards. After we save the banks we like and the auto companies, but probably before our glorious new leader breaks our addiction to foreign oil.

    Legacy carriers: Last quarter’s net income
    American (AMR): 45
    Continental: -236
    Delta: -50
    NWA: -377
    United (UAL): -779
    USAir: -567

    And they’re all bleeding cash.

  22. (figures in millions of dollars) 😐

  23. I’d say they’re at least up to dBase III.

    Maybe Kip Hawley borrowed his kid’s copy of MS Access and used the built-in “No-Fly List” template.

  24. why do americans seem to entrust vital aspects of their economy to barely literate ex felon high school grads working for 9 dollars an hour? I pay my mexican lawn people more than that.

  25. I fly for weddings and funerals. Any distance under 8 hours will be driven.

    I’ll fly overseas, and to the coasts (I live in Texas). “Flyover country” is now “drive-time country” to me. Thank god for satellite radio.

  26. If you have enough information to keep someone from boarding a privately owned airline, can’t you, say, tip the FBI or INTERPOL into doing an actual investigation, collect evidence, get a warrant, and conduct an arrest?

    Apparently the law-enforcement establishment prefers to just thoroughly bother suspected criminals and those that resemble them instead of doing any real work–freezing bank accounts, intercepting phone calls, hassling them at airports.

    What next?

    Are they going to bar people on the watch list from living within 1000 feet of a public library?

    Audit their income tax returns?

    Knock on their front doors and hide?

    Being on a watch list sounds like just being the victim of a persistent but hardly humorous practical joker.


  27. Being on a watch list sounds like just being the victim of a persistent but hardly humorous practical joker.

    And exactly as much fun as you might imagine it being. Nice to be off it, I must say…

  28. This will all go away as soon as you whiners stop trying to hold up RealID. Once you have the bar code tattooed on your cheek, getting through security will be a breeze.

  29. “why do americans seem to entrust vital aspects of their economy to barely literate ex felon high school grads working for 9 dollars an hour? I pay my mexican lawn people more than that.”

    Because they are war on some drugs tested for idealistic purity.

  30. zig zag man wrote:
    Because they are war on some drugs tested for idealistic purity.

    Seriously…
    ‘Subject to RANDOM testing’
    And simply grabbin a cig is a hike.

    Out of curiosity i checked and they’re hiring at the ‘airport’ laboratories … everywhere.

    Side note. I’ve got some hardware in my ankle from a serious break a few years back. Out of more than 8 airports only one caught it.
    After a couple of trips i stopped bringing paperwork. Eventually with some showing of scars and letting one feel the plate they let me pass.
    *shakes head*

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