Brussels Attack

The Brussels Terror Attacks: When Security Theater Fails

There is no such thing as perfect security, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you snake oil.


Dowsing for water bottles

Since 9/11, the emblem of airport safety has been the security line. Hordes of travelers queue up with their carry-on baggage, and everyone is scanned for bombs and guns and knives and GI Joe toys and large tubes of toothpaste and other tools of terror. Then they can head to their departure gates feeling secure.

Those screeners don't do a good job of catching actual weapons when undercover officers smuggle them through as a security check. (When such tests were conducted last year, the TSA had a failure rate of 95 percent.) But even if the system perfectly protected the planes and gates from attackers, critics have regularly raised another question: Couldn't a terrorist target the line itself? Or, more broadly, the vast area on the pre-entry side of the security perimeter?

That's what happened today in Brussels, where one of this morning's attacks killed at least 14 people at an airport departure hall and injured many more. Someone could certainly do the same thing in the U.S. So what do you do then? Move the queue outside? That merely moves the target again. If an ISIS sympathizer or a neo-Nazi or a neo-Weatherman or just your average alienated asshole of the Adam Lanza variety decides to attack at the curbside instead, there's not much to physically stop him.

It isn't the TSA that has protected the check-in zones of America's airports. It's the fact that there just hasn't been anyone willing to attack them. Terrorists are relatively rare in the United States, and the ones we do have often prefer to strike in other sorts of places. If you could somehow put a security check at every door in America, you might succeed at bankrupting the country and at disrupting the movement that makes society possible, but you wouldn't snuff out the possibility of a terrorist assault. There is no such thing as perfect security, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you snake oil.

NEXT: Hillary Clinton on Brussels: Terrorists Won't 'Undermine Democratic Values'—But She Already Has

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  1. All that matters is that enough frightened pants-wetters (of which the general populace is filled with) think this is somehow “making them safer”, and voila, it gets politicians elected. Of course it’s snake oil. But it’s snake oil that actually alleviates the vapors of enough of the population to make it an item that moves off the shelves. Until enough people actually acknowledge that security theater is in fact nothing but theater, this will continue to sell.

    Enjoy the tyranny of the majority (pants-wetters, in this case). That’s what you get with “democracy”.

    1. Exactly. I could not have said it better.

      1. Don’t sell yourself so short, DEA.

        1. Hey! My mom wrote that for me!

          1. Hey, I am a fan of your mother’s – I think she is a beautiful and intelligent woman, and I enjoy spending time with her – I also think that DEA could have improved on what you/her wrote.

    2. At least it’s something. If you’re against it, merely because it might not “work,” then you clearly don’t care and have no solutions yourself.

      1. I have a solution! Number 1: we’ve got this guy Not Sure. Number 2: he’s got a higher IQ than ANY MAN ALIVE. and Number 3: he’s going to fix EVERYTHING.

      2. MY solution is to go on with my life.
        You can hide under your bed.

        1. Under socialism, you can hide under other people’s beds.

    3. Until enough people actually acknowledge that security theater is in fact nothing but theater, this will continue to sell.

      I have a feeling that when that happens we’ll see the second act, starting with the scene where the peasants exercise their right to keep and bear farm implements and storm the castle. Only the castle will be those neighborhoods where Muslims are concentrating themselves.

      If you think the first act was messy…

  2. There is no such thing as perfect security, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you snake oil.

    Somebody’s not familiar with “the peace of the grave”.

    1. What about graverobbers?

    2. Somebody’s not familiar with necrophiliacs.

      1. “Well, life was tough, but at least I was able to live it out and I was able to face death and not be afraid. Well, now I’m ready to go to Heaven and be with Jesus, and…hey? Hey, what’s this? Oh, God it feels like a man’s DICK IN MY ASS! Oh, GOD!!! I’M DEAD!!! Oh, you mean life keeps on fucking you even after you’re dead? Oh, it never ends! OH! OHHH!!!”

        1. I miss Kinison.

      2. Well, then they need to get educated.

      3. C.K. Louis has a good bit about necrophilia. Too lazy to post the link.

      4. *Reads comment while drinking water, spits water all over desk*

        Damn you!

  3. If security theater secures tens of thousands of union jobs, I’d hardly call that a failure.

  4. TSA Administrator lands in Brussels just before attack.

    1. *Sigh*

      He was obviously there to ensure this false flag attack went ahead without hindrance.

      1. That would imply that a TSA administrator did his job adequately. Credible conspiracy theories only please.

  5. “It isn’t the TSA that has protected the check-in zones of America’s airports.”
    The TSA isn’t trying to protect the “check-in zones”. They’re trying to prevent [insert your choice of villain here] getting access to planes and going kamikaze on another skyscraper.

    That is to say… generally speaking, I’m up for laughing at the TSA’s security theater. But in this case, the barbs are off-target.

    1. I think that threat has passed. The flight crew and a number of other passengers are going to dispute possession no matter what level of weaponry the attackers bring. In every incident with a disturbance on a plane, the response has been swift and unified. The show bomber guy got the shit beat out of him by a flight attendant with a coffee pot.

      1. The reinforced cockpit doors were also a large part of that solution.

        1. I used to think the only two security changes after 9/11 that actually protected people were (a) that new willingness to fight that Brett mentioned, and (b) those reinforced cockpit doors. Since the Germanwings crash, I’m not even sure about the doors.

          1. Yep. The reinforced cockpit door was part of the problem.

            Compare that to the flight (can’t remember the name) where the pilot had a psychotic break. The co-pilot kicked him out and the passengers restrained him.

          2. “Lets Roll” posters next to every gate was all that was needed.

            Cheap and effective.

          3. . Since the Germanwings crash, I’m not even sure about the doors.

            I forgot about that.

          4. With the Germanwings crash, the problem was not the doors, it was the failure to follow the protocols.

            The possibility of a lone pilot or co-pilot crashing the plane was already known – it had happened or was believed to have happened in at least 3 previous crashes.

            To prevent this, there was a rule that there were always supposed to be two people in the cockpit. If the pilot or copilot went out, one of the cabin crew was supposed to stay in the cockpit until the absent member of the flight crew returned. It was failure to follow this rule that allowed the copilot to over-ride the captain’s attempt to re-enter the cockpit and prevent the crash.

            1. You can always count on bureaucrats to make exceptions to protocol the more stringent the protocols are. People are like that–they won’t follow rules that don’t respect their intelligence or autonomy, and with less respect for the rules comes more exceptions. In response, rather than make fewer rules that everyone respects, the gov’t makes more rules that nobody respects.

      2. Even drunk and disorderly people are getting the shit beat out of them on planes. The rules of hijacking have changed forever.

        Tulpa already knows this, though.

        1. Does Tulpa really “know” anything, I wonder?

          1. All of us are Tulpa, and Tulpa is all of us, therefore if he knows nothing, neither do we. Ponder this on the tree of woe.

      3. This. This is what I have been saying for years. From now until 9/11 is forgotten, any yahoo who tres to take over a plane is highly lokely to end up stuffed into the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat used condition. Which is why nobody with a lick of sense involved themselves with the formation of the TSA. It was a political necessity. Bush could not avoid creating it. But nobody serious considered it anything but window dressing, and so it ended up a three ring circus full of clowns.

    2. To be fair locks on cockpit doors fixed the kamikaze problem. TSA is a massive show that’s whole goal is to be a visible deterrent. As previously mentioned their track record is horrendous when it comes to actually finding contraband.

      We have allowed terrorism to change our lives for no tangible reason because we are afraid. That fear has continued to drive a decade plus of bad policy.

  6. We obviously need more TSA personnel… perhaps another layer of security as you enter the airport… and maybe some extra security before you park your car… and before you drive down the street before the parking ramp… and on the street your house is on… and someone to pat you down as you leave your house. Think of the jobs!

    1. Telescreens for all!

    2. Gots to check you azzhole

    3. Ubiquitous law enforcement…the greatest danger to any civilization.

  7. I for one am glad to see that the terrorists have gotten smart and started attacking the large crowds and lines of people waiting to get through the security theater.

    1. What possible reason could you have to be glad about that?

      1. It’ll allow us to put a new layer of security theater on. Eventually, we’ll expand the concentric rings of security theater all the way out to your living room.

  8. We just need to security harder. Just a few more freedom-destroying laws and we’ll be completely safe!

  9. I’ve got an idea! Let’s pave the road to Hell with good intentions! Hell yeah! Great idea!

    1. Only government could build a road like that.

      1. Ten times over budget and a decade late too…

  10. The TSA security line isn’t for protecting checking in passengers. As demonstrated above that is pointless. It is aimed at preventing people from bringing weapons onto planes. If it is failing in that task then it needs to be improved, but that is what it is for.

    1. Why does the TSA not want people to have weapons on board the plane?

    2. It IS, as has been proven time and again, failing at that task.

      Never mind the fact that metal detectors and the little x-ray conveyor belt thing were in most airports PRIOR to 9/11. So the TSA does exactly fuck all to ensure security.

    3. Because it’s obviously better to die in a security line than on board a plane.

  11. I was in a TSA line for over an hour in January. Easily a thousand people in a cramped space, with unchecked bags, waiting to be screened.

    1. Sounds like the NOLA airport last week. We’re basically creating the very best targets a terrorist could ask for.

    2. Which raises the question, what’s a bigger security risk, a terrorist hijacking another plane, or setting a bomb off in a TSA line?

      1. To answer that question you need to define your risk matrix.

        Generally speaking, your matrix will have two axis. One for probability (how likely it is to occur) and the other for impact (how bad is it).

        Setting off a bomb in a line is basically your run-of-the-mill suicide bomber, car bomb, and so-on. It can kill tens of people, injure a few more tens. If you’re really (un)lucky, it’ll break three digits.

        Hijacking a plane and then ramming it into a building, as we famously saw, can get you a body count in the low four digits.

        In America, both events are going to be very low on the probability, but the impact of one is orders of magnitude larger then the other. So, without getting into specifics of your matrix, it seems likely that the hijacking will still be rated as a higher security risk just because of the magnitude of the impact.

        That said, if the underlying assumptions change (for example, if bombings go from a once-every-few-years event to a yearly or more common event) then the overall estimate of “risk” will change as well.

  12. If an ISIS sympathizer or a neo-Nazi or a neo-Weatherman or just your average alienated asshole of the Adam Lanza variety decides to attack at the curbside instead, there’s not much to physically stop him.

    Cocktail Party Invitation Protocol engaged. /sarc

  13. The TSA hasn’t prevented a single death.

    Feel free to try and prove me wrong.

    1. There’s evidence they’ve caused them though.

      1. The only reason weapons aren’t on planes more often is because people aren’t attempting to bring them on. Period.

      2. Not disagreeing but haven’t heard that before. Can you elaborate a little?

        1. It’s statistically impossible that an agency that large hasn’t caused at least a few deaths.

          When they do death counts for disasters like earthquakes and tornados, they include stress related deaths like heart attacks (and deaths due to delayed responses and medical treatment).

          1. When you do a cost/benefit analysis, you have to take into account that you’re making people stand in line in a stressful situation over the course of several hundred million person-hours per year. You’re going to have a few people drop dead, statistically. Compare that to how many lives they’ve saved, which is zero.

        2. They line up large numbers of unarmed people in unsecured areas so they can make sure they’re unarmed.

      3. I don’t even need to get Sir Terry with the fractional hour effects. Rigoberto Alpizar was blown the fuck away in Miami International Airport, by two Air Marshals (who work for TSA or at least Homeland Security, no?) who were unamused that he was trying to run away from an unloading airliner. Never mind that for him to have gotten onto the plane in Quito, he had to pass through security. Never mind that the plane had just spent several hours flying through the air from Medellin, Colombia, with him on it. Nope, he was going to run off the plane, filled with 114 people, and go blow himself up evidently.

        He was bipolar, and according to his wife, evidently he hadn’t taken his medicine. He didn’t comply with the air marshals and he got shot about half a dozen times in the jetway. No bomb was found, and naturally none of the non-LEO witnesses heard anything about a bomb.

        So there’s one.

    2. Come on, low level radiation exposure is good for what ails ya.

      1. That might actually be true. Not enough to matter, but they may have actually saved a life or two.

        Although the high altitude flight probably does a better job.

  14. So you’re saying you have snake oil that will protect me from terrorists? I want to buy your snake oil. How much for all of it? I MUST HAVE YOUR SNAKE OIL.

    1. For just five dollars more, FoE, I’ll throw in this tiger-repelling rock. What do you say?

      Now, close your eyes and open your mouth for the snake “oil” delivery. It’s through a hose, don’t be alarmed. And keep your eyes closed.

      1. Tiger-repelling rocks are ten a penny. A while back I asked for a Nikki repelling-rock. Still nothing, what happened to the old can-do spirit?

    2. Can I cook with snake oil, or is it only good for lubricating my gadgets and deterring terrorists?

  15. Europe believes that “security is necessary for freedom”. I think Franklin gets it right on this one: The people who give up freedom for security deserve neither.

    Europe’s secular caliphate (‘laicite’) and war on speech and freedom will surely be its own undoing.

  16. “Terrorists are relatively rare in the United States, and the ones we do have often prefer to strike in other sorts of places.”
    Like the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon.

  17. Dollars to donuts these bombers are yet more “known wolves” – people the security services know are associated with terrorism, yet remain free to walk the streets.

    A couple dozen Westerners blown up every few months are the price we pay for political correctness. Judging by the comments here, it’s a price many are willing to keep paying.

    1. This is something I don’t get about progressives: why do they insist on treating an entire group of people as homogenous?

      The argument usually goes like this: Most Muslims are peaceable, only a very few are violent. We cannot treat all Muslims badly because of the actions of a few.

      That’s true, but we also cannot treat all Muslims as if they are all good either. If 0.05% of Muslims are violent, then some must be treated differently than others.

      The same goes with gun owners. The vast majority of gun owners are nonviolent, but a few gun owners are violent. We can’t treat all gun owners as if they are bad (as the progressives gun control freaks do), yet we can’t treat all gun owners as if they are equal (as the progressives do when arguing that we cannot police the inner city gangs more aggressively). We need to target the perpetrators of violence, and if that happens to be in the poor inner city, or if they happen to be black or Latino, it doesn’t matter. Violence is not acceptable according to our laws, so we target the violent.

      Fear of profiling is why we have TSA security theater–rather than go after the “known wolves” it is perceived as more fair to make everybody suffer equally and randomly.

      I’m always against “pre-crime,” i.e. punishing a person before they have committed any crime. But if you have a jihadist who is known to have already committed some crime elsewhere, there is nothing wrong with targeting them because recidivism is high in violent criminals.

  18. Who says security theater is failing? It is accomplishing exactly what it was designed to accomplish.

  19. As long as no one takes away my right to yell “fire” in a crowded security theater

  20. In Israel, every car that enters the airport is checked and the passengers must show itineraries.

    1. Coming soon to an airport near you!

    2. I’m glad I don’t live in Israel.

  21. So, because security efforts aren’t absolutely, 100% effective, we should just not bother with security? Brilliant.

    1. No. Because the TSA is 100% ineffective we shouldn’t be paying for bullshit security theater when airport security should be on, wait for it, the fucking airlines dime.

    2. Whoosh.

      1) the efforts are 95% ineffective at accomplishing their stated purpose.
      2) the efforts actually increase other risks, such as the risk of getting blown up while in the security line.
      3) the efforts cost billions per year in tax dollars and untold wasted hours.
      Therefore we should stop them.

    3. Please expound on the many success stories of the TSA that warrant a multi-billion dollar ‘security’ service provided by the government?

      1. Well, the TSA does succeed at one thing: it provides jobs to unskilled people who would otherwise be unemployable and supports a large public-sector union’s bureaucratic layer.

  22. Once again, you’ve missed the point completely. Although I’m not a fan of government-mandated airport screening, the point is to keep explosives and weapons off of the airplanes, not out of the airport! The criticism that the screeners fail to detect those threats 95% of the time is valid, but it doesn’t in and of itself negate the screening.

    1. No, the point is to is to keep explosives and weapons off of the airplanes SO THAT terrorists won’t kill people on airplanes. Are you going to argue that it’s better to die in an airport than on board a plane? The concern that said weapons can be used to take over a plane doesn’t hold up given the reinforced cockpit doors and awareness of passengers post-9/11/

      1. Once again, you’ve missed the point completely.

        Well, someone’s missing the point, that’s for sure.

  23. Perhaps, if they just made Europe a gun-free safe-space?

  24. Force and violence have reached their limits, in Brussels as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Top down governments are unable to fulfill their promise of security – offensive or defensive.

    We know from history there’s an alternative. It’s radically different from what societies do today. It’s citizens taking their own security into their own hands.

    No armed cops. Empathic peacekeepers instead. No professional military. Security is everywhere, decentralized, bottom up, and self-organizing. Security is as far away as your hand from your holster, your arm from your quiver.

    Being armed does not mean no one will die. But at least the people who died in Brussels would have had a fighting chance, and the possibility that citizens would defend themselves might have deterred the miscreants.

  25. So, what you’re saying is, you can either have the illusion of security, or you can have liberty and take your chances with a rare but spectacular attack. Funny, that’s what I said 20 years ago when they started demanding an ID to get on a plane after an accident brought down the ValueJet plane.

    1. I’d like liberty and taking my own chances with a rare but spectacular attack, please. Thanks!

    2. As much I agree with your idea of self defense, even if everyone in that airport was armed, they could not have prevented this. The perps laid their suitcases on a rolling cart and casually walked through the airport, just like a hundred other people. When they reached their target they set off the explosives. To my knowledge they did not give any warning which would have alerted an armed citizen into action that would have prevented the bomb from going off.

      Now, if the perps had opened their suitcase and withdrew a rifle and started shouting “Allie’s at the Bar”, there’s a chance someone would have had the mindset, opportunity and resources to put an end to it right there.

  26. Government security spends millions per year in security measures, and tells us without them, it’d be a lot worse.

    And then this happens.

  27. If we really bankrupt the country, the terrorists will get to target the bread lines.

    1. If you think about it… who will be more likely to be in the bread lines? I think those who trusted government the most, don’t you? So… nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

  28. Sorry, this is all my fault.

  29. There is no such thing as perfect security, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you snake oil.

    “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

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