Schneier on Security
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January 9, 2012
The TSA Proves its Own Irrelevance
Have you wondered what $1.2 billion in airport security gets you? The TSA has compiled its own "Top 10 Good Catches of 2011":
10) Snakes, turtles, and birds were found at Miami (MIA) and Los Angeles (LAX). I’m just happy there weren’t any lions, tigers, and bears…
3) Over 1,200 firearms were discovered at TSA checkpoints across the nation in 2011. Many guns are found loaded with rounds in the chamber. Most passengers simply state they forgot they had a gun in their bag.
2) A loaded .380 pistol was found strapped to passenger’s ankle with the body scanner at Detroit (DTW). You guessed it, he forgot it was there…
1) Small chunks of C4 explosives were found in passenger’s checked luggage in Yuma (YUM). Believe it or not, he was brining it home to show his family.
That's right; not a single terrorist on the list. Mostly forgetful, and entirely innocent, people. Note that they fail to point out that the firearms and knives would have been just as easily caught by pre-9/11 screening procedures. And that the C4 -- their #1 "good catch" -- was on the return flight; they missed it the first time. So only 1 for 2 on that one.
And the TSA decided not to mention its stupidest confiscations:
TSA confiscates a butter knife from an airline pilot. TSA confiscates a teenage girl's purse with an embroidered handgun design. TSA confiscates a 4-inch plastic rifle from a GI Joe action doll on the grounds that it’s a "replica weapon." TSA confiscates a liquid-filled baby rattle from airline pilot’s infant daughter. TSA confiscates a plastic "Star Wars" lightsaber from a toddler.
In related news, here's a rebuttal of the the Vanity Fair article about the TSA and airline security that featured me. I agree with the two points at the end of the post; I just don't think it changes any of my analysis.
Posted on January 9, 2012 at 6:00 AM
• 117 Comments
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I'm sympathetic to what you say, but how do you answer the argument that the TSA has successfully deterred terrorists? I don't see how to run the control for this experiment.
So OBL got the USA to flush more than $1T down the toilet on useless "security".
Now, who exactly "won" the war on terrorism again?
It's the theatre at the end of the security mile.
Apparently excessively expensive & intimate comedy is popular this year.
I'm symphatetic to what you say, but how do you answer the argument that my terrorist-repellant rock has successfully deterred terrorists? I don't see how to run the control for this experiment.
The onus is on the TSA to prove that it has successfully deterred terrorists, not the other way around.
As someone who lives in a country where basically all handguns are banned, I have to say the American attitude to guns leaves me bewildered How can you *forget* that you have a handgun strapped to your ankle? What, has it been there for days?
When I walk out the door in the morning, I pat my pockets down, saying to myself, "Keys, wallet, phone." It seems that in some parts, that's, "Keys, wallet, phone, gun."
"How can you *forget* that you have a handgun strapped to your ankle?"
So? Do you assume that somebody who did not forgot and lied when the gun was found had sure intentions to fire that gun on the plane?
Humans get rapidly used to many things.
Being a Brit, as I suspect you are, I have minimal experience of carrying a handgun. However, within a few weeks of carrying one regularly (in Iraq) it became 2nd nature and, by the time I came home, it felt strange not to have one. Very disconcerting - but less so than looking around to check where my body armour was. Handed back in, of course!
"How can you *forget* that you have a handgun strapped to your ankle?"
Depends on what you do for a living. If you are law enforcement, or former law enforcement, it's just a part of your dress routine in the morning.
One of the many stated goals of terrorism is to maximize casualties. Let’s argue you have100 people on an average plane whether it’s accurate or not. You now can have 200 people (2 planes worth) at a TSA checkpoint.
Yes, you now have deterred terrorists from blowing up plains have you not? The TSA checkpoint is now a richer target than a single plane.
So, why do terrorists not blow up TSA checkpoints, because the TSA checkpoints do more damage to the US than any bombing would.
So, yes the TSA has deterred terrorists. The tourists are not dumb; they know when they have won.
Our airports are now more secure from terrorists and the terrorist don’t really care.
BTW, terrorists still buy and purchase airline tickets and travelling freely as long as they are not on the job. They are insider threats; as a ticket holder they are responsible to not leave their bags unattended, and reporting suspicious activity.
Claiming that the TSA is a deterrent is like saying terrorists are dumb.
Enjoy your terrorist free world thanks to the TSA.
"One of the many stated goals of terrorism is to maximize casualties."
It almost always isn't - the goal is to make the other side give in to your demands by making it politically or financially too expensive to keep fighting you.
This is where the IRA succeeded and where the Palestinian failed. Either way - confiscating nail files (while still allowing lethal kindles) doesn't seem to be the most effective way of fighting them
there may be some validity to each point, however, when in combination, the writer's points seem self-contradicting. Why is air transport the only important target? maybe a slightly higher desirability since it will always make the new as well as remind us of 2001. But the primary and nearly solitary best target? hardly. Because terrorists as a genre do switch from target class and attack vector to others. After the African attacks, it was the 2011 planes. then it was plans against vehicle tunnels, variations of plane attacks, attacks on nightclubs, then to cargo planes and back to passenger planes. (my citations from memory, so possibly some timeline errors). Why does the author miss this? The two issues are that 1-'Terrorism' is undefined (or has such a multitude of definitions as to be fairly convoluted). 2-contemporary terrorists arent a unified group with a hierarchal command authority as the IRA and its contemporaries were decades ago - therefore the targets are much more disparate as will be the attack vectors. Therefore TSA becomes irrelevant. Better to inspect cargo (by plane train or boat) than to grope grandmothers and steal childrens' toys.
> When I walk out the door in the morning, I pat my pockets down, saying to myself, "Keys, wallet, phone." It seems that in some parts, that's, "Keys, wallet, phone, gun."
Consider you are someone (professionally or otherwise) who carries a gun all the time. Why drive to the airport without it? So, you are getting late parking, and rush from the car, forgetting to lock it in the glovebox. Seems plausible to me.
These aren't many incidents compared to the total number of passengers screened.
What baffles me is the confiscation of the pilot's daughter bottle.
The bloody pilot.
> Small chunks of C4 explosives were
> found in passenger’s checked luggage in
> Yuma (YUM). Believe it or not, he was
> brining it home to show his family.
A recent episode of Mythbusters showed it is virtually impossible to explode C4 without a proper detonator. (C4 was designed with that goal in mind.) So the stuff was almost certainly harmless.
On the question of whether the TSA has deterred terrorists, I think all you have to do there is realize that the TSA doesn't protect very much of the country, and there are plenty of terrorist targets wide open. If terrorists were being deterred by the TSA, surely they'd be shooting up shopping malls, blowing up federal buildings, taking hostages in hotels, etc. etc. instead. None of this is happening, therefore we can conclude that the TSA is not deterring terrorists, but rather that there simply aren't any terrorists to deter.
Attacks like 9/11 were rendered impossible immediately after word got out about the first two planes. Bruce, myself, and others have been saying this for a long time. United 93, the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, and others are proof. All passengers now know that they can't sit idly by, mildly inconvenienced, while the terrorist gets paid a ransom and jumps out of the plane with a parachute. They have to fight for their lives and have done so on multiple occasions.
Since passengers fight back now, the only way terrorists can take control is if they can overpower all the rest of the passengers. Weapons aren't enough to do this. The terrorists would have to comprise a large percentage of the total number of passengers or would need to be very skilled in martial arts. It's probably not worth it when the terrorists would be losing almost as many people as they are killing.
In short, flying airplanes into buildings is an obsolete method of terrorism unless the pilot is the terrorist.
>As someone who lives in a country where basically all handguns are banned, I have to say the American attitude to guns leaves me bewildered How can you *forget* that you have a handgun strapped to your ankle? What, has it been there for days?
Most people would assume that Law Enforcement Officers would never forget their guns...
But even people who carry badges and guns on a daily basis occasionally leave them in a restroom.
A friend of mine regularly carries a gun on a concealed-carry permit. He did remember to pack it in a locked box in luggage before he entered the airport's secure area. Then he panicked, because he still had a reload-magazine (with 10 extra bullets) in his pocket.
Made for an interesting discussion with the security guys.
From my perspective, I note that there are lots of firearms available in the U.S. I also note that concealed-carry laws are politically popular. However, the actual practice of firearms carry is still uncommon.
Open carry is rare, and licensed concealed-carry is also rare. The rate of licensure-to-carry is between 1% and 5% in most States which issue them. However, some States allow the local Sheriff broad authority to deny or ignore requests for licenses. Other States don't require a license for a citizen to carry a firearm concealed. So accurate numbers are hard to get.
Every State that I'm aware of with such a program has a fairly-good (but not perfect) system for revoking permits of misbehaving concealed-carriers. Oddly, most such States report very low arrest rates among the licensed population, and similarly low rates of revocation.
But such facts don't make for exciting news stories about concealed-carry of guns, so they get reported very rarely.
If I was caught bringing loaded firearms onto a plane, I'd claim I "forgot it was there" too.
I suppose the superior scenario is where all these people who "forgot" they were carrying loaded firearms is that they are able to bring them onto the plane instead?
Are you assuming a lack of metal-detectors?
#1 - The C4 mentioned in the TSA post is from earlier in the year. It's not the most recent example of C4 that was found in Texas.
#2 - To the person who commented on C4 being harmless on its own. True. However, what if the person wasn't traveling alone? If you are familiar with the anatomy of a bomb, you'll understand that another passenger could bring the rest of the components.
Re the gun to the ankle and the bag with C4 : Guys, come on. In a sufficiently large population sample (as is the TSA's "customers") one is sure to find implausible-but-true cases. It really should be of no surpise the one (1 !) man in all these millions forgot the gun on his ankle.
If anything, I'm pretty sure that there are more improbable cases like this (say, bullets in a wallet) that the TSA hasn't noticed.
@Just The Facts: In other words, finding the C4 was virtually useless, unless they also found the detonator, and the others carrying C4 for redundancy.
It turns out that one happy byproduct of increased TSA scrutiny is that since 9/11, not a single elephant has made it onto a domestic flight in the US.
Those who have carried a concealed pistol understand that you keep adjusting and tweaking your kit until you can just about forget it's on. Otherwise you're constantly trying to get comfortable and making sure your sidearm is secure and trying not to walk funny, all the while broadacasting the fact that you're packing. Done correctly, carrying a pistol becomes as natural as carrying your wallet, car keys, and cell phone. In fact, you come to feel odd when you don't have your gun. That said, an ankle rig is among the hardest concealment methods to get used and the least likely to forget you have on.
Apparently not everyone had the permission to forget they were packing at the airport. As of 17 November 2011 the TSA claimed it had "confiscated 1,080 firearms leading to 689 firearms arrests." The arrests were made by local authorities. No word on how many cases proceeded to prosecution or resulted in convictions.
@Wally - you don't know that!
If an elephant was sufficiently well disguised to get through the TSA screening how would we know?
Can a person who "forgets" they have a gun strapped onto their body when walking into an airport be trusted with a CC license? What does it say about a sworn officer who is unaware of airport security laws, are they too absent-minded? Abusing intoxicants? I'm more inclined to think they played dumb when called on their lawboy stunt.
#10 is serious.
We can't have no motherf***in snakes on any motherf***in planes!
"I'm sympathetic to what you say, but how do you answer the argument that the TSA has successfully deterred terrorists?"
Simple. If the terrorists could NOT attack a plane, wouldn't they then move to a target they COULD attack?
Such as a mall. Or a political figure. Or a school. Or any of the other thousands of possible targets?
See McVeigh, Kaczynski and others.
If you forget when you parked your car does that mean you shouldn't have a driver's license.
My father has a permit to carry a gun and wears it in a holster in the waistband of his pants along at his back. He once forgot he was carrying it when he had to run to the bank to cash a check (guns aren't allowed in banks in his state). It was quiet visable and he stood in line for a while waiting his turn. No one arrested him because mistakes happen.
If people can walk around with their skits tucked into their underware, their flies down, and huge holes in the bottom of their trousers then I believe it's possible to forget you have a gun on.
But yes, when the gun was found everyone's answer would be "I forgot", no one is going to say "I was hoping you wouldn't notice it this time like the other times I've flown because I didn't want to deal with checked luggage." Just like when cops pull people over and find drugs the answer is always "It's not mine... I don't know how it got there... I was just holding it for a friend."
For $1T I could have sold the TSA a rock that protects them from terrorists.
What's you point?
Lack of 'control' is exactly why you don't apply mitigations without a means to measure. That's why it's all theatre, rather than Engineering.
Some interesting comments with the rebuttal to Vanity Fair. I particularly like the "9/11 target was not the plane, but the WTC". We're doing a lot to protect air passengers "Because of 9/11". The plane was the weapon, not the target on 9/11.
A new government example of "close enough".
@ TSA confiscates a 4-inch plastic rifle from a GI Joe action doll on the grounds that it’s a "replica weapon."
Imagine if they'd confiscated the Nuclear War card game:
Megadeaths averted! Saved the world!!
@Inedible - London Heathrow Airport stopped a guy with a picture of a Transformer on his T-shirt, claiming it was a replica weapon. (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/02/transformers_t_shirt/)
So the US no longer leads the world in airport security stupidity!
In First Class you are given a STEEL KNIFE to use when eating breakfast/dinner. Oh yeah, TSA is protecting all of us because we KNOW terrorists don't fly First Class when they are on a one-way trip to He$$. . . oh wait. . . never mind.
@JustTheFacts: "#2 - To the person who commented on C4 being harmless on its own. True. However, what if the person wasn't traveling alone? If you are familiar with the anatomy of a bomb, you'll understand that another passenger could bring the rest of the components."
Except it was found in his CHECKED baggage.
While I must admit I've never actually tried to surreptitiously access the baggage compartment while my plane was in flight, I have difficulty imagining that that would be the easier part of this plan.
The jackboot strapped TSA is only there to facilitate the State terrorism on the traveling public.
The DEA launders drug money for the CIA while the US Rangers protect opium shipments from Afghanistan. American military and police forces are immoral at the very core, killing innocents, torturing, and making victims of us all with a bogus war on drugs.
I don't know if it made the top 10 in 2011 but in 2010, TSA confiscated the $2 snow globe I had just bought in NYC for my grandma. Might have contained some kind of liquid explosive according to the TSA officer.
The funny side of the story was a snow globe bought at JFK was allowed on the plane. My guess is that the stores are selling "trusted snow globes" and you can tell because they are over $10.
I have an idea for a way to allow market forces to do the following:
(1) Improve the effectiveness of TSA-screened air traffic security
(2) Measure the impact of TSA screening
(3) Reduce overall air-traffic security costs
(4) Improve profits for airports and airlines
(5) Allow the everyday traveler to avoid screening if they wish
What is it? Simply this: Allow airports and airlines to opt out of TSA screening. They can go back to a pre-9/11 level of security (plus hardened cockpit doors). Passengers can choose to ride either service. Here’s the key: Airlines will charge a premium ticket price while having lower security costs. Passengers who value ease of boarding and personal dignity will pay for the privilege. Once enough parallel routes exist, we can quantify the cost-benefit of TSA by comparing the two options.
The bonus is that overall security costs will go down and this will actually make the TSA-screened traffic safer, since anyone who wants to target air traffic will certainly go for the lower security option. For many of us, the additional risks are so remote that we can absorb them without too much worry.
After a few decades, the TSA-screened traffic will atrophy and die.
When I walk out the door in the morning, I pat my pockets down, saying to myself, "Keys, wallet, phone." It seems that in some parts, that's, "Keys, wallet, phone, gun."
For me, try:
Keys, wallet, phone, ink pen, multitool, knife, chapstick, lighter (nonsmoker), pistol, extra pistol magazine (all w/out cargo pockets).
That said, I do not forget what I have on me when I *plan* to go places with security, but if circumstances change, I've found myself almost going places in which my firearm is not allowed. In the three years I've carried one, I've only had two such close calls, remembering at the last second each time. One was my foster son's parent/teacher conference... The other was a church for a wake...they have a daycare. State law prohibits firearms @ K-12 schools & licensed daycares.
After carrying a firearm daily, it becomes second nature & part of your dress. I'd imagine someone who's carried one for years could easily go through their routine, drive to the airport, and get caught with a 380 in an ankle holster. The idiots with them in their bags sound more like they were trying to avoid the additional charges to stow it or ship it separately.
I carry concealed daily. I keep my gun in my laptop bag, which I always have with me. One time at a previous employer, I had to travel for business and while I remembered to remove my pistol before entering the airport, I had forgotten that there was a loaded magazine in the bag as well. It was found, and I was allowed to send the magazine home via mail, while the TSA confiscated the ammunition. After about 15 minutes, they let me go. I boarded the plane and all was well. 8 months later, I got a letter from homeland security saying they had confirmed that I'm not a terrorist and not on the do-not-fly list, etc. People who aren't familiar with guns, or don't have access to them think of them as scary things which will randomly kill people. People who are familiar with them will wear them on their person like anything else and sometimes forget they are there.
I think force locked cockpits, metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs are enough to ensure reasonable security without spending too much money. In fact, if you want to give me an "no security airlines" option, and allow me to take my own weapons on board, I'll provide my own security just as I do in all other aspects of life. Like the old saying, if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. If everyone is armed in one way or another, lot less planes get hijacked because people will defend themselves if necessary.
" they had confirmed that I'm not a terrorist"
That could be the solution - do that for everyone and the ones that are left are the terrorists.
Then we can simply arrest those people and everyone else can go back to being able to file our nails in-flight.
Less than 4 months after 9/11 while flying with my wife and infant daughter they confiscated a baby fork - the kind with the fat handle and rounded tines. Back then you didn't know what they would do if you made a fuss, but a "c'mon man" was in order. Today this would rank pretty high on the stupid list.
I fly with knives in my bags ALL THE TIME (usually because I forgot to take them out) and have never been stopped. The TSA has tried to take away my bamboo knitting needles (which are allowed), though, citing them as a weapon (arrows, they said. I laughed and took 'em through).
I'm a bit puzzled -- how do they (or we) know that there wasn't a single (wannabe) terrorist / hijacker among the 1,200 carriers of firearms?
Is it enough to tell the "forgotten" excuse to be off the hook?
In two separate GAO tests in 2011, TSA failed to detect weapons 60% - 70% of the time. If they found 1,200 items, that means that approximately 4,000 items got through undetected and unreported.
Further, virtually all of the 1,200 items were discovered on the baggage x-ray belt or walk through metal detectors, not by the digital strip search scanners or by groping passenger genitals. Virtually all of these “catches” would have been made in 2005 using far less invasive screening methods. It is also absurd for TSA to claim that an inert training mine is a weapon, it isn’t.
TSA is now investigating operations at Fayetteville, NC because they missed the C-4 discovered in Midland, TX even though they inspected the bag! They also missed a large knife at Myrtle Beach airport the first week of this year.
There were 60 security failures reported in 2011 and TSA has wasted no time scoring their first two failures of 2012.
Ironically, Obama signed legislation to expedite screenings for military personnel going through security while an Army Sergeant was in custody for carrying C-4 through security in Midland Texas. This law comes less a two months after DHS warned that terrorists were training in the military.
TSA Crimes & Abuses
Allowing anyone besides law enforcement officers to carry guns is, and will always be, strange to me as a non-US resident. So the fact that so many comments on here are supporting the "forgot they were carrying" angle is eye-opening to say the least.
@Justin - "If everyone is armed in one way or another, lot less planes get hijacked because people will defend themselves if necessary".
So you're saying we should allow anyone to carry their gun on a plane? So instead of the security screeners looking for weapons on an x-ray image we now have them scanning everyone's license to carry? This is would be the definition of "security theater" as I doubt the screeners would know a legit license from a fake one even with training. Plus you're inherently trusting humans to do good with weapons which is not a great control. Here's the way I see it:
Risk = People having/shooting guns on plane.
Impact = Gun can be used to holdup staff, take control of plane. Also can be use to injure/kill passengers. Firing could also damage cabin causing plane to crash. Countries outside US also have laws against carrying guns.
Likelihood = High, as carrying guns is legal in the US.
Control = Scan for guns before boarding, confiscate guns found.
Residual Risk = Low. Guns prevented from boarding plane; impact mitigated.
We all agree that the TSA probably isn't using the $1.2 billion to its full affect, but I still think scanning for and preventing guns is a good control that needs to stay.
I would also suggest that stopping terrorists/criminals from flying isn't totally the responsibility of TSA. Logic suggests a collaboration of Law Enforcement agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA and all those other cool ones from the TV shows) with TSA would better serve prevention of terrorists/criminals flying. Maybe some of that $1.2 billion could be redirected to collaboration efforts??
Everyone on a plane having a gun is logical.
The 9/11 hijack succeeded because standard procedure before then in a hijack was to cooperate, get a week in cuba and be famous for 15mins. That has now changed, anyone attempting to hijack a plane with a box cutter is going to have to fight off every passenger.
If the everyone has a gun, the hijackers are going to need to subdue 400 armed passengers fighting for their lives. That's going to take one seriously accomplished hijacker.
If the argument for the 2nd amendment is that you don't get robbed in a state where everyone is carrying then the same logic must apply to being on a plane.
The TSA is only there to make people 'feel' safe. I was flagged for forgetting a nickel buried in the bottom of my pocket. The guy behind me, a man about 80 with a metal belt buckle, a string tie with a metal clip, a watch and his shoes on, was waved through by the TSA agent because his wife said "he can't stand for too long." What! Some agents are very professional, but most are just going through the motions like they're sleep walking. I sure hope they never have to ask the cops for help at MDW, RSW or any of the smaller airports. I'd be surprised if those overweight, donut munchers with their vests on could hardly see their shoes let alone chase you down the terminal if you were a terrorist.
@NobodySpecial: Now, I'm a bit of a gun but, but you are making a few assumptions that don't necessarily hold up.
First, planes are very densely populated, far more so than even the most cramped of cities. So a stray bullet is far more likely to cause damage to an innocent than in most other situations.
Second, the results of a stray bullet, more than just hitting a single person, could damage the plane. Granted, this one is highly unlikely, but the result is a dozen to a couple hundred deaths if it brings down a plane. Elsewhere, the result of a stray bullet is more usually capped somewhere in the dozen range if it happens to hit a car driver or something.
Third, plane rides are places where a lot of people sleep. There's a reason you don't sleep with a gun under your pillow -- guns go off by accident there.
So sure, if a few people who have bothered to go through the CCW process want to bring a firearm on a plane and understand fully that the chances of successfully using it for self defense or defense of the plane are slim to nil that's one thing. To suggest that every passenger carry a gun is a little ludicrous.
A select few well-trained, disciplined people could do very well using firearms to subdue a terrorist cell on a plane if they could also control the other passengers of course (unlikely). More useful, however, would be someone who knows how to use blunt melee instruments -- they work in close quarters, are less likely to cause collateral damage and are still quite effective.
So yeah, guns can definitely be effective tools in some circumstances -- on a plane is not really one of them.
This is really a continuation of the war on (personal use) drugs. If you notice they often talk about all the drugs they have stopped too...then tie terrorism in with the "drugs fund the terrorists".
Maybe it proves that "protection from terrorism" is only a cover for the TSA's real mission. You'll notice that many people think the TSA is doing an excellent job, and are quick to defend the TSA from its many critics. The one thing that the TSA has genuinely achieved (beyond the occasional "catch" of a weapon found on someone who blunders into a checkpoint) is widespread public acceptance of (or at least acquiescence to) uniformed government officials routinely conducting highly intrusive searches and capriciously imposing arbitrary rules and restrictions on American citizens.
Maybe the real purpose of the TSA is to condition Americans to be willing to give up increasing amounts of freedom, civil liberties, and privacy to government officials in the name of "security" and the endless War on Terror. If that's the case, the TSA has succeeded spectacularly beyond any doubt.
Bruce and other rational people can put out megabytes of valid reasons why the TSA is a useless waste of money and time. But none of it will ever have any effect because the TSA has achieved every bureaucrat's dream: A bureaucracy accountable only to itself, impervious to all criticism, and without any checks on its ability to expand its authority and power. That, after all, is the real purpose of any bureaucracy.
um, sir, this so-called wedding band of yours. how do we know that it's not controlled by Sauron?
This is just for the press, so the catched terrorists were not publicized, but sent to the secret(?) CIA prison in Bucharest 8-)
"Like the old saying, if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns."
Finally, something (as a non-US resident) I can agree with - what better way to identify the outlaws - they're the ones with the guns! That's pretty-much how it works here in Australia, and it generally means that the 'outlaws' won't reveal a weapon unless in a serious confrontation with other outlaws or with the police. Willy-nilly brandishing of guns in public is pretty-much unheard of.
The entire rest of the world continues to point and laugh at the way US citizens seem to (deliberately?) misinterpret their 2nd amendment. The 'right to bear arms' (as I see it) was intended as a deliberate 'poke in the eye' to the British who had forbidden the locals from bearing arms. As a response to this denial of weapons, the 2nd amendment makes it very clear that the right to bear arms was within the context of a militia.
I'm quite sure the founding fathers never intended it as a permanent feature of civilised society.
@Justin - "If everyone is armed in one way or another, lot less planes get hijacked because people will defend themselves if necessary."
In which case far from stopping people taking guns on board planes we should be identifying passengers who DON'T have a gun and giving them one. After all, it can only make things safer!
Maybe TSA could have a supply of assorted handguns to issue to passengers who are unarmed when they check in, with the guns being collected after the flight ready for re-issue.
You forgot to mention in the article that they also seized 1 cupcake because it was a GEL compound over a certain quantity.
About the elephant not getting on the plane. Not entirely true. I sat next to one on my last trip. Dressed as a shower ring salesman.
Let's declare victory and stay home!
The one thing that the TSA has genuinely achieved (beyond the occasional "catch" of a weapon found on someone who blunders into a checkpoint) is widespread public acceptance of (or at least acquiescence to) uniformed government officials routinely conducting highly intrusive searches and capriciously imposing arbitrary rules and restrictions on American citizens.
This. More than anything else about the TSA, this. Looking at this, and looking at high schools that impose these same requirements on their students, I fear for children of the next ten years.
Re: forgetting guns
As others who hold permits for concealed weapons carry have mentioned, the carrying of a firearm does become second nature. A firearm is a tool, and when one is accustomed to the tool being close at hand, one does not actively notice its presence. (How many of you don't even notice your cell phone in your pocket or in its belt clip?)
That being said, I'm not a fan of firearms being carried on airplanes. I'm not an expert, but I would expect that firearms could damage an aircraft's hull enough to be serious. I don't see a problem with non-ballistic weapons on planes, but I would prefer to hear from someone who understands cabin strength better before making a judgment one way or the other about firearms.
"[H]ow do you answer the argument that the TSA has successfully deterred terrorists? I don't see how to run the control for this experiment."
I believe that my pet rock repels tigers. How do you answer the argument that my pet rock has successfully deterred tigers? In the ten years I've been carrying it, not one tiger has successfully attacked me. Clearly the rock is more effective than my previous tiger-repelling strategy!
..but seriously, is the TSA any more effective at what they do than the pre-existing airport screening measures were in the year 2000? I doubt it. All that extra money was spent, and some grand theatre was achieved, but actual security improvements since 9/11 are sparse and hardly justify the huge price tag of the TSA.
Like many others, I believe that two small changes (both of which happened right after 9/11) have done more to counter airline hijackings than everything else the TSA has done, combined. Those two changes are: (1) reinforcing cockpit doors, and (2) making it clear to the passengers that they need to fight back. Those two changes *by themselves* make it significantly less likely that a commercial airliner can be successfully hijacked by a few assholes with box cutters (or explosives in their shoe, etc.)
@No One - I only said it was logical, not that it wasn't stupid ;-)
@Justin - "If everyone is armed in one way or another, lot less planes get hijacked because people will defend themselves if necessary."
If we were talking about an arcade game where the Bad Guy was clearly marked with a flashing red 'X' I might agree with you. But in reality I'd imagine that the following scenario was much more likely:
Terrorist legally boards plane with his gun; chance of getting caught being zero. At 30'000 feet he shouts something like "Watch out, hijackers!" and starts blazing away. Rest of passengers draw their own guns, but as there is no way for most of them to tell the original attacker from those just defending themselves, within seconds everybody is shooting everybody. Even if the unavoidable loss of cabin pressure doesn't bring the plane down, a major gunfight in such a confined space (which probably ends only when everybody is either incapacitated or out of ammo) would result in a bloodbath with most wounded simply bleeding to death. And best of all: Even though the attacker should of course be ready to die in this scenario his chance of survival is probably among the highest on the plane as he is the only one fully prepared and fully aware of what's going on.
Btw: Ever been on a plane where a drunk started rioting? You'd like some intoxicated idiot to have a gun at hand? The above scenario doesn't even need a real terrorist...
One of the pilots I flew with in the Navy (F-14 & F-18) is now a captain for a major air carrier. He was in the first batch of pilots certified to carry a firearm in the cockpit. On his very first flight with his Glock, he was pulled aside and his small Swiss Army knife on his keys was confiscated (you can't make this up).
Irrespective of the handgun and 20+ rounds of frangible 40 cal, and the simple fact that as the pilot, all he would need to do to crash the airplane is is push the nose over at about 200 feet, the 2 inch penknife was obviously a threat.
Don't bring a knife to a gunfight.
I guess the pen(knife) is mightier than the sword (or rather the Glock).
The TSA is a waste of money. I've accidently carried foldable utility knife in my carry-on through one airport and almost through the second airport on the return flight. I made mention of the original oversight and the agent just shrugged it off.
@Felix - "Terrorist legally boards plane with his gun; chance of getting caught being zero. At 30'000 feet he shouts something like "Watch out, hijackers!" and starts blazing away."
Seriously? You obviously haven't been through a single weapons handling course, an absolute requirement for conceal carry, to make such an outlandish scenario.
You sir are just another "all guns should be outlawed" nut job. If you ban guns, then you only take the guns from law abiding citizens, criminals do not obey laws and will still find a way to carry/obtain them.
If a stun-gun can be disguised as a phone, then what other weapons can be disguised..?
I envision a future of nonstop paranoia; where you can't enter a building without going through an x-ray, a vigorous "pat-down", and a camera linked to complex facial recognition technology studying you for physical cues of malicious intent...the future looks bright
I feel much safter knowing that someone is working hard to keep light sabers off of commercial flights. Luke Skywalker's hand might still be with us today had the brave men and women been at work on the death star.
I've legally worn a handgun 24/7/365 for almost 30 years and I do forget it is there...I have ALMOST walked thru Security Check Points!
There are a lot of everyday items LEGAL to carry on a plane that scare the #$%^ out of me, but TSA logic says it hasn't been used as a weapon YET, so it's o.k.
TSA now allows scissors up yo 4". Take them apart and you have two 2" knives!
@mason - note that Luke was allowed to carry his light saber through passport control and arrivals at Bespin.
If the TSA had been there he would have been disarmed when facing Vader.
Although if OSHA had also been around there would have been adequate guardrails to prevent him falling.
The TSA at Phoenix couldn't correctly identify a Medal of Honor being carried by the recipient on his way to address a West Point Academy class. He was going to show it to them in his show and tell session.
It seems that this bit of metal could have been shurken. However, I would say that the decoration on the front and the engraving on the back should have given it away.
Thankfully, after being escalated through several levels of management, someone finally understood what it was.
The comments about liquids and flight crews remind me of my favorite TSA inconsistency...
I was flying out of Kansas City and watched as the crew for another flight passed through the checkpoint ahead of me. Each crew member had a large (>1 liter) water bottle and, in at least one case, the contents had been visibly "altered" (looked like a bottle of ice tea). No problems with bringing those through the checkpoint, though the crew still had to go through the usual metal detector and x-ray.
I actually asked about this on the TSA blog, but got a very confusing answer. As I understood it, they trust the flight crews enough to feel they won't bring binary explosives aboard (the liquid ban for the rest of us), but not that they won't bring guns aboard. Huh?
Also, I'd loe to see the chain of custody that ensures that when the passenger next to me buys a bottle of water past the checkpoint that he is not been slipped a binary explosive covertly by a co-conspirator.
credit were credits due thats a great profit using FUD.... in the local UK airport I use you can't drop off for free anymore, its a pound a go... absolute money spinner with no real security benefit.
@TTown: "You sir are just blahblahblah..."
Ok, for the sake of the argument I'll refer from questioning your simplistic view of the world. So if it's easier for you, let's assume I am a nut job, have no combat experience whatsoever, and want guns banned. Still: How does that invalidate my point?
What would you expect to happen in a scenario as described above, when dozens of mostly untrained, armed people suddenly found themselves in the middle of a firefight aboard a passenger plane? With no way of telling the Bad Guys from the rest of the gun-waving crowd? Feel free to elaborate - I might be a nut job, but I'm quite willing to be persuaded by rational argument. But I simply don't understand how arming everyone aboard a plane should make flying safer. And please, don't turn this into another gun control debate, I'm only interested in the specifc scenario.
I was a TSA Supervisor for 4 years. Most of the handguns and rifles that came through security belonged to military personnel in transit to or from a deployment, or law enforcement (Federal, local, etc.) personnel. I agree with the "2nd nature" statement previously made by the British individual about carrying weapons and armor. Routine was the explanation pretty much every single time.
With all the squalling over our second amendment rights, you'd think there would be more of a fuss over a violation of our fourth amendment rights. What suspicious behavior has everyone at the airport committed? Buying a plane ticket?
And is it reasonable to believe that the majority of the population would be threatened by a nail file? Is it reasonable to believe that a cupcake is a threat?
I get that it's *possible* but is it *reasonable*?
@Felix: If you're not trained to use a firearm in that situation you shouldn't be using a firearm in that situation.
Unfortunately, I've found three groups of people when it comes to guns:
1. People scared of guns who just want them to go away.
2. People who understand guns want them to be used responsibly.
3. People who like guns but don't want to be bothered learning about them, such as how to use them safely.
It's that third group that's damaging, and the first group is happy screwing over the second group to deal with them.
My preference, however, would be to minimize the third group by moving more people into the second group from both sides.
@Clancy Nacht: I agree with you 100% there.
My grandma went to London and back with pepperspray in her handbag. Both times the security checks took a look inside (!) her handbag, but just saw the perfume bottle next to the pepperspray and waived her through...
Deterred terrorists? I would rather assume TSA has made the real terrorists laugh so hard they are pissing themselves over how inane and insane TSA are behaving.
Airport security? Airport INSECURITY more like.
@Jack - the food there isn't that bad anymore. Pepper and even more adventurous spices are widely available.
Presumably the pepper spray was less than 2oz
Homer Simpson notes the lack of bears reported caught by the TSA and demands to know why they are failing to protect air travellers from this threat. He further notes that according to a smart person he knows there are certain rocks that can deter wild animals. Why are the TSA not buying these rocks and using them to protect the public from the bears?
"United 93, the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, and others are proof. [...] Since passengers fight back now, the only way terrorists can take control is if they can overpower all the rest of the passengers."
The two would-be terrorists who were caught don't support this point. They could easily have gone into a bathroom and succeeded. I think that they failed intentionally, meaning that they wanted to be caught, perhaps to save face ("well, it looks like he tried" rather than "that scumbag chickened out").
Too much has already been said already, but this is too hilarious not to mention:
Federal Air Marshals fly with handguns chambered in .357 sig, which has the ballistics of the .357 Magnum, but for automatics.
They picked a high-powered, very fast, and extremely expensive novelty round, and then asked for a special low power loading with fragmenting bullets to avoid putting holes in the planes!
Government budgeting at its finest...
I can also confirm that it is very easy to forget you're wearing a small handgun.
And Felix, please stop talking before you make yourself look even sillier.
If terrorists can't attack the highly secure airplanes, wouldn't they attack buses or trains or schools or anything else... (Hint: It's not really about the terrorists, it's about flushing very big buckets of money down the toilet).
I agree 100% (considering myself being part of your group 2). The point I'm making is that in all those "If everybody was armed nothing would happen" scenarios, I'd expect the major part of people to be in group 3, inevitably leading to a massacre.
I'd definitely prefer to be on a plane with just one armed hijacker (and a bunch of passengers willing to take him on with their bare hands) than with a bunch of armed amateurs whose combat experience is limited to watching Bruce Willis movies. Or, as I already mentioned, a rioting drunk with a gun.
'Yes, you now have deterred terrorists from blowing up plains have you not?'
Shh don't give the terrorists who read this blog the idea to blow-up our corn supplies at source!
To all those people who keep saying that terrorists are after political goals and will stop what they are doing if you give what they want, the only real answer is: bullshit.
You need to read the best study on the subject that has been done so far, and that is "What Terrorists Really Want", by Max Abrahms. You can find it in .pdf form via Google.
These are some of Abrahms' conclusions:
(1) Terrorists are not after political goals. They only say they are. Whenever the political goals of terrorist organizations have been reached (which has ALWAYS happened by the actions of other people, never the terrorists), they simply find another goal to go out and terrorize people over. So giving them what they say they want will not cause them to stop.
(2) THEY DO NOT TELL YOU what they really want. This should be obvious, since they always say they want political goals, but in reality they never do.
(3) Terrorism is NOT "the last resort" for these terrorist organizations. Almost without exception, terrorism has been their FIRST choice of action. They have not resorted to terrorism because other avenues of approach didn't work. The fact is that they didn't even try other methods.
(4) Terrorists actually have a gangland mentality. What they really want is the attention of their peers, and that's all. So they do not deserve misplaced political sympathy for "the oppressed". That's not what they are about, at all. What they want to do is destroy, and they do it for the worst of all possible reasons: attention. It is as simple as that.
So, that's four more things the US government has in common with Al Qaida ...
When I was young, my parents told me the story about the Emperor with No Clothes.
As a comment about our security and the TSA: In 2006 I flew commercially from Phx Sky Harbor to LAX, to Maui, then to Oahu, then to Maui, then to LAX and upon getting ready to board a transfer plain at LAX to return to Phx, a TSA agent found six .357 bullets in my travel/carryon bag. These had gone thru each previous boarding check and not been found. They were in a ziplock sandwich bag along with six "AA" alkaline batteries. The bullets had been in the bag for at least 2 years and had long-since been forgotten - until I was arrested at LAX, booked, the released O.R. and allowed to return to Phx again. Later I heard from the LA City Atty who had decided to drop the charges. The bullets, again, were missed during FIVE previous boardings!! Pretty safe - aren't we???
***So? Do you assume that somebody who did not forgot and lied when the gun was found had sure intentions to fire that gun on the plane?***
Doesn't matter who assumes what. Carrying a handgun onto a plane is illegal, except under very strict circumstances. And yes, it could be fired by the individual who is carrying it, or by someone who takes it from him in flight. Which is the safer assumption, that the gun probably will not be fired, or that, yes, it could be fired. You people really don't think your answers through, do you?
***Depends on what you do for a living. If you are law enforcement, or former law enforcement, it's just a part of your dress routine in the morning.***
Any good judge would tell a current or former law enforcement officer that they are in violation of law. Ignorance is no excuse. After all, that is what the officer would tell any citizen when enforcing the law.
Anyone showing up at the airport with a concealed weapon and a concealed handgun license is carying legally in most states. He just can't pass security with it. If you carry all the time, leaving home without it is like traveling pantless.
On the subject of aircraft terrorism, it's critical to remember that our very own Federal government made the 9/11 attacks possible by forcing an open cockpit/cooperate with hijackers policy on public carriers. Was a time when aircraft security, like shipboard security was the Captain's sole province and many carried sidearms. Uncle Sugar knew better and look what it got us!
I carry with a permit in a state that allows it. It's natural
I believe that if the captain and co-pilot and select other individuals were allowed to carry a sidearm on the plane that 9-11 would have never happened and we wouldn't have Janet Reno and the massively expensive Homeland Security group to contend with today.
Wow!, how soon u forget! I guess none of you lost anyone on September 11th. Must be nice.
Perhaps a more cost-effective solution would be to abolish the TSA, and give the BSA a huge discount on plane tickets.
Funny, I learned that "Terrorism" is really effective in managing "change" in either behavior or process. Terrorism is very effective in changing behavior or response to behavior in a direction you as the terrorist would want.
In the US, the change was to instill fear that potentially anyone traveling could harm you, it that respect...they did achieve a major goal. We now have the TSA to protect us, unfortunately, I learned many, many, many years ago, "if someone really wants to do something harmful, they will most likely succeed".
We do not have the ability nor the resources to manage every square foot of territory against anything.
Someone who walks through security with a loaded weapon may be forgetful, stupid or just insane. But they are NOT innocent.
You have to understand what the TSA really is. Nothing more than a political show of "force". Other than detaining persons and threatening them with missing their flights, they have little power.
Do you realize Sniffing Dogs catch more threats than all the new added equipment and procedures?
Heaven forbid we profile for who we already is suspect. We might offend some wacko instead of feeling up granny and radiating frequent fliers.
@ Bruce poster #1
The control for this experiment was the decades of domestic and internation flying that took place pre-9/11.
People continue to gloss over the fact that the core reason 9/11 occurred was not because people got on the plane with box cutters, but that we had known foreign nationals, some with known terrorist ties, overstaying their visas and here illegally. 9/11 was not an airport security failure, but a failure of (again) our immigration system to properly document the people who cross our borders and stay here illegally
It's theater alright, theater of the absurd.
Rumor has it that at a major east coast airport the front doors are locked but the back door, i.e. food service workers, some being illegals, are free to load up the plane with food carts full of explosives. The TSA is the biggest dog & pony show in existence.
The fact that TSA didn't catch any terrorists obviously justifies their existence! Terrorists won't make an attempt past TSA checkpoints precisely because TSA is there! Of course they are effective! like DUH!! YEA YEA HOORAY FOR TSA!
On a recent return flight from New Orleans to Tampa, TSA confiscated a small bottle of olive oil from my carry-on. It was about an 8 oz bottle which we had used once in our resort condo. I trust one of them enjoyed taking it home with them.
Ok, there are people who think TSA as a nuisance. But if TSA stops working, the terrorists will return for sure. I don't mind being scanned, I feel safer that way.
@ Marcos Bonin Villela,
But if TSA stops working, the terrorists will return for sure.
Err no you are making atleast two assumptions without reason,
1, The TSA works.
2, That there are terrorists waiting to attack from aircraft departing US airports.
It has already been shown as mentioned in some of the above comments that the TSA is at best no better than the previous security arangments.
9/11 happened because the security arrangements were deficient, not because of the airlines but because the US Government chose to let them be so. That is the box cutters in the 9/11 terrorist pockets were discovered by airport security but they were not on the prohibited items list so were allowed on the aircraft.
Also the TSA is disproportionately expensive when compared to the previous system and regularly fails to detect weapons it's own inspectors attempt to carry on to test the TSA ground staff.
Secondly as has been demonstrated terrorists don't need to launch an aircraft based attack from US soil which is where the TSA operate. So if you consider Cpl Hot Foot and Capt Underpants as they ably demonstrated there is absolutly nothing the TSA ground staff could have done to stop them (not that they were actually credible threats to the aircraft concerned no matter how much the Fox news "talking heads" talked it up). Therefor from that perspective the TSA is most certainly not working as a deterrent to terrorists.
Further as was demonstrated with the bombs hidden in IT equipment sent from Somalia terrorists don't need to go through "check in" to get bombs onboard aircraft.
Thirdly there is no evidence that security is a deterant to terrorists, they go for targets of opportunity irespective of how heavily armed they are (think back to the US Navy ship that nearly got sunk by an inflatable boat full of explosives). That is they look for a weak spot and attack that they do not sit around twiddling their thumbs waiting for a supposadly defended target to become undefended. The simple fact is the US has probably millions if not hundreds of millions of weak spots yet they have not been attacked. All we have seen is a bunch of semi-literates and those with mental disorders "found and recruited" by under cover agents working for one of the US Governments three letter agencies.
Thus it is quite likley that US soil is not currently a target for "home grown" or foreign terrorists with any capability to act.
Further we know from other information that the number of home made bombs in the US used to settle grudges etc and usually made from pipes and black powder etc don't appear to have changed much. So we can probably rule out "lack of access to materials" as a cause of a lack of terrorist attacks.
The question also arises that with the recent changes (Arab Spring) in the middle east is there even any real support for AQ terrorists any longer?
What is more likly to make attacks on US soil more likely is the lack of US targets abroad. For over ten years US troops have been fighting in the Middle East and have been regularly attacked by the normal terrorist arsenal of improvised weapons. As long as the US were fighting on the home soil of the organisations that supposadly gave rise to the terrorist attacks then there was no need to attack on US soil, as their enemy had come to them and they were soldiers not innocent civilians thus it was "moral war" not "immoral murder". And importantly as the situation was effectivly a stalemate these organisation know that if they want political power on anything cloose to their own terms they are going to have to negotiate whilst they still have home support, that they are begining to lose (arab spring again).
But the US troops are going home, soon the only easily accessable US citizens on foreign soil will be tourists. Thus if the US is still in the cross hairs of international terrorists then I would expect to see the attacks start in US tourist destinations first. Which again the TSA can do absolutly nothing to stop...
I appreciate the TSA, since it's made me a very, very wealthy man, outside of being a partner at Covington & Burling in D.C. Thirty-five years ago, I had no idea that my Harvard law school education would lead me to owning the company that manufactures all the full-body scanners in use today.
For those of you who complain here, rest assured that we'll deal with you in due time. As a good American, you should know that your job is to sit back, shut up, and do as you're told by those (like me) that know better. The TSA is keeping you safe and we're not going anywhere. That's all you need to know. Don't question us.
From what I understand, real airport security would be better practiced by better resources (brains, cash, &c.) going to police & other efforts in keeping these guys out of the airports in the first place. The reason why those guys succeeded in 2001 is because they made a brilliant move: They changed what the nature of highjacking was about. Back in the day, if your plane was highjacked, everyone flew to Cuba & got loaded up on rum & smoked real Havanas while the jerk made his political statement. No muss, no fuss, especially for the rum & cigar industries. Their change: The highjacking was not to make a statement, but, as someone else noted, to acquire a weapon. Now, the average passenger isn't going to expect a quick side trip to Cuba, but a diversion to Valhalla, so the best line of defence-the one that caught all the subsequent wannabees-are the passengers, who will tear the SOB apart.
I'm not exactly fond of how we've gotten with regard to firearms, either. I don't own one, but my father-in-law's a soldier, & his brothers hunt whatever's in season. Guns are tools, just like hammers or chisels or... That being said, I had a penknife confiscated because I forgot to take it from my pants pocket before we left. My bad. I make mistakes. I take responsibility for having done them, do what I have to do, & move on.
Frankly, if I'm given a choice to travel somewhere, I prefer the train: The food's better, the seats are about the same, the scenery's fascinating, & I can use my laptop all the time. Some of the trains even have free Wi-Fi.
The flashlight that the FAA wants me to carry in my flight bag was taken by TSA
I could not disagree more with you.
As painful an irritating as it is, we need these people. Perhaps they could be more efficient, but having an unqualified person eating a sandwich while hundreds of bags and people pass per hour is an invitation to trouble which is now highly discouraged.
I assume the snakes, turtles and birds were on the No Fly List?
if you have a full body scanner, why not spare me the sensation of someone touching my groin?
i am more scared of the idiots with the power of not letting me board the plane without any comprehensible reason than of terrorists.
if you are entrusted by the state to carry a gun, you should be allowed to board the plane with it. i would love to know that there's a trained sniper with gun either disguised as a passenger, or in a hidden lookout post in every single plane that flies. even an ex-military or police with a gun as a passenger is also very assuring to me. just save the painful body search, specially taking off the shoes.
When will the TSA start preventing people with mad karate skills from boarding our planes?
I don't understand why they refuse to learn from the best.
The security at LBG starts from the moment that your car/bus gets off the highway, they inspect every vehicle as it enters. They watch for suspicious activity, throughout the airport. They question you before you check your luggage and send most luggage through the X-ray. They have passport control on outbound passengers.
By the time you get onto your flight the security at the airport has run an entire background check to make sure that you are not a terrorist.
Passengers are not hindered for no good reason, and people who obviously pose no threat are even capable of getting onto an airplane within 45 minutes!
Of course you notice the security, and the questioning can be unnerving, but they do what they can to streamline the process and not hassle people unnecessarily.
How do you know that the handgun and the explosives were part of a terrorist activity? If I were a terrorist I certainly would give a good excuse for such.
C-4 Can be blown up without the detonator,fuse, and blasting caps. It can be done with fire and sufficient force to make it "pop". A cheap item you get from the flight attendant can set it off... But then again not too many people get to "play" with c-4 and don't know how easy it actually is to set off.
In honor of the holiday season, I encourage anyone to improve/add to my lyrics to a popular song:
"On the first day of Christmas, the TSA took from me,
a can of maple syrup.
On the second day of Christmas, the TSA took from me,
two bottles of wine,..."
"On the first day of Christmas, the TSA took from me,
a can of maple syrup.
On the second day of Christmas, the TSA took from me,
two bottles of wine.
On the second day of Christmas, the TSA took from me,
Thee saline drips..."
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.