Conversation with Kip Hawley, TSA Administrator (Part 4)

This is Part 4 of a five-part series. Link to whole thing.

BS: What about Registered Traveler? When TSA first started talking about the program, the plan was to divide people into two categories: more trusted people who get less screening, and less trusted people who get more screening. This opened an enormous security hole; whenever you create an easy way and a hard way through security, you invite the bad guys to take the easier way. Since then, it's transformed into a way for people to pay for better screening equipment and faster processing -- a great idea with no security downsides. Given that, why bother with the background checks at all? What else is it besides a way for a potential terrorist to spend $60 and find out if the government is on to them?

KH: Registered Traveler (RT) is a promising program but suffers from unrealistic expectations. The idea -- that you and I aren't really risks and we should be screened less so that TSA can apply scarce resources on the more likely terrorist -- makes sense and got branded as RT. The problem is that with two million people a day, how can we tell them apart in an effective way? We know terrorists use people who are not on watch lists and who don't have criminal convictions, so we can't use those criteria alone. Right now, I've said that RT is behind Secure Flight in priority and that TSA is open to working with private sector entities to facilitate RT, but we will not fund it, reduce overall security, or inconvenience regular travelers. As private companies deploy extra security above what TSA does, we can change the screening process accordingly. It has to be more than a front-of-the-line pass, and I think there are some innovations coming out in the year ahead that will better define what RT can become.

BS: Let's talk about behavioral profiling. I've long thought that most of airline security could be ditched in favor of well-trained guards, both in and out of uniform, wandering the crowds looking for suspicious behavior. Can you talk about some of the things you're doing along those lines, and especially ways to prevent this from turning into just another form of racial profiling?

KH: Moving security out from behind the checkpoint is a big priority for us. First, it gives us the opportunity to pick up a threat a lot earlier. Taking away weapons or explosives at the checkpoint is stopping the plot at nearly the last possible moment. Obviously, a good security system aims at stopping attacks well before that. That's why we have many layers of security (intel, law enforcement, behavior detection, etc.) to get to that person well before the security checkpoint. When a threat gets to the checkpoint, we're operating on his/her terms -- they pick when, where, and how they present themselves to us. We want to pick up the cues on our terms, before they're ready, even if they're just at the surveillance stage.

We use a system of behavior observation that is based on the science that demonstrates that there are certain involuntary, subconscious actions that can betray a person's hostile intent. For instance, there are tiny -- but noticeable to the trained person -- movements in a person's facial muscles when they have certain emotions. It is very different from the stress we all show when we're anxious about missing the flight due to, say, a long security line. This is true across race, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. It is our way of not falling into the trap where we predict what a terrorist is going to look like. We know they use people who "look like" terrorists, but they also use people who do not, perhaps thinking that we cue only off of what the 9/11 hijackers looked like.

Our Behavior Detection teams routinely -- and quietly -- identify problem people just through observable behavior cues. More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested. This layer is invisible to the public, but don't discount it, because it may be the most effective. We publicize non-terrorist-related successes like a murder suspect caught in Minneapolis and a bank robber caught in Philadelphia.

Most common are people showing phony documents, but we have even picked out undercover operatives -- including our own. One individual, identified by a TSO in late May and not allowed to fly, was killed in a police shoot-out five days later. Additionally, several individuals have been of interest from the counter-terrorism perspective. With just this limited deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), we have identified more people of counterterrorism interest than all the people combined caught with prohibited items. Look for us to continue to look at ways that highlight problem people rather than just problem objects.

BS: That's really good news, and I think it's the most promising new security measure you've got. Although, honestly, bragging about capturing a guy for wearing a fake military uniform just makes you look silly.

Part 5: Keeping the bomb off the plane

Posted on August 2, 2007 at 6:12 AM • 70 Comments

Comments

kybAugust 2, 2007 6:55 AM

That's the first thing he's said in these interviews that I've liked the sound of, although I do want to make the point that his BDOs should not be operating based on huge queues.

If they were doing their job properly there would be no huge queues.

rickfAugust 2, 2007 7:16 AM

"We publicize non-terrorist-related successes like a murder suspect caught in Minneapolis and a bank robber caught in Philadelphia."

What if the guy had a dozen unpaid parking tickets? Are airports going to be "no-go zones" for anyone with a shady past or any sort of criminal record who happens to get caught?

And how many false positives does TSA get from its behaviour profiling?

Nicholas WeaverAugust 2, 2007 7:30 AM

"Moving security out from behind the checkpoint is a big priority for us. First, it gives us the opportunity to pick up a threat a lot earlier."

IMO, that is the role of the FBI etc: law enforcement rather than airport security...

It is possible to argue the exact opposite should be done on airport security: moving security more inside the checkpoint, as smaller perimiters are much easier to deal with.

Frank WilhoitAugust 2, 2007 7:39 AM

"...that you and I aren't really risks..."

There it is, out in the open, flat, bald, and stinking to high Hell.

The whole "conservative" approach is based on tiered citizenship: "in" groups who are unaccountable, "out" groups who are denied the protection of the law. It is as wrong as wrong can be.

Perhaps it is useful for you to be able to communicate with this person on a level that allows insights like this to come to the surface; but I still think you should not have dignified him with a platform.

TarkeelAugust 2, 2007 7:44 AM

@CJ: In all fairness, it is the Transport Security Agency, not Air-Travel Security Agency.. Still, that story sounds like it was pure muscle-showing.

Colossal SquidAugust 2, 2007 7:59 AM

"More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested."

How many convictions resulted?
Oh and a cite for that 'science' would be nice.

t3knomanserAugust 2, 2007 7:59 AM

@CJ: Oh, a federal agency operating on a municipal public transport system? Yeah, that's not cool. Are they honestly trying to stretch the Commerce Clause to _that_?

FlynnAugust 2, 2007 8:05 AM

"More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested. This layer is invisible to the public, but don't discount it, because it may be the most effective. We publicize non-terrorist-related successes like a murder suspect caught in Minneapolis and a bank robber caught in Philadelphia."

So a) fears that the TSA is being used for purposes OTHER than securing from terrorists are well-founded.

"Most common are people showing phony documents, but we have even picked out undercover operatives -- including our own."

So college kids with fake IDs for going into bars are getting busted? Or are they illegal immigrants? Even if they're simply drug smugglers, that's a long way from someone who wants to harm the other passengers.

"One individual, identified by a TSO in late May and not allowed to fly, was killed in a police shoot-out five days later."

Who? Jean Charles de Menezes?

"Additionally, several individuals have been of interest from the counter-terrorism perspective."

So out of 150 people, there was a murder suspect, a bank robber, some undercover agents, some people with fake IDs and "SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS OF INTEREST."

HELLO!??!?!?!

"With just this limited deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), we have identified more people of counterterrorism interest than all the people combined caught with prohibited items."

So fewer than 150 people have been caught with prohibited items? Obviously more than 3oz of a liquid doesn't get qualified as a "prohibited item." Surely more than 150 people have tried to get on a plane with nail clippers or sewing scissors. In fact, I bet more than 150 people have been caught with narcotics trying to get on a plane.

An AustralianAugust 2, 2007 8:07 AM

"More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested. This layer is invisible to the public, but don't discount it, because it may be the most effective. We publicize non-terrorist-related successes like a murder suspect caught in Minneapolis and a bank robber caught in Philadelphia."

"Additionally, several individuals have been of interest from the counter-terrorism perspective. With just this limited deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), we have identified more people of counterterrorism interest than all the people combined caught with prohibited items"

I'm not sure I follow these two, and what the correct numbers are. More, I'm confused. Given the announcements made when bumbling idiots are caught, is claiming TSA here to have caught 150 real terrorists that were real and serious, and have not said anything about it?

And where are these people now? Did they get lucky and go to gitmo, or are they off to a friendly country like Syria?

But agree that this did sound better than the last lot of stuff.

HarryAugust 2, 2007 8:07 AM

Re more trustworthy flyers: how about no screening for persons already checked out? Someone with a top secret security clearance has had a far more thorough background check than TSA could ever hope to manage. maybe also police, FBI agents, and other people who can already get into sensitive places.

John DaviesAugust 2, 2007 8:25 AM

"More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested."

In the UK at least "arrested" does not mean "charged and convicted". It would be interesting to know how many successful convictions resulted.

Michael AshAugust 2, 2007 8:28 AM

"how about no screening for persons already checked out?"

The problem is that you then have to determine whether a person has been "checked out". This just invites a bad guy to forge an FBI ID card, or a top secret clearance card, or whatever else the TSA is looking for.

RSaundersAugust 2, 2007 8:44 AM

"Moving security out from behind the checkpoint is a big priority for us. First, it gives us the opportunity to pick up a threat a lot earlier." and "That's why we have many layers of security (intel, law enforcement, behavior detection, etc.) to get to that person well before the security checkpoint." makes it look like TSA has taken on the charter of domestic intelligence and law enforcement. From the FBI's home page "Our Mission: To protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States". What's the difference? It seems KH thinks he's the director of the FBI. Given we already have an FBI, this looks like an argument to disband the TSA.

Not to say that the work he's claiming he's doing isn't good work. It is exactly the sort of thing the FBI should be doing. The problem is terrorism, not airplanes. Plus, the FBI seems to have heard about the Constitution.


AnonymousAugust 2, 2007 8:45 AM

"Our Behavior Detection teams routinely -- and quietly -- identify problem people just through observable behavior cues. More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested."

It seems that whenever they encounter someone with a "Kip Hawley is an idiot" ziplock bag, a MintyBoost battery charger and other dangerous items, they call law enforcement. How many of these are false positives, and how does this compare with the proportion of these 150 that were actually convicted?

Does not seem to be much better than random chance to me.

gulfieAugust 2, 2007 8:46 AM

Terrorists, now with Botox!

Behavioral responses can to some extent be dealt with. Take a look at the drug trades and smuggling. If you can get a kilo of heroine on a plane, you can get a bomb on a plane.

If the mule doesn't know, then there's no behavioral response.

Imagine a double blind package delivery.

RoyAugust 2, 2007 8:51 AM

"We use a system of behavior observation that is based on the science that demonstrates that there are certain involuntary, subconscious actions that can betray a person's hostile intent."

Hmm. Why has none of this been published in peer-reviewed journals? Not one bit.

If this existed, banks would be nailing bank robbers as they approached the building, well before they could get inside. How much of this do we see?

Welcome to the world of make-believe and let's-pretend.

AnonymousAugust 2, 2007 8:52 AM

@ Michael Ash: This just invites a bad guy to forge an FBI ID card, or a top secret clearance card, or whatever else the TSA is looking for.

True. But it's not easy to do. Among other things they have RFID chips. Every agency has a list of who's cleared and their RFID chip info. Share the lists, have chip readers at the airports (they're relatively cheap) and our lines and TSA's workload goes down.

Colossal SquidAugust 2, 2007 8:56 AM

"Behavioral responses can to some extent be dealt with. Take a look at the drug trades and smuggling. If you can get a kilo of heroine on a plane, you can get a bomb on a plane."

Usually with Valium. Or so I've been told.

Michael AshAugust 2, 2007 9:11 AM

@Anonymous

Does every possible agency have such RFID chips, and do they all talk a common language so you don't need dozens of readers? That seems unusually competent for the feds, but I'm willing to believe it. Putting the readers in every airport doesn't seem cost effective but you could put them in some big ones.

Even there it doesn't seem cost effective, though. How many people with a clearance go through security checkpoints at airports? Will you be able to save any money on people or equipment this way? Or will you just make life easier for people with clearances, something that interests me not at all?

There's also the question of whether the agencies themselves will go for this. Do they really want to broadcasts the fact that these people have clearances?

You also open yourself to things like threatening the guy's family to get him to take stuff through security. He might be able to do it anyway as an FBI agent, but why make it easy? Admittedly this is a movie-plot threat, but as Bruce says right at the top of this post, if you create an easy way through security you just invite the bad guys to use it.

And lastly, the current system sucks. The fewer people who are exempted from it, the faster it will be changed. If all congressmen and top officials got the Extra Special Screening every time they flew, maybe I wouldn't have to deal with so much crap every time I flew. Creating classes of special people just encourages the current nonsense to persist for boring normal people such as myself.

Carlo GrazianiAugust 2, 2007 9:15 AM

"The problem is that with two million people a day..."

This finally answers the question I had about whose passenger numbers are right. Bruce had claimed 700 Million US passengers/year a couple of months ago. David Mackett, the president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, claimed it was 7 Billion per year in an article linked from this blog.

Turns out Bruce was right, and Mackett was off by an order of magnitude (which admittedly seemed the most likely outcome, given that it's hard to believe that the US has the commercial airline capacity to fly every human being on Earth somewhere once a year...)

TSA-holeAugust 2, 2007 9:19 AM

Bruce,

In part 1, you mentioned having a lot of off-the-record conversations... Without going into specifics, are our instincts right about Mr. Hawley; or is this a Cain Mutiny situation where we mock him because we don't understand him. Thanks!

JoshuaAugust 2, 2007 9:21 AM

Frank: You realise that he was just describing the idea behind RT in neutral terms rather than suggesting it was the greatest idea ever, right? And that he admits that it's not even a high priority, suggesting that there's internal skepticism over the utility of such a program?

Frankly, the no-fly stuff was more indicative of what you're criticising him for than RT is.

bzelbobAugust 2, 2007 9:39 AM

@Roy - You've nailed the major problem with this approach. The fact that the methods of behavior observation are secret and unreviewed is a huge problem.

Will they stop working once they become public knowledge?

Right now, we have no means of checking what Mr. Hawley is claiming; that we have a very effective method of figuring out who the terrorists are.

I remain extremely skeptical. Given the level of BS they've tried to get us to swallow already (see parts 1 through 3 of this interview), what makes anyone think that their system works as well as they claim it does?

abcAugust 2, 2007 9:40 AM

@carlo:

It depends on what you count. I am one passenger, because I'm only one person. In the eyes of security, I'm two passengers this year, because I've been through security twice. In the eyes of the airline, I might be four passengers this year, because I have boarded four different flights in making connections.

C GomezAugust 2, 2007 9:49 AM

I think beyond the cynicism we actually have a fairly bright individual who is stuck in a "middle management" sort of role.

Who is Mr. Hawley's boss? It's partially the President (through the administration), the Congress (through oversight), the Cabinet member in charge of DHS, and then layers of bureaucrats... some appointed... some civil service.

There are way too many cooks stirring this pot, and the politically motivated ones are elected by a security ignorant elected.

How many times has someone you known said, "I hate these lines but if it's what they have to do to keep us safe?" It shows that the general public is not an expert in security. The problem is they elect people who are reflections of themselves.

Result, Senate Oversight committees that do not understand real security. They look at security theater and nod their head and think they are doing something good.

Now, Mr. Hawley has said suome dumb things in this series, especially in defending the no-fly list. But what do you expect him to say?

"No-fly is a waste of taxpayer time and money and I am fighting to eliminate it." He might as well write his own pink slip.

Actually, I am pleased Mr. Hawley made himself available for a lengthy and hard-nosed interview. Mr. Schneier did not back down from the tough questions, and Mr. Hawley agreed to answer five pages of questions, clearly with some dialogue in between.

Personally, I hope Mr. Hawly makes himself availabele more in the future, and I think we need to keep asking him the tough questions.

I'm not excusing him, DHS, TSA, ABC, or XYZ... but I have a feeling we really don't have a complete moron in charge here. We have someone who has to implement policies (that are law) that he finds silly or less interesting. Just slice off that first layer of cynicism and you can see some rays of hope in here.

He makes the basic assertions that catching plots in the line at the airport is the last line of defense, and the way forward is to catch them much earlier. That sounds a lot like the good old fashioned investigative work Mr. Schneier constantly refers to.

CharlieAugust 2, 2007 9:55 AM

I think people are getting confused about the 150 arrests -- they are people who TSA spotted who are wanted for other crimes. Sorry Bruce, but this entire behavior spotting thing is BS as well. First, having criminals on airplanes is not always a security threat. Second, it would be more efficient to run passenger rolls against a national crime database -- I suspect more than 150 people people who have flown in the last 5 years are wanted by the police. Third, it doesn't help much with bombs -- I put a bomb in my GF's suitcase w/o telling her, and she'll pass any behavior expert.

Interesting numbers. 2 million passengers screened a day. I think the TSA pulled in $5 biollion last year from the 9/11 fees (2.50 per flight segment). So that is around $7 per screening.

Not sure what the solution is. Glad to have better x-rays and other machines. TSA may be a necesssary evil -- I think the goal should be to cut them down to size. Or just have airports/airlines do their own security again.

Brandioch ConnerAugust 2, 2007 10:05 AM

@C Gomez
"I think beyond the cynicism we actually have a fairly bright individual who is stuck in a "middle management" sort of role."

Maybe. But I see "political idiot". He doesn't know the first thing about security and he's willing to lie to an expert about it all to keep his job.

"How many times has someone you known said, "I hate these lines but if it's what they have to do to keep us safe?" It shows that the general public is not an expert in security. The problem is they elect people who are reflections of themselves."

Never. Because my friends and I discuss the security process. There is nothing about waiting to take off your shoes that makes you any safer and we know that.

"Now, Mr. Hawley has said suome dumb things in this series, especially in defending the no-fly list. But what do you expect him to say?"

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Is that really so much to ask? Particularly when you are speaking to an expert on the material.

"I'm not excusing him, DHS, TSA, ABC, or XYZ... but I have a feeling we really don't have a complete moron in charge here."

Well he seems to be able to form complete sentences and doesn't drool on himself in public, so "complete moron" would be incorrect.

But he is a politically motivated idiot who thinks he can bull**** an expert in this field.

"He makes the basic assertions that catching plots in the line at the airport is the last line of defense, and the way forward is to catch them much earlier. That sounds a lot like the good old fashioned investigative work Mr. Schneier constantly refers to."

Anyone can say that.

What is he doing, specifically, to drive that?

Nothing? Oh, well I guess that that is okay.

Not!

John DaviesAugust 2, 2007 10:05 AM

@Charlie:

From the article:

"Our Behavior Detection teams routinely -- and quietly -- identify problem people just through observable behavior cues. More than 150 people have been identified by our teams, turned over to law enforcement, and subsequently arrested."

No other crimes involved as far as I can see ( other than looking like a terrorist )

9363156August 2, 2007 10:30 AM

The TSA's task is not just to prevent terrorist attacks. Just some names to look up:
Jack Gilbert Graham, Charles Compton, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Joseph-Albert Guay etc.

AndrewAugust 2, 2007 10:48 AM

@Roy

>> If this existed, banks would be nailing bank robbers as they approached the building, well before they could get inside. How much of this do we see?

It's not reliable enough. However, well trained bank guards DO sometimes nail bank robbers prior to building entry, just because the average person going to the bank is slightly annoyed or rushed, and the bank robber is keyed up, excited or very angry.

This will work against idiots. Idiots did not cause September 11th. I say again, do we take all of the calm people and search them?

>> Welcome to the world of make-believe and let's-pretend.

Yup.

MAugust 2, 2007 11:07 AM

"Maybe. But I see 'political idiot'. He doesn't know the first thing about security and he's willing to lie to an expert about it all to keep his job."

I see a lot of commenters who are talking out of their asses. What do you know about security? Are you actually qualified to evaluate the knowledge and experience of the head of the TSA?

Yes, the Bush admin. has appointed some spectacularly idiotic people in key positions, but Hawley does not appear to be one of them.

Hawley has a tough job, he's working very hard at it, and he and his people have clearly learned a lot and are continuing to learn. I'm not saying he's done everything right, but the total cynicism on these threads (and the total lack of criticism of Bruce Schneier) smells of groupthink.

Also: I appreciate Bruce and some of what he's done (e.g. highlighting the "security theater" concept), but everyone needs to step back and get some perspective. It's in Schneier's interest to portray himself as knowing more than the TSA, and he's making a handsome living from it.

I notice that whenever Hawley actually makes a valid point or rebuts something that Schneier says, Schneier abruptly drops the subject and starts criticizing him for something else.

As soon as Schneier finally praises something that the TSA has done, the commenters do too, in lockstep. Funny.

Bruce Schneier is not a god.

simongabrielAugust 2, 2007 11:17 AM

Here's what I want to know:

In almost 6 years now, which would be roughly what, 4.2 billion people according to the numbers i think, how many people have they caught at these security checkpoints who actually were threatening the airplane? The guy with the shoes, right? Have there been ANY other successful stoppages of terrorist activity? I mean, since no planes have been attacked, that's a 1 in 4.2 billion success rate? Simply atrocious.

Michael AshAugust 2, 2007 11:25 AM

"I notice that whenever Hawley actually makes a valid point or rebuts something that Schneier says, Schneier abruptly drops the subject and starts criticizing him for something else."

What else should he do? Mindless pleasantries and "oh yeah, you're right" type phrases just waste space. If he makes a good point, then simply letting it display itself should be all the acknowledgment it needs. Leave the circle-jerk stuff for Fox News, personally I think Bruce's style is refreshingly informative. The goal is to get information, not be nice to the guy.

I don't think Bruce is a god, but I think he would be ten times better as head of the TSA than this bozo.

JenAugust 2, 2007 11:33 AM

It would be nice if they could teach me how to behave so I can avoid being patted down. Heck, it would be nice if I could get a job that didn't involve air travel at this point!

KeithAugust 2, 2007 11:33 AM

Mr. Schneier,

Maybe it's just my military background but you calling the identification of an individual wearing a fake military uniform 'silly' is disconcerting. The identifiers of our federal forces whether military or law enforcement should not easily or lightly be faked. These identifiers allow people to understand the represented authority. While the military has no real enforcement authority they are still accorded a level of respect from many people. There is no legitimate reason that someone would be wearing a fake uniform.

GooberAugust 2, 2007 11:45 AM

Behavior profiling is absurd. In effect, the TSA would be requiring that people be *capable* of passing behavior tests before being allowed to fly. That is NOT the same as requiring that those people be non-terrorists. Even the most polygraph tests - arguably the most studied method for ferreting out baddies - is fraught with false positives (in many cases up to 20%) and false negatives (in many cases up to 10%). Furthermore, does anyone really, really believe that the government who brought us the Iraq War, the TSA, the Katrina response, et al would be capable of training union TSA goons to accurately pick out villains and only villains in the airport? Sweet Jeebus, get real!

SwampdogAugust 2, 2007 11:50 AM

Hawley says "We know terrorists use people who are not on watch lists and who don't have criminal convictions, so we can't use those criteria alone."

So once again we have a "dumb terrorist" screen.

Overall I have to say Hawley doesn't sound as bad as I expected. I do think it's reasonable that he have some secrets from the masses - as long as there's appropriate oversight in the system (which is where the Bush administration generally fails).

TheTowerAugust 2, 2007 11:52 AM

It shouldn't be too expensive or difficult to build a "fed sniffer" if all fed IDs are chipped.

ClarifyingAugust 2, 2007 11:53 AM

@Keith

IIRC, the guy was wearing an army surplus jacket and blue jeans and was tackled for supposedly impersonating a member of the armed forces. That, in my opinion, is silly. I agree that those in fake uniforms pose a problem, but the case is question was clearly a case of TSA "hero complex".

BobAugust 2, 2007 12:02 PM

@simongabriel

The guy with the shoes, right?
- Wasn't he caught on the plane? When he tried to light the wires with a match (and failed...since you can't light a wire with a match). Of course, if he had a legal battery with him...we would have had another attack.

RickAugust 2, 2007 12:06 PM

@Keith

I'll take it for granted that you just have poor reading skills and are not being disingenuous. Mr. Schneier was pointing out the silliness of TSA touting this particular incident as one of the brilliant successes of anti-terrorism. I believe the word "bragging" was key to the quote you skimmed.

Harry (accidentally Anonymous)August 2, 2007 12:09 PM

@Michael Ash: You offer many good responses for me to address.

1. I believe a single reader would do it. If not, then it's a highly impractical idea.

2. Dunno about numbers. There's plenty in the newspapers about how the number of people with clearances has grown tremendously since 9/11. I don't know how that compares to # flyers overall, or if the level of clearance matters - maybe only top secret types have had a good background check. Maybe the way to do it is to have the system in place only in airports near towns with lots of cleared people: DC, Huntsville, Orlando, etc. That would reduce the overall cost, allow local TSAers to get specific training, and reduce congestion where cleared people gather.

3. Point - the agencies might not want it known. That would be an insurmountable obstacle. ... Or maybe not. If RT ever happens* give cleared people free/discounted registration (since RT wouldn't have to do the check itself).

4. It's far easier and effective to threaten the family of a catering guy or flight attendant, than a cleared guy. The caterer and flight attendent both have more access, both in volume of goods carried and in access to large parts of the airplane.

* The biggest obstacle to RT to date has been the airports. They don't have the infrastructure for special lines and don't want to divert the necessary personnel to maintain them.

AnalemmaAugust 2, 2007 12:10 PM

Here's another take on the matter of observing facial twitches and other habits. My husband is hearing-impaired, and reads lips instead of signing. In order to fully understand what someone says to him, he must make eye contact and see someone's face - not just the mouth - because reading lips involves reading the accompanying facial features. Every time he goes through security, he makes eye contact with TSA officials to make sure he's not missing anything. And every time, he gets taken aside and patted down. When we travel together, my husband follows my lead and doesn't make eye contact. Guess what?! He's not patted down.

A ReaderAugust 2, 2007 12:20 PM

On following the links to the TSA's two "non-terrorist-related successes" of their behavioral teams:

1) The "murder suspect" appears to have been suspected of murder in Mexico several years earlier, deported, and charges were subsequently dropped.

2) The "bank robber" was a "flagged as a selectee" and sent through a metal detector. A crack pipe in his sock set of the alarm, and a subsequent search found a hold-up note. I didn't see any mention of behavioral detection.

Geoff LaneAugust 2, 2007 12:32 PM

"One individual, identified by a TSO in late May and not allowed to fly, was killed in a police shoot-out five days later. "

An airport like Heathrow has something like 100 million passenger journeys a year. I guess O'Hare and other major US airports will have similar numbers of passengers.

I would be _amazed_ if none of those potential passengers were crazy enough to trigger airport security and subsequently get involved with the police.

It is true that the singular of data is anecdote.


Brandioch ConnerAugust 2, 2007 12:36 PM

@M
"I see a lot of commenters who are talking out of their asses. What do you know about security? Are you actually qualified to evaluate the knowledge and experience of the head of the TSA?"

Yes, many of us are qualified. That is why we can point to specific issues and identify why they are issues.

All you have is generalized hate of people who do so. You can't even point to a specific item that any of us are incorrect on.

"Hawley has a tough job, he's working very hard at it, and he and his people have clearly learned a lot and are continuing to learn."

We are talking people's lives here.

So it is okay with you if someone dies because Kip hadn't had the time to "learn" something yet?

Well it isn't okay with me.

"I notice that whenever Hawley actually makes a valid point or rebuts something that Schneier says, Schneier abruptly drops the subject and starts criticizing him for something else."

I haven't seen that happening yet. I do see Kip contradicting himself and his policies.

It is Kip's job to improve security and safety. If he cannot do it, then he needs to be replaced by someone who can.

If I was in charge and I believed that your shoes were a potential threat, you wouldn't be getting them back until you had arrived at your destination.

If I believed that liquids were a threat then every bottle would be treated as if it were an explosive.

That means blocking them BEFORE they get to the airport. And sealing them in individual containers. Inside a concrete hole.

Kip just recently allowed lighters onto planes again. Not because it was discovered that lighters were "safe" but because it was costing Kip's department millions of dollars to dispose of them.

It's all about the specifics.

AnAnonymousPersonAugust 2, 2007 1:17 PM

What I want to know is why wouldn't a terrorist just attack the checkpoint? If there is a huge line of people at an airport checkpoint, and they are successful at screening bombs past the checkpoint, and the terrorist wanted to do as much damage to life and the economy as possible, it seems to me, he could just attack the 4 hour line outside the checkpoint. Even if he can't get through security, he'll obviously be able to get bombs there, since he hasn't been screened until he waits in line. It's also obvious that such an attack would be economically devastating, take much life, and shut down airports for a while.

It just seems so stupid to me to focus on these checkpoints because it seems like they create an easy target. I don't feel safe waiting in the airport security line, I feel like I'm a sitting duck.

Are we really achieving airport security by creating these low hanging fruit as potential targets?

CuriousAugust 2, 2007 2:01 PM

"Moving security out from behind the checkpoint is a big priority for us."

Hmm... Ok. How do you do that without locking down the entire airport terminal? AFAIK, it is not illegal to carry weapons (i.e. knives, guns with CW permit, etc.) and other items that would never make it past the checkpoint, into the airport terminal. You just can't take them beyond the security checkpoint.

In fact, a lot of the people "outside" the checkpoint don't even have tickets/boarding passes, they are friends or relatives seeing off or greeting travelers, or could really just be anyone that likes to "hang out" at the airport.

Are they going to profile, identify, track, and take-down my "crazy uncle Joe" who is acting a bit "hinky" as he wanders around the airport terminal while there to see off my Mom (who is the only one in the group with an actual ticket/boarding pass)?

AnonymousAugust 2, 2007 2:12 PM

@Roy, "If this existed, banks would be nailing bank robbers as they approached the building, well before they could get inside. How much of this do we see?"

I recently was invited to observe an FBI swat team training exercise. The Q&A with the audience answered a question about when the swat teams are used by mentioning when advance intelligence indicates a planned armed robbery, and the description mentioned that the goal was to take down the perps and get out before anybody noticed and called the media.

So my assumption was that there is much more of it than we see. I'd doubt that the Bureau would fund those teams if the justification wasn't there. That implies the existence of enough such cases to support the funding argument.

It's a philosophical argument whether avoiding the media frenzy over such events is a good strategy or not, and I'm not taking a position on that. It's also not a question for the operational level, that policy certainly gets set at the higher official levels. It does make Gitmo look more ominous, doesn't it?

GeorgeAugust 2, 2007 3:15 PM

@Keith: Maybe it's just my military background but you calling the identification of an individual wearing a fake military uniform 'silly' is disconcerting.

I respect the military as much as anyone, and see the fake uniform as unjustified disrespect for the military.

However, I don't see how that is the sort of offense that the TSA is in business to detect and punish. The TSA's press release crows about the fake uniform incident as a major success for their behavioral monitoring, but it makes no mention of how that impostor ever threatened aviation security.

That's the silliness Bruce was referring to. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the press release demonstrated how ineffective and useless the TSA's behavioral monitoring actually is. The fact that they'd crow about it at all is evidence that nobody in the TSA has a clue, either about airport security or about convincing an increasingly skeptical (and increasingly hassled) public that all the hassle and expense is accomplishing anything.

ckAugust 2, 2007 3:41 PM

"We publicize non-terrorist-related successes like a murder suspect caught in Minneapolis and a bank robber caught in Philadelphia."

Even if the TSA's profiling method were completely random, they'd still catch a few bad guys, and Kip would still be able to crow about the "effectiveness" of his program using similar anecdotal appeals. In fact, the TSA has no real incentive to develop highly-trained behavioral profilers, since John Q. Public would never know the difference.

This selective disclosure - publicizing only non-terrorist-related successes - disturbs me. Law enforcement doesn't seem to have a problem telling us they foiled a terror plot, and the military doesn't have a problem telling us they've killed or apprehended some terrorist leader. The current administration jumps on every opportunity to spin these stories as proof that its approach against terrorism is working. Moreover, it doesn't mind spilling the beans on occassion if there might be a PR benefit (just ask Valerie Plame).

All this makes it hard to believe that the TSA doesn't disclose its number of "terrorist-related successes" for any reason other than embarrassment. Sorry to be so cynical, but if the TSA actually *did* foil another 9/11 attempt, wouldn't Bush would be on the evening news taking credit for it?

arensbAugust 2, 2007 4:07 PM

One of the standard textbook exercises in probability involves a disease that appears in some tiny fraction of the population, and a test for that disease that's 90% or 95% or 99% reliable. It turns out that the vast majority of positive results are false-positives.

We know how many people travel every year. We might be able to estimate the number of people picked up by the TSA. It might be possible to make a stab at estimating the number of terrorists who attempt to fly.

What I'm getting at is, is there enough information to be able to tell whether the TSA's procedures are doing better than chance?

HipNerdAugust 2, 2007 6:08 PM

Citizen: Why are you banging those sticks together?

TSA Official: It scares away the man-eating tigers.

Citizen: There are no man-eating tigers around here!

TSA Official: See, it's working!

spankyAugust 2, 2007 6:15 PM

I got to play the devil's advocate here -
since we haven't had an act of terrorism related to air flight in the last 6 years, either:
1) TSA is working and doing its job
2) terrorists aren't trying anymore
3) terrorists aren't smart enough to execute on a plan.

Now, I will completely agree that TSA has run amok on the U.S. Constitution. And this really angers up the blood.
Do the ends justify the means?

Brandioch ConnerAugust 2, 2007 7:32 PM

@spanky
Now look at the years from 1995 - 2001. Prior to the TSA's stupid rules about water and nail clippers.

You've left off the final option.

The pool of available terrorists capable of completing such an attack is extremely small. It takes a LONG time for the terrorist organizations to locate them, contact them, enlist them and supply them.

If you were dropped in Iran right now, what are the odds of you carrying out any successful attack? You don't speak the language. You don't know the customs. You can't even tell a cop from crossing guard.

aden dAugust 2, 2007 8:57 PM

It has to constrainting to run an agency, especially a security one, while having to deal with the President and Congress. And work with airlines and airports that are trying to make money. The lighter ban was stupid, and Congress made that rule. Too many "experts."

Without knowing the intelligence TSA and FBI has, it's easy to pick at the process, as many on this site have done. I'm willing to give Hawley a pass on shoes - at least he'll let me have them back, unlike Brandioch!

ViaddAugust 2, 2007 9:40 PM

"It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself -- anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called."

Alli TAugust 3, 2007 12:30 AM

"Moving security out from behind the checkpoint is a big priority for us."

Sounds to me like the first baby steps of a national police force. How can we have an effective police state without a National Police? Like the BATF(E), the bureaucracy at TSA will only grow larger and more demanding. We will rue the day this monster was created by Congress.

AnAnonymousPersonAugust 3, 2007 1:16 AM

chillingly applicable, Vlad.

I wonder what would happen to a person who carried a 4th amendment tote with orwell and other antifacists but was acting bizzarely (maybe with the behavior of some literary antifascist hero). I wonder if the TSA screener/c student would get the irony.

Probably they wouldnt. Doesn't sound like Kip would.

ananonymouspersonAugust 3, 2007 1:20 AM

why isnt bruce director of homeland security?

And does calling America the homeland seem super creepy to anyone who knows anything about history?

TimmyAugust 3, 2007 3:24 AM

RT (Registered Terrorist) is a great program and will prevent all possible attacks. Future terrorists are required to register as such, and to identify themselves at airport so that TSA can take action and prevent disaster. It's a pretty obvious and still clever solution, and soon we might be able to bring soda or even nail clippers onboard.

RT (Registered Traveler) was basicly same program, but tried to list all the safe passangers which had plead not blowing up or flying airplane to a building. All the rest were considered being terrorists.

I'm glad to read this interview as now I feel completely safe. All has been thought out thoroughly and there's no foolish security theater going on.

John KelseyAugust 3, 2007 4:39 AM

Timmy: They can have X.509 certs with the "evil" attribute set.

Everyone: The reality is that the TSA has a number of different jobs, and they only very rarely get any feedback on the hardest ones.

The almost-impossible job is preventing a carefully thought out attack to bring down a plane, done by people with time and expertise and funding. They hardly ever get practice with this, and each serious attack may be different. They have to defend every security gate at every airport in the US, because they're all connected. This is really, really hard, and I can see why they're kind of grasping at straws. The set of workable attacks is probably *enormous*, and so even having their own people working out such attacks probably doesn't help them all that much. (If there are ten workable attack strategies, they might find and block all. If there are a thousand, they probably won't find most of them, and blocking them all may be impractical.)

The easier jobs involve preventing accidental presence of dangerous things on planes, making an obvious show of force at the gates to reassure passengers, etc. They get to do this all the time, so there's some hope of getting pretty good at this. And there's some value in not having people accidentally bring flammable materials or loaded guns on the airplane.

What seems to me to be missing is some way to account for the time and inconvenience of the passengers, to balance against the value of more intrusive screening to resist various kinds of attack. It's hard to do this accounting, partly because the probability of a future very destructive terrorist attack via airliner is not known, and the probability that a given new procedure will block the next such attack is also not known. I wish I had something to suggest here, because IMO this is the big complaint about the TSA--they appear to be doing a lot of stuff that is high in inconvenience and low in impact.

HarryAugust 3, 2007 7:54 AM

@AnAnonymousPerson: I wonder what would happen to a person who carried a 4th amendment tote [...] but was acting bizzarely

I have such a tote. I have even fit a classic definition of suspicious flyer - last minute tix, one way, little luggage - while using such a tote. I'm disappointed to say that no one's remarked on my bag.

MarkAugust 3, 2007 11:08 AM

"We know terrorists use people who are not on watch lists"

...and so the point of maintaining a watch list is what, again?

simongabrielAugust 3, 2007 11:24 AM

I've often wondered why we don't just have air marshalls on every flight, honestly. Set up planes for security, get security folks actually on the plane. That's how you move it back from the checkpoint.

What we should do is take note of what I think it's the Israeli air travel does. After all, I'm sure things are a lot more dangerous over there.

JenniferMarch 30, 2008 6:14 AM

One thing about this concerns me. What if someone exhibits unusual or suspect behavior who isn't a threat. Such as someone who (like me) is autistic. I thankfully haven't had any real problems when flying. But I could see it being an issue for other autistic people. For example, autistic people generally don't make eye contact. That could look suspicious to an airport screener. I would hope that when they train people to spot suspect body language they also teach them about odd body language that is due to a developmental disability, mental illness, medical condition ETC.

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