Conversation with Kip Hawley, TSA Administrator (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a five-part series. Link to whole thing.

BS: Let's talk about ID checks. I've called the no-fly list a list of people so dangerous they cannot be allowed to fly under any circumstance, yet so innocent we can't arrest them even under the Patriot Act. Except that's not even true; anyone, no matter how dangerous they are, can fly without an ID ­or by using someone else's boarding pass. And the list itself is filled with people who shouldn't be on it -- dead people, people in jail, and so on -- and primarily catches innocents with similar names. Why are you bothering?

KH: Because it works. We just completed a scrub of every name on the no-fly list and cut it in half -- essentially cleaning out people who were no longer an active terror threat. We do not publicize how often the no-fly system stops people you would not want on your flight. Several times a week would low-ball it.

Your point about the no-ID and false boarding pass people is a great one. We are moving people who have tools and training to get at that problem. The bigger issue is that TSA is moving in the direction of security that picks up on behavior versus just keying on what we see in your bag. It really would be security theater if all we did was try to find possible weapons in that crunched fifteen seconds and fifteen feet after you anonymously walk through the magnetometer. We do a better job, with less aggravation of ordinary passengers, if we put people-based layers further ahead in the process -- behavior observation based on involuntary, observable muscle behavior, canine teams, document verification, etc.

BS: We'll talk about behavioral profiling later; no fair defending one security measure by pointing to another, completely separate, one. How can you claim ID cards work? Like the liquid ban, all it does is annoy innocent travelers without doing more than inconveniencing any future terrorists. Is it really good enough for you to defend me from terrorists too dumb to Google "print your own boarding pass"?

KH: We are getting at the fake boarding pass and ID issues with our proposal to Congress that would allow us to replace existing document checkers with more highly trained people with tools that would close those gaps. Without effective identity verification, watch lists don't do much, so this is a top priority.

Having highly trained TSOs performing the document checking function closes a security gap, adds another security layer, and pushes TSA's security program out in front of the checkpoint.

BS: Let's move on. Air travelers think you're capricious. Remember in April when the story went around about the Princeton professor being on a no-fly list because he spoke out against President Bush? His claims were easily debunked, but the real story is that so many people believed it. People believe political activity puts them on the list. People are afraid to complain about being mistreated at checkpoints because they're afraid it puts them on a list. Is there anything you can do to make this process more transparent?

KH: We need some help on this one. This is the biggest public pain point, dwarfing shoes and baggies.

First off, TSA does not add people to the watch-lists, no matter how cranky you are at a checkpoint. Second, political views have nothing to do with no-flys or selectees. These myths have taken on urban legend status. There are very strict criteria and they are reviewed by lots of separate people in separate agencies: it is for live terror concerns only. The problem comes from random selectees (literally mathematically random) or people who have the same name and birth date as real no-flys. If you can get a boarding pass, you are not on the no-fly list. This problem will go away when Secure Flight starts in 2008, but we can't seem to shake the false impression that ordinary Americans get put on a "list." I am open for suggestions on how to make the public "get it."

BS: It's hard to believe that there could be hundreds of thousands of people meeting those very strict criteria, and that's after the list was cut in half! I know the TSA does not control the no-fly and watch lists, but you're the public face of those lists. You're the aspect of homeland security that people come into direct contact with. Some people might find out they're on the list by being arrested, or being shipped off to Syria for torture, but most people find out they're on the list by being repeatedly searched and questioned for hours at airports.

The main problem with the list is that it's secret. Who is on the list is secret. Why someone's on is secret. How someone can get off is secret. There's no accountability and there's no transparency. Of course this kind of thing induces paranoia. It's the sort of thing you read about in history books about East Germany and other police states.

The best thing you can do to improve the problem is redress. People need the ability to see the evidence against them, challenge their accuser, and have a hearing in a neutral court. If they're guilty of something, arrest them. And if they're innocent, stop harassing them. It's basic liberty.

I don't actually expect you to fix this; the problem is larger than the TSA. But can you tell us something about redress? It's been promised to us for years now.

KH: Redress issues are divided into two categories: people on the no-fly list and people who have names similar to them.

In our experience, the first group is not a heavy user of the redress process. They typically don't want anything to do with the U.S. government. Still, if someone is either wrongly put on or kept on, the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) removes him or her immediately. In fact, TSA worked with the TSC to review every name, and that review cut the no-fly list in half. Having said that, once someone is really on the no-fly list, I totally agree with what you said about appeal rights. This is true across the board, not just with no-flys. DHS has recently consolidated redress for all DHS activities into one process called DHS TRIP. If you are mistaken for a real no-fly, you can let TSA know and we provide your information to the airlines, who right now are responsible for identifying no-flys trying to fly. Each airline uses its own system, so some can get you cleared to use kiosks, while others still require a visit to the ticket agent. When Secure Flight is operating, we'll take that in-house at TSA and the problem should go away.

BS: I still don't see how that will work, as long as the TSA doesn't have control over who gets on or off the list.

Part 4: Registered Traveler and behavioral profiling

Posted on August 1, 2007 at 6:12 AM • 92 Comments

Comments

DallasMillionMilerAugust 1, 2007 7:20 AM

This is really through the looking glass stuff. Thanks for sharing, Bruce.

TSKAugust 1, 2007 7:30 AM

If I did get the description of the no-fly list right, isn't it possible to misuse the no-fly list for my own purpose ?

Let's imagine I am living in another country. Now I have duped some people in the USA and they want to sue me. My government is helpful and will support the court order.
Ok, one week before the court order I freely and deliberately board a plane to the USA and when we got these papers to fill out the purpose of our travel, I simply insert wrong answers and scribble on it: "If I were a terrorist, I too wouldn't fill out this stupid survey correctly, would I ? By the way, get another president".
After some hours of interview (getting as obnoxious as possible without doing anything illegal) I am kicked back
to my home country.

When the court order is issued, they realize that I am not able to enter the USA because I am on the no-fly list. Oops. They want me, but can't get me because the left hand don't know what the right hand is doing.
And when even a US senator faces serious trouble to get removed...

Is that possible ?

Frank S.August 1, 2007 7:31 AM

"KH: Redress issues are divided into two categories: people on the no-fly list and people who have names similar to them.

In our experience, the first group is not a heavy user of the redress process."

Is he trying to be funny or is he really that cynical?

DaveAugust 1, 2007 7:33 AM

"BS: [...] anyone, no matter how dangerous they are, can fly without an ID ­or by using someone else's boarding pass. And the list itself is filled with people who shouldn't be on it -- dead people, people in jail, and so on -- and primarily catches innocents with similar names. Why are you bothering?

KH: Because it works."

Fantastic.

Colossal SquidAugust 1, 2007 7:34 AM

"Because it works. We just completed a scrub of every name on the no-fly list and cut it in half -- essentially cleaning out people who were no longer an active terror threat."

Wait, so what Kip is saying that everyone left on the list is an active terror threat? And that everyone removed was a threat, but now isn't? Hope there's no false positives 'cos otherwise that sounds a little defamatory.
Oh wait I forget, we never make mistakes, right?

GrahameAugust 1, 2007 7:35 AM

Thanks for this. It's good stuff.

It's unfortunate that TSA (Alice, therefore) and Joe Bob Public (Bob, therefore) do not trust each other. And there appears to be substantial reasons for both Alice and Bob to distrust each other, yet they must deal with each other.

Fortunately there is a solution to this problem, for Alice and Bob to use a 3rd party to manage their trust issues. It would seem to me that there is a selection of people, published authors with credentials in both academic and general press, with financial independence yet good standing with the US government. Bruce would be one in the field of security. The fellow who wrote my first year chemistry text book and also wrote in New Scientist would be another candidate. Bob could trust this group to review the secret evidence on their behalf, and Alice could trust them to not to give the secrets to those who shouldn't have them.

It's got to be better than nothing. I'd rather not have security by obscurity in this regard, but we have to be realistic and accept that TSA is a cleft stick in that regard and it's not going to change.

GrahameAugust 1, 2007 7:39 AM

> In our experience, the first group is not a heavy user of the redress process.

I think he means, people who are meant to be on the no-fly list. Not those that actually are.

I deal with person identification in my job. It's not easy. A little more information about the minimum level of personal information required to be on the list, and the amount required to get oneself differentiated from a person meant to be on the list would be appropriate, and I cannot see that it would substantially change the attack profile of the list itself. In fact, by lowering the false positive rate, it would improve things

JoshuaAugust 1, 2007 7:40 AM

Sec. Hawley claims that at least two people a week are prevented from flying who we wouldn't want flying, due to the no-fly list. Two questions.

Who are these people?

And perhaps more importantly: Why don't we want them flying?

These are the questions that the TSA has never answered, and these unanswered questions are why everybody hates the damned no-fly list. It's going to take more than Sec. Hawley saying "It works!" to convince people that the list is a good system. Frankly, we don't trust him. The way to restore trust in a system isn't to say, "Well, just trust us!" If we trusted you, the questions wouldn't be necessary. The way to restore damaged trust is to answer the damned questions.

MichaelAugust 1, 2007 7:51 AM

Reading this just proves what I've believed all along: TSA has done nothing but spend our tax money and provide screening no better than what private companies were providing before.

MikeAugust 1, 2007 7:55 AM

Ummm...didn't the FAA and TSA already admit that the names of *real* terrorists are NEVER added to the No-Fly List because then it would "tip them off" and they'd know they were being watched? They basically stated that the only people guaranteed NOT to be on the No-Fly List were actual terrorists.

JustinAugust 1, 2007 8:16 AM

If this interview series was Mr. Hawley's idea to help address the image issues the TSA has, it is not working.

Way go go Kipper, you're doing a heckuva job.

Brandioch ConnerAugust 1, 2007 8:19 AM

@Josuha
"Who are these people?

And perhaps more importantly: Why don't we want them flying?"

EXACTLY!!!!!

As Bruce phrased it: "I've called the no-fly list a list of people so dangerous they cannot be allowed to fly under any circumstance, yet so innocent we can't arrest them even under the Patriot Act."

WHO are these people and WHY aren't we arresting them when they show up at an airport?

More lying crap from Kip Hawley.

DocAugust 1, 2007 8:31 AM

"The problem comes from random selectees (literally mathematically random)..."

I'm sorry. Did this mean that some people are put on the no-fly at random? Surely, I misread that.

If, however, the no-fly list is keeping people I wouldn't want to fly with off my airplane several times a week, why not publicize them? I'd really like to know what I've been protected from.

Maybe then I'd agree with more of the nonsense I have to put up with each time I fly.

FlynnAugust 1, 2007 8:36 AM

"We do not publicize how often the no-fly system stops people you would not want on your flight. Several times a week would low-ball it."

followed by:

"...allow us to replace existing document checkers with more highly trained people with tools that would close those gaps. Without effective identity verification, watch lists don't do much..."

Well, which is it? Either they're effective, or they don't do much.

How do we know he's lying? Because his lips are moving.

Thanks, Bruce, for publishing this.

AnthonyAugust 1, 2007 8:43 AM

" people on the no-fly list.. is not a heavy user of the redress process. They typically don't want anything to do with the U.S. government."

translation: if you're on the list, you must be guilty. A lot like Guantanamo Bay's procedure, then.

MichaelAugust 1, 2007 8:45 AM

So he's saying that there are 150,000 active terror threats, that anybody who isn't a terrorist and requests removal from the list is removed immediately, that name-and-birthdate is the only thing that gets you stopped, and that anybody who says otherwise is just parroting an urban legend.

I can't believe he would actually come out in public and lie that blatantly, and truly imagine that anybody could fall for it. He must really, really, really think we're all stupid.

RobAugust 1, 2007 8:49 AM

He is never going to REALLY answer one of your questions, is he?

Douche. Bag.

Makes my brain hurt.

HarryAugust 1, 2007 8:49 AM

@Doc: "The problem comes from random selectees (literally mathematically random)..." [...] Did this mean that some people are put on the no-fly at random? Surely, I misread that.

Yup, you did. KH's random selectees are flyers with boarding passes who are randomly selected for more intense scrutiny.

I did not know the US does this sort of random selection. Why not publicize it?

Last time I flew into Brazil, random selection was publicly indicated by a flashing light and flyers knew the selection was made by a computer and not a person. Brazil instituted the procedure because airport personnel were using racially-biased opinions to select flyers.

MrAtozAugust 1, 2007 8:58 AM

Such double-speak! First:

"It [the no-fly list] works!"

Then just one question later:

"Without effective identity verification, watch lists don't do much"

AnonymousAugust 1, 2007 9:03 AM

Whenever I see one of these articles in my newsreader, "BS" catches my eye, and I momentarily think it's a comment on something Hawley said instead of Bruce's initials.

ThoughtCrimeAugust 1, 2007 9:16 AM

I completely agree with the arguments being made -- Bruce and others have raised many great issues.

It seems that most of these fall back on a single problem: The government is trying to stop crimes before they're committed. Everyone wants the government to do this, but everyone is upset about *how* they're doing it.

If the no-fly list is inadequate (despite TSA claims), what is a better approach?

... I would love to see a working method that is more convenient than existing TSA procedures and that is completely transparent.

btw: I'm playing devils advocate. I travel weekly, and hate TSA inconveniences. My stance is best summed up by the following:

while (TSA.isOperational()) {
if (TSA.getWastedManHours() > avgPerson.getLifetimeHours()) {
TSAKilledSomebody();
}
}

AndrewAugust 1, 2007 9:20 AM

Wow.

>. We do not publicize how often the no-fly system stops people you would not want on your flight.

Excuse me?

If I don't want them on my flight, it's because either 1) they're wanted on criminal charges or 2) they're an active suspect in a criminal investigation.

1) is easy. ARREST THEM. This means give them the boarding pass, let them go to the TSA checkpoint, and quickly but efficiently take them down once their identity as a fugitive has been verified.

2) is harder. I also cannot believe that there are 150,000 active suspects in a counter-terrorism investigation. I am suspicious of why we need a "watch list" at all -- and I feel as a taxpayer and a citizen, that if the TSA wants anything from me but scorn and contempt, they can explain to me, in small words, WHY a watch list is necessary.

Given that lots of potential terrorists will never be on a watch list, and that the majority of people on the watch lists are law-abiding citizens, I feel that the watch list is an "anti-security" measure that causes many more problems than it solves.

> TSA does not add people to the watch-lists, no matter how cranky you are at a checkpoint.

Good to know. I look forward to testing the Constitutional waters with a toe, perhaps by wearing a shirt that says "TSA: Doing Security Theater Since 2001"

Bets on my experience that day?

skinkAugust 1, 2007 9:23 AM

Bruce gave us the numbers not too long ago:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/07/terrorist_watch.html

About 20,000 "positive matches" in 2006. That's over 380 a week. "Lowballing it", indeed! So what Sec. Hawley is saying is that over 350 people "you don't want on your flight" are intercepted each week. Are they arrested? If so, surely we'd hear about it? Could 300 people disappear every week for a year without it being news?

In Bruce's analysis, he pointed out that since these events are not publicized, we can assume that they are false positives, which would contradict Sec. Hawley's claim that the list works.

Given the secretary's stated goal for this interview series, it seems to be backfiring badly. Has he asked you stop yet, Bruce?

DavidAugust 1, 2007 9:24 AM

A better approach would be to drop all the additional junk security after 9/11. Keep the cockpit isolation, don't worry about the passengers.

The security on September 11, 2001, was quite adequate. The terrorists had knives, not guns. They succeeded because they used a new attack mode, but after three successes it ran out. That attack mode is no longer usable.

The additional hassles since 9/11 have not contributed proportionately to our security, and are approved of only by bureaucrats, politicians, and cowards.

BetaAugust 1, 2007 9:26 AM

@Harry: KH's random selectees are flyers with boarding passes who are randomly selected for more intense scrutiny.

Randomly my foot. They tell you that you've been selected only after they scan your ticket. I, a citizen, flew a few times with my girlfriend, a foreigner (gasp) from an -istan (gasp!) whose last name ended with a vowel (GASP!!). I was never selected, she always was.

SpiderAugust 1, 2007 9:34 AM

@Andrew
You really are giving TSA way too much credit. No one working the line would have any idea what "security theater" means. Its like expecting to be arrested for walking into blockbuster with the DSS code on a t-shit.

HarryAugust 1, 2007 9:37 AM

@Beta: Randomly my foot.

You'll have to random KH's foot. To answer Doc's question whether people were randomly added to the No Fly list, I paraphrased KH. I did not offer my judgment of the issue.

PaeniteoAugust 1, 2007 9:54 AM

@skink: Excellent observation.

I wonder if Bruce could have pressed the point somewhat further.

AleAugust 1, 2007 10:00 AM

@Paeniteo:

Maybe he could. Hawley seems completely impervious to reason and logical argument, though. I doubt that any fruitful outcome would have been achieved. Maybe he could have been further shamed, but at this point that has been well covered.

kip's nephewAugust 1, 2007 10:26 AM

The solution to all the above issues is political. After the next presidential election and a further change to congress with a major reorientation of parties and an end to the war of the usa against the world we will see dhs and tsa change or be eliminated altogether.

vote early, vote often

ChrisAugust 1, 2007 10:41 AM

Bruce, I'm very glad that you were able to secure this interview, and I don't see how anyone could have done it better.

Alas, it's not good enough, and by now it's clear that it was never going to be good enough. You are asking clear, undodgeable questions, and receiving ridiculous double-speak answers that contradict themselves repeatedly in the same paragraph. You are then pointing out that fact and asking the same question in a way that prohibits the double-speak, and receiving different double-speak.

The thing I hope is that Mr. Hawley doesn't actually think his audience is fooled. We're pretty sure he's not a moron, which means that we're pretty sure he is intentionally avoiding all the questions and intentionally giving answers he knows to be incorrect and misleading. With that as his goal, and no accountability lurking in the wings, there was never a chance of getting an intelligent answer out of him.

But we sure appreciate your efforts!

MikeAugust 1, 2007 10:50 AM

I've been reading this series, and really enjoying it.

I'm a frequent traveler, and until recently, never had much of an issue with the "no-fly" list.

Then...I was traveling one day, and found I couldn't check in on-line as usual, and then tried the kiosk at the airport. No joy.

At the ticket counter, the agent told me with much dread that I was on the "no-fly" list, and that my traveling experience was about to get much, much harder.

She then scanned my passport, and handed me a boarding pass. :-)

Apparently, I am not on the "no-fly" list, since you cannot get a boarding pass if you are. I must be on some double-secret probation list, but of course the only redress that I have is the DHS TRIP that Mr. Hawley mentioned.

Later, during the same set of trips, and subsequently, I've been able to check in on-line again. So what happened?

I have no idea.

That's the crux of this whole ridiculous thing.

Brandioch ConnerAugust 1, 2007 10:53 AM

@Chris
"With that as his goal, and no accountability lurking in the wings, there was never a chance of getting an intelligent answer out of him."

Actually, Bruce has gotten an answer out of him.

The answer is that Kip does not understand security and is focusing on "CYA" processes for each SPECIFIC attack.

And that Kip will instantly resort to attempts to bull**** anyone who knows more than he does by hiding behind "I could tell you, but it's a secret".

The answer is - Kip is a failure, Kip's department is a failure and Kip's plans are failures.

The only reason we have NOT been attacked here again is that there are so few terrorists who have the skill set needed to perform an attack in the USofA.

FPAugust 1, 2007 10:55 AM

@Beta:

KH was talking about random selectees, not about random additions to the no-fly list. There are random searches at airport security checkpoints; I am not sure if the agents just grab people to meet a quota or whether they have an electronic (i.e., non-profiling) device to make the choice. In fact, I believe that the magnetometers give random false positives, so that their operators don't get bored by countless hours of negatives. (I have been well-trained to put everything metal into my backpack, and still the magnetometers sometimes triggers. Once I asked whether it was a random false positive, and the agent affirmed that.)

Given the number of passengers, some people will get randomly selected multiple times, and draw (false) conclusions from that.

@Harry:

When I traveled to Mexico, customs consisted of a push button. Every passenger had to push it, and if the light came on green, you could pass, if it came on red, you were -- randomly -- searched.

Rich WilsonAugust 1, 2007 11:13 AM

'the no-fly system stops people you would not want on your flight"

Wow!Kip Hawley himself is on the list? Whoda thunk it!

HarryAugust 1, 2007 11:22 AM

@FP:I believe that the magnetometers give random false positives, so that their operators don't get bored by countless hours of negatives.

If doing so means that the operators are alert and so can notice real problems, I believe this makes false positives an effective security measure. How very interesting - and unexpected. Bruce, your thoughts?

Mexico does it about as Brazil does, except that in Brazil it applies only to passengers who enter the "nothing to declare" line. Perhaps it does in Mexico as well but you didn't want to burden us with unnecessary detail. (I, on the other hand, clearly have no such qualms.)

GeorgeAugust 1, 2007 11:24 AM

@ KH: we can't seem to shake the false impression that ordinary Americans get put on a "list." I am open for suggestions on how to make the public "get it."

With any system that severely impacts the public but is "necessarily" shrouded in secrecy, "false impressions," "myths," and "urban legends" will inevitably proliferate to fill the vacuum. If Hawley and his masters insist on secrecy and refuse any trustworthy oversight on "national security" grounds, the public will never "get it" no matter how many times Hawley or his masters insist that we must "trust them."

In the groupthink mentality of the Bush administration, secrecy may be synonymous with security. But if they expect the public to cooperate and respect their supposed efforts to "fight evil," they're going to have to sacrifice at least some of their dogma if we're ever going to have a real chance at defeating a genuine enemy.

@KH: In fact, TSA worked with the TSC to review every name, and that review cut the no-fly list in half.

That still works out to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of names (depending on which estimate of the actual "necessarily" classifed number you believe). Are there really that many people who threaten aviation, yet are not subject to being whisked away to Syria for outsourced information extraction?

The underlying problem here is that Hawley (and probably his masters as well) is incapable of either recognizing or admitting that the systems are fundamentally defective. But he does merit half a mark for recognizing that the public perceives that the systems are not merely defective but blatantly arbitrary, capricious, and stupid. All he seems interested in doing is making minimal, incremental patches in reluctant response to extensive criticism that he probably believes nobody has any right to express in a time of war.

So he's agreeing to be interviewed in the hope that deigning to be asked hard questions will put a human face on a reviled agency. It will also give him the opportunity to dodge, evade, prevaricate, and spin sufficiently to neutralize critics just as his masters have been doing since 2001. He may now realize that he chose the wrong forum for that. He should have stuck to Fox News. Or let Alberto Gonzales do the talking for him, since he has much more skill and experence in prevarication.

@KH: If you are mistaken for a real no-fly, you can let TSA know and we provide your information to the airlines, who right now are responsible for identifying no-flys trying to fly. Each airline uses its own system, so some can get you cleared to use kiosks, while others still require a visit to the ticket agent.

In other words, the redress process is just as arbitrary and capricious as everything else the TSA does. Once you've been identified, even in error, your hassle factor will increase for the rest of your life. But that will keep us safe.

I hope you were wearing tasty shoes, Kippy.

bzelbobAugust 1, 2007 11:28 AM

From the article:

BS: "The main problem with the list is that it's secret. Who is on the list is secret. Why someone's on is secret. How someone can get off is secret. There's no accountability and there's no transparency. Of course this kind of thing induces paranoia. It's the sort of thing you read about in history books about East Germany and other police states."

Just plain brilliant Bruce. I don't know how much clearer you could make it for him.

What is it exactly that the no-fly list is doing for us?

If we can't see or monitor it, how do we actually know it is working?

What good government ever came out of intense secrecy?

GeorgeAugust 1, 2007 11:29 AM

@Spider: Its like expecting to be arrested for walking into blockbuster with the DSS code on a t-shi[r]t.

If the TSA can crow about catching someone wearing a fake military uniform, imagine the noise they'd make if they nabbed someone wearing a DMCA violation on a t-shirt. That would be another stunning victory for their "behavioral analysis."

Patrick HenryAugust 1, 2007 11:30 AM

Bruce,

It's clear to me that you are very angry about this bumbling TSA. I am very angry, too.

Many of Kip Hawley the Idiot's replies are shockingly and fundamentally anti-American.

He must not be allowed to get away with statments like this: "We do not publicize how often the no-fly system stops people you would not want on your flight. Several times a week would low-ball it."

The citizens demand to know the actual and true effectiveness of their own government's policies, especially those which limit their own freedom to travel. It is inexcusable not to make public any such no-fly list, the reasons why anyone is on such a list, every time such a list is used to stop anyone from flying, and have clear and rational means to remove oneself from such a list if on it unjustly.

The existence of such a list itself is fundamentally anti-American. Every American is innocent until proven guilty. This list treats a secret selection of citizens as guilty without trial and without redress.

The only people guilty of a crime are those who create and enforce this list. Yet the only people being punished are those on the list, and even worse, those whose names merely "sound like" those on the list.

Kip Hawley, you are an idiot. But worse than any mere idiot, you are an idiot with great power to do harm, and you've no guilt about excercising that power.

WE DO NOT TRUST YOU, KIP HAWLEY.

NO REAL AMERICAN EVER WILL.

You show a clear lack of understanding of what it means to be an American, or what America is.

STEP DOWN NOW, KIP HAWLEY.

KrisAugust 1, 2007 11:33 AM

@Andrew: Good to know. I look forward to testing the Constitutional waters with a toe, perhaps by wearing a shirt that says "TSA: Doing Security Theater Since 2001"

I do this everytime I fly. I had a t-shirt made that says "Kip Hawley is an Idiot - the bill of rights still applies at airport checkpoints despite TSA's assertion to the countrary" with his pic and a dunce cap made and wear it every time I fly. Most of the time, TSA just laughs and they think he's an idiot too.

Never been secondaried or harassed for it yet.

You'd be surprised how many airline employees (pilots, gate agents, etc) laugh and agree with me.

dragonfrogAugust 1, 2007 11:33 AM

"Second, political views have nothing to do with no-flys or selectees."

Indeed. Suppose for a moment one were to vocally and publicly maintain that the only possible solution to the crisis in the Middle East would be for Israel to back off to its 1967 borders (or even further, perhaps calling for them to move to Alaska as Roosevelt proposed) and to formally renounce its protection of "settlers", offering treaties to neighbouring countries that settlers' behaviour is entirely a matter for criminal courts in the country where it takes place. Suppose one were to publish essays to that effect (never once advocating violence, but perhaps suggesting that Israeli policy had a significant role in encouraging much of the violence in the region).

Why do I have trouble believing that those political views wouldn't get one put on any lists, or lead to any difficulties in flying?

t3knomanserAugust 1, 2007 11:37 AM

Again, a quick summary:
Bruce: "The No-Fly List doesn't work, and here's the myriad reasons why it doesn't. Why do you persist in this madness?"
Kip: "Because it works!"

If I hadn't learned to expect this crap from my government, I'd be shocked.

dragonfrogAugust 1, 2007 11:39 AM

Sorry for the double post, but

How do we know that the two or more "people you wouldn't want flying" every week are terrorist threats?

Perhaps what he means is that, of the approximately 380 people a week who are prevented from flying, at least 2 (as many as 4 or 5) have collicky babies, or bad gas, or are those annoying people who want to talk to you about their kidney problems when you're trying to read your detective novel.

BernardoAugust 1, 2007 11:41 AM

"Without effective identity verification, watch lists don't do much".

The fact that Kip Hawley admitted this in such a straightforward way needs to be widely publicized.

john doeAugust 1, 2007 11:49 AM

Sadly, I'm one of those innocent American citizens (born and bred) that is (or maybe now was if the purge is true) on the no-fly list.

I have a *very* common American name.

I can't really believe anything that Kip says. What's the adage? His lips are moving - he must be lying?

ErinAugust 1, 2007 12:06 PM

I don't understand something -- if the list is secret, how does the ability to challenge your presence on it help? How do you even find out that you're on it if it's secret? Do you just show up at the airport one day and they won't let you board but they won't tell you why? Do you have to infer it? or play Twenty Questions with the ticketing agent? How do you know for sure that you're on the list until you try again? Are you allowed to tell your family, friends, coworkers that you are on the list, or does that count as disclosing classified information? Do you get refunded by somebody for all of the money lost to the no-fly hole?

I'm not sure whether there's known background stuff here of which I'm ignorant, or if it's just that the no-fly list really is a total Nazi mindfuck. Mr. Hawley, if you're reading this, that's part of the problem. I simply don't understand how redress happens if the list is secret.

Have any Schneierites designed anti-TSA shirts that are for sale at cafepress or some other site? I'd love to wear one on my next flight, if it doesn't give my husband a coronary... he totally believes I'm going to get hustled off to Guantanamo if I even look at them crossly. Though I will say that bursting into loud angry frustrated tears at their idiocy does not get one hauled off to Guantanamo. (The condescending but well-meaning TSO asked what he could do and I told him to vote Democrat next time.)

BelowTheNoiseLevelAugust 1, 2007 12:07 PM

Taking my shoes off at the airport is like having to lock and unlock my car door. The lock helps prevent my car from being stolen. But I realize it can still be stolen. And it sure is a real annoyance every time I have to do it. So why doesn’t everyone complain about car locks?

MichaelAugust 1, 2007 12:45 PM

"If you are mistaken for a real no-fly, you can let TSA know and we provide your information to the airlines, who right now are responsible for identifying no-flys trying to fly. Each airline uses its own system, so some can get you cleared to use kiosks, while others still require a visit to the ticket agent."

I just want to verify something: We have a government agency that is ostensibly charged with the duty of providing security. Said agency chooses to delegate part of the enforcement duties to several competing private entities, each of which has its own system. How can the end result be anything other than a capricious debacle?

I remain unconvinced that Secure Flight is quite the panacea that Sec. Hawley is hoping for (e.g., see http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/07/secure_flight.html, even though it is an old post). Despite that, it seems to me that the only way a no-fly identification system could ever be successfuly would be for the TSA to take over full responsibility for checking identification. I'm not talking about that bogus check they do before you go through security. I mean when you first check in and get your boarding pass. I fail to see how any other hybrid/free enterprise system could consistently and appropriate enforce such an identification process.

Michael AshAugust 1, 2007 12:47 PM

@ BelowTheNoiseLevel

Because I can leave my car unlocked if I wish. And because car locks vastly improve the security of my car (while being completely optional) and making people take off their shoes doesn't do anything for the security of air travel.

Geoff LaneAugust 1, 2007 12:50 PM

Why shouldn't the no-fly list be published? Let's see.

1. People would sue when they found they were incorrectly listed.

2. Everybody would notice the various pretend names that are the foreign equivalent of Donald Duck and John Doe.

3. Everybody would notice that their particular favourite terrorist was missing.

4. The list ends with Copyright Halliburton Energy Services 2005.

So, why should the list be published? Because we are supposed to be the good guys and not running a secret surveillance society that the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit would be proud of.

Seriously, the no-fly list is possibly the most dangerous idea the TSA has. Almost by definition, the man who next succeeds in bringing down a crowded plane will not be on the list, like 300 million Americans and quite a few billion other humans.

Think about it - there are maybe a million potential suicide terrorists and the vast majority are currently outside the US and cannot easily get into a position of attempting an attack. How many out of 300 million Americans are currently feeling suicidal? Stats indicate about 500,000 people end up in hospital each year after self harm. It only takes one of those people to decide that taking out an entire plane load is the best way to commit suicide.

GlennAugust 1, 2007 12:52 PM

Bruce: "We'll talk about behavioral profiling later; no fair defending one security measure by pointing to another, completely separate, one."

Kudos, Bruce. Firm, fair, clear and courteous. I rarely see career journalists doing such a good job, being that direct and assertive.

Excellent, scary series.

john doeAugust 1, 2007 1:16 PM

@Erin:

The way I found out I was on the list is when I went to the airport to fly on a domestic business trip. The ticketing agent then told me that I was on the no-fly list. So yes, you'll be told that you are on the list, but not why.

You are then given the procedure to get off the list. You have to come back with your passport such that they can call DHS and verify that you aren't the PARTICULAR "john doe" on the watch list.

So my advice? Always carry your passport when flying - even domestic.

American ScotAugust 1, 2007 1:25 PM

Great series Bruce!
As an airline employee, I have to laugh at the double speak of KH! All these layers of supposed security are nothing but window dressing, designed to keep the public flying.
As far as the No Fly list goes, I have a friend that was on it. His name was similar to that of an aging IRA member who was at least thirty years older than him. it took him over a three months to finally get his named cleared! Immediately removed my backside!

kateAugust 1, 2007 1:25 PM

@Below
How is taking off your shoes like locking your car? Locking your car protects against the limited group of people who would steal from or just steal your car if the door was unlocked, but won't bother to break the window.
Removing your shoes at the airport protects against what exactly?

Un/locking my door is hitting a button. Taking off my shoes is not.

StomperAugust 1, 2007 1:28 PM

Mike noted:

"Ummm...didn't the FAA and TSA already admit that the names of *real* terrorists are NEVER added to the No-Fly List because then it would "tip them off" and they'd know they were being watched? They basically stated that the only people guaranteed NOT to be on the No-Fly List were actual terrorists."

If this is true, then a real terrorist should be able to test his status periodically, by purchasing a ticket for a short, cheap flight. If he's on the list with everyione else, then he's safely buried in the crowd of potential suspects, and the status check doesn't even cost him. If he's suddenly off the list and his ticket purchase goes through, then he knows the Feds are on to him, and it is time to run.

Ordinarily, I would say that is just too stupid to be true. But after reading this interview to date, I am perfectly willing to believe that stupidity governs these policies.

flying toilet terror labsAugust 1, 2007 1:32 PM

I want to go back to Bruce's second part of this interview posted earlier, where the issue of liquid explosives came up. Kip makes reference to the sophistication of liquid explosives.

Sophisticated indeed. In fact, damn near IMPOSSIBLE would say anyone with some understanding of basic chemistry and titration.

Please take a look at this article from 2006 if you're curious about the feasibility of what the TSA says about binary explosives.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/17/flying_toilet_terror_labs/

Their arguments are straw men and everything "fatherland" security does is to maintain fear.

GelfAugust 1, 2007 1:44 PM

Patrick Henry: "Every American is innocent until proven guilty. This list treats a secret selection of citizens as guilty without trial and without redress."

I ordinarily would not be inclined to such nit-pickery, but in the present political climate I feel obliged to clarify that EVERY PERSON UNDER AMERICAN JURISDICTION is innocent until proven guilty, whether an American or not.

Frankly, I suspect you didn't mean to suggest such a distinction, but it still bears repeating.

workergnomeAugust 1, 2007 1:57 PM

BelowTheNoiseLevel,
I think the reason people don't complain about car locks is because the security value of that is obviously larger than the inconvenience. And that's not universally true--my parents live in Small Town America, and people don't even take their keys out of the ignition when they park their car, because the chance of it being stolen is so low compared to the inconvenience of carrying keys that they choose not to bother.

The problem with the shoes is that the inconvenience is high, and the obvious security gain is low. Mr. K.H. seems to think that the actual security gain is high, but without revealing why, it's hard to understand how that could be the case.

RSaundersAugust 1, 2007 2:02 PM

If Kip says >2 people per week are true positives, and GSA says the positives per week average 380 (oft cited this thread) then we can draw two possible conclusions:

1) The "list" is 200 times more likely to be incorrect than correct.

2) Out of 100 people per year actually kept off planes for a good reason, not even 1% can be publicly identified.

If (2) were false, Kip would no doubt have trotted out that one as a "for example". QED.

If Kip thinks that (1) raises far more doubt than (2) - he's kidding himself. TSA could start a PR campaign to sell the notion that (1) is "worth the hassle." They haven't, but the could.

No PR campaign will ever sell the American public on (2). We're just too used to transparency in our law enforcement, and the "list" seems like law enforcement to most folks. The reason we're used to transparency in law enforcement is because we've demanded it over and over. The reason we demand it is the literally awful counter examples that have been set whenever we didn't have it. Ethnic profiling, racial profiling, organized crime, ... the list goes on and on. When law enforcement is exposed for putting honest folks in jail, they diminish the degree to which we accept that the policeman is always right. That's why we have jury trial, it's not to save money, save hassle, or get knowledgeable folks to hear cases.

Until we get the sort of transparency we expect from local cops, nobody is going to believe Kip's catching 100 "bad guy"s a week. Frankly, they are going to believe the contrary "Kip's never caught anybody", just because it seems so much more likely.

TSAfanAugust 1, 2007 2:02 PM

I love this guy! Here's another "This is great, even though it's broken" comment-pairing from the guy:

BS: Why are you bothering (with the no-fly list)?
KH: Because it works.
Then...
KH: Without effective identity verification, watch lists don't do much, so this is a top priority.

lpasseyAugust 1, 2007 2:03 PM

KH: "Without effective identity verification, watch lists don't do much, so this is a top priority."

I find this to be one of the most chilling statements in the entire interview. It seems that what the TSA desires, and is pursuing, is internal, domestic passports, one of the hallmarks of the modern police state.

Nathan MyersAugust 1, 2007 2:33 PM

I always ask TSA personnel if they couldn't find an honest job. Sometimes they say "that's not so easy."

paulAugust 1, 2007 2:35 PM

I don't want people who talk on their cell phones after the cabin door is closed on my flight. I don't want people with screaming babies on my flight. Everyone else, unless they are actively carrying dangerous materials or doing a serious dry run for same (not some old lady with leaking icepacks) should be welcome.

And good luck shoving all the responsibility for people who "merely" have the wrong name onto the airlines...

MovedOn.orgAugust 1, 2007 2:57 PM

Judging by all the blatantly naive comments and negative criticism the “No Fly List��? generates, it probably comes as a complete surprise to everyone here that many U. S. law enforcement entities maintain lists of suspect individuals. It’s nothing new and has been modus operandi even before the J. Edgar Hoover era. Combined, these lists doubtlessly dwarf the “No Fly List��? and probably contain far more mistaken identities and innocent people. Furthermore, no amount of prying will uncover those names and likewise there’s no method for redress. Could we all just move on to the next horse to flog?

And here’s a good one, the exceedingly flawed credit report “list��?. But wait, the government doesn’t control that…

DavidAugust 1, 2007 3:47 PM

@MovedOn.org
If I'm on an ordinary list of suspicious individuals, it isn't going to affect my life particularly. If I'm on the No-Fly list, it will cause me a great deal of unforeseen inconvenience if I try to fly somewhere. There's a difference between a list of people to be watched, and a list of people to be prevented from doing perfectly normal things.

As far as the credit reports go, that's a problem, but they aren't government-sanctioned. They do not have the force of law or government regulation. That's a big difference. Corporations will do as they please, but the United States government exists to serve me (and about three hundred million other people, of course).

AnonymousAugust 1, 2007 3:55 PM

"In our experience, the first group is not a heavy user of the redress process."

This implies that there are heavy users of the redress process. If there are, then even the TSA has to be aware that their system is fubared.

ThathsAugust 1, 2007 4:06 PM

"We do not publicize how often the no-fly system stops people you would not want on your flight. Several times a week would low-ball it."

Let us conservatively assume "several" refers to 3. If the no-fly list is able to stop real terrorists at this rate (and the terrorists get arrested in the process, I assume), in a year it would have stopped 52*3 = 156 people.

Somehow I find it hard to believe that there are that many terrorists in the US who want to hijack or blow up a plane.

derfAugust 1, 2007 4:26 PM

I've seen this discussion about airport security once before:

"HEADQUARTERS?!? What is it?"

"Well, its a big building where generals meet. But that's not important right now."

Aaron MuderickAugust 1, 2007 4:34 PM

I don't understand why a trusted 3rd party cannot review and report on TSA security measures. A special panel from Congress? Independent counsel?

The goal is our safety and security. That goal can only be achieved from input, revision, and the ability to accept mistakes.

ckAugust 1, 2007 5:17 PM

"We do not publicize how often the no-fly system stops people you would not want on your flight."

That's like not publicizing how often people get arrested. In whose alternate reality are we safer if potential criminals don't know of anyone getting busted for breaking the law? Kip Hawley must get a really good price on crack, because he's apparently smoking staggering quantities of it.

I guess it's only fitting that a DHS TRIP sounds like some hallucinatory experience from the 60's.

tasery goodnessAugust 1, 2007 5:55 PM

I think we should put tasers in the seatbacks. Then everyone would be equally, and nonlethally, armed inside the cabin. Would you hijack a plane with 100+ tasers in it?

Down with the TSA

SteelheadAugust 1, 2007 8:10 PM

One of the most glaring issues with Homeland Security/TSA is the lack of experienced, qualified leadership. Kip Hawley is a prime example. He is nothing but a political hack and part of the BushCo corporate appointment process.

Anonymous PilotAugust 1, 2007 9:28 PM

Check your ticket. If it has "SSSS" on it, you've been selected for additional screening. POLITELY ask the desk agent WHY, and to Please Remove it.

DougCAugust 1, 2007 9:53 PM

Personally, I think it's all misdirection. Once your rights are taken by this and other methods, what does it really matter what the stated reason is? Your rights are gone, never to return. Surveillence of all flyers (who are supposedly the movers and shakers) could have lots of underlying purposes other than working against some mostly imaginary threat of a bomber. I think we're letting our nerdy side get too focused on the wrong stuff here. When we rail about phone tapping it's the same thing -- we're missing an important point. Rights gone, bad tradeoff, and the reasons might just not be the stated ones. We see how ridiculous the stated ones are -- so a smart person would be looking for the real ones. /tinfoil hat

John FaughnanAugust 1, 2007 10:41 PM

I really hope Hawley is not so unthinking as to believe he had acceptable responses to Bruce's questions. I prefer to think he was dissembling while trying to think of a face saving way out of the non-fly list mess.

Otherwise I'd have to think he's a dim bulb, and I'd rather not think that.

miwAugust 2, 2007 3:09 AM

If the fly-list is correct, there are 150,000 terroists worldwide. These guys must be terribly ineffective. Assuming TSA does a hugely effective job by preventing 99% percent of these persons from making an attack, it still leaves 1500 terrorists that somehow manage to avoid detection, but not being able to even pull off a simple terror attempt?

Daniel, TSAAugust 2, 2007 6:52 AM

All you cynics here who don't think the TSA is doing a good job, we have already tracked down your IP addresses. We'll be contacting your ISPs soon to get your names, to add to the no-fly list ...

JeremyDuffy.comAugust 2, 2007 7:16 AM

I'm amused (and hardly surprised) that I haven't read one comment yet in the three interviews so far that supported the TSA's viewpoint in any way, shape, or form.

It's really gratifying that people all know and understand the problem. Now, about getting it fixed...

HarryAugust 2, 2007 8:14 AM

@Anonymous Pilot: the one time I had SSSS it was called for. I bought a one-way ticket, 12 hours before the flight, and had no luggage at all. (I had a good explanation - I was flying to visit a terminally ill relative, I had gear at his home, and planned to drive home.)

I admit, I was tempted to pay in cash just to complete the trifecta.

bzelbobAugust 2, 2007 9:54 AM

One additional thing that needs to be pointed out is the utter craziness of trying to filter people based on name alone.

Imagine a world where they just filtered on first name alone (or last name). If they did this people would quickly realize the stupidity when everyone with the first names "Alice" and "Bob" were placed on the no-fly list.

I'm also sure that at this moment, Osama must be changing his name to "Tim" to escape this kind of foolishness (if indeed he is still alive).

The person who agreed to implement this list should be fired for gross stupidity.

NetLockSmithAugust 2, 2007 12:34 PM

Bruce, kudos on the "no fair defending one security measure with another," but you really dropped the ball on boarding passes and IDs. His answer was:

"We are getting at the fake boarding pass and ID issues with our proposal to Congress that would allow us to replace existing document checkers with more highly trained people with tools that would close those gaps. Without effective identity verification, watch lists don't do much, so this is a top priority."

What a load of bullcookies. With boarding passes, you can currently print out your legit one at home. There is absolutely no way you can stop someone from printing out an altered or faked one. "Trained TSOs" could only catch counterfeiters who were sloppy. Similarly, with picture IDs, training does nothing to stop situations where a DMV employee was bribed to give out a real driver's license with false info (see http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/30/BAG5JPI85137.DTL ), or if a license was obtained using a falsified birth certificate (see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3078924 ).

He ADMITTED the watch list doesn't work without solving the ID issue, but didn't give a real answer about how to solve it. Your reply? "Let's move on." You let him dodge a fundamental question that makes the rest of the watch list issues moot.

Anonymous PilotAugust 2, 2007 2:01 PM

Harry: "the one time I had SSSS it was called for. I bought a one-way ticket, 12 hours before the flight, and had no luggage at all."

Are you saying you were a threat and deserved to be singled out? Remember-- the terrorists on 9-11 bought round-trip tickets in advance using credit cards.

I routinely travel last-minute, one-way, ticket paid for by a third-party (my company).

It's Security Theatre, and bad theatre, at that.

ErikAugust 3, 2007 7:33 AM

This interview provides a fascinating look at the TSA and bureaucracy in action. The comments left by readers however doesn't add to the discussion. Taken as a whole, it's just a vast amount of verbal effluent.

Peter E RetepAugust 6, 2007 12:54 PM

These sound like a recipe for Instant Airport Courts. Since the jurisdiction is Interstate Transport, these must be Federal Courts, probably initially staffed by magistrates, in order to comply with the "due process" requirement to deprive someone of possesions or liberty [to travel]. Do we also get Instant Constitutional Guarantees, or is it still that old dodge that "since you aren't being charged with a crime, denying your rights is not 'technically' a punishment"?
In the South Carolina tax-paid medical treatment cases, the Supreme Court held that it is the consequences of the act, rather than its bureaucratic [re]definition which determines the character of the act. [Denial of access to medicines IS practicing medicine, even if you aren't are doctor, especially if you aren't a doctor. We may expect that denying use and access to rights is a punishment, even if you aren't a district attorney or a judge, or especially if you aren't a district attorney or a judge. ]
I look forward to court-appointed attorneys and airport jurists in airport courtrooms, paid for by taxes. Can such courts experience mission creep in that event? Of course. It's called "chancery."

pigletAugust 20, 2007 1:56 AM

"Air travelers think you're capricious. Remember in April when the story went around about the Princeton professor being on a no-fly list because he spoke out against President Bush? His claims were easily debunked, but the real story is that so many people believed it."

What a strange statement from Bruce. Let me just observe that the story was not at all "debunked", certainly not in the link Bruce has provided. And there were many more incidents that haven't been debunked either, like the 71 year old pacifist nun who was prevented fom flying to an anti-war rally (google "pacifist prevented from flying"). This isn't just paranoia. In any case, the existence of a secret no-fly list, whether the victims are selected politically or just at random, is nothing but applied fascism.

pigletAugust 20, 2007 1:59 AM

And the worst thing is, we have gotten so used to these fascist repression methods, we hardly think about them any more (at least those of us who are not directly affected).

clipperskipperAugust 23, 2007 5:35 PM

It is just so very sad that Richard Reid wasn’t dressed up as a transvestite with Semtex hidden in his bra. If he had only performed this simple courtesy, no one at TSA would be looking at shoes, and it would make standing in the security lines a lot more fun for us guys.

ThomasJune 25, 2008 11:40 AM

You have some strange people with a very strange sight of the world in your country.
What a shame for a "free" country.

IanApril 14, 2009 11:53 PM

Yeah, the problem is that people take it. A hundred years ago people would just get fed up and storm through the checkpoints to their gates, no way the TSA could stop even a significant fraction. They would basically all be creamed.
But we are pansies now and I'm convinced that if Uncle Same told every American to drink a bottle of anti-freeze, Americans would do it. God we're so dumb, we deserve whatever acts of terrorism fall on us!

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