Good Essay on TSA Stupidity

From Salon:

“You ain’t takin’ this through,” she says. “No knives. You can’t bring a knife through here.”

It takes a moment for me to realize that she’s serious. “I’m … but … it’s …”

“Sorry.” She throws it into a bin and starts to walk away.

“Wait a minute,” I say. “That’s airline silverware.”

“Don’t matter what it is. You can’t bring knives through here.”

“Ma’am, that’s an airline knife. It’s the knife they give you on the plane.”

Posted on July 11, 2008 at 10:34 AM71 Comments


Brandioch Conner July 11, 2008 10:53 AM

There is actually a reason for extreme stupidity like that.

It removes the decision making risk from those deemed least capable of making intelligent decisions (and most likely to cause “problems” when they make incorrect decisions).

I’m serious here. Do you really want those people depicted in the story to be making important decisions?

And METAL flatware? I haven’t seen metal flatware on a plane in 10+ years. It’s all plastic.

Ben Schilling July 11, 2008 10:57 AM

I’m reminded of the scene in “Blazing Saddles” where Bart (Cleavon Little) holds a gun to his own head…

Monte Python July 11, 2008 11:02 AM

Obviously we can’t allow pilots onto planes any longer. It’s too perilous.

jammit July 11, 2008 11:02 AM

At KCI, the easiest way to get on the airplane without even going through screening is to put on dirty work clothes, carry a toolbox, and get one of those clip plastic name tags that your ID is supposed to slip into (you don’t even need the ID, just leave it empty). Find a service elevator to the lowest floor (check in the restaurants for the elevator or simply ask. You are in work clothes). Go to the lowest floor, go outside where the airplanes are. Ask the ground crew to let you in the gangplank and enter the waiting area.
If you are some guy named “Terry Wrist” and want to cause havoc, it’s even simpler. KCI is surrounded by farmers fields. Drive a beat up pickup truck (all farmers have one) into a nearby field and drive onto the landing strip. You could make it all the way across and back without being stopped.
When my dad used to work for TWA (way before 9/11), none of the mechanics bothered with going to work the “normal” way. Traffic during rush hour is insane around KCI. They would ask a farmer to allow them to park, and the farmer would shuttle the workers to the airport. The old guy made a few bucks doing that.

More Bureaucracy Now! July 11, 2008 11:06 AM

@Brandioch Conner

“It removes the decision making risk from those deemed least capable of making intelligent decisions”

Too bad those doing the deeming are the second-least capable.

Nick Lancaster July 11, 2008 11:11 AM

“It’s plastic.”

“Sorry, no knives. Policy.”

I wonder how effective an ‘obvious’ violation – like a readily-discoverable knife – would be as a source of misdirection. That is, you allow the TSA to find said object, surrender it with a sheepish grin and a ‘thanks! you guys do important work!’ while doing/transporting something else of equal concern.

Or is that too movie-plottish?

Snark July 11, 2008 11:13 AM

And METAL flatware? I haven’t seen metal flatware on a plane in 10+ years. It’s all plastic.

It’s all plastic in coach, but in Business and First Class, there are real metal knives with serrated edges.

Bill July 11, 2008 11:13 AM

@Brandioch Conner “… removes the decision making risk…”

I gotta admit, it sounds good. Especially when these geniuses (genii?) allowed Pilot Smith to continue on with his metal flatware fork.

Smith’s article says they are also giving these dolts blue police-like uniforms and metal badges. Doesn’t that imply [at least to a reasonable person] that they also have police-like powers?

Who searches them to make sure they don’t take the sharp badges into restricted areas?

Humberto Massa July 11, 2008 11:14 AM

@Brandioch Conner
“It removes the decision making risk from those deemed least capable of making intelligent decisions”

and puts the burden of decision-making on those that are actually least capable.

“And METAL flatware? I haven’t seen metal flatware on a plane in 10+ years. It’s all plastic.”

flying only coach, uh?? 🙂 first-class (and executive??) folks usually gets the silver silverware, the ceramic plates and the crystal cups…

Quercus July 11, 2008 11:14 AM

He’s of course right in general about TSA, although he misses the point that TSA actually wants to be intrusive and annoying — because that proves that it must be doing its job.

But while it makes sense that the pilot of a plane receive less screening, I don’t think he’s thought through the problem of how to know that someone is a pilot.

Michael Ash July 11, 2008 11:25 AM

I’m reminded of an airport restaurant experience recently.

I was eating breakfast at Washington National a few weeks ago. (Surprisingly good, by the way; Jet Rock was the name of the place, I recommend them. You could just about forget that it was airport food.)

So anyway, I was eating my omelette and I realized that my silverware was inconsistent. The fork and spoon were your typical stainless steel, but the butterknife was actually just a silver-colored plastic.

I asked the guy if he used plastic knives because of security. (Keep in mind this was a butterknife; even if it were metal, the fork would still be the most dangerous implement of the three.) He said that yes, that was the reason. Then he elaborated a bit; turns out a customer had gotten upset about the use of metal butterknives, and at that point he switched.

I think this story is a good lesson for us. A good part of TSA’s stupidity isn’t because they’re useless or incompetent. (Although they are!) It’s because they’re giving the people what they want. You’ll never succeed in changing the TSA unless you first convince the people they serve that these measures are useless.

Stephen Smoogen July 11, 2008 11:28 AM

Ok its bad security theatre, but basically its what you get for wanting security by the lowest bidder. TSA does not have the budget to hire or train people to what would be useful.. but if they don’t have people there and an incident happens, 9 out of 10 people will be complaining that the government didn’t do enough to stop it. Of course they complained even more at any idea of being taxed to cover those costs for competent procedures.

The big issue is that people have forgotten that the government is government of the people. We have made the government into a boogey-man we can blame for every stupid decision.. while forgetting we are in the end responsible for its stupidity.. instead we just walk around saying ‘who me? must be that other guy in another city…’

Rich Wilson July 11, 2008 11:31 AM

As I mentioned in a comment to another post, I was grilled over having my sample size toothpaste in a zip lock back that was too large. I’m not sure, but I think it’s gallon. It was all I had. I assume the ‘quart’ thing is to limit how many 3oz containers you can have in total. I only had one. What really suprised me was that after asking me if I could put it in a smaller one, he asked a supervisor, and let it go.

I fully expected that once the decision had been made, that no matter how silly it was, he’d stick with it.

In addition to not being allowed to make decisions, they’re REALLY not allowed to change their minds. Which is actually a good social engineering defense IMO.

Adam V July 11, 2008 11:41 AM

If I had a few hundred dollars to waste, I’d go sit in the airport with lots of coolers full of water bottles, and I’d hand them out to passengers as they walked up to the gates, just so that everyone would realize how stupid it is that TSA won’t let you take it through. Right now most people are probably saying things like “well, yeah, if you’re foolish enough to bring a razor or pocketknife, then you bring it on yourself”… but when they realize TSA will even throw away a transparent water bottle, and everyone who walks through the gate is affected, then maybe they’ll start making noise to their Congresspeople.

Then again, maybe it’s just a good way to waste a few hundred bucks.

Nomen Publicus July 11, 2008 11:43 AM

The TSA + a very hot day + flight delays = riot.

It will happen one day.

It would be a good movie plot, hmmm, where’s my Dummies Guide to Writing Screenplays?

Jason July 11, 2008 11:46 AM

“It’s not a dumb rule.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

And so on, until he asks me to leave.

I hope and pray that the TSA “supervisor” was merely toeing the line to save face.

I can’t imagine a single intelligent person who thinks the TSA’s zero-tolerance is entirely beneficial.

I’m assuming the supervisor was intelligent. It takes intelligence to get a supervisor job… doesn’t it?

cmos July 11, 2008 12:01 PM

@ Stephen Smoogen “TSA does not have the budget to hire or train people to what would be useful.. ”

More like TSA choses not to pay their employees a decent wage. The money is there- and so is the greed (just look at how much af the money alloted to national securit has actually been used). The AP ran a report 4 years ago on their $500,000 of lavish unnessisary spending on banquets and raises. I would be surprised if anything has changed.. more likely got worse.

More Bureaucracy Now! July 11, 2008 12:06 PM

@Stephen Smoogen

“TSA does not have the budget to hire or train people to what would be useful.”

So true. 4.81 BILLION dollars for this year alone is no where NEAR enough! Those poor guys.

We should at least double that, and frankly, tripling it would be more reasonable.

And whose idea was this awarding contracts to the lowest bidder? Obviously a low bidder will cut corners, and who wants to make sure taxpayers get their money’s worth. Not me!

I say, give the contracts to the highest bidder. He obviously knows how expensive things are, and with the extra cash, he’ll probably throw in some extra value to the project.

I mean, hey, it’s just tax money, right?

Who’s with me?!

ReallyHateAirportSecurity July 11, 2008 12:11 PM

@Stephen Smoogen
“Ok its bad security theatre, but basically its what you get for wanting security by the lowest bidder. TSA does not have the budget to hire or train people to what would be useful.”

Hence the TSA augments budget through theft. I see …. <_<

Seth July 11, 2008 12:16 PM

For a couple of years, NW gave passengers metal forks and spoons, and plastic knives. (Aside: I’d rather fight someone who had a metal airline knife than a metal airline fork.) Even while they were doing that, their lounge (inside Security) usually had metal knives available.

Mithrandir July 11, 2008 12:17 PM

In the Andes mountain range, near Mendoza, Argentina, I met a Canadian pilot. He had a similar story to tell.

He also made the point that there’s a “crash axe” in the cockpit. Which trumps a butter knife any day.

He also mentioned that any pilot that wants to take over the aircraft has only to wait until his partner leaves the cockpit to use the head, and lock the door.

You have to trust the pilots.

However, I can see the argument that its easier to screen uniformly than to screen everyone but the pilot. Because then you’d have to authenticate the pilot, and the muppets doing the screening probably can’t handle that.

baldheadedguy July 11, 2008 12:35 PM

Did anyone else notice that pretty much the moment after 9/11, the abbreviation TSA changed it’s meaning? Prior to 9/11 it was the Transportation Safety Administration. After 9/11 it’s the Transportation Security Administration. Now, if only they actually knew something about security!

moab9 July 11, 2008 12:43 PM

On my flight last year from Houston to Panama, they gave us a real metal set of cutlery. The knife was a full sized dinner knife and it had serrations too. We were in coach class. The plane was just one hour out of Houston when they handed them out.

Brandioch Conner July 11, 2008 12:49 PM

@Humberto Massa
“and puts the burden of decision-making on those that are actually least capable.”

Pretty much. This is pure Security Theatre (now playing “CYA III”).

This does nothing to improve security … but if you don’t know anything about security it does provide the illusion that “security” is happening.

I’m still recommending that the airlines charge more per ticket and hire a couple of security people to ride on each flight. With tonfas (

That way, if the bad guys take away your weapon, all they have is a stick against a cabin of unwilling hostages.

Combine that with a locked flight deck door.

thiefhunter July 11, 2008 1:05 PM

Wonder why they allow glass wine bottles, especially the full size ones? Wouldn’t a whacked off bottle be a lethal weapon? More lethal than a butter knife or small pocket knife, I’d think. There are so many potential weapons on a plane…

AlanS July 11, 2008 1:12 PM

Metal cutlery? What about metal jewelry? I notice that someone posted something about the danger posed by metal jewelry as an entry in this year’s movie-plot threat. The geniuses at the TSA had apparently already figured that one out. Or maybe this is just a case of petty bureaucrats exercising power for sadistic pleasure.

The Transportation Security Administration said Friday its officers at a Texas airport appear to have properly followed procedures when they allegedly forced a woman to remove her nipple rings — one with pliers — but acknowledged the procedures should be changed.

The woman involved — Mandi Hamlin — told reporters earlier Friday she was humiliated by last month’s incident, in which she was forced to painfully remove the piercings behind a curtain as she heard snickers from male TSA officers nearby. The incident occurred at the Lubbock, Texas, airport.

The officers “rightly insisted that the alarm that was raised be resolved,” the TSA said in a statement posted on its Web site Friday afternoon. “TSA supports the thoroughness of the officers involved as they were acting to protect the passengers and crews of the flights departing Lubbock that day.”

Rich Wilson July 11, 2008 1:38 PM

“the idea of seizing a piece of standard airline cutlery from a uniformed pilot is lunacy”

Have to disagree with him here- at least from the uniform aspect. I don’t think a uniform should be a pass through security.

Skorj July 11, 2008 1:56 PM


“TSA” stands for “Toiletry Seizing Agency”. Certainly they enhance neither safety nor security.

Kjetil Kjernsmo July 11, 2008 2:56 PM

I once sighed a bit on Oslo’s Gardermoen airport, and the security guy there was quick to tell me that he thought the regulations were silly too, and that the guys there were actually sending that message up the food-chain, hoping for change of policy.

Gardermoen was recently named the worlds second most efficient airport, well deserved, I think. I live on the opposite side of town, but I can be at the gate within one hour after leaving home even with checked-in luggage. The security checkpoint is still the main bottleneck, but it is very rare nowadays that there are significant delays there.

Contrast with Frankfurt on my previous travel to the US. Allegedly, someone sneaked past the check-point, causing the gates to be closed. Soon, thousands of people got stuck there. It occured to me that it would be the perfect place for a terrorist to strike: Just plant a bomb, sneak past the checkpoint and be discovered, but stay invisible long enough to a situation like this to develop. As the bomb goes off, it kills hundreds of people as they were densely packed in front of the check-point, and sendt the message that you’re not safe even in the airport. It is all just a threatre.

Jason July 11, 2008 3:27 PM

For the people talking about impersonating an airline employee, consider that he was coming off of the plane and being screened.

He just flew the plane.

He can point to it and say, that one, yes the one right there.

I realize someone walking in to the airport from outside in a uniform isn’t necessarily a pilot, but if he just came off the plan which you can still see, he’s probably the pilot.

Fake51 July 11, 2008 3:40 PM

“However, I can see the argument that its easier to screen uniformly than to screen everyone but the pilot. Because then you’d have to authenticate the pilot, and the muppets doing the screening probably can’t handle that.”

You have to authenticate the pilot anyway. Or are you assuming that any person let through security will be allowed inside the cockpit?

The security of airports is lunacy. It is born out of idiotic reasoning and pointless compromises between economy and security, pushed forward by fear-mongering. It is a sad fact that very few people try to change the rules.


anonymous canuck July 11, 2008 3:42 PM

I just had a truly scary thought. I wonder if the TSA is one of those organizations where the execs claim to hire people that are smarter than themselves …..

George July 11, 2008 3:54 PM

@Fake51: It is a sad fact that very few people try to change the rules.

The sadder fact is that any politician who realizes that the rules are stupid and tries to change them has forfeited his or her re-election. Uttering even a peep of criticism toward something perpetrated in the name of “security” is politically equivalent to donning a dunce cap and walking around with a sandwich board that says “I’M SOFT ON TERRORISM!” So they all stay quiet, and even cast votes for “security” (e.g., Obama’s recent vote to expand the Unitary Executive’s surveillance power). That’s how “democracy” works in the 21st century.

Beta July 11, 2008 3:56 PM

“At least admit to me that it’s a dumb rule.”

“It’s not a dumb rule.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

A dumb screener will defend the rule to protect his own pride and sense of superiority. But even a smart screener might defend the rule, fearing that if he conceded, a dumb passenger might start whining “you ADMITTED it’s a dumb rule, so why won’t you let me through???”

Al July 11, 2008 5:28 PM

Then there’s the “travel bracelet”:
“Shock Bracelet Considered For Airline Passengers”

“In order to enhance the security of air travel and to help manage illegal
immigration, the Department of Homeland Security has solicited a proposal
from a Canadian security company to develop a passenger stun bracelet.”

“Like the pain collars featured in the classic Star Trek episode The
Gamesters of Triskelion, Lamperd Less Lethal’s electro-muscular disruption
(EMD) bracelet is intended to incapacitate wearers on remote command.”

“EMD safety bracelets, which passengers would have to put on before
boarding. When threatened by a highjacker, a flight attendant would transmit
an EMD pulse at the terrorist, reducing him to a trembling mass of Jello.”

“What if a flight attendant loses her cookies and zaps a passenger who wants
to keep the whole can of CranApple juice?”

Nancy Jane Moore July 11, 2008 6:27 PM

When I read this story, I was further amazed by an experience I had not long ago at airport security. They called me back for an item in my purse. I was surprised, since I generally make a point of putting anything that might possibly generate a reaction from TSA in checked luggage. The guard produced a screwdriver — something I’d borrowed and forgotten to return and forgotten was in my purse.

Here’s the kicker: They measured it, determined that it was shorter than four inches, and gave it back to me to carry on!

Now I don’t think screwdrivers are particularly dangerous, but offhand I’d say I could do as much damage with one as I could do with a pocketknife — and probably a lot more damage than I could do with a butter knife!

The rules are absurd.

Don Whiteside July 11, 2008 6:33 PM

“Smith’s article says they are also giving these dolts blue police-like uniforms and metal badges. Doesn’t that imply [at least to a reasonable person] that they also have police-like powers?”

Good lord, I’d wet myself with joy if the TSA screeners had police powers… if they had the oversight that cops do. The blue wall on its worst day isn’t as horrible as the TSA & DHS and their complete impunity to do whatever they want, regardless of impact or sense.

Anonymous July 11, 2008 7:00 PM

“giving the people what they want”

Giving the stupidest whiners what they want, because that is an excuse to increase their power over everyone.

“With tonfas (

That way, if the bad guys take away your weapon, all they have is a stick against a cabin of unwilling hostages.

I’ve never been on a plane, so I don’t know what the conditions are like, but if I had to fight a dozen people in close quarters, a tonfa would be my third choice of weapon, right after a handgun or a sai.

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
— George Washington

Shiny July 11, 2008 7:04 PM

I think it may have been prudent of the TSA agent to scrutinize this person because he was a pilot. Some may categorize this as profiling, but it’s logical to assume that our pilot has gone to flight school and has been trained in maneuvering aircraft — not unlike the 9/11 hijackers who went through similar training. Perhaps flight school = red flag?

(Okay. it sounds like a dumb idea. But not quite as dumb as the liquid ban…)

Josh Holden July 11, 2008 8:29 PM

@Nick Lancaster: “I wonder how effective an ‘obvious’ violation – like a readily-discoverable knife – would be as a source of misdirection. … Or is that too movie-plottish?”

Well, I actually did it once, although not really on purpose. Due to a traffic jam, I got to the airport really late and the bag I was planning to check had to be gate-checked. Since I thought it was going to be checked, I had put my pocket-knife in it. Sure enough, the TSA guy found it. “Sorry, I have to take this.” “Oh, well!” And he sent me on my way.

I didn’t bother to tell him there was a second pocket knife in the bag.

Jonadab the Unsightly One July 11, 2008 9:55 PM

Some of the current rules may be stupid, yes, but requiring the screeners to enforce the rules consistently without exception is absolutely the only sane policy. If you let the screeners make judgement calls you open the door wide for social engineering. If the rules are fundamentally stupid (and yeah, some of them almost certainly are, notably the liquids thing), then the solution is to fix the rules, not to apply them inconsistently or break them every time somebody starts trying to reason his way through.

I don’t think he’s thought through the problem
of how to know that someone is a pilot.

You don’t have to know that someone is a pilot. You only have to know if they’re one of the pilots who are supposed to fly planes out of this airport today. If the airlines can’t provide you with that, complete with photographs, something is wrong.

However, the reason pilots are screened the same way as everybody else is because even if the screeners know who the pilots are, the passengers may not know. Bear in mind, a lot of the reason for the screening is to reassure people that it’s safe to fly.

Specifically, it is important to reassure the people who do not fly often. Frequent fliers would be happier with a lot less screening, but frequent fliers, although they account for proportionally a much larger percentage of tickets, are still not enough to fill up the flights. If people who only fly occasionally were afraid to do so, ticket prices would have to be rather higher.

Bear that in mind next time you’re standing in line waiting to have your shoes checked or whatever: some of the measures you think are silly are ultimately saving you a significant portion of the price of your ticket. Just because it’s security theater doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unnecessary.

Some of the things currently being done almost certainly are unnecessary. How to determine which measures could safely be done away? Talk to a couple hundred people who have only flown once or twice since 9/11 and see which ones they complain about. Those are the ones we don’t really need.

But listening to frequent fliers on this issue would be totally pointless. They’re not the ones who need to be convinced flying is safe.

Michael Ash July 12, 2008 12:08 AM


“You have to authenticate the pilot anyway.”

This is true, but that doesn’t mean that the proper place to authenticate the pilot is at the security checkpoint.

Pilot authentication is, I assume, done by the airline. The pilot has a badge, is recognized by the flight crew if they know him, and his name checked against the schedule. If anything doesn’t match, he isn’t let on board and most likely the police are called.

Most of this stuff can’t be easily performed at the security checkpoint. Nobody who would recognize the pilot is there. The checkpoint has no provisions for getting pilot schedule information from the airlines, and doing so would be quite expensive. TSA doesn’t know what every individual airline badge is supposed to look like.

If you do it cheaply, you’ll create a big security hole for criminals impersonating pilots. If you do it right, it’ll be more expensive than just screening the pilots in the same manner as everyone else. Therefore the only sane reason to make any changes in this policy is if you don’t want the pilots to feel bad about being screened, and I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to justify the expense.

Clive Robinson July 12, 2008 5:21 AM

@ Nancy Jane Moore,

“Now I don’t think screwdrivers are particularly dangerous, but offhand I’d say I could do as much damage with one as I could do with a pocketknife”

Actually you can do one heck of a lot more damage with a screwdriver than a pocket or box knife even with a blade the same size as the length of the screwdriver shaft.

The first advantage as you have discovered is that most people do not consider it to be an offensive weapon but a tool, whereas nearly everyone considers a knife an offensive weapon. This also shows how bad the training of the baggage checkers is…

You need to think of the screwdriver as a very efective cross of a stiletto knife and prybar. A pocket knife blade on the otherhand is at best only designed to cut in one direction (normal to the ground edge) and has little or no mechanical strength in any other direction.

As an offensive weapon due to the very small Cross Sectional Area (CSA) of it’s blade, the screwdriver can be used to stab very effectivly through cloathing and gaps between bone.

For instance a screwdriver blade will go easily into your brain through your ear eye or back/side of your neck or from under your jawbone. If you hit bone with it, it’ll either go through or skate along it. A pocket knife blade would probably not get through the openings in the skull and would probably break or get stuck on bone or on the supporting structures.

Likewise due to the small CSA the screwdriver needs considerably less force to go through cloathing and will quite easily make it’s way between your ribs and into the joints between the long bones where stab vests and other protective cloathing are at their weakest.

Oh and you are a lot less likley to hurt yourself with a screwdriver than you are with a pocket knife. First off your hand is much further away from the cutting edge. Secondly the screwdriver usually unlike a pocket knife is not designed to fold up (biggest cause of minor cuts with pocket knives is blade shutting on users fingers). Thirdly the handle of a screwdriver is better designed to hold with a strong grip and usually has a much bigger cross sectional area and smoother end giving a considerable mechanical advantage to stabing so making it many times more effective. Fourthly the shaft of a screwdriver is unlike the blade of the pocket knife not likley to break just bend a little.

I could go on but I think you get the point on the merits of a screwdriver as an offensive weapon against people.

Then there are all it’s other advantages over the pocket knife as a tool not just as a screwdriver but as a hammer, prybar, fulcrum, chisel, scribe/engraving tool, etc, etc…

Finaly it is easier to clean your DNA/finger prints off of especialy quickly, and when burnt leaves no crevices for evidence to hide in. Also as it’ usually a lot less expensive than a pocket knife if seen in the trash a lot less likley to call attention to anyone sifting it.

Just one last thought speaking of stiletto’s the traditional four inch heald shoe variety is actually probably more dangerous as an offensive weapon than a small pocket knife. Look up medieval war hammers and their uses to get the idea 😉

Alain July 12, 2008 11:04 AM

It’s all plastic in coach, but in Business and First Class, there are real metal knives with serrated edges.

Well, yeah. And those knives cut everything. Provided it’s a Camembert, which has been taken out of the fridge two hours in advance.

Dwatney July 12, 2008 12:19 PM

I’m an infrequent flier convinced of the safety of flying who would rather travel by less safe means rather than subject myself to this TSA crap.

PSH July 12, 2008 4:19 PM

The bureaucratic mindset of those TSA agents is simply astounding (and frightening). Thanks for posting this.

Unfortunately, while stories of TSA stupidity abound (as amply documented on this blog), the more disturbing underlying issue is that Americans are becoming slowly acclimated to this defensive posture which we adopted in the aftermath of 9-11.

Historian John Lewis writes about the perils of such a defensive mindset in his article, “‘No Substitute for Victory’: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism” from the Winter 2006-2007 issue of The Objective Standard:

“Meanwhile, a state of siege is being more deeply entrenched inside America every day. We are losing the war by institutionalizing the loss of our freedoms, searching the sneakers of senior citizens in wheelchairs in order to avoid confronting bellicose dictatorships overseas. In the minds of many people, the Bush administration’s allegedly ‘offensive’ strategy has discredited the very idea of genuinely offensive war for American self-interest, which it pledged to fight, and then betrayed to its core. Our soldiers come home maimed or dead, and military offense, rather than timidity, takes the blame. To compensate for our weakness overseas, we are building electric fences and security barriers to keep the world out, accepting the medieval ideal of walled towns under constant threat of attack, rather than destroying the source of such threats.”

Lewis points out that we will never defeat Islamic Totalitarianism if we maintain our current cringing, apologetic, defensive posture towards them. Instead, America must have the moral confidence to know that it is proper to take the fight to them, with the goal of destroying the threat they pose.

He is therefore sharply critical of the Bush administration and the neoconservatives for waging a senseless war in Iraq that merely saps American strength and will to fight, rather than targeting the real enemy in Iran with the goal of protecting our actual security and making these inane TSA checks unnecessary.

For more details, I highly recommend reading the entire piece:

JR July 12, 2008 7:14 PM

These dummies once “randomly” chose my bag to search after I made it through security. When I got to my destination My bag looked like a crime scene. It had yellow tape all over it and a note inside telling me that my bag was searched. I wonder who trains these asshole because right there in one of the pockets was fifteen hollow point bullets I forgot to leave home.

Clive Robinson July 13, 2008 4:18 AM

@ JR,

“I wonder who trains these a****le because right there in one of the pockets was fifteen hollow point bullets I forgot to leave home.”

A thought for you,

From what I understand ther is no audit process on the number etc of bags searched by the TSA. This appears to be the case from what people are told when things have “droped out unseen” during the bag search and they are trying to recover their often valuable (to them) property.

Now on the assumption you are a TSA employee who used to be an old baggage handler your level of training is not going to have been the best and you will have probably carried forward your job insecurity worries from your earlier employment.

So there you are doing your usual one in fifty or whatever your allocation is and you come across “fifteen hollow point bullets” what do you do.

The chances are that the “much advertised” training has only trained you what to do with one specific type of hand gun. Ah problem not only is it not the right type of gun there is no gun, training did not cover this!!! You start to feel a bit of a panic coming on especialy as you are (due to previous employment) scared to talk to your supervisor as you know you will get chewed out and you will be scared about losing your job.

What do you do, shove the bullets back in the bag and wrap as much tape etc around the bag so your colleagues down the line don’t feel the need to double check…

Then again if you are the sort that “accidently lets” small valuable items drop out unnoticed from a bag then likewise you are not going to want to call attention to yourself as your supervisor or their boss might notice the items that have dropped out…

I’m sure if you think of it this way you will appreciate what a dilemma the “poor TSA employee” must have been in, and of course you and others will note it for future refrence when traveling and check your hollow points are not in non obvious places 😉

John David Galt July 13, 2008 9:38 PM

Whatever alleged good their “security theater” may or may not do for some people’s morale, those Keystone Gestapo can’t possibly be deterring the terrorists. They’re like the guy who just installed a burglar alarm in his house three weeks ago and has already had ten false alarms — if his “security measure” makes any difference to the bad guys at all, it will be to show them he’s an easy target and a buffoon!

Peter Galbavy July 14, 2008 4:14 AM

This is getting closer to my personal, cynical, prediction that by 2012 U.S. citizens will be required to present “papers” to cross some/all state lines. I made a comment to a friend in 2007 that “within 5 years” some excuse will be forthcoming to mean that the U.S. will impose some kind of internal border control.

The more they habituate people to the need for faked security processes, the easier to introduce new ones.

TheDoctor July 14, 2008 6:57 AM

There is no security threat.

All the security huffpuff is spinning free.

The only thing that’s positive: because there ist no security threat, there is no danger that harmful people will not be caught by this aliby security measures.

Lis Riba July 14, 2008 7:00 AM

The TSA website says corkscrews are permitted carry-on.

We’re flying tomorrow (to Tales of the Cocktail) and have enough corkscrews to spare one on an experiment.

I’ll be printing and bringing along the TSA guidelines to show security, in case we’re challenged.
Anybody care to place bets on whether we keep our corkscrew?

bob July 14, 2008 7:59 AM

Its not just security; almost all of the US Government is theatre; or at least theatrical. Thats why it needs to be made as small and powerless as possible.

Give congress another 100 holidays per year (which should pretty much eliminate any “work” days they have remaining) and we’ll probably enter a state of governmented nirvana as nothing stupid becomes law for whole months at a time.

And its not just federal; state, city and county needs to be scaled back as well. When my home builder went bankrupt with my money gone but with my house unfinished (about the same time I got laid off – not a good year for me) the city and county both made me re-purchase building permits for my plumbing and furnace. Now if a permit has already been approved for a toilet on the second floor of the house being built at 123 Apple Street; and there is not yet a toilet there, and I own the property, why do I need to purchase ANOTHER permit to install the toilet? These fees are supposedly to “protect” me from inferior plumbing through inspections and such. Well an inspection had already been paid for, and was not done (could not be done, since nothing had been installed yet) yet I had to buy another one. This was apparently safety theatre, 9/11 having not yet happened.

I cant WAIT until the government has total control of health care.

Scott July 15, 2008 9:36 AM

Despite the doltish TSA and the poltroons in office who allow them to operate, I’m reminded of how much worse the corrupt-enterprises-that-are-our-nation’s-airports used to be.

Security was handled by private firms contracted on graft ridden contracts and staffed by some truly unique people. My favorite episode was a pre-9/11 trip through Chicago’s Midway airport where a security guard, stoned to the gills, kept asking me if I had “Ah ghlackk” in my carry-on bag. After a few minutes I realized that he asked me if I had “a clock” (rather than an Austrian pistol) in there somewhere…I just smiled and walked by him.

Other great stories: Explosives searches -- I live in an agricultural area and the luggage is scanned for explosives. Since fertilizers are composed of of nitrate compounds (mix those with jet fuel and you have ANFO more or less), it stand to reason that you'd get a lot of false-positive scans from the equipment. The screeners I ask about this just roll their eyes -- it happens all day long. God knows what cow poo would do...

If there are putative terrorists out there who are willing to blow themselves up for the sake of terrorizing the nation’s air system, why aren’t there a larger number who could achieve the same goal by simply simultaneously running in through the “out” gate which causes most airports to shut down for hours?

George A. Davie July 15, 2008 1:03 PM

In response to the “Great essay on TSA stupidity:” posts –

Who made any of you posters experts on any kind of security which involves screening millions of potential terrorists, saboteurs and the like EACH DAY, UP TO 24 hrs A DAY ??? Yes, all of the processes you as passengers have to go through seem to be arbitrary and frivolous but instead of criticizing the procedures and denigrating the Officers who have to apply those processes come up with a better process. I challenge you, each and every one. Just consider the fact that NO US PLANE has been downed since these procedures have been put in place.

As to a comment “simply simultaneously running in through the “out” gate ” consider that those people were screened at another airport and found to be OK! If you’re going to complain, at least, you could be logical.

One last point and I’ll let you “expert complainers” continue in your own world of self superiority:
Pilots AND crew are screened each time they go out to their plane.

TSA Officers are screened each day as they come into work and again on reentering the checkpoint.

YES, I’m TSA and because of me and 40000 more like me you can fly and reach your destination in order to complain about the rules and denigrate the Officers who make it all possible

Safe From Tigers July 15, 2008 2:21 PM


I’ve got a nice rock I picked up a while back. It’s magic. It keeps me safe from tigers. You know what? I haven’t been attacked by tigers once since I found it. If I find another one, do you want to buy it from me? I’ll let it go cheap…

Togo Malcomi July 15, 2008 7:27 PM

I was going through Phila airport and asked the TSA agent if it was necessary to take off my shoes.

She said, “No, it’s not necessary, but then you have to go through a special screening.”

“What’s that entail?” I asked.

Pointing to a row of chairs, “You have to go over there and take off your shoes.”

I wanted to laugh, but I thought I’d get locked up. I took off my shoes.

Sumner July 16, 2008 1:24 PM

My two favorite airline security experiences:
1. in 2003, I was flying somewhere and bought a bagel before boarding. They gave me the bagel, a small tub of cream cheese, and that’s it. When I asked for a plastic knife, they said that security restricted them from giving me one. So, I spread my bagel with my finger. Upon boarding, I was served a meal and given…you guessed it….a knife.

  1. going thru security…I had a very small dispenser of toothpaste…sort of a small pump bottle. As I was putting it in my bag after the xray, the lady grabbed it and said “there are smaller tubes than that…I have to take it”. I commented “I’m sure we all feel safer now that you have taken my toothpaste, and left me with my razor. Good job!”

Sumner July 16, 2008 3:52 PM

George Davie —

I think most of us travelers would quickly acknowledge that the majority of TSA people we have met have been conscientious and reasonable. The problem is that too many of them focus on blindly enforcing rules in total disregard for the relative danger involved (such as taking my small toothpaste because it was a little bigger than the smallest size possible). Or, when we encounter flagrant policy stupidity, such as when I was denied a plastic fork in the airport snack bar, but given one on the plane.
Bruce has written beautifully on the difference between security theatre, and true security. The problem is that TSA all too often seems to focus on the theatre.

Charles July 16, 2008 9:14 PM

  • Do you have any liquid whit you?
  • No.

Take your shoes off, x-ray everything, get into the plane with a bottle of juice and a box of milk.

We all know their rules are idiotic. How to fix them?

Just a dad July 17, 2008 12:37 AM

TSA saved us from the collection of “State” quarters in my 12-year-old son’s checked bag last month. They were the only thing that didn’t make it to the destination.

The camera was in his carry-on … I think stuff like that is only dangerous enough to be disappeared if it’s in a bag that’s not in my line of sight while it’s being searched.

My son feels much safer now.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.