A Critical Essay on the TSA

A critical essay on the TSA from a former assistant police chief:

This is where I find myself now obsessing over TSA policy, or its apparent lack. Every one of us goes to work each day harboring prejudice. This is simply human nature. What I have witnessed in law enforcement over the course of the last two decades serves to remind me how active and passive prejudice can undermine public trust in important institutions, like police agencies. And TSA.

Over the last fifteen years or so, many police agencies started capturing data on police interactions. The primary purpose was to document what had historically been undocumented: informal street contacts. By capturing specific data, we were able to ask ourselves tough questions about potentially biased-policing. Many agencies are still struggling with the answers to those questions.

Regardless, the data permitted us to detect problematic patterns, commonly referred to as passive discrimination. This is a type of discrimination that occurs when we are not aware of how our own biases affect our decisions. This kind of bias must be called to our attention, and there must be accountability to correct it.

One of the most troubling observations I made, at both Albany and BWI, was that—aside from the likely notation in a log (that no one will ever look at)—there was no information captured and I was asked no questions, aside from whether or not I wanted to change my mind.

Given that TSA interacts with tens if not hundreds of millions of travelers each year, it is incredible to me that we, the stewards of homeland security, have failed to insist that data capturing and analysis should occur in a manner similar to what local police agencies have been doing for many years.

EDITED TO ADD (11/12): Follow-on essay by the same person.

Posted on October 29, 2009 at 6:41 AM49 Comments


BF Skinner October 29, 2009 6:58 AM

A critical essay of TSA? quelle surprise

Noting the interaction details would of course increase the length of time it takes but if anything is clear to me TSA is less than concerned about our time…

“my empathy for the TSA screeners” Yep. Just regular joe’s and jane’s doing their jobs and effectively screening the decision makers from any pain their decisions create.

Napolitano outta offer her a job.

owen October 29, 2009 8:06 AM

self-awareness is the greatest threat to pork-barrel operations like the TSA. Thanks for running this article – but I gotta ask: where can we pressure these fools so that data collection and analysis starts to happen, and does so in an open and transparent manner?

Paul October 29, 2009 8:24 AM

One root cause to TSA’s attitude is they see their mission as keeping an arbitrary list of items deemed ‘dangerous’ out of the hands of the traveling public after they have passed through the security checkpoint.

Carlo Graziani October 29, 2009 9:02 AM

It could conceivably be helpful for those who write this sort of perceptive and informed critique of TSA to go beyond blogging, and actually print out and physical-mail their articles to members of the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees.

(E-mailed links are worthless, don’t bother. Given the torrent of such mail, the signal-to-noise is zero, to many significant figures).

BF Skinner October 29, 2009 9:19 AM

@owen “but I gotta ask: where can we pressure ”

First? I would lose the ‘tude. Even if it’s justified. The essayist herself states “yelling at people is the one method guaranteed to ensure sub-par performance and a collapse of any semblance of cooperation.”

Ditto that for the time I’ve worked with government service types.

The current administration sees itself as technocrats. Technocrats are driven by information. Start with the structures that govern…they are there for a reason.

In TSA . . .
Gale Rossides, TSA Acting Administrator
Francine Kerner, Chief Counsel
Kristin Lee, Assistant Administrator for Strategic Communications and Public Affairs
Lee Kair, Assistant Administrator for Security Operations

DHS Secretary Napolitano

In the White House
CTO Aneesh Chopra

Senate sub-comittee for oversite. I’m not sure who they are but it’s easily looked up and if you’re gonna contact them (and they are sympathetic) then contact Claire Heffernan, TSA Acting Assistant Administrator / Deputy Assistant Administrator for Legislative Affairs at the same time.

These people all have publiclly accessible phone and email points of contact and work for dollars we provide them. (unless you’re not a yank in which case go pester your own government).

data.gov – I include this last one cause there have been several requests to include data from all the C&A work the governments been doing in it as well. Data.gov’s mission is to put our data in our hands.

If you’re serious owen about pressuring the government into action good on you. You will likely learn a lot but you’ll need to be paitient, be persistent, be polite.

kashmarek October 29, 2009 9:29 AM

Why doesn’t TSA collect any information about their interactions with the public? Mostly, it would be incriminating, pointing out their failures, not successes. And who says they don’t. It is probably all on some stored video, just NEVER used.

christopher October 29, 2009 9:54 AM

Some biases are learned responses based on experience, and therefore, not something you want to remove, diminish, or abandon.

If you act like a criminal, don’t be surprised if you are treated as one. File under tough shit.

George October 29, 2009 10:41 AM

The TSA feels no need to collect data because would slow down screening. And it’s also completely unnecessary. Their employees at all levels have granted themselves unlimited authority to do whatever they want, with no accountability or responsibility to anyone other themselves.

If there are any “encounters” that generate enough adverse publicity to embarrass the agency, they have a staff of PR spin-meisters ready to leap into action. They’ll just issue a press release that blames the passenger for everything that went wrong, exonerates the entire TSA, commends the checkpoint screeners for their excellent work at keeping aviation safe, and reminds everyone of their obligation to become docile, obedient, and FRIGHTENED little sheep when they enter a checkpoint.

Critical essays? Just the ignorant blathering of people who have no idea what they’re talking about. We should just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away. After all, if the critics only were privy to what’s in the classified briefings held every day behind the locked doors of TSA Headquarters, they’d run to the nearest airport checkpoint, get down on the knees begging forgiveness for their unforgivable slander, and kiss the feet of every screener in gratitude for their selfless efforts to protect aviation. But since that’s all classified, we’ll just have to accept on faith the TSA’s claims that everything they do is necessary and effective.

Jason October 29, 2009 10:57 AM


I’m not sure what point you are trying to make.

At issue isn’t whether people are being questioned for acting like a criminal. The problem is people being questioned for acting like a normal person but being part of some demographic that the handler has an unconscious bias against.

You wear your hat backwards? Criminal.

That sort of thing.

Don Fitch October 29, 2009 10:59 AM


By my definition, “act like a criminal” needs to mean “perform a criminal action”. The TSA has every right (IMO) to be abrupt in dealing with such people. Other than that, it seems to me that politeness & more considerate treatment than the TSA are reported to exert are called-for.

(N.B. I’ve not had much experience with the TSA, but being deaf causes me to be more alert and act differently than most people, so I’d probably be considered “a suspicious character”.)

RSaunders October 29, 2009 11:01 AM

The best quote from the article is “You simply cannot solve problems that you do not want to identify.” This is the fundamental problem with TSA.

If they were to collect data on their effectiveness, it would be very easy to show that they are highly ineffective. If someone randomly analyzed the contents of the “confiscated” bottles they would find that 100% of them are harmless, to 4-5 significant digits. This would show that 100% of the TSA bottle confiscation activities are Type 1 errors.

If they were to collect data on the percentage of shoes that had weapons in them, they would similarly show that x-raying shoes is 100% Type 1 error.

If they were to collect data on the terrorists they have identified with their new, enhanced, name checking program they would find that all their name-alerts are Type 1 errors. Though it is worth noting that they sorta know this because one of the goals of the new system was to reduce the number of name alerts.

The base-rate fallacy would undermine all data collected to show that the TSA was stopping Terrorism. Even with an 8 year baseline, the signal is just too small.

TSA cannot afford to collect this sort of data. It would put them in the situation of disbanding TSA as a waste of money. If TSA were disbanded, people would act as though Terrorism was over, and thus eliminate the only tangible benefit of TSA, heightened awareness of airport security concerns. Now, there might be a cheaper way to get that, but that’s another blog …

club October 29, 2009 12:07 PM

Of course, the mission of the TSA is exactly the same as local law enforcement, as are the tools and techniques. Although I haven’t seen them, I know they all carry guns and beat up on people in the LA airport.

Of course, the actions of the TSA are just as invisible as that of local law enforcement. Whenever I’ve been pulled over by a cop, we always make sure there are hundreds of people and numerous cameras about.

Of course, all the local law enforcement organizations use the same criteria and methodology and pool all their information for analysis and publication so we have total transparency.

Get a life, folks.

Tim October 29, 2009 12:15 PM

Well I don’t think discrimination and bias are always wrong. There are clearly patterns in some crimes, e.g. men are more likely to be thieves. The only problems with screening people you suspect more than those you don’t is

a) Your suspicions might be wrong, and you miss the real criminals.
b) It pisses of ‘suspicious-looking’ but innocent people.

Simon Saez October 29, 2009 12:16 PM

So if an organization has everything to lose and nothing to gain by collecting information on it’s practices why would they do it?

A. They are compelled by higher authority
B. They are compelled by events
C. Their leaders and line workers actually DO have a sense of their mission and want to do good for the country.
D. Other?

I was told once that organizations with good processes don’t have problems implementing security. I’ve seen enough internal organizational dynamics hit security requriements to know the truthiness of this. Agencies are similar to people and react like them to stress. Some are so dysfunctional that they need serious therapy.

Good processes don’t just happen they have to be identified, implemented and developed.

It’s a question of maturity. How old is TSA anyway? 6 or 7? How smart were we at that age.

HJohn October 29, 2009 12:30 PM

I do find it completely remarkable how common the following two characteristics are for just about everyone it seems:

  1. All seem to want self-preservation, protecting oneself from others, and think others should understand.
  2. All seem to want others to prepare their own noose, and any relluctance to do so is suspect.

Not surprising.

HJohn October 29, 2009 12:33 PM

@Tim at October 29, 2009 12:15 PM

I’d add:

c) if you exclude a group of people, that is the group that will be used.

For example, no 90 year old grandmother will hijack a plane, but a wannabe hijacker will use the trust afforded the 90 year old grandmother to get weapons/materials past security.

Roy October 29, 2009 12:47 PM

The great bulk of the flying public puts up with this abuse and flagrant violations of their civil rights because they have been trained to knuckle under to any authority indiscriminately. At the same time, the big shots flying on corporate jets circumvent all this circus nonsense entirely. Why are they completely excepted? Because they will not tolerate abuse.

Recall that when the police lockdown a neighborhood, it is never a rich neighborhood. Why? Rich people will not tolerate that kind of abuse. They’ll get people fired and perhaps prosecuted.

If corporate jets were put under the same restrictions as passenger airliners, this nonsense would come to a screeching halt. The only way the rich would be able to avoid it would be refusing to fly, and they’ll never give up their right to fly in luxury. Quit giving the bigshots a blanket exception and all this will end abruptly.

Bryan Feir October 29, 2009 1:04 PM

‘c) if you exclude a group of people, that is the group that will be used.’

Indeed, many crooks have known about this one for a long time. See exhibit A: children used as drug mules.

This doesn’t even necessarily mean the cloak-and-dagger stuff at the Mexican border; high school students from Point Roberts in Washington State have been used to carry drugs from British Columbia before.

Point Roberts is a town too small to support a high school, and which exists on a little peninsula of land cut off from the rest of the U.S. by Canada, so the students get bussed across the border twice to go to school in Blaine, every day. The students probably know half the local customs officers by name. Is anybody reading this blog really surprised they get used to smuggle things?

HJohn October 29, 2009 1:29 PM

@Bryan Feir at October 29, 2009 1:04 PM

Not surprised at all. It puts the customs officials in a no-win situation. If something gets smuggled, they are incompetent and just theatre. Yet, if they do anything to prevent the smuggling (like periodically screen the kids), they are blasted for harrassing children who are just trying to go to school.

Jason October 29, 2009 1:31 PM

@Roy “lockdown a neighborhood, it is never a rich neighborhood.”

Are we talking about the really rich here not just people richer than you?

If so I’d say the really rich already live in locked down neighborhoods. They’re called gated for a reason.

HJohn October 29, 2009 1:42 PM

@Roy: “lockdown a neighborhood, it is never a rich neighborhood.”

There are two ways to look at this. The first, as you have, is that it is never a rich neighborhood, so it must be discrimination against a poor neighborhood.

The other way, which I believe is more true, is that the rich are unlikely to move to a neighborhood with a crime rate that would warrant a lockdown.

If there is one thing that high crime does, it drives down home values, drives out those who can afford to move out, drives out business and jobs and exacerbates poverty.

Your oblique reference to this through a TSA post I guess can be brought back close to the topic that what some bad people do hurts good people since, on surface, you can’t usually tell who the bad guys are just by looking at them. This isn’t the fault of the authorities.

Jason October 29, 2009 1:46 PM

@HJohn Re: ‘if you exclude a group of people, that is the group that will be used’

First –
In my very limited personal experience, the TSA employees have behaved cordially and intelligently with an understanding that their activities are intrusive.

Now to respond to your comment. By definition that means no group can be excluded.

By extension, it means that any behavior that is not currently suspicious and any paraphernalia currently allowed will be used for nefarious purposes.

It is a slippery slope until we are required to be naked and unconscious in order to travel. I doubt it will get that far due to practical matters, but that is the direction we are going.

At what point does it become more advantageous for determined criminals to just pick a different avenue of attack? Will we then need to implement the same levels of security for every possible activity and every possible location that a criminal might think about performing his or her criminal activity?

HJohn October 29, 2009 1:51 PM

@Jason: “In my very limited personal experience, the TSA employees have behaved cordially and intelligently with an understanding that their activities are intrusive.”

Same here.

kangaroo October 29, 2009 2:01 PM

Passive bias is an interesting problem. It’s not only below the level of awareness, but in general any attempt to correct it is going to kick in defense mechanisms. It’s hard, intellectually, to become aware of your own cognitive processes — some of them are quite encrusted with defense mechanisms, since they are diametrically opposed to your conscious ideology.

Which, of course, means that you will get angry at anyone who tries to bring them to your awareness — they’re putting you in a state of cognitive distress. Which then can result in political conflict…

You see this often with folks who can honestly claim to not be racist. It’s a widespread political conflict in the US, because not being intentionally racist says very little about the passive biases you may have developed as a child.

Nomen Publicus October 29, 2009 2:11 PM

As good security is almost indistinguishable from bad or no security when there is no active threat, there is no advantage to the TSA to measure anything that might show them in a bad light.

They will count the number of penknives confiscated and the T-shirts with pictures of guns reversed and claim continuing success in protecting the people against some undefined threat.

JimFive October 29, 2009 2:32 PM

@Tim: “The only problems with screening people you suspect more than those you don’t is

a) Your suspicions might be wrong, and you miss the real criminals.”

It’s actually worse than you think. Demographic trends tell you NOTHING about the INDIVIDUAL in front of you. When you attempt to use that demographic information to make a decision about the individual it makes it more likely that you will be wrong. There was a study about this regarding potential heart attacks at hospitals a few years ago. Using medical history in addition to symptoms led to worse care decisions (in the emergency room) than just using symptoms alone.


HJohn October 29, 2009 2:55 PM

@Nomen Publicus: “As good security is almost indistinguishable from bad or no security when there is no active threat, there is no advantage to the TSA to measure anything that might show them in a bad light.”

One problem is it is really tough to measure value of a known security procedure. To illustrate what I mean by that, I will use metal detectors as an example — metal detectors can go years without detecting a gun. Why? Because people don’t even try to smuggle a gun past one.

However, if someone said “we’ve never found a gun, this is a waste of money” and removed them, people would then smuggle guns past them.

It’s tough to measure the deterring value of a countermeasure.

Of course, if you try to smuggle a gun you’ll be arrested and life will get real tough. Other “threats”, like liquids, will just get discarded and one can try again.

Not an easy problem to solve.

Brandioch Conner October 29, 2009 3:35 PM

“One problem is it is really tough to measure value of a known security procedure. To illustrate what I mean by that, I will use metal detectors as an example — metal detectors can go years without detecting a gun. Why? Because people don’t even try to smuggle a gun past one.

However, if someone said “we’ve never found a gun, this is a waste of money” and removed them, people would then smuggle guns past them.”

You’re measuring the wrong thing.

Are guns getting into the location DESPITE the metal detectors?

Then you look at the number of guns in the other location. Lots of guns there?

With terrorism, it is difficult because there just aren’t that many terrorists in the general population.

Which is why I support Bruce’s point on saving money on airport security … and then spending it on finding the terrorists in the general population. BEFORE they try to get on airplanes.

HJohn October 29, 2009 3:38 PM

@Brandioch Conner at October 29, 2009 3:35 PM

I don’t disagree. I think TSA is inefficient and a waste of money, no doubt.

Protecting airplanes is important, because they can be used by a few people to kill many. However, they aren’t the only way to engage in terrorism, so getting tunnel vision and focusing too much on this one threat leaves us too vulnerable elsewhere.

joepatriot October 29, 2009 4:35 PM

Just in case none of you folks have followed public opinion for the last few years… the public already believes TSA is singling them out because they’re xxx or abc. The public is also paranoid (as you folks seem to be) that TSA is secretly gathering information so we can go after them… whoever they think they are.

Bottom line, if TSA starts collecting data about the people they screen then all the idiots in this country will start screaming that the gov is after them. Can we give it a break? I understand the “assistant chief’s” position as I am also retired law enforcement. Unfortunately, the data collection he is talking about is close to worthless and generally only serves to comply with ACLU whining. Guess what, if you patrol a neighborhood that is 90% whatever minority group… that’s who you’re going to pull over and that’s who you’re going to arrest more often that not!
For those who believe the “security theatre” nonsense, please grow up and put your helmet back on ’cause the short bus is getting ready to leave and take you back to your group home where everybody loves you and nobody bad can see or hurt you.

HJohn October 29, 2009 4:41 PM

@joepatriot at October 29, 2009 4:35 PM

I think you make a fair point.

Usually, we’re blasting the government for collecting too much, now we blast them for not collecting enough. If they collect, it is to use against us and be big brother, if they don’t it is to avoid accountability. It’s the no-win game.

I agree somewhat about the demographics issue too. If someone does not do their jobs in a situation because they are afraid of the demographic of the possible perpetrator, the victims of the perpetrator suffer most, and most often these are members of the same demographic.

Andrew October 29, 2009 7:14 PM

As a taxpayer I would prefer that my taxpayer dollars be spent most efficiently. Given the generally vapid state of airport and airline security, as an industry professional I can assert categorically that over-screening passengers does nothing to improve overall security.

Example: last time I flew commercial out of OAK, I saw workmen’s unlocked and open tool boxes left in a construction area past security screening and accessible to passengers about to fly. These obviously contain screwdrivers, etc. I brought this to the attention of a TSA employee, who shrugged and went back to his break.

I have interacted with a number of TSA employees who express severe frustration with the mind-numbing bureaucracy under which they work, which strains at gnats and admits thundering herds of alligators. (Example: telescoping handles of luggage which could easily be sharpened and function as long stabbing implements.)

In that sense the entire TSA is a boondoggle and a living testament to government inefficiency. I must remind joepatriot that cops make lousy security people as they often lack attention to detail, are blinded by their own insufferable arrogance, and goof off unless intensely supervised. Fortunately TSA is not a policing agency, one of the few good things about them.

However, given that TSA is spending our money to screen us, I would like to see some basic metrics as to how well this job is being done. I’d be very happy to see that both successes and complaints are being properly tracked for this purpose. I respect HJohn’s concerns about excessive data collection but note that this is happening already through trip and camera analysis. Why not collect more data that serves to protect rather than hinder individual rights?

The truly ironic part is that TSA might have good ammunition to demonstrate improvements in complaint handling if only they tracked them.

Yogi October 29, 2009 10:28 PM

@HJohn & Joepatriot,

Besides the minor point that the author is a woman, the not-so-minor point is that the information collected was not about the interviewees, but about the actions and reasoning of the officers involved. This isn’t a question of “why is the TSa collecting more information about US”, but “why isn’t the TSA collecting more information about ITSELF”.

And joepatriot, it isn’t always about what you do in the “normal” cases, but why you did or didn’t do something in the unusual cases. Even if the population is 99% black/latino/asian, how you go about selecting those you choose to interact with is ALWAYS the real question.

And, I am also retired LEO, albeit from a cowtown in rural OR, and for a short time. Nonetheless, it has been proven to be better policing to have to specify your reasons for initiating stops/FIs etc, than to simply go on “instinct.”

Aviatrix October 29, 2009 10:45 PM

For me the most fascinating ideas from the article were “I am routinely screened because I look like someone who will readily comply,” and “I believe I was subjected to a haphazard response in order to effectively punish me for refusing secondary screening.”

She admits those were subjective ideas but that doesn’t invalidate her point about data collection. R. Saunders: she suggests data collection not to determine the percentage of searchees who turn out to be terrorists, but the percentage who are 42 year old white women, in comparison to their percentage in the total population being screened.

Slarty October 29, 2009 10:57 PM

“unless you’re not a yank in which case go pester your own government”

Fair point, but bear in mind a) us non-personss are subjected to even more invasive checks and b) the US uses it’s (admittedly diminishing) economic might to promulgate its bigotry and prejudice (e.g. war on drugs / terror / human trafficking or whatever is being used to stir up the “last refuge of scoundrels” to get some domestic votes this week).

And who knows – given the amount the ‘yanks’ have to borrow off the rest of us at the moment, we might even have some influence!?

averros October 30, 2009 1:29 AM

TSA is a comple and total joke for a very simple reason: the airfields are NOT secure areas, by any reasonable definition.

For example: any GA aircraft can land on any public airfield. They can take off from any airstrips, too – including those which don’t even have a fence (a majority of them).

So… if I’m a bad guy, I’ll simply load all the explosives and guns I need into a GA plane, take off, land at the targeted airport, and then simply walk to whatever plane I want to blow up. No TSA personnel in sight. If I really want to be sure nobody bugs me while I’m at it, I’ll dress as a baggage handler or some other species of ground personnel – everybody will presume I was already screened and therefore have right to be where I am.

The whole “air travel security” is onle big joke, and the only reason aircraft don’t get blown up daily is that there’s not that many terrists menacing the public (if any… not created and funded by the TLAs, heh).

Meanwhile, TSA goons were already noticed sabotaging planes (doing things like breaking off Pitot tubes by using them as ladder steps… which is sufficient to cause a crash). Idiots in uniform and aviation safety don’t mix well.

hat October 30, 2009 5:53 AM


That movie-plot threat won’t work because, as GA pilots are painfully aware, GA and commercial aircraft are strictly segregated at mixed-op airports. Those airports also usually require GA pilots to be escorted while on the apron (even when the GA and commercial ops are on opposite ends of the airfield). There’s just as much security theater on the GA side as on the commercial side.

jt October 30, 2009 6:21 AM


I’m black and want police and other authorities to keep track of who they stop by race (many do already, I think it’s mandated in my state). That’s the only way to see if there are patterns of discrimination.

BF Skinner October 30, 2009 6:59 AM


Said most lucidly. well done.

I found the congressional oversight information…call their office and ask for the staffer who handles DHS/TSA area of interest and send them the essay…

You might also want to give the Daily Show w/John Stewart a call. The administration does watch the show.

oversight of the TSA mostly comes from the
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The chairman of the Senate committee is Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV. The ranking member is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX. The web site is commerce.senate.gov.
The chairman of the aviation subcommittee is Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND.
The ranking member is Sen. James DeMint, R-SC.

The chairman of the House committee is Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN. Main office number: 202-225-4472.
The ranking member is John Mica, 202-225-9446.

BF Skinner October 30, 2009 7:10 AM


Reasonable and sorry. I threw the “not a yank” line out without much thought. But believe me the temper inside the states? With the intrusive extra vigourous screening…they are being very polite with our foreign visitors. Look at the tone of joepatriot. He’s on the nice side of the scale the level of xenophobia is as high as I’ve ever seen it. There are people here in a mood to kick out any nad all non-US national and brick up the borders.

I misbelieve that people should interact with each others governements through their own.

Of course foreigners lobby the US government all the time and not just at the diplomatic level. It’s why President Bush held hands with Saudi king and the Saudies were able to be the only people in the air after 9/11

Clive Robinson October 30, 2009 7:26 AM

@ jt,

“That’s the only way to see if there are patterns of discrimination.”

Saddly no, it just makes it more covert in the way it is done.

In the UK we have enough silly laws to give a Police officer a reason to “stop and search” and then we have such offences as “equipted to commit an offence” and contary to what most people think there is a law that alows a police officer if anything is a weapon.

Oh and we have “anti-terror” legislation that can and has been used to make people hand over their mobile phones to be checked for suspicious images etc etc etc.

It is such that it would have to be a very stupid police officer to have a case proved against him.

David October 30, 2009 10:11 AM

@BF Skinner: IIRC, the Saudis were grounded like everybody else after the 9/11 attacks. However, a lot of them were flown out immediately after, despite objections from law enforcement agencies that wanted to talk to them and see what information they might have.

It was still a highly politicized interference in security, but it wasn’t quite as bad as you say.

The problem with closing down the borders more for security is that intelligent people determined on committing illegal acts will still get through, so we’ll be excluding really dumb wannabe terrorists only, along with a whole lot of honest people that are good for the country.

BF Skinner October 30, 2009 10:52 AM

@David “grounded like everybody else … a lot of them were flown out immediately after”

I have difficulty reconciling these too clauses. The Saudi’s used their influence to remove some their nationals while everyone else was grounded. They feared “retribution”…but not enough to remove the rest of their nationals or other people who looked vaguely “Arab”.

This is not the place to go into the issue of foreign influence in the most politically powerful families in the country…but I’ll say this – It’s not as bad as I say. It’s worse.

For instance, in DC there are only two types of flying police escorted head of state type motorcades. One is for POTUS. The other is for the Saudi ambassador. Even other HoSs don’t get them. Also check out who’s providing external security at the Saudi embassy.

averros November 1, 2009 4:25 AM


Yes, there are procedures – at larger mixed-use airports. There’s still a lot of smaller fields which get commercial traffic and where nobody gives a flying notice to what happens at GA ramp.

Even at the largest fields, there are no TSA agents posted at every taxiway – and in many small GA planes (Cessnas, for example) it is easy to get out without doing anything noticeable like opening a canopy. Do that at nighttime or when it’s moderately foggy and nobody will see anything. Dropping an object ( a remotely-controlled bomb, for example) to a side of a taxiway is just as easy.

It is simply not possible to secure areas as large as airfields having a large vehicular traffic and poor lighting.

hat November 1, 2009 4:15 PM


Cessnas do not have openable canopies, so I question your knowledge of GA aircraft, airports, and procedures–unless by “Cessnas” you mean “Cessna T-37s”, in which case I would question your judgment of what constitutes a GA aircraft.

GA aircraft already receive far more scrutiny than is warranted, in part because the people who use GA airports simply aren’t as unobservant as you suppose. The sudden appearance of an unusual object beside the runway would be investigated promptly because most people in the GA community know what is and is not out of place on an airport. I dare say Bruce would agree that this forms the basis of a very effective security environment.

averros November 4, 2009 3:04 AM

hat -what I did say that it is possible to get out of GA aircraft without doing anything noticeable LIKE opening a canopy.

I’m sorry that I constructed a phrase so obviously hard to interpret correctly.

I logged over 100 PIC hours in C-172s this year. I guess I know what small Cessnas look like, but thank you for reminding me.

Observant… yes; but it is awfully hard to see things lying behind taxiway signs at night. It’s even harder to see things on a runway shoulder when the lights flash past you (I learned that hard way when I was told by the co-pilot that I nearly hit the deer on t/o roll at night).

You don’t need a huge bomb to effectively puncture a wing tank of a heavy jet and ignite the leaking fuel… a chunk of ruptured tire was sufficient to do AF4590 in.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.