Full Body Scanners: What's Next?


Organizers of National Opt Out Day, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when air travelers were urged to opt out of the full-body scanners at security checkpoints and instead submit to full-body patdowns -- were outfoxed by the TSA. The government pre-empted the protest by turning off the machines in most airports during the Thanksgiving weekend. Everyone went through the metal detectors, just as before.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, the machines are back on and the "enhanced" pat-downs have resumed. I suspect that more people would prefer to have naked images of themselves seen by TSA agents in another room, than have themselves intimately touched by a TSA agent right in front of them.

But now, the TSA is in a bind. Regardless of whatever lobbying came before, or whatever former DHS officials had a financial interest in these scanners, the TSA has spent billions on those scanners, claiming they're essential. But because people can opt out, the alternate manual method must be equally effective; otherwise, the terrorists could just opt out. If they make the pat-downs less invasive, it would be the same as admitting the scanners aren't essential. Senior officials would get fired over that.

So not counting inconsequential modifications to demonstrate they're "listening," the pat-downs will continue. And they'll continue for everyone: children, abuse survivors, rape survivors, urostomy bag wearers, people in wheelchairs. It has to be that way; otherwise, the terrorists could simply adapt. They'd hide their explosives on their children or in their urostomy bags. They'd recruit rape survivors, abuse survivors, or seniors. They'd dress as pilots. They'd sneak their PETN through airport security using the very type of person who isn't being screened.

And PETN is what the TSA is looking for these days. That's pentaerythritol tetranitrate, the plastic explosive that both the Shoe Bomber and the Underwear Bomber attempted but failed to detonate. It's what was mailed from Yemen. It's in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guns and traditional bombs are passé; PETN is the terrorist tool of the future.

The problem is that no scanners or puffers can detect PETN; only swabs and dogs work. What the TSA hopes is that they will detect the bulge if someone is hiding a wad of it on their person. But they won't catch PETN hidden in a body cavity. That doesn't have to be as gross as you're imagining; you can hide PETN in your mouth. A terrorist can go through the scanners a dozen times with bits in his mouth each time, and assemble a bigger bomb on the other side. Or he can roll it thin enough to be part of a garment, and sneak it through that way. These tricks aren't new. In the days after the Underwear Bomber was stopped, a scanner manufacturer admitted that the machines might not have caught him.

So what's next? Strip searches? Body cavity searches? TSA Administrator John Pistole said there would be no body cavity searches for now, but his reasons make no sense. He said that the case widely reported as being a body cavity bomb might not actually have been. While that appears to be true, what does that have to do with future bombs? He also said that even body cavity bombs would need "external initiators" that the TSA would be able to detect.

Do you think for a minute that the TSA can detect these "external initiators"? Do you think that if a terrorist took a laptop -- or better yet, a less-common piece of electronics gear -- and removed the insides and replaced them with a timer, a pressure sensor, a simple contact switch, or a radio frequency switch, the TSA guy behind the X-ray machine monitor would detect it? How about if those components were distributed over a few trips through airport security. On the other hand, if we believe the TSA can magically detect these "external initiators" so effectively that they make body-cavity searches unnecessary, why do we need the full-body scanners?

Either PETN is a danger that must be searched for, or it isn't. Pistole was being either ignorant or evasive.

Once again, the TSA is covering their own asses by implementing security-theater measures to prevent the previous attack while ignoring any threats of future attacks. It's the same thinking that caused them to ban box cutters after 9/11, screen shoes after Richard Reid, limit liquids after that London gang, and -- I kid you not -- ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces after they were used to house package bombs from Yemen. They act like the terrorists are incapable of thinking creatively, while the terrorists repeatedly demonstrate that can always come up with a new approach that circumvents the old measures.

On the plus side, PETN is very hard to get to explode. The pre-9/11 screening procedures, looking for obvious guns and bombs, forced the terrorists to build inefficient fusing mechanisms. We saw this when Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, used bottles of liquid and a syringe and 20 minutes in the bathroom to assemble his device, then set his pants on fire -- and still failed to ignite his PETN-filled underwear. And when he failed, the passengers quickly subdued him.

The truth is that exactly two things have made air travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing cockpit doors and convincing passengers they need to fight back. The TSA should continue to screen checked luggage. They should start screening airport workers. And then they should return airport security to pre-9/11 levels and let the rest of their budget be used for better purposes. Investigation and intelligence is how we're going to prevent terrorism, on airplanes and elsewhere. It's how we caught the liquid bombers. It's how we found the Yemeni printer-cartridge bombs. And it's our best chance at stopping the next serious plot.

Because if a group of well-planned and well-funded terrorist plotters makes it to the airport, the chance is pretty low that those blue-shirted crotch-groping water-bottle-confiscating TSA agents are going to catch them. The agents are trying to do a good job, but the deck is so stacked against them that their job is impossible. Airport security is the last line of defense, and it's not a very good one.

We have a job here, too, and it's to be indomitable in the face of terrorism. The goal of terrorism is to terrorize us: to make us afraid, and make our government do exactly what the TSA is doing. When we react out of fear, the terrorists succeed even when their plots fail. But if we carry on as before, the terrorists fail -- even when their plots succeed.

This essay originally appeared on The Atlantic website.

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 6:20 AM • 131 Comments

Comments

JohnDecember 3, 2010 7:37 AM

Perhaps you can compare the madness of the TSA in the far of exotic land of USA with airport security in UK, mainland Europe, and India - all of which have air travellers and terrorist threats.

You are right about terrorism being dependant on the reaction of the public. The reaction of London after the July 7th bombings was a good example where people travelled in to London on public transport on the day after to show they refuse to be terrorised.

Frank Ch. EiglerDecember 3, 2010 7:37 AM

"And PETN is what the TSA is looking for these days. That's [...] the plastic explosive that both the Shoe Bomber and the Underwear Bomber attempted but failed to detonate. [...] PETN is the terrorist tool of the future."

It's nice to see that although this tactic/tool was already used in the past ("yesterday's attack"), Bruce still sees logic in searching for it in the future.

Bob DucklesDecember 3, 2010 7:44 AM

Thanks, Bruce. Keep helping hammer these points. I would add that both the full body scanners and the "pat downs" dehumanize both the traveler and the TSO. I plan to opt-out any time I am asked to go through a scanner and to find a way to register a protest of the grope.

I also admire the people who have made the point by going through security dressed in very little. We need to keep our sense of humor about this.

Sasha van den HeetkampDecember 3, 2010 7:47 AM

Ultimately, I think arguing the effectiveness of body scanners, and "enhanced" pat-downs are negated with the argument that it's the best they can do to give a (false) sense of security. While it might not foil a well funded terrorist attack, they simply bought off 'their' liability at the expense of your and our privacy. So in that sense, management made the trade-off; Better some security, than none at all. And I can't blame them, no matter how ridiculous those security measures seem. In the end, someone has to be held accountable when a terrorist boards a plane with explosive material.

RemittancegirlDecember 3, 2010 7:52 AM

No, actually, at my age, I prefer to be groped. I'm not picky about who anymore.

ChrisDecember 3, 2010 7:57 AM

Your comment that every plot so far has been stopped by intel got me thinking. Can the TSA demonstrate that any post 9/11 security measures have stopped even a single attempt? I can think of maybe 10 foiled terrorist plots off the top of my head. Some were stopped in the planning stages, most were stopped inside the security check point, not a single one was stopped by the security checkpoint. If the TSA is really helping, don't you think the TSA itself and both the Bush and Obama administrations would be publishing stats on the huge number of terrorist attempts aborted by their unpopular security measures, probably with descriptions of the threats. And yet we have complete silence.

Moses LiskovDecember 3, 2010 8:03 AM

I feel like one of the most effective arguments against these privacy-invading techniques is that security measures don't prevent anything, they simply "raise the bar."

Locks on your doors and windows raise the bar by making a thief actually break something to get into your house. Metal detectors and x-ray scanners prevent a terrorist (or a lone nutjob) from bringing guns or fully-assembled, traditional bombs onto a plane; they have to use substantially more complicated tools.

I just don't see how the groping / scanners raise the bar in a meaningful way. I think that's how to tell which measures are "security theater" and which ones actually make a difference.

dont believe the liesDecember 3, 2010 8:15 AM

The US does not have a terrorist problem, terrorists are organized political groups that have the means and will to disrupt society with otherwise tactically meaningless attacks.
Iraq has a terrrorist problem created by bush and the israeli and oil interests that manipulated him.
In iraq, bombs are a problem, so they have checkpoints, the checkpoints either catch bombs going through or for money or ideology the troops allow them through.
checkpoints that catch the bombs are soon bombed themselves.
If the US depends on allowing bombers to approach the flight checkin scanners, they will detonate bombs right there,
That is if the US develops a terrorist problem, we don't have one. only a huge anti constitutional rights authoritarian bureaucracy that feeds on reports and scares of terrorism to defeat the bill of rights.
Sacha is absolutly right. we wont get security from DHS, we will only get greater facism from gunmen with impunity like they have all over iraq. thanks to our gunmen with impunity.

DavidDecember 3, 2010 8:15 AM

The point of these TSA measures is nothing whatever to do with security. It's simply to see how far they can push the populace into being sheeplike.

Baaaaa.

RemittancegirlDecember 3, 2010 8:26 AM

I agree with Moses, so in the spirit of 'Security Theatre', when they pat me down at Heathrow, I moan - really loud. I've notice it makes them finish much faster.

JoeDecember 3, 2010 8:28 AM

Well said, as usual ... but is it depressing that repetition of these well-thought out arguments seems to have no effect whatsoever? What has to happen for attitudes to change? Does it happen at a grass roots level and move up? I was hopeful the outrage against the scanners and pat-downs would do that, but it seems to have fizzled. From the top down? Nobody at the top seems to have the courage to be indomitable.

Carlo GrazianiDecember 3, 2010 8:29 AM

"Indomitable". The American voting public. That's a good one.

The American public is terrified, and demands that the government to make them 100% safe, everywhere, forever, at any cost. They've made this abundantly clear to their elected representatives. Any official who attempts to talk sense to them might as well write a campaign check for his election opponent. The reference implementation of the politician who embodies the public's views is Joe Lieberman, who, however craven, is no idiot.

TSA/DHS understands this perfectly, and the chances of them going back to pre-9/11 security are zero, to many significant figures. They are giving us precisely what we asked them for, and it's churlish to complain about it.

Sasha van den HeetkampDecember 3, 2010 8:31 AM

Well, security is a theater. It doesn't only apply to airline security. Putting locks on your door is a security theater as well, because we could simply bust the door in, or pick any lock available. The opposite strategy is that we don't put locks on doors at all. So what to do? locks, or no locks? I think I made up my mind and settle for the relative safety of a lock.

Therefore it's chasing ghosts while aiming for tangible safety. All they can do is mitigate and anticipate known attacks and variations thereof. Since you cannot phantom all possible angles, the only thing one can do is create degrees of safety and security.

But most of all, as I said earlier, to buy of liability. Insurance companies usually demands a level of security. Whether it be certified locks( no matter if you can pick them) or fire-alarms. And can you blame them? Same goes for those who write the rules and are going to be held accountable when a passengers boards with material to create an explosive which could have been found with the technology they are using.

Furthermore, the sole idea of having security works as a porch light. Terrorists are human too, they might think twice before getting in line with their undies filled with PETN.

Alternative: Don't fly.

MikeDecember 3, 2010 8:32 AM

So if the only practical way to detect PETN is with dogs, why aren't they training more dogs instead of wasting time on security theatre?

RogueDecember 3, 2010 8:39 AM

@Moses Liskov: "...they simply "raise the bar."

You are exactly right but it does beg a question. If you ask: "by what percentage did security improve and what metrics were you measuring" you would probably get a blank stare.

In my younger days when I was still doing work for police departments an LEO told me about this baddie they called "the door shaker". He would go through apartment buildings and "shake" every door knob. If one was open, he would enter and do bad things. Simply by "raising the bar" i.e. keeping the dang door locked prevented crimes. They eventually caught the guy.

I can't tell you how many crimes were prevented by simply keeping the door locked but having security metrics would be very useful. Of course once they start publishing any metric it reduces security to a numbers circus. Maybe it's better to not have them.

Steve JonesDecember 3, 2010 8:59 AM

Ironically, all these post-9/11 "security" measures make things less secure, in that they create perfect bottlenecks, where loads of people gather, for no good reason. What better target for a suicide bomber? No need to go through any security, just walk up to an big crowd and boom. How will the TSA, or any other amateur theatre group, cope with that?

First TimerDecember 3, 2010 9:03 AM

I don't think the U.S. public is terrified. I think the elected officials are terrified, but not of the terrorists.

Suppose Incumbent Bloggins (Anystate - R/D) comes out against these security measures. His opponent will smell blood in the water and be all over him come election time. Similarly, candidate Bleegins can't come out against this stuff, because the incumbent will attack him for it and he'll be seen as putting people at risk.

To come out against any of these security measures is akin to political suicide. We saw that when the underwear bomber was foiled and it was called a success. That made political hay for anyone with a soapbox, and the statement ended up being retracted in order to save face for the political masters.

No elected official is going to come out against all this security theatre because it will mean effectively falling on their sword - they will get eviscerated by their opponent come the next election.

I don't think elected officals are afraid of the terrorists. I think they are afraid of loosing the next election. It is in their own best interest to protect themselves, and over-reacting is the best way to do that. Anything less than "over the top" reactions will give their opponent weapons against them in the next election.

It's very Darwinian when you squint at it at it a certain way. The political system in the U.S. selects for this type of behavior.

The two-party system is inherently adversarial. People on opposite sides of the political fence *must* find fault and sow discontent, because that is the only way to get elected. Consensus and agreement with your political opponents won't get you a seat in Washington.

I think the times of elected officials saying things like, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" are long gone in the U.S. It has been selectively bred out of the politicians.

Clive RobinsonDecember 3, 2010 9:04 AM

@ Bruce,

You forgot to mention the TSA shot themselves in the foot.

If the logic is grope downs and rapescans are essential and it's one or the other, why did they just use the metal detectors when "political activism" happend?

That is a major opps...

They have shown themselve to be succeptable to the Gandhi Attack...

Further it also lets the terrorists know that come any planned political action that's the time to get the PETN through in bulk.

The problem with the DHS and TSA administration is they don't think things through, they should have put up with the protest without blinking an eye irespective of what happend to the air scheduals or ques of passengers.

Now everybody who can think a little know they are a busted flush, they don't give a hoot about security only the "political look" of what they do...

John GaltDecember 3, 2010 9:32 AM

I just returned from a trip to Atlanta - flew both ways.

In both my departure airport and Atlanta, the full body scanners were turned off, and a barrier was placed in front of them.

There was a sign in front of the scanner in Atlanta, explaining what it was, and informing people that they could refuse to enter the scanner - but that they would be searched by hand instead.

This was not during thanksgiving, but rather the week of 11-30 --> 12/3

aikimarkDecember 3, 2010 9:38 AM

Part of the lessons I impart in the dojo are that you don't have to beat your attacker, you only need to remain unbeaten -- thwart their attacks.

I also teach energy conservation lessons in which I teach my students that they should use the least amount of effort required to defend themselves.

BrianDecember 3, 2010 9:41 AM

I can't help but think that the biggest security issue is a large number of people bunched up together on the "wrong" side of the metal detectors.. Why worry about sneaking things through the security gate, when you can attack the gate, and cause the same panic. Then what would we do?

Clive RobinsonDecember 3, 2010 9:42 AM

@ Frank Ch. Eigle

"It's nice to see that although this tactic/tool was already used in the past ("yesterday's attack") Bruce still sees logic in searching for it in the future."

That's because it's a viable "tool" of terrorism not an "attack vector" of terrorism.

Whilst there are an almost unlimited set of attack vectors there only a very limited number of tools.

And this perticular tool has a lot of advantages which is why they have tried to use it in thepast three publicly known bomb attacks.

The use of PETN which fails "to explode" in the field raises the interesting point about IF THEY ARE ment to explode.

The thing is these failed attempts are actually more successful for having failed.

The terrorists need resources and support for that they need sponsors. As long as they keep up the attacks they are winning because the US "knee jerks" and another billion or so dollars are spent. However if the attack kills women and children it would be seen as a "cowardly attack" and lose them sponsors, support and resources.

The reason OBL got away with 9/11 is that the majority by far of the victims where not "innocents" but "workers" for the US Capitalist organisations that set US foreign policy and where thus legitimate targets.

Miles ArcherDecember 3, 2010 10:08 AM

I generally agree with what you write. The security theater is a joke.

However, I think the pat down thing is overblown. There's no way that I will allow the TSA to xray me until they provide a lot more data about the safety of the machines, training and calibration records, etc.

I flew yesterday from LAS. They had some of the machines and I opted out. The guy who searched me was professional. I've been searched at foriegn airports in the past and the search was pretty much identical. There was no fondling or particular attention to my crotch. The only difference was that he ran his gloves inside the wasteband of my pants which they then tested for explosives.

I'll agree that it's pretty much worthless to try to fixate on underwear bombers, but if that's what you're after, the search is reasonable. Time consuming, expensive, and threat specific, but somewhat effective in combating the last threat.

uk visaDecember 3, 2010 10:20 AM

@j
Given the TSA's response to the shoe bomber was to focus all their attention on our shoes... it'll only take one terrorist to attempt to get through security with explosives in a lower body cavity and the TSA will have to introduce a compulsory probe for all travellers.
Which prompts one to ask, misquoting Juvenal, who will probe the probers!

FJDecember 3, 2010 10:30 AM

Bruce,

I don't agree with this statement.
"The truth is that exactly two things have made air travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing cockpit doors and convincing passengers they need to fight back."

There are three changes that have made air travel safer. The third being the change in policy to not automatically do what hijackers say.

xd0sDecember 3, 2010 10:34 AM

@Frank Ch and @Clive

These point tough on something I've wondered about for a while now, which is if the AQ tactics now are just to send in low grade "troops" with not real bombs and intentionally get them caught.

The TSA / Government blows the horn of success at catching a terrorist and that gets way more press and is far easier than actually bombing anything.

Effective and cheap and using our own process against us is perfectly viable and possible here. I've been wondering, but have no evidence or support on it, but seems like that would make sense.

Furhter if the bomb isn't supposed to work, the amounts of PETN or other "supporting electronics" don't have to operate or look like a detonator, making detection that much harder in the first place.

Brandioch ConnerDecember 3, 2010 10:39 AM

@Miles Archer
"The guy who searched me was professional. I've been searched at foriegn airports in the past and the search was pretty much identical. There was no fondling or particular attention to my crotch. The only difference was that he ran his gloves inside the wasteband of my pants which they then tested for explosives."

Whether you personally find it objectionable is not the issue.

The issue is whether the process will detect the explosive.

No, it will not.

Therefore, why require that people go through a process that THEY (not you) may find offensive if it will not provide any additional security?

Jonathan LundellDecember 3, 2010 10:48 AM

"That doesn't have to be as gross as you're imagining…".

"Sure, I'll blow myself into little pieces along with 200 fellow passengers, but I draw that line at *that*. Ewww!"

Right.

JD BertronDecember 3, 2010 10:54 AM

Proof that Bruce is right: The TSA now has a program for frequent fliers to bypass the screening using biometrics to match you to your background check.
So, spending money on that strategy is clearly acceptable. In fact, it has always been the only acceptable strategy, especially now, since it would make sense for a terrorist to try to get accepted in the program to avoid the screening altogether.

The bad news is, they're passing the cost onto the consumer, to the tune of $179 per year. Of course it's not like our taxes didn't already pay for this...

RSXDecember 3, 2010 11:14 AM

Whats next? I dont know..Bend over, grab your ankles and cough?

I swear this is all a running bet between the higher-ups at tsa, instead of playing poker they make wagers on policies. Next on the table is seeing who can convince everyone to strip naked and have their retinas scanned, then be forced to have a tattoo of a barcode put on their wrists.

Cracked.com put together a less-then-serious photoshop list, lets hope they arent taking notes at the office!

http://www.cracked.com/...

(If it shows as Slideshow, change to article view for more user-friendliness)

KenDecember 3, 2010 11:14 AM

I'd like to see some real analysis of just how much of a threat even PETN is. I'm sure you could kill several passengers, but I think it would take a huge amount to truly completely destroy a plane. It could certainly force an emergency landing, but I'm not sure if preventing emergency landings is really enough to justify the expense. "Blown out of the sky" sounds really bad, but I'm guessing the majority of the time "forced emergency landing" is what it really means - and that isn't nearly as scary.

The Mythbusters have shown that planes are much tougher than they look, and the BBC showed that 80 grams of PETN (what the underwear bomber had) isn't likely to be enough to materially damage the fuselage. Also look at Aloha Airlines Flight 243 which landed safely with a large chunk of the fuselage missing. If a bomb can't take out the avionics than any pilot ought to be able to land the plane with minimal damage and casualties.

Simply put, I don't think there is any way an explosive powerful enough to do real damage is going to be worn on or in clothing. I don't have the knowledge to know how much damage it could do in luggage, but someone out there should.

PhillipDecember 3, 2010 11:16 AM

"The truth is that exactly two things have made air travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing cockpit doors and convincing passengers they need to fight back."

You and Ron Paul agree on the part about the cockpit doors. What about guns in the cockpit. Hasn't that also increased Security?

Ron Paul would say: Two things have made the air plane more secure, stronger doors and guns in the cockpit. I'm beginning to think there are three things because both of you are right.

Jeff MartinDecember 3, 2010 11:20 AM

"If they make the pat-downs less invasive, it would be the same as admitting the scanners aren't essential. Senior officials would get fired over that."

Since when do senior officials get fired for incompetence and wasting money? Seems to me they get promoted and receive a bigger budget.

AtohanieDecember 3, 2010 11:35 AM

The problem isnt so much that the people are afraid of what terrorists might do, but more that companies are afraid of being sued out of business by survivors, family, and bystanders if they cant prove that they did everything possible to prevent those people from being hurt.

The only thing that can truly combat terrorism is to change how we view and react to these happenings. Instead of spending so much time looking for someone to blame (before or after the fact), we can make an honest effort to prepare and prevent without invading bodily privacy AND accept and move on when the unthinkable (which we now seem to think of constantly) does happen.

Clive RobinsonDecember 3, 2010 12:00 PM

@ BF Skinner,

"As usual Clive said first, what I wanted to....why don't you get a job hippy!"

So you've accused me of being a Klingon before now an unemployed kaftan wearing flowers in their long beard and hair type...

Hmm... Just cos I'm before you, maybe you should consider that it's the early bird...

So what can I assume about you (this could be fun 8)

let me think I'll apply the TSA standard racial profiling metric to differentiate the prototypical US Citizen as seen on the nearly rapescan scanner,

A couch potato with bear hair poking out of string vest, beer gut hanging over tartan boxer shorts, five day five o'clock shadow, eyes barely open beneath a Yankees baseball cap, scratching your itchy bits and yawning, whilst simultaneously belching and farting the Star Spangled Banner...

Then you have to guess which sex 8)

OK, now unlike the TSA I'll apologise to all you folks who might be upset, and wish you a nice day with sincerity.

As they say "On the Internet nobody knows your a dog, woof woof

Paul M.December 3, 2010 12:13 PM

Atohanie wrote: "The problem isnt so much that the people are afraid of what terrorists might do, but more that companies are afraid of being sued out of business by survivors, family, and bystanders if they cant prove that they did everything possible to prevent those people from being hurt."

This is the defensive medicine problem that drives up health care costs moved into the transportation sector.

I don't envy the TSA since they are in a lose-lose situation. There is outrage when they implement new technology and procedures (right or wrong). There is outrage if there is a successful terrorist attack.

Sounds a lot like the job of a CISO.

GeorgeDecember 3, 2010 12:14 PM

"First Timer" has it exactly right. Our arses have to be groped and irradiated so that the arses of Congress and the DHS bureaucracy can be covered.

It's the same thing that has kept the War on Drugs going for over four decades, despite the high cost and obvious failure. Politicians care only about getting re-elected, and so will avoid challenging the Drug War, the TSA, or anything that opponents could use against them. Nobody wants to be "soft on drugs" or "weak on terrorism." And in particular they don't want to be blamed for "weakening security" when the next attack inevitably occurs. Their self-preservation instincts lead them to perhaps hold some ineffective hearings to placate angry constituents. And then do nothing but keep writing the blank checks.

The same thing applies to the DHS bureaucracy. Pistole has to maintain the illusion that his agency is infallible, so he addresses the threat of a Thanksgiving "opt out" by going on television and stating his resolve to do what he decides is necessary for security regardless of what the public thinks of it. Nobody wants to be blamed for the next inevitable failure for removing "layers" even if they're proved to be ineffective. So the hassles continually pile up, always in boneheaded, inconsistent reaction to past failures. That's the safest way to keep their arses securely covered, even as they continually increase their intrusion into our arses. Basically, the public pays every time the bureaucracy fails, since it's easier to punish all travelers than to hold the bureaucracy accountable for correcting what failed.

And of course, it's all aided and abetted by the large number of people who are bamboozled by all the security theatre, and who are willing to sacrifice their liberty, privacy, and even bodily integrity in the belief that it keeps us safe. What it all adds up to is a juggernaut fueled by fear (of terrorism as well as uncovered arses) that is absolutely impervious to reason. Bruce can give meticulously reasoned arguments about why the TSA is ineffective, and even detrimental because it makes terrorism more effective. The GAO can publish audit results showing that the TSA is neither effective nor cost-effective. But none of that matters. What does matter is that politicians and bureaucrats must keep their arses covered so they can keep their jobs. And the TSA is the perfect arse covering.

We should badger our members of Congress, as it is possible that sufficient concern and outrage from constituents might just overcome the instinctive arse-covering. But in the meantime, the only realistic option we have is to avoid flying unless there's no other choice.

NRADecember 3, 2010 12:22 PM

@Phillip

Guns in the cockpit, while not necessarily a bad idea, is not necessarily a good one either. To use a gun to quell a terrorist uprising in the cabin, the pilot would have to open the cockpit door, which negates the first and foremost security measure.

JohnDecember 3, 2010 12:26 PM

@Bruce:

You are giving too many speeches.

"The truth is that exactly two things have made air travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing cockpit doors and convincing passengers they need to fight back."

You've posted this line word for word, possibly even that whole paragraph, 2 or 3 times that I've seen now. I don't know if you're doing it for the effect of hammering it through peoples' heads or if you just don't realize you've said it again and again, but you have. Not to say it isn't exactly what we NEED to hammer through peoples' heads, but what are you going for here?

That said, what's all this PETN junk? PETN is a stable explosive and needs to be compressed and blast-detonated. You can't just light a wad of PETN and go "look BOOM!" It doesn't work that way. All you do is set your balls on fire.

Wiki says this:

"It is more difficult to detonate than primary explosives, so dropping or igniting it will typically not cause an explosion (at atmospheric pressure it is difficult to ignite and burns relatively slowly), but is more sensitive to shock and friction than other secondary explosives such as TNT or tetryl.[12][16] Under certain conditions a deflagration to detonation transition can occur."

So unless you have a steel tube with a compressor (a flat plate on a screw) and a 9mm blank, I don't see how you're going to blow stuff up with this.

Semtex even is made of RDX and PETN, and needs a detonator to blow if I understand right.

The point is this stuff is hard to detonate, and getting a wad of explosive silly putty on a plane doesn't mean you can use it to blow up the plane.

PhillipDecember 3, 2010 12:29 PM

@NRA

I would think you'd train the pilots to NEVER open the cockpit door. You'd only use the firearm if someone broke into a cockpit. In which case, a knife and hand-to-hand combat training would be more useful. As an open carry gun advocate I can tell you a gun will not serve you well in a 5' encounter with an attacker with a knife.

As far as cabin control -- that's why we have those Sky Marshals -- you know -- the ones who've only arrest have been linked to is the arrest of the sky marshals themselves?

Doug CoulterDecember 3, 2010 12:36 PM

I guess I'm glad that unlike the military, Bruce and some others think PETN is "tough to detonate". That's the kind of wrong that can make you "dead wrong" and no pun intended.

It's much easier than other HE's except for liquid nitroglycerin, which is why it's used in detacord, blasting caps (to set off the harder to detonate HE's like TNT or RDX since PETN only needs a few *milligrams* of a primary to detonate it), but not for main charges -- the military finds it too dangerous and easy to detonate for that use. Even low velocity bullets will detonate the stuff, and you can't use it inside artillery shells as it will go off from the shock of firing, unlike the stuff they do use.

It's really easy, actually, a light tap with a hammer on anvil does it (much easier than TNT for example). Lighting it merely makes it burn like smokeless powder, or black powder, neither of which explode unless confined in containers that are relatively easy to detect. PETN needs no container once initiated by a shock wave, which can be done with a home made blasting cap about the size of a pea.

Someone needs to look up "detonation versus deflagration" and learn a few very basic things about explosives.

It does take a fair amount to overpressure something the size of an airplane. It's a quick sharp (brisant) pulse that shatters things nearby. To blow up a plane, you need "heave" or a lot of gas, which takes a lot of weight of whatever you use to get, nitroglycerin/ammonium nitrate being perhaps the best for that -- and PETN detonates that very nicely.

Does anyone really think you have to tear an airplane apart to create "terror"? Failing even works in this self-panicking crowd! A nice big hole in the side of one will do that fine, and 100g or so of PETN will easily do that if placed on the wall.

I don't think I'm teaching the terrorists anything, this is all in widely distributed, unclassified literature. But if you're going to discuss this sort of thing intelligently, you should know this stuff.

The underwear bomber was attempting to have PETN detonate during synthesis from "runaway nitration exotherm". Not something with very good odds (but be careful in the lab, it can happen, but far from a sure thing, else no one would ever use it for anything).

See, for example, Tenny Davis' Chemistry of Powder and Explosives for the real numbers on all this. PETN is "neat" stuff for some things -- I've made it and used it to break rocks too big to dig out of my fields, which it does nicely, where dynamite needs a hole drilled in the rock to do anything at all, but throws the pieces a lot farther if you do that -- more gas and heave, less shock. PETN just leaves a handy pile of gravel, instead.

And yes, I have the permits to do this, thank heavens gotten a long while back when it was a lot easier to do.

Snarki, child of LokiDecember 3, 2010 12:46 PM

Well, the scanners are seriously stupid at US airports.

Any terrorist with some PETN on hand would just head out to Times Square or a Christmas tree lighting, a mall, or whatever, and not bother dealing with TSA, even with un-enchanced scanning.

For US flights at foreign airports, it's different...it makes sense to try and stop foreign terrorists from getting TO the US, or attacking the first point of US contact (the airplane)...but TSA doesn't handle a/p security overseas!

As for attacks on security chokepoints, I guess everyone forgot the simultaneous a/p attacks at Rome and Vienna back in 1985. Just some guys with guns and grenades walking in and shooting. Still could happen.

jaacobDecember 3, 2010 12:50 PM

First, I would say "me too" to the comments here. Bruce and others have been hammering this into pate and still the government doesn't get it or at least say it. the general public is catching on. I have said for years that eventually the general population was going to catch on to the games and start calling them on it. They turn off the body scanners? We now know that safety was not the real issue. It was perception. A terrorist would have aimed for the holiday esp. when the scanners were turned off. They are playing the general population like they are fools. Next, they will do "budget cuts" while they generate 9 trillion dollars in play money. Give out at 0% and have them buy treasuries at 3%. Wait they did that. ok. I just wish more people were paying attention to what our government is really doing. The government backs up when the heat is on. Then they move forward. The narrative will be that most people don't mind the scanners, and move forward with bus stations, federal buildings, and more mobile xray vans. Next, they will stop citizens and demand to see our papers. paranoid? yea, but what if not? I have a real problem with the government wanting to take naked pictures of me. Or zapping me with radiation. I got more then enough of that in service to this country. Privacy in our papers or persons is not just pretty words. They are now scanning all transactions including credit cards, phones, emails for everybody or they can with no accountability. Does anyone trust that many people to not have any alterior motives? Not even one of them? I sometime wonder if I am off kilter, then other times I think I am not thinking creative enough to get ahead of the curve. I really want to know what they will do when someone stuffs their bum with explosives. "Drop ya drawers and let a police dog stick his cold nose up your butt'? I'll load up on pickled eggs and beer for that one. I have a surprise....for them. Just hope I don't sh*t meself...;)

AMWDecember 3, 2010 1:03 PM

"If they make the pat-downs less invasive, it would be the same as admitting the scanners aren't essential. Senior officials would get fired over that."

Too late. Shutting most of them down on a holiday weekend already indicates they are not essential.

GweihirDecember 3, 2010 1:19 PM

Personally, I think the TSA messed up spectacularly. The porno-scanners and molest-searches cannot stand, so much is clear. But this might mean that they will not be available for special screening in the future. This in turn will make screening people with risk factors (behavioral and from paper trail) much harder and less efficient. Stupid.

So, dear TSA, enjoy the molesting sessions and porn-images while you can get them. They are not going to last.

WimpieDecember 3, 2010 4:13 PM

So now the airlines are safer, but the determined terrorists will move on to "softer" targets, like Times Square, Xmas tree lighting ceremonies and cargo bombs.

Next attack - shopping centers, schools, cruise ships, sports events, subways, tunnels, buses, airport security lines to name but a few.

We cannot possibly catch every attempt by screening, but we can humiliate millions of people and help bankrupt already hurting commercial aviation companies.

Fire 25,000 TSA clerks, dump the scanners and pat-downs, bring in dogs, and give the saved money to the FBI & CIA, who can actually catch terrorists (maybe).

I, for one, won't fly until this travesty is lifted.

LauraDecember 3, 2010 4:18 PM

I don't understand why people aren't boycotting airports that have the scanners. TSA's blog says that they'll only do a pat-down if you set off a metal detector or refuse a scan (http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/11/tsa-myth-or-fact-leaked-images.html, second "myth"), so presumably if you start your trip in a scanner-free airport, you can just go through the metal detector.

(My silly blog post -- sort of an inverse movie plot -- about what the TSA must be thinking the terrorists are thinking: http://wp.me/pVu4P-nN).

TaosenoDecember 3, 2010 4:24 PM

Hey, it isn't all bad!

After the next round of escalation in this asymmetric warfare game, we'll all get a prostate exam (even if we don't have one) and a PAP smear to boot, and all for free!

This is just Chertoff and his lobbyist friends, selling the Government more stuff no one needs, while exempting all the big-wigs.

JohnDecember 3, 2010 4:46 PM

I am more inclined to trust Bruce, but the linked 'terrorist tool of the future' article about petn states:

'The problem with PETN is that it cannot be detected by sniffing dogs'

Bruce says the opposite.

Which is true?

Richard Steven HackDecember 3, 2010 5:06 PM

Twenty five years ago, I started studying terrorism seriously - because I wanted to be one. I came up with a list of things a terrorist could do in this country to bring it to its knees. It made interesting reading for the judge who sentenced me, who proclaimed he didn't think some of those things were possible.

He was wrong. It's all possible.

A hundred or so terrorists could bring the United States to a near complete standstill within six months - if they were smart enough, mobile enough, and had a basic inventory of silenced handguns, sniper rifles, and basic explosives. The cost would be minimal and the cost to the US economy devastating.

Think back to the days of Italy's Red Army, Turkey's Grey Wolves, and other periods when a country was so overwhelmed by terrorism that their governments nearly collapsed. In those countries, it required hundreds, perhaps thousands of terrorists to produce a crisis. In this country, a hundred or even less could do it. It's all in the targeting.

Just start killing the top thousand or ten thousand people you see on your news every day - politicians, corporate heads, celebrities, the broadcast journalists themselves. Then mix that in with attacks on ordinary state workers, your local postman, local cops, your local priests, your local teachers - the same targets every terrorist has used in Italy and Turkey and elsewhere. Mix that in with the occasional very public, very bloody explosion in packed civilian areas. Remember, the US is MADE for the car bomb - cars everywhere.

Within a VERY short time, the average citizen would be too afraid to leave his house.

Think about that before you allow the US to attack Iran or continue to kill civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and Yemen. Blowback is a bitch.

Richard Steven HackDecember 3, 2010 5:30 PM

Here's an interesting point which will become more so if full body cavity searches are allowed:

TSA Told To Tell Children That Groping Them Is A Game... Horrifying Sex Abuse Experts
www dot techdirt dot com/articles/20101202/17372012098/tsa-told-to-tell-children-that-groping-them-is-game-horrifying-sex-abuse-experts.shtml

RonKDecember 3, 2010 5:40 PM

@ John

My understanding is that dogs are capable of being trained to detect nitro-based explosives (so Bruce is correct) but that their noses lose sensitivity to the chemicals involved rapidly because of repeated exposure (since their training has to be constantly "refreshed" by rewards for correct detection). Similar to why people who love super-spicy food seem to have a extraordinary ability to eat it in the eyes of people who never touch it.

The short working lifetime of an explosives detecting dog means that it is not economical to use them for detection (so the article is correct).

BF SkinnerDecember 3, 2010 6:19 PM

@Ronk "short working lifetime of an explosives detecting dog "

So an effective detection (dogs) of the target matched against an uneffective detective technique (scanners).

How many dogs (including training, care and retirement) can you buy for 500 million dollars? A lot I should think. Years and years worth.

AndyDecember 3, 2010 6:22 PM

@FJ
>> There are three changes that have made air travel safer. The third being the
>> change in policy to not automatically do what hijackers say.

I think that is most important change. The real failure on 9-11 was due to that policy. Nothing went wrong with airport screening on 9-11. Box cutters were allowed and everyone was allowed to fly in those days.

@Remittancegirl

Would it be out of line to ask if you will be attending any security conferences in the near future?

RogerDecember 3, 2010 7:35 PM

According the pilot Patrick Smith over at askthepilot.com the various people who work airside (think aircraft cleaners etc) do not go through these procedures. There is no need to get anything through the passenger checkpoints except a person. This is the ultimate proof that it is indubitably theatre.

GeorgeDecember 3, 2010 7:42 PM

The way air port security is employed in the US is little more than a lie to make the public feel the government is doing something. It may stop a few clowns or idiots but it doesn't stop real threats.

There are thousands of ways to hide explosives and get them on board. If it is an organization there are many ways they can get it on and never get screened doing it.

The greatest risks aren't even closely prevented by the scanners because they don't involve someone actually trying to walk on with a device.

I am obviously not going to make a list on here for idiots to follow on how to take down air craft but there are thousands upon thousands of ways to do so. Any poorly funded terrorist group could pull it off easy as hell. Any half bright individual who isn't off his rocker could also do it.

If one wants to simply take down a flying aircraft one never has to board it.

For that matter anyone who works in aircraft maintenance has enough access to take down any craft they come in contact with. Is there someone checking every single item they touch on the plane hell no. The only thing that may get reinspected if it ever does is what is reported on a maintenance log.

It isn't like LLNL or Sandia or other government facilities where a person can be assigned to you to watch every single thing you do while you are in a facility even taking a dump if need be.

I could make a massive list of what is not covered or protected by any of the current security measures employed.

The only thing these measure are guarantied to do is inconvenience the public. Secondly it exposes them to radiation of time that isn't being monitored which is as irresponsible as firing a loaded gun into a crowd of people.

SteveDecember 3, 2010 8:18 PM

Heaven forfend that we do something about the root causes of terrorism, which would involve ceasing to topple governments, stationing troops in countries where we're not wanted, invading other countries for no valid reason.

It's odd that nobody tries to terrorize Denmark, Norway, or Sweden, countries which more or less keep their noses out of other people's business and seem to all have better all around standards of living than ours in the US to boot.

RDecember 3, 2010 10:32 PM

Steve:
Denmark has faced terror threats because it values the freedom of the press, refusing to stop the publication of the Muhammad cartoons. Danish embassies were set on fire and massive protests resulted in dozens of deaths. I agree that occupying another country does indeed generate resentment, but so do simple things like exercising our opinions via cartoons.

George OrwellDecember 3, 2010 11:23 PM

The "underwear bomber" story is a lie, a false flag event, I believe, simply to justify the use of the naked cancer scanners. The State Dept wasn't going to let him on that flight but were overruled by U.S. intelligence agencies.
They wanted him on that flight.

On Jan 27, 2010, there was a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing titled “Flight 253: Learning Lessons from an Averted Tragedy.”

During the hearing, Patrick F. Kennedy, Secretary Management of the Department of State, stated that "They had the individual under investigation and our revocation action would have disclosed the U.S. Governments interest in the individual and ended our colleagues’ ability to quietly pursue the case and identify terrorists’ plans and co-conspirators."

According to a recent article, "The revelation that U.S. intelligence agencies made a deliberate decision to allow Abdulmutallab to board the commercial flight, without any special airport screening, has been buried in the media. 'Revocation action would have disclosed what they were doing,' Kennedy said in the testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security. Allowing Adbulmutallab to keep his visa increased the chances that federal investigators would be able to get closer to apprehending the terror network he was accused of working with, 'rather than simply knocking out one solider in that effort.'"

Additionally, there were eye witness reports from passengers on Flight 253 that the suspect was escorted onto the aircraft by a "sharp dressed man." Why wasn't this information breaking news like the original story was? The politicians and the media didn't want it to be, because they wanted to use this event to justify the enforcement of the new body scanners.

http://homeland.house.gov/Hearings/index.asp?...

mcbDecember 3, 2010 11:47 PM

@ George Orwell

Unless Under Secretary of State for Management Kennedy made a radical departure from his prepared statement he said something much less provocative:

"We will use revocation authority prior to interagency consultation in circumstances where we believe there is an immediate threat. Revocation is an important tool in our border security arsenal. At the same time, expeditious coordination with our national security partners is not to be underestimated. There have been numerous cases where our unilateral and uncoordinated revocation would have disrupted important investigations that were underway by one of our national security partners. They had the individual under investigation and our revocation action would have disclosed the U.S. Government’s interest in the individual and ended our colleagues’ ability to quietly pursue the case and identify terrorists’ plans and co-conspirators."

The entire text of his statement is much less interesting that you purport and can be found here in its entirety http://homeland.house.gov/SiteDocuments/...

As for the "recent article" and "eye witness reports" you mention citations would be much appreciated.

Clive RobinsonDecember 4, 2010 2:07 AM

@ Steve,

"Heaven forfend that we do something about the root causes of terrorism"

The problem is we don't know what the root causes are, we just make nebulous assumptions that change with time.

For instance terrorism was originaly what a state wide organisation used to do to the people of a state. Examples of this were what we call "witch hunts" such as those by those behind the "inquisition", various secret police organisations or in America those of Senator McCathy.

That is the people where made to fear the "knock on the door", "show trials" and "disappearance". Goverments did this in various ways one of which was by encoraging people "to report their neighbours" etc for "crimes against the people".

For obvious reasons people fought back against the state wide organisation and called it into question. The response of the organisation was generaly "more of the same" and as we know oppression eventualy begets violence hence the notion of the "freedom fighter". Usually these people attack the oppressing organisation either directly or indirectly. Importantly due to the attackers limited resources the attacks are usually against soft targets, thus as the organisation hardens it's self it effectivly moves the attacks to civilian places and thus civilians become injured.

Thus it was nolonger only state wide organisations terrorising the population but those fighting the state wide organisations as well. The state wide oppressors thus called the freedom fighters terrorists.

Now European countries had "Empires" that is for various reasons (often commercial) "Puppet Governments" where put in place by use of superior technology. Other European governments would give aid to neighbouring regions as a way to stop another European government. Thus rather than fight wars directly the governments would fight by proxy in other parts of the world.

The British and the French are two such nations that fought long battles of Empire. However what is not often realised is that those with commercial interests often deliberatly engineered such proxy conflicts for their own gain (India and Africa) and thus became wealthy enough to become political leaders in their home countries and thus further influance their countries influence abroad.

All of this was possible due to technology differences favouring the empire building countries. Eventualy the technology spreads out to the empire nations. It actually has to so that commerce can prosper and bring back wealth to the home country. However there is a limit on how far you can go by fighting political wars by proxy countries because there are a limited number of them to do it in. Thus in the last century the wars came back to Europe and we had the First and Second world wars. These were the first of the globe spanning "technology wars".

The first "technology war" was realy the American Civil War where the superior manufacturing ability of the North "out gunned" the South.

The likes of mass produced weapons all be it of less accuracy than hand crafted weapons gave a greater rate of fire. This gave rise to the various machine guns (Gatling etc) which ultimatly caused trench warfare in the fields of France during the First World War. The solution to trench warfare was technology based initialy tanks and later aircraft.

However those who built up vast armaments factories where suddenly faced with no market at the cessation of hostilities, and Europe was faught out and tired. And to stop the reoccurance of war the League of Nations was formed and arms limitations of the European countries by treaty where agreed so there was no European arms market.

Thus the armaments manufactures sold the technology of war to all countries who had the money. Thus at the state level there was a shift in political power to those nations that developed the industrial capacity. But industry needs resources and Europe was on the way to being "mined out" of easily available resources so the game of war was still being driven by commerce.

The changes caused by treaty and the instability in non industrialised southern Europe gave way to the freedom fighters actually rising up and overthroughing various governments and these wars were used as test beds of technology by the various arms manufactures.

The Second World War soon followed and this became the first war of "science" and the various doctrines of air warfare followed giving rise to total war that involved the civilian areas of the waring nations. This gave rise to not just air combat but air transportation of men and resources.

However Empires where breaking up sometimes violently so and new nations where formed. One of which was the totaly artificial nation of Israel in the Palestine Protectorate of Great Britain.

Palestine was seen as being a usless almost wasteland area with no real resources. Various Jewish terrorist organisations (they where not freedom fighters by any measure, we would call them insurgents today) started shipping people and arms into the protectorate by sea and when this was blocked by aircraft.

These illegal Jewish invaders attacked and brutalised the defenceless Palistinian inhabitants and the limited number of British Troops there to protect them. Under American preasure the war weary British acceded and thus the state of Israel was formed. It's two main distinctions being it was the first modern nation to be born of terrorism, and secondly to be populated by people who did not live there or had direct relatives or ancestors there (or in many case ever done so).

After the war air transportation due to surplus aircraft developed and within tweenty years package holidays where available and aircraft of all nations where crossing other nations.

Thus first criminals showed that like any other transportation network it could be extorted for profit.

During the 1960's and 70's various governments (the US included) gave resources to various illegal organisations who attacked other nations. In fact during this period the bulk of hijackings where as a result of government -v- government action instead of using proxy countries political influence was now by well funded terrorist. But importantly most of this "political activity" was for commercial reasons.

The Muslim world was prior to the Second World War in what was mainly considered third world nations or regions and although they did fight many long and bloody wars they where limited by the technology they had. However the Second World War left vast quantities of arms and amunition and the knowledge that they had exploitable resources the First world wanted.

So not learning from the First World War the various armements manufactures where alowed to sell armaments into these newly created countries so their resources could be exploited.

The various super powers carried on fighting their wars by proxy this time by resourcing terrorist organisations to fight invasion forces etc. The invasion forces being there simply to secure resources or transportation access to resources by the invading nation. This was the case with Afghanistan and the Russians and the US chose to support some obscure organisation out of Pakistan to fight the Russians.

The US shipped enough weapons and technology into Afghanistan through Pakistan to bring the army of a superpower to a halt. You have to ask why and the answer is to deny access to resources that US industry needs.

I could go on but the reason for terrorism is first world greed for resources in other nations and the way various first world corperations exploit them via puppet governments.

Thus if you want to stop terrorists from those exploited parts of the world stop using their resources.

Trying to trade for the resources ethicaly won't work because other nations won't allow it because they want to corner those resources for themselves.

What most people are missing out on at the moment is what China is doing in Africa. They have many "Infrestructure for Resources" missions going on and from a distance it appears to be semi-ethical. However it is not the way it is being done is a new variation on politicaly inspired invasion and thus secure sole access to resources and prefered status as trading partner and thus build a new empire.

This will almost certainly lead to war within the next few years and thus the inevitable terrorism first by the nation states (Zimbabwe, Rwanda, etc) then by the "oppressed freedom fighters" and due to technology they will be able to attack the various nations that are behind the oppressing government either directly or by fact they sold armaments to them.

The solution of "arms control" is a busted flush just like that on drugs control. The needs of first world corperations will alwas control political will power to force access to the resources to maintain the first world life style.

Thus we are locked into a perpetual cycle.

My guess if you want to stop terrorism, is work out a way to not need the resources of other nations except to export them back as manufactured products, become self sufficient in food production all of which means a very different lifestyle for all the worlds nations.

But to do this you need to break the hold of corperations on elected representatives. The only way I can see to do this is to get rid of the elected representatives. That is move from the badly flawed "representational democracy" and move to true democracy where people vote not just on all substantive issues but most insubstantive issues as well.

Sadly this currently apears to only work in very small areas (Swiss Cantons) due to various limitations that we currently have. Thus we need to think how we can use technology to make true democracy work on wider areas and how also we can change people to be less greedy in the use of resources.

This de-centralisation will in many respects disolve nation states thus making the job of terrorists considerably more difficult. But unless we also address the corperations behaviour they will become the visabble oppressors and thus the terrorists will attack them and thus terrorism will continue.

So the reasons corperations behave as oppressors needs to be fundementaly dealt with. The first step is to end the "here and now" culture which drives the "free market" in untenable "race for the bottom" directions. A small amount of regulation is thus needed at all times to give direction to markets to stear them into "long term view" culture. There are various ways but in essence it is about controling the inputs of materials, information and energy and it's abstraction money. This has to be done without causing artificial markets to be formed (think digital rights manangment for one example) that are wastefull. Although not currently a visable cause for terrorism information access and control has been in the past and fairly soon will be again.

One area that is going to have to be definatly resolved is material resource reuse or recycling. Look at iron and steel usage to see how this can be achieved on a commercial industrial scale (various figures sugest we recycle well over 80% of iron). To do this however requires cheap viable energy sources that don't consume unrenuable resources (nuclear fission) and cannot be constrained and controled for political usage (see history of water rights to see what happens if you don't).

Then there is the control of the money supply. Realisticaly apart from re-balance you should not expect a return on any investment to be greater than the growth rate of the economy. And when you strip all the economic rhetoric off of it the economy grows by the utilisation of energy. We abstract energy utilisation out as work and then as the tokens for exchange of work money.

Unfortunatly we have allowed banks and other financial institutions to apply "corparate preasure" on our elected representatives and thus alowed them to be deregulated.

This was a very very bad move as it enabled the banks and financial institutions to create faux markets based on a false increasing of churn.

All these faux markets are when you get down to it just like any old fashioned pyramid or ponzy scam the only diffrence is moving it through many hands in a spiral not single entity so you cannot see where the fraud is being commited or the directing mind. This needs to be stopped and the way to do that is only by regulation that is agreed internationaly...

So as you can see stopping terrorism is a complex issue that rests on the way the first world life style is currently obtained and maintained.

So the question arises what are you prepared to give up to reduce terrorism?

business guyDecember 4, 2010 6:30 AM

I opt out at least three times a month, and that's given me a lot of time to think about what bothers me here. I don't mind being seen naked, I have a problem with being ordered to put my hands over my head. It's just too submissive to respond like that to a verbal command. I find that experience more violating than having someone touch me. Touching is at least human, and my experience is that the person doing the touching really tries to be polite. We have dialog. The bottom line is that I don't feel near as violated when someone runs around my body touching me as when someone tells me to stand with my hands in the air until they give me permission to lower them.

Now if I had to run around their body touching them that would be a different story...

DougDecember 4, 2010 10:00 AM

Two words to clear all this garbage.

SNIFFER DOGS.

PROVEN - works on any substance.
CHEAP - dog house, dog food, dog trainer.

How many sniffer dogs can $1 BILLION buy?

AND they take on the chore of investigating the crotches of terrorists, without any molestation or complaints.

Let's see a terrorist try to outsmart a dog's nose.

Sprinkle some chili powder to foil the dog's nose?
That would be its own red flag.

Good Luck, Abdul!
Try to win against FIDO, BOWSER and SPOT.

John PistoleDecember 4, 2010 11:53 AM

Your terrorist has no regard for human life, not even of his own. For this reason men, I want to impress upon you the need for extreme watchfulness. The enemy may come individually, or in strength. He may even appear in the form of our own troops. But however we must stop him. We must not allow him to gain entrance to this airport. Now, I'm going to give you THREE SIMPLE rules: First, trust NO one, whatever his uniform or rank, unless he is known to you personally; Second, anyone or anything that approaches within 200 yards of the screening line is to be FIRED UPON; Third, if in doubt, shoot first then ask questions later. I would sooner accept a few casualties through accidents rather losing an entire plane and its personnel through carelessness. Any variation of these rules must come from me personally. Any variation on these rules must come from me personally. Now, men, in conclusion, I would like to say that, in the seven months it has been my privilege to be your Administrator, I have always expected the best from you, and you have never given me anything less than that. Today, the nation is counting on us. We're not going to let them down. Good luck to you all.

God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural fluids.

PubliusDecember 4, 2010 12:36 PM

" It's what was mailed from Yemen. It's in Iraq and Afghanistan. "


So this begs the question, Who is bringing PETN into those places? Can we cut off the supply? Let's see if we can't cut off the supply of these materials to terrorists at the source.

Do the poor people in Yemen, Iraq, and AFghanistan grow this stuff in the dirt?

YossiDecember 4, 2010 1:56 PM

@Clive
I usually try to keep the Bruce blog clean of non-security stuff, but your diatribe on Israel was so full of inaccuracies bordering on slander I had to comment on it.

The "wasteland area" you are so quick to dismiss as "useless" was in the dreams, hopes and prayers of us who were called "The People of Israel" throughout the many years of our forced exile. The state of Israel was not founded by terrorists, nor was it founded by the British. The modern "Zionist" movement, which is a modern continuation of this eternal link, was started in the late 19th century when the Ottoman Empire firmly ruled in Israel. Theorode Herzl, the figurehead of the movement, even tried to buy a charter for the whole of Palestine from the Turkish Sultan.

Claiming the local Jews did anything even close to "attacking and brutalising" the locals is as ridiculous as calling them invaders -- Jews lived and prospered on land they either owned hereditarily (in the cities) or in plots they bought and paid for in full from their owners or from the Turkish government (in the rural areas). Many of the Arabs living in the area today are descended from migrant workers the Jews brought in from neighbouring Syria and Jordan to work in their fields. The Arabs were far from defenseless - they had enough weapons to stage a 4-year armed revolt againt the British (Google the "Great Arab Revolt of Palestine").

Please improve your fact-checking (and your spelling while you're at it). Even better, keep politics to politics-related forums.

Happy hannukah!

carlDecember 4, 2010 2:01 PM

Bruce:
you repeatedly point out that the AIT scanner cant catch everything, that various attacks can get thru. But that is to be expected right? there is no such thing as absolute security. All security is incremental.

Common sense tells us that AIT machines, being more invasive than xrays, do more to catch and deter. It isnt total, but its more. I havent seen any analysis on your part of how much more security is provided by the AIT machine over the xray, which would be neccessary to make a case that the incremental security isnt worth the cost/invasiveness.

The pat down doesnt have to be proven that it is equivalent to the AIT machine, they provide it as an alternate. It's provides more security than xray, probably less than AIT, but more.


TSA provides the option. You would need to prove that the pat down provided no incremental security at all, to prove it's ineffectiveness.

You use such strange logic, you reject AIT and pat down as not providing complete security, at the same time railing against the american public and the govt that they are "desiring/attempting to provide total security"


bruce, it's simple. AIT/pat down provides more security(not total security) than xray, you've never argued that it isnt.
TSA felt that more security was neccessary.
Doing nothing in response to that isnt the answer.

There's a Hole in the BucketDecember 4, 2010 4:15 PM

If any of this was really about saving lives, they'd implement random stops for drivers to ensure that nobody is driving while intoxicated, without corrective lenses, while distracted, etc. Cars kill as many Americans every month as Saudi hijackers did a decade ago. Screw this nonsense. The government is run by devil-worshipping homosexual pedophiles, and most of them should be locked up instead of non-violent drug offenders. 911 = excuse for business suit wearing criminal sociopaths to act insane publicly.

carlDecember 4, 2010 5:24 PM

you guys never seem to get the difference between an accident, and a purposeful act of murder.

You dont see any suicide bombers on our freeways do you?

the lack of any kind of rational thought is amazing...

MarkHDecember 4, 2010 7:18 PM

@carl:

"you guys never seem to get the difference between an accident, and a purposeful act of murder"

I get two differences:

1. In most of the world, accidents kill a LOT more people than murderers do.

2. On the average, people seem to accept accidents more fatalistically, whereas they are strongly reactive to murder.

Imagine a country with an exceptionally bad road safety record. Even though the country is famous for frequent involvement in wars, and has been hit by hundreds of terrorist attacks, road accidents have killed -- and continue to kill -- far more of its citizens and soldiers than combat or terrorism.

Now imagine that this country tolerates its poor road safety record year after year, even though it is wealthy enough that it could probably make serious progress by investing in a strong, well-designed safety campaign. But when terrorist rocket attacks kill an average of about 2 of its citizens per year, this country finds it right and fitting to slaughter hundreds of non-combatants just across its border, as part of an effort to stop the rocket attacks.

There's nothing unusual about the country I've invited you to imagine -- it is normal human nature, to view the objective reality of risk through distorting lenses of emotion.

My own country has millions of cretins who loudly declaim that terrorism justifies unlawful invasion, slaughter, and the erosion of core national traditions, rights, and values -- while at the same time making daily use of tobacco, which kills about as many of us every 4 days as terrorism has killed during the past fifty years.

Which leads us to a third category: the purposeless act of suicide/homicide, which in its destructiveness utterly eclipses accident and murder.

carlDecember 4, 2010 8:29 PM

@markh
LOL
Accidents/Illness kill many more than crime. Are you suggesting that we do nothing about crume until the numbers get closer? Are you suggesting that we do nothing about the Hitlers of the world until they kill enough people to qualify?

You seem to think that the govt has the same duty to prevent death, no matter what the cause?

geeze bruce, where do you find these people?

andrewDecember 4, 2010 10:36 PM

I went through the scanner and then got the enhanced patdown as well. I told the guy I thought the machines were good enough. He said "Machines are made by humans and sometimes they don't work". I had to stifle a laugh. If they don't work all the time and you have to do double work, what is the point of the machines?

MarkHDecember 5, 2010 1:19 AM

@carl:

Where did my post suggest doing nothing about crime? I'm a great believer in enforcement of criminal laws. And the workings of law enforcement -- activities focused on real criminal suspects, not the great mass of ordinary citizens -- have been the most effective instrument in the prevention of terror attacks, both before and after 2001.

Those of us who prefer rational security analysis to emotional gut reaction -- and yes, we are a small minority, and in that sense "abnormal" -- prefer to allocate resources WHERE THEY ARE LIKELY TO ACHIEVE THE MOST RISK REDUCTION.

"You seem to think that the govt has the same duty to prevent death, no matter what the cause?"

That is a question of political philosophy, not of security per se. In most industrialized countries, governments have various departments whose responsibilities include protecting citizens from death and injury, from such varied causes as communicable diseases, natural disasters, environmental toxins, health problems in which heredity and behavior may be causes, military attack from foreign nations, crime, civil disorders, transport accidents, and industrial accidents.

My country (USA) is one example in which the government has many activities related to the protection of life and health.

For me, the failure to save about 1500 lives from the aftermath of a hurricane was as dreadful a dereliction of government duty, as was the failure to save about 3000 lives from a gang of twisted mass murderers. I don't expect you to agree with this carl, or for that matter most of the people who watch FOX News. No doubt those who foam at the mouth about the "nanny state" would be delighted to live in one of the many non-western countries where governments consider that they have little or no duty to protect citizens from most causes of death. It's a matter of personal opinion, which I won't debate.

What is NOT a matter of personal opinion, is that the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for preparedness and response to disasters, whether terrorism related or not. That was the decision and policy of the US Government.

The discipline of security analysis starts with the premise that the power of human reason can be applied to risk and the responses to risk. It often leads to conclusions and recommendations that run counter to "common sense" responses, which (in my opinion) are largely governed by waves of emotion stemming from our primitive "reptile brains."

For years, Bruce Schneier has, more than anyone else I am aware of, tried to explain to the public why what makes you feel safer, not infrequently makes you less safe.

Those who make their own security analyses, might accept the premise but come to different conclusions. But those who like to be "guided by their gut" and "shoot from the hip" ... or who are more interested in their "one true belief system" (social, religious, political) ... or who prefer feeling more secure to being more secure ... will have no appetite to conduct a rational analysis of security questions.

Clive RobinsonDecember 5, 2010 2:52 AM

@ Yossi,

"The "wasteland area" you are so quick to dismiss as "useless" was in the dreams, hopes and prayers..."

I suggest you go back and read what I wrote, about that area of the Palestine Protectorate again. As has often been observed "one man's meat is another man's poison". The view of it being just another area without economic resources was one of the justifications used for giving the Palestine Protectorate up (similar claims where made with regards to Cyprus and other Ottoman territories that came into British "protectorate").

When you say,

"Claiming the local Jews did anything even close to"attacking and brutalising" the locals is as ridiculous as calling them invader"

I realy must insist again that you go back and read what I wrote. I in now way made comment about the existing 150-200K "local Jews" living in Palestine prior to 1931. I suspect (although there is little documentation) that just like rest of the Palestinians population of which they represented less than 17% they where mainly peacefull at that time (although their had been activisum from factions in both the Arab and Jewish communities against the British since the 1920's and the Turkish or Ottomans before them).

But as in all occupied areas (that is what a Protectorate under an Mandate is) there will be people who want to throw of those who are seen as occupying forces thus the reason those who live there are called "freedom fighters" not "insurgents".

Perhaps you would like to explain in your own words the t events that gave rise to the Arab Revolt and Uprising in Palestine?

Events such as the mass immigration from Europe of displaced Jewish people who became "settlers" (which the British where apparently encoraging rather than have them settling in the UK where Anti-Zionist feelings where high at the time),

Perhaps you would like to explaine in your own words about the Haganah (Jewish Paramilitary or terrorist organisation which later became the IDF)?

Likwise their membership and their involvment with the mass influx of jewish settlers which started in 1931 and more than doubled the Jewish population in Palestine in four years?

Likewise the claims some of their members made about pushing the Arabs out of Palastine (which backfooted the Haganah ledership into making their publicly stated aims "one of defence not offence" contrary to their previous activities)?

Claims made more realistic by the fact that the Jewish imigrants where buying up the land and pushing more than ten times their number of fellahin (arab tenant farmers that made up a third of the population) off of the land and into shanty towns and slums?

Or perhaps the ship "found" in Jaffa port in 1935 (one of several that where) full of arms and ammunition destined for the Haganah?

And the other events that made the Palestinians believe that the British where deliberatly dumping Jews on them, and arming them for a Jewish revolt?

A view further increased by the fact that the British formed armed Jewish units equipped with armoured vehicles to serve as auxiliary police (the almost similar thing that happened some three decades later with Greeks and Turks in Cyprus in the 1970's which caused Cyprus to be split into the Turkish North and Greek South).

As the arabs started a mainly peacefull general strike. Which was harshly put down with tactics, involving house searches without warrants, night raids, preventive detention, caning, flogging deportation, confiscation of property, and torture.

Perhaps you would like to explain in your own words the jewish involvment in putting the revolt down such as say, Moshe Shertok of the Jewish Agency who even suggested that all villages in the area of any incidents should be punished in that way?

Or will you just accept the recorded record of the time as can be found in several National Archives?

Thus maybe you would further like to comment on the recomendations of the (Lord) Peel Commission which included a proposal of an activly volcalised Zionist idea to "transfer" a quater of a million Arabs out of Palestine and make a Jewish area (something we now call "ethnic cleansing")?

Further why David Ben-Gurion happily supported the "transfer" idea with his publicaly made statment that the Jews would only be safe "in communities which are 100% Jewish and built on Jewish land"?

A position and words that are still reaffirmed like a mantra or artical of faith by many Jews in Israel and surounding areas and America today (this Zionist wipe the arabs off the map idea long predates the same response by Hammas to wipe Israel of the map, something that appears to be "overlooked" by various political interests).

I could go on at much greater length but I've been through this sort of argument with you before Yossi and as I recall each time you either claimed (as here) that I had said something I had not, or you avoided (as here) comfirming a point I had made. So there is little point taking up further blog space.

MikeDecember 5, 2010 5:28 AM

Doesn't shutting off the full body scanners on the busiest travel day of the year tell you a lot about how much extra security the TSA thinks they provide?

SteveDecember 5, 2010 8:55 AM

@Clive Robinson: Whoa! Make a comment, get a dissertation in return.

I won't respond point by point, mostly because I'm probably not capable of doing so but I'll simply agree that the root causes of terrorism and international conflict in general are indeed complex and multifarious.

It would be worthwhile, however, to point out that the late Chalmers Johnson, a well respected faculty member, emeritus, of the University of California, Berkeley and San Diego, wrote a book called _Blowback_, published a year before the 9/11 attacks in New York City. In it and its continuation, _The Sorrows of Empire_, he details many of the things the West and, in specific, the United States has done throughout the world, overtly and covertly, which have come back, blown back, if you will, to have dire consequences.

Johnson was no bleeding heart liberal. In fact, he was a full throated supporter of the Vietnam War and throughout his career had little to do with left wing causes. As an historian, however, he recognized the signs of empire building in our foreign policy and saw the connection between the creation of that empire and the effects it was having upon the nexus of that empire, the United States.

There is little question that the US, for example, covertly intervened in Afghanistan prior to the Russian invasion with the express intent to draw the Soviet Union into its own Vietnam. Zbigniew Brzezinski (or Henry Kissinger-lite, as I like to call him) has publicly admitted and even to some extent bragged of doing so. These machinations have been painstakingly, if somewhat unevenly, detailed in _Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story_, written by wife-husband team Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald.

It was our fomentations in Afghanistan which created the mujihadeen, which produced Osama bin Laden. By the way, note that the root of the word is "jihad" and the blowback from that creation became tragically obvious on 9/11/2001.

carlDecember 5, 2010 9:03 AM

@mark
"Where did my post suggest doing nothing about crime"
your entire post was that the numbers of people dying from causes other than terrorism grossly out numbers terrorism deaths, implying that govt funds are misallocated and anyone thinking otherwise is reacting on a purely emotional level. It's a pretty common argument from the Civil Liberties crowd that govt should allocate money to prevent death in proportion to the numbers of people dying in a particular way.
I merely extrapolated that argument to it's logical conclusion namely that the govt would not address a source of death (murder for example) until the numbers warranted it.
I reject the argument that govt funds should be allocated in that manner. Using your logic, we should have just capitulated to Hitler, look how many lives could have been saved.
Rest of your post is just soap box stuff..

"what makes you feel safer, not infrequently makes you less safe"
yeah, I saw another poster who said in essence "stop instituting security procedures, your just causing the terrorists to get smarter to outwit you"
LOL, sort of the same logic that says "dont work hard and earn more money, you'll just pay more taxes"

carlDecember 5, 2010 9:08 AM

@yossi I'm with you, keep fighting the good fight

@clive Ask yourself this simple question: "if all of the Jews in the middle east destroyed their weapons tomorrow, how many would be alive by the end of the week"
then, ask yourself "if all of the Arabs in the middle east destroyed their weapons tomorrow, how many would be alive by the end of the week"

Answer: None, All


MarkHDecember 5, 2010 12:06 PM

"I merely extrapolated that argument to it's logical conclusion namely that the govt would not address a source of death (murder for example) until the numbers warranted it."

Mark Twain once had fun with an estimate of the rate at which Niagara Falls creeps northward as a consequence of erosion, calculating that in a few thousand years the Falls would reach the North Pole, and that a few thousand years ago they must have been in Louisiana.

The extrapolation above was as nonsensical as Twain's. I don't think that Bruce has ever said that security resources shouldn't be applied to counterterrorism. And in all the years since the major attacks in the US, I haven't noticed any commenter on this blog take such a position, either.

Many governments -- including that of the USA -- invest quite a lot toward protection of citizens from violence. All we're saying, is that it's a crying shame when the vast majority of these resources are either wasted, or spent in ways that aggravate the problem.

The position of the security analysis geeks is: investment of counterterrorism resources -- and the use of the government's awesome and always dangerous power to compel -- should be made where it will do the most good, and especially without doing harm to what we are supposedly trying to protect. That this proposition is controversial, reveals much about human nature!

People usually don't reason problems through. We make choices based on emotion, and our rationales are ex post facto justifications of what our reptile brains guided us to do. I believe that when much is at stake, we need to do better.

Separately from the question of security analysis, I am also a civil libertarian. It is my unearned honor to be descended from men who believed that liberty was more precious than life itself. Their courage seems rare nowadays. If you live in or visit the US, the liberties I want to protect belong to you, also! A day may come, when you will need them.

Clive RobinsonDecember 5, 2010 12:28 PM

@ MarkH,

Looking at Carl's comments suggests he just want's to pick arguments and he will use strawmen and absurd or non logical argument to get an argument.

If his arguments where reasoned sensibly or at all then they might be worth debating with him as the thread is a few days old, but...

Clive RobinsonDecember 5, 2010 12:44 PM

@ Mike,

"Doesn't shutting off the full body scanners on the busiest travel day of the year tell you a lot about how much extra security the TSA thinks they provide?"

Yes it does... but further as I noted above it show's the TSA are also susceptible to a "Ghandi Attack" which is a fatal flaw.

So now it's quite clear for all to see that for the TSA it's all about their image not real security and they are susceptable to even passenger "political preasure" and so are just a busted flush.

Oh +2 for the link, lets just say I'm in the same age range as the blond is supposed to be and I wish I looked as good as she does.

carlDecember 5, 2010 1:12 PM

@mark
Not trying to pick fights, just laying out the data clearly. you guys seem to love to talk in abstract terms that obfuscate the underlying issues.

Objections to AIT machines seem to be several categories
1. liberty: I dont want to go thru it, so if you are making me as a precondition to fly, you are coercing me, and impinging on my liberty.
2. to expensive: look at all the other things that the govt should be spending their money on. the examples provided are always illness and traffic fatalities.
3. odds are against it: why go to all this effort when you are vastly more likely to get killed in some other manner. I'd rather just take my chances than live in a "police state".
4. doesnt provide total security: how good can the AIT machines be if Adam Savage can get thru with 2 knives, and it may not have caught the underwear bomber.

my extrapolation was right on the money if you're buying into #2/#3.


"The position of the security analysis geeks is: investment of counterterrorism resources -- and the use of the government's awesome and always dangerous power to compel -- should be made where it will do the most good, and especially without doing harm to what we are supposedly trying to protect. That this proposition is controversial, reveals much about human nature!"
The proposition isnt controversial at all, you're attempting to make it appear so by assuming that any sane person would support your viewpoint, and look at the govt use of AIT machines is inappropriate. The "harm" you are talking about refers to #1 above.
Stay off the soap box, stick to the core issues.

Clive RobinsonDecember 5, 2010 1:29 PM

@ Steve,

"I won't respond point by point, mostly because I'm probably not capable of doing so but I'l simply agree that the root causes of terrorism and international conflict in general are indeed complex and multifarious"

That they are.

Sadly though as history shows we repeate the same mistakes over and over which is why I suspect Chalmers Johnston was able to spot the trends and find the examples for his books.

Personaly I think it's the "hear and now" short term view that is responsible for many of our woes, certainly the increasing boom and bust cycles we see not just in the West but in other nations as well.

For obvious reasons I'm not a Libertarian but nor am I someone who thinks the state knows best. I guess you could say I'm both Conservative with a small c and Socialist with a small s.

I have a simple measure of if something should be paid for out of the public purse which is "how many boats does it float". For instance major infrastructure spending on transportation networks makes the movment of people and goods easier and less costly, thus both the economic and social benifts are reasonably clear and benift many in the community.

However some things are sometines the other way around. For instance should we build a new big Super School for 3-18 year olds? I'd say no simply because the increased catchment both geographicaly and age wise would have detrimental social effects. Even though such a school might benifit from economies of scale (which are rarely if ever found) such scale usually encorages a race for the bottom which is bad for the pupils, and thus bad for those upto two generations older (poorly educated children won't earn enough to pay their pensions) and two or more generations younger (poorly educated children tend to pass low achievement on to their children).

carlDecember 5, 2010 1:33 PM

BTW, shutting off the full body scanners on the busiest travel day of the year tells you anothing about the extra security the TSA thinks they provide. It tells you that the TSA had to reduce security on the busiest travel day, to accomodate a noisy minority that threatened to dramatically increase the wait time for security.
however, what we found out on national "opt out day" was that 99% of the people just want to get on the plane, and they are fine with the AIT machines.

MarkHDecember 5, 2010 3:04 PM

carl wrote, "my extrapolation was right on the money if you're buying into #2/#3"

I understood carl's previous extrapolation (from my first post) to be, that no resources would be devoted to counterterrorism because the risk is small.

If that was the extrapolation ... then it was flat wrong. It isn't my position, or Bruce's, or that of anyone else I have heard! As Clive said, this is a "straw man": arguing against a fictitious position that no person here has stated, to my knowledge.

As to carl's point 2, I didn't say that the billions squandered on scanners should necessarily be taken away from counterterrorism.

Some of us think it at least plausible -- in such judgments, we must do without definitive proof -- that part or all of that capital and labor could be applied in ways likely to be much more effective at countering terrorism, and without infringing liberty and dignity.

Did carl actually read Bruce's essay? In particular, "let the rest of their budget be used for better purposes. Investigation and intelligence is how we're going to prevent terrorism."

As far as I have read here, nobody said "give up on counterterrorism." Bruce, and many of the commenters here (including myself) endorse doing counterterrorism in a way that's smarter, less destructive -- and possibly, cheaper as well.

Using public funds to build a multi-billion dollar "fence" that is cheaply permeable to the wannabe murderers, while doing harm to the innocent, goes pretty far down the scale of wretched governance.

Everyone who has seriously studied the problem knows that it is feasible for a low-cost attack, carried out by a few persons, to cause mass casualties in the US (possibly tens of thousands). In light of this reality, focusing so much on the very specific case of passengers attempting to crash airliners by means of rather clumsy weapons, falls somewhere on the continuum between irresponsible and delusional.

CarlDecember 5, 2010 7:24 PM

In genearl, Civil Liberty position has been that money should be spent in proportion to the number of death's.

"Imagine a country with an exceptionally bad road safety record. ... frequent involvement in wars.... road accidents have killed.... more of its citizens and soldiers than combat or terrorism. Now imagine that this country tolerates its poor road safety record ... serious progress by investing in a strong, well-designed safety campaign. But terrorist rocket attacks kill .... 2 of its citizens per year, this country finds it right and fitting to slaughter hundreds of non-combatants just across its border, as part of an effort to stop the rocket attacks." blah-blah-blah

that's exactly what you said, man up.


"Some of us think it at least plausible -- in such judgments, we must do without definitive proof -- that part or all of that capital and labor could be applied in ways likely to be much more effective at countering terrorism, and without infringing liberty and dignity."
Really?.. ok, Bruce says "the system is working as is".. what's your plan?
Remember, our good neighbors at the ACLU will block any and all profiling systems, and dont forget how you folks screamed bloody murder with the Bush wire taps

CarlDecember 5, 2010 7:33 PM

" feasible for a low-cost attack, carried out by a few persons, ... cause mass casualties in the US... focusing so much on passengers ... crash airliners by means of rather clumsy weapons...stupid"

so, you're aware that security exists everywhere, water systems, nuclear plants, electrical, etc. You act as if nothing is being done anywhere except for airline security.

Also, dont forget, the terrrorist really just like to blow things up, that's what they do, so it makes sense to concentrate a lot of the resources on that. Plane security, barriers around likely targets to thwart truck bombs, etc..

MarkHDecember 5, 2010 8:54 PM

carl my friend,

"what's your plan?"

If you want to know Bruce's plan, I invite you to read his essay carefully! He generally writes quite clearly. Specifically, "if a group of well-planned and well-funded terrorist plotters makes it to the airport, the chance is pretty low ... TSA agents are going to catch them," and "investigation and intelligence is how we're going to prevent terrorism."

Reasonable people can disagree with this plan, but at least it is a plan that is supported by reason -- indeed, by sound security analysis -- and by recent history as well. It's also a plan that doesn't ride roughshod over the privacy and dignity of millions of innocent people, and doesn't require vast waste of money, effort and time.

The best defense is to intercept plotters BEFORE THE DAY THEY ATTEMPT THEIR ATTACK. This type of defense is based on well-developed techniques of intelligence, investigation, and other tools of law enforcement.

Unlike multi-billion dollar scanning systems, confiscation of bottles, and demands that people remove their footwear ... preemption DOES NOT DEPEND ON KNOWING THE TERRORISTS' TARGET, TECHNIQUES, OR PLAN. It is therefore far more robust and dependable, all without harassing millions of peaceable folks.

I'm fairly confident that I could get a significant quantity of PETN -- without any tricky techniques, expense, or significant effort -- through the new screening system and into the passenger cabin.

At present, the most likely risk to aviation from a passenger is that s/he will kill several nearby passengers; it's not easy to crash a plane from the cabin using explosives carried on one's person. And if murderers are sufficiently determined, screening will not prevent them from blowing up or incinerating a few rows of neighboring passengers.

No defense will be completely reliable: sometimes the gangsters will take lives. Given imperfect alternatives, why not focus on the most effective available?
__________________________________

"Civil Liberty position has been that money should be spent in proportion to the number of death's"

No, no, no, no, no. This is a conflation of COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CONCEPTS.

Civil liberty is about the protection of individual rights, not allocation of security resources!

Allocation of protective resources is a question of security policy, and I can show you how separate these matters are: in a hell-hole like North Korea, with no civil liberties whatever, the government still must decide how to allocate security resources. And however the tyrants there define security, it is in their interest to invest their limited resources where they are likely to have the greatest effect.
__________________________________

Stepping back and taking the long perspective, I believe that civil liberties are in fact vital to security, of individuals and also of the state. When citizens allow our civil liberties to be eroded and corroded, over time everyone's security will be tragically diminished.

I think that history shows that the founders of the USA understood this. Ben Franklin wrote, "they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

You invited me to "man up." OK, how about this: I refuse to wet my pants because of some twisted murdering extremists. I continue in life the understanding that its unavoidable risks have been minutely increased by their fanaticism. I resist all surrender of my calm, dignity, or liberty to either this fanaticism, or to the shameful and cowardly overreaction by my government, and many of my fellow citizens. That man enough for you?

CarlDecember 6, 2010 10:05 AM

"investigation and intelligence is how we're going to prevent terrorism."

no kidding.. you think that the FBI stopped all of their work the minute they installed AIT machines?
"Dang, you can even see their junk, guess we're out of a job fella's!"

Security is all about layers, never put all your eggs in one basket. You seem to think that AIT machine $$ directly resulted in a reduction in FBI counter terrorism activities. Simply not true.


"The best defense is to intercept plotters before"
qeeze, ya think? security, layers....


"soap box on civil liberties..."
Key part of my liberty, is my right not to be negatively impacted by what some nut wants to do. That means:
- security provided by the govt
and we know that:
- security is a pain in the neck
which means:
- I'll have to be inconvenienced in some way, for the gov't to be able to provide said security. The level of inconvenience is in direct relation to the nut that is creating the need for it
which means
You should be worrying about the nut, not the govt that is creating the security measures. Get rid of the nut, get rid of the requirement for the inconvenient security.

simple

CarlDecember 6, 2010 10:09 AM

"I refuse to wet my pants because of some twisted murdering extremists. I continue in life the understanding that its unavoidable risks have been minutely increased by their fanaticism. I resist all surrender of my calm, dignity, or liberty to either this fanaticism, or to the shameful and cowardly overreaction by my government, and many of my fellow citizens. That man enough for you?"

that would be
3. odds are against it: why go to all this effort when you are vastly more likely to get killed in some other manner. I'd rather just take my chances than live in a "police state".

of course, the problem with the #3 argument is that you arent the only one on the plane. What about the other 200 people that dont buy your argument?

No OneDecember 6, 2010 12:42 PM

@Carl: You don't have "a right to not be negatively impacted by what some nut wants to do", actually. What you have is a right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. (Which means the government needs a reason -- probable cause, as created by a specific suspicion, or a warrant.) The government is tasked with our safety, yes, but SCOTUS has stated, as Bruce wrote in the piece on constitutionality of the body scanners, that the tradeoff of security for freedom is only valid if the body scanners are demonstrably beneficial and do not induce undue inconvenience. They are not, however, demonstrably beneficial (it has been repeatedly shown that they are no better than metal detectors, really) and they do induce undue inconvenience, especially for such groups as rape victims, children, and anyone who feels it is not up to the government to decide who should see them naked and who should be able to touch them otherwise.

As for the 200 people who are afraid an extremist may blow up the plane: They are welcome to not board it -- they are making the choice of whether to take a risk or not rather than having to make the choice of giving up a valid, constitutionally-protected right or not. Their fears are irrational and statistically incorrect -- even if you count all 3000 deaths of 9/11 as being caused by the plane then per mile traveled, whether you count that as the crow flies or as the transport actually covers, it is safer to be on a plane than any other form of transportation when you include both acts of malice and accidents.

CarlDecember 6, 2010 9:11 PM

@no one
a search is reasonable if the target without coercion consents to the search
no one is coercing anyone to ride a plane, end of story.


"it(AIT machine) has been repeatedly shown that they are no better than metal detectors, really"

Really, by whom? lol, bruce?


Terrorism is a rational thing to be concerned about, a VERY small (irrational) portion of the population profess not to be. The only reason we arent facing monthly attacks is the good work of law enforcement that you seem to so deeply despise..

CarlDecember 6, 2010 9:39 PM

"You don't have "a right to not be negatively impacted by what some nut wants to do""

hmm... it may not be a "right" in the sense that it's listed in the bill of rights, however, not even you would argue that providing security and order for the population is job #1 for the US Govt.

JimDecember 7, 2010 9:47 AM

Doesn't matter. If screening starts to be effective, a terrorist will simply blow himself up while waiting in a crowded security line, thereby negating the entire security theater apparatus.

DeanDecember 7, 2010 10:17 AM

Carl shows a complete inability or unwillingness to understand the arguments that are being made by Bruce and the majority of commenters here.

Unfortunately he is typical of enough people that we can be sure that an honest discussion of a reasonable response to terrorism will never occur in the USA.

CarlDecember 7, 2010 11:23 AM

I understand the arguments, I just dont agree with them. Part of the problem when dealing with folks is to get them off their soap box and boil the issues down. Stuff like "I resist all surrender of my calm, dignity, or liberty to either this fanaticism, or to the shameful and cowardly overreaction by my government, and many of my fellow citizens" I dont see how it helps..

From an earlier post:

Objections to AIT machines seem to be several categories
1. liberty: I dont want to go thru it, so if you are making me as a precondition to fly, you are coercing me, and impinging on my liberty.
2. to expensive: look at all the other things that the govt should be spending their money on. the examples provided are always illness and traffic fatalities. [added later: money should be spent on something in proportion to the number of people dying]
3. odds are against it: why go to all this effort when you are vastly more likely to get killed in some other manner. I'd rather just take my chances than live in a "police state".
4. doesnt provide total security: how good can the AIT machines be if Adam Savage can get thru with 2 knives, and it may not have caught the underwear bomber. [added later: And in general, scanning at terminals has so little security value, that it's useless]

Santa ClausDecember 7, 2010 11:56 AM

@Carl

"Terrorism is a rational thing to be concerned about, a VERY small (irrational) portion of the population profess not to be"

Terrorism should not be a large concern for our nation until the statistics provide otherwise. People should be more afraid of driving in their cars.

"The only reason we aren't facing monthly attacks is the good work of law enforcement that you seem to so deeply despise."

No one said law enforcement is not keeping our country safe. However, it is being accomplished by intelligence and investigations rather than taking naked photos of kids and feeling up grandparents in wheelchairs.

No NymDecember 7, 2010 1:28 PM

I'm just waiting for terrorists to get smart, and start attacking the lineup at the scanner. Save all that trouble of hiding the bombs.

CarlDecember 7, 2010 2:44 PM

Hi Santa!
"Terrorism should not be a large concern for our nation until the statistics provide otherwise. People should be more afraid of driving in their cars. "

you're making argument #3 in my list

To address it: Although I certainly agree that the odds of getting killed in a car are dramatically higher than flying, when I'm driving, i'm more in control of the safety of my trip than when I'm in an airplane (yes, I know that I can get hit by another car, however, I still have more control of my destiny than in a plane, I can personally take steps to greatly increase my odds of safety while driving should I choose to).
Additionally, in a car, I dont have to worry about some freeway suicide driver blowing himself up and taking me with him. Accidents are different than murder.
Additionally, car accidents can not be viewed as a national security risk in the same way as a terrorist attack. I look to the govt to address terrorists attacks (yes, if I see a nut lighting his underwear on fire I'll be the first guy over there, however, I would view that neccessity a failure of the "govt system" to prevent getting to that point), I look to myself, my fellow drivers, and the govt to address the risk of getting killed in a car.

CarlDecember 7, 2010 3:37 PM

Santa, btw, I would like to request the following for Christmas:
"Decision Points" by George W. Bush
"Going rogue: an American life" by Sarah Palin
"Glenn Beck's common sense: the case against an out-of-control government, inspired by Thomas Paine" by Glenn Beck

lol

mcbDecember 7, 2010 5:43 PM

@ Carl

"TSA felt that more security was necessary. Doing nothing in response to that isn’t the answer."

It is if the TSA is mistaken.

"What we found out on national "opt out day" was that 99% of the people just want to get on the plane, and they are fine with the AIT machines."

What we found out is that if you turn off the AIT machines no one needs to, or is able to, opt out. In any case it is rarely the majority that calls attention to injustice and abuse of power.

"You should be worrying about the nut, not the gov’t that is creating the security measures. Get rid of the nut, get rid of the requirement for the inconvenient security."

We are unlikely to completely eliminate all nuts, but we can choose to respond appropriately to the threat posed by them, both with regard to frequency and severity. In order to do this we need to know the number and dangerousness of said nuts before we can assess whether the government's security measures are effective, balanced, and affordable.

"The only reason we aren’t facing monthly attacks is the good work of law enforcement..."

Says who?

"Although I certainly agree that the odds of getting killed in a car are dramatically higher than flying, when I'm driving, I'm more in control of the safety of my trip than when I'm in an airplane (yes, I know that I can get hit by another car, however, I still have more control of my destiny than in a plane, I can personally take steps to greatly increase my odds of safety while driving should I choose to)."

You've just described the several fallacies by which people overestimate the risk of flying and underestimate the risk of driving. To the degree the odds of becoming a traffic fatality are calculated using total deaths divided by total miles driven, you can only change your odds by not being in a motor vehicle.

KieranDecember 7, 2010 8:09 PM

I believe the TSA not only make us no more safe, but actually make us far less safe.

The issue of accelerating escalation; with each new measure of security theatre, we are forcing the would-be terrorist to turn to more and more sophisticated techniques.

If the TSA focussed on intelligence and kept cards close to their chest, and not this security theatre, the would-be terrorist would not be able to one-up the latest security measure but instead would be playing blind, not knowing what may work and what may not.

As technology advances, and it becomes easier and easier to create materials that are more and more deadly, it seems obvious to me that this deeply irresponsible game of the TSA's will be proven to be very costly to human life. I hope those responsible are brought to justice.

Their only saving case may be that they know all this, and the public face of their operation has nothing really to do what they do behind the scenes.

CarlDecember 7, 2010 8:52 PM

"To the degree the odds of becoming a traffic fatality are calculated using total deaths divided by total miles driven, you can only change your odds by not being in a motor vehicle"

pure genius, "as long as I divide total fatalites by total mileage to get your risk factor, it's impossible for you to individually do anything about your risk. True, and utter nonsense of course.
like the rest.. lol

Clive RobinsonDecember 8, 2010 4:48 AM

@ mcb,

"... the odds of becoming a traffic fatality are calculated using total deaths divided by total miles driven..."

You have correctly stated the method of measurment prevalent in the US for callculating such odds (personaly it's not the one I prefer but it's the one agreed upon).

However Carl says,

"True, and utter nonsense of course like the rest.. lol"

Which shows his problem / tactic of going from a particular issue of disagrement that might well be valid to generalising against the whole argument which is compleatly invalid method of reasoning (and has been for several thousand years).

And similar to other things that Carl has said.

Thus one has to ask,

Is it a "problem" with Carl's ability to behave rationaly or a "tactic" to play a game of "troll"?

I will give him the benifit of the doubt and say "troll" as the alternative is very sad for him.

Santa ClausDecember 8, 2010 6:27 AM

The ultimate problem goes back to the fundamentals of security.

If someone has the resources, time, and energy to put into defeating any system. The system will eventually be broken, its just a matter of when...

So, the TSA can cavity search, handcuff us during flight, impose flylists, scanners, etc.. but a terrorist that has the resources, time, and energy will eventually defeat the system. In which, the citizens has lost many freedoms that most likely will not be regained.

So where do you draw the line???In my opinion, our country should just retain my liberties and freedoms since they are more important to me than being scared an incompetent terrorist may kill me. Since, they could do so through unlimited means and all of them cannot be stopped.


You will be getting Mr. Schneier's Beyond Fear and some coal!

HO HO HO

BF SkinnerDecember 8, 2010 8:06 AM

@carl "if all of the Jews in the middle east destroyed their weapons tomorrow, how many would be alive by the end of the week" Answer: None, All

So anywhere there are Jews without guns and Moslems; the Moslems massacre them? Like ... Iran? How odd that without guns thousands of Jews live and worship there in the open without bloodshed.

It doesn't take a Moslem to commit a pogrom. And I've listened to a lot of ranting from them. Their problem seems not to be about a book but about land the land of Israel to be exact.

Change your question from Jew to Israel and I might believe it.

CarlDecember 8, 2010 12:49 PM


re traffic and in general arguments along the lines of #2/#3 in my list: it’s utter nonsense to try and argue that there is nothing I can do personally to reduce the odds that I will be in a traffic accident, that’s just a fact. The reason some folks are trying to make that argument, is to demonstrate that govt funds allocated to airplane security are misallocated when you look at the number of deaths accidents vs terrorism. If you can equate the two types of death’s, and the duty of the govt wrt each, you can compare the $$ spent and see the incongruity. My point is that attempting to compare death accidents/illness vs terrorism in such a manner is absolutely ridiculous.

@ Santa Claus at December 8, 2010 6:27 AM: I agree with Santa: “If someone has the resources, time, and energy to put into defeating any system. The system will eventually be broken”
Very true, but that’s the job description of the security person right? stay one step ahead. I see a lot of you guys trying to argue that it’s pointless to increase security at the boarding point, because it a) cant provide total security so why bother b) only encourages terrorist to come up with better schemes to defeat security. c) boarding point security isn’t where the “real” security comes from, that’s from counterterrorism investigations.
All three are spurious arguments
a) total security cant be reached, the j-o-b is to stay one step ahead, you don’t lay down because you cant get 100%
b) one of the dumber arguments.. as if by us not doing anything, the terrorist wont try and innovate..
c) security is all about layers, counterterrorism (I believe) is more effective, but that certainly doesn’t eliminate the need for boarding point. Security is all about layers, never put all your eggs in one basket. Its not as if the budget is a zero sum game, and every AIT machine means one less FBI agent.


@ Santa Claus at December 8, 2010 6:27 AM: “where do you draw the line”
My biggest point, is that where the line gets drawn is in large part dependant on the terrorist. As long as they keep attacking and innovating, we’ll need to keep increasing. So, at the end of the day, the answer is to get rid of the terrorist, not “resolve to not pay attention to what the terrorist is doing”. Whistling in the dark really doesn’t change the situation at all, it just makes you feel (unwarrantedly) better about the situation.


Very disappointed to find I’m on the naughty list santa!


Santa ClausDecember 8, 2010 1:57 PM

"As long as they keep attacking and innovating, we’ll need to keep increasing. So, at the end of the day, the answer is to get rid of the terrorist, not “resolve to not pay attention to what the terrorist is doing”.

This statement here is the key fault of the argument. We can never stop all attacks and its impossible to create security to do so. So, what we have is reactive measures which don't really work, because terrorists must be innovative to cause harm. So,we get rid of terrorists by investigation, intelligence, spies, etc... not by a TSA fondling someone.

So, we end up giving away our freedom by not drawing the line in the sand, plus wasting tons of money. Especially, when control A (pat down) is designed to stop attack B(underwear bomb), but will never stop attack C(a bomb before the scanner). So, to just to keep increasing security re-actively, which just makes the us have less privacy and destroys our rights.

xyzDecember 8, 2010 2:55 PM

I guess we will eventually have mandatory colonoscopy for air travellers...I guess that could eventually reduce the deaths from colon cancer...

Meanwhile there is always this underwear with protest text written in ink containing some metal (and thus visible in the scanner display) sold by the cargocollective (cargocollective.com).

mcbDecember 8, 2010 3:09 PM

@ Carl

"My biggest point, is that where the line gets drawn is in large part dependant on the terrorist. As long as they keep attacking and innovating, we’ll need to keep increasing."

If you want a live a life of craven fear in a big brother nanny state then you will let those using terrorist tactics call the tune. If we value our liberty and dignity at least as much as we do our safety we have to strike a balance. Deep X-rays and body cavity searches are about all that's left and they are non-starters. We're going to stop overreacting sometime, might as well draw the line here. At some point the determining factor will not be the terrorists' methods or our technical responses to them, but whether we choose to be scared enough to allow ourselves to be herded like sheep at the airport, train station, or subway platform. To extend the anology, even sheep might rather risk an extremely rare encounter with the wolf instead of being nipped at daily by the sheepdogs.

Clive RobinsonDecember 9, 2010 1:02 AM

@ xyz,

"I guess we will eventually have mandatory colonoscopy for air travellers...I guess that could eventually reduce the deaths from colon cancer.."

I hope colonoscopy never becomes standard the serious risk rate (which basicaly means your 50-50 dead) was something like 3% and was thus actually a higher risk than the base rate for colon cancer in the population.

Although there has probably been an improvment in the figures in the last ten years or so (as in most of these procedures) I still don't like the odds or the procedure...

(if people are realy interested I'll dig out all the current figures).

Doug TerryDecember 12, 2010 1:41 PM

One thing that almost never gets mentioned in debates about terrorism is this: escalation of "security" leads to more escalation and there is no de-escalation afterward. Once you have put a "security measure" in place, the incentive is to keep it there. For one, you've allocated the money and people to keep it online. For another, there is always a slim possibility that someone will attempt an attack by going through that particular means of security. If the chance is only one percent of one percent (.0001), why should you take that chance?

Security is its own justification. No one wants to see someone walking through the US Capitol building with a gun, or on a plane with PETN, so once you have put in place counter measures, they virtually can never be removed, even in a hundred or a thousand years. The only way they can be removed or changed is if someone in a leadership position has the courage to do so. Then, there might be some sort of attack the next day, at which point that person would take the blame (not the terrorist!).

I say you have to start from the proposition that 100% safety is not possible, even if everyone just stays home in their beds and does nothing more strenuous than rolling over. The question then becomes how far are you willing to push matters until safety gets close to 100%? The answer of the TSA, the Bush people and, up till now, the Obama people, is they will push it anywhere they can, as far as they can, even if there is no foundation for believing the measures will be successful. Then, at least, the public cannot blame them for what happens. At least, they are confident that they would be able to manage any blowback with clever PR in the aftermath of an attack. At that point, of course, they would create NEW security measures to cover over their "non-failure" in the previous attack.

If you look at the early history of commercial aviation in this country, thousands of people died. When I was growing up, it was not uncommon for there to be at least one commercial airliner crash per year in the US. In earlier times, old news reels show crashes on a regular basis, yet people kept flying. Why is terrorism such a vastly more threatening event that just falling from the sky? Have we become so pampered, so risk adverse that we are lesser people than our grandparents? Air travel has become so safe that we now treat ANY possibility of a crash as though it were a national threat to all of us.

I think the TSA should run a great national highway safety program. Really. They could have us all drive at 15 miles an hour, slowing whenever there is any potential threat of a crash to around eight MPH. With today's cars, there would be no fatalities. Of course, commerce and social lives would come to a halt, but, hey, we'd be safe from terrorism on the roads, wouldn't we? Is a life lost on the highway less important than one lost in the air? Yes, because, in the view of government, air terrorism has the potential of bringing air travel to a halt and threatening all of the related sources of commerce. If you die tonight out on a lonely, two lane road because a drunk crosses the line and hits your car, too bad. Your (national) government doesn't really care.

Doug Terry

Rick MoenDecember 15, 2010 5:28 PM

Bruce, thank you for your quotation marks on 'enhanced'. There's no reason that sort of propaganda word usage should pass without comment, and the gentlemen of the press who've aped it should be ashamed of themselves. Yet another slipped by you: 'pat-down'.

As Montgomery County, Maryland retired assistant police chief Deirdre Walker has pointed out (article "Do I have the right to refuse this search?"), these are nothing at all like pat-downs, but rather are full-body searches stopping short of prison searches only through not doing cavity checks.

Rick Moen
rick@linuxmafia.com

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