FBI Special Agent and Counterterrorism Expert Criticizes the TSA

Good essay. Nothing I haven't said before, but it's good to hear it from someone with a widely different set of credentials than I have.

Posted on February 29, 2012 at 7:11 AM • 31 Comments

Comments

kingsnakeFebruary 29, 2012 8:01 AM

It's one thing for a average bozo like me to say it's a load of malarkey, it's an entirely different thing when a highly experienced insider says the same thing. Will the TSA site up and listen? Naaaaaah ...

ScottFebruary 29, 2012 8:55 AM

Sadly, little if anything will change. There's not a single Senator or Congressman who will put honor or the Constitutional rights of Americans before their own political survival.

i wish i had credentialsFebruary 29, 2012 9:56 AM

"For the TSA model to work, every single possible means of causing danger to an aircraft or its passengers must be eliminated. This is an impossibility."

Of course, it is the same standard to which many of us are also judged.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 29, 2012 10:40 AM

I don't agree with the AQ argument about it's "got to be bigger and better" to get the radical Islam dollars in prefrence to those other organisations actually fighting in the Middle East (that are actually mainly funded and fueled by opium).

The more simple explanation I've given a number of times befor and consists of a number of parts.

But firstly the question has to be asked does AQ actualy exist outside of the invention of the US for politicaly expedient reasons?

We hear a lot of unsupported and sometimes over dramatic exhortations by "very self interested parties" and we are just like the word of the TSA take them as gospel...

But on the doubtfull premise AQ has some actuality in reality, what is the form of that actuality?

That is more realisticaly nobody has actually shown reliable evidence that AQ is anything more than a "banner" under which totaly disparate (and often waring) organisations in various parts of the world use for "brand image" to "big themselvess up". Further nobody has actually said (although there is evidence) that AQ as a brand is actuall smoke and mirrors run by one or more State Intelligence servicies for various self interested reasons.

But on the flaky assumption that AQ is a reality and independent and not a State inspired mirage these days, what has it actually done since 9/11?

Lets be blunt, the sort of funding being talked about is "results based"... If AQ is not performing it won't get money plain and simple. So to get the funding that the "special agent" is alluding to AQ would have to have done something...

But the sort of "show stoppers" like 9/11 require people with a reasonably high IQ who can go into and stay in cover for the length of time required to get the required training etc, then they are going to kill themselves...

Sorry the curent crop of supposed "radical suicide bombers" such as Captn Underpants, Corp Hotfoot, and those "post a bomb via UPS" haven't actually done what they supposadly set out to do...

And to be quite honest the viability of the weapons they have supposedly built (or more correctly had built for them) is even in the most favourable circumstances not very high. In fact it's almost as though they have been designed to fail.

Now two possabilites arise on the assumption they were designed to fail. One is that "killing women and children" will get less dollars through the door (which appears to be true), and that a plane droping out of the sky over the ocean is actually counter productive as far as publicity is concerned as it might take a year or more to come to light it was definatly a bomb and not airframe or avionics faliure (both of which have happend quite a lot since 9/11). Secondly State Actors don't want planes droping out of the sky because the resulting investigation would be too intense, think back to the aircraft that fell on Scotland and the resulting investigation that (supposadly) fingered Lybia. Any self respecting State Intel service out of India, Iran, Israel,Pakistan, Saudi, syria, US et al is not going to want that sort of intensive investigation fingering them (oh and by the way Lybia only "fessed up" because it was economicaly better to do so, and as for the only man jailed and released on health grounds, well he was appealing his conviction and from what has been indicated he had a high probability of succeeding).

But lets assume there are still radical Islamic types with average or above IQ, where are they?

That's fairly simple to answer they are in Afghanistan, Iraq and other neighbouring nations makeing IED's and other weapons to attack coalition troops directly, they don't have to kill "innocent women and children" as they have "boots on the ground soldiers" who are viewed by others there as an invading force. Oh and the side benifit that they don't have to commit suicide, they die in battle "honourably".

But something else has changed now "Arab Spring". The old guard of despots and dictators backed by the US in exchange for natural resources on the cheap are gone. This has very significant implications for both radical Islamists and the likes of Iran which sit on very large quantities of oil etc. The US has done very well out of Iraq, and the next suitable target for the same reasons would be Iran. In Afghanistan the Talib are getting political recognition and power thus the game has changed radicaly and the idea of AQ even as a banner is past.

So no I don't buy the "it's got to be bigger and better, else we don't do it" argument.

kingsnakeFebruary 29, 2012 10:43 AM

To be replaced by newer, friendlier (if they know what is good for them) dictators. Kind of like Iran in the 50s ...

JessFebruary 29, 2012 1:33 PM

I don't claim any special knowledge and I do agree with most of Moore's points, but I don't think his dismissal of AQ (that they are stuck because they can't "top" 9/11) would apply to all potential terrorists. If we accept his explanations of terrorist goals and methods, why wouldn't an up-and-coming "BQ" want to knock off a plane or a tower, even if the resulting carnage didn't match up to the Big Event?

GeorgeFebruary 29, 2012 1:57 PM

A fascinating article, particularly the assessment of Al-Qaeda that I've never seen before. And even more damning than the usual punditry, given his background as both an FBI counter-terrorism expert (something he presumably shares with Administrator Pistole) and a law-and-order political conservative.

Unfortunately, it's too late. The TSA is an now unstoppable juggernaut, impervious to any criticism and accountable only to itself. Congress can do nothing more than the occasional show of political theatre before rubber-stamping the TSA's funding. Any member who actually tries to assert control over the juggernaut knows he or she will be labeled "soft on terrorism" or accused of "weakening security" in the next election.

Mr Moore's article might have been courageous and effective a few years ago, if he had spoken up from a position of authority about the TSA's inherent flaws and bureaucratic excess before the agency became unstoppable. But the TSA is now too powerful and too entrenched to be affected by anyone. The cancer upon the body politic has metastasized beyond the reach of any possible treatment.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 29, 2012 2:07 PM

@ notruthersplease

I have no idea what you are going on about, and the fact you don't use your name sugests you might be related not to distantly with a troll.

But if you have a problem with what I've said please feel free to articulate it in a sensible fashion that is comprehensable to other besides you.

Civil LibertarianFebruary 29, 2012 2:15 PM

@Scott :

Sadly, little if anything will change. There's not a single Senator or Congressman who will put honor or the Constitutional rights of Americans before their own political survival.

Therefore the root of the problem is that the citizenry often elects representatives who legislate against their constituents' fundamental interests. On the whole, We the People are guilty of voting on the basis of FUD instead of an understanding of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. While not excusable, that is understandable because the powers that can afford to invest heavily in political campaigns and issue advertising are overwhelming best served by FUD, not the Constitution and BoR.

So I agree with you. I simply add the suggestion that we get the government we deserve, mostly because we're lazy.

I move that every time we post a blog comment on an issue like this, we also write to our reps. I'm going to dash off my letters now . . .

ErikFebruary 29, 2012 2:21 PM

"If I tell you I have a high-powered weapon, you will let me bypass screening, but if I tell you I'm unarmed, then I have to be screened?" The answer? "Yes. Exactly."

OMG

phred14February 29, 2012 2:52 PM

@Scott

You're right about that, but there is another angle. What if it were possible to clue in some congress-critters about the fact that current TSA practices are a horrible waste of money, and that we could both spend less money and have better security, just by adopting known-good practices. As big a buzzword as security is these days, deficit is pretty big, too.

JardaFebruary 29, 2012 2:55 PM

"I am, as I have said before, a political conservative, a law and order kind of guy and I get misty when the national anthem is played at a football game and jets fly over in salute. If anything, I am pre-disposed to support the United States government."

That guy is insane.

mooFebruary 29, 2012 3:39 PM

@Jarda:

But look at it this way... he's experienced, he's got the qualifications, he _supports the US government_ and yet he _still_ thinks the TSA are doing a terrible job.

Its a stinging indictment of just how bloated and useless the TSA is.

Dave C.February 29, 2012 4:21 PM

I think the TSA should have a two level system. The first level is somewhat like it is now but perhaps more relaxed which detects the most common kinds of potential attacks. The second level should be a random search model which detects new not yet seen attacks with more in depth intelligent search model. The first level should not be as burdensome as it now is given the second level.

jammitFebruary 29, 2012 4:47 PM

I think we're missing the bigger picture about Al-Quada. On 9/11 they got lucky. That's it. If they had done it any other time, or did it any other way they would have failed. In fact, 9/11 was a partial failure. Flight 93 was an absolute failure. It never made it to its target.

NE PatriotFebruary 29, 2012 5:18 PM

This fellow has as much of a chance of being listened to as you or I do: that is to say: "none". There are just too many military-industrial dollars on the table.

JonFebruary 29, 2012 9:27 PM

The essayist, if his claims are taken at face value, is certainly qualified in some areas. His dedication to 'innocence until proven guilty in a court of law' is exceptional, although one might wonder about how just a modern court is when one side's lawyers are fantastically better funded than the other side's.

However, like many, he does conflate expertise in one area with expertise in another. This I have a problem with.

Jon

Snarki, child of LokiFebruary 29, 2012 9:55 PM

Okay, TSA is doing horribly stupid, intrusive wasteful and obnoxious crap, granted.

But I do have to say this: the *idea* of TSA is valid. Prior to TSA, each airport rolled their own security (within limits, but still a lot of variation). That is NOT a good security model, because your opponent will always search out the weakest point.

But the current TSA's operating model is "design a procedure to detect the last threat". We should be glad that no AQ has hidden guns/bombs in a black rollerbag, or TSA would ban all black rollerbags. It's all about institutional butt-covering and cowardice all the way up and down the chain.

The only way to get rid of the TSA is to prove that it's been completely infiltrated by AQ.

SaulMarch 1, 2012 7:23 AM

>> Prior to TSA, each airport rolled their own security
>> (within limits, but still a lot of variation).


Snarki, ten years after the formation of the TSA, that is exactly the situation we have today. There is wild inconsistency between the individual policies at specific airports, often between individual screeners themselves. It often seems as though screeners are making the rules up on the spot. How many times have you heard of anecdotes where a traveler says, "I went through five checkpoints with this item [small multi-tool blade; small liquids not in their own bag on x-ray belt; etc.] and *now* it's discovered?". Why at some airports do the screeners want your shoes right on the belt and at others, in a gray bin? And on and on.

Of course, TSA management will reply that this inconsistency is all part of the game of switching things around to keep the terrorists on their toes and guessing about what they'll encounter.

LurkerMarch 1, 2012 8:11 AM

The most damning lines in that essay are probably the parts where he talks about how he can pass screening if and only if he's carrying a gun, and how a gun is just fine, but a pocket knife is completely not okay (because everyone knows knives are more dangerous than pistols!).

Honestly, the only real change that was needed after 9/11 was the cockpit doors. Locked doors that can't be opened with concealable weapons and passenger awareness (and willingness to fight back) pretty much negates the risk of hijacking on its own. And of course, this all comes into play only in the event the FBI hasn't already infiltrated the cell (Which seems far more common than terrorists actually initiating a plot without being noticed).

Matt from CTMarch 1, 2012 12:43 PM

>The cancer upon the body politic has
>metastasized beyond the reach of any
>possible treatment.

Not all possible treatments.

If the American voting public continues to refuse meaningful tax increases and China stops lending us money, the spike in interest rates should pretty much force the Feds to go on a diet.

You know, somewhere in China there has to be a group sitting around a table smoking cigars and whatever their version of playing poker and drinking scotch is going, "You know, when we saw what the U.S. did to Iraq in '91 and realized there was no way to defeat them on a battlefield and instead we needed to think strategically about ways to economically compete...did any of us think in 20 years we'd be buying so much of their debt if we stopped the interest rate spike would be enough to force them to shed two, maybe three, aircraft carriers to save money?"

caseyMarch 1, 2012 2:19 PM

I read the article and the part that disturbs me the most is that he lists his father's experience for some reason. Does the fact that his father worked somewhere at sometime transfer credibility to his argument. Every time I see this I cringe. The idea should stand alone.

The idea also is broken. He argues that screening is a loser because Chili's cooks have butcher knives and beach combers can launch rockets. Then he says targeted searches are better because they are cheaper, but they do not address the cooks/beach argument he puts forward.

This paper is hard to analyze because it reads like a rough draft of a high-school essay.

GeorgeMarch 1, 2012 5:07 PM

>Interesting though how the TSA bashing is picking up steam....

One reason is that we no longer have Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft insisting that criticizing the government is "unpatriotic" and "gives aid and comfort to the enemy" (i.e., the constitutional definition of treason). Another reason is that the passage of time has somewhat reduced the level of fear that made people reluctant to question or criticize any aspect of the Global War on Terror. Also over time, the TSA has given large numbers of people personal experience with the ineptitude, stupidity, and arrogance of TSA screening. They've earned their reputation.

The real reason, of course, is that the TSA is so firmly entrenched that it is impervious to any criticism. They can now tolerate bashing because the agency's leaders are absolutely confident that it can have no effect. If anything, they probably see the chorus of criticism as validation of their effectiveness.

The TSA's defines "security" entirely in terms of continually increasing levels of intrusive hassle, along with increasing violation of the integrity of passengers' belongings and bodies. Air travelers (i.e., the Enemy) *should* resent that kind of "security," and should thus regard the TSA with the appropriate "respect" that comes from fear and loathing. As far as the TSA leadership are concerned, the bashing is proof that air travelers (i.e., the Enemy) are indeed being hassled and violated. And that of course means their agency is doing a good job of providing effective security.

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