Congressional Testimony on the TSA

I was supposed to testify today about the TSA in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I was informally invited a couple of weeks ago, and formally invited last Tuesday:

The hearing will examine the successes and challenges associated with Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, the Transportation Worker Credential Card (TWIC), and other security initiatives administered by the TSA.

On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list. The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it’s pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it’s easier for them to do that if I’m not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them. (They tried to pull the same thing last year and it failedvideo at the 10:50 mark.)

The committee said it would try to invite me back for another hearing, but with my busy schedule, I don’t know if I will be able to make it. And it would be far less effective for me to testify without forcing the TSA to respond to my points.

I’m there in spirit, though. The title of the hearing is “TSA Oversight Part III: Effective Security or Security Theater?”

Posted on March 26, 2012 at 1:02 PM92 Comments


kashmarek March 26, 2012 1:21 PM

The answer is obvious: security theater. How else can they pump money into the security industrial complex (you know, those run by big contributors to the corporate shills on the inside)?

Don Brown March 26, 2012 1:30 PM

So if you disagree with the TSA, you’re not allowed to attend/speak at Congressional hearings regarding the validity of the TSA? Banana republic much?

applekid March 26, 2012 1:36 PM

I flew for the first time in over a year and a half this past week, and both major airports I traversed used the backscatter machines. I opted out, causing the TSA goons to shoot each other derisive smirks as though I had on a tinfoil hat. What really worried me, though, was the number of people who also opted out: no one that I could see in a line of hundreds.

QnJ1Y2U March 26, 2012 1:39 PM

The chairman’s statement is interesting:

The work of our two Committees has documented a recurring pattern of mismanagement and waste at the Transportation Security Administration. Add to this an unending string of video clips, photographs and news reports about inappropriate, clumsy and even illogical searches and screenings by TSA agents. Americans are right to demand answers from TSA about the return on investment of their tax dollars.

Monday’s joint Committee hearing represents yet another opportunity for TSA to try to explain why Americans are subjected to procedures that sometimes appear to defy logic and why the agency continues on a security system procurement binge. The committee will be asking questions about the effectiveness of five major security initiatives that together represent billions dollars of government spending. Understanding the cost for security programs as well as their benefits will help address the question: is it security theater or effective security

Not too long ago, the question would have been “TSA: supporter or terrorist?” Looks like some progress.

Dave X March 26, 2012 1:44 PM

I’d imagine that if you weren’t involved in the lawsuit, the craven TSA would try to have you stricken because you’ve aided the terrorists or reporters or flyers or something.

Chris March 26, 2012 1:54 PM

@Don Brown

Their official argument is that the two sides of an ongoing lawsuit should not be placed in the same public panel involved in the lawmaking process, which obviously is the purpose of Congress.
Their fear is that the TSA representative will have to defend himself against the questions of their opponent instead simply answering questions by committee. Reading Schneiers intentions ‘… without forcing the TSA to respond to my points.’, I would say that fear is justified.
A committee is not appointed to act as a judge in a lawsuit, in fact, Congress is explicitly prohibited to do that.
Basically, you’re either a unbiased expert witness, or a plaintiff in a lawsuit. You cannot be both.

You’ll probably say ‘but the TSA is biased!’. Sure, of course, but they are the executive power in this case.

Please note that I’m against the TSA in it’s current form. I wonder who wouldn’t be. But that’s besides the point.

Don Brown March 26, 2012 2:03 PM

@chris I completely get that argument, and would argue the same as a devil’s advocate against my position, but my take is that it’s complete BS in this case. The burden of proof seems to somehow have shifted to the people to prove their case against the TSA, when it should be (and always should have been) their burden to prove the need for their existence.

jerry March 26, 2012 2:13 PM

@Chris, whatever happened to the old fallback “Our attorney tells me that last question pertains to the lawsuit we are engaged with Mr. Schneier on, and so we must refrain from addressing that question here.”

llewelly March 26, 2012 2:22 PM

It is a sign of progress that you got as close as you did.

The present tactics of the security realists are turning the tide, albeit slowly.

cowbert March 26, 2012 2:22 PM

@Jerry That would possibly dilute and undermine the purpose of the hearing, since that would give TSA the ability to decline to answer pretty much any question put to them by the committee by claiming that the question pertains to the litigation (this is what happened with the EPIC issue).

AJ March 26, 2012 2:39 PM

What really worried me, though, was the number of people who also opted out: no one that I could see in a line of hundreds.

This is the most worrying thing I’ve read in a long time.

Greg March 26, 2012 2:50 PM

Based on their logic, the TSA should also withdraw from the hearings as they’re involved in the lawsuits.

It’s a sad sign of the times when the group being examined in Congress gets to control the witness list. Congresspeople should be looking into that issue!

Josh Levinger March 26, 2012 2:51 PM

Just sent notes to Reps Welch and Guinta, who are both on the committee. Hope your testimony is read into the record, even if you couldn’t face down the TSA in person.

jerry March 26, 2012 2:51 PM

@cowbert, “(this is what happened with the EPIC issue).” That’s an interesting insight, thank you.

Clive Robinson March 26, 2012 2:55 PM

@ llewelly,

The present tactics of the security realists are turning the tide, albeit slowly.

I’m still of the opinion that whilst cold hard logic will nail the coffin lid down the stake through the TSA hart will be ridicule.

Whilst it is possible for a bunch of oafs to parade around “bigging it up” in their $10 uniforms the one weapon they can not defend against is the look in peoples eyes that basicly says to the goon “you are the butt of a joke and we all know it”. Because it gets under the skin to know people are laughing at you because you are nothing but a monkey in a cheap suit pretending to be the fantasy figure of King Dong.

Laughter like sunlight brings joy to the heart and enobles the oppressed, to the oppressor it brings the knowledge that they do not have either natural or moral authority in any meaningfull sense because they are not respected bu ridiculed by all and thus despised and of little worth.

Chris W March 26, 2012 2:59 PM

@Don Brown

Interesting. In front of a judge you’re presumed innocent till proven guilty.
While you’re saying that in front a committee you should be presumed useless until proven effective.
Initially I would agree.

But would that be fair? I think it’s statistically impossible to prove that the TSA has ever stopped a terrorist plot. There simply aren’t enough of them… fortunately. Unless you start using the deterrent card.
That simply can’t warrant the budget of $80 per taxpayer/year. Woot, $80/y for free ‘theater’ visits, that’s a bargain!

Unfortunately, there isn’t a witness left that isn’t associated with DHS.

SB March 26, 2012 3:01 PM

(They tried to pull the same thing last year and
it failed — video at the 10:50 mark.)

Bruce, let me play cynic here: How did Mr. Pistole’s or his associates’ failure to attend a previous hearing hurt the TSA’s cause? What exactly has come out of all these hearings, and even if you did testify at today’s, what did you expect to happen as a result?

The most poignant part of today’s hearing was when Congressman Issa read three of the hundreds of posts from the House Oversight Committee’s Facebook page imploring readers to add their own comments and questions. Here were three incidents of clear harassment and abuse by TSOs. Assistant Administrator McLaughlin showed no remorse, and only said that he’d have to look into the incidents. If a Facebook page that was not well-advertisied could garner several hundred posts in a weekend, what is the true scale of the problem here?

And about the video of the engineer who alleged to bypass the body scanners? McLaughlin completely brushed the question aside. And about the recently posted video of a three-year-old in a wheelchair getting a three-minute frisk and swab session? Well, to paraphrase, that happened two years ago and the TSA has changed its policy on kids that will reduce child pat-downs. Clever that he never claimed that such an abuse would not recur. And never mind that the presumption is that it’d be perfectly fine for an 18-year-old or a 50-year-old in a cast in a wheelchair to have to under three minutes of swabbing and frisking.

The representatives were overall very soft on the panel. One , and I forget whom, completely glossed over the real issue when he demanded that passengers be given better notice that they can be screened in private as opposed to at the checkpoint. Because being frisked for three minutes in private is so much better than in public. I would never want to be along with TSOs in a private screening.

Another spent several minutes on how more “thank you”‘s and “please”‘s would go a long way to making the checkpoint experience better. Because, “Please, sir, would you life your shirt for me” is so much better than “LIFT YOUR SHIRT!”.

What realistic hope does anyone on this forum see for Congress to rein in the TSA?

Anderson March 26, 2012 3:22 PM

What really worried me, though, was the number of people who also opted out: no one that I could see in a line of hundreds.

This is the most worrying thing I’ve read in a long time.

I, too, find this worrisome, but am not surprised. How many of those in line who might otherwise have opted out were on business travel, and feared repercussions against their employment? Some of us (like myself) don’t need to travel on business (and therefore I don’t fly at all, thanks to TSA) but many don’t have that luxury, and their employers may not look kindly on missed flights or other issues stemming from acts of defiance, however minor, against the TSA. And I’m sure the TSA is quite aware of this consequence, too.

Dan March 26, 2012 3:38 PM

Banana republic much?

You haven’t been following this administration have you?

We’re totally in banana republic mode. The “rule of law” has been supplanted with the “rule of political expedience”.

john March 26, 2012 3:47 PM


Not too long ago, the question would have been “TSA: supporter or terrorist?” Looks like some progress.

When I read what you wrote, I first thought that you meant “Is TSA a supporter [of western ideals] or a terrorist”. I think you intended it to mean “A person who comments on the TSA is either a supporter or a terrorist.”. If the general public starts thinking that the trade-off worthy of consideration matches my original reading then we’ll have made real progress.

TheGuest March 26, 2012 3:52 PM

What is stopping you from showing up as a sign that the TSA was just as effective at stopping you as they are of stopping terrorism?

Just a thought…

MrGlass March 26, 2012 4:00 PM

I’m trying to find this hearing on the congressional website. Anyone have a link? I’m dying to see what the TSA has to say for themselves.

MrGlass March 26, 2012 4:00 PM

I’m trying to find this hearing on the congressional website. Anyone have a link? I’m dying to see what the TSA has to say for themselves.

Jeff Pierce March 26, 2012 4:10 PM

Freedom To Travel USA ( was hoping to see Bruce’s testimony, but the blog explains what happened.

From a risk perspective, the focus on illegal and unconstitutional methods (inch-by-inch search of our persons or criminal sexual touching which violates state laws and is not specifically allowed in the CFR) to harass passengers is a total waste of time and money. It is unfortunate no one in Congress is addressing the idea of “vulnerability vs risk” and the cost/benefit analysis published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management which shows we haven’t reached an economically justifiable level, even ignoring the destruction of the 4th amendment.

QnJ1Y2U March 26, 2012 4:15 PM


You’re correct about my original intent – I lost an edit fighting with the blog software.

To be honest, the TSA scares me more than the remote possibility of a hijacking; I think you could accuse them of being terrorists without being guilty of too much hyperbole. But I’m pretty sure Congress isn’t quite there yet.

Nukie March 26, 2012 4:40 PM

@john: “@QnJ1Y2U:
Not too long ago, the question would have been “TSA: supporter or terrorist?” Looks like some progress.
When I read what you wrote, I first thought that you meant “Is TSA a supporter [of western ideals] or a terrorist”. I think you intended it to mean “A person who comments on the TSA is either a supporter or a terrorist.”. If the general public starts thinking that the trade-off worthy of consideration matches my original reading then we’ll have made real progress.”

Look at some of the rhetoric over free speech on the internet and the politicos freaking out over kiddie porn… to the point that if you’re not a supporter of censorship you must be a supporter of kiddie porn. There are a lot of equivalent debates trying to paint issues in black and white instead of shades of gray.

(shakes head)

“Have you stopped getting your jollies by groping passengers?”

Loaded questions…

bwp March 26, 2012 4:53 PM

Bruce, you should have shown up anyway and said you didn’t get the memo/letter/email telling you not to attend.

3-D March 26, 2012 5:05 PM

“Terrorism” and “child porn”. Root passwords to the Constitution and keys to a bottomless treasure chest of funding.

There’s a lot of money at stake here, and rational arguments by Bruce won’t be allowed to stand in the way of it.

Fisher1949 March 26, 2012 5:53 PM

Yet another attempt by TSA to mislead the public with hollow promises. TSA has employed the “Big Lie” strategy in their effort to convince Congress and the public that the organization is not as corrupt and arrogant as it actually is. They are so accustomed to boldly lying to Congress that they no longer shows any discomfort in misleading lawmakers. Incredibly, none of these lawmakers has had the courage to hold them in contempt of Congress or withhold funding for the agency. Until Congress and the public demand that TSA adopt sensible and civilized security procedures it will continue to be a morass of corruption and criminal behavior.

They rely on an endless of streams of lies, obfuscations and denials of facts in an attempt to persuade people that they did not see or experience that which is plainly obvious. There have been dozens of instances where victim or witness accounts have been disputed by TSA, only to later to be confirmed after being captured on video, explaining their aversion to legal attempts to record them at checkpoints.

George March 26, 2012 6:18 PM

The real problem is that this Congressional hearing is the political counterpart of the TSA’s security theatre. It happens regularly. Every so often there’s a committee hearing about the latest GAO report showing serious deficiencies, or about public concerns. The committee members pontificate for the benefit of the cameras, solely to show constituents that they’re “doing something” about well-publicized TSA incompetence and abuse. The TSA leadership sits there stone-faced, with perhaps the occasional (false) promise to “investigate” when a committee member brings up something particularly embarrassing.

Having endured this periodic ritual, the TSA people go back behind their locked doors to continue business as usual. That’s because they know the hearing was as much a sham as their shoe carnival and War on Liquids. They can have absolute confidence that Congress will never do anything other than give the TSA their usual blank check when it’s time for the next budget.

The committee members all know that it would be political suicide to actually impose oversight or accountability, or do anything that restricts the power of the TSA to do whatever it wants however it wants. Anyone who tries that opens themselves up to charges of “weakening security” or being “soft on terrorism” from their opponent in the next election. Preserving their incumbency is paramount, so they’d never do anything that might jeopardize that.

But just as the TSA has to increasingly harass passengers to show they’re “doing something” about terrorism, Congress periodically has to hold hearings to show they’re responding to the many complaints and concerns about the TSA. Both of them are equally effective at addressing the problem they pretend to solve. So Bruce really didn’t miss much by being rejected. Whatever he (or anyone else) might have said would be ignored, by Congress and particularly by a TSA that has made itself impervious to any criticism.

Jake March 26, 2012 6:30 PM

I love how TSA only accepts comments on Facebook. If they can’t track you down, they don’t want to hear a fucking thing from you.

Davi Ottenheimer March 26, 2012 6:30 PM

I have always refused the full body scanners and I always will, but yesterday was the first day the TSA said to me “I don’t blame you” when I said “opt out please”.

Marshall Eubanks March 26, 2012 7:03 PM

I always opt out of the backscatter X ray machines, I always tell them why, and I have never gotten the least bit of hassle for so doing. (I am also very polite.)

Geoff Kuenning March 26, 2012 7:21 PM

I also always opt out. I make iit a point to not only be polite, but to be friendly and sometimes funny. The truth is that the agents don’t like doing the pat-downs, and a lot of them are fairly sloppy (especially when you’re friendly). I’ve never had my genitals touched, and they’ve frequently missed small items in my pockets. (Not to mention that I’ve spotted a security hole that would let someone take small prohibited items on board.)

John March 26, 2012 7:44 PM

Of the 3 times I’ve had the chance to opt out (in the interests of speed I usually take the line with the metal detector when I can), twice I was dealt with very efficiently and professionally. No comments either way and a quick but thorough pat down. The third time the agent was obviously irked and said they’d just had a shift change and I may have to wait 20 mins before someone was available. Fortunately, it was more like 3 mins and again the (different) agent who did the pat down was almost apologetic and quite professional. However, like some comments above, no-one else opted out in the time that I was in line.

George Hayes March 26, 2012 8:07 PM

Hi Bruce we’ve had a few emails back and forth in the past. My back ground in electronics and US Naval Nuclear and I know a good bit of the holes in their system and how absolutely pointless the scanner are a hell of a lot of ways to get past them.
I’d love to go in your place and testify or assist anyone doing so. About the only I might need a baby sitter for my son. Single parent. These scanners prevent no outside attack. Second, they are only effective against an idiot or someone who doesn’t know how they work or how to plan for them. There is nothing to prevent a person having a bomb say surgically implanted with in them. I won’t get into all the items in luggage that can be used to store or electronic devices that can be easily modified to carry a large enough charge to take down a plane or to open the cabin door. Even if every passenger had to board nude and had no carry ons and luggage was flow separately one could still get passed this unless they are going to start taking full body internal X-rays and even then I can tell you how to get passed it.

aps March 26, 2012 8:14 PM

Why wouldn’t Congress insist on the guy who came up with the notion of “security theater??”

Bill Stewart March 26, 2012 8:30 PM

If the lawsuit between you and the TSA means you can’t appear at the hearing, surely the TSA can’t appear either?

Brian March 26, 2012 8:34 PM

This may be an obvious question, but if the TSA is the subject of a congressional hearing, why do they get any say on the witness list? Certainly if I was a Congressman, the fact that the subject of an inquiry didn’t want someone to testify would make me think that person’s testimony would DEFINITELY be worth hearing.

Spaf March 26, 2012 8:39 PM

You can still submit written remarks for the record. They will be read by staff, and that is a good thing.

Bruce March 26, 2012 9:09 PM

So, does one create a youtube video at the end of each hearing to call out the folly of the TSA’s position? Say what you like, but that stuff will be reviewed by a Congression Aid for sure.

citizen March 26, 2012 9:21 PM

Bruce, I admire your work and dedication to privacy and security. The sheer stupidity and self serving nature of people must make it so frustrating. Hopefully the truth will shine free and unimpeded some day. We need more transparency and meritocracy in government affairs.

Joshua R. Poulson March 26, 2012 9:29 PM

I have sent the following to my Congresswoman, Jamie Herrera Beutler, who sits on the committee:

I am a delegate to the Clark County GOP Convention from Precinct 505. I am concerned that noted security expert Bruce Schneier is no longer going to testify to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. While Mr. Schneier does have a lawsuit against the TSA related to the flawed and ineffective full body scanners, his expertise on security protocols and procedures should not be discounted. He is actively trying to improve security on a regular basis. I have followed his academic writings as a computing professional for decades. I cannot think of anyone more appropriate to give public testimony on the subject of “Effective Security or Security Theater?” as he has actively combated false claims of security his entire career.

Nathan March 26, 2012 9:40 PM

I went through the full body scanner not too long ago and what really confused me was the fact that if the scanner found anything metal you’d get a pat down. Wasn’t the scanner used to see where and what the metal object was? It makes no sense to me.

Scott Shreve March 26, 2012 10:08 PM

Oh come on Schneier, you made the Faustian compromise decades ago – don’t pretend like you give a flying fuck about the Constitution or civil rights or any such bullshit drivel.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Mushtaq March 26, 2012 10:50 PM

Bruce your appearing at the hearing may indeed have gone the way as Georg (in a comment above) imagined it would have. In fact this dis-invitation to testify has created more media coverage than the issue might have otherwise had. It has also, through the debate that it has unleashed on the web, highlighted some additional issues that surround congressional hearings. Looking at this way, this may have an impact on a bigger scale. It may hopefully also increase awareness of your important work in this field.

observer March 26, 2012 11:50 PM

Re, Chris above:

I have attended many Congressional hearings in which two or more witnesses were involved in litigation related to the topic that the hearing was addressing. I imagine one could find recent examples of that in hearings by the Oversight Committee without looking too hard.

Here’s my guess at what happened.

A. Some staffer invited Schneier.

B. TSA got the witness list and blew a fuse.

C1. TSA called the staffer and said, “we are not coming if Schneier does; moreover we will tell your boss you ought to be canned.”


C2. Fearing that C1 would fail or backfire they called a member of the Committee and said, “Congressman X, we need a favor. Could you please call Chairman Issa and ask him to tell the staff to disinvite Schneier?”

I admit that any or all of A, B, C1 and C2 may be wrong, but I think the probability of a scenario close to the above is about 75%.

If the above happened, the likely outcomes is along the following lines:
(1) the relevant staffer finds a reason to disinvite Schneier and uses it in the letter,
(2) the relevant staffer is still there and will remember TSA with fondness,
(3) the staffer (and probably several other staffers) will read Schneier’s testimony with extra care and attention. (I don’t know this committee’s rules, but some House committees require witnesses to provide written copies of their statements three business days in advance and the invitation was withdrawn less that three days in advance.), and
(4) Schneier’s testimony did not appear on CSPAN or the evening news.

TSA must have cared a lot about gettingg 4 in order to accept 2 and 3. Keep in mind that this committee does not deal with TSA’s governing statute or budget. This Committee is more of a gadfly than someone who can crack a whip, unlike the other two committees mentioned—so 2 and 3 involving this committee are probably not too costly to TSA.


tensor March 27, 2012 12:46 AM

…why the agency continues on a security system procurement binge.

The two answers are, in order:

a) If you have to ask, you should not be serving on a body which appropriates and distributes funds;


Next question?

(As has been mentioned in other threads, this money is being spent to prevent politicians from being called “soft on terrorism.” Nothing else.)

AC2 March 27, 2012 1:13 AM


“The title of the hearing is “TSA Oversight Part III: Effective Security or Security Theater?”

So you missed an opportunity to present your case on Security Theater at a Political Theater.

No big loss IMHO…

Bill March 27, 2012 3:30 AM

I was removed from the witness list.
The excuse was that I am involved in a
lawsuit against the TSA

Then it follows the TSA should be excluded because they are involved in a lawsuit against you.

Snarki, child of Loki March 27, 2012 6:17 AM

TSA must indeed be afraid of what Bruce would say about them.

Because if it were someone of less stature, TSA wouldn’t bother getting them scratched from the hearing agenda.

They’d just put them on a no-fly list so that they couldn’t get to the hearing. Then take them off again a day after the hearing, and deny everything.

I still think that the only way that TSA is going to get reined in is after the “Al-Qaida in TSA” chapter is exposed.

Stuart March 27, 2012 6:46 AM

If you can’t testify because you’re involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, surely that also disqualifies the TSA itself from making such a representation as they are also involved in the said lawsuit?

john werneken March 27, 2012 7:25 AM

There is no security except Security Theater. Good security appears to be effective. Those protected feel reassured. And those paying feel that they are getting good value. Those involved feel respected, perhaps elite within their profession, and give full attention skill and commitment to their responsibilities. Many potential attacks are discouraged or deterred; some are thwarted and perhaps perpetrators damaged, injured, captured, or permanently put out of commission. Clint Eastwood plays the security dude as the hero in the Hollywood movie. NOW THAT is good security!

But it’s all theater. Like a war, the idea really is to get people to change their minds about something, through the use of more forceful arguments than individuals routinely employ in daily life. If it’s really working minds are changed WITHOUT violence. Now that REALLY IS a good security or defense/military force! Of course it helps if the force actually knows how to use force as well as it would like people to think it knew lol.

Give me a few hours to think about it a few days to make contacts a few weeks to lie about in the tall grass and I will show you the complete defeat of any system of security or of defense anywhere on earth. I might not be willing to actually DO it myself any more, essentially waging war on a great nation on the cheap is a risky business as I learned from experience, but it’s imminently doable, just ask Mr. Bin Laden’s survivors. If you put up the capital I can have it done at little risk to anything but the funds spent and of course the tools and the target(s). For even Good Security can be entertaining to penetrate for amusement, witness some of Annonymous’s dog-and-pony shows lol.

TSA is a waste of time and a dangerous and offensive one at that. It invades liberty and coursens people’s expectations. It may lead some to stop paying attention, which is the group’s best defense of course, to pay attention. It weakens passenger/airliner solidarity, the which has more than once led people to make the last sacrifice for the good guys, sometimes winning and sometimes fighting to a draw. Its purpose is to provide money, with which politicians can buy votes and provide jobs for the otherwise unemployable, the TSA.

JDM March 27, 2012 8:11 AM

Mr. Schneier, I have written Representative Issa a short message pointing to the irony that they held a hearing that had the phrase “security theater” in the title, but excluded from testimony the very man that coined the term. It was terse, but polite, but I did promise to ask that you video the testimony that you would have given on that day to the committee and post it on YouTube for the committee (and everyone else) to view. I would encourage you to do so quickly since it appears that many tech news outlets have picked up on the story and are ripe for more. I’d also encourage your readers to offer tips to other press sources about the bitter irony of the current situation.

b72s2jfk March 27, 2012 8:26 AM

When I flew to Miami in Nov 2011. I had to go through the backscatter machine. I am also training to become an airline mechanic, and yes I have to go through the same security circus as everyone else does, which is fine to an extent. Far as I understood the TSA has NOT modified their full body machines to delete and purge the highly detailed images of passenger being irradiated er I meant, x-rayed. Been through it already so many times-you think its almost time to see a doctor? I also understand that some guys at JFK and LHR have been busted for disseminating kiddie porn generated by the images. Anyhow in Nov on the way to MIA I had enough and decided to be snarky in light of everything I know.
I was asked to pass through it and I complied. At the end I asked to see a supervisor. A minute later he showed up and I asked, “far as I understand you store the images of the scan. Here is a SD storage card I have in my laptop bag. Can you please upload that high detailed image of me onto this here SD card so I can put this on a XXX-extreme gay porn website?” I never seen such a look of shock from the TSA idiots. TSA Supervisor responded harshly “You are kidding, youre joking-right?” I calmly replied with a big grin “Nope absolutely serious, now how many times do I have to ask the question again? Here is my computer card, please upload my scanned image”. Needless to say the state police were called and wanted to detain me for it. “For what grounds” I asked. “Complied with everything and all it was a simple request”. They let me go to my gate, and off to Miami I went.
Stayed 4 days then apparently the good folks at the TSA got word of my snarky request and had me go through the patdown, AND backscatter. They didnt look too happy to see me. Once again I whipped out my SD card and asked for the supervisor. Went through the same spiel again as 4 days previously. This time a couple of high ranking TSA officials and Miami Dade cops showed up.
I just laughed and said, wont hurt my feelings if I have to stay in Miami but Im calling a lawyer I know here and you WILL be paying for my missed flight AND hotel stay at the Hilton Airport”. After some discussion they decided to let me proceed to the boarding gate with a stern warning about my snarkiness wont be tolerated, and as an airline mechanic I should know to take security seriously and it wasnt a joking matter. “Bitches please, talk to the hand” was all I said and walked off. What the F ever.

Kevin March 27, 2012 8:58 AM

The TSA is a huge drain on the US budget and only causes pain and headaches for travelers. The intelligence of these TSA “agents” is on par with a stapler; they lack all skills to truly be an “agent”. You need observational and deduction as well as common sense. I travel very frequently and have never come across anyone who works for the TSA and been like, “This is what a TSA ‘agent’ should be like.”

jacob March 27, 2012 9:05 AM

@b72s2jfk, good one. BTW, they can demand the enhanced patdown and the machine both? I thought it was either/or.

I don’t like the machine for the reasons you mention. Pat me down, feel me up I really don’t care. images?stored? not a chance. call the cops and do a strip search. I guarantee I would embarass them before they embarass me…Might as well call a doctor and do me prostate exam too. Bill the government for the health checkup…

If you really want to tick them off ask them how it feels to be paid to grope people including children? say oh aw, a little to the left…

Ok, joking aside. I feel some sympathy, prevent a attack or let some get through. It’s a no win situation from their prospective, the wrong one.

The proper one would be no security theator, profile, detect, and realize that something could happen. Life is unfair and you can’t control everything.. Just my thoughts.

haha March 27, 2012 9:26 AM

An oldie-but-goodie from xkcd:

Airport security is a necessary evil, but the TSA is totally out of control. They should downsize it by about 50%, get rid of the nudie scanners, scale back the screening to pre-9/11 levels, and give those extra billions in taxpayer dollars to investigative agencies like the FBI.

Jim A. March 27, 2012 9:55 AM

At some level courts ask “Is this legal?” and congress asks “Should this be legal?” So it seems likely that there are cases where different parties in a lawsuit could reasonably be called to testify in front of congress.

BentFranklin March 27, 2012 10:36 AM

Just show up in the audience and hand out your testimony to anyone who requests it including the press and congressional aides.

“Hi, I’m Dr. Bruce Schneier. I’m the person TSA had stricken from testifying. Here’s what I would have testified.”

Nukie March 27, 2012 11:14 AM


“Terrorism” and “child porn”. Root passwords to the Constitution and keys to a bottomless treasure chest of funding.
There’s a lot of money at stake here, and rational arguments by Bruce won’t be allowed to stand in the way of it.

Consider that dissent can be silenced by calling it “racism” these days.

Colin March 27, 2012 11:56 AM

I really wish you had told us on Friday. I would have liked a chance to get some political weight moving in favor of transparency.

roystgnr March 27, 2012 12:38 PM

Basically, you’re either a unbiased expert witness, or a plaintiff in a lawsuit. You cannot be both.

This is not what “unbiased” means. The “Argument to moderation” is actually a source of bias, not a protection from it.

Moderator March 27, 2012 1:10 PM

Aikimark, since your complaint about Issa stemmed from an unrelated hearing, you were derailing as well as name-calling. Please don’t post like that again.

aikimark March 27, 2012 1:35 PM


This TSA hearing uninvite (of you) is just the latest incident in my complaints about Issa. My reference to the prior hearing was an offering of additional reasons I hold him in less than high regard. If Issa truly has it in for the TSA, then univiting a TSA critic (you), would seem to be counter productive and a sub optimal strategy.

k March 27, 2012 1:43 PM

Saw a news story on the TV in the elevator today showing a graphic of number of hand guns confiscated by TSA over the last 4 years or so. Increasing, Yeah! But I mentioned to my colleague that the relevant (or less irrelevant) graphic would have shown guns missed by TSA. Asymptote = 0? Anyway, someone working the press?

jacob March 27, 2012 3:07 PM

A Jetblue pilot loses it, is ejected from cockpit and subdued….Reported to be yelling, “al qaeda, israel, afganistan, we’re all going down.”

Bruce didn’t you once say what about the pilots???? Just wondering.

Security theater indeed…
Do we feel any safer?

G-man March 27, 2012 5:09 PM

As a recent cancer survivor, I have to go through a series of annual CT scans, x-rays, etc. for the next five years. This forces me to limit my exposure to radiation devices.

When I get to the TSA podium (where they check the IDs before you get to the X-ray area), I always let them know that I need to opt-out of the backscatter device and I point to my LIVESTRONG bracelet. I ask them to tell me where they need me to go. So far no problems… they tell me which lane to go in and I pass through the old-school metal detector. I assume that if I set off the metal detector some day, I will get the grope.

notflying-tsa March 27, 2012 5:12 PM

This is just another move to keep the sheeple happy that the “terrorists” are at bay thanks to the $10/hr folks that make flying one of the worst experiences since sitting in the ER or the dentist.
You should have just shown up anyways and stood outside saying you didn’t get the memo.
Thank you for posting this and validating my reasoning of driving cross country if need be.

MB March 27, 2012 6:22 PM

If Bruce cannot testify because he is involved in the lawsuit… that’s a good reason for TSA to drag it out for years.

Arch Hughes March 27, 2012 6:57 PM

It’s natural that the TSA would want to exclude a detractor from the hearing. Wouldn’t you? It seems the most effective way to win an argument. The TSA has no responsibility to present fair arguments in front of Congress, only truthful ones.

IMHO, the fault lies with Congress in agreeing to the TSA’s request to drop Mr. Schneier from the witness list.

If you find that to simplistic to believe, then the TSA claim might be true, and the lawsuit involvement is a disqualifying event. I know I don’t like to pal-around with people I’m involved with in tort claims.

And remember, this is all based on Mr. Schneier’s report, and nothing from the TSA or Congress.

John M. Burt March 27, 2012 8:20 PM

“Effective Security Or Security Theater?”

Hey, you know you are winning the argument when the audience starts using your jargon instead of theirs.

moz March 28, 2012 8:14 AM

@Joshua R. Poulson and others sending notes.

If you can, please consider calling. Mostly you get a staffer but it still has a more direct personal effect. In fact, generally, it really helps if people call their representatives and try to get an answer on whether they will act on an issue.

Tired March 28, 2012 8:18 AM

TSA’s security theater does not make me feel safe. In fact, I’m convinced the purpose is the opposite. All the barking and ordering and inconsistencies and attitude (if you make one small mistake) is all about making you feel afraid–afraid of TSA. Case in point is the time I found myself in the ‘secure zone’ with a 3-inch pocket knife that TSA had overlooked. Was I going to point this out to TSA so they could use it as a learning experience so this sort of thing would be less likely in the future? Of course not!

The TSA is the USA’s worst ambassador. Every single visitor to the USA (for tourism or school or to see relatives) gets treated like a terrorist when they visit the US embassy to get their visas and when they enter the USA to go through customs (finger printed and photographed–with every entry) and when they go through security to change to a domestic flight. Also, almost none of these visitors know they can or should (for health reasons) opt out of the backscatter machines. If they did know, they probably won’t because they either don’t want to rock the boat and get into trouble or because they don’t have the English ability to deal with barked orders.

The other problem with TSA is the pressure they put on other countries to do the same security theater. I had a pair of blunt-ended scissors confiscated because they had a sharp cutting edge–this was when TSA finally OKed such scissors and I had already flown with these scissors several times.

Japan, by being polite, by being helpful, and by giving the impression of being apologetic, does make the experience of going through security much more tolerable. Japan, by the way, insists we go through security as soon as we get off international flights (even if we’re going to be in transit)–suggesting Japan’s lack of confidence in the security of the USA and other countries. On the other hand, Japan no longer requests we remove our shoes.

I’m sorry they canceled Bruce’s testimony. Like so many on this forum and around the world, I’d like to see TSA get skewered.

moo March 28, 2012 10:48 AM

Off-topic but related:

The captain of a JetBlue flight had some sort of mental breakdown during the flight, came out of the cockpit ranting about bombs and al-Qaeda, and tried to force his way into an occupied bathroom. His coworkers tried unsuccessfully to calm him down. Four passengers then tackled and restrained him, and the co-pilot, with the aid of another passenger who was an off-duty pilot, safely landed the plane.

Anyone who thinks they could hijack a commercial passenger plane nowadays is kidding themselves. Even if the bad guy has a gun or a bomb, the passengers are going to jump him and beat his face in. I think we should still try to prevent guns and bombs on planes, but pre-9/11 security screening was adequate to do that. The current nudie scanners and liquid restrictions and shoe-inspecting is just a waste of passengers’ money and time, not to mention offensive to their dignity.

wumpus March 28, 2012 2:13 PM

Note that the deranged pilot above was essentially isolated from the cockpit by a locked door. I doubt he made a scene sufficient to be restrained by passengers before he noticed the door was locked.

It has been pointed out here quite a few times here that those doors are the biggest security fix in post 9/11 US air travel.

Oren Beck March 28, 2012 2:13 PM

Simple facts are simple. We base much of our mundane life upon silly and irrational risk perceptions. But it should not be so if there are more accurate risk predictors. Blocking awareness of those facts may be why the TSA views Bruce Schneier as a threat.

Yes- in a Barking Madness Caricature- of what “Real Security” makes sense to declare the blatant overt humiliation theater of TSA current practices as being logic based. Using some REAL predictors however?

Tied with that science is Human Professionals.

Except- we’ve already established that the TSA overtly rejects validity of allowing testimony from leading authorities. Fear of truth? Or fear of reality? If we go back to REAL logic? As in the math tables?

If we indeed did apply such logic to security and then backstopped it with Humint+ Elint as on-the-spot tools&rules? The trip through security would be a vastly different situation.

Pre-screen by Elint of unashamed instant data validation. Actuarial tables “should” show an instant
risk factor for MANDATORY profiling=yes. this “whatever” gets the deep scan. As opposed to merely trusting that some evildoer has not gamed the data sets. The interlock being- the insurance company’s payout tables will damned quickly spot any manipulation attempts.

Apply the stupidly simple- run the identity to see if it’s a valid identity. Not for a bogus enemies list, just to see if it’s an obvious non-person. Or some justification to do more than the de minimus zero exceptions screening. A fail thus does nor “risk increase” by false negative causing less basic procedure. The Elint layer however DOES serve to triage enhanced investigations. Footnote to follow.

Basic common sense procedures.

The layout of the checkpoints would be hard to make more wrong.

The last most damning point is- The whole bad joke falls apart when there is no audit trail for security on all objects going onto a plane.

Think of the closer as- you, the passenger are optically endoscoped and shorn of all body hair even perhaps suspect teeth removed- and while all that is being done to you.. minimally inspected bulk cargo is being loaded. Paranoia is situational.

The footnote being that Professional Paranoids still know how to TRIAGE that survival skill. Amateur ones like the TSA appears to be will inherently be creating more risk than a Professional Paranoid’s procedures etc.

My most sobering fear is that we do NOT have people like Dr Schneier as the policy setters for our security.

SB March 28, 2012 3:32 PM

@moo and @wumpus: Exactly. Take a look at the TSA’s vaunted 20 laters of security —

Remove all but numbers 1, 19 and 20, and we would be no less secure. And we’d be spending a lot of a lot less.

EVERY attempted aviation attack over the past decade has been foiled by intelligence or by fellow passengers.

Of course, if you take away all those other layers, you would need to lay off a lot of TSA workers, and more importantly, do away with opportunities for companies to feed off the homeland security cash cow.

So they won’t be going anywhere.

Ancient Mariner March 30, 2012 10:43 AM

Tell the administration to withhold funding from TSA until they respect the Constitution and the traveling public:

  1. Remove and destroy all imaging machines that potentially can “see” under our clothing, whether or not those images are retained.
  2. Cease and desist all invasive patdowns that involve touching genitalia, even through clothing, unless there is probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a crime.
  3. Cease immediately harassment and illegal detention of people who assert their constitutional rights during airport screening.

Thanks for signing.

Lauren June 4, 2012 12:46 AM

I am with TSA (not a security officer) and I do not know of ANY officer who enjoys performing pat downs on adults or children. The off color and accusatory comments made about “groping” and the like by TSA officers are more than 99 percent hearsay and gossip. Anyone with a LEGITIMATE complaint who did not immediately report it is at the very least part of the problem. The officers are only as good as their leadership so if anyone has issues with officers, they need to be talking with a supervisor or manager. I have often said TSA needs a retired Marine Corps Command Sergeant Major at the helm and not just some other executive level federal employee. Oh, and if not even the congress can seem to do anything to fix the problems in TSA’s management and leadership, you cannot expect the security officers to all be perfect!

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.