TSA Not Detecting Weapons at Security Checkpoints

This isn’t good:

An internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports, where undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, ABC News has learned.

The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system.

According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.

The Acting Director of the TSA has been reassigned:

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday that Melvin Carraway would be moved to the Office of State and Local Law Enforcement at DHS headquarters “effective immediately.”

This is bad. I have often made the point that airport security doesn’t have to be 100% effective in detecting guns and bombs. Here I am in 2008:

If you’re caught at airport security with a bomb or a gun, the screeners aren’t just going to take it away from you. They’re going to call the police, and you’re going to be stuck for a few hours answering a lot of awkward questions. You may be arrested, and you’ll almost certainly miss your flight. At best, you’re going to have a very unpleasant day.

This is why articles about how screeners don’t catch every—or even a majority—of guns and bombs that go through the checkpoints don’t bother me. The screeners don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be good enough. No terrorist is going to base his plot on getting a gun through airport security if there’s a decent chance of getting caught, because the consequences of getting caught are too great.

A 95% failure rate is bad, because you can build a plot around sneaking something past the TSA.

I don’t know the details, or what failed. Was it the procedures or training? Was it the technology? Was it the PreCheck program? I hope we’ll learn details, and this won’t be swallowed in the great maw of government secrecy.


David Burge @iowahawkblog

At $8 billion per year, the TSA is the most expensive theatrical production in history.

Posted on June 2, 2015 at 7:37 AM58 Comments


Petter June 2, 2015 7:56 AM

My first thought was that it was played in perfect timing for the 215 voting.
They are on the verge to lose and what could be better then a little pimping of the National Security Threat to make sure they maintain much of the possibilities.

Security is only one reason to the massive surveillance done world wide.
Political and industrial espionage are a couple of others at least as important to protect the US.

K.S. June 2, 2015 8:10 AM

How ironic is that all these delays, cancer-inducing scanning, and molestation by the TSA agents are pointless.

We need to profile. Israeli do a good job with this approach, we should too.

QnJ1Y2U June 2, 2015 8:16 AM

Further proof that there just are not very many terrorists in the US.

Israel’s profiling has been covered by this blog before – simply put, it would be way too costly here (both monetarily and in civil rights), and the threat doesn’t justify that cost.

uh, Mike June 2, 2015 8:21 AM

Please remind us of how many Americans simply forget that they’re packing iron all the way up to security?

If all it does is keep casual weaponry off of the plane, I think that’s worth it.

QnJ1Y2U June 2, 2015 8:28 AM

@uh, Mike
We could keep casual weaponry off of planes with pre-9/11 metal detectors and pre-9/11 budgets.

65535 June 2, 2015 8:36 AM

@ Petter

“My first thought was that it was played in perfect timing for the 215 voting.”

That was my first thought also.

I would not put it past the Homeland Security Red Team to be in collusion with the TSA to expand the TSA’s powers. Fear is a good tactic to use when all else fails. I expect more of the same until section 215 is completely re-named and on the books.

Winter June 2, 2015 8:39 AM

All the programs of the TSA and NSA are not even worth the money given the goals they state themselves.

The TSA cannot keep weapons and bombs out of planes, the NSA cannot find terrorists and criminals.

They run up astronomical costs in money and freedom with no benefits to show for.

Ed June 2, 2015 9:03 AM

If all the TSA does is keep the pistol-packing redneck off the plane – as well as grandma with her knitting needles or me with a bottle of water – then it’s pointless since none of them are likely to be legitimate threats. We charge some idiots with a crime and let others (that would be you, “professional” athletes) off with a warning.

The main goal of this is not to catch the non-threats holding threatening items – it’s to catch the actual potential criminals, and this is simply not working.

The TSA loves to show off the huge collection of items they’ve confiscated, from lighters to pocket knives to tubes of toothpaste. It’s highly likely that NONE of those were legitimate threats. They confiscated a tube of toothpaste from me once Yeah, I’ll bet that made everybody on the plane breath a sigh of relief. It’s been clearly demonstrated that it’s highly likely that the people who really want to smuggle things through can do so.

For $8 billion per year, we’re catching the non-threats and letting the real threats through. That’s f’d up.

RogerBW June 2, 2015 9:14 AM

For the TSA, this is a huge improvement – this time round they didn’t simply hide explosives in the luggage of unsuspecting passengers, and they didn’t fail to get most of the explosives back afterwards.

Ryan June 2, 2015 9:59 AM

Well, thankfully they caught the two bottles of honey my girl tried getting on the plane the other day. That would have been a total lapse in security.

Vadim Lebedev June 2, 2015 10:15 AM

Suppose the chance of getting on the plane with a kamikaze is 1/1000000…
It is very easy to decrease this probability to 1/1000000000000 –
simply bring your own bomb!!! The chance that there are 2 bombs on the plane are
1/10⁶ x 1/10⁶ 🙂

parrot June 2, 2015 10:19 AM


In the week 5/22 to 5/28, they collected 45 firearms. Blindly applying the statistic above, that would be 900 total firearms went through security (caught or uncaught) in a week, or 46,800 a year. Eyeballing the other weeks, 45 seems like a low number.

As an aside, I have a tendency to look through that blog and think to myself, “Woah, I want one of those!”

keiner June 2, 2015 10:20 AM

…which won’t buy you much if YOU are on that plane.

Proof that statistics in general is nonsense when it comes to real life…

parrot June 2, 2015 10:29 AM

@Vadim Lebedev

Reminds me of the old story of folks who were so terrified of being buried alive that they would put the bodies in the coffins and then drive stakes through them. Although, I think their math was a little more sound than yours!

TimH June 2, 2015 10:33 AM

@Vadim. Actually that would make the basis of an interview question, similar to not being struck by lightning twice. If you bring bomb 1, the probability of that occurrence is now 1 not 1-in-a-million….

MtTx June 2, 2015 10:36 AM

If you want to try to sneak a gun onto a plane, Texas will be the place to do it if this bill passes. You will be able to say “oops” at a TSA checkpoint if they find a gun in your carry on and allowed to leave unmolested. I call it the “No harm, no foul, for irresponsible gun owners” law. The bill’s creator was arrested for “forgetting” he had a gun in his carry on and now wants to decriminalize his carelessness. Now, this bill states that only people with a conceal-carry license will have the privilege of forgetting where they put their weapon. But…

Texas will soon pass an ‘open-carry for everyone’ law. It would only be a matter of time before the CHL stipulation is removed from the TSA checkpoint bill. Fortunately, the TSA bill hasn’t made it to law yet.

I do wonder if state law trumps the TSA checkpoint though. I was under the impression that airport security was under the feds purview.

mytake June 2, 2015 10:42 AM

I was just at the airport, dropping off a young lady. This child walked thru security, did as she was told, put her hands up! Not because a policemen suspected her of a crime and was safely trying to apprehend her, but to efficately irradiate herself so we could all feel better.

This is feelings, people. Fleeting, ephemeral, changing with the winds…

Is there no one with discipline? With vision or leadership to lead us out of this morass? When a child crys, you hold them and comfort them, say ‘it will be all right’. Are we perpetual children, scared of our own shadow?

I couldn’t walk her to the gate, without a special gate pass. Rules, you know. As I walked away, she promised to be strong and pay attention. We both walked by dozens of cameras, badges, and stern warnings posted, and neither of us gave it all another thought.

I read the news today that certein small provisions of cleverly named Law were harshly debated. In the same space, albeit much smaller then prime ad-space, the newspaper mention how comprimising the leadership was! See, they were forced to agree to a different cleverly titled bill.

You in the USA are the free-est of the free, but you are not free. You are the great rumbling waterfall, seemingly unrestrained, yet guided, nudged, and afforded no respect. You imagine yourselves unrestrained, as you can wander near and far, but your fences are casual and commonplace. The cattleprod you mistake for happenstance. Oh! If only your numbers were less, perhaps you could see the people are out to pasture.

I spoke to my oldest and was taken aback when she said 9/11 was history. She had always known the world as such, she said. She asked where I was (vegas) and what day its was (tues). She asked if I was scared. I told her, “There’s nothing to fear, We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

Further reading: The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein circa 1948

Sam June 2, 2015 10:49 AM

Does a laptop count as a potential weapon? I’m talking about the ones that can connect to the flight control system and issue rogue commands – as in the whole Chris Roberts deal. I suspect that’s a lot of flight risks getting through.

Adrian June 2, 2015 10:50 AM

If I recall correctly, the last time we got stats like this from the TSA was 2004, when they missed 70% of weapons. It’s hard to spot a trend with only two data points, but it seems like they’re getting worse despite the application of more tech and training over the past decade.

Another interesting tidbit is that the absolute number of weapons caught by TSA screening each week seems to have increased in recent months (based on the summaries in the TSA blog). They used to report 30-40 weapons detected at screening each week, but lately those numbers are often upper-40s to upper-50s.

So if their rate is going down (big if) and if the absolute number of catches had increased (apparently true), then it seems substantially more passengers are trying to bring weapons through the screening point. That seems unlikely. I wonder if the 95% miss rate was from a several months ago and recent uptick was from a reaction to improve that.

Alphonse June 2, 2015 11:05 AM

@Vadim – “Suppose the chance of getting on the plane…”

No, it won’t work – 95% of the time you will get on the plane, even if you bring your own bomb :).

MikeA June 2, 2015 11:20 AM

There is little or no resale value in a bomb of unknown provenance. Unlike the usual stuff that disappears under the TSA’s careful stewardship. Even the Casio “Terrorist Watch” can probably be purchased more cheaply on eBay than off the back of a truck in the employee parking lot at an airport.

Yet another Bruce June 2, 2015 11:48 AM

The Acting Director of the TSA has been resassigned

Well, that should fix it.

Tim! June 2, 2015 1:13 PM


I find it hilarious that the tsa blog refuses https connection and I have to manually reroute to http.

Lev Bronstein June 2, 2015 1:27 PM

From TSA blog:
“A replica grenade was discovered in a checked bag at San Antonio (SAT).”

So tell me how confiscating that made anyone safer? It was CHECKED and it wasn’t an explosive device.

999999999 June 2, 2015 1:45 PM

Krebs got swatted by hackers, Swartz was suicided, so did J.J. James, that script kiddie Lehel is in jail, something fishy happened to Barnaby Jack, and many others are having trouble with the “protectors” of democracy.

The truly impressive problem can be seen on the TSA blog or twitter feed. It is one thing that the TSA think it is not OK to transport:
1) Ammunition in a checked bag.
2) Knives in carry-on
3) Shuriken in carry-on
4) Inert novelty toys that look like weapons
5) Tasers that look like a flashlight
4) Toothpaste
5) Other harmless bits and pieces
It is completely another thing that they are actually proud of it. And even worse is the general citizenry response. It is entirely polarized: the comments are either extremely thankful that the TSA found these “maniacs” who think they can just do what they want or the comments are comparing the TSA to and Orwellian dystopia. Both sides are woefully neglectful of intelligence. Why no middle ground?

The lack of middle ground in this conversation is troubling.

Dr. I. Needtob Athe June 2, 2015 1:57 PM

So now all a terrorist needs is some fake Homeland Security Red Team identification and he won’t even have to worry about the slight chance of being caught.

Paul Bonneau June 2, 2015 2:05 PM

“No terrorist is going to base his plot on getting a gun through airport security if there’s a decent chance of getting caught, because the consequences of getting caught are too great.”

Your original premise was mostly incorrect. Terrorists face a consequence of certain death if they are SUCCESSFUL, thus the possibility of being caught is hardly going to deter them (anyway they can do their deed in the concourse rather than on the plane). The only case where this is not true is for those who intend to deposit a bomb on a plane and then miss the flight. This must be a tiny minority of terrorists – unless you count those indulging in false flag events, who probably do want to survive. But TSA won’t protect us against those for other reasons.

So it doesn’t matter if the detection rate is 5% or 95%, except for the ease in finding someone willing to sacrifice himself. I suppose with all the mayhem we set loose in the Middle East, there is no shortage of them.

tyr June 2, 2015 3:13 PM

If a terrorist is dumb enough to be on a plane full of
armed Americans from Texas he can’t be much of a real
threat to the land of the free and the home of the

You can’t make a paranoid coward safe from anything you
can only waste his tax money on theatrics.

The next time they announce the “fiscal cliff” we need
to cut the IC and TSA budgets to the bone and use the
savings to pay off the student debt burden on young

And totally off topic:
When did Switzerland become the 51st state of USA ?

Omri June 2, 2015 3:17 PM

“Terrorists face a consequence of certain death if they are SUCCESSFUL”

And a drawn out 40 year death in a cell, coupled with ridicule, if they are caught at the metal detector. For terrorists, ridicule is the one thing they cannot afford. Just make the risk of a pathetic story high enough, and the problem is solved.

rgaff June 2, 2015 3:38 PM

Hello you 95% of people with bad gambler math/statistics…

I’d just like to mention that, when each instance of something occurring is independent of each other, then your odds of future occurrences aren’t affected by past occurrences! If you roll a 6, at that point your next roll is not less likely to be a 6 just because you just rolled a 6, every separate roll has equal chances of being a 6. Likewise, using pure statistics, when every bomb is independent of each other, you are not less likely to get a second bomb than the first, after the first has already occurred.

Now, of course, if a bomber might be carrying two bombs, or if two bombers might be working together, that’s different… that would then increase the chances of a second bomb right after a first. But you have to factor in chances of related bombs to get that statistic. As long as there’s never any relation between bombs, chances are not affected.

And yes, statistics are not true to real life, because of two things: 1) real life has way more variables than we can ever account for when calculating things, so we’re never really right. 2) real life is not about averages, real life is full of things that happen all over the place, not averages. There is no mythical “average person” for example. Although things do generally tend to even out over time (i.e. just wait till the sun’s battery runs out and you’ll see what I mean). 🙂

By the way, you are all under investigation for talking and/or reading about bombs. Have fun.


I’d like to point out that the middle ground is those who read but don’t comment 🙂

Ed June 2, 2015 4:25 PM

@rgaff said: There is no mythical “average person” for example.

The average adult has 1 breast and one testicle.

Andrew June 2, 2015 4:37 PM

If the TSA missed 95% of the goodies, that means they get 1 in 20. I’ve read before that the TSA finds on the order of 30 guns a year by people who forget they’re packing heat when they go to their flight. So that means between 140 to 150 folks a year forget to leave home without it. If you figure there are over 300 million passengers on US domestic flights a year, that’s one naughty bit of carry on per two million passengers. That’s not too bad from the POV of the absent minded-ness rate of the travelling public. I’d hope that the Dept of Fatherland Security would have a hard time justifying their yearly allowance on the fact that they stop 1 in 20 absent minded Americans who try to fly with their arms.

To rgaff who argues that the odds of your getting a bad thing thru security is like rolling dice, where the likelyhood of one event is not linked to the results of the previous event. I think what the study implies is that all the events are dynamically tied to the same set of overbearing facts. TSA agents are, by nature of their training, allowing 95% of bad things onto airplanes.

Ed June 2, 2015 4:59 PM

I’ve read before that the TSA finds on the order of 30 guns a year by people who forget they’re packing heat when they go to their flight.

There were 44 at the Austin airport last year. That’s JUST Austin.

I would expect that the TSA identification rate of guns that people forget is significantly higher than what they found during the penetration tests since these forgetful people aren’t trying to hide them – they’re in plain sight in their carry-on luggage or in their purses.

I don’t think that the TSA allows 95% of all bad things through but they are more likely to fail to find the stuff that somebody has intentionally tried to make hard.

Clive Robinson June 2, 2015 5:15 PM

@ 999999999, rgaff,

se. It is entirely polarized: the comments are either extremely thankful that the TSA found these “maniacs” who think they can just do what they want or the comments are comparing the TSA to an Orwellian dystopia.

I suspect the lack of “middle ground” is a form os censorship.

Look at it this way if you want to get a message across it’s nice to have “pro comments”, but if you ONLY have pro comments then even those well below avarage suspiciousness will smell a rat.

However if you include “anti comments” that come across as having more than one or two screws lose then their effect is the same as “pro comments”, whilst showing a mix of anti and pro comments as a faux balance.

What you have to remove is the “anti” or “neutral” comments that come across as reasoned or sensible… these are the real dangerous comments against any agenda. However for those of a cautious nature not seeing such comments should start alarm bells ringing in their heads that what they are looking at “is rigged” or censored in some way.

Clive Robinson June 2, 2015 5:22 PM

@ Ed,

You are presuming a 50:50 men to women on the testicles which is not the case, in some places men outnumber women by as much as three to one.

However men and women usually have two breasts each.

What you can say about the average person is that by and large they are always half right (or left 😉

z June 2, 2015 5:26 PM

An attacker doesn’t even need to get past security to cause terror. The masses of people waiting to get through security are all a target themselves. A bomb there would be trivial and would accomplish a terrorist’s goals. We need to take lessons from Israel and divide passengers into much smaller groups separated by blast resistant barriers.

Any “security” system that packs masses of unchecked people and unchecked bags in a large group at a high profile target like an airport needs to be thrown away immediately.

Scared June 2, 2015 6:01 PM

“The Acting Director of the TSA has been resassigned”

So nobody’s directing the acting now?
You can’t run a theater w/o a director, can you?

Justin June 2, 2015 7:36 PM

People are over-analyzing.

Most people have a fear (or at least some anxiety) of flying. The TSA stuff is security theater to make people feel more comfortable flying. The travel industry is all for it if it helps some people overcome their fear of flying.

That’s the goal. It has very little to do with any actual threat of terrorist activity.

Rick June 2, 2015 11:45 PM

@ Clive Robinson
“What you have to remove is the “anti” or “neutral” comments that come across as reasoned or sensible”

While this is certainly true in mainstream media and old Soviet propaganda, blogosphere may beg to differ. A blog with no appearance of agenda is fishy because its fishing. Selling good books, on the other hand, is good agenda that we all can buy into.

@ rgaff

The number of non comment visitors is transparent to casual surfer, so it really is not opinion of middle ground but meta.

Wael June 3, 2015 12:47 AM

@Vadim Lebedev,

Suppose the chance of getting on the plane with a kamikaze is 1/1000000…
It is very easy to decrease this probability to 1/1000000000000 –
simply bring your own bomb!!! The chance that there are 2 bombs on the plane are
1/10⁶ x 1/10⁶ 🙂

Oh, man! That’s just so wrong! Okay, I know you’re joking 😉


Although, I think their math was a little more sound than yours!

The math is ok, the problem lies in the logic… or lack thereof 🙂

picus June 3, 2015 6:25 AM

While the TSA has proven to be thoroughly incompetent at its ostensible function, the omnipresent, invasive TSA security lines at every American airport serve an important propaganda function, helping to inculcate the notion that the country is in a “state of exception” that requires hundreds of millions of airline passengers to submit to invasive searches before boarding their planes. The fact that no terrorist attack has occurred on a US flight since 9/11, despite the ease with which investigators are able to penetrate the TSA’s “security theater,” indicates that the actual threat of terrorism is far less than that suggested by government and media hysteria.

More generally, the invasive pat-downs, the arbitrary singling out of individuals for additional screening, and the confiscation of innocuous products such as water bottles at TSA checkpoints serve to acclimate the American public to the sorts of routine and arbitrary searches and seizures integral to a police state, whose scaffolding is already well advanced. From this standpoint, whether or not these methods actually succeed in preventing terrorism is a secondary issue.


VinnyG June 3, 2015 7:35 AM

@x “An attacker doesn’t even need to get past security to cause terror. The masses of people waiting to get through security are all a target themselves. A bomb there would be trivial and would accomplish a terrorist’s goals.”
That is exactly correct. It has also been both true and commonly known for >13 years. How many terrorist attacks (successful or not) have occured in US airport security screening lines during that time? I propose that to be a tremendously generous sample size, and the consequent occurence rate as the most accurate possible barometer of the actual threat…

Hussar June 3, 2015 8:15 AM

I loathe to admit, but I have been a cog in the TSA security-industrial complex since 2002. During that time, I have seen TSA transform from a lean, mission oriented, proactive security force with great potential into a bureaucratic morass concerned only with assuaging the egos of its senior executive service (SES) employees and protecting special interest “rice bowls” in a “stove piped” dysfunctional morass of bureaucratic ineptitude.

Today, many in TSA senior leadership have little or no security backgrounds. The new temporary administrator was a public relations specialist (a roadie with the Beach Boys) with political connections (father was a former US Senator) who has climbed his way up the ranks of TSA. This is the typical career path for many sycophants in the agency that sign on to every idiotic and counterproductive idea the agency has concocted.

While agency morale was never high, it is today at a nadir. Most employees come to work expecting a “pink slip” as a result of becoming redundant during one of the perpetual reorganization or right sizing efforts: which sole purpose is to centralize and enrich the “ inside the beltway” types at the expense of providing effective and economically efficient security in the field.

My recommendation is that airport screening needs to come under the purview of the airport operator (not the airline operators as it was before 9/11). Let the airport operating authority hire and retain private security contractors with the bulk of the funding for these contractors coming through grants from the federal government to the airport operating authority (much like FAA grants are executed for terminal and runway improvements).

I would even go so far as to privatize the Federal Air Marshall Service (FAMS). A regulation requiring airline operators have X% of all flights covered with an armed presence would need to be promulgated. This armed presence could be provided by Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO; federal or local law enforcement officials who are already booked on flights and normally fly armed anyway; by retired federal or local law enforcement officials who are, by federal law, allowed to carry concealed weapons; or by trained and approved armed security guards (much like armed guards banks use for armor car deliveries, or armed contractors the US State Department uses for personal protective details overseas). TSA would be rebranded, and renamed, and its functions and scope severely limited. This new organization’s sole purpose would be to provide inspectors to ensure that airline operators, and airport operators are in compliance with current security directive and emergency amendments.

If my suggestion is followed, I would be out of a job. That is small price to pay to try to ensure that planes are not hijacked and flown into buildings, or blown up and rain down upon innocent individuals on the ground—something that TSA today, as it is currently being operated and led, cannot remotely guarantee.

ptah June 3, 2015 9:52 AM

Did any of you nut-jobs actually read the ABC article and understand the conditions under which the tests were performed? What a bunch freakin idiots.

At the time, the TSA said Red Team tests occurred weekly all over the United States and were meant to “push the boundaries of our people, processes, and technology.”

“We know that the adversary innovates and we have to push ourselves to capacity in order to remain one step ahead,” a TSA official wrote on the agency’s blog in March 2013. “[O]ur testers often make these covert tests as difficult as possible.”

In a 2013 hearing on Capitol Hill, then-TSA administrator John Pistole, described the Red Team as “super terrorists,” who know precisely which weaknesses to exploit.

“[Testers] know exactly what our protocols are. They can create and devise and conceal items that … not even the best terrorists would be able to do,” Pistole told lawmakers at a House hearing.

albert June 3, 2015 12:13 PM

Folks had a fear of flying long before 911. The whole reason for the extreme overreaction after 911 was the fact that terrorists could take over a plane and use it to take out large buildings. Apparently something that was not considered by the brilliant minds in the FBI at the time. Plane crashes are always devastating news, and desirable publicity for terrorists. I used to fly a lot, for work (before 911), and I still had concerns, mostly through years of studying aircraft disasters, and learning the real reasons why planes crash. As with any form of public transportation, one is required to give control to others. I’m not comfortable with this, since most aircraft accidents are caused (or should I say, failed to be prevented) by human error.
I’m not sure I totally trust TSA statistics, based on decades of being lied to by government/corporate bureaucracies.
“…bureaucratic morass…” Quite so. This is inevitable in any governmental system (and true as well in corporations, but at least they are profit-oriented*). In government, the goal is to clamp on to that teat that keeps on giving, and milk it ’til the cows come home.
As much as I like your suggestions, airline security needs to be financed by the airlines, under enforceable Federal Standards. Then folks can decide how much they want to pay for ‘safety’ from terrorists. The results might be surprising.
Reminds me of the engineer I knew who chewed tobacco. He used statistics to figure out that for each chew, he lost 15 minutes of lifespan. Then I told him about the 18-year old kid who died of throat cancer, a year after he started chewing. Who’s roll is it?
“…They can create and devise and conceal items that … not even the best terrorists would be able to do,”…”. Pride comes before the fall…
The gradual march toward a fascist police is visible everywhere. It’s like that fad diet where folks gain only a pound a month. After a year or two, they wonder what happened.
More to the point, why test the TSA in the first place. It seems logical that they aren’t going to find _everything_. It is known that throwing more money at it isn’t going to fix a broken system. I would say that the ‘airplane hijacking’ paradigm is over, and not because the bad guys aren’t as smart as the Red Team; they are (they devised 911, remember). It’s simply that there are oh-so-many other targets that are trivial to hit. Once the bad guys figure this out, they’ll abandon publicity-seeking, then 911 will seem like nothing in comparison.
I hope the FBI and other LE are considering this. Things continue to spiral out of control in the ME, Ukraine, and now ‘we’ are mucking about in SE Asia. Anti-Muslim hatred is being stoked up everywhere. No good can come of this. That target on our back is growing larger by the day.

* Lacking corporate welfare, and with competition, encourages efficiency and a decent product.

Weary June 3, 2015 3:58 PM

You quote, “We know that the adversary innovates…” yet you seem to think that the adversary is so stupid as to not actually try to conceal his/her bomb or weapon. Do you work for TSA? A 2014 report by Johns Hopkins, UC San Diego, and the University of Michigan (http://www.wired.com/2014/08/study-shows-how-easily-weapons-can-be-smuggled-past-tsas-x-ray-body-scanners/) concluded that TSA doesn’t deploy its technology in a manner that would stop an intelligent terrorist. Given that, I’m not at all surprised by the recent Red Team findings.

I used to post comments on the TSA blog. I linked to factual studies that the blog staff chose to not report on (e.g., the GAO report on the behavioral detection program and the AIT Notice of Proposed Rulemaking). Most of my comments were actually posted. Those that were censored tended to, rather inexplicably, be the ones that referred to a specific governmental person by name (e.g., DHS Inspector General John Roth) even when that person was named in several news sources.

Yes, checkpoint bombings would shut the US down–especially if the attacks were coordinated. Coordinated bombings isn’t even an “innovative” terror tactic. Simplifying security procedures (e.g., ending PreCheck and reallocating resources to minimize overall checkpoint transit time) would help a lot. Returning to pre-9/11 security (with hardened cockpit doors and targeted ETD) would help also.

LessThanObvious June 4, 2015 1:54 PM

Nothing good will come of this. They will spend more money and increase traveler hassle. I almost preferred general ignorance of their shortcomings. We bought body scanners without any debate about whether we wanted them and as always you can’t win an argument against something after the check is written. I have no idea what pocket lining backroom deal they’ll shove down our throats on this one, but it won’t be good.

They have some good data to work with now, I would bet a lot could be done with very minor changes in training and procedures. Better pay for TSA agents, better training, better hiring practices, those things I can support. More dogs could be good, but if they want to spend billions on technology or make the travel experience even more obnoxious, I say no, to hell with that.

Slime Mold with Mustard June 4, 2015 9:31 PM


Ptah is most exactly correct: ‘Red Teams’ are former FBI/SEAL/SF/SOCOM types whom have decided that to triple their government salary might even convince their spouses to stay with them. Their scenarios are often right from “Movie Plot Threats”. They have training that only state actors can provide.

I do not mean to argue that it is impossible, or even unlikely that a terrorist could slip past airport security. I merely consider that using such personnel for these tests is unrealistic.

A Spelling June 5, 2015 2:52 PM

Not one of the commenters noticed the spelling error. Resigned is not spelled r-e-a-s-s-i-g-n-e-d – unlike the r-o-l-l-a-i-d-s, this is not even funny.

QnJ1Y2U June 6, 2015 8:19 PM

@A Spelling
There is no spelling error. As noted in the original post, the acting TSA director was moved to another job, i.e. re-assigned / reassigned. He did not quit or resign.

Mark in CA June 8, 2015 4:05 AM

I’m not a mathematician or statistician, so please don’t blast me if I’m completely off base here. But it seems to me that if you look at this test event within the context of the airport security system nationwide, it seems the TSA that day was asking that security system to detect 70 instances of malicious intent within a universe of about 2 million passengers. (The DOT figures I saw on their web site claimed 54 million revenue passengers in Feb 2015.) That’s like trying to successfully detect defects at a level of about 4/1000 of 1%. Add to this what appears to be use by the bogus terrorists of intimate inside knowledge to game the system to reduce the chances of detection even further in an atmosphere devoid of any heightened security alerts. And so I have to ask if this test was a realistic appraisal of the system’s efficacy.

Alex August 2, 2017 7:38 PM

This is sad if true honestly, I mean there are numerous anti – terror agencies and to me TSA should be one of those entities that practice and enforce good prevention, detection capabilities. I am no Government Agent or Homeland Security Employee but this is not good to hear. I actually would like to work for them in the future. I hear there stands some very good employees but there is also corruption inside with theft and people who really do not take their roles seriously. Why apply if you do not truly believe in catching bad guys ? if its just for pay dont apply ? I mean the pay is incentive as well but its a serious job Id say because you could be the reason a terrorist slips onboard a plane or the reason you just saved a lot of people. SMFH.

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