Interesting data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office:
But congressional auditors have questions about other efficiencies as well, like having 3,000 “behavior detection” officers assigned to question passengers. The officers sidetracked 50,000 passengers in 2010, resulting in the arrests of 300 passengers, the GAO found. None turned out to be terrorists.
Yet in the same year, behavior detection teams apparently let at least 16 individuals allegedly involved in six subsequent terror plots slip through eight different airports. GAO said the individuals moved through protected airports on at least 23 different occasions.
I don’t believe the second paragraph. We haven’t had six terror plots between 2010 and today. And even if we did, how would the auditors know? But I’m sure the first paragraph is correct: the behavioral detection program is 0% effective at preventing terrorism.
The rest of the article is pretty depressing. The TSA refuses to back down on any of its security theater measures. At the same time, its budget is being cut and more people are flying. The result: longer waiting times at security.
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 6:19 AM •
The University of Pittsburgh has been the recipient of 50 bomb threats in the past two months (over 30 during the last week). Each time, the university evacuates the threatened building, searches it top to bottom — one of the threatened buildings is the 42-story Cathedral of Learning — finds nothing, and eventually resumes classes. This seems to be nothing more than a very effective denial-of-service attack.
Police have no leads. The threats started out as handwritten messages on bathroom walls, but are now being sent via e-mail and anonymous remailers. (Here is a blog and a
Google Docs spreadsheet documenting the individual threats.)
The University is implementing some pretty annoying security theater in response:
To enter secured buildings, we all will need to present a University of Pittsburgh ID card. It is important to understand that book bags, backpacks and packages will not be allowed. There will be single entrances to buildings so there will be longer waiting times to get into the buildings. In addition, non-University of Pittsburgh residents will not be allowed in the residence halls.
I can’t see how this will help, but what else can the University do? Their incentives are such that they’re stuck overreacting. If they ignore the threats and they’re wrong, people will be fired. If they overreact to the threats and they’re wrong, they’ll be forgiven. There’s no incentive to do an actual cost-benefit analysis of the security measures.
For the attacker, though, the cost-benefit payoff is enormous. E-mails are cheap, and the response they induce is very expensive.
If you have any information about the bomb threatener, contact the FBI. There’s a $50,000 reward waiting for you. For the university, paying that would be a bargain.
Posted on April 12, 2012 at 1:34 PM •
The New York Times tries to make sense of the TSA’s policies on computers. Why do you have to take your tiny laptop out of your bag, but not your iPad? Their conclusion: security theater.
Posted on April 9, 2012 at 7:45 AM •
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 failed — video 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 PM •
I like the quote at the end of this excerpt:
Aviation officials have questioned the need for such a strong permanent police presence at airports, suggesting they were there simply “to make the government look tough on terror”.
One senior executive said in his experience, the officers were expensive window-dressing.
“When you add the body scanners, the ritual humiliation of old ladies with knitting needles and the farcical air marshals, it all adds up to billions of dollars to prevent what? A politician being called soft on terror, that’s what,” he said.
Posted on March 19, 2012 at 6:38 AM •
The Internet is buzzing about this video, showing a blogger walking through two different types of full-body scanners with metal objects. Basically, by placing the object on your side, the black image is hidden against the scanner’s black background. This isn’t new, by the way. This vulnerability was discussed in a paper published last year by the Journal of Transportation Security. And here’s a German TV news segment from 2010 that shows someone sneaking explosives past a full-body scanner.
The TSA’s response is pretty uninformative. I’d include a quote, but it really doesn’t say anything. And the original blogger is now writing that the TSA is pressuring journalists not to cover the story.
These full-body scanners have been a disaster since they’ve been introduced. But, as I wrote in 2010, I don’t think the TSA will back down. It would be too embarrassing if they did.
Posted on March 12, 2012 at 4:30 PM •
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 •
- TSA screener finds two pipes in passenger’s bags.
- Screener determines that they’re not a threat.
- Screener confiscates them anyway, because of their “material and appearance.”
- Because they’re not actually a threat, screener leaves them at the checkpoint.
- Everyone forgets about them.
- Six hours later, the next shift of TSA screeners notices the pipes and — not being able to explain how they got there and, presumably, because of their “material and appearance” — calls the police bomb squad to remove the pipes.
- TSA does not evacuate the airport, or even close the checkpoint, because — well, we don’t know why.
I don’t even know where to begin.
Posted on January 31, 2012 at 5:03 PM •
The TSA claims that the cupcake they confiscated was in a jar. So this is a less obviously stupid story than I previously thought.
EDITED TO ADD (1/13): The cupcake lady says the TSA is lying.
EDITED TO ADD (1/17): A bakery creates a TSA-compliant cupcake.
Posted on January 12, 2012 at 2:39 PM •
Have you wondered what $1.2 billion in airport security gets you? The TSA has compiled its own “Top 10 Good Catches of 2011“:
10) Snakes, turtles, and birds were found at Miami (MIA) and Los Angeles (LAX). I’m just happy there weren’t any lions, tigers, and bears…
3) Over 1,200 firearms were discovered at TSA checkpoints across the nation in 2011. Many guns are found loaded with rounds in the chamber. Most passengers simply state they forgot they had a gun in their bag.
2) A loaded .380 pistol was found strapped to passenger’s ankle with the body scanner at Detroit (DTW). You guessed it, he forgot it was there…
1) Small chunks of C4 explosives were found in passenger’s checked luggage in Yuma (YUM). Believe it or not, he was brining it home to show his family.
That’s right; not a single terrorist on the list. Mostly forgetful, and entirely innocent, people. Note that they fail to point out that the firearms and knives would have been just as easily caught by pre-9/11 screening procedures. And that the C4 — their #1 “good catch” — was on the return flight; they missed it the first time. So only 1 for 2 on that one.
And the TSA decided not to mention its stupidest confiscations:
TSA confiscates a butter knife from an airline pilot. TSA confiscates a teenage girl’s purse with an embroidered handgun design. TSA confiscates a 4-inch plastic rifle from a GI Joe action doll on the grounds that it’s a “replica weapon.” TSA confiscates a liquid-filled baby rattle from airline pilot’s infant daughter. TSA confiscates a plastic “Star Wars” lightsaber from a toddler.
In related news, here’s a rebuttal of the the Vanity Fair article about the TSA and airline security that featured me. I agree with the two points at the end of the post; I just don’t think it changes any of my analysis.
Posted on January 9, 2012 at 6:00 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.