Whether Or Not The TSA Has Ever Caught A Terrorist Is Apparently A State Secret

from the which-means-no dept

We asked recently if there was any evidence, ever, that the TSA's security procedures prevented an attack on an airplane. Last week the TSA claimed, without any details, that its procedures had stopped 130 "prohibited, illegal or dangerous items" from getting on airplanes in the last year. But it provides no details. And, in a day when a bottle of water and nail clippers are considered "prohibited," it's difficult to judge if this actually means anything.

Over at Slate, Juliet Lapidos tries to dig into the question, but the TSA won't point out a single specific case claiming it's a "national security" issue. Huh? Actually telling us whether or not the naked scans and crotch grabs catch anyone is a state secret? That seems likely to mean that the answer is, no, they have not caught anyone or stopped any attempted attack, and they're just too embarrassed to say so. In fact, Lapidos points out that, in years past, the TSA has publicly announced when it "caught" someone -- as in the one time, nearly three years ago, it found a guy who had enough materials in his (checked) suitcase to make a pipe-bomb. Of course, there wasn't an actual pipe bomb in the suitcase, so it wasn't going to blow up the plane or anything.

So, in effect, it seems pretty clear that the security screening process isn't catching anyone. Of course, supporters might claim that terrorists are too scared off by the screenings, so that's why we're safe. But that makes little sense. As Jeffrey Goldberg showed a few years back, it's quite easy to get things past the security screenings if you really want to. This is security theater, plain and simple. And the TSA must know that. Which is why it's a "state secret."


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    william (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 10:24am

    "Of course, supporters might claim that terrorists are too scared off by the screenings, so that's why we're safe."

    I present you, quotes from The Simpsons episode "Much Apu about Nothing"

    Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
    Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad.
    Homer: Thank you, dear.
    Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
    Homer: Oh, how does it work?
    Lisa: It doesn't work.
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
    [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
    Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

     

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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 10:40am

    Whatever.

    Even if the 130 items were all assault rifles or bricks of C-4, it doesn't matter. That's only 130 items. We've spent billions to find 130 items? And we want to spent billions more for this purpose???

     

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      Hephaestus (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 11:03am

      Re: Whatever.

      More than likely they confiscated some Water, tooth paste, nail clippers, nail file, pocket knife, shampoo, etc ...

       

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        TheStupidOne, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:08pm

        Re: Re: Whatever.

        That's what I thought when I read the 130 items ... I thought it was the number of expressly prohibited items that they've put on a list for TSA to look for ... doesn't mean those items were in the hands of a terrorist, or that they didn't get on the plane, but they aren't supposed to get on the plane.

         

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    corvettekenny, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 10:50am

    Not to mention the $100's of billions we've spent occupying sections of the Middle East. If we hadn't spent the last 50 years pissing off that part of the world, we wouldn't have nearly the problems we do today.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:04pm

      Re:

      @corvettekeeny, you are either very young or very naive. The Middle East has been terrorizing the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. It isn't America and you are a fool to think so. They have terrorized England, France, Russia, Spain, Morocco, etc. Grow up, stop hating your own country simply because it is fashionable for people on the left to do so. You and anyone else that thinks this is America's fault are idiots and should do us all a favor and stay off blogs and forums.

       

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        A Dan (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:18pm

        Re: Re:

        (Generally right-wing) Libertarians are isolationist, too. Don't make assumptions like that about people's political leanings. This is not a statement that indicates wings.

         

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        TheStupidOne, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:28pm

        Re: Re:

        The middle east has not been terrorizing the world any more than any militarily advanced region has terrorized the world, except in recent history. What you are referring to would be called war. Motivated by religion, economics, or a simple desire for power it is still war. You see that exact same pattern over and over throughout history. Think the Romans, the English, Genghis Kahn's Mongols, the Incans, Mayans, Russians, and Americans. The people who were conquered and oppressed fought back however they could. When Hitler conquered France there was an underground fighting force that you could probably call terrorists. The oppressed people strove to make their oppressors feel pain, they fought dirty, killed innocents, and did whatever it took to drive away their oppressors.

        This current incarnation of that pattern is very different but fundamentally the same. The terrorists see America and the west as simply being too powerful. Our culture is taking over the world, our military is policing the globe, our technology and economy put theirs to shame, and our religions (or lack thereof) makes us infidels in their eyes. They see us as the enemy and they are jealous, afraid, and hate us. They are fighting however they can. And while I doubt that they only fight because of our actions in recent history, our actions have a lot to do with it.

        /off topic rant

         

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        tom J, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 1:15pm

        Anonymous Coward what ya say?

        If you think the TSA is not effective you are of the left? The Middle East terrorizes and the West has not done the same for centuries?

        What we want is safety and security not a left vs right fight no? It is not Americas fault but what in the world does that have to do with the TSA and it being ineffective yet intrusive?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 1:53pm

          Re: Anonymous Coward what ya say?

          > What we want is safety and security not a left vs right fight no?

          speak for yourself.

          i'd rather have them continue fighting amongst themselves than come together with some bs legislation that gives us some temporary, ineffective "safety & security"

          i am vastly more afraid of the US government than any terrorist organization.

          terrorists cannot take away our rights and freedoms; the government can and will in the name of safety.


          THE LAND OF THE FREE AND HOME OF THE BRAVE


          Apparently this is no longer my Father's America.

           

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        monkyyy, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 8:02pm

        Re: Re:

        wow congrats on the most mis-informed post of the day
        it hasn't been hundreds its been around ONE hundred they are currently going though a time like the dark ages where a small set of people got hold of power (the holy blood line, incest awesomeness) and while losing 100`s of years of progress.

        and the "stop hating your own country simply because it is fashionable for people on the left to do so" excellent trolling, I HATE MY COUNTRY BECAUSE ITS A COUNTRY nothing more, sorta like comparing minimal wage jobs, all suck but some of the better ones could be called bearable

         

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        Paul, Dec 1st, 2010 @ 2:01pm

        Re: Re:

        And the reason the middle east has been "terrorizing" the rest of the world? Maybe it is because Europe has been pissing them off for a couple thousand years?

         

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      Ryan Diederich, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 3:34pm

      Re:

      Hmm, the conflict couldnt have anything to do with the radical muslims who interpret their book as "kill non-muslims"

      They arent responsible for it at all, we are.

      /s

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 6:32pm

        Re: Re:

        or radical Christians who read their books as "kill non-Christians" - keep it fair, more Muslims are killed by fellow Muslims than any other religion. same goes for Christians.

         

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      Tyler J., Apr 10th, 2012 @ 1:46am

      Re:

      It is in the trillions of dollars now, and we are infidels no matter what we did or do, so we would have a fight against them. But we don't need to be there either, have all those troops protect our boarders and let them be the TSA instead, not Marshal Law but since we are paying them already and they are a lot more train to spot terrorists let them.
      My biggest concern would be a dirty bomb set off in the middle of a busy TSA security check point.

       

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    Chris in Utah (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 11:22am

    I still remember when they allowed to the press to take pictures/video of wreckage of planes.. but somehow around September' 01 that suddenly changed. And forget about interviewing the wreckage workers!

     

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    Shawn (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 11:32am

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3yaqq9Jjb4

    Adam Savage (Mythbusters) Describes how he went through the body scanner while his laptop went through the x-ray. His 'tiny junk was offended' by the body scan but the x-ray some how missed the (2) 12" steel razor blades in his laptop case.

    WTF TSA indeed.

     

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    mattarse (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 11:42am

    I can't believe that without my bottle of water and soda they took it would only be 128 items.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 11:48am

    stopped 130 "prohibited, illegal or dangerous items"

    50 tweezers
    20 bottles of soda
    30 combs
    14 hand sanitizers
    14 "travel" bottles of shampoo

     

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    DCX2, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:09pm

    TSA fails

    Since TSA only operates at airports inside the US, they will never catch a terrorist who boards a plane in a foreign country.

     

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      Pontifex (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 1:23pm

      Re: TSA fails

      I'm fairly certain that once you pass through customs, you have to go through security again.

       

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        that_id (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 2:06pm

        Re: Re: TSA fails

        the trick is that the plane has to land before you go through customs. I'm pretty certain that one of the criteria for a successful plane hijacking is that you do it before you de-board the plane...

         

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    The Invisible Hand (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:13pm

    I'm late for the TSA party, but I'd like to say this:

    The country that lets random people into the white house (uninvited) without so much as a "who the hell are you?" has more stuff to worry about than checking everyone's crotch, I think.

     

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    Ben (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:16pm

    Security KeyStone Kops

    My first true understanding of how silly airport security was came on the first flights after 9/11/01, flying Boston to Pittsburgh. Specifically: no lighters allowed (before the 4 oz liquid low-milestone). No lighters allowed in the gate area (with national guardsmen with assault rifles to protect us -- they were never too specific about from what).

    When you land in Pittsburgh, you are in a mall/concourse -- safe from lighters! -- except for the ones they were selling at the newsstands right at the gate.

     

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    Song, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 12:24pm

    No snowglobes!

    I was bummed when on a trip to Europe I tried to return with a few small snowglobes that I bought at the airport giftshop. When I got to the security gate, they confiscated my snowglobes that I just bought 5 minutes before. That made me go hmmm...... Note that there was no way that there was 2oz of liquid in the globes. These were small.

     

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    D. Hope-Ross (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 1:12pm

    FOIA?

    Could a FOIA request be made? I know little about such things(natch).

     

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    Will Sizemore (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 1:28pm

    Normally I'd defend Security Classification...

    ...but this certainly appears to be a hugely exaggerated case of, 'when in doubt, handle as classified.'

    If releasing the actual numbers of attacks or insurgency probes foiled by TSA is, truly a case of 'exceptionally grave danger...' in the opinion of anyone at NSA or any other agency, then the individuals overseeing those programs REALLY need a reality check.

    The procedures by which we travelers are screened aren't classified, and the technology behind the backscatterers aren't to my knowledge classified, and neither are the resulting images, apparently, but whether or not they are doing the job is? Get real.

    How is it conceivable that small containers of liquid, nail clippers, pocket knives, and the like really pose a threat? In 2005, my then five-year-old, daughter was mortified when they took a thirty-year-old teddy bear from her to scan it for bomb residue. Granted, he has visible scars and stitching, but she didn't want to part with it. We got it back after a few minutes, but she wouldn't let it out of her grasp for a week after that incident. I can almost justify him as a covering for a weapon, since cadavers have been used to smuggle drugs and weapons before, but these other items can't be any more dangerous than the things which ARE let on the plane.

    Mt wife and I were discussing how to get around these procedures, and we discussed one sure-fire way. Get elected. That's right, your lawmakers responsible for inflicting this crap upon you are exempt, apparently.

    So who's more corrupt? A religious fundamentalist, a politician, or a lawyer?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 1:46pm

    should be a secret. if I know, then the terrorist know. knowledge is power and who are you to give the enemy the power to know what we know? loose lips sink ships gentlemen!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 2:42pm

    Stop jumping to conclusions if you don't know what you're talking about.

    If you have access to JWICS (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System), you can actually view the TSA reports, which are called "Suspicious Incident Reports" that seem to appear irregularly, sometimes a week or so apart, sometimes months apart. Just search for "TSA" on Intelink and it's the second or third result. The reports are unclassified but "Law Enforcement Sensitive" due to ongoing investigations. They also state on the cover page that the contents of the reports should not be disclosed to the media and are exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. But without specifics, the TSA isn't lying, and they aren't including toenail clippers in their list. They're more like intentionally concealed weapons and explosives.

     

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    Almost Anonymous (profile), Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 3:07pm

    You can bet your bottom dollar that the number is ZERO, because if they had caught anyone, they would be trumpeting it from the rooftops in order to justify their inane existence.

     

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    Bob, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 3:09pm

    Why is it only planes

    Why is there an assumption that the only place a terror attack can happen is on a plane? Seriously how does that work? Why would they bother with a plane. Just doing something in an parking lot close to an airport will bring everything to a halt for hours, if not days. Even if nobody gets hurt.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 9:25pm

    We really need a law that punishes improper use of the "states secret" label

     

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    darryl, Nov 22nd, 2010 @ 9:26pm

    Yes, tell the terrorists how to fool the system, that will help.. Good one Mike !!!!

    If you are stupid enough to think that you should should announce immediately that they caught someone, before an further investigation, without checking if he/she was working with a group.

    Without formal charges, sure, let them know that the trick they just tried did not work, give them immediate feedback, or just catch the person, and continue the investigation.

    Really it is stupid to think that you have a right to know what is happenend with security, it is none of your business, it has nothing to do with you, except to know that there is a risk that they are trying to reduce that risk.

    It is odd that you seem so intent on attacking everything you dont like as if it was some evil..

    And crying that they should be giving us all the information as soon as they gain it, post all the naked pics on the internet, so you can check for yourself to make sure you are safe..

    And not thinking for a second that providing a list of ways you get caught with these security systems, is also providing a list of ways to try to fool the security systems.. but you dont see that mike.. you dont seem to see much at all !!

     

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    Justin from SaveYourWork, Nov 23rd, 2010 @ 7:47am

    I can't help but think that there must be a better way to stop 130 items than by spending billions each year.

    Just saying.

     

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    Purple people eater, Nov 23rd, 2010 @ 10:40am

    TSA are of bunch of gay muslim centrists who support NAMBLA

    and have started as many wars as the christians, all while trying to increase global warming by burning baby seals, spotted owls, on Fox news while proclaiming their Love for Obama which is all bush's fault.

    WTF people? This is about the TSA not the assinine political debate that seems to have erupted. It is a show, like much of human existence and we as a species have lost the ideals of right and wrong.

     

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    high Flyer, Mar 6th, 2011 @ 4:43pm

    TSA is wasting money on the wrong things.

    Has anyone ever investigated TSA schedules? They have an army of people standing around talking and joking and very few "trained" to do the scanning, etc.

    They could invest in a few more checking stations and more tables to set your stuff on while filling up the buckets if they fired a few of the people with no apparent job to do.

     

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    High Flyer, Mar 6th, 2011 @ 4:49pm

    TSA isn't About Security

    It's about training the American people to act like sheep!

    It's time for We the People, Voters, TEA PARTY and friend to say Baah humbug to TSA and demand transparency for their budget and results instead of transparency for our undies.

     

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