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.”

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Comments on “Whether Or Not The TSA Has Ever Caught A Terrorist Is Apparently A State Secret”

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45 Comments
william (profile) says:

“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.

TheStupidOne says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

TheStupidOne says:

Re: 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

tom J says:

Re: Re: 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?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 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.

monkyyy says:

Re: 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

Tyler J. says:

Re: 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.

Ben (profile) says:

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.

Song says:

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.

Will Sizemore (profile) says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

darryl says:

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 !!

Purple people eater says:

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.

high Flyer says:

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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