by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
security, state secrets, terrorism, tsa

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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  1. icon
    Will Sizemore (profile), 22 Nov 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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