Failures

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
safety, security theater, tsa



Study: The TSA's Security Theater Troupes Missed 95% Of Smuggled Weapons And Explosives

from the security-theater dept

When it's not aggressively groping patrons, being outwitted by TSA-safe luggage, failing to understand the First Amendment, trying to expand its authority in strange and aggressive new ways or burning through taxpayer money, there's a popular narrative afoot that the Transportation Security Administration is supposed to protect air travelers and secure airports. Of course, as we've well documented, the agency is exceptionally awful at that as well, resulting in what it does being far more akin to security theater than anything resembling actual security.

The latest case in point: an internal Homeland Security Inspector General investigation of the TSA revealing massive failure on the part of the TSA across dozens of the country's busiest airports. According to a copy of the findings, undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through security checkpoints -- 95% of the time:
"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. In one test an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer, but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down. Officials would not divulge the exact time period of the testing other than to say it concluded recently."
That's not just a little dysfunction, that's a wholesale systemic breakdown, and it once again raises the question of what precisely taxpayers are paying for. And while the TSA is quick to consistently insist it's making improvements every day, this is effectively the same thing that happened last year when a "red team" member was able to smuggle a mock bomb onto an airplane. This latest survey also piggybacks on earlier reports that indicate no matter how much money we throw at the TSA, it's still awful at doing its job, whether that's passenger or luggage screening:
"That review found “vulnerabilities” throughout the system, attributing them to human error and technological failures, according to a three-paragraph summary of the review released in September. In addition, the review determined that despite spending $540 million for checked baggage screening equipment and another $11 million for training since a previous review in 2009, the TSA failed to make any noticeable improvements in that time."
Great job, team! Of course, whenever you find this level of dysfunction you can usually find a dodgy money trail -- since just like nation destroying and rebuilding -- presenting the illusion of security is extremely profitable. That likely won't be getting better anytime soon, with a lobbyist for Rapiscan Systems (the company that provides the controversial X-ray scanners used in most major airports) taking a job with the House Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee, which oversees the TSA budget. We've been talking about Rapiscan's overly-cozy relationship with government for five years now.

Realizing how broken the TSA truly is can easily lead one down the path of worrying that there's a much thinner line between you and being wind-dispersed fertilizer than most would care to admit. But as Robert Graham points out, the fact that the TSA is horrible at its job -- combined with the fact that planes aren't exploding -- statistically suggests that bombs are a much smaller threat to airplanes than we've historically assumed:
"This leads to a counter-intuitive result that the TSA is really not stopping any danger. If guns and bombs are getting on planes, but planes aren't falling out of the sky, it must mean that they aren't a danger. I point this out because in the end, safety is an emotional thing rather than logical. No matter how much I do the math, people do not believe it. They believe bombs are a danger to airplanes in much the same way many don't believe the safety statistics compared to driving."
Note that's not to say we don't the need the hidden and not-so-hidden security apparatus that exists outside of this costly new game of make believe. But these latest findings continue to prop up the argument that the TSA is a glorified high school theater troupe playing dress up, doing little more than adding a very expensive layer of dysfunction to the already frequently-dismal air travel experience.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 9:54am

    California Water Shortage

    The TSA is also exacerbating the drought by not allowing travelers to bring their own drinking water to the state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2015 @ 6:36am

      Re: California Water Shortage

      Nothing prevents you from bringing your own water. You just have to fill a bottle with "secure" water once you've dealt with the TSA. There are usually fountains.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JustShutUpAndObey, 2 Jun 2015 @ 9:56am

    Obedience Training

    I've made this point before but it bears repeating: The TSA's purpose is not air safety. If it was, then it would be a total failure.
    The purpose of the TSA is obedience training and it has been a great success.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 9:59am

    shhhhh!!!!!

    I heard somewhere that just talking about this is enough to make the US weaker. It would be better to just assume everybody is too stupid to know the obvious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:00am

    So now Republicans, especially the Tea Party faction, will flip out and call for the TSA's dissolution since it's a prime example of a big government agency wasting our tax dollars.

    It is what they're totally about, right guys?

    Right?

    This thing on?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:20am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jun 2nd, 2015 @ 10:00am

      The only way the Tea Party would dissolve the TSA would hinge on convincing them body scanners are being used for abortions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:38am

        Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jun 2nd, 2015 @ 10:00am

        Why not just put an article on wikipedia about some research that concluded TSA body scanners cause abortions. Mail the link to fox news, and then reference the fox news report on wikipedia. Once it has references, it must be true.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 11:17am

        Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jun 2nd, 2015 @ 10:00am

        Or that it's somehow a part of an evil government plot to invade Texas and take all their guns.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:28am

      Re:

      I must be missing your point because you seem to advocate the continued waste of millions of taxpayer dollars on a program that perpetually doesn't work? You must be a Democrat.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 12:14pm

        Re: Re:

        I must be missing your point because you seem to advocate the continued waste of millions of taxpayer dollars on a program that perpetually doesn't work?

        Actually I'm a TSA supervisor. My self-interest trancends party!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:06am

    The problem likely stems from the Red Team members not being Muslim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:36am

      Re:

      I bet if they had been attractive muslim women, they wouldn't have been able to sneak so much as a piece of dandruff on board.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wickedsmack (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:10am

    What would be better?

    Is it possible to hire private security companies under contract to handle flight security? I would have to assume they can't be any worse than TSA at their job, and assuming they would like to keep a contract worth a goodly amount of money, wouldn't they tend to do a better job? Not being sarcastic, looking for more educated input than my own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:15am

      Re: What would be better?

      Allegedly, the airports can hire somebody other than the TSA if they want to.

      Sounds like maybe they should consider it, since the TSA is a complete waste of money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wickedsmack (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:20am

        Re: Re: What would be better?

        Makes me wonder what the hold up is, TSA's track record has been less than satisfactory. But people still need to fly places, so they do put up with a lot of nonsense to do that sometimes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 12:12pm

          Why airports aren't hiring private firms

          I suspect that the TSA services are low-cost as far as security theater goes.

          Also, the government takes the rap if there's a problem.

          On the other hand that might be a good direction for marketing. Keep your shoes on at Los Angeles International Airport! Zip right through Xe International's non-invasive security procedures! (child: I got to keep my water bottle!)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:41am

        Re: Re: What would be better?

        I don't know if the fed charges airports for the TSA, but it may be that hiring their own is an expense they won't consider.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ben (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:44am

        Re: Re: What would be better?

        Look at the issues with the liability of airlines following the 11SEP2001 "events". Until the government absolved them, they were on the hook for being sued (negligence contributing to the disaster(s) at the least). At that time security screening was paid for by the airlines; letting the government take it over lets them off the hook if bad guys get through again.

        All the security theater has done for me is reduce my willingness to go on airplanes, not because of the airplanes and cattle-car like amenities, but just the pain and hassle of getting through airports. I have better uses for my time.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:21am

      Re: What would be better?

      Yes. Everything that a "government" does could be done better. However, the idea that human beings need a government is one of the most widely held beliefs today and given that it is a belief in a man made idea it is actually the biggest religion in the world. This is the problem. Learn to not be reliant on anything the government provides by being as self sufficient and accountable for your actions as possible. Hopefully in one to five hundred years humanity will be able to rid itself of the cancerous "government" in order to actually be free rather than just think we are.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 11:46am

        Re: Re: What would be better?

        How self sufficient do we have to be to maintain a national roadway system?

        Do we each inspect a couple miles outside our front door? Who's garage do we store the salting trucks when not in use?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 2:12pm

        Re: Re: What would be better?

        "the idea that human beings need a government is one of the most widely held beliefs today"

        It's not that human beings need a government. It's that a government is the inevitable consequence of human beings working together. The only way to escape government completely is to never cooperate with other human beings.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 4:03pm

          Re: Re: Re: What would be better?

          It's that a government is the inevitable consequence of human beings working together.

          I think it's more a combination of two things. One, people are notoriously bad at judging character. LEOs still believe in lie detectors despite evidence which screams against their validity. This should be fixable by just doing decent research of a person's past and interviews with people who know the subject in question.

          Two, and it may be a corollary of the first, there's always going to be creepy grasping jerks drawn to concentrations of money and power. Because of "One", the Bernie Madoffs and Sepp Blatters can go for decades skimming from the till before it finally blows up in our faces. The only fix for that is eternal vigilance, question everything, don't get lazy, and don't get suckered. Especially, don't get lazy!

          It should be simple to design a gov't which is small, only does what we all need it to do, doesn't allow itself to get corrupted or captured, and keeps itself honest and out of reach of those who'd try to co-opt it or muscle in to get at the goodies.

          Laziness and apathy on our part lets them get away with it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            tqk (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 4:27pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: What would be better?

            And by all that, I mean I can easily see nation of anarchists building a society based around small town values, populated by Atticus Finch's who watch out for rabid dogs, watch each others' property (or children) when they're away, and keep an eye on unknown strangers ambling through town.

            I can't believe that anyone gains with monsters like DC (or Ottawa) siphoning off billions or trillions of dollars to build abominations like the CIA or 17 overlapping spy agencies, or crapfests like Wall St.

            The gov'ts we have built are hardly better than the sort of thing the Don Corleones were valued for, nor much different than what the Medicis came up with.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:18pm

              "a society based around small town values"

              This phrase terrifies me, since when I think of small town values, I think of strangers getting run out of town for possessing the wrong religious icons (e.g. a Prius rather than a Nova) and women getting stoned to death for getting pregnant out of wedlock.

              So yes, do please be specific what kinds of small town values you have in mind.

              I'd also be concerned that small town values only come from having small towns, where many many of us live among denser populations, and because of our denser populations we benefit from some pretty amazing infrastructures.

              So yeah, I'd be concerned that a vote for small town values would be a vote against the internet, cell phone networks, the interstate highway system, the space program and fifteen kinds of cheese at the grocery store and candies that fizz in your mouth.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                John Fenderson (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 8:02am

                Re: "a society based around small town values"

                "This phrase terrifies me"

                I agree. To me, "small town values" is a code phrase indicating all kinds of terrible things, probably because most of the time that I hear it, it comes from the lips of people who are defending terrible things.

                I don't think that's what tqk is intending to convey with the phrase, though.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  tqk (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 8:52am

                  Re: Re: "a society based around small town values"

                  To me, "small town values" is a code phrase indicating all kinds of terrible things, probably because most of the time that I hear it, it comes from the lips of people who are defending terrible things.

                  You've got to wonder about the sort of ignorance that lets those people get away with it.

                  The guy on the squeaky clean TV show espousing family values? Molesting female family members just a few years ago. The guy who got the World Cup to Africa? Millions in bribes changing hands for almost two decades. John Gotti was a neighborhood hero until the feds caught up to him.

                  We are really lousy at judging integrity and honesty.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                tqk (profile), 3 Jun 2015 @ 8:40am

                Re: "a society based around small town values"

                The Devil's in the details. I see what you mean and agree that's ugly stuff, but when I use it it's intended to convey such ideas as live and let live, mind your own business, honesty is the best policy, & etc. I see little value in conformity. I prefer people to know what's right because it's objectively right, not because peers or overlords say it's right.

                The people I imagine would know the value of education so they'd be educated. They'd realize children and young people are still growing and learning so they deserve enough slack to do that at the same time that they still need supervision to stay out of trouble, and we should accept the fact that they are going to get into trouble because they're still learning and growing.

                I don't think any of this is dependant upon small town population. Even big city neighborhoods can work this way. Don Corleone and John Gotti lived in tightly controlled neighborhoods within big cities.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 12:33pm

      Re: What would be better?

      They can't be worse but they can't do it better. Some of it might be the TSAs fault but if you want to get something on a plane there is nothing they can do.
      The whole program isn't about your water bottle or some small knife but to prevent a terrorist from blowing up the plane. And except for maybe x-ray or dissecting the body there is nothing anyone can do to stop that. Because if the body scanners get too good at what they do you put the stuff inside the body. At least thats what I learned from movies, people swallow/implant drugs to prevent detection.

      In my opinion, in the end it doesnt matter if it's TSA or Constellis Group.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:11am

    If the TSA testers are as incompetent as the TSA screener and could still get 95% thru, just imagine what competent people could do!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:18am

    As security theater goes this is a long way from Broadway. With training and perseverance they might be able to aspire to security summer stock theater.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:18am

    The frustrating part about this is that it will be used to justify even greater expenditure and invasive search methods.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:45am

      Re:

      I didn't think it was too invasive. I am kind of a lonely guy so the physical closeness and touching was actually quite enjoyable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Phoenix84 (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:22am

    Rapiscan

    Did anyone else read Rapiscan as Rapescan?
    I wasn't even trying to, it just read that way in my mind. :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:26am

    I read that "Rapescan"

    Did anyone else read Rapiscan as Rapescan or is it just me?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ltlw0lf (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 11:31am

      Re: I read that "Rapescan"

      Did anyone else read Rapiscan as Rapescan or is it just me?

      It certainly isn't just you. I read it that way too.

      Though I think a better name for it, based on the context would be Pillagescan (as in how much money is lost on these useless devices,) since it is really the only part of the process where you don't get fondled (though that comes after they get to see you naked.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:27am

    Out of curiosity, does anyone have any actual statistics on the number of bombs detonated on planes while in flight? How does that number compare to the number of plane hijackings?

    It's not something I've looked for before, but I'm pretty certain that the number is both small, and smaller than the number of hijackings, or it would figure fairly prominently in the lists of plane crashes I've had reason to look at a time or two.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stosh, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:34am

    The biggest factor in airline safety is the passengers. Used to be you were told to sit quiet and obey a hijacker...now if someone were to try pulling a knife or gun most of those on board would be beating them to death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    kP (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:36am

    Meanwhile, on eBay

    TSA has, however, demonstrated a true knack for stealing useful tools from passengers

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:41am

    In other news Tiger Repellant Rock sales are up.

    No sign of tigers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    radix (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 11:08am

    Getting better every day, but at what rate?

    It's been 13 1/2 years. If they've gotten better every day, and they're only up to a 4.3% success rate (I rounded up), it's going to take another 145 years to get to 50%!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jennifer, 2 Jun 2015 @ 11:19am

    TSA bullshit

    Yeah, they miss all those weapons, but they make sure to have the underage girl strip in front of strangers.

    Thanks, I feel so much safer taking my pants off in front of someone as old as my dad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymous, 2 Jun 2015 @ 1:00pm

    lol

    In other news, 95% of "red team" are white.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 3:28pm

    It is not about making people safe.

    It is about conditioning people to living in a police state and accepting whatever the man with the gun tells you do without using your brain first.

    See the red light green light at airports for no reason other than they find it fun to force people to stop and do nothing for no reason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 2 Jun 2015 @ 4:00pm

    Nobody at TSA cares about silly things like weapons or bombs as long as nobody makes it on a plane with breast milk, bottled water, more than 3 ounces of any other liquid, cigarette lighters, nail clippers or pocket tools of any kind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 5:26pm

    I think we found the reason for TSA

    As has been said many times, and as Robert Graham points out, if people think bombs are a threat, then the logical solution is to make people feel safe. How do we do that? By making everyone walk through "security screening". Does this actually catch a terrorist or stop a bomb? It doesn't need to, when statistics say no one will bring a bomb on an airplane anyway. It just needs to make people "feel safe", even though there's a big difference between feeling safe and actually being safe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Jun 2015 @ 7:21pm

      Many tiger-repellant rocks could be had for cheaper...

      ...without subjecting attractive passengers to nudie scans and strip searches (the footage of which is passed round the office as an undisclosed perk)

      ...without the inconvenience of arriving at the airport two hours before take-off for sake of long lines and shoe scans

      ...without the necessity of detaining passengers from catching their flight (sometimes for hours or even days without food, water or accommodations) because an agent didn't like their color or their head covering or their flashcards.

      ...without the necessity of confiscating flatware, toiletries, curios and electronics that a given agent fancies for his very own use.

      ...without the extrajudicial no-fly list that prevents people from air travel for no valid reason whatsoever.

      ...without statistically killing more people than the 9/11 attacks by scaring them away from air travel and onto the interstate highway system.

      Did i miss anything?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    s7, 3 Jun 2015 @ 10:59pm

    TSA Agents To Now Simply Stand At Checkpoints And Remind Passengers That We All Die Someday
    http://www.theonion.com/article/tsa-agents-now-simply-stand-checkpoints-and-remind-50562

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jake, 26 Oct 2015 @ 6:19am

    Great Post!

    Havent heard anything like this before. I can believe this is happening though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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