Skip

So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost.
December 23, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

"Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security." To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest.
posted by quin (150 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Think of it as a stimulus program.
posted by Trurl at 11:34 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Money only solves financial problems
posted by philip-random at 11:36 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Previously.
posted by smitt at 11:37 AM on December 23, 2011


philip-random: Money only solves financial problems

Says a man who has money for meals today.

Seriously. What a nonsensical snark.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:39 AM on December 23, 2011 [19 favorites]


9/11 happened because everybody's protocol for handling hijackers was to wait and hear their demands. On 9/11 the rules of that game changed. Now the well-understood protocol for every passenger is to beat the shit of any hijacker before he tries to kill us all. Worked for the shoe bomber. Worked for the underwear bomber.

TSA doesn't understand that the passengers are more effective security than they are. So they should be nice to us.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:40 AM on December 23, 2011 [131 favorites]


Seriously. What a nonsensical snark.

Seriously, it wasn't intended as snark. Sorry, you took it that way.

Throw a trillion dollars at something and what you're going to get is a whole whack of "solutions" that are expensive before they're anything else. And you're going to attract a lot of dubious characters, corruption etc. On the Washington State/British Columbia border, this took the form of significant American security dollars going into "enhanced" border security, which among other things, manifested as military helicopters being used to shut down local marijuana growers. That sure stopped a lot of terror.
posted by philip-random at 11:46 AM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


...so little benefit...

I'm sorry but if you think that blurry reconstructions of the genitals of anyone who has ever flown out of an airport within the last few years is of "little benefit" then I don't think we can even have a conversation about this.

But seriously, our techniques are complete bullshit. They're the DRM of the real world: they annoy the people who have had no intention to Do Bad, and are circumvented so easily by the people who have this intention that it's comical. If we needed to keep the Keystone Kops from blowing up airplanes, we've done a great job but for good luck trying to keep someone with more than two brain cells to run together.

I'm reminded of when, after 9/11, I went to the Met with a few friends of mine. They made him take out his laptop and turn it on because I guess if you were a terrorist you'd be wiring the BLOW SHIT UP button to the one button that everyone would think would do that. So, he turned it on and, surprise, nothing blew up. So they gave him this little piece of pink paper to slide into the laptop to prove it wasn't a bomb. Later, we went outside for a smoke and, going back into the museum, he took out his laptop, showed them the pink piece of paper, and was waved through.

Post-9/11 Terrorist Security Theater is an elaborate and expensive on the taxpayers of this country, the ones who voted for Bush et. al. included.
posted by griphus at 11:46 AM on December 23, 2011 [28 favorites]


I wish there were an article that gave suggestions on what should be done. This one does, but it's essentially one empty sentence with a general platitude toward the end.

Everyone talks about the Israeli model, but that's even more expensive and time-consuming.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:47 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish there were an article that gave suggestions on what should be done. This one does, but it's essentially one empty sentence with a general platitude toward the end.

It' right there in the article:
“The only useful airport security measures since 9/11,” he says, “were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching”—ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them —“and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:50 AM on December 23, 2011 [60 favorites]


Unfortunately, the theatre is what a lot of people want.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:52 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


That what was already done. What now?

If you're talking about dismantling billions of infrastructure, you should explain what's going to replace it, or explain how it won't be replaced, and why not replacing it will make people feel better. More than just "Hey, I can leave my shoes on now, score!"

If you remove all the police in my town, I'm going to ask you why, and how you think I'm better off.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:54 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Number adjusted for per household in the US = $9768.13, e.g. Grandpa's putting up 74 motion-detector security lights around the house to deal with the asshole neighbors.
posted by crapmatic at 11:55 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, the theatre is what a lot of people want.

Other than a handful of idiots looking to score bullshit political points, and the few people getting their pockets lined with federal dollars, who really wants that theater?

Who's all like, "Thanks for making sure MY shoe isn't a bomb, because of that one guy who unsuccessfully thought to do that"?

In other news I started seeing advertisement in TSA trays, and fuck you to all companies who want to advertise me while I'm being humiliated.
posted by entropone at 11:56 AM on December 23, 2011 [20 favorites]


To be fair, the vast majority of the 1.1 trillion is stuff that the government always has had to do, like customs, immigration, drug enforcment, the FBI, the Coast Guard, FEMA, etc. It's just now all lumped together under Homeland Security. We've "only" spent a couple tens of billions on airport security.
posted by miyabo at 11:58 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you're talking about dismantling billions of infrastructure, you should explain what's going to replace it, or explain how it won't be replaced, and why not replacing it will make people feel better.

Err. Seems like the onus is on the $1 trillion in new spending over the past 10 years to justify its own existence, not on us to "make people feel better" regarding almost wholly manufactured fears
posted by crayz at 12:00 PM on December 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Oops, the FBI isn't included. But the total aviation security budget is "just" ~7 billion.
posted by miyabo at 12:01 PM on December 23, 2011


Other than a handful of idiots looking to score bullshit political points, and the few people getting their pockets lined with federal dollars, who really wants that theater?

I imagine there is a measurable fraction of people who look up strongly to authority and law & order types for reassurance.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:01 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


You're missing the point. The money is spent, the infrastructure exists. Now we're saying we should stop and walk away. Great.

Now what? "Nothing" is not an acceptable answer.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:02 PM on December 23, 2011


philip-random, your second comment was far more eloquent. Your first is still nonsense; there are many problems that can be solved with money, as the poor well know.

Now, whether or not the government is competent at spending its(our) money on project X or problem Y is another matter altogether.

For instance, as we've seen, the US gov't is almost completely utterly incapable of spending money wisely on anti-terrorism measures. Kinda like a 10-year-old heroin junkie given a hundred dollars in cash, and being expected to invest it wisely in municipal bonds.

Fuck, I hate my country sometimes. No one has put more money and time into inspiring young terrorists than us.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:02 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know, admitting that the whole thing was a farce, dropping it, and moving on sounds like a pretty reasonable idea.

This stuff is the phrenology of security. Let's not double down on any more bad bets.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:04 PM on December 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


$1 trillion = one million millions
posted by growabrain at 12:05 PM on December 23, 2011


Maybe the thing to do is privatize the TSA and see if the resulting company, in the quest for profits, chooses to step back from the more expensive things like full body scanners, excess personnel, and so on.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:06 PM on December 23, 2011


Where do they get that trillion dollar figure? The whole DHS budget has been in the $40 to $60 billion dollar range since it was created. And, as miyabo pointed out, that includes the Coast Guard, FEMA and the Secret Service, among other things.
posted by demiurge at 12:10 PM on December 23, 2011


In other news I started seeing advertisement in TSA trays, and fuck you to all companies who want to advertise me while I'm being humiliated.

AMTRAK: Wouldn't You Rather Be Reading This With Your Shoes On?
posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on December 23, 2011 [38 favorites]


Now what? "Nothing" is not an acceptable answer.

Repeating your assertion does not make it truer.
posted by verb at 12:10 PM on December 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Now what? "Nothing" is not an acceptable answer.

As noted, the most effective things have already been done. After that, why is 'nothing' not an acceptable answer?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:10 PM on December 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Meanwhile:
Anyone who pays attention to green news will have spent the last two years hearing a torrent of stories about EPA rules and the political fights over them. It can get tedious. After a certain point even my eyes glaze over, and I’m paid to follow this stuff.

But this one is a Big Deal. It’s worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.
Tens of thousands of lives per year, at a cost of what? Slightly reduced tax revenue from coal plants, possibly? We have some seriously fucked up priorities in this country.
posted by delmoi at 12:14 PM on December 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


You're missing the point. The money is spent, the infrastructure exists. Now we're saying we should stop and walk away. Great.

Now what? "Nothing" is not an acceptable answer.


So what, plow on with an ineffective and expensive solution? How's that worked for the war on drugs for the last 40 years?
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 12:15 PM on December 23, 2011 [12 favorites]


$1.1 trillion is an awfully large number: equivalent to the GDP of say, Australia, South Korea or Mexico. Is there any citation for that figure? I'm assuming it's charging for the time of people stuck in line and things like that, because otherwise it looks plucked from thin air.

Not that I'm saying security theatre isn't outrageous, because it is, but it can surely be outrageous without having an annual cost to the US equivalent to the entire GDP of Hungary.

As for liquid bombs, they have been successfully used, brought onto the plane in a contact lens fluid bottle. The plane wasn't brought down because the bombers didn't successfully place the bomb over the fuel tanks. The only question this leaves for the security people to answer is why we were allowed to take liquids onto planes from 1994 to 2006.
posted by ambrosen at 12:17 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just great, if you're a police department or a surveillance-equipment maker.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:17 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was for Rodrigo.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:18 PM on December 23, 2011


Why is nothing not an acceptable answer? You must not know any, you know, people. Human beings with wacky, irrational expectations.

I want you to imagine a world where the police suddenly stood up and said, "I think we're done here. Good enough. The threats aren't that bad. You're safe enough. Enjoy your flight."

Dude. You'd have people running for the doors.

This is why the "unring the bell" metaphor exists. This is a bell that ought never have been rung, true. But now that it's been clanging for ten years, people will ask you why it stopped, and a nebulous "we're pretty sure it's OK" won't fly. Certainly not politically.

Ten years of security theater, and you think it'll be OK to just lower the curtain and say goodnight, and the audience is just going to be cool with that? Oh no. Get back out there on stage and tell us what Act 2 looks like.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:22 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]




> Other than a handful of idiots looking to score bullshit political points, and the few people getting their pockets lined with federal dollars, who really wants that theater?

People who don't understand risk or cost/benefit analysis. I've had quite a few conversations with people who claim that it's impossible to spend too much money in the name of "safety." They usually end with the other person angrily accusing me of being willing to endanger their kids to save a few bucks.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:26 PM on December 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Seriously, it's like few people on MeFi ever deal with the public on a regular basis...sheesh. Go get a job at Starbucks and tell your first customer that, hey, I left the milk out overnight, but it's cool, I haven't seen bad milk around here in, like, a long time, so...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:26 PM on December 23, 2011


You're missing the point. The money is spent, the infrastructure exists. Now we're saying we should stop and walk away. Great.

Now what? "Nothing" is not an acceptable answer.
Actually it is. Look at the F22. Billions of dollars have been spent, and last I heard they weren't even safe to fly, due to glitches in the oxygen system causing pilots to pass out. But even if we never purchased another F22, yet in $2009

The United States' top fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000

Votes by the House and Senate armed services committees last month to spend $369 million to $1.75 billion more to keep the F-22 production line open
So, I'm exactly sure how long those funds would last, but if we take a conservative estimate of $350 million a year. And insane amounts of money to actually *use* the things if we could.

So realistically, we would actually **save** money by just dumping them in the sea.

Look up the Sunk Cost fallacy
Why is nothing not an acceptable answer? You must not know any, you know, people. Human beings with wacky, irrational expectations.

I want you to imagine a world where the police suddenly stood up and said, "I think we're done here. Good enough. The threats aren't that bad. You're safe enough. Enjoy your flight."

Dude. You'd have people running for the doors.
Tens of thousands of people die every year in car accidents. People still drive. We're talking about $3,600 for every man, woman, and child here. You could have built high-speed rail lines across the country, and then people wouldn't have been as afraid of terrorists, because they'd be on the ground instead of in the air, which freaks people out

(Of course, terrorist would have an easier time targeting trains instead of airplanes, but we're talking about subjective fear, not objective risk. As far as Objective risk goes, the best way to spend that money would have been on free healthcare and better training for doctors (medical error kills something like 100k people a year, I think). Better pollution controls, and so on. I think if you take the turrists out of the equation, HSR is safer then flying? I'm not sure)
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on December 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


Ten years of security theater, and you think it'll be OK to just lower the curtain and say goodnight, and the audience is just going to be cool with that?

Bush's "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" was pretty successful with its audience, and that was a case where there was pretty clearly nothing of the sort achieved.

For what it's worth, the last time I left the USA and entered an airport without all the bullshit security theatre, and proceeded to board a commercial flight without having to present any form of ID, it didn't make me feel scared, it had the opposite effect; people here be calm and collected instead of shrill and shrieking. This area is safe.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:32 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seriously, it's like few people on MeFi ever deal with the public read the post content on a regular basis...sheesh.

ftfy
posted by serif at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, it's like few people on MeFi ever deal with the public on a regular basis

Actually I deal with the public all day, everyday, often having to explain to them why municipal governments can't always spend tons of money they don't have on measures that aren't that effective at prevention. People aren't always happy about it but most of the time they're reasonable about it. If they're not, they can scream and shout and jump up and down, that's their prerogative, but operating on a policy of placating everyone who makes noise is a losing strategy.
posted by Hoopo at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is there really that large of a contingent of people out there who believe we can't make difficult decisions on their merits because they might frighten casual observers? This seems to be the essence of the "stay the course" argument. I hope this isn't as widespread a perspective as I think it might be, because I'm not sure how you recover from it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, it's like few people on MeFi ever deal with the public on a regular basis...sheesh.

You sound like one of them. People freaking out over airports not sufficiently searching their shoes is like people freaking out about oil companies not selling gas for $1/gal. They'll throw tantrums and yell a good song and dance, and then they'll meekly buy the gas they were going to buy, regardless of price, and board the plane they were going to board, regardless of security, because what else are the going to do? Change their lifestyle?! Not a chance.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seriously, it's like few people on MeFi ever deal with the public on a regular basis...sheesh. Go get a job at Starbucks and tell your first customer that, hey, I left the milk out overnight, but it's cool, I haven't seen bad milk around here in, like, a long time, so...
Sure, but what scares Americans more, non-extant risk of being killed by terrorists, or the super-low risk of getting cancer from an X-ray scanner?

I mean, if all we are trying to do is mitigate the subjective fear rather then risk, like I said, High speed rail would be the way to go. And $1.1 trillion would get you a shitload of highs speed rail. And you could have way more space, no need to cram people in like sardines.

Anyway, if we all we care about is subjective fear, you have to keep in mind that people are much less scared of terrorists then they were 10 years ago, which should mean our priorities, if that's what we are actually concerned about, should also change.
posted by delmoi at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there really that large of a contingent of people out there who believe we can't make difficult decisions on their merits because they might frighten casual observers? This seems to be the essence of the "stay the course" argument. I hope this isn't as widespread a perspective as I think it might be, because I'm not sure how you recover from it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


well that was a weird glitch in metafilter
posted by -harlequin- at 12:40 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Think of it as a stimulus program."

"And $1.1 trillion would get you a shitload of highs speed rail."


If only these ideas could have been combined. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 12:44 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, the money has not been completely wasted. At least one positive side effect that I've read is that there are some modest improvements in emergency management and response across the country.

But yeah, most of it is just show.
posted by FJT at 12:45 PM on December 23, 2011


For what it's worth, I used to take the Acela from DC to NYC an a regular basis and the security at Penn Station, while lacking the pointless "please remove your shoes" rigamarole, was even more oppressive than at an airport. It reminded me of flying over the holidays in 2001 with soldiers holding M16s standing around in clusters and police wearing tactical gear. Maybe this has relaxed, but as far as I am concerned there's no reason to think rail won't end up in the same security theater predicament if nothing is done to reign in the TSA.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:47 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm looking forward to the government surplus sales where I can buy portable hand-held spectroscopic scintillators for pennies on the dollar, which can then be used for party tricks such as detecting who is and isn't vegetarian. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:51 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ten thousand dollars a person? That boggles the mind. Fear = $$$
posted by stinkycheese at 12:51 PM on December 23, 2011


Apparently I wasn't the only having my posts time out....
posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on December 23, 2011


"Nothing" is always an acceptable answer.
posted by chronkite at 12:59 PM on December 23, 2011


-harlequin-: well that was a weird glitch in metafilter

A deja vu is usually a glitch in the matrix - it happens when they change something.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:00 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


[Deleted a whole bunch of double and triple comments - hopefully what remains is parseable. Also sent up the pb-signal. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 1:07 PM on December 23, 2011


If you're talking about dismantling billions of infrastructure, you should explain what's going to replace it

Why does something dismantled need to be replaced? But to answer your question, I think a smaller debt and a smaller civil-liberties busting bureaucracy would be a nice replacement. And if it means an easier and more dignified airport experience, then that is just gravy.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:09 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.

I wonder how many people that died from treatable illnesses that money could have saved.
posted by the_artificer at 1:13 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seriously, it's like few people on MeFi ever deal with the public on a regular basis...sheesh.

Have you been to an airport? If you stood in front of the security checkpoint and announced "we're not doing this any more because it's stupid and pointless" you'd probably be elected President.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:14 PM on December 23, 2011 [20 favorites]


I can't even imagine how much better the country would be without the wars on terror and drugs.

I'll vote on election day, but nobody gets a dime of my money without pledging to end both.
posted by empath at 1:15 PM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


And you could start with baby steps. Like removing the machines that x-ray your junk. Or having a sane, maybe even - gasp! - enjoyable pre-flight procedure. Remove these things from the security theater and see who complains.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:16 PM on December 23, 2011


I like the way the article ends: The security bottlenecks are regularly bypassed by large numbers of people—airport workers, concession-stand employees, airline personnel, and T.S.A. agents themselves ... “Almost all of those jobs are crappy, low-paid jobs,” Schneier says. “They have high turnover. If you’re a serious plotter, don’t you think you could get one of those jobs?”

This suggests that the next terrorist strike will happen because Al Qaeda has infiltrated TSA. So the next time you're going through security and they ask you for your ID, say, in your most interrogating manner, "Here's my ID, but I'll need to check yours."
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:16 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


the next time you're going through security and they ask you for your ID, say, in your most interrogating manner, "Here's my ID, but I'll need to check yours."

...while reaching out and grabbing his/her crotch.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:21 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


...while reaching out and grabbing his/her crotch.

Well, it may be a low-paying job, but it does have its perks.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:23 PM on December 23, 2011


I want you to imagine a world where the police suddenly stood up and said, "I think we're done here. Good enough. The threats aren't that bad. You're safe enough. Enjoy your flight."

Yes, that's precisely what has been suggested. Removing all police from cities. I'm glad you noticed that.
posted by verb at 1:30 PM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


From Foci

It's right there in the article:
“The only useful airport security measures since 9/11,” he says, “were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching”—ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them —“and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”


So 3 hours after the first plane took off on September 11th, passengers on Flight 77 had learned and began to implement 1/3 of all the only effective security measures to be enacted after 9/11.
posted by phoenixphoenix at 1:35 PM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Nothing" is not an acceptable answer.

There's your problem right there. In this very case "Nothing" is the right answer, and any citizen how clamors for more needs to be sent for reeducation until they agree.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:41 PM on December 23, 2011


Ten years of security theater, and you think it'll be OK to just lower the curtain and say goodnight, and the audience is just going to be cool with that? Oh no. Get back out there on stage and tell us what Act 2 looks like.

You tell the left, "Hey, it wasn't working anyways," and "It was cuts to this or cuts to X, Y, and Z [social programs]" and they will be content (if you actually add money to X, Y or Z that you took away from this garbage, they will be overjoyed). You tell the right, "Hey, we're trimming the fat outta the budget," and "we're committed to small government!" and they will be content if not overjoyed. And to the centrists, you tell some combination of both of the above. Ta da! Ending idiotic security theater, centrist-style. Spin so easy a toddler with a hula hoop could do it. Sure there will always be some folks who don't like it but I bet the approval rating for ending this nonsense would be higher than oh, 9%, to pull a number out of a hat.

Admittedly, some of your opponents might try to paint you as "soft on terror" so it would help if you had some way of quashing that particular criticism. Say, being the guy who caught Osama, or something like that...
posted by mstokes650 at 1:42 PM on December 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's a good thing the TSA is doing their job preventing passengers from traveling with terroristy cupcakes topped with suspicious gel-like frosting. Delicious crisis averted--money well spent.
posted by raztaj at 1:43 PM on December 23, 2011


One of our TSA protectors went for the cake!


posted by stirfry at 1:48 PM on December 23, 2011


http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_8545/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=hIFMYkMW
posted by stirfry at 1:49 PM on December 23, 2011


locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in

While this is obviously a good thing, I think he might be overstating the case a bit here as much as I hate to say it. A fair few of the measures implemented after September 11 are ostensibly about preventing people from smuggling weapons on board, like the 9/11 terrorists' boxcutters or the show bomber's explosives etc. Even with the cockpit doors closed, an armed terrorist can take hostages and do a good deal of damage, even if he can't smash a plane into a building. It is true though that, as has been pointed out, these new security measures have been found not to be terribly effective when tested by journalists etc.
posted by Hoopo at 1:49 PM on December 23, 2011


I use a old-school double edge razor, and it can be a pain in the ass to drive around looking for a place that sells blades.

So now I bring my own, through security. It's trivially easy to get blades on an airplane, still.

Even more so for ceramic ones.

There are still many holes in TSA procedures - to say that they are 'good enough' is to acknowledge their uselessness against a determined enemy, and the lack of political will to eliminate them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:56 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I use a old-school double edge razor, and it can be a pain in the ass to drive around looking for a place that sells blades.

So now I bring my own, through security. It's trivially easy to get blades on an airplane, still.


One of my favorite "security theater" moments was going through the TSA screening process, only to have them confiscate my shaving soap. Although it was a solid block of soap, the two TSA agents deliberated and came to the conclusion that it was "close enough" to a gel that it needed to be taken.

They noticed -- and ignored -- my razor.
posted by verb at 2:01 PM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


They noticed -- and ignored -- my razor.

IIRC, razors are allowed. (Maybe yours was a straight razor?)
posted by kenko at 2:10 PM on December 23, 2011


If you're talking about dismantling billions of infrastructure, you should explain what's going to replace it, or explain how it won't be replaced, and why not replacing it will make people feel better.

Turns out there exist states between the current ridiculous state of affairs and replacing the security checkpoints with a tray of free bombs and a sign saying "Go nuts" in Arabic.

Here's the current security procedure, more or less:
1. A TSA dude looks at something that is apparently my ID, and a piece of paper that looks like my boarding pass.
2. I take my shoes off, and put them in a bin.
3. I root around in my bags and dig out my Freedom Baggie of toiletries, and put it in a bin.
4. A TSA agent asks if I have a laptop or liquids, even though I'm already in the process of taking them out.
5. I take out my laptop, and put it in a bin.
6. I take the metal objects out of my pockets, and put them in the bin.
7. I put my carryon bag on the conveyor belt, with the bins.
8. At some point around here, another TSA agent looks at the pieces of paper that purport to be my ID and boarding pass.
9. I walk through a metal detector, and don't beep.
10. I go stand in the nudiescope. / I get patted down.
11. Someone wipes down my hands, and then puts the tissue in the magic machine.
12. I cram my toiletries and laptop back into my bag.
13. I put my shoes on, and walk over to a bench where I can tie my shoes up.

Of this long, long list of steps, exactly three of them (6, 7 and 9, for those of you playing at home) provide any significant security; the remainder are reacting to specific, unlikely threats. Unsurprisingly, they are the ones that were in place before the current Pant-wetting On Terrorism began. And I'm willing to give people enough credit that they recognize a difference between the thing that prevents you from bringing a gun onto the plane versus the thing that prevents Maxwell Smart from bringing his phone onto the plane.

By removing the chaff that doesn't make us any safer, you can still have a process that screens people and does so much more quickly and cheaply. If you still want to make people feel safer, just have the first 20 seconds of this video playing on the monitors in airports, instead of some stupid "orange threat" message.

If you want to make people actually safer, spend the billions of dollars on high speed rail.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:12 PM on December 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Last time I was in the Philly airport there was a huge sign when you got to the top of the escalator with a photograph of a massive fireball and the phrase "BUSINESS IS BOOMING!" under it.
posted by chronkite at 2:14 PM on December 23, 2011


Even with the cockpit doors closed, an armed terrorist can take hostages and do a good deal of damage, even if he can't smash a plane into a building.

The point shouldn't be to make airplanes places where no bad stuff can happen ever; it should be to recognize that there are features of air travel (people are enclosed in a space that is both relatively easy to damage catastrophically, and impossible for police to enter quickly) that make it easier to cause havoc, and reduce the odds proportionally.

The screening needed to ensure people don't bring guns, bombs or big knives on an airplane is pretty simple. The screening needed to prevent James Bondian plots with obscure homebrew explosives hidden in their ass is incredibly expensive, and easy enough for terrorists to work around.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:19 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Money only solves financial problems

I doubt he coined the phrase but the first person I ever heard use it was Bruce Springsteen. It was in an interview where he was discussing how he hadn't lost the ability to write songs that mattered to normal people just because he was now a millionaire. That is, once you've got food in your belly, a roof over your head etc, that doesn't mean you're instantly leading a trouble free life. You can still relate.

In the context of $1.1 trillion being spent on Homeland Security, I threw the comment in to (hopefully) shed light on the notion that most problems are not solved by throwing money at them -- certainly not by just throwing money at them. Case in point, somebody mentioned the Israeli approach to airport security a while back. My understanding is that they take a very systematic approach to it which involves:

A. using multiple security zones to neutralize most threats long before they get close to the airport itself let alone in the terminal or on an airplane

B. making many (most) terminal employees former military types whose training specifically involves dealing with security threats

Yeah, both of these measures ultimately require money to be effective but I doubt they came into being just because vast amounts of government cash got thrown at the problem(s). Rather, I imagine much comparatively inexpensive thought, study, consultation went into the issue before rational strategies were drawn up, then budgeted, then implemented.
posted by philip-random at 2:20 PM on December 23, 2011


From what I understand from reading Bruce Schneier's blog, the Israeli approach to airport security also involves having a very small country. (Ah yes, here it is. Ben Gurion Airport serves slightly more people than does Sacramento's airport.)
posted by epersonae at 2:25 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're missing the point. The money is spent, the infrastructure exists. Now we're saying we should stop and walk away. Great.

Now what? "Nothing" is not an acceptable answer.


I'm going to depart a bit from the other people who have responded to this question here. Nothing is not the answer. You're right. The money is spent and the infrastructure exists. We should not just walk away. We should not do nothing.

What should we do? We should stop, take down all that infrastructure, and sell it on Ebay to recoup at least some of the squandered money.

The problem, of course, is that Homeland Security has become a depression-era jobs program that exists primarily because the government cannot afford to fire all those people. So here's my proposal:

1. Stop all the security theater.
2. Put all the security theater employees to work selling off all the useless "high tech" crap that we bought to "keep us safe."
3. Just keep paying all those people's salaries, but don't waste anymore money paying for uniforms and places for them to report to work and all that crap everyday. It may seem foolish to pay people to do nothing, and in a way it is. But we're currently already paying them to do nothing, so paying them to do nothing in a way that costs us less money is an improvement.
posted by The World Famous at 2:36 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


It would really be a perfect bookend to this whole situation if we ended up selling all of the scanners and other intrusive surveillance apparatus the TSA has to the next tin pot dictator in charge of a country no one has ever heard of but is full of exploitable resources.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:42 PM on December 23, 2011


My dad suggested a program that would train qualified veterans to handle airplane emergencies, arm them, and then let them fly for free.

There are millions of people out there that already qualified at the range, already proven themselves reliable and have already been trusted with the keys, so to speak. Why not capitalize on their skills and also offer them the chance to travel?

You could dismantle the whole current clusterfuck and replace it with a quiet army of dedicated citizens.
posted by chronkite at 2:46 PM on December 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


There is a profound evidentiary problem in this issue and it is one that both sides tend to simply wave away--and certainly the vast majority of posters to this thread are simply waving it away. On the one hand we're all familiar with the evidentiary problem on the 'pro' side of the current security regime. It says "look, no successful terrorist attacks on planes have occurred since 9/11" and we can all cite the joke about the man throwing newspapers out the train window to "keep the tigers away." The evidentiary problem is obvious: how can you show that terrorist incidents would have occurred had these measures not been taken.

But there is an inverse problem on the other side that almost everyone in this thread is ignoring. The tiger/newspaper joke is funny because there are no tigers in England, so it's obvious that the man's comeback "well, do you see any tigers?" is based on faulty reasoning. It is not, on the other hand, at all evident that there are no terrorists in the world who would like very much to bring down a large passenger plane with a bomb. Quite the opposite. There very clearly are in fact, such people. So then the claim that no successful terrorist attacks on planes have occurred since 9/11 can't be ignored as being parallel to a lack of tiger attacks on English trains.

So why have terrorists made so few--and such lame--attempts to attack planes since 9/11? It seems to me that that question needs a plausible answer before we can definitively say that the new security measures introduced after that attack were useless. It may well be that those security measures are mere "theater"--but it would seem that they are a theater which has convinced terrorists. We keep hearing how laughably easy it is to slip weapons through the TSA security net--but that immediately raises the question: if that's true, why aren't terrorists doing it? My guess is that what people mean when they say it's "easy" to get stuff through is that they mean that a relatively high percentage of attempts will be successful. But I imagine that from a terrorist's point of view, that glass looks half-empty more than half-full. I imagine that they look at the relatively high percentage of attempts that will, in fact, be detected and think "that's not an operation worth funding and training resources."
posted by yoink at 2:48 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Almost all of those jobs are crappy, low-paid jobs...

Which in many ways is the biggest threat to safety in aviation.
posted by juiceCake at 2:50 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh and a p.s.: any attempt to compare the minor inconvenience of a pat-down search to rape is an absurd and offensive trivialization of rape.
posted by yoink at 2:50 PM on December 23, 2011


I just popped in to say that while we have our fair share of security theatre, we also have a funded chair for public understanding of risk.

The current incumbent, who sounds awesome, is David Speigenhalter.

Now that is worth throwing a bit of cash at and a useful antidote to the idiocy of pointless security.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:50 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you're probably right about the need for such a discussion, yoink, but I don't believe that it's possible to have it because if the answer is "well, it turns out that there really aren't all that many terrorists looking to attack airliners" it would be deemed unacceptable and we'd have to manufacture something more suitable.

I guess this sounds really cynical and I hate that, but the last decade has seriously hurt my ability to accept that government involves rational decision making anymore.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:51 PM on December 23, 2011


This Slate series from almost 3 years ago had an extended exploration of why there hadn't been any more large-scale attacks. Unfortunately, I can't get to the article and I don't remember the explanation!
posted by epersonae at 2:54 PM on December 23, 2011


The evidentiary problem is obvious: how can you show that terrorist incidents would have occurred had these measures not been taken.

That's only an evidentiary problem in the sense that arises whenever anyone tries to find evidence to support a false premise. Given that the current measures (other than the hardened cockpit doors) would not have stopped the 9/11 attacks, it cannot be reasonably argued that they have prevented such an attack since 9/11, either.

Oh and a p.s.: any attempt to compare the minor inconvenience of a pat-down search to rape is an absurd and offensive trivialization of rape.

You're right. It's not rape. It's sexual battery, by legal definition. That's not an analogy, by the way. And it's made even more offensive by the fact that it serves no security purpose whatsoever and is not an actual search.

My dad suggested a program that would train qualified veterans to handle airplane emergencies, arm them, and then let them fly for free.

I think that's a great idea, and ought to be combined with the Civilian Marksmanship Program, so that every flight would have at least two or three people carrying an M1 Garand. No terrorist is going to mess try anything when they know it's going to result in .30-06 rounds being fired at them.
posted by The World Famous at 2:55 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Found it: Why no more 9/11s? (Skimming doesn't yield a solid conclusion in the article.)
posted by epersonae at 2:56 PM on December 23, 2011


Oh and a p.s.: any attempt to compare the minor inconvenience of a pat-down search to rape is an absurd and offensive trivialization of rape.

I see what you're saying, but the point of the article that Jeffburdges linked was that, by our present legal standards, it is sexual assault.

Just because it's security screening doesn't mean it's not sexual assault. Saying as much trivializes sexual assault.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 2:58 PM on December 23, 2011


Took my grandchildren to the Gateway Arch recently. I don't fly but I assume the security was rather similiar except we kept our shoes on and weren't patted down. Four or five federal employees and various security type machines a few feet in the door. Any kind of line puts the visitors outside waiting to get in.

I'd gladly trade the security to walk on in.
posted by wrapper at 3:13 PM on December 23, 2011


This is why the "unring the bell" metaphor exists. This is a bell that ought never have been rung, true. But now that it's been clanging for ten years, people will ask you why it stopped, and a nebulous "we're pretty sure it's OK" won't fly. Certainly not politically.

I hope you are writing to your representative asking why he or she is not clamouring for internment of Japanese-Americans. After all, that was done for years and that as a bell that could not be unrung either.

No, in my view the loopy part is the cargo cult approach that non-airline transportation companies are taking. As I have mentioned on the blue before, Greyhound Canada decided that it had to boost security as well, so in exactly one of the six-hundred plus Greyhound boarding areas in the country, it has hired some part-time security guards. Note that the listing specifies Essential : Knowledge of performing proper searches. Indeed, just like at the airport, they ask the passenger to indicate which bags are carry-on, which are going beneath the bus. The passenger is then obliged to empty his pockets of metal and the wand is waved around the limbs.

Now, I have taken Greyhound buses from Ottawa maybe twenty times in the three years since this went into effect. On several of the the trips, the security guy did not turn the wand on. He just waved it vaguely around me as he had seen in his video in his half-day of paid training. Admittedly, most of them seem to know how the wand works, but 100% of the time, after passengers are asked to indicate which bags are going under the bus and which ones are carry-on (only carry-on bags are searched), passengers leave the search checkpoint with both bags and then may freely transfer items between them. Great. If the TSA is security theatre, this is a grade-school skit.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:25 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


"non-extant risk of being killed by terrorists"

What's this now?
posted by gjc at 3:26 PM on December 23, 2011




One thing to consider is the lost tourist dollars as an incidental result of the Homeland Security crackdown: all told I'm sure this number is in the hundreds of billions. A lot of Canadians went to the States a lot more often before 9/11, and now it's a much bigger hassle (for starters, finding the entire family's passports and making sure they are up to date). Border waits are longer, and the possibility of being turned away is real. Plus, it's just a great deal more stressful. Before, you could just pop over the border for some cheap Mexican food, a tank of gas and a 12 pack.

And that's nothing compared to the $$$ from international travelers looking at NY vs. Montreal, or Seattle vs. Vancouver, or Hawaii vs. Mexico. If you "look like a terrorist" you are probably picking the latter option consistently.
posted by mek at 3:29 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


So why have terrorists made so few--and such lame--attempts to attack planes since 9/11?

Because, statistically speaking, there are not actually many terrorists attempting to attack planes. I'm sorry, is that answer not allowed? I can try to rephrase it.
posted by verb at 3:30 PM on December 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


It is not, on the other hand, at all evident that there are no terrorists in the world who would like very much to bring down a large passenger plane with a bomb. Quite the opposite. There very clearly are in fact, such people. So then the claim that no successful terrorist attacks on planes have occurred since 9/11 can't be ignored as being parallel to a lack of tiger attacks on English trains.

I'm pretty sure that people who would like to blow up passenger airplanes aren't specifically doing it because of a loathing of civil aviation; if the added security measures makes airplanes harder to blow up, then some of them would presumably switch to other attacks that are also lethal and sensational. But the non-aviation terror attacks since 9/11 are also generally shabby and ill-conceived, and as likely to fail as they would be to succeed. The Ft. Hood spree shooting is the only terrorist attack in the last decade to kill more than 2 people in the US.

The list of terrorist incidents in the US is primarily a list of foiled plots and unsuccessful attempts, peppered with the occasional molotov cocktail or lone nutcase who manages to kill themselves. In contrast, the list of Second Intifada attacks in Israel consists of dozens of bombings, most with double-digit casualties. I'd suggest the lack of successful attacks on Israeli aviation is a strong statement about their security, but the similar lack of attacks on US aviation corresponds to a general lack of successful terrorist activity in the country in general.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:31 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


So why have terrorists made so few--and such lame--attempts to attack planes since 9/11?

Because attacking planes no-longer works. It only ever worked back in the days when passengers believed that compliance with hijackers would save their lives. Now they believe that ripping a hijacker limb from limb is the only way to save their lives, and hijackers have no comeback for that.

Terrorists know that hijackings simply no-longer work - with or without security - and thus hijackings have mostly fallen out of fashion.

(This is also why so many planes were targeted on 9/11 - it was a one-shot trick that would never work again, so they tried to use it simultaneously in as many different places as possible)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:41 PM on December 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


So why have terrorists made so few--and such lame--attempts to attack planes since 9/11?

famous quote: something to do with, we're always prepping to fight the last war.
posted by philip-random at 3:55 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


700 million passengers/ year, 1 minute wasted/ passenger = TSA killing 1300 people/ year.

Congrats TSA! You have killed 13000 people. Terrorists won.
posted by zeikka at 4:01 PM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've mentioned bringing my bear-spray/mace through airport security before - but as of today, my mace has now successfully been in my carry-on luggage through 10 flights without being detected by the bag scanners.

Oh, and on a flight I took last weekend... I was in line to go through the full body scanner and was waiting for an agent to see me so I could tell her I was prepared to opt for the pat down instead. No one was really looking, so I just went over to the other line where the regular metal detector was and walked through that instead. Then I walked back over to my line and retrieved my baggage (with bear-spray inside, of course) as it came through the bag-scanner and down the conveyer belt. No one noticed a thing.

So pointless...
posted by Kloryne at 4:09 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish there were an article that gave suggestions on what should be done.

My security model involves confiscating the bank accounts of all Bush voters, reimbursing American taxpayers, and putting homeland defense contractors in jail for a ten-year campaign of treasonous embezzlement that has done nothing but contribute to emptying the country's coffers and eliminating basic Constitutional rights. For starters.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:36 PM on December 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


A patriot has to dream, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:39 PM on December 23, 2011


I travelled Canada->USA a few weeks ago. I didn't get scanned, or groped, or even wanded. Customs was friendly and nice. There were no Scary Warnings being broadcast continuously on the PA systems. Except for having to remove my shoes (disgusting practice!), it was pretty much a perfectly delightful experience. Much better than five or so years ago.
posted by davidpriest.ca at 4:42 PM on December 23, 2011


Recent thread around homunculus' link.
Btw, the tags around TSA hold all manor of goodies.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:44 PM on December 23, 2011


> So why have terrorists made so few--and such lame--attempts to attack planes since 9/11? It seems to me that that question needs a plausible answer before we can definitively say that the new security measures introduced after that attack were useless.

Looking at the history of airplane hijackings doesn't seem to show much change before and after.

"You can't prove it didn't work!" is not a valid argument, particularly when we're talking a trillion dollars, money that could have been used for all sorts of things that you could prove worked.

And as for the argument above that you can't ever stop doing this because it might upset people - madness! You made a mistake, and thus you're committed to it for the rest of time?

And in fact had Mr. Obama been the man he represented himself to be, we had the perfect opportunity when he was elected. If he had come in and a few months later said, "We investigated the TSA and we've discovered that they're basically wasting your money entirely, so we're replacing it with a much cheaper and more effective program. They were pissing your money away doing showy things - you're going to see a lot less of us but we're going to be doing things that are much more effective with your money," who would have argued with that? Only a few crazed Republicans who as we know would argue with anything Mr. Obama said.

The biggest loophole in the system is the fact that airport personnel are poorly checked at all phases; the second biggest is the boarding passes issue; either of these could be fixed for 1% of the money we've spent on this; neither gets fixed.

And frankly, the big guy terrorists aren't going to do another plane heist - for all the reasons listed above, but more, they always want the biggest score.

The next real terrorist event will have to be larger - I imagine they'll do something like put it in a shipping container as everyone has been warning for a decade now, but that the government is barely checking.

This is why we need leaders who actually lead the populace and shape their opinion and can explain to people why the money is better spent on different things to make them safe.

Remember, it's not that we have lots of trillion-dollar bills to throw around. A trillion dollars ostentatiously spent on bogus security has two bad effects; it spends money we could use elsewhere, and it points prospective terrorists to those areas which aren't getting the obvious attention - like shipping containers...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:00 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: ""You can't prove it didn't work!" is not a valid argument, particularly when we're talking a trillion dollars, money that could have been used for all sorts of things that you could prove worked."

But that's an inherent problem with effective security - you can never really prove it worked, because the definition of success is a scenario where NOTHING HAPPENS.
posted by falameufilho at 5:10 PM on December 23, 2011


We should just get rid of US/Canada border crossing stations, like in the EU.
posted by delmoi at 5:17 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't the definition of success consist of actually demonstrably preventing terrorism? I mean, by that metric, I am successfully preventing the Earth from flying out of its orbit because it hasn't happened so far.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:17 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


By "demonstrably prevent" I mean, e.g. actually finding someone via screening who is equipped and prepared to carry out terrorism before they are able to attempt the attack.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:20 PM on December 23, 2011


By "demonstrably prevent" I mean, e.g. actually finding someone via screening who is equipped and prepared to carry out terrorism before they are able to attempt the attack.

Many, perhaps most of the instances of this look suspiciously like innocent people getting framed with mostly-bullshit charges by incompetent agencies so they have a "success" to point to when it comes time to justify the budget.

Requiring evidence of success in exchange for shitloads of money produces scary collateral damage. :-(
posted by -harlequin- at 5:25 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


So 3 hours after the first plane took off on September 11th, passengers on Flight 77 had learned and began to implement 1/3 of all the only effective security measures to be enacted after 9/11.

Yes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:30 PM on December 23, 2011


I don't think that there would be any question about the person being railroaded with bogus charges if they were actually found to have a shoe full of C4 or whatever. I mention this because I am unaware of any instances of a legitimate attack being prevented by the TSA with their airport security apparatus. Maybe I just don't know about these and the TSA has saved dozens of flights, but I kind of doubt they'd keep that a secret.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:34 PM on December 23, 2011


I want you to imagine a world where the police suddenly stood up and said, "I think we're done here. Good enough. The threats aren't that bad. You're safe enough. Enjoy your flight."

I think I see where you're confused. You're under the impression that the TSA employees are police officers. This is emphatically not the case.
posted by odinsdream at 5:42 PM on December 23, 2011


Investments in additional complexity return smaller and smaller returns as a society becomes more complex.
posted by General Tonic at 5:46 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


> But that's an inherent problem with effective security - you can never really prove it worked, because the definition of success is a scenario where NOTHING HAPPENS.

Nothing did NOT happen. There were all sorts of terrorist attacks after 9/11. In particular, I posted a link comparing the airplane hijacking rates before and after 9/11, but on almost any terrorism front, there's no evidence that that trillion dollars made anyone any safer after 9/11 or saved even one life.

In particular, that trillion dollars, that million million dollars, would easily have saved a million lives, spent in almost any humanitarian way you care to think of - feeding hungry children, pre-natal care, immunizations, building water treatment plants.

Consider that the US in its entire two hundred year history has had less than 10,000 casualties due to terrorism even under the most liberal definition of the word...

Again, you can't give us NOTHING for our trillion - and I mean a grown-up meaning of the word nothing, as in "NO CHANGE". We spent a trillion dollars and there was no change.

If you're in favor of spending a trillion more in the next decade, you really need to prove that we got our money's worth from that first trillion.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:46 PM on December 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


> If you remove all the police in my town, I'm going to ask you why, and how you think I'm better off.

No one's proposing removing police and of course you aren't being ingenuous by making that comparison. But suppose you were....

The comparison is closer to this. Imagine you had a small town with police officers who do a good job. One day there is a mass murder and the state installs a separate "security" department that you must pay for at great expense.

After ten years, you note that your crime rate is the same as it was before, that this new "security" department doesn't seem to ever make any arrests or prevent any crimes, and worse, that they tend to harass law-abiding citizens who are simply minding their business. You look into their finances and they're spending huge sums of money on expensive technology, technology sold by a company that their chief has a major financial interest in - but you can't even discuss these possibilities because a lot of people would get scared at the very thought - even while you're shutting the schools because you're out of money.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:08 PM on December 23, 2011 [20 favorites]


The saddest part is that the American public, by and large, knows how pointless DHS and TSA are.

But we are paralyzed because politicians on both sides of the aisle--who also mostly know better--won't stick their necks out for fear of being labeled soft on terror. The ruling class assumes we are too stupid to get it right, and the feeling is mutual. The issue is seen as a third rail (fifth? ninth?) of American politics and so we just shrug and move on.
posted by General Tonic at 6:41 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is incredibly frustrating for me.

One of the biggest problems with directing all efforts, equipment, money and training to preventing "terrorism" has been, and still is, that it diverts attention from more common and pressing security issues. This doesn't just apply to airline security, and I cannot tell you how infuriating it is in any security situation to have to deal with people who fantasize and slaver over being the Next Big Swingin' Badass Hero while ignoring the mundane things that actually go wrong all the time, and the boring practical things that would really make us safer.

Imagine if, for instance, the money, even a fraction of the money, had gone into actually making sure the planes themselves were in top mechanical condition at all times. Imagine if it went into innovations and regulations that made flight itself safer. Not just the machines - improve wages and working conditions for the pilots, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers.

How about improving wages and training for security personnel? All of your equipment is useless if your staff is overworked, underpaid, under or incorrectly trained, and some of that I would lay directly at the feet of TSA culture. Every time I read an airport horror story, I grind my teeth and imagine how the situation would have gone differently and better if the agents were thorougly trained in de-escalation, instead of ramped up on rhetoric. But "communication skills," knowing how to read people, watch them and talk to them, doesn't sound like a BADASS thing, it sounds like a boring thing. It doesn't sound TOUGH! We can't use that in our campaign ads!

Security is not about badassery or toughness or treating everyone like a criminal. Those things are not making us safer and by obfuscating real risk are making us less safe and less free.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:48 PM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


"Homeland Security" is the mother of all clusterfucks.

Regarding Uncle Sam and the government, if it involves common sense, it ain't happening.

Regarding the TSA, somebody had to hire those dumbfucks to get them off the streets.

A bit more seriously, for every thousand people hired under the umbrella of Homeland Security there is maybe one disenfranchised kook living in a hovel somewhere abroad who would like to harm the U.S.

THAT is the big problem I have with homeland security. Not that it has a great financial cost, but that there is not enough "enemy" to go around. Therefore WE are the enemy.

It could be drugs, traffic violations or simply being brown. Since the U.S. ISN'T full of terrorists, those tens of thousands employed under homeland security have to fuck with SOMEBODY.

The U.S. governments responses to 9/11 were all totally irrational and unintelligent. They were all driven by the most base human instincts of fear and revenge. As a nation I thought we were better than that.
posted by snsranch at 8:12 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because attacking planes no-longer works. It only ever worked back in the days when passengers believed that compliance with hijackers would save their lives. Now they believe that ripping a hijacker limb from limb is the only way to save their lives, and hijackers have no comeback for that.

I'm interested that almost every answer to my post assumes both that I was talking about 9/11 type attacks (despite the fact that I explicitly referred to placing a bomb onan aircraft) AND managed to sneer at me for "fighting the last war"--which I wasn't, but which everyone talking about 'hijacking' is. It is absurdly obvious that a 9/11 type attack can't happen again. It couldn't even happen before the day had ended on 9/11. TSA security is largely aimed at preventing suicide bombers from attempting to bring down a plane.

Now, it may be that no one wants to do that and no one is trying to do that other than wackos like Richard Reid and the underpant bomber. Or it may be that serious terrorists have been dissuaded from making attempts by the increased security leaving only the loonies to try it. Again, arguments for the former position in this thread amount to nothing more than bare assertion.
posted by yoink at 9:40 PM on December 23, 2011


You're right. It's not rape. It's sexual battery, by legal definition.

No, it isn't, and that is also a stupid trivialization of sexual battery.
posted by yoink at 9:42 PM on December 23, 2011


I'm rather vehemently pro-privacy here, but actually nudity doesn't bother me, not even slightly. I wouldn't care if people went through ordinary metal detectors nude, for example, well assuming you're boarding a plane in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or anyplace that terrorists might actually exist.

I object to stupidly expanding our police state, including irradiating people, merely to enrich a revolving door lobbyist and his cronies. I happily insist upon the pat-down every time I fly.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:21 PM on December 23, 2011


Oh and a p.s.: any attempt to compare the minor inconvenience of a pat-down search to rape is an absurd and offensive trivialization of rape.

According to Alkon, it wasn't a minor inconvenience:

"Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked -- utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault."
posted by homunculus at 10:50 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: obscure homebrew explosives hidden in their ass.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:40 PM on December 23, 2011


> Now, it may be that no one wants to do that and no one is trying to do that other than wackos like Richard Reid and the underpant bomber. Or it may be that serious terrorists have been dissuaded from making attempts by the increased security leaving only the loonies to try it. Again, arguments for the former position in this thread amount to nothing more than bare assertion.

Your argument completely ignores the actual data we have.

We had fifty years of airplane travel before Homeland Security. What was dissuading the suicide bombers before that? In fact, the only successful airplane suicide bombers I could find were after 9/11 (though admittedly in Russia).

Terrorism was not a problem for the US before 9/11 and it wasn't a problem for the US afterward. You're much more likely to die of drowning, bee stings or simply slipping and falling in the shower. In the course of your lifetime, you are hundreds of thousands times more likely to die of cancer than being killed by a terrorist.

We had a security system before 2001 - it failed simply because people at all levels in that system were not doing their jobs - in many cases because they were spending most of their energy on inter- and intra-office politics. The 9/11 Commission Report detailed a lot of this - at least till they ran out of money, strange that we had only $35 million to investigate 9/11, but $70 million for the Challenger and $140 million for Monica Lewinsky.

But instead of firing the incompetents responsible, they all got promoted, and then we proceeded to give the very same gang of idiots a trillion dollars, that's thirty thousand times as much money as we spent investigating the crime, to do with as they pleased, with no oversight, no apparently planning or measurable targets to hit.

There were very few (if any) suicide bombers on airplanes before 9/11. Major terrorist attacks were and are extremely rare, but haven't become particularly rarer since 9/11. This is all strong evidence that all that money spent on "security" was completely ineffectual.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:45 PM on December 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


When a system that seems not to be "working" is continued year after year at high cost, it's sometimes instructive to turn the question around and assume that the system is in fact working, then ask how and why. Is it working in helping someone getting elected, avoiding criticism or selling equipment? Does it benefit the illuminati? What about lizard people?

If we make the jump for the US bathed in light to China shrouded in darkness, it's not hard to discover that making (more often than not) Nuctech security equipment available in every subway, bus and train station has more to do with securing contracts for the highly connected company than it has to do with passenger security.
posted by klue at 4:55 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


These are some of the many reasons I've been boycotting air travel for years.
posted by freakazoid at 5:14 AM on December 24, 2011


The insanity continues, everywhere. I was out shooting standard photos of a community on Long Island and happened to be on the sidewalk between a fire department and a hospital when the fire department got a call. So I shot a few pics, under the suspicious gaze of some hospital workers who were outside, smoking. Then I walked into the hospital's parking lot, to shoot a few pictures of the hospital with its large logo plastered on the side of the building, for future hospital-related stories. There, I'm guessing goaded by the suspicious workers, a 12-year-old (looking) guard ran out and ordered me to come into the building and to stop taking pictures. When I declined, after identifying myself, she insisted I couldn't take photos of the building because it was a private building (never mind the fact that it receives federal and state funds, I guess.) Anyway, I slowly wandered off the lot to make sure that wasn't going to be the issue but she followed me to my car until I got in and drove away.
Things are just nuts in this country.
posted by etaoin at 7:38 AM on December 24, 2011


Terrorism was not a problem for the US before 9/11 and it wasn't a problem for the US afterward.

That is simply false. Here's a history of bombings on airlines up to about 2003. American airlines are well represented. They were, in fact, remarkably common before security measures began to be seriously tightened in the 1990s. They have become extraordinarily rare since then--despite the vastly increased total number of flights worldwide. Either this means you believe that people have all just lost interest in attempting to bomb planes (which seems unlikely) or we must accept that security has dissuaded many people from trying.

"Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked -- utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault."

It is obviously possible for someone performing a pat down to sexually assault you. Just as it is possible for a dentist to sexually assault you while performing their job. This does not mean that being frisked is the same as sexual assault or that dentistry is the same as sexual assault.

Seriously--I've been frisked plenty of times both before and after 9/11. If anyone ever hears me telling some victim of sexual assault that "I know just what that's like--I got frisked a few times" I give them leave to punch me in the face.
posted by yoink at 8:11 AM on December 24, 2011


But seriously, our techniques are complete bullshit. They're the DRM of the real world: they annoy the people who have had no intention to Do Bad, and are circumvented so easily by the people who have this intention that it's comical.

These techniques are ridiculously bad for stopping terrorism, but they would be very good indeed at getting a population accustomed to going through checkpoints, and would be highly effective at stopping domestic dissent of any type.

How long until OWS organizers, or those of similar groups, are on the No Fly list?
posted by Malor at 8:36 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a history of bombings on airlines up to about 2003.

Of the 87 flights detailed in that link, less than half were related terrorism. Only twelve of those were on American soil. Only eight of them occurred in flight. Only one of those brought down the plane (CO11 in 1962) -- and it was an insurance scheme, unrelated to terrorism.

To restate: In nearly 80 years of commercial aviation, during which billions of people have traveled billions of miles, there has been one bomb that actually brought down a plane in the United States.

The chances of dying in a terror attack are infinitesimal in the US -- unmeasurable when you hold it up against even preventable causes of death.

And listen, if you're comfortable having a federal agent touch your genitals and view nearly-nude images of you and your family in order that you may access an intra-national common carrier, that's fine by me. Do your thing! Everyone's personal physical boundaries are different.

But do you expect the sexual assault victim in your example above to submit to a thorough body search that involves genital touching? In order to board an airplane?

Explain to me the ethics of that scenario, given the risk/ reward involved.
posted by milquetoast at 9:02 AM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


> They were, in fact, remarkably common before security measures began to be seriously tightened in the 1990s.

First, by "remarkably common" you actually mean that you had a much greater chance of being hit by lightning than being killed by a terrorist bombing your plane.

Second, we are not actually talking about whether the extra security in the 90s was worthwhile, because the answer there is yes. We're talking about whether the extra trillion dollars we've spent since the 90s has made us safer, and there the answer is NO.

In fact, the 90s is a pretty good example of "money well spent on security" - because they managed to get significantly better results on security without either a) spending a huge amount of money or b) harassing the innocent.

Now, imagine if the people running our government agencies had actually been interested in saving us from terrorism, instead of, as the 9/11 commission report showed, ignoring their true responsibilities in favor of inter- and intraoffice politics. Heck, we might have avoided 9/11!

Unfortunately, by rewarding and promoting the incompetents who allowed this attack to happen, and worse, giving them a trillion dollars with no oversight and no transparency, we've encouraged this terrible performance.

It's remarkably easy to predict what's going to happen over the next ten or twenty years, in fact (assuming that the US doesn't collapse first...)

1. There will be another major terrorist action.

2. It will be in some obvious area which Homeland Security has completely ignored.

3. Despite the fact that every writer from Bruce Schneier to lupus_yonderboy will have pointed out this major hole, the government will say, "We could never have anticipated this."

4. Not one senior manager will lose their job.

5. Instead, the US government will shovel even more money at them with even less oversight.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:28 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoopo: A fair few of the measures implemented after September 11 are ostensibly about preventing people from smuggling weapons on board, like the 9/11 terrorists' boxcutters or the shoe bomber's explosives etc. Even with the cockpit doors closed, an armed terrorist can take hostages and do a good deal of damage, even if he can't smash a plane into a building.

Think about it. This is where the "theater" kicks in:

* I can't take a boxcutter on a plane, but I can just as easily cut your throat with a broken-in-half DVD.
* I can't take a shoe bomb, but making a small incendiary device out of a laptop is easy.
* I can't take a gun, but I can take everything I need to make a great zipgun.
* I can fill my carry-on shampoo bottles with kerosene, light a book of matches, and throw the whole concoction at people, possibly burning a few alive and certainly causing serious damage.

You think that we've kept weapons off of planes, and that has kept people from getting hurt. Yet a plane is full of weapons for anyone with a little imagination.

This is why the long lines at security are a farce. Even IF they found every banned item (and no one argues that do), only a stupid person couldn't make something equally deadly on the plane.

There is exactly 1 thing that keeps us safe in the air: Our knowledge that acquiescence will lead to death. This is all that was lacking to prevent 9/11.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:01 AM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


All this militarization of the police has just created the mechanism to crack down ever harder on open political dissent.
posted by wuwei at 11:01 AM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's also turning them into Cobra
posted by the_artificer at 12:12 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]




Beware the cupcake of DOOOM
posted by dejah420 at 8:48 PM on December 25, 2011


I'm pretty sure that people who would like to blow up passenger airplanes aren't specifically doing it because of a loathing of civil aviation; if the added security measures makes airplanes harder to blow up, then some of them would presumably switch to other attacks that are also lethal and sensational.

Like, for instance, blowing up the huge crowd of people gathered at the security gates. That was one of my first thoughts flying post-9/11. Terrorists gonna terror.
posted by Rykey at 1:15 PM on December 26, 2011


-yoink-
>So why have terrorists made so few--and such lame--attempts to attack planes since 9/11?<

There aren't any terrorists. OK, there's a few guys who would like to cause harm, there always have been, but they're really, really bad at it. In 10 years no malls have been blown up. No football games. No bridges, or overpasses. There a hundreds of ways to cause panic and death and none of them have happened or even been attempted much.
posted by bongo_x at 3:08 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Homer: Not a terrorist in sight. The TSA 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 terrorists 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 terrorists around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:03 AM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad.

Specious reasoning.
posted by sweetkid at 1:06 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't blame me, I just copied it from snpp.com.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:57 PM on December 27, 2011


The last straw
posted by homunculus at 7:50 PM on December 27, 2011


James Fallows: Your Boxing Day TSA Report
posted by homunculus at 5:49 PM on December 29, 2011








The TSA Proves its Own Irrelevance
posted by homunculus at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2012


TSA defends cupcake confiscation
posted by homunculus at 9:43 AM on January 11, 2012




« Older BBC surround sound experiment   |   U. S. Historic Places Photostream Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post