Join 3,495 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Carried to its logical end, TSA policy would have to require passengers to travel naked or handcuffed."
February 29, 2012 9:07 AM   Subscribe

"The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ... have made air travel the most difficult means of mass transit in the United States, at the same time failing to make air travel any more secure." Steve Moore has been an FBI Special Agent, head of the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force's Al Qaeda and extra-territorial squads, a SWAT agent trained to interdict airplane hijackings, and a pilot. His father literally wrote the book on airline security. And he has come to the conclusion that "TSA is one of the worst-run, ineffective and most unnecessarily intrusive agencies in the United States government."

(via Bruce Schneier, naturally)
posted by Zozo (170 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Carried to its logical end, TSA policy would have to require passengers to travel naked or handcuffed.

Make it both, and then it's a real party.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [23 favorites]


on the other hand, there is this...Airport Security culture in Brasil and China
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


But on the plus side, I can now whip off my belt, yank my laptop out, and toss my shoes and ziploc baggie of travel toiletries up in the trays and be ready for the nudie pic chamner in a seamless ninja move. Condition me, masters!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:16 AM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


The TSA is run by secret environmentalist.
posted by papercrane at 9:18 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure this is a surprise to anyone who pays even a little bit of attention.

Unfortunately, with family scattered about the country and overseas, dealing with the TSA becomes an annoyance you have to put up with, at least until the rest of the population realizes it's a waste of time and money.

I don't think, however, we're ever going to get back to the days when you could meet your party at the gate when they came off the plane.
posted by madajb at 9:19 AM on February 29, 2012


Honestly I just want to leave my shoes on. I don't really mind any of the other baloney.

PS: you don't really need to take your liquids out of your bag anymore. I'm not sure why that is, but I haven't done so in about 3 years.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:19 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Make it both, and then it's a real party.

If I had known it was gonna be that kind of flight...
posted by jquinby at 9:20 AM on February 29, 2012


I might just not talking to the right people, but it seems like everyone already knows this and we're all just staring at TSA asking why do we even have that lever?
posted by Wolfdog at 9:20 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is my surprised face.
posted by Aquaman at 9:20 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The purpose of the TSA's post-9/11 security is not to make air travel safer. The purpose is to make air travellers *feel* safer so they'll continue to fly.
This is less about preventing terrorist attacks and more about preventing the economic turmoil that would result from too many people being afraid to fly.
posted by rocket88 at 9:21 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


The TSA is an over-bloated leftover from the Bush administration that pisses away billions and does nothing. Film at 11.

We all know it's a joke and a ridiculous violation of civil liberties. I'm just curious of when their budget will get slashed, because it's well overdue.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:21 AM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Right now I think the Obama administration is in a tough spot with the idiotic TSA. If it stays the way it is the the Drudge Report asshole posts his "Big Sis" headlines and if they cut back on the TSA the headlines will scream about our safety. We are stuck with it.
posted by zzazazz at 9:25 AM on February 29, 2012


Having recently been detained by TSA for three hours in Detroit because of a kind act and a pin on my coat, I cheer for anyone who points out how insane the agency and its agents are, regardless of whether or not we all know how insane it is.
posted by broadway bill at 9:28 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


> The purpose of the TSA's post-9/11 security is not to make air travel safer.

Yeah, there hasn't been one airport in the US that I've been to that didn't have plenty of areas where it would be easy for terrorists to stop on publicly accessible roads and fire off a few shoulder-launched missiles at nearby airliners. And, unless hijackers specifically target a plane full of paraplegics, there's very little chance of passengers letting another hijacking happen. That all goes without saying, of course. But, hey, good thing they swiped grandma for explosives.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:28 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


rocket88, if that were true, wouldn't people in every other country stop flying, or faint from fear before boarding? Both the underwear and shoe bombers were flying from Europe to the US, not on domestic flights.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:30 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the last two years, for six flights, I've probably spent ~5 hours waiting in TSA lines. I've been subjected to the porno scanner, to patdowns, and my son's hands have been swabbed w/some kind of chemical trace detector. Despite this, I've also inadvertently made it through screening twice with 4" serrated edge knife that I stupidly forgot to take out of my backpack before leaving home. So, yeah - not very effective.

But it's also hugely profitable, and the theater is an effective means of social / political control - none of it is going away anytime soon.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:30 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


But, hey, good thing they swiped grandma for explosives.
Not just explosives, I saw one checkpoint confiscate an octogenarians knitting needles. They even made her pull them out of the project she was working on. Later in the terminal a 20 something year old lady handed her a pair of wooden ones with the advice that they don't show up well on the x-ray machine.
I admit that I was terrified that the elderly woman was going to take over the aircraft, I mean she was armed now....
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 9:33 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


air travel the most difficult means of mass transit in the United States

That's why I took the train to DC last year. More fun, more relaxing, more environmental and less of a hassle. With a bonus of increasing ridership and thus (marginally) increasing demand so they build more and lower the price.
posted by DU at 9:34 AM on February 29, 2012


"The purpose is to make air travellers *feel* safer so they'll continue to fly."

That might once have been the purpose. But their objective seems solipsistic now. Just adding process 'cause that's how they do.
posted by diorist at 9:35 AM on February 29, 2012


How many jobs would be lost if Obama cut, curtailed or eliminated the TSA budget? yeah. not going to happen.
posted by spicynuts at 9:35 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh and the train is arguably faster, depending on what times you count. If you have to arrive two hours early for a two hour flight, is a 5 hour train ride really that much slower?
posted by DU at 9:36 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey, at least it's just airports.

Oh wait.
posted by mullingitover at 9:36 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the funny thing is so many people still imagine a single-payer health system run by the government would be a model of efficiency.
posted by three blind mice at 9:36 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


How many jobs would be lost if Obama cut, curtailed or eliminated the TSA budget? yeah. not going to happen.

Turn all TSA agents into nurses. We'd eliminate the annoyance, increase health and they already know how to probe asses.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on February 29, 2012 [15 favorites]


How many jobs would be lost if Obama cut, curtailed or eliminated the TSA budget? yeah. not going to happen.

The TSA employs almost 60,000 people directly. No telling about vendors, consultants, etc.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:37 AM on February 29, 2012


How many jobs would be lost if Obama cut, curtailed or eliminated the TSA budget?

How many jobs would be created if Obama instituted martial law?
posted by Zozo at 9:37 AM on February 29, 2012 [30 favorites]


"TSA is one of the worst-run, ineffective and most unnecessarily intrusive agencies in the United States government."

Well, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:38 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


And the funny thing is so many people still imagine a single-payer health system run by the government would be a model of efficiency.

You've seen the current health system, right?
posted by DU at 9:39 AM on February 29, 2012 [18 favorites]


Totally missing my point. I would gladly dump the TSA. Politically, in an election year in a shit economy, nobody is going to dump 60k direct jobs plus all the attendant vendors, consultants, suppliers, etc.
posted by spicynuts at 9:40 AM on February 29, 2012


Forgive me if this ruins the thread, but complaining about the intrusive and ineffective TSA is nothing new.

How many of us have better ideas to accomplish the same goals in a cheaper, more effective, and more efficient manner? I'll be the first to admit that I don't...
posted by dfm500 at 9:41 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the funny thing is so many people still imagine a single-payer health system run by the government would be a model of efficiency.

I still challenge anyone to find a better EHR system proven to work at the required scales than the VA's VistA system. We could fix everything wrong with our healthcare system by just insisting everyone use it. The savings in electronic prescribing alone would pay for it a few times over, given that it's already deployed in widespread use, and the costs are that of just setting up and running a couple or three server farms and providing training.
posted by mikelieman at 9:42 AM on February 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


spicynuts, if economic stimulus is the only good reason for the TSA to exist, simply pay them all to sit at home and watch TV.
posted by kuatto at 9:43 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]



How many of us have better ideas to accomplish the same goals in a cheaper, more effective, and more efficient manner? I'll be the first to admit that I don't...


Walking through a magnetometer and passing your carry-ons through an x-ray machine. We already have the needed equipment, and nothing the TSA does has ever been proven to be any more effective.
posted by mikelieman at 9:43 AM on February 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


Every year is an election year.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:44 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having recently been detained by TSA for three hours in Detroit because of a kind act and a pin on my coat, I cheer for anyone who points out how insane the agency and its agents are, regardless of whether or not we all know how insane it is.

What was the pin? I'm flying tomorrow morning for the first time in seven years and now I'm wondering if I should de-pin my jacket.
posted by enn at 9:44 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]



spicynuts, if economic stimulus is the only good reason for the TSA to exist, simply pay them all to sit at home and watch TV.


Am I completely unable to communicate properly on this? I'm talking about the POLITICS. Y'all are using reason. Reason has zero to do with politics. What do you think would happen if Obama had a press conference and said 'Today we abolished the TSA'?
posted by spicynuts at 9:45 AM on February 29, 2012


What do you think would happen if Obama had a press conference and said 'Today we abolished the TSA'?

Well, I think the first thing would be an Amendment to remove that pesky two-term limit...
posted by mikelieman at 9:46 AM on February 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


And the funny thing is so many people still imagine a single-payer health system run by the government would be a model of efficiency.

Your analogy can be demonstratively proven to have jumped the shark.

Medicare's administrative costs are significantly lower than private insurance. Besides, when was the last time you saw a Canadian or British senior citizen keeling over from a lack of care?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:47 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I had an AskMe about this a few years ago, and I thought a particularly apt metaphor was that of a boiled frog.

If suddenly we went from (a) "walk right to the gate" to (b) "stand in this snaking line, show your ID here, get into that other snaking line, show your ID there, throw away your water or coffee, put your laptop in one bin, put the contents of your pocket in the other bin along with your shoes, take off your belt and your coat, take off any outer layer of clothing, take out a clear plastic baggie with all of your lotions and gels, put your bags through this x-ray machine, walk through this metal detector, go into this machine that will take a naked picture of you, and if a little light goes off randomly when you come through go into that glass box and wait for a couple of minutes for a special patdown and chemical swipe of your hands, (oh and pack your snowglobe in your checked luggage for god's sake)" I'd think the airline industry would have been doomed to failure at that moment. But we've just become accustomed to this One More Small Hassle that we do it.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:47 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


And the funny thing is so many people still imagine a single-payer health system run by the government would be a model of efficiency.

Single payer means the Government pays the bils, not that it runs the health care system. (That would be a national health system, a-la the UK.) Medicaid and Medicare are much more efficient at paying bills with lower administrative costs than are private insurers. Also, the TSA is quite efficient - they just have a very stupid mandate. They carry it out quite well.

My hope is that after Obama is (please God) reelected, he can finally ditch some stuff like the TSA, Gitmo, etc that he could never do prior to it.
posted by jetsetsc at 9:48 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


politics? I completely agree. That is the core of the real dysfunction. In any event, I still think the TSA workers would be more useful staying home, watching TV and eating corn chips.
posted by kuatto at 9:48 AM on February 29, 2012


In the absence of perverse political incentives, the right fix for the TSA is to return to pre-2001 screening procedures (i.e., kill it). If you feel bad about how this might enable another once-per-decade-or-longer death of a few thousand people, fix something you can fix like an estimated 13,200 deaths per year due to coal pollution.
posted by jepler at 9:49 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


The purpose of the TSA's post-9/11 security is not to make air travel safer. The purpose is to make air travellers *feel* safer so they'll continue to fly.

I think that's an overly charitable interpretation. From my experiences of being yelled at "Get your wallets OUT of your POCKETS!!", ever changing and more ludicrous procedures, invasive scans and gropes -- I think the purpose is to keep people cowed and remind them that they have no rights in their papers or persons.
posted by bitmage at 9:49 AM on February 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Weird that GWB created the largest make-work program in recent memory. Who says the government can't create jobs?
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:49 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


We all know it's a joke and a ridiculous violation of civil liberties. I'm just curious of when their budget will get slashed, because it's well overdue.

"My opponent is soft on terrorism!"

I.E. never
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:51 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Yo! Don't let any hijackers take control of the plane you're on! The last line of defense is YOU, THE PASSENGER. Slap those terrorist bitches around, and put their asses back in their seat until the Po-Po can take them away...
posted by mikelieman at 9:52 AM on February 29, 2012


The craziest thing to me, the one truly outstanding element in a sea of jaw-dropping excess and inestimable venality, is how easily the whole apparatus was installed. Overnight we became a nation which, in order to travel within our own borders on a common carrier, had to literally spread our legs and put our hands over our head. Overnight we became the kind of nation that allows federal clerks to inspect our bodies at internal checkpoints. And not so much as a whisper, at the critical time of inception, from the drown-the-government crowd.

So we get a federal make-work program whose only mission is to sustain itself. Moore and Schneier and everyone and their patted-down grandma are right about the whole thing, of course, but when has being right led to measured policy? Political inertia will keep this bureaucratic cyst well-fed for years to come.

Having recently been detained by TSA for three hours in Detroit...

The TSA is not law enforcement and has no powers of detainment. The most they can do is go crying to an LEO who may or may not be sympathetic depending on one's demeanor. (Not saying anything about your particular situation here, I mean, who knows what the goons were up to -- just saying that you are free to leave the checkpoint at any time unless instructed otherwise by an actual LEO.)

How many of us have better ideas to accomplish the same goals in a cheaper, more effective, and more efficient manner?

If the goal is stopping airline terrorism, which is statistically not a real threat in the US, then my cheaper solution is to defund the TSA, put half of the cash into a rocket, and fire it into the sun. There! Half the cost and just as effective.

If the goal is to create a bloated bureaucracy that enriches well-connected millionaires, well, you might have me there.
posted by milquetoast at 9:52 AM on February 29, 2012 [30 favorites]


My hope is that after Obama is (please God) reelected, he can finally ditch some stuff like the TSA, Gitmo, etc that he could never do prior to it.

So now it's 11 dimensional chess *with time travel*.
posted by DU at 9:53 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


How many of us have better ideas to accomplish the same goals in a cheaper, more effective, and more efficient manner?

Former Special Agent Moore does. RTFA.
posted by Zozo at 9:54 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


So now it's 11 dimensional chess *with time travel*.

The time travel was *always* in there. But it's folded up small between the 4th and Purple dimensions...
posted by mikelieman at 9:54 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


What do you think would happen if Obama had a press conference and said 'Today we abolished the TSA'?

More flying, more flights, and (certainly) dancing in the aisles.
posted by diorist at 9:55 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


> The TSA is not law enforcement and has no powers of detainment. The most they can do is go crying to an LEO who may or may not be sympathetic depending on one's demeanor.

They can't detain you in an absolute sense. I mean, you're free to walk back out of the checkpoint and go home. But they can prevent you from going to the terminals and boarding your flight. So, in that sense they do detain people who are eager to get on a plane.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:58 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The savings in electronic prescribing alone would pay for it a few times over, given that it's already deployed in widespread use, and the costs are that of just setting up and running a couple or three server farms and providing training.

VistA is an excellent EHR system, but believe me, the costs of deploying an EHR, even one that's well-designed and in widespread use, are huge, especially in the US healthcare system where each hospital operates a little differently - easily tens of millions of dollars per hospital. You basically have to redesign the majority of workflows in the hospital to incorporate the EHR's functionality, customize the system to all of the administrative intricacies of the particular hospital or hospital system, as well as all of the billing and documentation requirements of the hospital's main commercial payors.

The VA has a huge leg up to begin with because they can standardize all of their operational processes across their system nationally, and because they don't normally have to deal with third party payors.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:00 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


You should see the inside of TSA. Even worse.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


and because they don't normally have to deal with third party payors.

That's a feature, not a bug ;)
posted by mikelieman at 10:02 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


All the incentives are to leave things as they are or make them worse. If you abolish the TSA, then when the next (inevitable) incident occurs -- it's your fault. You were soft on terrorism! You let down our guard and left America unprotected!

If you leave things alone and something happens, you did what you could. No fault, just add another (nonsensical) rule. Ban toner cartridges, maybe.
posted by bitmage at 10:02 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand why the Air Marshalls aren't the de-facto standard for air security. Having a proper police officer (yeah yeah, blah blah all police are bad whargarhble) on the flights seems to be the proper way to go about things. That, and have the pilot's cabin inaccessible from the passenger area.

My company share's the same building with the TSA training facility. I rub elbows daily with these security professionals and while some just need a job, others give off the vibe that they got rejected from the police academy for psychological reasons. That or they failed the test where you name the color of the fruit on the page.

A conversation from two newly minted TSA agents went as thus:

TSA1: I don't understand what that person's problem with me was...

TSA2: What did he say?

TSA1: He looked at me and said 'Livin' the dream man!' <--I'm assuming he was in uniform
TSA2: Yeah, I don't get it.

Then they both looked at me slack jawed as I snickered.
posted by The Power Nap at 10:03 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The TSA isn't going anywhere. Airlines make more money per-trip on very occasional fliers - think about your grandma who has been on two airplanes in her whole life - than on more frequent travelers, who are more likely to use points and frequent flyer miles and be savvier about pricing and timing.

Assuaging the fears of those people is the primary mission of the TSA.
posted by downing street memo at 10:03 AM on February 29, 2012



You should see the inside of TSA. Even worse.


If we sent them through the pornoscanner, we could!
posted by Forktine at 10:03 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Now as anyone from Bruce Schneier to Patrick Smith to anyone on this board knows. The TSA checkpoint is about jobs and fat contracts to companies that provide the scanners, many of whom have ex-TSA bureaucrats amongst their board of directors.

All a terrorist has to do to, well sow terror, is to blow self up *at the long line while waiting for security!* That will produce carnage, and well then the TSA will pre-check before going into the terminal which will mean a line OUTSIDE that is a fat target, etc., etc., etc.

Also do they check every piece of luggage for explosives? What about cargo on cargo flights? What about the rampers? That is certainly more important than copping a feel from grandma.
posted by xetere at 10:04 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I got a TSA story! Last year I flew to the US with my wife and 12 month old daughter. We wanted to avoid the scanner since my wife has a family history of cancer. Anyway, so we opted out in Houston and they just made us go through the metal detector, and it was fine. But on the way back, we opted out, and there was no one there to do the frisking, so we were waiting, waiting, for someone, anyone to turn up to do the frisking. Meanwhile, my mother in law who was flying with us, went through without any difficulty (and she was holding the baby at the time). So now the baby is getting frantic, because we're on the other side and nobody wants to deal with us. Meanwhile the TSA guy is making loud intimidating remarks, telling the other passengers that we're crazy for avoiding the scanner, and generally trying to get us to change our minds about this. Finally some frisker dudes turn up and we get checked and only then they allowed us to go get the crying baby. It took at least 30 mins! I used to study in Israel, and I've been through El Al's security grilling a few times, but honestly, I prefer that to the TSA system, which seems to take your reasonable objection to scanners so personally, and so unprofessionally.
posted by dhruva at 10:07 AM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


I just really want someone to wait for a really busy day at an airport when they have nice big lines at the security checkpoint and then set off a paint or glitter bomb or something before a terrorist does it with a real bomb.

The TSA just makes a huge choke point and an excellent target.

Maybe then anyone who wants to fly on a plane will have to have a TSA agent come to their house and help them pack or something.
posted by VTX at 10:07 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is no longer security theater. It is now a security "hell house".
posted by reenum at 10:10 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Needs the "obvious" tag.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:12 AM on February 29, 2012


TSA has never, (and I invite them to prove me wrong), foiled a terrorist plot or stopped an attack on an airliner. Ever. They crow about weapons found and insinuate that this means they stopped terrorism. They claim that they can’t comment due to “national security” implications. In fact, if they had foiled a plot, criminal charges would have to be filed. Ever hear of terrorism charges being filed because of something found during a TSA screening? No, because it’s never happened. Trust me, if TSA had ever foiled a terrorist plot, they would buy full-page ads in every newspaper in the United States to prove their importance and increase their budget.

Wow. What an amazing straw man. The point of the TSA's security measures is to deter terrorist action, not, primarily, to catch it as it happens. If the guy starts off his article with a completely fallacious argument like this it's pretty hard to take him seriously.

Here's a fairly comprehensive history of airline bombing incidents. As you'll see if you scroll down to the bar graphs, airline bombings used to be disturbingly frequent in the 70s through the 80s. After the 80s they declined precipitously. That was when metal detectors and hand-luggage scanners became ubiquitous at airports around the world.

Like everyone else, I doubt the added security measures that have been put in place since 9/11 have made much real difference--although it is impossible to prove one way or the other whether or not they have deterred incidents that would have taken place in their absence. But it's not clear to me that the TSA's added steps have really made all that much difference to the overall experience of air travel. Many of the terrible, terrible indignities people are complaining about with regard to the TSA predated the TSA's formation. They always used to ask you to remove jackets and put them through the hand-luggage x-ray, for example. You were always presumptively subject to a pat-down in the event that the metal detector went off and the hand scanner failed to reveal an obvious innocent reason for it. The shoe thing and the liquid thing are certainly new and tedious, but it's not as if they add more than a minute or two, at most, to the time you spend in line when getting on a plane. The "OMG, they take a nude photo of you!!!" stuff is pure BS based on fake versions of the images those machines produce. The second generation millimeter wave machines don't even produce any kind of image of you--and they'll crowd out the backscatter x-ray machines fairly quickly.

Flying is certainly a horrible experience these days but very little of that, for me, has to do with the security measures--which even in an entirely rational world would take pretty much the same amount of time as they do now (longer if we did what so many people advocate and went for the El Al model, where every flyer gets an interview). And I think we'd be far more likely to see some actual policy changes at the TSA if the people who argued against its measures were a little less inclined to take the shrillest, most absurdly exaggerated positions ("OMG, there's no difference between getting frisked and getting RAPED!!! Won't somebody think of the children???!?").
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Last year, I was chatting with someone in one of my classes - I didn't know her well, we got paired up randomly - and mentioned I was taking the train instead of flying somewhere because of the 'security theater' of the TSA.

She looked really disappointed. "Well, they're doing something important and...and make me feel safer!"

I'd been trying not to be so judgmental anymore but I have my limits.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:15 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm personally fond of the small regional US airports with only a single TSA lane. These are the kind of airports where the same person who takes your luggage reappears at the gate (which you can see from the check-in counter) to collect your boarding pass before popping down to the tarmac to close the cargo door and prepare the crew's paperwork. At some point, I realized that there were more TSA staff on-duty at any given time than the entire airline crew responsible for safely boarding, loading, fueling, de-iceing, towing, taxiing, taking off, flying, and landing a 50,000lb pressurized metal tube capable of hurling through the frickin' air.

What a sense of priorities.
posted by zachlipton at 10:19 AM on February 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


"Make it both, and then it's a real party."

...but we can only bring 3oz of lube each...
posted by TomStampy at 10:22 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sorry in advance for the sophmorism, but the article did raise one new question for me: is that really a thong or just a wedgie? Judges?
posted by yerfatma at 10:23 AM on February 29, 2012


From Moore's profile: I am building an airplane with which I hope to see the country and beyond.

Well, that's good, 'cause I'm not sure he should count on flying in anyone else's planes.
posted by Zed at 10:23 AM on February 29, 2012


I've been through El Al's security grilling a few times, but honestly, I prefer that to the TSA system

With the added advantage of actually working as a tool for counter-terrorism.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:28 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Assuaging the fears of those people is the primary mission of the TSA.

For the casual traveler a certainty of serious inconvenience is more repulsive than a remote chance of death by violence.
posted by diorist at 10:29 AM on February 29, 2012


If you abolish the TSA, then when the next (inevitable) incident occurs -- it's your fault. You were soft on terrorism! You let down our guard and left America unprotected!

That is part of the issue - it will be a political problem that no-one dare touch (as it already is, really). Eventually, some kind of incident will occur with how it is now, and it will be ramped up to even more expensive and stupid levels than it is now. But dropping back to a normal level and only attaining 'reasonable expectations of catching a device' will never happen because the person that does will be (regardless of cause and effect or genuine fault) squarely blamed for the next terrorist act and their career ruined - no matter how much other good they did.

About 3/4 of what the TSA do is a complete waste of time as it demonstrably doesn't catch anything that is an edge case hijack weapon (knives, explosives, guns etc) with any kind of repeatability. Whereas the 1/4 that it does do will catch any kind of decent sized threat (and possibly deter it). But if you ramp it down then it's a hot potato for whomever signed the order.
posted by Brockles at 10:29 AM on February 29, 2012


How many of us have better ideas to accomplish the same goals in a cheaper, more effective, and more efficient manner?

Here's a better idea: shut it all down. All of it. Roll everything back to the way it was before the Al-Qaeda attack. Then institute this comprehensive set of security program-related activities: That's it. That is the one thing that makes any difference. The dirty secret of the TSA is that Al-Qaeda themselves already took care of the airline hijacking problem. Nobody will ever successfully hijack a plane again, because the passengers will kill them. Keep the hijackers from getting into the cockpit and you've solved the flying-bomb problem; make sure the passengers know what happened last time and you've solved the hijacking problem. That's it. Game over.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:31 AM on February 29, 2012 [38 favorites]


This is less about preventing terrorist attacks and more about preventing the economic turmoil that would result from too many people being afraid to fly

I would be very surprised if they've done a cost/benefit analysis and found TSA to be better than pre-TSA.

Especially considering that price and inconevience are probably stronger disincentives, over a decade after the World Trade Center attacks, than fear.
posted by zippy at 10:32 AM on February 29, 2012


But we've just become accustomed to this One More Small Hassle that we do it.

Or we just don't fly anymore. I used to fly down to California to visit my family a few times a year, but now I take fewer, longer trips and drive instead. The TSA bullshit is not the only reason: it's nice not to have to rent a car when I arrive, and it's nice not to have to deal with airport baggage claim procedures and fees; but it is certainly very very nice not to have to deal with intrusive, civil-rights-infringing police-state nonsense in what they used to call "a free country".
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:34 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


How many jobs would be created if Obama instituted martial law?

The WPA Federal Martial Art Project?
posted by zippy at 10:36 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


PS: you don't really need to take your liquids out of your bag anymore. I'm not sure why that is, but I haven't done so in about 3 years.

Not at Dulles on Saturday, around 4 pm. There was a TSA person announcing that everyone should please remember to take out their laptops, toiletries, empty their pockets, etc.

This is part of the problem. The procedures have become so numerous and arcane that changing any one of them will not happen consistently at all airports, and they will not be followed consistently by all personnel, so you inevitably end up with 20 different stories from 10 different people about their experiences going through security.

Once upon a time, you emptied your pockets and walked through a metal detector. That's it. Those are two things that every checkpoint can enforce consistently. Start adding to that, and you get the ineffective, infuriatingly opaque cesspool we have now.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


The lines were not as bad as I've seen them at DTW yesterday, but as a former frequent flier, I was appalled by how much nonsense goes on in the name of terrorism deterrent. Belt, hat, shoes, well, at least I got to keep my underwear on. I went through the bodyscanner. Apprently, like Too Tall Jones, I set off something by lifting my arms, and keeping them within the "zone" didn't give them a good read, so I had to go through an additional pat-down. Twice. They took my wallet to scan that, only no communication with each other sent my wallet down the conveyor with no one knowing where it went or why. When I asked about where my wallet got off to, I was met with both confusion and irritation that I was asking THEM questions.

Christ on a cracker.

I hate to complain (well, ok, I don't really mind complaining) but I have major foot problems and hobbling around barefoot is getting close to hot needles inserted under the skin. I'm not opposed generally to all these 4th amendment intrusions, because I allow that a heavier than air vessel with 250morons fellow air travelers should call for special precautions. Error gets ghastly at 36,000 feet. But ffs, find some way to scan me with my shoes on, jackwipes.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:40 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]



And the funny thing is so many people still imagine a single-payer health system run by the government would be a model of efficiency


Please see the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates that you don't know what you are talking about. Thanks!
posted by jnnla at 10:43 AM on February 29, 2012 [14 favorites]


Or we just don't fly anymore.

Yeah, I didn't move back to Texas to avoid planes, but knowing I could get in a car and be with my mother or my in-laws without all the suspicion and hassle that an emergency plane trip would necessarily involve was a positive factor. I think I've been on a plane twice in the last four years and I'm not entirely sorry about that.
posted by immlass at 10:46 AM on February 29, 2012


I saw one checkpoint confiscate an octogenarians knitting needles. They even made her pull them out of the project she was working on.

They had to make sure she wasn't knitting an afghan.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:46 AM on February 29, 2012 [44 favorites]


My own TSA anecdote. I fly less because of the hassle. I'm not really a draw-a-line-in-the-sand type, but the whole screening process is annoying. Every time, I wonder if I'll drop my laptop while walking with unbelted pants, barefoot. Every time, I wonder if I'll get special attention from a TSA screener.

I live in SF and now I'll drive 6.5 hours to LA instead of fly in half the time.

Pre-TSA I would have flown, no question.
posted by zippy at 10:46 AM on February 29, 2012


Here's a better idea: shut it all down. All of it. Roll everything back to the way it was before the Al-Qaeda attack. Then institute this comprehensive set of security program-related activities:

Require commercial airliners to have sturdy, locking cockpit doors.


You seem to think that the sole purpose of the TSA's security measures is to prevent a repetition of the 9/11 hijackers' strategy. It is not. I doubt anyone thinks that such a strategy would ever be attempted again.
posted by yoink at 10:51 AM on February 29, 2012


There's a guy who's gonna get a thorough probing before his next airplane trip.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:52 AM on February 29, 2012



I live in SF and now I'll drive 6.5 hours to LA instead of fly in half the time.

Pre-TSA I would have flown, no question.


My rule of thumb now is to fly only when the driving time would be more than 12 hours door to door. The extra hassle, indignity, and delays of the security theater make shorter flights rarely worth it; add in one delay and driving becomes clearly better. And the food is better, too.
posted by Forktine at 10:55 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


That fucking show removal rule is the most insipid, infuriating, pointless, time- wasting charade ever schemed. Why don't they just have a TSA employee dress up like a wizard and pretend like he's screening people's minds for evil thoughts, it would be just as productive.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:55 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Shoe removal". Dammit.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:56 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The real story is about 75% of the way down:

"Civil libertarians on both sides of the aisle should be appalled at an unauthorized use to which TSA is putting their screening: Identifying petty criminals ... TSA have arrested more than 1,000 people on drug charges and other non-airline security-related offenses to date."

This is more than the TSA - this is the whole prison complex. See also: medical marijuana and marijuana decriminalization.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:00 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


> "Shoe removal"

TSA is ostensibly trying to prevent a future Reid. Although, by that reckoning they should make you put your underwear in the trays.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:00 AM on February 29, 2012


The TSA is not law enforcement and has no powers of detainment. The most they can do is go crying to an LEO who may or may not be sympathetic depending on one's demeanor. (Not saying anything about your particular situation here, I mean, who knows what the goons were up to -- just saying that you are free to leave the checkpoint at any time unless instructed otherwise by an actual LEO.)

Right and wrong: They can't detain you and you're free to leave unless a "real" LEO says you can't. Except you the one place you're not allowed to go is on your plane - which is the whole point of submitting to this security theater in the first place.

As a matter of fact, the TSA argues this very point in pretty much every legal challenge against them: 1) "We're not a law enforcement officers;" and, 2) There's not legal right to traveling by air.

This is why the TSA and Federales get their undies in a bunch every time some state tries to move forward with some state-level provision that would subject their personnel to assault/battery charges, banning scanners, etc.. The only real power the TSA has is to threaten cutting off federal funds and other indirect punishments. Much as I detest the Tea Party legislators who tend to be behind these bills, I would like to see at least one pushed through to enactment just to see what happens in a gigantic clash of federal v. state's rights.

P.S. The next time some TSA employee tells you to put away your camera in an airport because "it's against the law," that's another great example of how poorly organized and trained they are and how sheepish we as citizens have become.
posted by webhund at 11:02 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to fly back east every year for the family reunion. I now limit it to every other year, because seriously, the hassle of flying has become so onerous as to make the whole thing almost untenable. Fortunately, the rest of my family seems to understand, since they're supportive about me not coming to the family reunion so much.

Heyyy...waitaminnit...
posted by darkstar at 11:03 AM on February 29, 2012


As has been brought up before, airport security is always fighting battles that were won or lost years earlier. This is why in 2012 you cannot bring 200 ml of shampoo onto a plane.

I do not fly into, out of, or through the USA anymore, but airport security is similarly misguided everywhere. Once as I stood waiting for my turn to go through the metal detector, with my coat, my carry-on bag, my laptop, my cell phone and my keys already in the x-ray machine, I suddenly realized I still had a quarter in my pocket. With no way to reunite it with the rest of my x-rayed belongings, I clenched it in my fist as I walked through the metal detector. No beeps.

Airport security is looking for box cutters, for better or worse. I walked through a scanner with metal equivalent to, what, ten times the mass of a box cutter blade in my hand and no one noticed.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:04 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Summer before last I took my two year old to Denver to visit my parents. We ran out of butt paste on the trip, and their grocery store only had the 4 ounce size tube, so that's what I had when going through security at DIA. (This is the same day that this incident took place.) Now I know that if you are traveling with small children they cut you all kinds of slack on the rules about sizes of liquids and gels. But no fewer than FOUR different TSA agents made a point of grabbing that stupid tube of butt paste to tell me it was too big. Then I would point at my son and they would say "oh, okay" and then 30 seconds later another agent would swoop down on us and we'd go through the routine again.

I would cheerfully fly on a plane if I knew all the passengers had gone through a metal detector and that the cockpit door was secure. Stop infantilizing air passengers- between Flight 93, the Shoe Bomber and the Underpants Bomber, I think we've demonstrated the futility of messing with commercial aircraft, at least within the US.
posted by ambrosia at 11:05 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll never forget Christmas of 2010. The TSA made me throw out the jar of generic Cheez-Wiz my family thoughtfully purchased for me for Christmas. Out of mourning, I haven't eaten cheeze sauce(?) of any kind since.
posted by Fister Roboto at 11:10 AM on February 29, 2012


I have now 3 times driven from GA to AZ because I just didn’t want to get on a plane again. I usually will only fly for work, because of time limits, but it is really inconvenient.

I had a female TSA agent at LAX get belligerent and in my face telling me to take off my sunglasses in line. I wasn’t anywhere near the scanners. When I asked her why she got angrier.

In all seriousness, I am prepared to take my chances with any alleged terrorism threat if they would just shut the whole thing down. I don’t believe any of it. There are literally thousands of chances a day for terrorist acts in this country and it doesn’t happen. There are no terrorists.
posted by bongo_x at 11:10 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


> This is why in 2012 you cannot bring 200 ml of shampoo onto a plane.

Even that incident is questionable.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:12 AM on February 29, 2012


I wrote the TSA a letter. it included this passage:
I hate to point out that it's time for John Pistole to resign. He's had a good run, and I want to congratulate him on his hard work. It takes effort to turn an agency like the TSA into the laughingstock of the whole world. You don't get constant ridicule by sitting on your ass! There isn't a country out there that doesn't think the US is a bunch of crybabies with small penises thanks to the TSA. Even the Bushmen of the Kalahari are making fun of us with pops and clicks! It's time to resign, to step down, to let some other guy take a beating for a change.
In other news I'll never be allowed to fly again.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:13 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


between Flight 93, the Shoe Bomber and the Underpants Bomber, I think we've demonstrated the futility of messing with commercial aircraft

You think the Underpants Bomber actually understands the concept of futility.

hah.
hah.
hah ha hahhh hahh hah.

Sorry. Something caught in my throat.

Do you really think a person willing to strap a bomb to themselves has the same definition of "success" and "futility" as the rest of us? Do you really think the person that recruits people and helps strap a bomb to someone else has the same definition?

How 'bout this -- Do you think Israeli passengers wouldn't fight back, like the passengers on Flight 93? Of course they would. In fact, it would likely be more effective than a group of Americans, as most Israeli males have mandatory military training. But go ask El Al what they think about removing "security theater."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:16 AM on February 29, 2012


I have no problem with the idea that it takes a federal agency and 60,000 employees to make air travel safe. I flew through Boston and DC a few months before 9/11, and the airport security was not cutting it. In my limited time in line in Boston, I saw people get through without even going through the metal detector, while the security people were laughing, joking, and talking about one of the scanner's anatomy and how it related to her date the night before. Some airports were atrocious, and the TSA has at least raised those to a consistent standard.

But I do have a problem with the way the resources are being applied!

Here are the real concerns for air travel. Note that only one of these is new since 9/11, the rest go back to a bunch of innocent people being killed by the examples in yoink's excellent post above.

1. Prevent access to the cockpit.
2. Prevent firearms aboard the plane. This is done by metal detectors in security.
3. Prevent explosives aboard the plane. This is done by wiping luggage and people for residue.

None of those provide a reason I should take my shoes off, or pull out my toothpaste from my carry-on, or remove my laptop, or prevent knitting needles, or...

Someone with a gun can kill a lot of people in an enclosed space. All martial-artist fantasies aside, unless you get real lucky, a gunman on an airplane will kill until he/she runs out of bullets. But a knife? Or (heh) a knitting needle? The person in the seat next to them might be injured or killed, but that's it. I would not be eager to try to get past someone in the aisle holding a machete, but who cares? He's not going to come get me, and when the pilot lands the plane law enforcement will get him.

Keeping bombs off is self evident. People have always tried to blow up planes. I don't know why this isn't a problem with, say, buses, but to ignore the history of airplane bombs is irresponsible.

So, to review, I think everyone boarding a plane should pass through a metal detector. The TSA should search people who beep. People should be encouraged to wear, say, belts with a plastic buckle, but if they want to waste time getting frisked that is a personal choice.

Second, all bags should be tested for explosives residue. People's hands should also be tested. Plenty of companies can get their fat government contract by developing better and faster residue detection machines, as well as getting more of them into airports. Positives should be searched.

Third, and this is already complete, armor the cockpit doors.

If that program takes 60,000 federal employees, so be it. Some things are just hard. But leave granny her knitting needles, and leave me my shoes.
posted by BeeDo at 11:18 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to fly back east every year for the family reunion. I now limit it to every other year, because seriously, the hassle of flying has become so onerous as to make the whole thing almost untenable.

How, exactly? I hear people say that in these sorts of threads and I just can't reconcile it with my own pre- and post-9/11 experiences. I fly fairly frequently, and I flew quite often before 9/11. Immediately after 9/11 when they implemented the "you have to stay with your checked luggage until it is scanned" rule the airports became a complete clusterfuck with lines taking hours to clear. That was certainly horrible. But once they got the system up and running--which, really, only took a year or so--I just don't see how the experience differs materially from pre-9/11. I can remember standing in long lines for the x-ray gates and the scanner machines back then, too.

The only material difference in the experience is not being able to pack large containers of liquids (and, sure, that can be a bore--having to go out and buy shampoo when you arrive somewhere, etc.--but it hardly seems like a major problem) and having to take my shoes off. Is having to take your shoes off really such a terrible ordeal that it makes it not worth your while attending a family reunion? Really?
posted by yoink at 11:18 AM on February 29, 2012


Whenever people start bitching about how terrible air travel is, I like to have Louis CK respond.
posted by dry white toast at 11:23 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


But go ask El Al what they think about removing "security theater."

I don't get it. El Al doesn't engage in security theater - they use actual security practices. Which, on their scale, works well enough but would not fly (ha) in the U.S. for a lot of reasons.
posted by rtha at 11:24 AM on February 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


Do you think Israeli passengers wouldn't fight back, like the passengers on Flight 93? Of course they would.

I never said others would not, nor did I intend to imply that. I was simply referring to incidents within the US, since this post is about the TSA. And El Al is not wasting their time repeatedly hassling mothers of young children about butt paste. And while I admit I have a hard time putting myself in the mindset of someone willing to blow themselves up, I will posit that finding oneself tied up with headphone cords by one's fellow passengers is unlikely to be anyone's definition of "success."
posted by ambrosia at 11:27 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


You seem to think that the sole purpose of the TSA's security measures is to prevent a repetition of the 9/11 hijackers' strategy. It is not.

There are three bad things that can happen when a plane is hijacked. First, the hijackers can hurt or kill the people on the plane. Second, the hijackers can use the plane itself to hurt or kill other people, most notably by crashing them into buildings. Third, the hijackers can use the threat of doing one of these things to coerce governments or other organizations into doing what the hijackers want.

Al-Qaeda eliminated option #3 by killing everyone. Hijacking-as-negotiation used to work because passengers who cooperated generally survived the hijacking; now it's just a question of minimizing the death count, and nobody involved gains anything by doing what the hijacker wants. If you're a passenger, you might as well try to jump him if you get a chance, because you're going to die anyway.

Sturdy, locked cockpit doors eliminate option #2. Making it impossible for hijackers to take control of the plane means the pilots can just land whenever trouble breaks out and let the cops on the ground deal with the problem. The only people at risk are the ones on the plane.

This leaves option #1, which is the least important. Absent any good reason to attack people on an airplane, the only potential hijackers left are the nutjobs. Sure, clever people can find all kinds of ways to hurt airplane passengers, but solving #3 and #2 means there are no rational hijacking motives left.

That is what the TSA is for, then: to stop random nutjobs from attempting poorly-thought-out acts of violence which are not likely to succeed anyway.

This is not a real problem.

You're at more risk of dying from pilot error. You're at more risk of dying because the plane's pilot is a suicidal nutjob than because one of the passengers is. You're at more risk of dying from your seatmate's flu. You're at more risk of dying in the car driving to the airport. You're at greater risk of being struck by lightning.

So where's the $60 billion federal program to prevent lightning strikes? Where are the 60,000 uniformed screeners sticking their rubber-gloved hands into cumulus clouds? Where are the fancy X-ray machines creating images of electric charge build-up? Why, for god's sake, are innocent children allowed to step out of doors without carrying official government-approved lightning rods?
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:28 AM on February 29, 2012 [27 favorites]


Is having to take your shoes off really such a terrible ordeal that it makes it not worth your while attending a family reunion?

Jacket, shoes, belt, yadda yadda. Take off your clothes, empty your pockets, show your ID, submit to the bullshit authority, prove you aren't a terrorist nutjob. Accept this ionizing radiation, or this probing personal examination, along with this dose of snark and ridicule, about which you can do nothing. It's intrusive and humiliating. I will avoid it whenever I can.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:30 AM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Nobody will ever successfully hijack a plane again, because the passengers will kill them.

Or at least stop them, or at the worst, stop the plane from being used as a weapon.

The shoe bomber? Caught by passengers.

The underwear bomber? Caught by passengers.

Which, on their scale, works well enough but would not fly (ha) in the U.S. for a lot of reasons.

Fundamentally, because El Al flies 42 aircraft. AA and UA each fly more 777s than El Al has in total. Between then, they have over 31 times as many aircraft as El Al, and they, by no means, represent the totality of commercial passenger aircraft in the US.

You simply couldn't fly the schedule if you tried El Al's level of security. It would, of course, also be a fantastic waste of money.
posted by eriko at 11:32 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


As you'll see if you scroll down to the bar graphs, airline bombings used to be disturbingly frequent in the 70s through the 80s.

I don't know where the line is for "disturbing" frequency, but over the decade of the 70s, there were only 29 incidents according to your linked graph. And those incidents collectively amounted to fewer than 1,000 deaths. The 80s weren't much different: 24 incidents that amounted to fewer than 1,500 deaths. So, generously assuming that the new procedures have completely eliminated those levels of terrorism and that the cost of those new procedures is limited to the costs of the new scanning tech, we are spending tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars each year to save maybe 300 lives. Good God, man, that is government waste!

Wow. What an amazing straw man. The point of the TSA's security measures is to deter terrorist action, not, primarily, to catch it as it happens. If the guy starts off his article with a completely fallacious argument like this it's pretty hard to take him seriously.

I would say that the burden is on the TSA to show that they are actually deterring terrorism. They don't get that for free as an axiom. But since you claim that it is impossible to prove one way or the other whether the TSA actually deters terrorism, meeting that burden is going to be difficult (where by "difficult" I mean "impossible"). What could the justification for their existence possibly be, then? Is it just assumed deterrence of terrorist plots? 'Cause I can assume that giving me billions of dollars every year will deter terrorist plots!

OMG, there's no difference between getting frisked and getting RAPED!!! Won't somebody think of the children???!?

A quick search of the thread shows that no one attacking the TSA in this thread is analogizing TSA pat-downs to rape. Yes, people have made that (stupid) analogy before, but putting that in the mouths of the TSA critics here is straw-manning the other side, isn't it?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:41 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even that incident is questionable.

Oh, I know. If someone is able to concoct a stable explosive that can be mixed together in an airliner bathroom, he should be in his way to Stockholm to collect his prize in Chemistry.

As I think I have said on the blue before, the week after the 2006 arrests were made, I took four commercial flights. On all four, zealous security personnel were relieving passengers of toothpaste and contact lens solution (but strangely this nominal hazardous waste was just tossed into a big plastic bin) but on three of the four, no one bothered to look at my ID.

And you might recall that the then-absolute ban on liquids and gels extended to flight crews as well for the first few weeks. My sister is a commercial pilot, and as she grumpily remarked at the time, "I am flying the damned plane. If I wanted it to crash, I would not need a tube of toothpaste to make that happen."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:48 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just really want someone to wait for a really busy day at an airport when they have nice big lines at the security checkpoint and then set off a paint or glitter bomb or something before a terrorist does it with a real bomb.

Did you forget Domodedovo? Guy walked into the international arrivals area with about 10 pound of TNT and set it off. Killed 37, injured 115.

The time to catch the bad guy is when he's building the weapon. If he gets the weapons to the security line, in security terms, you have already lost. If nobody dies at that point, it is far more attributable to luck than security personnel.

The plots that work -- like July 7th, 2005 in London -- are the ones where there's no inkling that there's an attack in progress. That's why spending the amount of money the TSA has spent on security line infrastructure is inane. You've already lost if they make it to the security lines.

The place to spend that money is on intelligence and police work to find them before they get that close. The 2010 cargo bomb plot shows this. Those bombs made it through. Pretty much every security agency admits they would not have detected them unless they got lucky.

Saudi Arabia's intelligence service, however, found out about the plot, and the packages were intercepted before they went onto transatlantic flights.

What was the TSA's response? Increase pat-down searches of commercial passengers in the US, in case they'd, err, stopped at FedEx on the way to the airport and shipped a few bombs, but forgot how many they had, so they still had one hidden in their underwear?
posted by eriko at 11:52 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


If suddenly we went from (a) "walk right to the gate" to (b) "stand in this snaking line, show your ID here, get into that other snaking line, show your ID there, throw away your water or coffee, put your laptop in one bin, put the contents of your pocket in the other bin along with your shoes, take off your belt and your coat, take off any outer layer of clothing, take out a clear plastic baggie with all of your lotions and gels, put your bags through this x-ray machine, walk through this metal detector, go into this machine that will take a naked picture of you, and if a little light goes off randomly when you come through go into that glass box and wait for a couple of minutes for a special patdown and chemical swipe of your hands, (oh and pack your snowglobe in your checked luggage for god's sake)" I'd think the airline industry would have been doomed to failure at that moment. But we've just become accustomed to this One More Small Hassle that we do it.

iT pUTS tHE lOTION iN tHE bASKET oR it gETS tHE hOSE aGAIN
posted by Sebmojo at 12:35 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


(but strangely this nominal hazardous waste was just tossed into a big plastic bin)

That always cracked me up too. Oh no, possibly dangerous chemicals ... let's just throw them all together in a big pile!
posted by mrgrimm at 12:50 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Damn... eriko's post brings to light that which never occurred to me before. The perfect ploy would be to set off a bomb in the actual security line.

Soon-to-be-bomber sets down bag and makes like he's receiving a phone call and has no signal, walks to end of line hurriedly, people surround the bag as they snake thorough to be checked for hazardous things like bombs and knitting needles, the timer goes off 2 mins later as the bomber is stepping out of the terminal talking to nobody or his pickup man outside, *cue bodybags*.

TSA needs to reevaluate what it's doing (or not doing) and how it's going about accomplishing said doing/pseudo-doing.

Wow, pass me the lightning rod, it's UL lab tested right?
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:12 PM on February 29, 2012


Oh and the train is arguably faster,

Oh, no it isn't, except possible for people in the NE. Flight time ATL->NYC less than 2 hours; Train time 18 hours.
posted by kjs3 at 1:24 PM on February 29, 2012


Take off your clothes, empty your pockets, show your ID, submit to the bullshit authority

Much as I agree and appreciate the calm explanation I think this is the problem right here. Some people like the arbitrary and invasive exercise of police authority, and will submit to it happily, and take its side whenever possible in political debates. Like every other TSA discussion ever, this thread is basically a voluntary self-identification test for high scorers on the F scale.
posted by RogerB at 1:41 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Airport security is looking for box cutters, for better or worse. I walked through a scanner with metal equivalent to, what, ten times the mass of a box cutter blade in my hand and no one noticed.

Anyway, my point to this was that airport security is nominally out to keep the bad guys from smuggling potential weapons onto planes: in this case, blades for a repeat of the 2011 attacks. These theoretical terrorists would be highly motivated, have months to plan, are committing literally the rest of their lives to this project, and face indefinite incarceration if caught.

In my case, I was unmotivated, planned for about three-quarters of a second, and the biggest penalty I faced was having the metal detector beep and requiring me to surrender the coin and go through again after a sheepish explanation*. And I beat the security screening that has cost taxpayers billions. This does not fill me with reassurances that it is stopping anything.


*I suppose they could have confiscated my quarter.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:51 PM on February 29, 2012


> I suppose they could have confiscated my quarter.

They'll take it!
posted by Burhanistan at 1:53 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am an American living in Europe (sadly, not for much longer) and I have gotten used to riding high speed trains carrying more people than a jumbo jet with no security. It's a lovely thing to show up in the center of town fifteen minutes before my trip starts, grab a takeaway lunch, and get on my train. Somehow, despite so many trips a day, no luggage screening, etc, there are no attacks. It was incredibly jarring when friends from the US visited, ones who didn't travel much, and commented on how unsafe this made them feel. All evidence points to the lack of need for security beyond the steps described in several posts above, yet still the theater has implanted itself deep in the psyche.
posted by Schismatic at 2:03 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


If suddenly we went from (a) "walk right to the gate" to (b) "stand in this snaking line, show your ID here, get into that other snaking line, show your ID there, ... etc .... But we've just become accustomed to this One More Small Hassle that we do it.

In a small way, I've had the wonderful experience of going backwards in time on this. I used to live in Columbus, OH, and lived with the TSA process every time I flew. Granted, this was before they introduced the creepy scanners and the invasive searches, but even before that TSA was pretty disturbing. Several years ago I moved back to Adelaide, Australia. A similar sized city, with a slightly smaller airport. Security here is like going back to a more rational time. Yeah, we have the metal detectors and the x-ray machine for your hand luggage, and a few other inconveniences, but it's pretty smooth and simple for the most part. More importantly, you don't need a ticket to go through airport security. They seem to take the view that they don't care who is at the gates so long as you're not carrying a weapon.

So, just the other day I had to pick up my partner from the airport. She was flying in from Sydney and she'd had to look after a 2 year old who'd been getting stroppy because they'd been travelling for a week. She was exhausted, physically and mentally, since the kid had been horrible on the plane. She was lugging way to much baggage for one small woman to carry while wrangling a toddler, and finding it hard to make out of the plane, much less drag the lot of them through the airport. I hadn't been able to get off work to go travel with her, and so the simple fact that I was able to stand there at the gate, take the bags off her hands and give her a hug meant a lot to me. I know it's a tiny thing, but it was still important to me.

The contrast seems so stark to me that I struggle to understand the motivation behind the TSA anymore. Maybe it's fundamentally different in the US. I'm so long removed from living there that maybe I just don't understand what fear of terrorism feels like. And, again, I'm hardly qualified to comment on whether the terrorism threat is so high in the US that sterner measures are required than here in Australia. But it so often sounds like the TSA measures don't actually address any of the real threats (e.g., why wouldn't the terrorists shift targets and try to blow up a shopping mall? I can't see why airports are so special) that it's just confusing to me to see that this actually gets political traction. Maybe it's the "boiled frog" problem, as the comment above suggests. Even so, viewed from so far away it seems staggering to me that Americans have to put up with this crap from their own government. Normally I think of Americans as being so much more hostile to intrusive government than Australians; but this does seem to be a weird exception where nothing except ever more draconian and personally humiliating measures are allowed, regardless of effectiveness.

Every now and then I get people asking me if I'm ever going to come back to the US. I have family there as well as in Australia, so it might one day be necessary. But right now, I keep thinking of how bloody horrible it is to go through TSA security (not to mention US customs) and I can't even bear the thought of visiting if I don't have to. I've started trying to avoid conferences in the US whenever I can. I'll travel for family, but that's it. Nothing else really justifies the inconvenience.
posted by mixing at 2:04 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Alaska Bill Would Criminalize TSA Screening Procedures
posted by homunculus at 2:56 PM on February 29, 2012


VTX: "I just really want someone to wait for a really busy day at an airport when they have nice big lines at the security checkpoint and then set off a paint or glitter bomb or something before a terrorist does it with a real bomb."

Please, not glitter. It's the herpes of the craft world.
posted by workerant at 3:17 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


How to eliminate the pornoscans, mass gropings, and revert to pre 9/11 security procedures without comitting political suicide:
  1. Armour cockpit doors. Complete as far as I know.
  2. Announce that you are putting an armed marshal on every flight instead of all the goofy shit that happens now before you get on a flight. For extra points have a few "drills" where mock bombs go off in screening lines spraying everyone with glitter/confetti to show how dangerous the areas are before making the announcement.
  3. Over the years go from every flight to occasional flights as a cost cutting measure.
posted by Mitheral at 3:33 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Please, not glitter. It's the herpes of the craft world.

Glitter bombing has a fairly specific context now anyway, so maybe use giant whoopee cushions instead.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:36 PM on February 29, 2012


There should be two entrances to the airport terminal -- one labeled "Cowards" and the second labeled "No Cowards".

The "No Cowards" door would lead directly to the "No Cowards" airplane with no inspections, no security line, no metal detectors just like they did for the first 50 years of aviation history.

The other door would serve those who are terrified of a one in a million chance of a terrorist hijacking.

I'd even be fine with a remote controlled kill switch on the No Cowards airplane, if it makes the cowards feel better.
posted by JackFlash at 5:10 PM on February 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, duh.

I've given up patiently explaining this to anyone.

You know, if the TSA was secretly ensuring that no one actually flew in US airspace, they are doing a fine job. I've just given up travelling there.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:26 PM on February 29, 2012


I don't think, however, we're ever going to get back to the days when you could meet your party at the gate when they came off the plane.

That's the one part I don't miss- the huge families with 10 bored, screaming children running up and over every seat in the gate, while their parents, aunts, and cousins all wait around to see off grandma's flight to Tampa.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:59 PM on February 29, 2012


The "No Cowards" door would lead directly to the "No Cowards" airplane with no inspections, no security line, no metal detectors just like they did for the first 50 years of aviation history.

Except people argue that it's not the passengers we're worried about, it's the innocent people in the World Trade Centers, etc.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:00 PM on February 29, 2012


Hence the remote kill switch.
posted by Mitheral at 6:31 PM on February 29, 2012


We've some follow ups to this previous DHS thread, btw.

animalnewyork.com : The Department of Homeland Security Is Searching Your Facebook and Twitter for These Words

epic.org : EPIC Obtains New Documents on DHS Media Monitoring, Urges Congress to Suspend Program
posted by jeffburdges at 7:06 PM on February 29, 2012


jeffburdges writes ": The Department of Homeland Security Is Searching Your Facebook and Twitter for These Words "

Things sure have changed; they used to deny they performed this sort of monitoring.
posted by Mitheral at 7:37 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The reason we have the TSA is because we as a nation are reluctant to profile passengers. Some see it as racism, some see it as being against the American ideal of equality. (we actually DO profile a little bit, but with the muted approach of 'behaviorial identification'...)

What we DON'T do, and likely WON'T do, is approach airport security like the Israelis, who just downright go for in your face profiling and placing security where it ACTUALLY matters, and don't really care how you feel about it...
posted by matty at 7:53 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The El Al security system comes up a lot. Anyone know what their false positive rate is?
posted by Mitheral at 8:02 PM on February 29, 2012


The Department of Homeland Security Is Searching Your Facebook and Twitter for These Words

Again this is ridiculous theatre, designed to smush independent thought and opinion. The drug cartels are not writing on FB "Hey, we are shipping MARIJUANA and COCAINE and we will be armed with GUNS when we SMUGGLE the CONTRABAND across the BORDER." Terrorists are not tweeting "Our NATIONALIST EXTREMISM is informing the TERRORIST PLOT we are developing."

The people using these words are the people interested in these matters and wanting to discuss them publicly - i.e., thoughtful and informed citizens.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:14 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The purpose is to make air travellers *feel* safer so they'll continue to fly.

Everything they do, everything they've done, everything the TSA and Homeland Security will do points to the opposite of this generous interpretation.

From color-coded Threat Levels, to mandatory video screens blaring security warnings on loop at train terminals, to bullshit shoe-bomber and underwear bomber threats, the entire goal has been to instill fear and implement a system of control on personal movement and tear down ideas of personal privacy and freedom.

Some naive people may claim like the person mentioned above that, "Well, they're doing something important and...and make me feel safer!", but they're lying to themselves. If they were to measure their blood pressure and heart rate at an airport with and without the TSA, everyone knows which one they'd feel physically safer at.

The only reason they get scared is because the government keeps reminding them to be scared.
posted by formless at 9:35 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it's not clear to me that the TSA's added steps have really made all that much difference to the overall experience of air travel. Many of the terrible, terrible indignities people are complaining about with regard to the TSA predated the TSA's formation. They always used to ask you to remove jackets and put them through the hand-luggage x-ray, for example. You were always presumptively subject to a pat-down in the event that the metal detector went off and the hand scanner failed to reveal an obvious innocent reason for it. The shoe thing and the liquid thing are certainly new and tedious, but it's not as if they add more than a minute or two, at most, to the time you spend in line when getting on a plane.

What. Taking off my coat and emptying my pockets of any keys/change versus:

Taking off my coat, completely emptying my pockets, taking off my shoes, taking out my laptop, taking out a pre-packed baggie full of liquids which have been packed in specially-sized containers, and being ordered to strip off layers of clothing at the whim of a security officer (because cardigans are dangerous.) No bottles of drinking water. Food is poked an examined for gel-like qualities. It's more than "a minute or two," and it's more than a minor inconvenience.

If you tripped the metal detector in ye olden days, you got wanded, not patted down. Yes, there is a big. freaking. difference.

The "OMG, they take a nude photo of you!!!" stuff is pure BS based on fake versions of the images those machines produce. The second generation millimeter wave machines don't even produce any kind of image of you--and they'll crowd out the backscatter x-ray machines fairly quickly.

It's not BS. And I shouldn't be compelled to go through an X-ray in order to board a plane.

posted by desuetude at 11:02 PM on February 29, 2012


Dammit, formatting. OMG part is a quote, rest is me, none of it should be small, grr.
posted by desuetude at 11:03 PM on February 29, 2012


Oh, I know. If someone is able to concoct a stable explosive that can be mixed together in an airliner bathroom, he should be in his way to Stockholm to collect his prize in Chemistry.


A few people walking on to a plane with saturated solutions of sodium cyanide and saturated solutions of hydrochloride acid in water bottles could pretty well poison the atmosphere of a plane. No explosives necessary.

If they wanted to go out Japanese style, Aum Shinrikyo killed plenty of people with 900 ml of sarin on a Tokyo subway and that wasn't an airtight environment.

No liquids seems like a sane policy. Others not so much.
posted by dibblda at 12:16 AM on March 1, 2012


No liquids seems like a sane policy.

While those events are POSSIBLE, I doubt that a risk analysis will reveal much likelihood, and given the hypothetical nature of the threat, and the massive inconvenience as a downside, I'm not sure it's a good policy.
posted by mikelieman at 5:03 AM on March 1, 2012


Glitter bombing has a fairly specific context now anyway, so maybe use giant whoopee cushions instead.

Please, not whoopee cushions. They're the chlamydia of the practical joke world.
posted by eriko at 5:25 AM on March 1, 2012


Yeah, I want to go visit my parents and the beach this summer. It's 20 hours driving time, conservatively. We would have to rent a more comfy car, because mine is a little efficient errands car, but not comfortable for enemy a 4 hour trip. Our other car is 12 years old and couldn't be trusted. Despite 40 hours on the road, and the rental fees, it still seems more pleasant than dealing with the tsa, hours of delay @ airport, renting a car @ destination...I mean we're gonna lose two days to travel either way, and the airlines are so expensive that it just seems easier somehow to drive cross country now.
posted by dejah420 at 8:01 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This leaves option #1, which is the least important. Absent any good reason to attack people on an airplane, the only potential hijackers left are the nutjobs. Sure, clever people can find all kinds of ways to hurt airplane passengers, but solving #3 and #2 means there are no rational hijacking motives left.

That is what the TSA is for, then: to stop random nutjobs from attempting poorly-thought-out acts of violence which are not likely to succeed anyway.

This is not a real problem.


You are seriously arguing that suicide bombers are an almost unimaginably improbable threat? This despite the fact that two actual attempts at suicide bombing on an airplane have been made since 9/11 and both failed because the bombers in question had taken such precautions to avoid security-line detection that they had rendered their bombs ineffective.

Look, I know that the govt. has badly exaggerated the threat of further terrorist attacks and has used that exaggerated threat for all kinds of bad political purposes. But that doesn't mean the rational response is to go to the opposite extreme and pretend that the threat simply doesn't exist. There are clearly large numbers of people who are happy to give their lives to strike a blow against the US. There are clearly people with the means and the will to equip those people with bombs and put them on planes. They are choosing not to do so because they consider the risks of the operation too high to guarantee success. It may well be that you could change some parts of the TSA procedure without seriously altering that risk calculation, but it is ridiculous to pretend that there is simply no threat to which the TSA is a response.
posted by yoink at 8:54 AM on March 1, 2012


What. Taking off my coat and emptying my pockets of any keys/change versus:

Taking off my coat, completely emptying my pockets, taking off my shoes, taking out my laptop, taking out a pre-packed baggie full of liquids which have been packed in specially-sized containers,


Wow, you mean you have to take a WHOLE laptop out of your bag? And a whole plastic baggie? Gosh. Do you set aside one or two hours for that delicate operation?

Yes, pulling a laptop out of a bag (especially if you've forgotten about it and packed the laptop at the bottom of your carryon or something) can be a drag--but is it seriously a sufficient hassle to prevent you going to an annual family reunion? Or to make you drive for six hours in a car rather than take a one hour plane trip? I mean, really? Because pulling my laptop out of my bag, putting it in a big, picking it up out of the bin and putting it back in my bag take me something like 15 seconds all up.

Add in another 15 seconds for the shoes. I'm still not seeing a reason to cancel a trip to be with my family or a reason to sit in a car for hours.

and being ordered to strip off layers of clothing at the whim of a security officer (because cardigans are dangerous.)

This is unchanged from pre 9/11 security. They would always make judgment calls as to what constituted a "jacket" or otherwise potentially concealing clothing. I can remember lots of pre 9/11 flights where at one airport I'd wear a cardigan (or equivalent) happily through one lot of metal detectors and then be told to remove it on the return flight.

No bottles of drinking water.

You can buy a bottle of water once you're through the scan.

Food is poked an examined for gel-like qualities.

This has never happened to me. I'm sure it has happened occasionally, but it's not a routine TSA rule.

It's more than "a minute or two," and it's more than a minor inconvenience.

I have been taking a monthly flight for my work the last couple of years. My typical total time from arrival at airport to clearing security is about 15 minutes. About 11 minutes of that is standing in line. Once I get to the actual security scan part it's a snip--and not notably slower than in pre 9/11 days.

If you tripped the metal detector in ye olden days, you got wanded, not patted down. Yes, there is a big. freaking. difference.

You would get wanded, yes. And if the wanding didn't turn up an obvious explanation for the "beep" you would get frisked. I got frisked several times pre-9/11. Somehow I survived.
posted by yoink at 9:12 AM on March 1, 2012


I am an American living in Europe (sadly, not for much longer) and I have gotten used to riding high speed trains carrying more people than a jumbo jet with no security. It's a lovely thing to show up in the center of town fifteen minutes before my trip starts, grab a takeaway lunch, and get on my train. Somehow, despite so many trips a day, no luggage screening, etc, there are no attacks.

Did you miss 2004 Madrid? (Or 1995 Paris?) I'm sure train bombings are as common as plane bombings, that is, not very, but they happen.

The people using these words are the people interested in these matters and wanting to discuss them publicly - i.e., thoughtful and informed citizens.

Or extremely low-level "criminals," e.g. drug users.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2012


It's easy enough to take your belt off. The thing about the process that really pisses me off is that, once I'm through, all my stuff is jammed up on the conveyor belt, my three bins of miscellaneous objects that I'd carefully packed, and now I'm dealing with other people coming behind me while I'm trying to get it all sorted as their stuff piles up behind mine.

That's the most frustrating time of it for me. After going throud the disrobing and the scan, then you have to reverse the process. Trying to get dressed while five more people and their possessions are jumbled up behind me, where is my wallet? My belt isn't in the bin any more, did it get caught in the machine? Oh sir, those are my keys, thanks. *hopping while putting on one shoe* *more bins jumble up* Etc., etc.

Oh, and THEN I get to go spend $2.50 for a little bottle of water when I had to throw away a perfectly good bottle of water two minutes ago? Icing on the cake.
posted by darkstar at 9:45 AM on March 1, 2012


I thought a particularly apt metaphor [for TSA security] was that of a boiled frog.

Nah, the frogs are smarter than that.
posted by storybored at 10:16 AM on March 1, 2012


but is it seriously a sufficient hassle to prevent you going to an annual family reunion? Or to make you drive for six hours in a car rather than take a one hour plane trip? I mean, really?

Yes, really. And it's not the length of the flight only, but the total door to door time that matters. To that hour flight, add the drive to the airport, parking, waiting around for one or two hours, waiting for your baggage at the other end, waiting at the car rental place, taking a shuttle bus to the car rental building, and then driving to your destination which may be quite a distance from the airport. Even with no delays that is not a fast process overall; add in one late or canceled flight and you would have been far faster to drive.
posted by Forktine at 10:51 AM on March 1, 2012


Yeah, it's more of a straw and camel's back kinda thing. Flying sucks enough as it is (try it as a single parent with a 3 y.o and a baby)--the new security is just so much more ridiculously stupid than the other stupid annoyances (tiny seats, no changing tables in the bathrooms, poor communication about delays) that it becomes sort of a Howard Beale horcrux or whatever.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:01 AM on March 1, 2012


Wow, you mean you have to take a WHOLE laptop out of your bag? And a whole plastic baggie?

The thing is, what's the point? The toiletries thing is completely inconsistently enforced - I forgot at SFO, and on the return trip out of Dulles, people were getting yelled at for not pulling the plastic baggie out. A few months ago I forgot to pull the laptop out (I don't usually travel with it, so I just forgot it was in my backpack) and no one said anything. If they're not going to make every passenger with a laptop turn it on to show it's not a seekrit bomb, then why make everyone pull them out of their bags at all?

It's not unheard of that TSA people working the security checkpoints have been arrested for stealing things from people's bags. And that's not to mention other passengers doing this.

And? Your baggage is not supposed to be out of your sight and control. On more than one trip, I've ended up tapping my sock feet impatiently, waiting to go through the metal detector/backscatter, while my stuff sails through the X-ray machine and sits all alone and unattended on the other side, where I can't see it or guarantee that no one's slipped anything into it.
posted by rtha at 11:05 AM on March 1, 2012


You are seriously arguing that suicide bombers are an almost unimaginably improbable threat?

I am seriously arguing that suicide bombers are such an unlikely thing that they do not justify the vast, expensive security apparatus designed to prevent them. The current airline passenger screening system is expensive, intrusive, humiliating, and time-consuming: for this nuisance, expense, and loss of civil liberty, all we get is a minute reduction in what was already a minuscule risk.

This despite the fact that two actual attempts at suicide bombing on an airplane have been made since 9/11 and both failed because the bombers in question had taken such precautions to avoid security-line detection that they had rendered their bombs ineffective.

Yes, two, in a decade. Two, and both were idiots who did not realize their plans could never have worked, that their "bombs" could never have exploded. There is no longer any rational reason to hijack an airplane, so the only people left who will even try are the suicidal nutjobs, and suicidal nutjobs are not known for their ability to make or execute rational plans.

There are clearly large numbers of people who are happy to give their lives to strike a blow against the US. There are clearly people with the means and the will to equip those people with bombs and put them on planes. They are choosing not to do so because they consider the risks of the operation too high to guarantee success.

This is a completely unfalsifiable argument. Look, see this magic stick I'm waving around? It keeps the gremlins away. "That's just an ordinary stick", you may say, "it's not doing anything special!" - but look, do you see any gremlins? No, of course you don't. So there's your proof, the magic stick works.

I have some first-hand evidence that the security screening apparatus is bunk. I have never paid any attention to the restrictions about liquids and gels and have never bothered with the ziploc baggie nonsense. I just leave it all packed in my carry-on. If I have a water bottle, I pack that in too. In six years, they've noticed once: the screener pulled out a 4 oz tube of hair gel, yelled at me, and sent me on my way - never noticing the 16 oz water bottle in the next compartment. I break the liquids rules on every single flight and they simply don't notice.

Because of this experience, I have no trouble believing the stories of people who blithely walk through security with large knives or even guns they've forgotten they were carrying. Were there actually any shadowy terrorist organization who thought they had something to gain by hijacking an airplane, I have no trouble believing that they could find a way to get whatever it was they needed through security.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:11 AM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


You are seriously arguing that suicide bombers are an almost unimaginably improbable threat? This despite the fact that two actual attempts at suicide bombing on an airplane have been made since 9/11 and both failed because the bombers in question had taken such precautions to avoid security-line detection that they had rendered their bombs ineffective.

I don't think that's the argument Max was making. It isn't that suicide bombings of planes are unimaginably improbable. It's that suicide bombings of planes are roughly as improbable as shark attacks (about 60 incidents per year).

Assuming that the rate of successful bomb-plots would have tripled with no security changes after 9/11, the annual number of bombings would still be less than 100, and the annual number of fatalities (around 1,000 assuming the tripled success rate) would still be much smaller than the annual number of deaths from flu or the annual number of deaths from motor vehicle accident.

The point is not that there is no threat. The point is that (1) the threat is very small and that (2) addressing the threat is not worth the money being spent.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:17 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Knives! I once flew from SFO to DC with a Swiss army knife in my carry-on, because used the bag on an earlier trip but checked it, and had never taken the knife out of the little pocket it was in. SFO did not notice the knife. Dulles did and the guy rolled his eyes and took my knife and that was it. (On that same trip, I also had a 4 oz container of hair goo, which no one took away from me.)
posted by rtha at 11:20 AM on March 1, 2012


Argh ... sorry, that should have been "Mars" not "Max" ... who beat me to the reply anyway.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:21 AM on March 1, 2012


Yes, really. And it's not the length of the flight only, but the total door to door time that matters. To that hour flight, add the drive to the airport, parking, waiting around for one or two hours, waiting for your baggage at the other end, waiting at the car rental place, taking a shuttle bus to the car rental building, and then driving to your destination which may be quite a distance from the airport. Even with no delays that is not a fast process overall; add in one late or canceled flight and you would have been far faster to drive.

None of those things are due to the TSA's practices. The question I asked was whether having to pull a laptop out of a bag and put it back in and having to pull your shoes off and put them back on was a sufficient hassle to make you cancel a trip to meet your family. Obviously if you live so close that driving is actually quicker than flying, you might as well drive.
posted by yoink at 11:23 AM on March 1, 2012


You asked if the security hassles are worth driving six hours to avoid a one hour flight. My point is two-fold:

a) That you have to compare door to door times, not flight times, including delays.

b) That the extra indignity and hassle of the security theater is, for me, enough to tip the balance towards driving when the two are even somewhat close.

When things at the airport are smooth and well-functioning, it's exactly like you describe -- maybe 15 minutes from walking in the door to sitting at the gate. When it's not, you end up in endless slow-moving snaking lines, having your nuts prodded, having random things like a tube of toothpaste taken away, and then winning the "you have been randomly selected" lottery and spending more time in the security area.
posted by Forktine at 11:39 AM on March 1, 2012


This is a completely unfalsifiable argument. Look, see this magic stick I'm waving around? It keeps the gremlins away.

If you think it is as difficult to verify the existence of people willing to sacrifice their lives in order to prosecute a terrorist attack against a high-value propaganda target such as a plane full of Westerners as it is to verify the existence of Gremlins you seriously need to read a great deal more about the world you live in.

Because of this experience, I have no trouble believing the stories of people who blithely walk through security with large knives or even guns they've forgotten they were carrying. Were there actually any shadowy terrorist organization who thought they had something to gain by hijacking an airplane, I have no trouble believing that they could find a way to get whatever it was they needed through security.

False negatives are nowhere near as damning as people seem to think. The question isn't "do things slip through the security net" the question is "do enough things slip through the net so that someone planning a terrorist attack thinks that there is no need to take that net into consideration in their plans." The fact of the shoe bomb (prior to the shoe scanning rules) and the underpant bomb (after the institution of the shoe scanning rules) prove that this is not the case. Would-be terrorists do, in fact, fear discovery by the scanners. That they need not fear 100% probability of detection is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the security systems act as a deterrent.

The point is not that there is no threat. The point is that (1) the threat is very small and that (2) addressing the threat is not worth the money being spent.

Mars Saxman clearly believes that there is no threat of any kind. He believes that terrorists are mythical creatures like "gremlins"--he says, in bold, that "this is not a real problem."

Now, I happen to agree with you entirely that most of the post-9/11 changes have made little difference to our overall security and that the costs outweigh the benefits. That's a perfectly sensible thing to say. As I said in my very first post in this thread: "Like everyone else, I doubt the added security measures that have been put in place since 9/11 have made much real difference." So we are agreed on that point. What I don't understand is the hysterical tone in so much of the writing about this. Yes, the government is overspending a little, and overall it would be better if they didn't. But all the B.S. about "porno machines" and "TSA pat downs are sexual assault!" and so forth just seems, to me, to disqualify the people peddling that line from serious consideration. I, for one, will be entirely delighted when they finally stop making us take our shoes off in the security line--but I can't work myself into a lather about the INTOLERABLE BURDEN that taking my shoes off places on me and seriously contend that it has made flying unbearable.
posted by yoink at 11:39 AM on March 1, 2012


You are seriously arguing that suicide bombers are an almost unimaginably improbable threat?

Improbable and impractical, yes.

Having established that the two most destructive (socially, economically, militarily, etc.) uses of airplane hijacking are defunct without the intervention of a massive, expensive, and socially destructive organization like the TSA, you can consider the harms of a terrorist attack directly in terms of the immediate effects of someone smuggling a weapon on board a plane: he can blow something up, stab a bunch of people, shoot blindly into the crowd, etc. These are violent and undesirable outcomes, granted, but they're not dangerous in the way they were twelve years ago, because they're contained to just the group of passengers.

They're also not exclusive to air travel. That same psychotic terrorist could do far more damage by targeting another, less-well-defended group of people in tight quarters. If said hypothetical terrorist were to strap 10 pounds of high explosive to himself and then walk into the middle of a mall on December 23rd, or into an elementary school, or a state capitol building, and detonate it, he would inflict WAY more damage than he would have by blowing up his shoe on a 747. And yet I don't see any multi-billion-dollar paramilitary government agencies setting up security checkpoints outside the Westfield Shopping Center or running parents through body scanners on their way into schools.

It's a response that's wildly out of proportion to the actual threat. You might not like that there's a chance that someone's going to try to take down the airplane that you're in, but if deaths per passenger mile is on the top of your list of concerns, then you should never get into a car again. Nor should you leave your house; you're more likely to be mauled to death by a bear than you are to be killed in a terrorist attack, which is just as true with the TSA as it was without it.
posted by Mayor West at 11:53 AM on March 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


For all you hopeful that there is some rationality to be salvaged from all the TSA insanity, two words: body cavities. That is all.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:27 PM on March 1, 2012


Yes, the government is overspending a little, and overall it would be better if they didn't.

Hmm ... I guess from my perspective, the government is overspending quite a bit more than a little. I realize that in terms of the entire federal budget, these are drop-in-the-bucket amounts of money, but for the price of two years worth of new TSA scanner installation, we could pay the salaries of about a hundred teachers ... for their whole 30-year careers. (Or, equivalently, we could prevent the firing of somewhere between 2500 and 5000 teachers.)

Or we could repair some roads or fund flu vaccinations or fund reading programs or fund food stamps or ...

We should be upset because this is an obvious misuse of taxpayer dollars, we are in the middle of a depression, and many government officials are trying to slash genuinely valuable programs from the budget.

As Mayor West says, the TSA is a response wildly out of proportion to the actual threat. If you really agree with that -- as you say you do -- then you ought to be upset about it. Maybe not frothing at the mouth, but certainly on the "abolish the TSA" side of the argument.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 1:04 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


but is it seriously a sufficient hassle to prevent you going to an annual family reunion? Or to make you drive for six hours in a car rather than take a one hour plane trip?

Yep pretty much because there aren't any 1 hour plane rides anymore. You've got to arrive so early at the airport in case you end up winning the SSSS lottery that your minimum plane ride is at least a couple hours even if you can sail through security in 15 minutes most days. And then there is all the other factors enumerated above. It's not that the security theatre is the sole deciding reason; it's that when faced with two semi equal choices I'm going to choose the one that isn't hugely invasive of my privacy. Invasive to the point where you actually have to present your papers to the government while they take pictures of your naked body. It's practically a real life parody of many distopian novels.

One the shoe bomber et. al.: the next place explosives will be hid will be a body cavity. And I'd wish what ever crazy attempts this method would get on with it already so we show how useless porno scanners are. Or I suppose we'll need to queue up yet another hour earlier for the mandatory body cavity searches.
posted by Mitheral at 1:38 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, the government is overspending a little,...

Multiply the value of travelers' time by the number of travelers, and that ain't a little. By the way, time is irreplaceable.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:20 PM on March 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


but certainly on the "abolish the TSA" side of the argument

But "abolishing the TSA" means doing away with the entire apparatus of airline security, not just those elements added since 9/11. And that would be to invite absolute carnage in the skies. Every loon with a grudge and every terrorist in the world would be heading for the airports a.s.a.p.

One way or another we have to pay for a reasonable level of airline security (the much vaunted El Al system, for example, would probably up the overall cost of the TSA). Making some rational reductions in post 9/11 additions to security screening really isn't going to save us all that much money.
posted by yoink at 6:01 PM on March 1, 2012


but is it seriously a sufficient hassle to prevent you going to an annual family reunion? Or to make you drive for six hours in a car rather than take a one hour plane trip?

That whole idea is misleading anyway, as I discovered a few years ago. My wife and I drove to Vegas from L.A. Standing in line to check in at the hotel we were surprised to find we were right next to an old friend of my wife’s that she hadn’t seen in a while. As we talked about the trip we realized they had flown, but they had left the house around the same time we did, a little earlier maybe. Anyone who’s lived there knows that driving out of L.A. is no picnic, so we were a little surprised. It was pure luck, but it answered a question we were curious about.

This was before 2001 and it’s about a 5 ½ hour drive, 45 minute flight. Once you add in the driving to the airport, parking, security, waiting, and getting from the airport to your destination, the short trips come out pretty equal.
posted by bongo_x at 7:10 PM on March 1, 2012


it's that when faced with two semi equal choices I'm going to choose the one that isn't hugely invasive of my privacy

So what you're saying is that you agree with me that the TSA security checks are a pretty minimal hassle. I mean, their enough of a nuisance that they might tip you to drive rather than fly if the choice would be a toss-up in any case--but they're not enough of a nuisance to make you choose driving when flying is clearly more convenient.

I doubt that you actually consider them "hugely invasive of your privacy," in fact, given that they weigh so little in deciding between the two options. I would think that an actual "huge invasion" of your privacy would be quite a weighty consideration.

This was before 2001 and it’s about a 5 ½ hour drive, 45 minute flight. Once you add in the driving to the airport, parking, security, waiting, and getting from the airport to your destination, the short trips come out pretty equal.

That may or may not be true--but the changes made to airport security since 9/11 haven't made any substantial changes to those calculations.
posted by yoink at 7:14 PM on March 1, 2012


That may or may not be true--but the changes made to airport security since 9/11 haven't made any substantial changes to those calculations.

We obviously go to different airports.
posted by bongo_x at 7:30 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


That may or may not be true--but the changes made to airport security since 9/11 haven't made any substantial changes to those calculations.

Absolutely true. I find it... hard to believe the people that say the travel times are the same. I have flown all over the US over the last 5 years and even in that period it has got significantly slower to get on a plane.

It used to be that '2 hours before' was a 'only for the meek and inefficient travellers' mantra and (certainly in the UK and also in the US when I arrived in 2006) was only relevant for international flights. Domestic flights were more reliable. Now, I plan to be at least 2 hours before, and that counts for any hub or airport that is remotely busy. It just takes so damn long to get into an airport and past security. The amount of times that massive delays have cause issues means that I now consider having 45 mins to kill before boarding is a sign of a well planned trip. You just can't cut it any finer than that because the lines can be horrific. I've been in pre-security lines of an hour or more on many occasions.
posted by Brockles at 7:57 PM on March 1, 2012


This is unchanged from pre 9/11 security. They would always make judgment calls as to what constituted a "jacket" or otherwise potentially concealing clothing. I can remember lots of pre 9/11 flights where at one airport I'd wear a cardigan (or equivalent) happily through one lot of metal detectors and then be told to remove it on the return flight.

I fly a fair amount, and I can tell you that the policies are absofuckinglutely changed from pre-9/11 security. I've been required to strip down to a camisole. Hi, that's my underwear, thanks. Very, very few pat-downs need to occur at all after screening with a wand. Just because it's survivable doesn't mean that it's appropriate. Next, maybe we can be compelled to open our mouths and stick out our tongues? Pee in a cup?

Yes, I can buy a bottle of water and food. I can buy lots of things in an airport. But it shouldn't be a de facto requirement to spend money on airport vendors. As for the time and inconvenience, maybe it takes you 15 seconds to take off your shoes, but it sure as heck doesn't take 15 seconds for the family of four ahead of me to get everyone's shoes off for a pointless ritual that is not keeping anyone safer.

Debating the ins and outs of the particular details of the rules currently in play is beside the point -- it's simply ridiculous and insulting to create a new rule in response to every cockamamie idea of allegedly terroristic intentions.
posted by desuetude at 8:56 PM on March 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


But "abolishing the TSA" means doing away with the entire apparatus of airline security, not just those elements added since 9/11.

No, it does not. At all. The TSA was formed as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001. Before there was a TSA, we had airport security. And if the TSA is done away with, we will still have airport security. Getting rid of the TSA does not mean anarchy in our airports and skies.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:58 PM on March 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


"And that would be to invite absolute carnage in the skies. Every loon with a grudge and every terrorist in the world would be heading for the airports a.s.a.p."

This kind of fear-mongering is exactly what got us into this mess.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:33 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


But "abolishing the TSA" means doing away with the entire apparatus of airline security, not just those elements added since 9/11.

Yeah, at this point it sounds like you're just trolling.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:49 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


TSA apologizes to 'humiliated' mom for breast-pump gaffe

Does The TSA Have A Breast Fixation?
posted by homunculus at 1:28 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older The Baldur's Gate series of games is considered le...  |  Neil Young busking in Glasgow,... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments