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Security theatre theatre.
March 23, 2012 5:20 AM   Subscribe

In the latest (ongoing) Economist debate (run Oxford-style), security expert Bruce Schneier and architect of the TSA Kip Hawley are facing off to respectively defend and attack the motion "This house believes that changes made to airport security since 9/11 have done more harm than good." Overview. Opening statements. Rebuttals. (Surprisingly cogent) comments from the floor.
posted by unSane (32 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I were a terrorist (WHICH I AM NOT!) and if I wanted to blow up a bunch of American civilians (WHICH I DO NOT!) I couldn't think of a better target than all the people bunched up in line waiting to go through airport security (WHICH WOULD BE A BAD THING THAT NOBODY SHOULD EVER DO!). I'm sure Schneier makes the same point.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:23 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


From this link, from inside the rebuttal link:
We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled "saline solution."

"It's allowed," he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don't fall under the TSA's three-ounce rule.

"What's allowed?" I asked. "Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?"

"Bottles labeled saline solution. They won't check what's in it, trust me."
what is this i don't even
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:38 AM on March 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


"More harm than good" depends on what the desired result was.

I believe that the program's architects are quite satisfied.
posted by Trurl at 5:40 AM on March 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


"More than 6 billion consecutive safe arrivals of airline passengers since the attacks on America on September 11th 2001 mean that whatever the annoying and seemingly obtuse airport-security measures may have been, they have been ultimately successful." -Kip Hawley's opening line

CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION. GIVE ME BACK MY TAXES.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 5:40 AM on March 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


I love the comments which defend the TSA on the basis that the money spent could not have been wasted, since another 9/11-type attack would be worth any cost to prevent.

If you accept that logic, then you will love this offer: in order to prevent future 9/11-type attacks, I myself will vigilantly observe, report, and prevent all such plans and attacks. My services exist on top of, but in addition to, what the TSA already provides.

All I require is the modest sum of $150,000 per annum in order to make this my full-time job - surely just a drop in the bucket, in comparison to the enormity of terrorism. The best part: I personally guarantee that, under my watch, there will be no 9/11-type attacks whatsoever! Should I fail, the American taxpayers will receive my entire salary for that year.

Since no cost-benefit analysis can ever be performed on the TSA, and since no cost can be applied to terrorism prevention, you simply must add my services to the itemized receipt. After all, you have my guarantee that my services will work!

I solemnly accept my responsibility...do you?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:53 AM on March 23, 2012 [23 favorites]


It's getting especially ridiculous now that the TSA has banned Skittles on flights.
posted by Legomancer at 6:10 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The TSA is a stumbling, staggering clusterfuck of an agency that is doing its best to recapitulate every bad dystopian novel ever written. Total waste of money.
posted by Forktine at 6:26 AM on March 23, 2012


And I'll supervise sticherbeast for 50k/yr. That's a third of the cost, for double the security!
posted by dubold at 6:32 AM on March 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, someone is going to have to spy on stitcherbeast to make sure he isn't doing anything anti-american with the information he gathers so I will, for the small sum of 300,000 yr insure that stitcherbeast's data remains secure.
posted by spicynuts at 6:38 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


More than 6 billion consecutive safe arrivals of airline passengers since the attacks on America on September 11th 2001 mean that whatever the annoying and seemingly obtuse airport-security measures may have been, they have been ultimately successful

I think there were far more than 6 billion consecutive safe arrivals before the attacks, so that was probably the better system.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:43 AM on March 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'll fire spicynuts, dubold, and Sticherbeast, claim that I've made a savings in cutting the department, hire a contractor to do their jobs for twice the money, then go to work in an executive position with the contracting firm.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:44 AM on March 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


More than 6 billion consecutive safe arrivals of airline passengers since the attacks on America on September 11th 2001 mean that whatever the annoying and seemingly obtuse airport-security measures may have been, they have been ultimately successful

Wow. No planes have crashed in the US since 11-Sep-2011?

And, of course, nobody with a shoe bomb or underwear bombs ever got on a plane after that date.

And, of course, nobody has been shot by an Air Marshall after that date.

I think there were far more than 6 billion consecutive safe arrivals before the attacks, so that was probably the better system.

Well, probably not, but that was because planes are basically becoming safer, and there was a period when both hijackings and plane bombings were more common than they are today.

Many first and second generation 737s have crashed badly enough to make the plane unrepairable, but only 8 of the third generation (-700 through -900) have had hull-loss crashes. Only one 777 and one A340 have crashed badly enough to wreck the plane, but in both cases, there were no fatalities. The only 777 related fatality I know of happened because a plane was mispressurized on the ground and an FA was thrown out a door when it was opened.

(full disclosure: I know Bruce Schneier quite well, consider him a good friend, and we both spend a lot of time flying, and both of our professions intersect with security, so it shouldn't be surprised that we have similar positions here.)

The fundamental difference in the NYC/DC attacks was the idea of taking over the plane and using the plane itself as a weapon. As a surprise tactic, it was spectacularly successful. Without surprise, it failed -- the tactic was countered, by the passengers and crew aboard, less than an hour after it was introduced.

Strengthening and locking the cockpit doors was a very real improvement in security, along with the very strict orders to aircraft captains that they are not to, under any circumstances, allow someone hostile to take over the flight controls. Helping this is that the passengers will take action if they suspect that their lives or the control of the plane is at risk.

Since then, the few attacks carried out on US flag carriers have been spectacularly inept -- and mostly dealt with *by passengers*.
posted by eriko at 7:06 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


So I have been to America before, my kids haven't. Our next holiday is in Malaysia - apparently you guys don't give a shit about tourism. Yay.
posted by bystander at 7:25 AM on March 23, 2012


"Our next holiday is in Malaysia" - um.....
posted by zeoslap at 7:30 AM on March 23, 2012


yeah... i lolz'd
posted by spicynuts at 7:32 AM on March 23, 2012


And I say this after telling my family we should save up for a "Route 66" holiday. They don't want to go there. They think me old fashioned for believing route 66 will have any meaning with their friends. AMERICA WE USED TO LOVE YOU. but you would be sad how fast the love is going
posted by bystander at 7:32 AM on March 23, 2012


And I say this after telling my family we should save up for a "Route 66" holiday. They don't want to go there. They think me old fashioned for believing route 66 will have any meaning with their friends. AMERICA WE USED TO LOVE YOU. but you would be sad how fast the love is going

Let's not conflate the TSA being a total fucktastrophe with your kids not wanting to see Route 66. I live in the U.S., and I don't want to go on a Route 66 holiday; whatever the mystique of the highway (and/or show), it's long gone, and I don't think that has much to do with bored minumum-wagers gawping at my junk via x-ray machine every time I want to get to the other coast.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:31 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


And, of course, nobody with a shoe bomb or underwear bombs ever got on a plane after that date.

The fact that two terrorists resorted to such crappy (and ultimately unsuccessful) ways of smuggling a bomb onto a plane actually does speak to the success of airport security (not, of course, of the TSA's in particular, because they boarded their planes outside the US). The purpose of airport security is deterrence--to change the effort/reward calculation for terrorists. The shoe bomb and the underpant bomb (and the ink cartridge bomb) are all good examples of terrorists adopting sub-optimal plans because they fear capture by airport security.
posted by yoink at 9:37 AM on March 23, 2012


The fact that two terrorists resorted to such crappy (and ultimately unsuccessful) ways of smuggling a bomb onto a plane actually does speak to the success of airport security (not, of course, of the TSA's in particular, because they boarded their planes outside the US).

It doesn't tell you anything about post 9/11 security though. The argument is whether post 9/11 changes made us safer or not, not whether airport security is a good idea per se.

The 9/11 hijackers were armed with box cutters. The didn't carry any explosives or other weapons on board. If what Scheier says is true, they could happily carry TNT on board as long as it was labelled saline solution.
posted by unSane at 10:22 AM on March 23, 2012


And I say this after telling my family we should save up for a "Route 66" holiday. They don't want to go there. They think me old fashioned for believing route 66 will have any meaning with their friends. AMERICA WE USED TO LOVE YOU. but you would be sad how fast the love is going

These are pretty much the same feelings most Americans I know have.
posted by bongo_x at 10:42 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


...apparently you guys don't give a shit about tourism.

Sorry foreign travel person, but in D.C. terrorism > tourism.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2012


Two things:

1) It should be a rule that every time Bruce Schneier is referenced, a link to Bruce Schneier Facts should be included.

2) I would have paid good money to be there when Hawley found out that the debate was going to be in print in the Economist and not televised on Fox News.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:02 PM on March 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform is holding a hearing that sounds like it'll be pretty down on the TSA:
The work of our two Committees has documented a recurring pattern of mismanagement and waste at the Transportation Security Administration. Add to this an unending string of video clips, photographs and news reports about inappropriate, clumsy and even illogical searches and screenings by TSA agents. Americans are right to demand answers from TSA about the return on investment of their tax dollars.

Monday’s joint Committee hearing represents yet another opportunity for TSA to try to explain why Americans are subjected to procedures that sometimes appear to defy logic and why the agency continues on a security system procurement binge. The committee will be asking questions about the effectiveness of five major security initiatives that together represent billions dollars of government spending. Understanding the cost for security programs as well as their benefits will help address the question: is it security theater or effective security?
The Committee is soliciting questions and comments from the public, although they must be submitted via Facebook (ugh). Schneier was originally scheduled to be a witness at the hearing but as of today he won't be appearing after all, which is a shame.
posted by jedicus at 6:54 PM on March 23, 2012


The TSA is our Maginot Line.
posted by neuron at 8:46 PM on March 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought the Star Wars missile defense shield was our Maginot Line. Damn, I need to keep more current.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:45 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Schneier was originally scheduled to be a witness at the hearing but as of today he won't be appearing after all, which is a shame.

And evidently he was removed from the witness list at the request of the TSA, which is some remarkable bullshit.
posted by jedicus at 6:46 PM on March 26, 2012


TSA bars security guru from perv scanner testimony
posted by homunculus at 1:23 PM on March 27, 2012


TechDirt roundup : How The TSA's Security Theater Harms Us All
posted by jeffburdges at 7:59 PM on March 30, 2012


Planning a trip to Canada or the Caribbean? US Immigration may have other ideas... New security checks are already in place – even for flights hundreds of miles from American airspace
posted by homunculus at 10:07 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Mystery of the Flying Laptop
posted by homunculus at 6:17 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


U.S. filmmaker repeatedly detained at border
posted by homunculus at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


TSA Security Theater Described In One Simple Infographic
posted by homunculus at 3:57 PM on April 11, 2012


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