Michael Chertoff on the TSA and “Security Theater”

michaelchertoff.jpg

Last week Boing Boing was invited along with a small group of political bloggers and analysts to a sit-down Q&A with departing Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. I had a chance to ask Secretary Chertoff a few questions about the TSA screening process. (Although had I more time, there would have been plenty of other questions I would have loved to ask, such as why U.S. Customs confiscates laptops; more on that in another post.)

While I will be posting the complete transcript of the interview with everyone’s questions (along with the audio recording if anyone is interested), I’ve excerpted the discussion about the TSA with questions from me and Security Catalyst‘s Michael Santarcangelo. I’ve edited the transcript slightly for clarity.

Joel Johnson: What’s the number of direct terrorist actions that have been interfered with by TSA screening?

Secretary Chertoff: Here’s what I can tell you. I can tell you that we’ve kept… you know, I don’t have them all in my head. We had a case where somebody had bomb components in a piece of luggage they were going to take on. Now, do I know that they would have found some way to assemble it, or do I know that at some stage of the person’s flight path, it would not have become the bomb? I don’t know that. I do know that you probably wouldn’t want to get on that plane and I wouldn’t want to get on that plane.

I know that we’ve kept off weapons. Now, do I know the person who had the weapon was going to use it? No, maybe not. But I know that I’d rather not have that on a plane. Do I know how many people I’ve deterred? I don’t know that because I don’t know how many people have said, I’m not going to try to do something because I know there’s a high likelihood I’m going to be caught.

What I can tell you is that in the period prior to September 12, 2001, it was a regular, routine issue to have American aircraft hijacked or blown up from time to time, whether it was Lockerbie or TSA or TWA 857 [I believe he meant TWA 847 – Joel] or 9/11 itself. And we haven’t had even a serious attempt at a hijacking or bombing on an American plane since then.

[According to Airsafe.com, the last flight previous to 9/11 to be hijacked with fatalities from an American destination was a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight on December 7th, 1987. "Lockerbie" refers to Pan Am Flight 103 which was destroyed by a bomb over Scotland after departing from London Heathrow International Airport on its way to JFK, with screening done — as now — by an organization other than the TSA. TWA Flight 847 departed from Athens (Ellinikon) International Airport, also not under TSA oversight.

While Wikipedia's list of aircraft hijackings may not be comprehensive — I cannot find a complete list from the FAA, which does not seem to list hijackings, including 9/11, in its Accidents & Incidents Data — the last incident of an American flight being hijacked was in 1994, when FedEx Flight 705 was hijacked by a disgruntled employee.

The implication that hijacking or bombing of American airline flights is a regular occurrence is not borne out by history, nor does it follow that increased screening by the TSA at airports has prevented more attacks since 9/11.]

Secretary Chertoff: So, you know, it’s a little bit like getting vaccinated against a dangerous illness. You know, we all took polio vaccine when we were kids. Maybe you may not be old enough. (Laughter.) I can’t tell you that if I hadn’t taken the vaccine, I would have gotten polio. But I can tell you that it is a sensible thing to do. And that’s kind of how I view TSA.

[Secretary Chertoff used this same analogy in his interview with Threat Level in August. It implies that terrorism can be cured through prevention, which is obviously not possible.]

Michael Santarcangelo: Down that path, then, how do you separate out going after real risks versus perceived risks? Right? Because as humans, we’re not real good at judging risk.

Secretary Chertoff: Yeah. That’s a really important question. We try to manage risk by being disciplined and balanced. You know, I’ll give you an example.

We put a lot of effort into scanning and screening cargos that come into the United States, cargo containers that come in, because of the concern of a nuclear device or something like that in a cargo container. I think that’s been good. It’s drawn down the risk to a reasonable level. There’s a lot of push to do that, all that, overseas, even before it gets on a ship. And there’s a lot of cost and difficulty in that.

So to my view, that may be, at least if you’re talking about a port of embarkation like Southampton in a country like Britain, which has a very good intelligence service, that strikes me as perhaps a little bit of overkill. On the other hand, many people who argued for that said not a word about general aviation.

And yet a couple years ago I had a senior executive in a jet leasing service come to me and say, I don’t know really who leases my jets. For all I know, someone could get on with a bomb and it could fly into the United States from overseas, detonate the bomb over a city, and that’s that. So as a consequence, we started to say, let’s raise the bar on general aviation. So we put rules out on advanced screening of passengers, and we’re setting up agreements to do preclearance overseas.

I try to balance, you know, and I think we all try to do the best we can, with a sense of reasonableness. We don’t try to make the architecture of the New York subway system, in terms of screening, be the same as the as the airport.

Now, with all of that, I have to say perception is not entirely inadmissible. A lot of what is important in security is public confidence, and visible security adds a certain dimension to public confidence which I don’t think you can underestimate. And so I think we have sometimes been visible in doing things. I mean, I raised the question at some point, like, why did the National Guard get posted at the airport? Particularly we do less of that now. And, you know, part of it is I guess if someone were to act out, you’d have an additional show of force. But part of it is public confidence, the public being confident.

The flip side of it is if you look at Katrina, I think one of the issues in Katrina was the lack of a lot of visible presence of the authorities on the ground and that creating a sense of disorder. So one of the lessons I learned is the perception of order and security is actually an important operational element in establishing order and security. It’s a kind of a corollary of what Rudy Giuliani did in New York with the broken windows theory, that if you establish that breaking windows and graffiti will not be tolerated, you actually generally drive down crime because you create a sense of order.

Joel Johnson: Sir, I was really trying to avoid using this term at all. But are you actually saying that security theater is an important aspect of actual security?

Secretary Chertoff: No. I don’t think it’s theater because I think the person who says this is kind of unrealistic and is kind of trying to be provocative. I don’t think they’re doing things for no reason to make sense, but I think understanding that visible security has a role to play is important. It is a deterrent.

Joel Johnson: Well, sure. But theater also means…theater has a purpose, too, to express a meaning.

Secretary Chertoff: Yeah. I mean, the problem is, I think the term is not meant to be…it’s meant to be pejorative. It’s meant to suggest that it’s like a puppet show. But I would have to say I think visible security does have a role to play because I think it does inspire a sense of confidence.

It also is a deterrent because, generally speaking, people, whether they want to smuggle things in or commit crimes or commit acts of terror, are deterred if they think there’s a reasonable likelihood of apprehension, and therefore, particularly if you mix it up, if you do random things, if you change things so they’re unpredictable, I think that that actually enhances security.

Joel Johnson: But if the point of terrorism is to scare people, and if the easiest way to scare people is by killing them randomly, if you don’t have the ability to put security everywhere, I mean, it still seems like you’re ultimately inconveniencing people with a lot of useless screening and useless or most-of-the-time useless security, but not actually able to ever stomp down the threats.

Secretary Chertoff: Well, first of all, you do try to stomp down the threats because you try to eliminate them overseas. You try to catch the people when they come in. But what layered security recognizes is that no one layer is perfect. So what you do when you have screening is, first of all, you do find things. I mean, we find people bring on things, and we have found people coming in across the border with things like how to make an IED. And, you know, it’s important to catch that. But we also deter people because we raise the barrier to them carrying out an attack because they worry about it.

Now, is it perfectly successful? No. So I’ll give you an example that I sometimes use.

The best police chiefs in America, guys like Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton, they have not eliminated crime in their cities. Does that mean that having police is useless? It scares people, you know, because you have a lot of police presence, and it costs a lot of tax money because you haven’t stomped out crime? No. You’ve reduced it. We have reduced the risk of terror. We have not eliminated the risk. And an argument that I find fallacious is one that challenges all security measures because none of them is a perfect security measure.

[The complete transcript of the interview is available in this Google Doc.]

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51 Responses to Michael Chertoff on the TSA and “Security Theater”

  1. Anonymous says:

    any questions on a high-ranking US politician holding dual citizenship?

  2. Doc Think says:

    The entire transcript of the roundtable is at http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1229004872058.shtm

  3. jdfreivald says:

    So the TSA is like police. They have a presence and they scare people more than they actually prevent/investigate crimes.

    The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Having a police presence can deter crime.

    The city of Richmond, VA recently implemented a system that, in part, used statistical analysis to determine where crimes are most likely to be committed given a set of conditions (day, time, holiday, weather, etc.). They deploy more police cars to those areas. Violent crime was reduced 49 percent, with taxpayers paying less in overtime.

    I’m not saying that everything Chertoff does is right — I’m sure there are plenty of rational arguments to put forth about the kinds of things he’s doing — but when someone argues that a policing presence doesn’t change criminal behavior, it’s tough to take them seriously.

  4. Santa's Knee says:

    So, all in all – nothing was said.

    They just used a whole mess of words to say it.

    [Why was I expecting anything else...?]

  5. akbar56 says:

    Obama gets to replace this guy right? Or are we stuck with him for now?

  6. Santa's Knee says:

    Chertoff has NEVER answered a question – never. Why does anyone even bother to “interview” him anymore?

  7. clueless in brooklyn says:

    Is Chertoff a gadget?

  8. Paul Coleman says:

    #3 – Do tools qualify as gadgets?

  9. Takuan says:

    meh, what’s it all matter. That seventh cruise missile Cheney had “misplaced” was never reported, and even now the pointy end is waiting in a basement for the inaugural ball. “Better to rule in Hell….

  10. Frank_in_Virginia says:

    He sounds like Sarah Palin talking to Katie Couric.

  11. SeattlePete says:

    So the TSA is like police. They have a presence and they scare people more than they actually prevent/investigate crimes.

    Sounds good to me. I mean, I’ve become used to ill-mannered thugs with no training and a complete disregard for the constitution. My questions is…why do we need a new police? What was wrong with the old one (besides the obvious)?

  12. Oren Beck says:

    I’ve been waiting for Obama’s dramatic actions to reverse this fiasco. And I still am reserving final roses or razzing till he’s had time to handle more pressing issues.

    Yet our economy is so drastically affected by the “Friction against Flight” resultant from TSA bunglings. I’d wager a ceremonial penny that much spending on air travel gets hesitated over due to the TSA gaming. Now if Chertoff had his salary affected by passenger impact feedback? Naah- that makes too much sense. So we end up with our Homeland ECONOMICALLY devastated. With a non-trivial probability to think on. That it’s as a burnt sacrifice upon the altar of security theater. Debate on the point tends to get dangerously close to Rush’s defense of bailed out corporate office makeovers though. Yes, the TSA “employs” a percentile, and the machines that go PINGG impress too. But I’d rather have America’s infant mortality yearly not be greater than all terror attacks worldwide. 28 thousand deaths in 2008 Vs under 5-6 thousand at most in the worst year 2000 on makes infant mortality trump any security beyond common sense stuff as to funding…

  13. CS Loser says:

    “We had a case where somebody had bomb components in a piece of luggage they were going to take on.”

    If they had ever caught someone with actual explosives, he would have said that. “bomb components” means that some eager screener got overly excited at seeing an alarm clock and they called it “bomb components” after the fact to hide their stupidity. It is sort of like calling lettuce and tomatoes “hamburger components”.

  14. Mojave says:

    Chertoff is a katsa.
    That is all.

  15. jdfreivald says:

    seattlepete @35, a police presence might intimidate the general populace, but frequently it doesn’t. The people of Richmond apparently feel safer as a result of the improved (not increased, except locally) police presence. When I travel, I don’t feel intimidated by the TSA, whereas I think some criminals might. The blanket claim that cops intimidate citizens is just too broad.

    The point I was really trying to make is that we already have cops.

    Right. I disagree with that, too — there will be a difference between people who are trying to find weapons in screened luggage and people who are trying to work a gang or walk a beat — but since you’re openly hostile to cops anyway, I wouldn’t expect you to worry about nuances.

  16. Anonymous says:

    *sighs* If everybody could just learn to stop worrying and love the terror..

  17. Takuan says:

    gawds, what a bag of shite and wind! How does Chertoff look at himself in the mirror every day? How does he actually cash his pay check? The bastard KNOWS, that is clear – he can’t even hide behind being a True Believer. What a sack of hypocritical shit.

  18. Anonymous says:

    …let’s raise the bar on general aviation. So we put rules out on advanced screening of passengers…

    That has to be the most scarry comment in the interview and it raises serouis civil liberties issues.

    I’m a member of the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) and was alerted that the TSA wants to impose new & crazy rules on private recreational flights.

    http://www.eaa.org/news/2008/2008-10-30_tsa.asp

    The TSA wants the pilot to submit fingerprints of all flight-crew members to the TSA. And the pilot must submit a passenger manifest for *each* flight to the TSA.

    This is crazy. How would you like it if every time you wanted to go out for a drive with your family in a Chevy Suburban or a camper van that you had to notify the police or the Dept of Transportaion? I can just as easily blow up a building loaded with fuel & fertilizer in a Truck or a private aircraft. But you don’t see the Federal Highway administration imposing rules private recreational inter-state highway travel in automobiles.

  19. sabik says:

    The problem with a verbal screening system is that you can’t staff the line with underpaid immigrant labor. The cost of competent screening staff might mean that we’re stuck with security theater for a long time to come…

    If you’re after deterrence, you can reduce cost somewhat by random screening. Quite possibly it’d be a bigger deterrent than universal screening, because it adds uncertainty to the mix.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Michael Chertoff is the head of Homeland Security not the head of TSA. Homeland Security places restrictions on security operation conducted for flights from other countries with destination in the USA. So yes he can claim responsibility for the effectiveness of the screening in other countries.

    -the Goat

  21. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Well, there’s interviewing, and there’s heckling.

    Good spokespersons know not to respond too much to a biased interviewers, because they’re going to be painted with whatever bias the interviewer has already established.

  22. toyg says:

    Tedric @40:

    *Facts* tell us that the “war on terror” caused a prolonged spike in oil prices and created a giant barrel of pork for defence contractor. Both industries with strong links to the soon-to-be-ex-POTUS.

    *Facts* tell us that the “war on terror” exponentially increased internal threats in any country supporting a US president, or any country hosting a sizeable Muslim minority (which means almost all of them).

    This is what it’s been “established” about the “war on terror”. Everything else is just propaganda, and it has been repeatedly contradicted by facts.

  23. Frank_in_Virginia says:

    “We had a case of an MIT student with an Infernal Device.” “We stopped her and saved countless lives.”

  24. EH says:

    Quibbling over semantics and word choice.

  25. clueless in brooklyn says:

    #4- I thought that as soon as I wrote #3. I sit corrected.

  26. mhomyack says:

    I think the notion that visible security gives people second thoughts about carrying out terrorist acts is probably pretty reasonable. That said, you can have “visible” security that doesn’t consist of a senseless shoe scramble, keeping people from carrying on shampoo, and occasionally fondling female passengers in the name of detecting dangerous bra straps.

    I would argue that the best “visible” security would be to make every passenger briefly converse with a police officer (or best near equivalent) about where they’re going, the reason for their trip, and how long they’ll be gone. Of course, a terrorist is going to lie to the screener, but the point is to make them think about having to have that chat and then to make them deliver those lies with a straight face. Virtually all the arrests of terrorists made before they could carry out an attack have been the result of spotting people who looked nervous or who couldn’t answer simple questions about what they were doing. If someone in the security line starts to look panicky or can’t answer a couple simple questions, you can take them aside and screen them more thoroughly.

    The problem with a verbal screening system is that you can’t staff the line with underpaid immigrant labor. The cost of competent screening staff might mean that we’re stuck with security theater for a long time to come…

  27. Caroline says:

    Does that mean that having police is useless? It scares people, you know, because you have a lot of police presence, and it costs a lot of tax money because you haven’t stomped out crime? No. You’ve reduced it. We have reduced the risk of terror. We have not eliminated the risk. And an argument that I find fallacious is one that challenges all security measures because none of them is a perfect security measure.

    What was it John Kerry got flamed crispy for saying? Oh yeah:

    “We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” Kerry said. “As a former law-enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”

  28. tedric says:

    @MYHOMYACK
    Brief conversations with each passenger is not a bad idea – it’s routine at Customs checkpoints the world over, after all – obviously it would be more effective than confiscating liquids and scanning footwear. But though it throws up an obstacle, it could be fairly easily overcome by rehearsing a false identity made up of a few basic pieces of info.

    @HUNGRYJOE
    Agreed: I think it’s been made pretty clear that the “War” on Terror is about ‘fighting them abroad so we don’t have to face them at home.’ It is both maddening and (ahem) terrifying to think so, but I believe there’s a good chance that as our military involvement in Afghanistan/Iraq is reduced, the chance of a domestic terror attack rises dramatically. Maddening, because it means I have to admit that the Bush strategy may actually have worked in some regard.

    (Of course it’s a short-term, reactionary strategy: they basically said “Well, since we don’t stand any realistic chance of solving the root causes of terrorism during our administration, we’ll just distract the terrorists until we’re out of office and let the world deal with it then.” Defers the resolution of problem, while making it look like they’re doing something about it in the moment. Sort of brilliant, in a twisted, irresponsible, and thoroughly reprehensible kinda way. This near-sighted, selfish approach typifies the administration’s stance on other issues too, i.e. climate change.)

    @RINDAN
    Absolutely right: as long as a terrorist is sufficiently motivated, they will succeed no matter what we do. That’s why we need to pare down our security to the measures that are truly effective, and devote the rest of our resources to removing the conditions that foster terrorism around the world (poverty, oppression, ostracism, etc.).

  29. supagold says:

    “Secretary Chertoff used this same analogy in his interview with Threat Level in August. It implies that terrorism can be cured, which is obviously not possible.”

    No it doesn’t. A vaccine isn’t a cure. It’s a preventative. I think it’s reasonable to say that terrorism can be prevented. Maybe not in all cases, but a vaccine isn’t 100% effective, either.

    I don’t disagree with the overall point that airport security is mostly security theater, but that’s no reason to misrepresent his views.

  30. quickasfoxes says:

    Some good points, Joel. Though I would disagree with you that Chertoff’s comparison of TSA screening to a polio vaccination implies that terrorism can be cured; it merely implies that it is something which can be prevented.

    A polio vaccine is a preventative measure just as TSA security is, and the polio disease, once contracted, is irrevocable (i.e. incurable) in the same way as a terrorist attack.

  31. chip says:

    “And we haven’t had even a serious attempt at a hijacking or bombing on an American plane since then.”

    I guess Richard Reid’s “shoe bomb” doesn’t count because the flight left from Paris. Never mind that it was an American Airlines plane heading to Miami…

    • Joel Johnson says:

      @chip: Not only would a flight leaving from Paris not be screened by the TSA, but Richard Reid was stopped in the air.

  32. hungryjoe says:

    I don’t understand Joel’s comment about terrorism being incurable. Isn’t Chertoff using the vaccine analogy to say that the TSA prevents terrorist acts? Or is he claiming that the TSA is the antidote to terrorism?

    I have to believe that terrorism can be “cured,” although obviously not by the current administration. Surely there is a level where we can address and overcome the root causes.

    Nobody is claiming this will happen at the airport, right?

  33. Santa's Knee says:

    Can we do away with the unmoderated anonymous postings? I hate astroturf…

  34. ckd says:

    Joel’s mention of FedEx 705 brings up two things:

    - “Nobody” could have foreseen someone hijacking an airplane with the intent of crashing it into a building, except of course for Tom Clancy and anyone who was paying attention to the FedEx 705 incident.

    - Auburn Calloway didn’t go through passenger screening.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Chertoff isn’t implying that polio can be cured through prevention, either. He’s making a risk/reward analogy. I believe his point is the TSA is inconvenient, and annoying, and the overwhelming majority of the time it has no effect and is completely unnecessary, but it’s worth going through anyway because what it’s trying to prevent, hijackings, are so “crippling” (if you follow me).

    Chertoff is a clown, and many things the TSA does are ridiculous, but this interview makes him sound reasonable and yourselves a little bit amateurish.

    Of course TSA’s deterrent effect is going to be hard to measure, especially in a way that’s going to supply a satisfying answer to question number one. Of course he’s not going to describe what he considers a deterrent show of force with the words “security theater,” a derisive term which implies ineffectiveness (yes it does).

    Why does TSA see fit to confiscate laptops and shaving cream and contaminate my baby’s pumped breast milk? I would like to know. But you’re not going to find out with interviews like this one, because your questions aren’t thoughtful. You’re just trying to confront the guy.

  36. key says:

    Secretary Chertoff doesn’t think it’s security theater because people who say it is security theater are critics. And as we all know, critics of Bush policy are wrong by default. That’s essentially his position.

    That any American could have ever entrusted anything to this group of toadies and lackies (Bush’s appointees, that is) is mind-boggling.

  37. wimbledon says:

    @joel@chip: But wouldn’t it be better if Richard Reid had been stopped by French airport screeners on the ground? Is your point that we don’t need good airport screening because airline passengers do a good enough job of stopping terrorists themselves? I myself like to take a nap on a flight, knowing my terrorism-stopping powers, fearsome though they may be, will not be required.

    I understand and agree with the argument that the TSA imposes far too many inconveniences that have no useful effect. If the TSA were overhauled by smart people, it would keep us all a lot safer and less irritated. But you seem to be arguing that there should not be a TSA at all. Is that fair?

  38. mgfarrelly says:

    Joel, at what point did you want to pick up your recording device, gather up your notes stand up and begin tossing footwear?

    I believe I reached that point in the third paragraph of his non-answer to the first question.

  39. grimc says:

    There’s one thing that nobody has mentioned (certainly not Chertoff):

    August 6, 2001 PDB: Bin Ladin Determined To Strike In US

    There was already a system in place to detect and prevent terrorist attacks in the US. It involved the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, the intelligence branches of the military, jeebus knows what other known and unknown Federal agencies–and the Oval Office.

    That system failed. Partly because of operational and co-operational problems, but mostly because there was no urgency–no leadership–shown by the Oval Office. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but I do believe in the incompetence and hubris of the people who were in charge.

    The TSA and new security regulations at airports is pointless. In addition to all the proof that Bruce Schneier regularly points out, consider that theft from luggage is still a problem. If somebody can take something out, somebody can put something in.

    The best defense against terrorism is a sane foreign policy and national intelligence programs that are not ignored by people more concerned with domestic politics than national security; not the quiet acceptance of the abrogation of our civil rights.

    But we Americans do love us a good show.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think Chertoff is being evasive or unclear. He is basically saying that the inconvenience suffered by travelers is a clear way to make the security presence known, and inspire ‘confidence’ in the traveler.
    Now, the real question is whether this ‘confidence’ is worth the hassle it entails. Realize that the TSA has two customers: the flying public who want safe travel, and the airlines who want paying customers. In creating ‘confidence’ maybe we get people to fly and possibly the deterrent effect of the searches does in fact reduce terror attacks.
    Since the real task of preventing terror attacks is hard, and it’s harder to determine the effectiveness of something that occurs very rarely, it’s easy to complain about the most visible parts of their strategy.

  41. SeattlePete says:

    @ #30 jdfreivald: My point was not that a police presence doesn’t prevent crime, it does. But it also serves to intimidate the general populace (as a “bycatch” of cracking down on criminals).

    The point I was really trying to make is that we already have cops. Just man the TSA checkpoints with regular city cops and be done with it. TSA = bureaucratic overhead and a waste of money.

  42. Rindan says:

    But wouldn’t it be better if Richard Reid had been stopped by French airport screeners on the ground?

    Yeah, but it has never ever happened… which should probably tell you something. At no point in the history of aviation has someone with true intentions of blowing up an airplane ever been stopped. No live and armed bombs have ever been intercepted.

    I am not against security, but realize what security is. Security in this instance will NEVER stop anything. The only thing you can do is mutate that threat into something else. If all’s I need to blow up an airplane is enough explosives that I can fit it inside of my shoe, I’ll just shove it up my ass or tape it to my crotch. This is what makes the shoe inspection stupid. It doesn’t prevent anything, it just mildly mutates the threat into something just as simple and just as lethal. This is what makes taking your shoes off stupid.

    The same goes with the fluid rule. It is trivial to slam a large amount of fluid in sealed containers up your ass, fill up a plastic bags worth, tape some to your thigh, or simply have more than one conspirator. You mutate the threat slightly for almost no increase in security.

    Now, reinforced doors on the other hand are a great idea. This combined with passengers that will respond with suicidal effort to stop someone getting into the cockpit and pilots who are prepared to do some very unpleasant maneuvers to keep people from breaking in the door, and it actually cuts off an entire avenue of attack (ramming airplanes into buildings). As a bonus, it is cheap. This is a worthy security measure because it doesn’t just modify the threat, it stamps it our, or at least requires drastically improved capability to pull off the attack. What once took 5 guys with box cutters now probably takes at least 5 guys with guns, lots of ammo, an armed man inside the cockpit man who can kill the other pilot/copilot before he can perform evasive maneuvers.

    So, I am all for security, I just want it to actually make sense. The only time when dumb shit like shoe scanning or limiting liquids makes sense is if there is an imminent threat of a plan in the works. If someone gets aboard with a shoe bomb, I can fully understand shoe screening for a few months as a method of disrupting other shoe bombers that might have plans in the works. Once some time has passed though, it is pointless to continue the security. People who want to blow up plans have discarded their shoes and have moved on to something else. Forcing minor mutations to a threat just delays its implementation. Long term security should be about preventing threats, not cutting off one of many equally easy alternatives.

  43. Cowicide says:

    #12 POSTED BY Eh:

    Quibbling over semantics and word choice.

    I know!! Jesus fuck I hate that more than anything! I wonder if there was a Karl Rove “contrived semantic debate for point obsfucation” class that each and every Bush admin crony had to go through at some point?

    It’s a great way to dodge answering anything honestly.

    Chertoff:

    What I can tell you is that in the period prior to September 12, 2001, it was a regular, routine issue to have American aircraft hijacked or blown up from time to time …

    Yeah, starting off towards the beginning of the interview with a statment that makes Chertoff sound like he’s either inept, lying or both doesn’t really make me feel remotely more secure for some reason. It makes me think that it’s been mostly just increased natural vigilence that we haven’t had another attack on U.S. soil and nothing to do with Chertoff’s “efforts”.

    It’s amazing how these guys can stand up and lie like this for all to see and not even bat an eye. Shit, if you tried this inept and/or deceptive stuff to try and get a job at McDonalds they’d send you packing. Yet, here they are… all leaving with medals…

    Someone get me a fucking shoe.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Joel asks the near perfect question, I’d ask how many terrorists have we caught in the US who are behind bars. After all the $$$ spent on homeland security and two wars I can tell you it’s 0, zilch, nada, not one terrorist has been rooted out on american soil because IF there WAS these knuckleheads would be crowing about it. All they can do is dissemble, lie, and propagandize.

  45. hungryjoe says:

    I spoke with a security consultant a few years ago who described Saudi Arabia’s border security strategy. Their goal was not to prevent cross-border incursions on a border that ran through thousands of miles of desert. Instead, they tried to channel those incursions by creating targets perceived as difficult, and targets perceived as easy. Once they accomplished that, it was a fairly safe bet that anyone with malevolent intentions would go after the easy target. Because the security forces essentially directed the “bad guys” to those targets, intercepting them became much easier. And because the easy targets were also low value targets, any successful attacks by the “bad guys” were acceptable losses.

    I think this philosophy may be the same philosophy employed by the TSA in protecting commercial flights. You can see why this would be a difficult strategy for Chertoff to discuss outright. You can also see why “Security Theater” is an especially apt phrase, and why Chertoff doesn’t care for it. Proving the effectiveness of this strategy would be about as difficult as proving a negative. If the TSA can’t show that it has intercepted any serious threats, this could prove either that they’re ineffective, or that they are an effective deterrent against attacks.

    The case can be made that the entire War on Terror and all its ancillary inconveniences are about the US choosing when and where to fight terrorists. From Al Qaeda’s point of view, it’s cheaper and easier to fight us in Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to send suicide bombers into the West to smuggle a bomb onto a plane.

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