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The Devolution Of Security
Now even the Transportation Security Administration has a blog.

It's actually called the "Evolution of Security," and, most hilariously for anyone who's gone through the security puppet show at airports these days, it's subheaded, "Terrorists evolve. Threats evolve. Security must stay ahead. You play a part."

Me: "Loose dips sink ships."

Nothing I love like the way the TSA promotes the perception of safety instead of actual safety. It's reflected in their section, Gripes & Grins. As is to be expected, not a whole lot of grins, although there was the occasional "smile and the world smiles with you" type breaking into the complaints about what a bunch of chimps many of these TSA people are. Here are a few of the comments:

•mike_s said... Why does the TSA run special low delay inspection lines for first class airline passengers? Since when is one taxpayer entitled to discriminatory treatment and special service from a government agency?

•anonymous said...
I'm a 63 yr old woman, and I do NOT appreciate the TSA woman in West Palm Beach who felt it necessary to reach down inside the front of my slacks. How embarrassing!

• anonymous said...
Thanks for starting a blog. We used to fly to Michigan twice a year to visit my in-laws. Thanks to the TSA, I no longer have to do that because flying has become too much of a scary hassle. I figure you guys have saved me over $3000 in travel costs over the last couple years. Better still, I don't have to hear from my father-in-law about how I should go to church more often. Relatedly, I should give thanks to the TSA for allowing me to rediscover my home state of Oregon as all of my vacations are spent within driving distance. Turns out, I live in a beautiful state with a rich cultural heritage. I'll see you all at the old-time fiddler's contest in Sumpter, Oregon this September!

•constitutionalistron said...
Do people employed by the TSA realize they are continually engaged in warrantless searches (and, not uncommonly, seizures)? The entire process is illegal, is it not? Is it made legal by the fact the federal government pays screeners to engage in the act? Here's the fourth amendment, for you consideration: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Violation of this very explicit federal government restriction is a fundamental flaw in the TSA organization, not to mention the rude, incompetent behavior of screeners. I don't believe you have the integrity to reply to this comment, either, by the way.

•anonymous said...
The tsa's efforts to screen passenger would be more credible if you could show some reasonable evidence that all this screening has prevented any terrorist acts.

Because there were no terrorist acts in flight in the U.S. during the history of commercial aviation before 9/11, it is not credible to cite the absence of such attacks since 9/11 as evidence of efficacy.

In the meantime, tsa passenger screening is costing billions of dollars annually in direct costs, and probably tens of billions in wasted time and unnecessary aggravation of the traveling public.

Where's the cost-benefit analysis?

• glenn53 said...
Wow where to begin?

Ok lets at least address the real problem.

Why do you have people gather in huge lines where any bomber could take us all out waiting to be checked????

You need to be checking the cars entering the air port. that way they may blow up a car or two. as it stands now they could take out thousands of people before they ever were screened. this isn't rocket science.

You are just setting up false security, while putting us all in harms way.

Take a step back and do the right thing.


•gordo said...
I recently traveled from JFK to Charlotte, NC and the TSA had inspected my checked baggage. When I arrived in Charlotte, I noticed the TSA sticker on the tag, but no notice had been left. When I opened my bag, the items inside were tossed about and the inside zipper was open with my cell phone charger hanging out. My $300 Canon digital camera, its charger and leather case were missing. I filed a claim with TSA, but it was denied. They're supposed to be checking our bags, but instead things go "missing". My concern (aside from someone stealing from my baggage that was supposed to be secure) is that if anyone can steal something out of the bag, then anyone can also put something, such as a device or bomb in the checked baggage as well. What is the purpose of screening the luggage if the TSA personnel is part of the problem?

• brian said...
MISSING THE TARGET - I'll never forget returning from fighting for our safety in Iraq, in full military uniform (I'm a Sr Officer) and being pulled aside in full view and being "strip searched" because there are some tiny metal clips on the sides of the uniform pants that "beeped". Have we gone so far in the U.S. we can't figure out who are the good guys and bad guys? If folks aren't smart enough or aren't allowed to figure out who is the most likely real threat, they are ineffective. Ongoing facts prove that out.

•pilotone said...
I'm a Pilot. I have been fingerprinted by the FBI and given the highest security clearence including Ramp clearence. Yet at the TSA check point we still need to get half naked in front of customers that trust us to get them to their destination. I don't get it? We (Pilots) don't need weapons to create another 9/11. We are already flying the Aircraft. Is it necessary for us to go through such intensive screening? In Tel Aviv the hotel van picks us up at the hotel and drops the entire crew off planeside. No security screening. If Isreal trusts us. Why can't you. (TSA)

• anonymous said...
It concerns me that everything you check for is in reaction to a past incident and that you're not anticipating future terrorist ploys. For example, we didn't have to take our shoes off until the Shoe Bomber tried unsuccessfully to set his foot bomb on fire. We could take liquids in until someone tried to make a bomb from their seat in coach by mixing small amounts of liquids they had carried on board. Now the TSA agents make me take off my shoes and throw away my deoderant, while some mastermind is thinking of the next diabolical plan that you are not anticipating. I have no confidence in Homeland Security or TSA's ability to protect us if you are always looking for the things they thought of last year and are not anticipating what they may try next. But what do you expect from the government?

• bootz said...
This is an EXCELLENT article:

IDs and the illusion of security (Amy: by Schneier, of course)

PLEASE READ IT! Basically it says that the only secure form of airport chacks are random searches -- everything else is prone to loopholes. But please, read!

Personally, just as I think there's some chance I could die in a fire, bike accident, or car crash, or be crushed by a meteorite falling out of the sky, I think there's also some chance I will be killed by terrorists. I deal with this fear by living in the moment. If I go, I go, but I prefer not to live in the moment in fear or be felt up by burly women at the Las Vegas airport, as I was a few years ago. (It's called "underwire," you dumb bitch, and they've been putting it in bras for years.)

Posted by aalkon at February 6, 2008 11:39 AM


Ah, TSA, joy of joys.

Do people employed by the TSA realize they are continually engaged in warrantless searches (and, not uncommonly, seizures)?

This is the one point at which I rolled my eyes. No one *has* to fly. When you buy the ticket, you implicitly promise to go through airline security. As for the seizures, if the TSA is seizing something that it said ahead of time would be disallowed - such as an 8 oz bottle of shampoo - I'd say that's covered under the "implicit agreement" thing. Customs officials have been doing the same thing for years without warrants. That having been said, TSA officials can be ridiculous in judging what is a "threat" and what is not...and they really, really, REALLY need to get a handle on this issue of theft from checked luggage.

Amy, she didn't know about underwire? Maybe SHE was a terrorist.

I see TSA security as imposing some operational costs on terrorists that may slow them down slighty. That's it. However, I don't think an airplane will ever be successfully hijacked again, at least not one with Americans in it. The pilots won't leave the cockpit again, and the passengers will assume they're probably dead anyway and act accordingly. Some or all of the passengers may be killed, but the planes won't be used as weapons again, and I don't think the hijackers will ever get in a position to negotiate with the authorities. That has little to do with the TSA, though.

Posted by: marion Author Profile Page at February 6, 2008 7:44 AM

I never lock my bags anymore. The only reason I did so in the past was because of TSA. I didn't and still don't trist them. Now that you have to buy a special lock that they can open, it seems kind of pointless. (Besides, anything of value I travel with goes into the carry-on).

I've said it before, no doubt I'll say it again. On nearly every level TSA fails. They can't even keep the honest people honest.

Posted by: Elle at February 6, 2008 8:15 AM

"it's called underwire you dumb bitch"

Amy, you brighten my days.

TSA must be very naive about breasts. Years ago I was traveling with my infant, and had my breast pump (the size of a large lunch box) and some bottled breast milk in the storage compartment. They had to call in assistance to search the pump because they thought it was a bomb, made me DUMP OUT my breast milk and take the diaper off of my child! It's like why would I bother pumping the fucking milk if I was going to blow the plane up? Ugh!

Not to mention, if infants suck while the plane is taking off or landing, their ears will "pop" (so they won't scream their heads off and disrupt everyone on the plane). I was traveling alone and had to wrestle my big boobs in and out, and keep the infant covered up the whole time, because our society hates a breastfeeding woman, just so everyone could have a comfortable flight. All of this, after I had pumped for hours to prepare and had to watch it all get dumped out.

I'd rather take my chances with the terrorists.

Posted by: dena at February 6, 2008 8:21 AM

Working in the feild I must say that most of the world takes for granted the service we perform. The amount of people screened everyday it is truley a staggering number. Please be kind to the screeners at the airports. They are hired to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the transportation security administration. They do not try makes things hard for passengers but to try and protect them.

Posted by: Paula at February 6, 2008 8:34 AM

What genius puts a camera in checked luggage? Maybe I'll check my laptop next time...

TSA is less than worthless. Security theater, and we all go along with it.

Posted by: justin case at February 6, 2008 8:34 AM

They can't even keep the honest people honest.

Great point. Their stupid regulations just create incentives to find way to get around them. E.g., when I smoked, I just used to carry my lighter in my pocket through the metal detector, since they would find it in my carry-on bag about 1 in 5 flights.

Posted by: justin case at February 6, 2008 8:46 AM

Dena, the feeling is mutual. Loved this:

It's like why would I bother pumping the fucking milk if I was going to blow the plane up? Ugh!

Posted by: Amy Alkon Author Profile Page at February 6, 2008 8:54 AM

the thing is, if they were doing real security, I wouldn't mind the inconvenience as much... and by THEY I mean the administration. The screeners themselves are following directions, which as a guess are slightly different region to region because of differences in management style.

The comment about the first class screening amused me, because obviously the first class part of the plane leaves at a different time than the rest of the plane, so they need to go first. :eyeroll:

The ne fastpass [whatever it's called] system that they are putting in is irksome as well. It takes you to the front of the screening line. The only cost to you is that everything about you including prints or a retina scan is now in a government database. What is the advantage to you? You still get screened the same way. This is the same agency that puts you on a no-fly list that you cannot get off of. Is it actually advantageous to give them a retina scan and have them keep it in a database? Or are they likely to do something extraordinarily stupid with that down the road?

So here's the scenrio... you curb check your large piece of luggage. Your cohort, drives away, and goes to the pickup line. You walk downstairs, and get back in the car. A mile away you send a signal to your phone or whatever... and the checked luggage with the 50# of c4 takes out most of the front half of the building.

Is there anything the TSA is doing that could prevent this? Not only no, but is there anything they COULD do? They could ban the curb check, and force you to hoss your bags around, but the bad guys seem more than willing to take their own lives anyway.

The bottom line, is that there are certain things that could be done to discourage the bad guys, but they can't protect against everything. There is a risk involved with flying, sadly.

It would be nice if the worthwhile things were protected against, and the rest of it? leave it be...

But then that is why anything w/in about 500 miles is approximately the same driving or flying, except if you drive, you don't have to rent the car...

Posted by: SwissArmyD at February 6, 2008 9:59 AM

From the article:

Howe said the increased difficulty explains why screeners at Los Angeles and Chicago O'Hare airports failed to find more than 60% of fake explosives that TSA agents tried to get through checkpoints last year.

The failure rates -- about 75% at Los Angeles and 60% at O'Hare -- are higher than some tests of screeners a few years ago and equivalent to other previous tests.

MMM... inconvenience and incompetence. Awesome.

Posted by: flighty at February 6, 2008 10:48 AM

TSA airport security has something in common with jobs like debt collectors, sales, meter maids, and animal shelter euthanizers. These are evil horrible soul-killing jobs that are hell to be doing, pay absolute crap, everyone hates you for doing it, and they still have to be done. I pity those that work them. Well, except telemarketers. Those guys get no pity from me.

Now, for the talk about TSA security. Unfortunately, all this extra security stuff is really too late; the terrorists have already done their damage. All it really does is slow things down, a lot, and waste a lot of time. Especially since the TSA workers seem to be underpaid and understaffed in a lot of cases, leading to really really long lines.

A lot of the rules are really ridiculous, and the whole thing needs to be revamped. The worst rule right now is that you can't bring a drink on the plane even if you bought it AFTER you went through security. And the breast milk thing mentioned above is really ridiculous. I try to avoid flying as much as possible and bring as little with me as possible.

What I do to get through airports faster is either check everything or check nothing - either saves about the same amount of time. Having no carry-on is kinda risky (your luggage might get lost IE stolen) but security is blindingly fast, sometimes there's even an extra line for people that don't have carry on. Bringing everything carry-on is much more of a pain but if you pack everything in little clear plastic baggies it goes faster.

Posted by: Bad Kitty at February 6, 2008 10:49 AM

The worst rule right now is that you can't bring a drink on the plane even if you bought it AFTER you went through security.

This isn't a rule. Some airlines may not want you do it, but it's not a rule. I always bring extra water on the plane when I fly, and it's never been an issue.

Posted by: justin case at February 6, 2008 12:11 PM

Maybe its because I fly out of Burbank whenever possible, maybe its because I travel light, maybe its because I typically carry on no more than a backpack's worth of stuff . . .

. . . but I'm just not that annoyed by airline security.

In fact, I find the traffic at/around LAX about a thousand times more bothersome than waiting in a 20 minute line.

I do miss being able to greet an arriving visitor at the gate. Nothing to do while waiting in baggage claim.

Posted by: snakeman99 at February 6, 2008 3:02 PM

The politically correct prohibition against profiling makes the TSA ineffective. The Israelis have it down properly. They screen for terrorists while we screen for shoes and liquid.

Posted by: truman at February 6, 2008 3:12 PM

When traveling in Canada I bought some hydrogen peroxide as an antiseptic. I packed it unthinkingly with the other toiletries. The sniffer at screening had me open my bag, and I remembered and was instantly apologetic. But no, it was the shampoo that they binned. I pointed out the H2O2 but they were not interested, I think because there was less than 100 ml.

I can't pretend to understand that. Even if I had less than 100 ml, with a few buddies we could have carried on quite a lot. I don't know exactly what you could do with it, but it is an oxidising agent ...

I wonder if this post will ring alarm bells anywhere?

Posted by: Norman at February 7, 2008 12:41 AM

>>Working in the feild I must say that most of the world takes for granted the service we perform.
What service is that Puala?

>>The amount of people screened everyday it is truley a staggering number.
So what

>>Please be kind to the screeners at the airports.
Why would I be kind to a jackass who can tell the difference between water and explosives and confiscates my tweesers while letting thru hunndered of pens and pencils?

>>They are hired to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the transportation security administration.
We were just following orders isnt an excuse in the military why should it be one for you?

>>They do not try makes things hard for passengers but to try and protect them.
Bullshit, if that were true they would demand training that was acctually effecite. They arent there to protect passangers, they are there to get a paycheck. The TSA is no more effective than the people airport used to hire to man the Xray machine.

Cut the 'poor misunderstodd civil servent' crap

Posted by: lujlp at February 7, 2008 4:51 AM

Whatever you may think about TSA and the screeners, it's not going to change the fact that you have to go through the process. Complain about it on the 'net all you want, that's what it's for. However, when you're going through the checkpoints it's easier to be pleasant and gets you treated better (in my experience). I few out of Denver over the holidays and my screener was really friendly while some of the others were really nasty. I commented on this and my screener said that most of the nasty ones had started the day in just as good a mood but luck of the draw had given them the jerk off fliers and they became pissy (of course this situation isn't universal, some people are sadistic bastards by nature).

Don't take out frustrations on people doing a job, at least they are showing up for 8 hours a day to collect their "welfare".

Posted by: Aardvark at February 7, 2008 8:01 AM

For crying out loud, lujlp!

I spend half my time suffering inner meltdown in airport lines. No one denies it's become shittier and shittier.

But your comment was so full of hot air!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 7, 2008 9:09 AM

(It's called "underwire," you dumb bitch, and they've been putting it in bras for years.) (Amy)

Hehe. ROFLMAO Amy, you are killing me today.

I had a TSA employee "wand" me, and let's just say she had no respect for the delicacy of the male testicle.

That being said, your photos indicate that you have fabulous underwires. (Just joshing. Just joshing. Please don't ban me for that.)

Posted by: Jeff at February 7, 2008 10:13 AM

"We were just following orders isnt an excuse in the military why should it be one for you?" lujlp

it's not an excuse but a requirement. You have to have a very good reason for not doing so. In any case the point is that you are shouting at the people who can do THE LEAST to fix the situation. If you want change, complain to the people that can do something about it. That wouldn't be the wageslave on the ground. That would BE Congress. The TSA itself is likely most concerned with continuing to exist, so complaining to them prolly won't change much...

Posted by: SwissArmyD at February 7, 2008 3:01 PM

i used to go to school in ohio and fly back and forth a lot. when i flew back home, there was always someone there to greet me. when i flew back to ohio, i always had to get a taxi. same when i worked in baltimore - i flew back for a friends wedding, and my other friend got up at 3 am just to drive 2 hours to the airport and pick me up at the gate. then he got up the next day at 3 am to take me back - and waited with me until i got on the plane. when i got back to baltimore, i paid the guy for letting me park my car there and drove myself home.

i can't tell you how much nicer it was to have someone there waiting for me or with me at the airport and how much i missed it when it wasn't there, and how pissed off i am that it is lost now.

Posted by: kt at February 8, 2008 12:49 AM

"Whatever you may think about TSA and the screeners, it's not going to change the fact that you have to go through the process."

This isn't even remotely true.

This exercise at airports merely coerces the consent of the public from them - for more and more intrusive governmental supervision. Every time you do what they say, merely because you want to get on a plane to go somewhere, you consent to being found guilty until proven innocent. Just like a whore bartering her virtue, you accept this for the convenience you see in air travel. No, you don't have to travel by commercial air. You want to, and you don't care about being treated like a thug enough to say anything - or even think carefully about the situation you're in.

Government agencies are now seeking funding for "positive identification" technologies. They are aided in this by everyone who insists that if they have nothing to hide, they should not object. Here's an observation: even people who think some American elections are rigged make that statement. They insist that they are not being represented by their government, then trust the same bastards with everything!

We are peasants, to be done to as those who are in power wish. We are so busy yakking about nothing on a cell phone that we mistake being able to speak for being heard.

Posted by: Radwaste at February 8, 2008 6:51 AM

I worked security at a municipal court for a few years. I have caught guns, drugs, knives through the scanner. I am continually amazed by the different security levels by the TSA. I would have a back pack loaded with at least 4 different gadgets with the necessary wiring and batteries that would cause me to want to search my own bag if I saw it through the scanner (because of the way it shows up on the screen). The only variable I have noticed is that when I fly looking like a kid off the streets (in the eyes of TSA) I will get searched, but when I am dressed for business I have no worries. As for the way bags are searched, please, I could still hide some contra ban, because they usually just rummage around the bag - pretending to do their job. That is what gets me, especially as a military police veteran, the inept agents faking security because they are just rent-a-cops with some power. Which brings me to another insight. The officers I worked with where actual police who needed extra income. Their searches were totally discriminatory with respect to what type of person they wanted to mess with. Usually the hot chicks or anyone who slightly questioned their authority. They usually operate off of their chauvinistic instincts instead of sound security procedure and DON'T EVEN get a woman agent pissed. The detection failure rate says it all. The system is good but the people enforcing it are not and if you are one of the good ones, save the hate because I was one of you.

Posted by: kbling at February 8, 2008 7:26 AM

I have to concur with Radwaste here. Where is the outrage? I don't fly but with this and so many other things, they just blow off the few of us who do speak up because everyone is so afraid to question authority these days, least they be perceived as being a threat or a nutcase. They had everyone making scenes at the gates or choosing to turn away rather than give up their rights (or risk their eye to a retina scanner) they would have to react, we are such sheep these days, so afraid of the big bad wolf that we just watch with round eyes as he gets bigger and badder gobbling up more and more of our rights.

Posted by: Donna at February 8, 2008 9:11 AM

Next time you step through a turnstile, remember that there are literally hundreds of substances which are deadly in quantities smaller than the TSA allows.

Bend over. You might have something.

Posted by: Radwaste at February 8, 2008 2:42 PM

Donna -

In a perfect world people would do just that. The problem is that the world isn't perfect and most of us just want to try to get where we are going, with as little fuss as possible. And when making a scene is guaranteed to make you miss your flight and likely will get you thrown in jail and interrogated, people just aren't game.

I fly as absolutely little as possible. When I do, I invariably have the six year old in tow, because I'm heading back home to visit family. Missing a flight (non-refundable) is not an option. I can barely afford to fly the little we do, I can't throw away the money to make a statement. Going to jail is not an option, when I have the six year old in tow. Rather, I catch red-eye flights, which not only gets us through the line quicker, it also makes it easy for the six year old to acclimate to Michigan time.

I have been a protester. I've been thumped by the cops, maced by the cops and spent nights in jail trying to get the chemical residue out of my eyes. Given less responsibility, I would (and in the future probably will) do it all over again. I like to rabble rouse and make a ruckus, about things I feel strongly about. But for the time being, I have two kids and a partner to support. Civil disobedience is simply not an option at this point. Which isn't to say that I don't do protests, it's important for the six year old to understand what cost what is right can come with. I just know that there are limits and I have to stick to them.

Posted by: DuWayne Author Profile Page at February 9, 2008 12:58 PM

The TSA blog is another piece of window dressing. When going through Dulles a screener asked a supervisor to check my camera bag, hey no problem. It's in a bin, the super. is holding the bin above the metal rollers, his arms at a 90 degree angle. Then he just drops the whole shabang onto the metal rollers. When I could speak again I looked him straight in the eye and made it very clear that what he had just dropped was extremely expensive and that I'd appreciate it if he did not do it again. What he dropped on purpose probably has more value then his monthly salary.

When mailing the TSA to file a complaint an auto-bot replied about 29 times with some gibberish. I suspect the new blog to be about as effective as the guy in the cheap brown suit.

Posted by: Don at February 13, 2008 2:55 AM

To whomever travels.....

I work for the TSA in a Law Enforcement role. I have to commend the Men and Women of the TSA for all the hard work they have to do on a day and out basis. They are just regular folk like you and me trying to provide a sevice fo all to travel.

I once was a TSO when I first started with DHS, and what they do is not random. For the most part these " Random Screenings" are implemented by the Airline and not the TSA. So to say that they don't know what they are doing seems silly to even think. They have done a great job for all of us by "Protecting and Serving" their Country.

If you have such a problem with Taking off your shoes, removing your jacket, or putting out all your liquids in a baggey....Then DON'T FLY!~!

Or better yet.... They can just have people not get screened...put you all on that same plane... and "Pray to God" that someone doesn't have an I.E.D.


Posted by: TSA Blogger at February 15, 2008 4:30 PM


"Or better yet.... They can just have people not get screened...put you all on that same plane..."

THAT is exactly the way it should be. Here's my point...there will always be madmen. Everytime you get out of bed you are at risk of being mugged or shot or otherwise injured or killed by some crazy person. Yet we are not screened as we walk out the doors of our homes....just to be sure we will not be a threat to society that day.

What we have done with this we have lost sight of liberty. We have given up essential liberties for a "feeling" of security. That feeling is not real. In tests at LAX, 75% of items that would build a bomb were missed. We're not more safe; just less free.

The terrorists have won. We're prisoners of our government which forces us to remove clothing and be felt up by government employees. That same government that tells us to be afraid, that it is for our own good. What good?

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Posted by: John W. at February 27, 2008 2:30 PM

TSA Blogger... are you f'ing kidding? When the TSA can show us one -- even one -- single instance in which all of the security theater has caught an actual terrorist or prevented a plane from being taken down you might gain some credibility.

When the TSA can show that it actually screens ALL of the cargo that goes into the bellies of the planes -- ALL of it, we might start to take you maybe a little bit seriously.

When the TSA starts to work with actual law enforcement agencies who track actual people who are suspected terrorists or known associates of known terrorists or who have demonstrable links to known terrorists or something that might actually give someone probable cause to check up on someone, maybe it could be considered to be earning its keep.

However, until these actual security measures are going to be happening, no amount of fearmongering, no amount of security theater, no amount of tossing water bottles, breast milk, hassling wheelchair bound seniors and pregnant women is going to make your case. I'd rather face 1000 terrorists and die fighting like an American than to surrender the liberties my grandfather fought for in WWII and his father and grandfather fought for before that to an ever more overreaching federal government determined to turn the once proud USA into a simpering police state.

Posted by: WinstonSmith at March 7, 2008 12:59 PM

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