The TSA’s Own Best Arguments Make the Case for its Irrelevance

Bruce Schneier offes commentary on the TSA’s “Top 10 Good Catches of 2011

The TSA is great at trumpeting anything close to what it considers to be a success but nowehre on its top 10 list is a terrorist. They didn’t catch any.

Schneier points out that the firearms and knives brought to the checkpoint by forgetful passengers would have been caught by the very same screening procedures that existed pre-9/11, the TSA offers no value add there.

And that the number one good catch, small chunks of C4 explosives in a passenger’s checked bag, was found on the return flight meaning that the TSA didn’t even find it on the outbound.

The P.R. spin doesn’t stop though, this isn’t an agency that can admit fallibility, it’s defending its decision to confiscate that cupcake in Las Vegas.

This Salon piece reminds us of some of the silly confiscations of 2011:

TSA confiscates a butter knife from an airline pilot. TSA confiscates a teenage girl’s purse with an embroidered handgun design. TSA confiscates a 4-inch plastic rifle from a GI Joe action doll on the grounds that it’s a “replica weapon.” TSA confiscates a liquid-filled baby rattle from airline pilot’s infant daughter. TSA confiscates a plastic “Star Wars” lightsaber from a toddler.

All of these things really happened. There’s no real need to arrange them in order of ridiculousness, but it’s that last one, with the lightsaber, that really makes you wonder if we haven’t lost our minds. (I mentioned this incident in a column last month, but it deserves another reckoning.) In earthly terms a lightsaber is a toy flashlight covered by a rounded plastic cone. As a “weapon,” though, it is something that exists only in fantasy. The product neither looks like a real weapon nor does it contains part that, by themselves, are TSA contraband. It is an imaginary weapon hazardous only to a race of imaginary space-people invented by George Lucas.

Thus, confiscating a lightsaber is a little like confiscating a genie bottle or a magic wand.

Although a Twitter account that claims to link with Newt Gingrich’s brain to share his policy ideas seeks to pursue the light saber idea as a national security strategy, so perhaps the TSA was working jointly with the military, seizing a prototype. The truth is out there

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I share your concerns about the abject foolishness of airport security methods. In their defense, the only legitimate argument you can make is “deterrence.” After all, our nation’s nuclear arsenal was never designed with the intention of blowing up the world. It’s there to deter others from mischief.

    There would seem to be some evidence that the TSA does deter jihadists and other crazies from attacking airplanes. Does this necessarily make logical sense? No — but then attacking airplanes doesn’t make logical sense. The people who want to commit this terror are not logical (Like I would submit that there are far more effective means to sow terror than blowing up airplanes, but that’s something I don’t really want to get in to).

    Since the start of this security fiasco, it has been obvious that the single best way to balacne risk v. inconvenience to “normal” travellers has been to profile. But we are no closer to a consensus on this than we were 10 years ago. I don’t see it happening anytime soon — and certainly not during an Obama presidency (and do you really see a President Romney going there, either?).

    So it seems like the status quo at the airports is what we’ve got. It’s stupid, but it probably does help deter attacks. I guess that’s the best we can do.

  2. The kid should have told the TSA agent “This isn’t the weapon you’re looking” with a wave of his hand. A little Star Wars humor this morning!

    It is mind-boggling and upsetting to read a list of some of the items confiscated. It is hard to understand how one can justify the items as being dangerous.

  3. The problem as rightly pointed out is that given the power the TSA abuses it for really stupid stuff. There was a piece on my local news over Christmas about how the TSA at RDU are confiscating masses of snow globes from around the world as they considered liquid containers! I mean seriously WTF? They are then selling them off for $1-3 each. They actually turn it into a profit center.

    Sadly I also agree that change is unlikely … though the trusted traveller scheme should hopefully extended and give us road warriors a break

  4. There is a lot of truth in what you wrote but no one will remember your blog or similar critics when the next plane goes down. It’s a violent world we live in; while there was never total innocence, there was a time when we did feel safe.

  5. The TSA is an unconstitutional, unaccountable, stupid, criminal organization.

    After several unjustified, unwarranted pat down searches, and after 10+ years of idiotic and ineffective “security” procedures, I will no longer fly until the TSA is abolished, and replaced with a rational, accountable security system.

    And they will never approve a true trusted traveler scheme because they would have to give up some of their unchecked power. The only way to get rid of the TSA is for everyone to refuse to fly; when the airlines don’t have any passengers the politicians might get a clue.

  6. The fact that they haven’t caught a terrorist is just conclusive proof that the TSA is succeeding in its mission – it keeps terrorists from even attempting to fly. Or so the spin would go.

    Can’t you see the logic??

    Either that or the bad guys just use someone else’s drivers license.

  7. I would suggest that another waste of taxpayer money is the air marshal program. How much money has been poured into that program in the last 10 years and, as far as I can tell, the air marshals have done nothing except accidentally shoot and kill a mentally disturbed passenger?

  8. Please stick to information about mileage and airline programs. When you criticize parents with children or TSA employees you are being petty and wasting time on your pet peeves. TSA employees are trying to keep us safe and it is working better than the private security firms prior to 9/11. Think Logan Airport in Boston. All you self-anointed security experts expect us to agree with your whining over trivial inconveniences. It gets very old. Save your temper tantrums and just keep the line moving.

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