The TSA: Nothing But Security Theater

It all makes sense now! We’ve always taken the TSA to be a joke, but now we know that it’s because they play the leading role in what Bruce Schneier calls “Security Theater”. To airline passengers this theater act is a comedy, but to American citizens it should strike as a tragedy. Too often we correlate security with safety, just because we see security agents, body scanners, metal detectors and stuff of the sort we believe that we are safe from attacks. In reality these measures are a facade, meant to give the appearance of security more than actually providing it. As Bruce Schneier, co-founder and chief security technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security, views it, the government excercises security theater, or “actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job” (Smoke Screening – Charles C. Mann). Basically those clever enough to plan a terrorist attack are clever enough to get past airport security checkpoints.

For instance, a bomb-maker who is smart enough to work with chemicals or combine wires probably has the sense to wear gloves while doing so, rendering the chemically soaked cloth that the TSA uses to test for explosive residue on terrorist hands ineffective. There’s also that simple way of bypassing security: getting a job as airport personnel. And a lot of the security measures are flat-out redundant. Just because there was once a shoe bomber incident, everyone is required to take off their shoes at screening, which Schneier believes just gives bombers more incentive to hide explosives elsewhere. The same goes with full-body-scanners. Just because there was once an underwear bomber incident, the government spent $1.2 billion to provide airports with 1,800 scanners that simply look for bulges under clothing (which would indicate the presence of a Silly-Putty-like explosive called petn). But even this is futile, says Schneier, because attackers could just thin out the petn and tape it to their stomachs or divide it among other terrorists and each hide it in their mouths. Both methods are undetectable.

Schneier understands that people may think he’s just making up flaws to make the TSA seem as useless as it really is, so he put his money where his very sensical mouth is. To show how much taxpayer money has gone to waste making security checkpoints “infallible”, he scanned an old boarding pass of his, photoshopped in a new date and time, printed it out and laughed as the TSA agent waved him through. The whole system throws away trillions paying the salaries of TSA agents, “behavioral detection officers” who read the “facial microexpressions” that give away terrorists (so far none of their microexpressions have given them away), and the 4,000 flight marshals who get to fly first class as they protect us in the event a terrorist decides to strike. No terrorist has struck, terrorists don’t even fly first class.

If this Schneier guy has taught us anything it is this: most of what you go through at airports is to give the illusion of safety, not to prevent another 9/11. Don’t be fooled when Congress or an airport boasts about its “extra levels of security”, all it really does is check for the same threat over and over: foolish terrorists, who are really a small threat when compared to the clever ones. And to the TSA: it’s nice to know that all the extra hassle you put us through is for nothing.