What is “Security Theater” and why does the TSA do so very little

There have been two recent pieces in the media I’ve read extolling how little the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) actually does to detect weapons and stop terrorist attacks.

Today in an article in Arts Technica, David Kravets points out that a “leaked classifie report this summer found that as much as 95% of contraband, like weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings.”

Last month there was a comedic but accurate portrayal (also quoting the 95% statistic) from Adam Ruins Everything, a new show on TruTV where Adam Conover of CollegeHumor showcased all the “security theater” that TSA agents and airports use to allow travelers to feel safer while in airports. He mentions Bruce Schneier, a security expert, who is paraphrased in this Wire article:

The best terrorist prevention is not to reflexively combat specific bomb plots, but to more invisible tactics like investigations and cultural experts. However, that desire to do something to combat the fear of another attack has simply morphed the TSA into a reflexive body whose rules are consistently a step behind. Terrorists use box cutters … so no more box cutters or Swiss army knives. A terrorist puts a bomb in his shoe … so the TSA requires all shoes to go into the X-ray machine. A terrorist puts a bomb in his underwear … the TSA uses full-body scans. And so on, with liquids and winter jackets and belts and toiletries, all reacting to old methods.

As Conover points out at the very beginning of his shenanigans of the clip, some of the better new security measures are:

  • Reinforced cockpit blast doors.
  • Increased numbers of air marshals.
  • Heightened awareness of passengers.
  • Better intelligence.

If you read this 2010 CNN interview with the former head of security for El Al, the Israeli airline, and now an aviation security consultant, you will understand. In it, he says:

CNN: Every passenger should be interviewed, on all flights?

Yeffet: Yes, 100 percent…

It’s just that simple for him. If you train your staff correctly, then they can conduct an interview that stops terrorists in their tracks. Yes, the system is plagued by institutional racism and profiling, and should be improved, but at least it does not let in 95% of weapons…

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