Saturday, February 23, 2008

Saturday Morning Strange But True...

Saturday morning, a Transportation Security Officer working the x-ray machine saw two razor blades in what appeared to be a book in someone's carry-on bag. During the bag check, the razor blades were found inside the pages of a Bible, and bag belonged to... a priest. Can't make this stuff up.

My job at TSA involves collecting, analyzing and sharing information. This includes regularly checking a TSA site run by our Transportation Security Operations Center that provides real-time reports on incidents that happen around the country. These reports include: weapons found at checkpoints, people behaving badly on planes, terminal evacuations, suspected IEDs, planes that lose contact with air traffic control and other incidents.

Photo of a gun found in a carry-on bagOn any given day, there are dozens of reports sent in from airports ranging from routine to bizarre to truly scary. On Friday, we posted a story on our website about five incidents reported into the operations center that morning before 9:00 a.m. EST, including three guns (two loaded) and two knives found in carry-on bags. All of the people who got caught with guns said they didn't know the gun was in their bag, but the man with the knives said he knew he couldn't take them on the plane, but really wanted to anyway. He was arrested.

From time to time, I'll be posting stories about some of the things in the incident reports that catch my eye and might be of interest to you. Have a good weekend.


Anonymous said...

Singing your own praises is fine, but few claim that airport security isn't necessary. Please don't talk about how much better you are than the absence of airport security, but only how you are better than commercial airport security in August 2001.

Note: I lean towards having the TSA, but I think posts like this serve no purpose.

Marshall said...

Anyone with any sense at all knows you're just trotting out PR stuff in an attempt to keep the masses afraid, very afraid. You're fighting a losing battle.

However, have fun and just keep right on trying to justify the existence of the TSA, Lynn.

Anonymous said...

I have no issue with TSA keeping weapons off aircraft. My question, how did the person with the marijuana compromise the safe conduct of the flight they were taking?

TSA, Transportation Security Administration. Not All around Cop.

PHX -TSO said...

This is an excellent idea. The public should be aware of what happens at the airports across our country.

Anonymous said...

"Baton Rouge TSO Finds Loaded Handgun in Maintenance Worker's Vehicle"

I take from this article that TSA does not inspect all people or vehicles/equipment that enters the airport flight line/maintenance/operations areas.

Yet you screen my shoes and confiscate my commercially packaged bottle of water.

Seems to be a bit of a hole (the size of the pacific) in security here does it not?

Any respectable evildoer will figure this out.

Anonymous said...

re: I am permitted 'Scissors - metal with pointed tips and blades shorter than four inches' in both my checked bag & carry-on baggage. Now, since most cutting shears are held together w/a simple screw,"

You can use your shive, correction, 7" total length or less screwdriver to remove the screw.

How about this, a woman can have a gel filled bra however I cannot have a gel insole in my shoes. My shoes are xrayed, is the bra?

Discrimmination base on gender?

I thought that was against US Federal Law!

Oh, thats right, TSA is above the law.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, enjoyed this post. I think it's internet trolling in the poorest form to read people saying that it's PR. I appreciate that TSA is offering up this blog, I've enjoyed reading it so far, and it's explained some things to me in a way that (finally!) makes sense (and in a way that the security agents either don't have the time, the understanding, or the willingness to explain to me). Have you nothing better to do on a beautiful Sunday morning than throw negativity at TSA? What about planning your next trip?

I wish there was less security involved in air travel, personally. I think life involves risks -- there's no security check involved at the door when you go to the DMV, for instance, and you'll be there for at least as long as many domestic flights. That said, the government feels a need for greater air travel security and TSA provides it. Please don't criticize them for not only doing their job, but for trying to make their position as transparent as the law will allow through this blog.

And bloggers, keep up the good work! My only comment would be MORE POSTINGS!

Sandra said...

"people behaving badly on planes,

Just what does this have to do with the TSA?

You've been touting this in the "weekly report" for a while now and I have yet to understand why, other than the fact that a TSA screener (I simply refuse to call you "officers" because you are not) along with a LEO met the plane when it arrived at its destination.

It's a very sad state of affairs when you have to tout finding razor blades, "people behaving badly" and pot to try to impress the public that you're doing a fantastic job.

Anonymous said...

To comment back to someone thinking drugs will not compromise the safe conduct of the flight. Drugs and alcohol are mind altering are they not? Depending on the person, drugs and alcohol may cause a person to act irrationally and cause a disturbance on the plane. This kind of stuff happens I am sure of it. So for the TSA to find drugs by mistake and then do something about it is a good practice. The TSA should continue to do this.

Anonymous said...

Great. You captured some knives and guns. How did that keep me safe from terrorists? Let's do a little thought experiment, shall we?

We're on a flight. Guy in seat 6C pulls out a razor blade from his book, stands up, brandishes it, and says, "I've got a razor blade, I'm taking control of this..." He never finished. Why? Because everyone in rows 5 through 7 inclusive just jumped him. He managed to cut one, but the rest restrained him and began pummeling him. Later that evening, in the hospital, the doctors figure it's just easier if they tattoo his feeding instructions on his head.

Scenario two. We're on a plane. Guy gets up with a gun and says he's taking over. People are a bit more scared. He runs up to the cockpit door and demands it be opened. Thinking back to what happened on 9/11, passengers in rows 1 through--well hell, all the way back to steerage class--get up and assault him. One of his shots pierces the fuselage, but since this isn't Hollywood, instead of the plane blowing out, a little dribble of air hisses out for the rest of the flight. His next shot hits a passenger, but then his neck is broken.

Now, I'm not saying I want guns on planes. No sir. And I'm glad you caught them. But do I believe for a second that any terrorism was prevented? Of course not.

As for the knives, well, let's just say I can render a soda can into a cutting instrument in about twenty seconds with my bare hands. I really wish you'd knock off your obsession with knives.

Anonymous said...

@ txrus

You complain about security now about how most things do not make sense and such. Well if they wanted they could probably provide much better security but the public is not ready for that. You are not ready for that. You complain now and if the TSA had much more stern and strict procedures you would cry. Tell yourself this before you fly.. security could be alot worse than it is now.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "I think it's internet trolling in the poorest form to read people saying that it's PR"? THIS WHOLE BLOG IS A PR GIMMICK. Whether its primarily for internal or external PR could be debated, but its all PR. I'd ask what other government agencies are so under fire that they need to have a blog to attempt to justify their existence?
Sometime on 9/11 (God Bless UA93) the American response plan to hijacking changed. This has been the primary force behind the lack of further attempts. They know the rules have changed.

Once we locked the cockpit doors, the plane cannot be a missile. Its now just as safe as a bus or train (in fact safer if you look at accident statistics).

When will everyone learn that in a democracy we can't be totally safe from everything - unless you're willing to give up the democracy itself!

So please - feel free to look for weapons and true explosives - but joints, water, shampoo, razor blades, baby food, currency, gavels, and other stuff should be left alone.

TSO PHX said...

@ anonymous, Regardless of whether or not the flight is compromised federal law states that marijuana is "illegal" on a plane.

Jack said...

I started traveling as part of my job back in 2000. At that time I carried a leatherman on board aircraft. When 9/11 ocurred I put it away before the ban on knives became official. The first Friday after 9/11 that air travel resumed I got up at 0430, turned on the TV and heard "this is the most people I've ever seen at O'hare," got undressed and returned to bed. I've been the subject of multiple searches first going into the concourse, then at each gate (interesting because I never left the concourse) and on one day I was searched 3X during connecting flights. Did this anger me? Yes. Was it professionally done? No. Roll the front of your pants down (done in public). After this happened several times I just unfastened my jeans and opened them for inspection. Much easier and faster. This resulted in threats of arrest (for what-showing my underwear?), not flying, etc. Greatfully someone figured out that the additional gate screens were ineffective, generated high levels of complaints and halted those screens.

Professional travelers want consistancy by TSA as to what we can and can't travel with in our carry-on luggage. I've seen people who obviously do little travel bring large containers of liquids to a TSA checkpoint (after walking past numerous signs in large print that tell them which items are prohibited past the checkpoint) vocally complain about the loss of those items. Also, when TSA employees rummage through the confiscated bin for goodies to take home with them I consider those who do that as nothing better than common theives since the original owners had no choice but to surrender those items.

One of the signs that really gets my ire up is the one that says "pack your carry on like this not like this." Who are you to tell me how to pack my bags? Your responsibility ends at the contents, not the way the items are packed. One of your coworkers wrote STUPID on side of a coworker's tool chest (in permanant marker) because it was difficult to search. TSA bought a new tool chest for him. You do have out of control TSA inspectors. You do have decent, caring inspectors. People remember the indignities heaped on them more than they do the acts of common courtesy by TSA staffers. That is human nature. Get poor service and upwards of 20 people will hear about it. Get good service and perhaps 6 people hear about it.

As to the knives, the aircrew secures the cockpit from inside. Pilots have been briefed and will turn a hijacking attempt into a vomit comet before landing. Other passengers will attack the hijacker. The American flying public won't let another 9/11 happen. I would fight a hijacker myself, using whatever was available.

Things have changed. When the threat level went from yellow to orange the only difference was the confiscation of liquids, difficulty in determining that 100ml is greater than 3 oz but equal to 3.4 oz (which often results in the 3.4 oz being removed). Inconsistancies result in anger by the traveling public towards whimsical/arbitrary made up on the spot rules.

How about charging realistic prices for water once we get past security? Yes, I know that airlines/airports have to make a profit, but over 100% profit on a bottle of water seems like price gouging especially when some airports lack water fountains.

Okay, you found some knives, guns, razor blades. I propose that much more than what you've found has flown given that nearly all of the airports failed the last unannounced test for explosives. The TSA staffers at O'hare actually appeared shocked when I said "don't take your inspection failures out on the traveling public. We weren't the cause of your failing." Apparently, the traveling public wasn't supposed to know about the recent test results.

Ashok said...

I'd love to know a little more about how the priest incident ended up.

Would the individual have been treated any differently if they were a religious leader of a different faith, with the razor blades in their own sacred text?

TSO PHX said...

@ anonymous, The TSO found the loaded handgun during a "random" vehicle search. The gate leading into the secure area is manned by civilian contractors(Not TSA)...So if the vehicle made it into the secure area it's the contractors fault that was manning the gate..The TSO that found the weapon deserves to be praised.

Anonymous said...

TSO PHX said...
@ anonymous, Regardless of whether or not the flight is compromised federal law states that marijuana is "illegal" on a plane.

You job as a TSA employee is to keep a plane from being hijacked or used as a weapon. Period.

Under your concept ICE would not hesitate to pick up a suspect when notified by a local LEO agency that they have taken a person into custody that is not in the country legally. I'm sure you know that ICE often refuses to do so for any number of reasons. Selective enforcement?

Keep the weapons off the aircraft, no more!

openyourminds said...

all its going to take is for someone on the plane to get stabbed and then guess who they'll blame. Oh sure right now they say stop harassing us about razor blades and knives. they should have a waiver all passengers (rather the negative liberals that post here) must sign at the gate. It'll state that TSA is not liable for your blame, when you have to play "HERO" on the flight because guns and knives are "not an issue". And the heroes will all receive a free "joint" at the end of the flight because TSA shouldn't bother with drugs either, since it is "beyond the scope of their search". OH PLEASE

Anonymous said...

TSO PHX said...
re" @ anonymous, The TSO found the loaded handgun during a "random" vehicle search. The gate leading into the secure area is manned by civilian contractors(Not TSA)...So if the vehicle made it into the secure area it's the contractors fault that was manning the gate..The TSO that found the weapon deserves to be praised.

No aurgument that the TSO who found the weapon should be praised.

From there we will have to disagree.

Just because the TSA granted a contract for that function at that airport does not relieve the TSA from being responsible for the security function. Your agency is still responsible. The contract monitor failed to ensure that the contractor fulfilled their duties or possibly that the contract was deficient in its scope.

Your agency is by definition responsible for security at airports and some other mass transit facilities.

example-- I am a home builder. I sub-contract out to craftsmen. Overall I am still be responsible for the quality of the end product.

Anonymous said...

re: Depending on the person, drugs and alcohol may cause a person to act irrationally and cause a disturbance on the plane.

Yes alcohol is a drug. Drugs should not be available on aircraft.

Can a plane be hijacked or made into a weapon with drugs?

TSA is suppose to stop hijacking or aircraft being made into weapons.

Anonymous said...

Yes alcohol is a drug. Drugs should not be available on aircraft.

Can a plane be hijacked or made into a weapon with drugs?


don't argue just for the sake of arguing. you said drugs should not be available on aircraft, so if TSA prevents it, leave it at that.

"TSA is suppose to stop hijacking or aircraft being made into weapons."

-thats where your wrong. have you actually read the other posts here? according to most, it is actually a part of the passengers job duty on the flight to "jump" and or "take down" the terrorist.

I have a suggestion:

how about all the complainers get on the SAME PAGE. should we really expect TSA to get it together, if the whiners cannot even complain consistently? lets not ask the impossible.

Anonymous said...

Stabbed? Slashed? You can use an ink pen to do both of those. A #2 wooden pencil will do both of those. Improved weapons can cause serious wounds. Are they about to ban pencils and pens from aircraft? Probably not because no hijacker ever used those to commandeer an aircraft. TSA probably assesses risk vs reward for the bad guys and decided that the risks far outweigh the rewards.

TSO PHX said...

@ anonymous, TSA does not sub-contract. You are confusing what is the cities responsibility and what is TSAs responsibility. TSA is responsible for screening passengers and their belongings before they get on the plane.

The security guards strategically placed around the airport are not subcontracted or employed by TSA. They are either hired by the city or the airport. YOu will also see local law enforcement. Also,not hired by TSA.

Anonymous said...

i too like posts like this. at least they're doing *something*. whether or not that something is actually useful is another story. perhaps i'm just drinking the kool-aid.

Lynn said...

@ Anonymous
"I have no issue with TSA keeping weapons off aircraft. My question, how did the person with the marijuana compromise the safe conduct of the flight they were taking?"

He didn't compromise the safety of the flight by carrying drugs, but he did break the law. When our security officers find drugs and other illegal items on passengers, they have to refer them to law enforcement. (That's because they're federal officers.) Once the handoff is made, and it's not our problem any longer.

What's interesting from our perspective isn't catching the drugs. Drugs aren't the issue. What's interesting to us is that the passenger's behavior at the checkpoint stood out from other passengers and got the security officer's attention, which led to the additional screening. At a time when anything can be a threat, it's important to look for people who want to do harm instead of only for the items they can use.

Screener Joe said...

Anonymous said on 24 Feb: "Great. You captured some knives and guns. How did that keep me safe from terrorists? Let's do a little thought experiment, shall we?"

The delightful thing about this type of "experiment" is that the writer can make his presentation meet his requirment.

Okay, being the great american hero you are, when the bad guy pulls out his pistol you leap at him. Of course, you are immediately shot down. While you lie blocking the aisle with your screaming and bleeding, the bad guy grabs a small child and sticks his pistol muzzle in the child's ear. Shocked by the brutality of seeing you gunned down, afraid for the sake of the crying child, and unable to reach the bad guy quickly over your twitching body, the rest of the passengers hesitate, and once cowed, stay down.

Aren't fantasys fun?

Lynn said...

@ Sandra:

"people behaving badly on planes,

Just what does this have to do with the TSA?

If there's a disturbance on a plane, our Transportation Security Operations Center collects information on it. They are TSA's eyes and ears on the entire aviation system, looking for any issues that require attention. The operations center is in regular contact with the Federal Aviation Administration, FBI, other government agencies, local law enforcement, airports and airlines. It runs 24/7, and anytime a disturbance is reported, the operations center will report whether Federal Air Marshals or armed pilots trained by TSA (called Federal Flight Deck Officers)are onboard the plane.

The disturbances include arguments between passengers, passengers who assault flight attendants, passengers who lock themselves in airplane restrooms, and passengers who try to open the cockpit door - or even the cabin door. While most of these incidents are minor, having TSA eyes on the system at large ensures that if there's something out of the ordinary - or a trend of similar incidents -authorities can be put on alert.

Some disturbances get so bad that the pilot decides to land the plane before the final destination, and in that case, TSA personnel are often called to assist with any security issues. Our operations center may also coordinate with law enforcement to interview and/or arrest passengers.

Anonymous said...

You know what the problem is ....

The public in general!

Everyone thinks they are better than everyone else and rules only apply to the other guy.

Get over yourself! You don't like the rules of flying .. Don't fly!

Plane and simple. Pun intended!

No one forces you to fly. And don't say your job does because you have choice's. You are just to lazy to make them and you want everyone else to make you happy!

It is a sad state (country) we live in with everyone wanting everything for nothing!

Anonymous said...

Jack sez: first Friday after 9/11...

TSA wasn't around then. It showed up about Sep, at least here is MSP. Of course, to say that would make your rant less critical.

Anonymous said...

TSO PHX said...
@ anonymous, Regardless of whether or not the flight is compromised federal law states that marijuana is "illegal" on a plane.

You job as a TSA employee is to keep a plane from being hijacked or used as a weapon. Period."

Go read what TSA lawyer wrote. If we find something illegal, we have turn it over to the cops. We are not looking for it, but if you're stupid enough to leave it out for us to find, you get to deal with the consequences. TSO-Joe

Wes said...

Personally I wouldn't be flying anywhere if I knew what kinds of things security found before & after flights. It's kind of like fast-food I definitely don't want to know what all goes into it, just that I can eat and move on with the rest of my day. I don't like flying just about as much as I don't like flying. They both scare the daylights out of me. I'm just glad that there are people out there that are willing to work for TSA. Without them we would be in big trouble right now.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that people do stupid stuff like this, but I'm sure that you miss plenty of stuff because your screeners are worried about finding dangerous bottles of water instead.

Technology slice said...

It's scary to think these people try to take dangerous weapons on planes. I wonder how many don't get caught.......

Anonymous said...

do you guys know anything about the agents who posted the TSA Gangstaz video on youtube?

tallanvor said...

Well whoopee! Let us know when you find some of those liquid explosives or bomb-filled laptops that couldn't be detected in the bag.

When it comes to guns and knives, people were stupid before the TSA. The only difference is that the firms doing the screening in the past didn't feel the need to congratulate themselves in the media about everything they found.

Anonymous said...

screener joe:

The passengers are only going to hesitate for a moment. They're going to remember what happened on 9/11 and then realize that one dead child is better than a dead planeload of people along with whomever else is on the ground, and they're going to rush the guy with the gun, who has only so many bullets.

I believe this is often stated as "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one."

Your fantasy is not plausible. Mine is. Hijackings in the US will never occur again, because the passengers won't put up with it. This has been demonstrated again and again, as anytime someone gets loopy aboard a flight, the passengers put the beatdown on them.

Confiscating knives is silly. Stopping guns, sure, but don't pretend that you're stopping terrorism with that.

Anonymous said...

"people behaving badly on planes,

Just what does this have to do with the TSA?"

"If there's a disturbance on a plane, our Transportation Security Operations Center collects information on it...."

So this is part of your job. Now why do you feel you have to tell the world that you tracked 14 people making a disturbance on a plane? It's your job, do it.

When those of us in the corporate world do our jobs our employers don't normally use a blog to inform the world what we have done. It's our job, we do it.

When an organization has to set up a blog to let others know they have done their job, it is just a PR thing.

TSO PHX said...

@ Anonymous, When the day comes that you have to make a selfless sacrifice in order for other passengers to capture and take down a terrorist on a plane. Would you please come back here and report your story. Let us know if things really go down the way you describe and fantasize.

There are brave people in the world (on planes). There are also people who think they would be brave in a terrorfying situation only to later discover they are not. True heroes are rare. Most people lean toward self preservation.

Anonymous said...

Guns and knives seem like the easy thing to find, How about finding the Explosives that have been missed by numerous airports when brought through to test security.

Anonymous said...

I heard that the guy forgot he had it with him...

Anonymous said...

@tso phx:

The lessons of 9-11 were pretty clear. During the attack the passengers on Flight 93, based solely on the information received from some in-air calls, were able to deduce that the terrorists were on a suicide mission, and that disobeying the terrorists as well as the established airline CONOPS to cooperate with the terrorists, was the correct thing to do.

Show me one example--just one--since 9/11, where someone attempted to hijack a plane, or bring it down by opening the emergency exit, or breach the cockpit, where the attacker wasn't set upon by fellow passengers. You can't, because there are no examples.

And as the poster pointed out, why bother confiscating knives, when one can make an excellent cutting tool out of a soda can?

Measures of performance that tabulate the number of seized knives are not the right metrics, because they don't tell us anything about attempted hijackings.

Seizing knives, and publishing the numbers does, however, achieve the goal of keeping the populace afraid. (They're confiscating knives, so they must be keeping me safe from all those evil-doers!) And, of course, it nicely accomplishes the terrorists' mission as well.

End the knife ban. It's silly. I want to be able to take my Leatherman tool with me when I travel (it's quite useful), but with the rampant theft as well as the extra time it tacks on the trip, I'm not checking bags.

Just say no to security theater.

Dave X the first said...

And just how many threatening liquids, aerosols, or gels did people try to carry aboard this weekend?

What is your detection rate? 80%? 51%, 99%? Embarassing and secret? (40%? 25%?)

If Al Qaeda was dumb enough to try 9/11 over again, you'd probably tell 16 of the 20 (that's 80% detection) hijackers to throw their knives in the trashcan, and wave them on through, and they'd pick up some nice shivs from their partners carrying scissors. The planes wouldn't fall out of the sky because the pilots would not let them into the cockpits and the passengers would knock them unconcious. Would TSA deserve credit for the save?

If you want people to take TSA seriously, you have to do more than act like Chicken Little and tell us how you've kept the sky from falling whenever you find acorns. I'm certain that TSA's detection process is not 100%, and that the 2,000,000 people you screen everyday are carrying significant quantities of prohibited items onto the planes to no ill effect.

TSA is not inspecting safety into the process by screening -- TSA is parading out a bunch of scary-looking false alarms and pretending they are saving us from death. Your warnings and hassles are a burden on society with no clear benefit.

Flying is safer than driving, and when the inconveniences and fears cause people to drive rather than fly, more people die:
People posting here as TSA agents advise people to drive rather than fly.

TSA is probably responsible for killing more people by causing them to drive than they could hope to save through screening.

Also, what is up with the multi-day moderation holds on comments? I've seen pro-TSA posts show up on threads long before my TSA-skeptical comments appear. Do you hold non-sheeplike posts for additional screening?

posicionamiento said...



Anonymous said...

Boston Globe post regarding the TSA Blog.

Anonymous said...

Nothing here suggests TSA is more than an employer of last resort. It has an added twist -- helping convince a sceptical public to embrace perpetual fearfulness. What's TSA's budget, USD$5 billion annually?

David Nelson said...


Enough people have already told you what they think about your weekly statistics you post on your web site. I'll add to the opinions with one word: "pathetic".

In the interests of full disclosure, I dare you to add to your weekly body count with the following additional data:

1. More information about each of your victories. For example, how many of the fradulent documents were bar-hopping 18-20 year-old college students? How many were screeners who refused a perfectly legitimate government-issued picture ID (military ID, federal agency ID, etc).

2. How many of your victories had nothing to do with civil aviation security but were a result of the wide dragnet you've been allowed to set at an airport?

3. Now, here is the tough one: I dare you to develop statistics that compare your self-serving figures with security pre-9/11. Any statistician with a minimal amount of experience could take the figures over time of, for example, guns seized at checkpoints and normalize the raw numbers against a constant such as "guns-per-10,000 passengers" or something like that. My guess is that you have done this type of analysis and don't like the answer, which is why the analysis has never seen the light of day.

My hunch is that you would have the same results for each of the other categories Kippie likes to report every week.

Now, if you really wanted to be accountable to the people who pay your salaries, you would also cite these weekly statistics:

1. Number of screeners arrested for crimes committed while on the job.

2. Number of screeners fired per week for cause (could be different than the number arrested).

3. Number of complaints filed.

I'm open to other suggestions for statistics posting. It's important that the American people have the FULL TSA story, not just your self-serving spin.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure but would assume (yes, I know...) that items like box cutters and razor knives even though they have short blades will never be allowed back on an aitcraft simply because of 9/11. I'm sure the flight attendents' union would go nuts. With that said between hardened cockpit doors, FAMS, armed pilots, and the basis mental state of the flying public these days does anyone really think you would gain access to a cockpit with a box cutter, pocket knive, etc? If someone stood up and said they were taking over the plane and produced a box cutter in today's world it might be fun to watch the events that would ensue. I see posts here because people want to argue they can make a weapon from a pair of sissors...big deal. The point is they have to give some trust somewhere and yes, I can stab you with my knitting needles but will I take over an airplane.

For those who go off because of liquids and gels, I read things like "I see large barrels of them at the check points so they me be a real danger. No...they just can not go past that point. You can. The world is full of those who want to nit pick everything, always look for a lawsuit, and mostly feel rules are fine unless they interfear with me. I wait to see what happens if another event occurs....

Anonymous said...

Baton Rouge TSO finds loaded gun - As a security professional (30 years, civilian, military, gov) why should anyone act surprised about a "hole". My questions to those who love to point out holes like no one has ever thought of that before are these:
1. How much of your money are you willing to pay to be 100% safe?
2.How much of your freedoms are you willing to give up to be 100% safe?
3. Do you really want to live in a world that is 100% safe.

The simple fact is that there are limited resourses and they all cost $$. You have to base all decisions off risk based decision making, i.e. am I better off checking those with direct access to an aircraft or do I focus on someone working at a project which has no direct access. You have wants and you have needs. Congress controls the purse and you have to bat 1000. I don't think I would want the job but I'm glad someone does.

Anonymous said...

Stories such as this only serve to demonstrate the need to have a more robust way of preventing terror. If wheelchairs can be used to carry explosives as we have seen in Iraq, then any wheelchair, crutch, prosthetic device must be dismantled and searched at TSA stops. If drug mules can carry drugs in their body spaces, then all passengers must be searched for explosives and biological warfare agents by TSA agents.

It is time to get serious.

PHX TSO said...

@ anonymous, Honestly, let me be frank, your logic makes my head hurt. If no planes have gone down in the US from terror attacks since 9/11, how is it that TSA is not responsible for all those planes making it to their destinations safe daily?
Is it Luck?
The Terrorist have given up?
I assure you people are arrested testing our security all the time. Terrorist have not given up they are just looking for that one moment, that one situation that they can exploit.

It's not uncommon for flights to have unruly passengers. It happens all the time. Flights are diverted, flights are returned to the gates. You are assuming that the person causing the disturbance on the plane was or is subdued by other passengers. On the contrary, the flight crew is quite capable of handling most situations. Not to mention the federal flight deck officers and the Federal Air Marshall's that are on the planes for passenger safety. These people aren't placed there because they like to ride. I have sent my share of Law Enforcement Officers to a gate to escort an unruly passenger off of a plane. In none of these situations has a passenger been responsible to subduing another passenger. The flight crew solely handled the situation.

Lets all hope and pray that no one ever has to again prove that they are a hero. No plane has gone down in the US since 9/11. I plan to do my part to help keep that streak going.

Anonymous said...


Your statement that, "I assure you people are arrested testing our security all the time. Terrorist have not given up they are just looking for that one moment, that one situation that they can exploit." is pretty bold.

If that is the case with all of those arrests, I am sure you can point us to a few convictions of terrorists testing the system. After all convictions are part of the public records and I have yet to see the TSA tout such. If razor blades in a bible make the front page, I can't imagine why a terrorist wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

phx tso:

I have a magic rock that keeps tigers away. It really works. I've never been attacked by a tiger.

See the problem with your "logic". TSA has had zero to do with the non-hijackings of flights. It's all about the change in CONOPS since 9/11 (don't cooperate with terrorists).

Do you honestly believe that 9/11 occurred because bad guys snuck boxcutters on planes? No, it happened because flight crews were taught to be passive in the face of terrorism.

TSO PHX said...

Terrorist are already in the United States. They have been here for quite awhile. They didn’t just jump on a plane and arrive yesterday. I don’t doubt that more will be coming. The United States is not immune to the hate and devastation that is happening around the world. We have only been lucky. Terrorist groups are watching us and looking for our weaknesses. They are planning and plotting their next attack. They are testing our defenses. They are looking for the best way to cause the most devastation. When they figure it out, they will strike and innocent people will die. Those of you whining about TSA and the steps our government is taking to protect us will stand up and shout louder than you are now that our government didn’t do enough.

There have been 19 publicized thwarted terrorist attacks against US interests since 9/11. The latest was the 2007 JFK Airport plot. Our government is currently investigating terrorist activities within our borders. The proof that potential terrorists and criminals are testing airport security is clearly written on the website for all to see.

Jay Maynard said...

TSO PHX: There's a difference between complaining that the government isn't doing enough and complaining that the government is doing the wrong things. If the next attack succeeds because they exploited a known hole in TSA's procedures, that's because the TSA was doing the wrong things (such as concentrating on a nonexistent and impossible threat in the War on Moisture). If, OTOH, they succeeded because they found a hole nobody had thought about, I, for one, won't complain: that, by definition, is impossible to prepare for.

The steps our government is taking to protect us are, by and large, nothing of the sort. That's the difference between security and security theater. The former is good. The latter is illegal, unconstitutional, and just plain wrong.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading the comments on this blog for quite some time, and normally wouldn't waste my time responding however...

I do have one issue with all of you saying that TSA cant prove they have caught a single terrorist and blah blah blah.

Who is a terrorist exactly, what makes a terrorist. Should we only be looking at people with a criminal history?

I mean lets consider for a moment the loaded firearms found in carry on bags. Is it not possible, that one of those people had the intention of hijacking their flight? Seriously, think about it, a guy plans on trying it out, sees if he can sneak a gun by TSA and gets caught. His response is, oh well I forgot it was in my bag.

Can we prove that he had terrorist plans? No. Is it possible? yes I think so.

You cant ask TSA to prove they have thwarted a terrorist because in most cases there will never be enough evidence to prove that said person with a gun, knife, box cutter, had any such intention. Unfortunately when a person comes through "Terrorist" isn't stamped across their boarding pass or I.D. and a terrorist doesn't have to be someone who has any previous criminal record, to think so is naive.

I have so much more to say, but I have a feeling this comment will get lost in the chaff. asdf

Anonymous said...

Oh, please, phx tso. Let's have a better link than "" to take us to the page on which you contend that "The proof that potential terrorists and criminals are testing airport security is clearly written on the website for all to see."

It's sure not on the first page of the site which is nothing more than chest beating to try to convince the public that the TSA is doing something of significance.

Anonymous said...

TSO PHX: Really? You're going to trot out the 2007 JFK attack? Blowing up a fuel tank WOULD not have destroyed the airport, nor would it have put the public at risk. The airport was in no danger, because the pipelines from the tank wouldn't have exploded (no oxidizer).

This is exactly the problem with what DHS and the TSA are doing: you're getting all bent out of shape about plans that had ZERO chance of working, and then trotting them out as evidence of success (the Miami Seven, the guy who wanted to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch, the London "magic liquid TATP plot).

Even on DHS's own web pages, you trot out as "successes" things that aren't. You've got a story about TSOs being given awards for not stealing (one of them found a bag of money and returned it to its rightful owner) and one at LAX who found an insane middle easterner who had a rock shoved inside a body cavity.

Please try again.

TSO PHX said...

@ Dave X

It took me awhile to get back to you on the masters thesis correlating the 9/11 attacks with the decline of people flying on planes and the increase of road fatalities.

I read the paper.
I agree with the premis that 9/11 caused a decrease in people flying and that these people chose alternate modes of transportation. Some chose to use the bus, some chose to use trains, some chose to use boats and some decided to stay home. And I'm thinkin some probably decided to walk. The paper doesn't mention these people.

There was an initial dramatic decline in air travel after 9/11however there has been a steady increase in people returning to flying since 9/11 inspite of the new rules for flying. There are more people flying today than than there was in 2005 which is when the latest version of this paper was made available to the public.
The data used in this paper is now old and outdated.

The paper although well written does not actually let you know how many road deaths were attributed to the person choosing not to fly. It only states that during the time that people chose not to fly there were more traffic fatalities. What percentage of those fatalities were caused by the drivers being sleepy? intoxicated? What percentage of the fatalities were people who actually decided to drive instead of fly? Were any of the fatalities people who chose not to fly? The paper doesn't answer these questions. Maybe the increase in fatalities happened simply because there are more vhicles on the road? More vehicles equals more fatalities. Maybe the people who chose not to fly chose other modes of travel that didn't include driving private vehicles.

Anonymous said...

how many shoe bombs did you find? Let me guess...none. Stop the shoe business it is stupid.

Anonymous said...

Thank god we are safe from the mad "shaving priest" I applaud you for getting these clean shaven priests and arresting them. I hope that father o'shavesalot is at gitmo so we can all feel safe.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, at PDX,
The Oregonian reports
Theft of guns uncovers breach in security.

The paper reports that there were 3 gun thefts from locked baggage in 2007 and none were recovered. TV stations in Seattle report the same problem and show airport employees unscreened carrying hockey bags in and out of the sterile security area.

Dave X the first said...

TSO PHX: Do you agree that flying is safer than driving?

I pointed to the preprint of the journal article by three professors because it showed a clear effect of increased traffic fatalities correlated with the shift in behavior from air travel to driving.

I do agree that there we have surpassed the pre-9/11 levels (BTS says we did that in 2004). However, the traffic has not completely rebounded. Before 9/11, the airline transportation was growing at about 5% per year since the 1970s. Had the 5% growth continued after 9/11, in 2006 we would have seen something like 17% more air travel volume than we've seen (data in here
We may have surpassed 9/11 traffic, but we haven't made air travel catch up to where we would have been.

Part of that deficit in air traffic is attributable to the economy, part to fear of terrorism, and part to the increased inconvenience of air travel.

None of the above points seem unreasonable to me.

Where I differ with TSA is that the inconvenience of TSA screening is insignificant. If you make 2,000,000 people per day take their shoes off, empty their pockets and do the hokey-pokey for 5 minutes, it has a significant cost. If you make 2,000,000 people show up at the airport 2 hours early for a flight rather than 1 hour early, it has a significant cost. If TSA tells people to drive if they don't like the TSA rules, it has a significant cost. And the paper shows those costs are measured in lives lost due to increased risk of people choosing other modes of transport.

I know that TSA thinks its infinite benefit is worth any cost, but I do not think that that is at all clear. For instance, if we doubled the resources we devote to TSA: had passengers show up 3 hours early for their flights, doubled TSA's budget, and made TSA inspect them twice as thoroughly, how much safer would it make us? Going by articles like those posted on this blog, would you have found another 5 incidents on Saturday? Would Mo write that you found 2 more guns and 2800 more knives per day? Would we have only half of the planes fall out of the sky as we do now?

Those aren't good measures of safety or effectiveness, and if those are all you've got for justifying TSA, don't expect respect.

Anonymous said...


Just want to make sure you didn't miss the simple question I posed before. You stated that, "I assure you people are arrested testing our security all the time. Terrorist have not given up they are just looking for that one moment, that one situation that they can exploit."

I am still waiting for that list of the terrorists convicted based on those arrests. I doubt that I will see it. The reason -- because there have been no convictions of people testing airport security for terrorism purposes.

Fred G. said...

OK folks: lots of circular debate going on here, but nobody's answered the big question satisfactorily:

Have we seen an honest-to-God terrorist or terrorist plot that tried to get through the passenger security checkpoint? Scary looking people don't count, drugs (even though I don't contest the government's responsibility to confiscate them) don't count. Check forgers sure don't count. And loaded guns might or might not count, since even Kip Hawley is quoted in an interview as saying that "these (people with guns) aren't terrorists, these people are just plain stupid. (Or words to that effect.)

So.....what's it going to be? We're all paying $6 Billion a year into the kitty for this effort. The net result of the effort is that it has made travel a living hell, a mockery of our Constitution and made the airlines a lot less than profitable. Arguably there are few terrorists stupid enough to challenge TSA, particularly when they could do something like try to blow up a fuel tank at an airport or at your friendly neighborhood refinery. (which doesn't have a darned thing to do with all the heated discussions about airport passenger boarding security.)

We ought to have some security and screening going on at the airport. we had it before 9/11, and we'll unfortunately need it forever. But for one, I'm unwilling to give up every cent I make a year, my civil liberties, and everything else to satisfy the paranoid and insatiable demands of a government that won't (or can't) tell me whether it's all even doing any good.

I know a lot of you screeners are hardworking and underpaid, but it doesn't diminish my point: we're all simply asking whether you're accomplishing your chartered purpose. I dare somebody to stick his neck out and tell me as a citizen that that's an unreasonable request. Go ahead....I dare you.

So has anybody seen someone that might pass as Mohammed Atta's distant cousin lately? And please don't insult our intelligence (pun intended) by telling us that all of this is classified.

Fred G.

Anonymous said...

No terrorists have been caught in US airports lately because the terrorists already tried that particular route on 9/11. Where are the 3oz limits on fluids for bus and train and ship and subway passengers?

Neil said...

@Dave X the first said:
And just how many threatening liquids, aerosols, or gels did people try to carry aboard this weekend?

You may want to check out this article, We blew hole in fuselage with mix of easily disguised liquids, in the Weekly Standard (UK).

Liquids do pose a real risk...

TSA Blog Team

bill said...

I just came across this link, and wondered if it might be the handgun episode you mention. If so, it comes off as much more malicious in their telling, for some reason. I think thats unfortunate.

tai_pan1 said...

Neil said...
@Dave X the first said:
And just how many threatening liquids, aerosols, or gels did people try to carry aboard this weekend?

You may want to check out this article, We blew hole in fuselage with mix of easily disguised liquids, in the Weekly Standard (UK).

Liquids do pose a real risk...

TSA Blog Team

The problem is Neil, that Dave X doesn't want listen to anyone else, or check out other sources of information. He wants to constantly insist that TSA is killing people because they are forced to drive. He continually sites a report that has nothing to do with TSA. The report covers a time period before TSA was even created. Dave X either has a vested interest in disseminating this report or he's nothing more than a common internet troll.

I for one am thankful that TSA is on the job and that they can think out of the box enough to try these pilot programs. Keep up the good work.

For Dave X, I'd love to know where you work. It is obviously a utopia and all of the employees working there are top notch, cream of the crop employees.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Niel, interesting article.

This part especially:

The test comes as a leading airport security expert Philip Baum tells the Dispatches programme tonight that much airport security is "theatre" that fails to address the real dangers.

Mr Baum, who edits the International Journal Of Aviation Security and has advised the Government, said airport X-rays and metal detectors were ineffective against many threats.

"I cannot cite a single example of a bomb being found using an airport X-ray machine alone," he said. "X-rays were introduced to identify dense metallic items, not bombs. If you've got a well-concealed bomb, it's possible to get that through many an X-ray machine."

Mr Baum described a deeply disturbing trial he had run for a European government. "We took a woman through 24 different airports. On her body were the complete components of an improvised explosive device," he said.

"At each of those airports, she alarmed the metal detector and was subject to a pat-down search on her body. But not a single item was identified in any of the 24 searches."

Kinda sounds like what has been said here so many times without a response from TSA. Security Theater!

Anonymous said...


Dr. Alford, the subject of the article you've mentioned, has popped up before in the news. It would be disingenuous of me to imply that he's got a motivation to maintain liquids hysteria in order to sell his stuff to government agencies, so I won't.

In his previous writings (all available through google search), he has fixed on building bombs that use--and because I don't want to be accused of giving "terrists" bad ideas, despite the fact that you can google it yourself--a compound that rhymes with "mitroethane" and "mitromethane" with a substance that rhymes with "nyridine" as the other half. These are just chock-full-of nitrogenated goodness, and as such, are easily detected by ETD and ETP.

Note, also that "mitroethane" is pretty toxic and hard to handle.

Again, why go to all the trouble of messing about with liquids that are so easily detectable, when there's dozens more solid explosives available that are much less detectable? Especially since you need a detonator in either case.

Dave X the first said...

@Neil said...

@Dave X the first said:
And just how many threatening liquids, aerosols, or gels did people try to carry aboard this weekend?

You may want to check out this article, We blew hole in fuselage with mix of easily disguised liquids, in the Weekly Standard (UK).

Liquids do pose a real risk...

TSA Blog Team


Lets say that easily disguised liquids do pose a risk. Is it a risk that TSA's screening process actually protects us against? How many prohibited liquids, aerosols, and gels were confiscated this weekend and how many made it past?

If you do actually detect a liquid explosive disguised as water in a bottle, do you let the terrorist just smile sheepishly and toss it in the bin with the rest of the voluntarily surrendered items and let him try again another day?

How could you not?

If you touted the thousands of prohibited liquid items that you detect and confiscate as evidence of your excellence, as you did for guns and knives this week, people who carried water or other prohibited moist items through your checkpoints would know that your excellence in detection isn't up to the task. Moisture gets through, and it evidently does not cause damage.

I do care about threats and lives and all, I just don't think that the threats that TSA advertises are as significant as you advertise, nor that TSA is as good at saving our lives as they pretend.

I also think that should some boogy-man terrorist actually do something to a plane, TSA won't take responsibility for it: TSA will blame it on an unforseen risk, limited resources, private contractors, poor supervison, uncooperative passengers, some bad-apple TSOs, and the fact that they are ultimately only human. And then TSA will ask for a bigger budget.

Neil said...

@anonymous - 12:29pm:
I'm the TSA Web Strategist, not the "bomb guy" so I'm only going by what the source claimed, "To a security guard, the chemicals - which the Standard is not identifying and cost only a few pounds - are colourless and odourless and seem like water."

If it is odourless as the article claims, then how can EDT and EPT "easily" detect these compounds? Unless and until these advanced devices are installed at each and every checkpoint lane, shouldn't TSA be limiting the amount of liquid a passenger can carry?

TSA Blog Team

Anonymous said...


They're easily detectable because of the nitrates. It's the same reason the puffer machines and swabs throw out all those false positives on people who have been fertilizing their yards. A swab is going to detect anything that's been close to the substances I mentioned.

As to your other question....Oooooh, I'm going to hate myself for saying this. I mean, I really shouldn't say this, because I don't want to put ideas in the TSA's collective head, but....Did you read the article? They did it with 400 mL of fluid (supposedly; the Evening Standard isn't exactly a paragon of journalism). That's four of the wee bottles I can carry on.

So your 3-1-1 rule wouldn't stop this, since I could parcel that 400 mL out into four 100-mL containers.

But you're missing the whole point. There's HUNDREDS of solid explosives that aren't easily detected. Many, many, many times more than potential liquid explosives. They're more powerful, and less detectable. In essence, the TSA is trying to intercept about 1% of the potential explosives (since they're geared to liquids--I hope we don't think about banning solids from flights).

There's basically one or two liquid explosives (and I'd argue at a technical level that they're still iffy, and not as easy to produce as the good Dr. lays out) and hundreds of solids. Why are you focused only on the liquid ones?

The answer of course goes back to the London bomb plot, but the problem is that that plot wouldn't have worked, since you can't synthesize TATP on an airplane. The whole 3-1-1 rule is nothing but an exercise in security theater.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all, TSA has issues, the flying public has issues, airlines have issues and airports have issues. My issue is a request: For all the heroes out there who feel guns, knives and drugs are o.k. and proverbially harmless on an airplane, please stop all the crime we see on a daily basis off airplanes.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Sidney Alford is an expert in explosives and their applications. He specializes in EOD render safe defeat techniques and yes, looks kind of like the mad professor. I worked with him while in the military EOD community. Most EOD technicians, at the master level, are "highly knowledgeable" in explosives but I would stop short of saying are true experts. Experts know it right down to the molecular level. If Sidney says he can make it work then take it to the bank!

Dave X the first said...

tai_pan1 said...

"For Dave X, I'd love to know where you work. It is obviously a utopia and all of the employees working there are top notch, cream of the crop employees."


For 6 years I worked as a Quality Control Engineer for manufacturing company that made automotive safety equipment like airbag and antilock brake components. It was not a utopia, it was the real world where inspection has real costs and consequences. Aside from a few bad apples, our employees were, as Kip like to say, some of the best in the business. We still had to fire some drunks, druggies, and layabouts.

From my experience in designing non-destructive testing systems for automotive volume manufacturing, TSA's presentation of the costs and benefits of screening looks suspect: TSA presents themselves as saving lives from terrorists everyday, and the inconveniences are insignificant.

Making 2,000,000 people per day spend an extra hour on travel isn't insignificant, and would make people choose the more risky travel option of driving. Two of these papers show that explicity. Large-scale inconvenience in air travel is measurable in the same metric TSA uses to justify itself: lives.

For all the scary stuff that TSA shows people that they catch, they hide the fact that they miss significant amounts of what they search for. What gets past TSA matters. Liquids, knives and even guns are getting by undetected, and they aren't bringing planes down, despite being missed by TSA.

If TSA isn't keeping the planes free of all prohibited items then TSA shouldn't claim full credit for stopping terrorism in the skies. Something else deserves some credit, and whatever it is might be worth a heck of lot more than TSAs efforts.

I'll listen if you have something more useful than "minor inconvenience", "small price to pay for safety", "we work hard", "terrorists are smart", "trust me", or "Boo!". Show me how safe you are making us. Show me that it is worth the cost. Show me how many lives you are saving per month. If you can't do that, you are "Security Theatre".

Neil said...

@anonymous - 2:51 pm:
It sounds like you are knowledgeable about explosives -- remember I'm just the web guy -- so if we stand a greater chance of attack because of "solids", what should our security posture be?

If you were the one guy responsible for our 450+ airports and 50,000 employees, what would you do to keep commercial aviation safe? What would be your direction to our workforce and what message would you be sending to the American traveler?

How can we be both effective and efficient with taxpayer money? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

TSA Blog Team

Anonymous said...


Glad to answer your question!

Our security posture should be the same as it was before 9/11. Heresy? Let me explain.

1) Flying will never be 100% safe. Even if you make everyone strip naked, give them a roto-rooter BC search, take away their carry-ons, and sedate them; there's always a way for a determined terrorist to succeed. At some point, it just becomes easier for him to bribe a baggage handler, or a TSA agent (the news stories about high turnover indicate a great deal of dissatisfaction in the lower ranks, which equates to easily corruptible), or a mechanic, or a flight crew member. Maybe not a bribe, but blackmail. It really doesn't matter. You can't eliminate all risk, no matter how hard you try. And the more you try, the more inconvenience, loss of civil liberties, and unintended consequences you create. This has to be understood.

2) Terrorists aren't that scary. Heresy? 9/11 was a terrible tragedy. Almost 3,000 dead. But let's put that in perspective. Roughly 42,000 people die every year in traffic accidents. Traffic killed 14 times more people than 9/11. My chances of dying on I-95 tomorrow vastly outweigh the chances of me getting killed by a terrorist. And let's not forget the terrorists' recent foiled "plans." The last one involved two guys whose brilliant plan was to drive a Jeep with a propane tank into a bollard at a Glasgow airport and then jump out and run around on fire. Now I don't know about you, but I don't find that particularly terrifying. Pathetic, yes. I suppose it would put me off my lunch that day to see some guy roasting outside an airport terminal, but I think I'd get over it pretty quick.

3) The terrorists, as their name suggests, would like to terrify us. At the very least, they'd like to keep us constantly afraid and uneasy. Now, the TSA has very nicely accomplished that for them. The London bomb plot is a great example. It was completely unworkable (you can't synthesize TATP in an airport lav). But the TSA blew it all out of proportion and now liquids in carryons are heavily regulated. This serves no real purpose. It misinforms the public, making some think that a liquid bomb plot might actually be plausible. And it annoys the heck out of the rest of us, who'd like nothing better than to bring a tasty beverage from home rather than pay $4 for one at the airport.
By giving the terrorists "credit" for their dumb, unworkable plots, you play into their hands, making the public afraid of nothing.

4) (Trust me, this is going somewhere.) Again, 9/11 didn't happen because of boxcutters. It happened because flight crews were told to cooperate with terrorists, and cockpit doors weren't secured. Both of those problems have been eliminated, but the TSA still proscribes pointy things and sharp things from planes, again needless inconveniencing and annoying passengers (and again playing into the terrorists' hands).

5) We've spent vast amounts of money on the TSA to secure our airplanes, afraid that someone will blow them up with a shoebomb or a liquid explosive. This is quite arbitrary, though. If I were a terrorist, willing to die for my cause, and had access to decent high-explosives, I can think of plenty of targets other than airliners that would (a) kill a lot more people, and (b) cause a lot more terror. I won't list them here, but it shouldn't be too hard to think of a very common, highly-populated, unsecured, soft target that one could attack and kill lots of people in one go.

Now let's put 1-5 together. We've eliminated hijacking as a serious threat by securing cockpit doors, training flight crews how to handle terrorists, and the fact that passenger (a la flight 93) don't put up with terrorists anymore. Knives aren't a threat, there's lots better ways to blow up a plane with solids rather than liquids. If you really want to fight terrorists, you fight terror, which means stop scaring and inconveniencing and annoying people.

So go back to the metal detector regimen. If someone's got a gun, or a machete, they need to get pulled aside and smacked around. A swiss army knife, a toolkit, a can of soda, a bottle of water, you send them right on through. Knock it off with the shoes, already. The most I could hide in my shoes is about 100 mL of stuff--about the same amount I could just put in a bottle.

The public would be best served by:
-reducing fear: when a rumor comes out that Al Qaeda are going to bring down a plane with a bomb stuffed into oversized sunglasses (those big dopey ones that female celebrities wear that make them look like Sleestaks), your response should not be to ban sunglasses. Our collective response should be to laugh at Al Qaeda and their dumb plans.
-if you do random searches, be rational: If I've got government ID and travel orders, you don't need to search me. If I'm a cop, or in the military, you don't need to search me. If I'm three or ninety-three, you don't need to search me.
-keep the lines moving. We're cool if you need us to take our laptops out and collect our liquids all in one place. But how about allocating more than five feet of table space for passengers to get everything into those little dirty, unwashed plastic bins? Let us keep our shoes on, and knock it off with the multiple ID checks and people scrutinizing the tickets. Boarding passes are easily forged, and you're not cross-referencing people's names at the security line with a no-fly list. (Actually, the most reasonable thing is to have people present ID and a boarding card WHEN THEY BOARD THE PLANE. That's the point to check IDs. Right now there's a huge security hole that allows ANYONE to get through screening, regardless of whether their name is on a no-fly list or not. If you don't know what this hole is, ask and I'll explain it.)

TSA has failed, in my eyes. You've made traveling a scary experience, not the terrorists. I'm scared that I'll miss my flight because the security line is too long, I'm scared that my wife's CPAP machine will get broken while you inspect it, I'm scared that at this airport I'll get yelled at by the TSO for putting my jacket on top of the laptop. I'm annoyed that I can't bring a beverage with me, that I can't bring my Leatherman tool, that I can't have mouthwash, because all the space is already used up in my 1-litre baggie. If I just have to bring something on my trip that I can't carry-on, then I'm scared that my luggage will lost, delayed, or pilfered from, and I'm annoyed that I have to now add on at least 30 minutes to reclaim my bag.

The TSA has done all of this to me. It didn't used to be this way. I am willing to take my chances with the terrorists. There aren't that many of them, and they're very poor planners. I will gladly die with all my civil liberties intact, than live in constant low-grade fear and paranoia.

That was long-winded. The short answer to your question is that we just don't need what the TSA is selling us. By your (the TSA) own admission, the only thing the TSA ever foils is the odd priest who really wanted razor blades with him, or all the dingbats who forget they're packing heat. Be more rational. Let me keep my shoes on, my Leatherman tool in my pocket, a tasty drink from home in my backpack.

If things went back to pre-9/11 levels, I think we'd be well served in both the security and taxpaying arenas.

Dave X the first said...

@Neil: "How can we be both effective and efficient with taxpayer money? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas."


How effective and efficient are you right now?

If you don't know or won't share the information, all we have to go on are the news stories about your blind spots and failure rates. From reading those, it seems the locks on the cockpit doors are worth more in terms of real security than the efforts of your 50,000 employees.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said....

"how did the person with the marijuana compromise the safe conduct of the flight they were taking?"

We are required to notify local Law Enforcement of any situation that we find is illegal. They handle it from there.

Fred G. said...

"The very word 'secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.

We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.

Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.

And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment."

(Excerpts from JFK's address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association April 27, 1961)

So..........I still haven't heard one response from my last posted question: Has TSA caught one actual terrorist since it's inception? All the things that President Kennedy was afraid of have happened. And TSA has spent over$30-40 Billion of our tax dollars. So I think we're entitled to an answer. What about it, Mr. Hawley?

Fred G.

Anonymous said...

Well Neil? We're waiting for you to refute the excellent post written by anonymous at 9:53am on 2-28. Everything written in that post is so spot on.

Neil said...

@anonymous – 11:57pm said:
Well Neil? We're waiting for you to refute the excellent post written by anonymous at 9:53am on 2-28. Everything written in that post is so spot on.

I agree also that it is an excellent post – well written, well considered and thoughtful. This was the principle reason we setup this blog, to engage the public in this type of reasoned exchange of ideas. We are humble, wise or foolish enough to believe in the power of mass collaboration.

Mass Collaboration a.k.a the “wisdom of the crowds” is based on the idea that no one person or group is as smart as the whole of the community. By exposing our ideas, methods, policies and practices to the community we can arrive at the “right answer” more quickly than we would have otherwise, and we can avoid deploying mistakes.

So… if we are to be true to our purpose you will see that we learn from this dialog and will change and adapt our strategies over time, and as the threat environment changes. If you’ve been following this blog you know that I am the TSA web strategist, I’m not the intel guy or the bomb expert. As such I don’t sit in on the daily intel briefings so I don’t have a clear picture of the threat we face compared to some of my colleagues that sit through these classified briefings. I have talked to my colleagues regularly and they have told me on many occasions that sometimes they are actually frightened with the things they hear during these briefings.

Having said all that, from my perspective it seems that the biggest danger we face from an aviation security standpoint is from bombs – whether they be of the liquid or solid type. We know from the August 2006 arrests in GB that the motivation is still there to harm us with some spectacular, coordinated effort. I think our enemy would like nothing better than to simultaneously destroy several aircraft in flight.

Therefore, we should take steps necessary to protect against that type of attack. Now those steps might involve inconveniencing the traveling public by limiting liquids and extra screening to detect IED’s. You may disagree with me but I am willing to undergo a little more inconvenience to stop our enemies from launching a successful attack against us.

So… where I may differ from “anonymous at 9:53am/2-28” is that I am more tolerant of the additional post 9/11 inconveniences to my time and personal liberties as long as I feel it has a real effect of keeping us safer.

Thanks for the thoughtful and considered comments. Please keep the specific suggestions coming about what we can do to change or modify our practices. We hope that over the next few months we can roll-out some additional tools; perhaps a shared Wiki were collaboratively we can build our SOP’s and aviation strategies.


TSA Blog Team

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...the great (one of the greatest, really) physicist Richard Feynman once said something the opposite of the "wisdom of crowds" statement. I think it made the statement in regards to the Challenger accident investigation, where he started to think that O-rings were to blame, but then started second-guessing himself because the whole group of assembled experts and engineers though differently.

He pointed out that while lots of people might be smarter than him (personally, I think he was being self-deprecating), he figured he was probably smarter than any given group, because in a group, you're going to be averaging over a lot of dumb people.

I think I subscribe to that philosophy more than "wisdom of crowds" (which has been responsible for such great moments in history as the 17th century tulip mania, the Salem witch trials, the great depression, the idea that there might be WMDs in Iraq, the popularity of "American Idol"...). If you're smart, you're probably smarter than any given group of folks. Unless maybe they're a group of rocket scientists.

But that's neither here nor there.

Dave X the first said...

Neil @ February 29, 2008 2:58 PM: "So… where I may differ from “anonymous at 9:53am/2-28” is that I am more tolerant of the additional post 9/11 inconveniences to my time and personal liberties as long as I feel it has a real effect of keeping us safer."

Where I agree with Mr Anonymous and differ with you is that I don't feel that TSA screening has a real effect of keeping us safer. TSA isn't making that case, it is saying 'Boo!'

I also feel that the inconveniences and infringments of personal liberties of 2,000,000 people per day is significant and not conterbalanced by TSA's presentation of its benefits.

As shown in this article it is a crime to confess you've brought prohibited items past security. So anyway, since I know this guy who has carried prohibited liquids and knives past security undetected, I personally think missed detection is far more common than TSA pretends. Those investigative news stories of 25-80% detection rates seem entirely credible, while TSA's horn-blowing about their excellence just does not seem credible.

You are definitely missing prohibited items and it seems like it doesn't matter to TSA. As in the OP, even when you detect a prohibited item, you don't arrest the carrier unless they say they intended to carry the item on the plane.

If 50 terrorists with explosive peanut butter went through your checkpoints, how much peanut butter would end up in the trash and how much would make it on the planes? Maybe your answer is secret, but from what I've heard you'd probably let at least 10 through undetected, and let the other 40 toss their contraband in the trash and advise them to buy their lunch on the other side.

N/R - Dave

Neil said...

@anonymous - 3:22pm:
There are two books that I've read that talk about mass collaboration and the "wisdom of the crowds", that I highly recommend:

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations and...
The Wisdom of Crowds.

Note to TSA Lawyers: this link and mention of these two books does not constitute an endorsement in my official capacity as an employee of the federal government towards:, the authors, their publishers, yada yada yada.

TSA Blog Team

Anonymous said...

For the opposite view, you can read Mackay's brilliant "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" for free. It's in the public domain and is online:

LGray said...

I think it's great that we hear about the successes of the TSA. It's about time! Also, the TSA may not be "all around" cops - but they are required to report anything they find that may be dangerous or illegal (I know - it's hard for some of you to understand that!)

KLW in Phoenix said...

If TSA is so serious about what it does, why did a TSA officer recently subject a man to extensive secondary searches as a practical joke? Turns out the man was her husband and she and the other officers involved in Omaha thought it was hilarious. Somehow I find the humor lacking. If she can do this to her husband, then what safeguards do any of have that she or someone like her won't do this to us as a "practical joke"?

Anonymous said...

r.e.: "Yes alcohol is a drug. Drugs should not be available on aircraft.

Can a plane be hijacked or made into a weapon with drugs?

TSA is suppose to stop hijacking or aircraft being made into weapons."

You might want to get your facts straight.

TSA is tasked with the protection of the flying public from threats BOTH foreign AND domestic.This includes any and all items considered by the Department of Homeland Security to be a threat. That does not limit TSA’s operational jurisdiction to ensuring that the airplane does not have a close encounter of the third kind with a building, ship, other airplane, etc. Certainly that is included in their mission, but it’s a tiny fraction of it.

Yes, alcohol and drugs can, have, and will continue to cause disturbances on aircraft worldwide. In fact, the several incidents involving passengers becoming hostile towards flight crew and other passengers that have occurred over the past 6 months have been attributed to alcohol, overmedication, and mental issues. However, so many passengers prefer enjoying their liquid comfort on the plane that banning it on aircraft would be next to impossible. So, load up on those travel-sized liquor samplers, people, because you CAN!

As far as the knives are concerned, yes, everyone knows you can be equally deadly with a ballpoint pen and a paperclip, but banning those would be extreme, even for TSA, and impossible to enforce. Frankly, if someone were to pull out a knife on a plane and attempt to gain control of it, I would be more concerned for his safety than the safety of the passengers. The American public has learned from 9-11, and passengers will not let box cutter-wielding psychopaths take over a plane again. But until the government creates a ‘Fly at Your Own Risk’ Airline, TSA will continue to confiscate them. So (here’s a novel concept!) don’t put your knives in your carry-on bags. They’re allowed in checked baggage, so put them there.

Sadly, one thing a large portion of the American public has NOT learned is how to read. At Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport, there are signs advising of the ‘new’ (now over 1 year old) liquid policies in the parking garage before you enter the airport ticketing area, at the ticket counters, on stanchions at the checkpoints, and on the walls outside of the checkpoints. There are audio announcements broadcasted throughout the airport every 5 minutes. There are television screens playing video advisements of the liquid policy, as well as EXACTLY how to get through security with as little stress as possible. And, of course, there are the omnipresent screening officers, loudly attempting to advise the masses of ignorant passengers that are completely dumbfounded that their factory-sealed water bottle is considered a liquid. I must ask, what else TSA could possibly do to communicate the requirements more clearly? They are literally bending over backwards to make the process as stress-free as possible, and you ungrateful wanna-be political dissidents are simply unable to see that. Every time I fly, I am treated by TSA with respect and excellent customer service. I’m even thanked by them for following the rules! I just LISTEN to what the requirements are, READ the posted signs, and follow those guidelines. You dissatisfied people should try doing it some time. You’d be surprised at the change in attitude you’ll get from the screeners.

Neil said...

For all those that posted to our blog and said TSA greatly exaggerates the threat due to terrorism, I invite you to read, Worshippers of Death, by Alan M. Dershowitz in the March 3, 2008, Wall Street Journal. Mr. Dershowitz says in part:

Zahra Maladan is an educated woman who edits a women's magazine in Lebanon. She is also a mother, who undoubtedly loves her son. She has ambitions for him, but they are different from those of most mothers in the West. She wants her son to become a suicide bomber.

At the recent funeral for the assassinated Hezbollah terrorist Imad Moughnaya -- the mass murderer responsible for killing 241 marines in 1983 and more than 100 women, children and men in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 -- Ms. Maladan was quoted in the New York Times giving the following warning to her son: "if you're not going to follow the steps of the Islamic resistance martyrs, then I don't want you."

Mr. Dershowitz goes on to give many specific examples of the threats that we face against this determined enemy. He concludes with this thought:

We need new rules, strategies and tactics to deal effectively and fairly with these dangerous new realities. We cannot simply wait until the son of Zahra Maladan -- and the sons and daughters of hundreds of others like her -- decide to follow his mother's demand. We must stop them before they export their sick and dangerous culture of death to our shores.

TSA Blog Team

Anonymous said...

Neil, I don't think anyone thinks that there is no risk of a terrorist action in this country.

I do think that the most likely risk will come from people who enter this country without proper papers. Perhaps TSA would serve the public better by concentrating on watching the borders with a lesser role at airports. Catch the bad guys before getting in the country.

If by chance we have a home grown actor then attempt to intercept them and any others who slipped by at the transportation hubs.

The current banning of water, soda, juice and other beverages and such does not protect anyone. If you or anyone at TSA thought these items were hazardous then they would not be treated like normal trash.

Removing shoes for xray is another thing that does not increase security. If you think shoes are a high risk then each shoe should be tested (swabbed) for chemicals that make-up the suspected threat, xrays do not provide that.

If you really want to ensure that no one brings any contraband on an aircraft then a strip search is in order for each person passing your check point. Do you really want to provide that degree of security?

The methods employed now by TSA will never provide a high degree of safety. A determined group will exploit your little drama theather and inject the threat from a different direction. If every vehicle, person or package is not fully inspected and cleared at each entry point to a transportation hub you do not have security.

No one should be exempt if you really want to be sure. Traverlers, workers, crews and yes TSA and real LEO's should be cleared each and every day. It will be one of the ones you don't check who will be the greatest threat.

The mission creep that TSA seems to embrace defeats your base mission. A group can do a few things well, but fail when attempting a wide variety of tasks.

I hope all TSA employees have a fallback job, I see a RIF in the next couple of years for your agency. Your employers are pissed and are now communicating that message to the proper people. Your agency heads already know that the next President will appoint their own appointees, so Kippy wont be around to BS congress much longer.

Anonymous said...

"Drugs and alcohol are mind altering are they not? Depending on the person, drugs and alcohol may cause a person to act irrationally and cause a disturbance on the plane."

And the airlines serve alcohol on the plane. It has frequently been documented that they are willing to serve too much alcohol to make money.

So the airlines deisre to make $$$ threatens us.

If marijuana is a threat, and as you say, alcohol is a threat, why do you let the airlines make $$$ of of the liquor?

Anonymous said...

Niel, We GET IT. They want us dead.

We have given them reason for this.

"They hate us for our freedom" is feel good propaganda. We have assinated elected religous moderates in the region (Iran). We have backed bloody dictators and murdurers in the region (Sadaam, Bin Laden, the Shah, etc.)

Desperate people do desperate things.

We have done, and are doing things (lock downs in Iraq, arming people who are taking their land) that if they were done to us would have us calling for the death of the people who did this to us.

Security theater is _another_ victory for the terrorists.

Anonymous said...

"signs advising of the ‘new’ (now over 1 year old) liquid policies "

"There are audio announcements broadcasted throughout the airport every 5 minutes."

"There are television screens playing video advisements of the liquid policy"

" there are the omnipresent screening officers, loudly attempting to advise the masses of ignorant passengers"

Why are they shouting?

Do you not get the fact that: between all the commerical spam, all the noise you make, all the inadequate or missing signage we need to find where we need to go, the stress your inconsistant policies cause, the fear that some ego tripping TSO (the officer title is generally a joke) will delay or make us miss our flight:


If you did not have such a horrible record of failing tests it might make us safer.

But if the terrorists launch 10 attacks on the same day, _again_, it looks like most of them would get through.

And we deal with your ineffective Kabuki. Another victory for the terrorists.

Patrick Henry said...

"For all those that posted to our blog and said TSA greatly exaggerates the threat due to terrorism, I invite you to read, Worshippers of Death, by Alan M. Dershowitz in the March 3, 2008, Wall Street Journal"


Your response proves the point you were trying to disprove. You just exaggerated the threat of terrorism, and conflated that threat with the foreign problem of Islamic extremism and the use of Muslim civilians as suicide bombers against our troops in a nation where we have supported or committed acts of terrorism for over thirty years. If we hadn't supported Saddam Hussein directly by arming funding and aiding him, or if we hadn't attacked the nation's infrastructure or caused very deadly sanctions to be put into place, or if we hadn't invaded and bombed their nation and treated the entire populace as though they were criminals, or if we hadn't sold off their national resources to the transnational corporations that rule much of our own nation and government, etc...then maybe they wouldn't be throwing themselves at us with bombs.

All evidence and history shows that one's own government is invariably the greatest threat to one's life, liberty and property. The TSA provides no real security. Every time I flew before 9/11 I carried a knife in case of hijacking, now I am subject to a complex jumble of arbitrary rulings that do not prevent one from flying with deadly implements and do greatly infringe upon one's liberty, i.e. prohibiting bottles of water etc. That serves no legitimate security function and is based upon fallacious information and non-reasoning and imposes a considerable burden upon both the security personnel and citizens and other travelers. At the same time our tax dollars are spent to collect our water gross violations of fundamental security procedures are rampant, such as allowing armed police officers and others to be in secure areas - meaning that a terrorist doesn't even have to bring their own firearm.

It's not the terrorists, and most definitely not the Muslims, that we must fear - it is those who would trade liberty for security. There is no real security in this world, the best you can do is to be heavily armed, and we are trading that option for being "protected" from small quantities of safe drinking water. Or shampoo! Just imagine what a "bad guy" could do with shampoo!

Also, interesting to note: the TSA is unconstitutional, as there is no provision in the Constitution creating it nor delegating the power to create such an agency. As such it and all of its actions are not legally binding. Legally speaking it doesn't even exist. Ah, the lovely technicalities of law!

Anonymous said...

Dear Screener Joe:

"Aren't fantasys fun?"

Some citizens don't view flying securely as a fantasy. As such they don't rely upon the TSA or other government agencies to protect them. They train and then arm themselves (while complying with the current TSA regulations) before flying. There is no guarantee these efforts to be prepared will result in success, but they are much more useful than relying upon the TSA to take one's shampoo and water.

Anonymous said...

"We must stop them before they export their sick and dangerous culture of death to our shores."

That is the job of the Defense Department or State Department, supported by informed citizens in a free and open society.

You are talking about them over "there".

You try to make your points by provoking fear.

You help the terrorists when you do that.

Anonymous said...

Easy job, good benefits, great pay, easy promotion potential.
yearly bonuses based on basically knowing how to do your job. I'm surprised more people aren't employed with the TSA.

Auto Man said...

I'm sure the priest has intended to use the razor blades to cut a compartment into the bible so that he could smuggle something upon his return trip.

Angel said...

He guys I didn't read all your guys' post but let me tell you something about airport security.

First and foremost, nobody is perfect and we can only go so far with technology.

Airport security do all their best to protect us against terrorists and Al Quaida alike.

Are we going to make mistakes? are some going to slip through the cracks, are some going to even get on board with knifes and guns... It is possible.

the matter is that we all have to be security, we all have to put our hand together and help each other be safe in the bus, on the plain, in the subways etc.

We have all kind of services in place to help us defeat those who are trying to hurt us. But remember, we CAN'T leave in fear.

We have to stand up and do what is necessary to help each other against people that think that can hurt us.

Let's focus here and try to come up with a solution instead of trying to find whose fault.

I know I do what ever I can to help my neighbor and I know he is doing the same thing.

Adam said...

I think it's a good idea to post what the TSA deals with on a daily basis, if only to show what some citizens will do to exercise THEIR rights (e.g. right to bear arms), as if THEIR rights trump those of their fellow citizens.

One of the challenges faced by TSA is being unable to prove the unprovable, namely, what incidents have been prevented by their efforts? The paradox being, the more successful they are at preventing an attack, the less people discern the value of what they do: after all, no attacks are occurring!

I think posting these incidents are helpful to wake a narcotized public, who are seemingly lulled by the lack of headline news which allows people to forget the threat.

Anonymous said...

I believe this is often stated as "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one."

An ironic quote, given that the few who whine about "invasive TSA screenings" obviously don't think much of the needs of the many to fly safely...