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Why the TSA Can’t Back Down

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Renowned security expert and blogger Bruce Schneier writes over at The Atlantic:

Organizers of National Opt Out Day, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when air travelers were urged to opt out of the full-body scanners at security checkpoints and instead submit to full-body patdowns — were outfoxed by the TSA. The government pre-empted the protest by turning off the machines in most airports during the Thanksgiving weekend. Everyone went through the metal detectors, just as before.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, the machines are back on and the “enhanced” pat-downs have resumed. I suspect that more people would prefer to have naked images of themselves seen by TSA agents in another room, than have themselves intimately touched by a TSA agent right in front of them.

But now, the TSA is in a bind. Regardless of whatever lobbying came before, or whatever former DHS officials had a financial interest in these scanners, the TSA has spent billions on those scanners, claiming they’re essential. But because people can opt out, the alternate manual method must be equally effective; otherwise, the terrorists could just opt out. If they make the pat-downs less invasive, it would be the same as admitting the scanners aren’t essential. Senior officials would get fired over that.

So not counting inconsequential modifications to demonstrate they’re “listening,” the pat-downs will continue. And they’ll continue for everyone: children, abuse survivors, rape survivors, urostomy bag wearers, people in wheelchairs. It has to be that way; otherwise, the terrorists could simply adapt. They’d hide their explosives on their children or in their urostomy bags. They’d recruit rape survivors, abuse survivors, or seniors. They’d dress as pilots. They’d sneak their PETN through airport security using the very type of person who isn’t being screened.

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  • http://www.wix.com/aj_scaff/fotovid AJ Scaff

    As to this statement in the opening of this article,“And they’ll continue for everyone: children, abuse survivors, rape survivors, urostomy bag wearers, people in wheelchairs. It has to be that way; otherwise, the terrorists could simply adapt. They’d hide their explosives on their children or in their urostomy bags. They’d recruit rape survivors, abuse survivors, or seniors. They’d dress as pilots. They’d sneak their PETN through airport security using the very type of person who isn’t being screened.” This logic doesn’t wash, except for the submissive’s and “patriotic”(read as conscientiously ignorant) in our population. It’s the same logic used to state how another 9/11 has been thus thwarted because of these security measures. No these measures haven’t stopped another 9/11, it’s why so many planes were used at the same time, on the same day, they had one chance at this, make it count. All criminals used this strategy. Well, at least the smart ones. Of course security of some kind would have to go into place, it’s natural to fight or flee. But the TSA is amping things up in a kind of Big Brother conditioning sorta way, sorry folks but this is what it is. How do these machines work better than a bomb sniffing dog? The metal detector has already cleared them for metal items, I know, the iPod touch i forgot about in my pocket set one off. I wanna see a TSA agent sick a machine on some “would be” when they try and run. I know you can do that w/ a dog. The machines are NOT proven to be safe NOR foolproof. People have gotten through w/ multiple items and even past the pat-downs.
    But lets return to the lacking logic of the above I began w/. They wouldn’t use kids, the handicapped…They’d simply blow us all up, there, as we all stood in a bottle-necked line, waiting to be screened and molested. I shouldn’t call it molested seeing as it’s State sanctioned this could never apply…right? Anywho, back to the waiting line. So there we all are anywhere between 3 and 6 flights worth of people waiting in a whole section of a building and BOOM you got close to 600+ people dead and heavily wounded PLUS you got a big chunk of an airports’ terminal. You could almost put an airline outta business in that city w/ just one flick of the switch. and they never had to go through screening.
    What are some other aspects?….Lessee….Hmmm? The TSA had nothing to do w/ catching anyone since 9/11, the passengers did! The TSA w/ local law enforcement simply met the plane and carried off the “would be”. But that’s to my knowledge, I could be wrong.
    It seems to me, the airlines are just having THEIR planes protected and not the passengers, why else would the screening happen where they do. W/ the cost of a commercial airliner at $60-70 million per plane and building a terminal can cost half that, tho’ repairs are less. I doesn’t look like it’s us they’re protecting but their mortgage payments. And we are simply the money stream that helps them stay outta debt and flush in money.
    And one last thing. What I’d like to know is, who’s gonna pay the medical expenses of the frequent flyers, who will for years, tolerate those machines in order to not be hassled or maybe they got tired of the “10 minutes stands” (these are like one nighters w/ much less talking and heavier caressing), but still w/out flowers and dinner as a prelude, they could conceivably be subjected to those increased levels of poisoning pilots had railed about?
    It was bad enough that snacks are only served because apparently even after passing my airport screen test, I still can’t be trusted w/ a plastic fork anymore.
    I somehow don’t feel safer nor do I feel so special.
    Now I’ve only responded to the first part of this article, after having read it the whole thing, I think enough has been said. Tho’ I’m sure the discussion about the new screening system will have to go on, not everyone gets the same info at the same time and some just don’t get it at all. This is Democracy in action but some actions…

  • Jennifer

    If a terrorist were stupid enough to try airline terrorism again (they probably wouldn’t…) wouldn’t one of the most heavily travelled weekends of the year be the time to do it? Maximum casualties and all… So isn’t turning off all the new security measures on that particular weekend about THE BIGGEST ADMISSION they could make that the porno scanners and rapedowns AREN’T neccessary or effective?

  • whataloadahooey

    Bruce Schneier is not our friend (for those considering themselves true patriots and believers in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the cause of our Revolutionary War).

    The TSA was beaten on Opt-Out Day. They backed down.

    This isn’t about protecting us from terrorism, it’s about acclimatizing us to a police state. An intelligent terrorists has 1,000s of miles of unprotected shore and border to chose from. Or he/she can simply play the odds of checking the bomb in his/her checked luggage. When the shoe bomber farce took place, there was close to zero x-ray checking of checked luggage. It’s all a charade, for the sheep.

    Finally, the alternative hands on method is not equally effective, it is more effective. If safety were the issue we should all have the molesting patdowns. But that’s not the point. I believe the patdowns were designed to be sexually molesting as a coercive device to force us all through the nudie scanners. That makes them a crime and TSA agents criminal molesters.

    • http://GeorgeDonnelly.com George Donnelly

      (1) Bruce Schneier is my ally. I don’t know him well enough to call him a friend but there is no doubt he is my ally, especially on this issue.

      (2) The pat downs are not effective either. For one, they don’t detect items in body cavities.

  • m davis

    I really hate to have to post this, but it’s very obvious to me.

    My greatest fear of flying is the security checkpoint in a crowded airport.

    At any primary checkpoint, you cannot control the input.

  • stefan

    Isn’t it curious how the tougher screening procedures were so vital to national security on normal travel days but unnecessary on one of the busiest travel days of the year? Not really. Not to those who understand that the underwear bomber — the type of threat TSA says it’s protecting us from — was helped onto his flight by a well-dressed Indian man with purported ties to the CIA and Israeli Mossad, had no passport and was on a U.S. State Department No-Fly list.

    In other words, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Day bombing attempt was a false-flag terror incident designed to frighten the public and steer them toward accepting an ever-increasing totalitarian state.

  • Fred

    It’s obvious that someone at the DHS/TSA screwed up. Are we surprised that those who made bad decisions are going to try to hide it so they can keep their jobs? What saddens me is that you seem to imply that because of this bureaucratic reason the public should just suck it up and give up our freedoms. I don’t even think you understand the issue. It’s one of basic liberty, or the erosion of that freedom that we feel we are being manipulated into accepting.

    You also point out, though without realizing it, one of the largest flaws with our security screening. This doesn’t stop terrorism, it just changes it. Long before this system was put in place terrorists had figured out ways to thwart it. The screening is a measure of providing the public with a (potentially false) sense of security, but in the end has little to do with ending airborne terrorism.

  • Robin

    this is too funny, so if terrorists (fake or real) stick a bomb up their ass will the TSA start anally probing flyers? If they swallow a bomb, are we to endure open exploratory surgery before flight? Here is something interesting to ponder…all those well-trained explosive sniffing dogs that they used to use were sold to Russia I believe. When the dogs are on duty, nothing gets past them. So why would TSA get rid of a solution that worked, was safe for everybody and was cheap, cost of something like $9000 per dog plus food and upkeep, as opposed to $150,000 per scanner? Well that reason is so obvious, because of who owns the company making the scanners. If you think also of the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, both seemingly mentally challenged men, yet they got their bombs on planes. But look at the airports where they boarded and then look at “who is the company in charge of security?’. Reid apparently boarded in Paris with a stolen british passport with someone else’s photo inside, he didn’t even doctor the photo, so how did he pass all the passport inspections from check-in to boarding? He had no luggage and he was a mess, they even turned him away the day before because he was “dishevelled”, or was he in a zombie drugged state and making no sense? The underwear bomber boarded in Amsterdam where an Israeli security company is in charge. The bomber was escorted to the boarding gate by a “well dressed dark skinned man” who convinced the attendant at the gate to let this young man who never spoke for himself on the plane WITHOUT a passport saying “he’s from Sudan, we do this all the time”. Witnesses accounts to this, including from an American waiting to board, have been ignored and this fact does not get attention on the news. I did not confirm my sources today, but I have read that it is the same Israeli security company who was in charge of security at Boston and Washington airports on 9/11. You can certainly do some research into this to prove it to yourself. How did these men board planes with box cutters? I would like to see proof that the terrorist passport that apparently fluttered down from the towers upon collapsing without a singe of fire on the edges of the paper, I would like to see proof that it was actually scanned into the check-in system of the airport prior to boarding. I would like to know also why the FBI have not charged Osama with 9/11 as they continue to point fingers at him. His “most wanted” poster has absolutely no mention of 9/11 and this I find incredible. There is not one shred of evidence that he was involved yet they continue to blame the scapegoat. Noam Chomsky, Geraldo Rivera, actors, tv hosts, media personnel not working for mainstream, professional engineers and architects, pilots, fire fighters, patriots, doctors and millions of people like myself are questioning the official fairy tale and we want a new investigation, a criminal investigation. As for flying, the only fear I have of flying is fear of the intrusion on my privacy and dignity by airline officials. I am not a criminal but in the last few years I feel we are all being treated as criminals and it’s getting worse. Makes you wonder what the next false flag is going to be in order to herald in more rules and ways to strip you of your freedoms.

  • annoyed

    We can’t stop loading them into railroad cars. The Fuhrer would have my head!

  • Ken

    The part I don’t get is why every TSA employee who is asked to molest a child doesn’t simply quit, then and there. The fact that they don’t pretty much proves to me that they can’t be trusted with my, or anyone else’s, children.

    If they won’t stop here, where will they stop? Fingers up anuses? Fingers up vaginas? Power tools up vaginas? I just don’t see any significant difference between them and this guy

  • http://terryreport.com Doug Terry at TerryReport.com

    A quote from the WashPost:

    “Every passenger who flies in American skies now is being checked against a list of people who pose a terrorism risk, Transportation Security Administration head John S. Pistole said Tuesday.

    The announcement that 197 air carriers, including 127 that fly internationally, are participating in the screening program brings the TSA into compliance with a key recommendation of the federal commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    Pistole said that the TSA is working to refine controversial new pat-down procedures implemented in November. He said his agency wanted to determine whether “less intrusive” methods could be used with confidence that would-be terrorists could be caught.

    “Pending that outcome, we’re not planning to change anything,” he said.

    From TerryReport.com

    What’s the deal here? More than NINE YEARS (!) after 9-11, 2001, the TSA now proudly announces that it is checking all passengers flying through and to the US against watch lists? Duh?

    Would it be, ah, radical to suggest that either this should have been done before going to intrusive and possibility un-Constitutional searches at airports? Or, that the searches themselves are a kind of cover-up (theater) to take attention away from the fact that the Federal government and the TSA are not doing their job?

    Here’s a excerpt from a meeting at the TSA, (or maybe it was just a couple of guys talking in the hallway) three months ago:

    “Okay, so we know we are a failure in just about every other aspect of airline security, so let’s put pressure on innocent civilians, by the millions, who merely want to do their business or get to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving.”

    “Great idea! That way, the dopes will see what we are doing, when they can’t see all the other parts that are failing. And, fearful flyers and slow thinking newspaper columnists will praise us for doing everything we can, even though we actually aren’t. Everyone signed on to the plan?”

    The TerryReport has been saying for years that everything needs to be done prior to anyone boarding an aircraft or entering the screening area. The failures of 9-11, 2001 mainly came long before the terrorists got on planes, but the emphasis, in part to put on a good show for the public, has been on final screening. This doesn’t mean that you need no screening, or no care, at airports, but it does mean that stepping up screening to the ultimate level of intrusiveness is not only likely useless, but a sign of failure as well. If the TSA had put the urgency required on the watch lists, we likely wouldn’t need the intrusive x-rays and pat downs. Last year’s Christmas/underwear man would never have gotten on a flight to the US in the first place.

    Those who have so eagerly endorsed the possibly un-Constitutional screening measures, like Ruth Marcus in the WashPost and Frank Rich in the NY Times, among dozens of others, are lazily falling for a con game. Problem is, when the game is over, we all lose. To its ultimate conclusion, we lose all rights as citizens. The national media showed intense bias in their coverage of OPT OUT day, most likely because there were few “official” sources of news on the protesters side, especially since the TSA quickly dropped pilot’s from the list for X-ray scans and pat downs. In one move, they took away the most effective spokespeople against the process. The pilots, looking out for themselves, left the traveling public out in the cold.

    Doug Terry

  • Mark from Pittsburgh

    Let’s return to a key thrust of the original Atlantic article — government programs and/or agencies that never die. The TSA is quickly following behind a long line of agencies that by most measures have failed miserably.

    ** DEA – How’s that war on drugs going?
    ** DOE – Are we energy independent yet?
    ** ED – Are we done leaving kids behind?
    ** SS – Anyone under 40 think you’ll ever see anything worth close to what you paid in?
    ** BATF – Like the joke says, doesn’t it sound like a convenience store?
    ** US FED – Supposedly “independent” but provides government the means to waste resources on wars and welfare. (Should be renamed the Dept. of Inflation.)

    I’ll stop here because so far the TSA is small change compared to the rights and wealth lost by these organizational behemoths. So is the challenge of stopping any of these completely hopeless?

    The only way I see of doing this might happen because of the upcoming fiscal train wreck when citizens, even here in the US, begin to reject their nation’s currency. That will be the beginning of the end.

    Imagine government running its printing presses full blast solely to meet payroll for DEA agents, DOE contractors, teachers, Social Security recipients, bailout recipients, IRS agents, TSA agents and all the others who are little more than bribed voters. For every one person described in the previous sentence, there will be one not included there who will eventually realize it’s an “us vs. them” scenario.

    An underground economy will undoubtedly emerge and government will try, but will fail, to control it. Wage and price controls, rationing goods and services, more laws, more taxes, more regulations, maybe even troops in the street. These knee-jerk reactions will only compound the problems and further highlight the folly.

    At that point it should be clear that we’re getting complete default because we can’t afford even partial tyranny. At best, all of the above nonsense programs, including the TSA, will be terminated mercifully and quickly. At worst, they will zombies kept alive as long as possible and then be transferred to the states, as a inal face-saving federal mandate. Most won’t even survive the transfer. Good riddance.

    It won’t be pretty, but that’s the only scenario that seems plausible. Our role today is to continually oppose such nonsense in the hope we can bring this to its conclusion as soon as possible.

    • http://GeorgeDonnelly.com George Donnelly

      Great comment, Mark. Thanks.

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