Journal

What does the 96% failure rate of the TSA tell us about security?


We’ll start with the data, because I don’t really care to say “just believe me, they suck.” The TSA failed to catch 96% of fake weapons and explosives brought through their security network. They nearly had a 100% failure rate. I know saying “96% is close to 100%” is not really groundbreaking but let that sink in.

A nearly complete failure rate at, in theory, the best they’ve ever been. That means that since 2001 they’ve done nothing to stop every single person that would want to create chaos and mayhem via airplanes. Yet, can you recall the last time a plane you were on was hijacked? How about any friends or family. Anyone blow up? Anyone draw a gun on a plane? Guy run towards the cockpit with a knife? Nothing? Yeah, I’ve had the same experience. As has everyone I know, everyone related to everyone I know, and so on. Obviously there was a very bad series of events in September of 2001. I’m specifically talking about since November of 2001.

Because that’s when we started funneling billions of dollars into a new security system that was supposed to “stop” it from happening again. Yet, even then, folks like myself were saying it wouldn’t happen again. Why? It had been done. Once you’ve done it once people know that it’s a possibility. The reason that September 11th went down is that nobody on most of the flights, except for one in (I believe) Pennsylvania, realized that a person was willing to die for their cause. Sure some folks on those flights might have heard of suicide attacks or seen a film with it, but they didn’t believe it to be real. So nobody stood up, nobody fought back. These flights swapped control quickly and without challenge. At least as far as I’ve ever read.

But now people know. We know that folks are willing to do something so crazy. So if someone did sneak a box cutter onto a plane and ran for the cockpit they’d be destroyed by the passengers and crew. When choosing between death and potential harm many people will turn visceral. They will do very dark things to survive. As long as they are certain that death is the alternative.

Even beyond this, the only thing you needed to stop the 9/11 attacks was to have a reinforced cockpit. We did that, so it was already a done deal. As for explosives, if you wanted to actually terrorize people you’d do that sort of thing in the airport, at security. This is a place where everyone is basically trapped and it’s a place of tension. But this never happened and it never will happen. Why? Airport security does the job of terrorists for them. It inconveniences people, it scares people, and it represents a surrendering of freedom for the imagined increase of security.

Nasty people did nasty things and got exactly what they wanted.

The response by the TSA and the government has been “We need to look at this system and improve it.” But I feel like that’s the wrong point of view to have. If you find out that your security system hasn’t been working the entire time AND you know that you’ve had no problems then obviously that security system was unnecessary. I could install an antivirus on my jailbroken PSP if I wanted [well maybe not, you get the point] but it’ll do nothing of benefit for me. It just wastes resources and gives me a false sense of security.

Nobody was making viruses for my PSP. So protecting against something that isn’t going to happen is pointless.

The rest of the world gets this. When we travel abroad the airports are lovely places. I’ve been to countries that are bordering questionably safe countries and even there they didn’t do these things. We are thousands of miles away from any of these places, yet we are the ones acting like scared children.

I can’t be too proud about being right about their pointlessness. Honestly a one off is just a coin toss. Either I’d be right, or I’d be wrong. In this case I happened to be right. But the point stands. The response to this system shouldn’t be to increase security or to become more anal about everything. It should be to absolve the system and use what works everywhere else. Reasonable security with reasonable rules. Telling someone they can’t watch their family fly off is not reasonable. It was perfectly fine for nearly a century. It still is.

I know it won’t but I’d love for this to be a learning lesson for everyone that thought it was worth it. Even the guy who founded it knows it is a wash.