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Nov 22, 2010

The Five Stages of Understanding the TSA

Fred:  I loved flying. I wanted to fly everywhere.
Mike:  That was before the TSA.
Fred:  I can't change the TSA. I must accept it.
Mike:  Maybe you should change the government that created the TSA.
Fred:  That hope supports my will to go on.

Psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the five stages of grief when coming to understand and accept a great loss. This process may help to accept the Transportation Security Administration.

Denial: This can't be as stupid as it seems. The TSA must have thought about this, and it must have come to a sensible determination of what is needed for our safety. I will show that I am strong by complying with the rules.

Anger: This is so degrading, useless, and a waste. Why me? It is obvious that I am not a terrorist. I'm travelling with my family. My 3 year old isn't a terrorist. Don't they have eyes, or a bit of common sense? What is the sense in these rules? I'm flying from New York to Kansas, for crying out loud.

Bargaining: OK, I'll go through the machine. Just don't pick me out for special treatment. If I'm very cooperative, I can hold on to my 3 year old, right? And you won't fondle her, right? I'll give you my toothpaste if you let her keep the teddy bear, right?

Depression: This is terrible, but what can I do? I will comply. I will just think happy thoughts as (ugh, oomph) he does what is required, and not more I hope. Is anyone looking? It doesn't really matter. This will all be over in a little while. I can't do anything about this. I will just hope that they improve their policy in the future. I'll wait. It might get better, or maybe not, who cares.

Acceptance: I see. The TSA is part of bigger government policy. Beyond the TSA, there is a government that wants to do so much good. And, now they are doing it to me. I wanted a government which would "nudge" people into proper choices. I now see they have that power, and no restraint.

They won't stop themselves, and I don't have the power to stop them. Even "we" don't have that power for now. My concern can't be just the TSA. I must be concerned about government power in general.

This is an example of what the government is willing to do to thousands of citizens in the open. What must government agencies be doing behind the scenes in thousands of ways?

I must endure the TSA for now. My fellow citizens must endure all of those government agencies for now. If I accept that government always goes too far, I will have the courage to take away most government power. Instead, I will support policies that I can accept or reject as an individual. I want a choice other than government management, and I will support politicians who will limit the government.


The TSA is over-defending against visible, political threats. They are not motivated to do things more efficiently or to guide the public to a rational evaluation of threats. So, the expense for "security theater" grows without limit, as real safety remains constant. They are always fighting the last threat.

A bureaucrat has only one fear, that he will be responsible for the same attack twice and be fired. He can spend any amount of money on any number of different failures without penalty.

Front-facing TSA security looks for things, not to identify people. Even pilots are searched. The point is, the TSA doesn't know that the person in the uniform is really a pilot. They consciously ignore any information such as country of birth. They explain that identification cards can be forged or stolen.

The approach in Israel is to examine each passenger for identiy and demeanor. That system has done a great job without strip-searching everyone in line.

TSA's double standard
11/22/10 - Salon.com. The TSA relies on ID cards when it applies security to airfield workers.

[edited]:  All airfield workers are fingerprinted, checked for a criminal background, and checked against terror watch lists. They are subject to random physical checks by the TSA.

However, a Kennedy airport worker told me: "All I need is to swipe my Port Authority ID through a turnstile. The door to the 'sterile area' is not watched by TSA or any hired security. I have not been randomly searched in three years. We only see TSA people when they get food at the cafeteria."

Time to abolish the TSA as we know it
01/07/10 - Washington Examiner (Search for $7 billion)

[edited]:  One concerned bystander in Newark, N.J. told an (absent, sleeping?) TSA worker that someone just walked past him when he wasn't looking. That forced 10,000 people to go back through a security line and shut down air traffic all along the East Coast.

Jeffrey Goldberg demonstrated that anyone can print a fake boarding pass and carry a bottle labeled "saline solution", then enter our "secure" terminals with dangerous chemicals.

Airport Security: Bin Laden's Victory   03/03/10 - Forbes.

[edited]:  We have paid hundreds of billions of dollars in lost time and productivity.

I am willing to go through some inconvenience and expense to stay safe. But we have to ask:

•  Are all these extra security policies keeping us any safer?

•  Assuming yes, are they worth the time, hassle and cost? Could something else be done without so diminishing our productivity [and personal liberty -ag]  ?

Yearly Cost of Airline security

Passengers: 615 million
TSA budget:  $7 billion
Passenger Waiting time at $30/hour: $20 billion 
Personal "cost" of scanning and searching: ?

Direct cost per passenger:   $7 B / .615 B  = $11.38
Including indirect costs :  $27 B / .615 B  = $43.90

Expert Bruce Schneier:  TSA Scans Won't Catch Anybody
11/19/10 - Popular Mechanics interviews Bruce Schneier [edited]:

PM: Has there been a case since 9/11 of an attempted hijacker being thwarted by airport security?

Schneier: None that we've heard of. The TSA says "Oh, we're not allowed to talk about successes." But, they talk about successes all the time. If they had caught someone, especially during the Bush years, you could be sure we'd know about it. That means there weren't any. Because the threat was imaginary.

It's not much of a threat. As excess deaths go, it's way down in the noise. More than 40,000 people die each year in car crashes. That is a 9/11 every month. The threat is highly overblown.

Most of the costs of airport security "theater" would be better spent on anti-terror intelligence. That would make us all more secure from all types of possible attack.

Bruce Schneier has collected links to his posts about the TSA and airline security. Some of the links:

•  Airport Pasta-Sauce Interdiction Considered Harmful
•  The TSA's Useless Photo ID Rules
•  Airline Security a Waste of Cash
•  Airplane Security and Metal Knives
•  Interview of TSA Director Kip Hawley   (2007)

The Brains of TSA

An anecdote about a past head of the TSA, Kip Hawley. A long line for food at a barbeque stumped him. How about those long TSA lines at the airport?


Anonymous said...

Why are you being nice about sexual harassment and the rape of little children? These people shouldn't be "endured." They are criminals who should be in jail.

Andrew_M_Garland said...

To francoistremblay,

ft: Why are you being nice ...
AMG: That is a wierd reading of my post.

ft: These people shouldn't be "endured."
AMG:Or course not. But, it seems we are stuck for the moment.

ft: They are criminals who should be in jail.
AMG: TSA agents are following the orders of a government out of control. Let's jail the government.

Anonymous said...

"Let's jail the government."

All right, now you're talking. As long as we get all the drug users out of there first to have enough space for all those people! Now that's knocking down two birds with one stone.

You know, you might just have a complete public policy in this idea of yours... :)

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