Mimesis Law
5 April 2020

TSA Security Theater: When The Show Bombs

June 2, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — At the fringes, there are some people who are willing to forego the promise of safety because they favor liberty, and those who are so afraid that there is no freedom they won’t sacrifice for a life covered in bubblewrap.

But there is a vast middle ground, where otherwise decent folk figure that the trade-off, a little liberty for a little safety, is worth the price.  Screw Ben Franklin, anyway.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

The underlying premise, of course, is that any sacrifice of liberty for safety is a reasonable trade-off, that it’s not merely the appearance of safety, but, you know, safety. Actual, real, quantifiable, safety.  Ideology is one thing, but most people are rather practical when it comes to their lives, and thus engage in a cost-benefit analysis of their own and their family’s safety.  Sure, they like liberty, but they strongly prefer to enjoy it while being alive.

For almost 14 years, the United States has been subject to a ceaseless barrage of fear-mongering.  One manifestation is the Transportation Safety Administration, those blue-shirted people who responded to advertisements on pizza boxes who protect us from the terrorists by touching children in inappropriate places.

Unseemly?  To most people. Inconvenient? Certainly.  But what about the terrorists?  Isn’t this what must be tolerated if we’re to fly without somebody blowing up the plane?

Or not.

An internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports, where undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, ABC News has learned.

Wait, 95%?  Not exactly, as someone at ABC News apparently did poorly at math. The correct percentage is 95.71%. But let’s not be mean about it.

The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system.

According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.

In what has become known as “security theater,” where walking barefoot on security lines makes airplane passengers acutely aware of how the government is doing everything in its power to protect our children, it turns out that this shoe obsession may emit an unpleasant odor.

In one test an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer, but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down.

After all, who could ever imagine a bomber being so smart, so wily, as to tape explosives to his back? They’re evil geniuses!

Homeland Security Czar, Jeh Johnson, embarrassed by this display of massive incompetence, has initiated Bureaucratic Plan A, replace the old temporary head of the TSA with a new temporary head of the TSA, ignoring that the former permanent head of the TSA, John Pistole, suffered similar disgrace when, in 2013, a “red team” demonstrated pretty much the same incompetence.

This is not the first time the TSA has had trouble spotting Red Team agents. A similar episode played out in 2013, when an undercover investigator with a fake bomb hidden on his body passed through a metal detector, went through a pat-down at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport, and was never caught.

But Pistole knew what to say when called on the carpet.

In a 2013 hearing on Capitol Hill, then-TSA administrator John Pistole, described the Red Team as “super terrorists,” who know precisely which weaknesses to exploit.

“[Testers] know exactly what our protocols are. They can create and devise and conceal items that … not even the best terrorists would be able to do,” Pistole told lawmakers at a House hearing.

No doubt Pistole did a quick survey of the “best terrorists,” none of whom had ever thought of taping an explosive to their back.

This isn’t to say that engaging in intelligent precautions is worthless, but that allowing fear-mongering to compel you to sacrifice your constitutional rights, your liberty, in the name of “a little temporary safety,” requires more than a show of inconvenience and some absurdly inappropriate touching of children’s private parts.

Not everyone feels sufficiently protective of their freedom to endure some potential risk, but with confirmation that nearly 14 years after 9/11, the government still can’t demonstrate competence at deterring passengers from boarding planes with weapons and explosives if that’s what they choose to do, then placing unwarranted faith in the mandates of security theater such that you’re willing to sacrifice other people’s liberty for your feelz of security is not a good deal.

Maybe Ben Franklin wasn’t such a dope after all.

Main image via Flickr/dan paluska

3 Comments on this post.

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  • TSA Security Theater: When The Show Bombs | Official site of DJ Michael Heath
    2 June 2015 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    […] by azzurrinyc [link] […]

  • Ura
    1 July 2015 at 12:41 am - Reply

    “[Testers] know exactly what our protocols are. They can create and devise and conceal items that […] not even the best terrorists would be able to do,” Pistole told lawmakers at a House hearing.
    Yeah, because radicalised people with frequent flyer points just don’t have the opportunity to learn your protocols and aren’t at all inventive. *rolls eyes*

  • Fear, Clowns, True Threats, Children
    7 October 2016 at 9:48 am - Reply

    […] when they dress their toddlers in Game of Thrones T-shirts, complete with scary quotes. We adore security theater. Those of us with iPhones don’t get pistol emojis […]