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Old 01-08-2019, 04:08 PM
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Has TSA screening at US airports stopped a single terroristic plot since its establishment?

As asked in the thread title?


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Old 01-08-2019, 04:11 PM
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How could we possibly know about the deterrent effect?
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:22 PM
Just Asking Questions Just Asking Questions is offline
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I'd love to know the answer.

Trouble is, no one has a vested interest in telling the truth.

If you report the plots you have stopped, it gives intel to the person doing the next attack of possible ways to get past screening.
If you don't report plots you have stopped, it could imply either there aren't any, or you're missing them. Neither is good for your long term job prospects.

Last edited by Just Asking Questions; 01-08-2019 at 04:23 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:24 PM
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:27 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
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Originally Posted by Just Asking Questions View Post
I'd love to know the answer.

Trouble is, no one has a vested interest in telling the truth.

If you report the plots you have stopped, it gives intel to the person doing the next attack of possible ways to get past screening.
If you don't report plots you have stopped, it could imply either there aren't any, or you're missing them. Neither is good for your long term job prospects.
But they are a law enforcement organisation. The latter is not an option for them. They aren't going to silently transport a terrorist to gitmo without telling anyone, just so their buddies won't be tipped off about the TSA's (incredibly dumb) screen procedures.

If they had arrested and prosecuted a terrorist in the process of committing a terrorist act, it would be a matter of public record (and shouted from the rooftops by the TSA themselves)

Last edited by griffin1977; 01-08-2019 at 04:28 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:28 PM
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I don't think there's a GQ answer to this because results don't equal intent.

They have confiscated tens (hundreds?) of thousands of knives & thousands of guns. That doesn't mean the person truly didn't remember having it in their bag, was a dumbass, tried to sneak something thru to avoid a check baggage fee or was intent on doing something bad if they got their weapon onto the plane.
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:31 PM
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Just FYI, in 2017 a record-setting 3,957, firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country, averaging 76.1 firearms per week. Approximately 84 percent were loaded. Another 198 items (mostly knives and tasers) were found after being deliberately concealed in a hidden pocket or deceptive packaging. And there were also a handful of other containers of gunpowder and pyrotechnics.

“But,” a skeptical person might say, “That’s not the same thing. We’re talking about terrorists like Arab jihadists with bombs, not idiots and rednecks who left a knife in their pocket.” At this point, I would remind such a reader that 9/11 was perpetrated with box cutters.

I would also submit that while I cannot recall TSA ever finding a bomb, I also cannot recall the last time an American plane exploded. The last time a bomb actually made it onto an American plane was 2009. This implies to me that - for whatever reason - bombings and hijackings on US aircraft are no longer a popular course of action.
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:33 PM
PastTense PastTense is offline
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How could we possibly know about the deterrent effect?
Why haven't there been any more successful 9/11 attacks?

One answer is that no one wants to do such attacks. Considering the massive U.S. intervention in the Middle East in multiple countries this is incredibly unlikely.

The other answer is that U.S. anti-terrorism efforts (of which TSA screening is one) have been effective.
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:37 PM
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We can guess how many cases of the flu the vaccine has stopped by comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated people. But, I will never know if getting the flu shot this year personally prevented me from getting the flu or whether I wouldn't have gotten it anyway.

Unfortunately, we don't have a control group of unscreened airline passengers to compare against screened airline passengers. We could take a survey of known terrorists and ask them if they gave up on any plots because of the screening, but the results wouldn't be very reliable (it seems to me).

We do know that there have been more terrorist incidents in public places where there is no TSA screening than there have been in the secure part of airports, I think.
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:43 PM
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Why haven't there been any more successful 9/11 attacks?

One answer is that no one wants to do such attacks. Considering the massive U.S. intervention in the Middle East in multiple countries this is incredibly unlikely.

The other answer is that U.S. anti-terrorism efforts (of which TSA screening is one) have been effective.
Altho I think much of what the TSA does is security theater, I tend to agree with this. There have not been any shoe bombers successfully getting onto airplanes since they started inspecting everyone's shoes. Evidently, this tactic has fallen out of favor with would-be terrorists, due to this approach.

Related to the OP: it's hard to prove a negative.
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Old 01-08-2019, 05:42 PM
Great Antibob Great Antibob is offline
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The TSA is regularly tested by DHS. And have failed to find fake weapons and explosives in those tests with alarming frequency in 2015 and 2017. So not very long ago.

Rather than testing a negative, they created positive (albeit with weapons/explosives that did not work) testing under real-world scenarios, and the TSA has repeatedly come up short.

Has TSA screening stopped any plots? Possibly, though difficult to prove. But the odds look really bad if you had to put a bet on it.

Would the TSA be effective at stopping determined (or even not so determined) plotters? Unless it has gotten drastically better in the last couple years, almost certainly not.

Disclaimer: The efficacy of the TSA, in particular, does not say anything about the efficacy of other anti-terrorism measures.
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:01 PM
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There have not been any shoe bombers successfully getting onto airplanes since they started inspecting everyone's shoes.
Fortunately, we have data from outside the US to compare against in this case. It hasn't occurred anywhere else in the world outside the US either, and few if any of those other countries inspect shoes to the same degree or even inspect them at all.

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Evidently, this tactic has fallen out of favor with would-be terrorists, due to this approach.

Related to the OP: it's hard to prove a negative.
The worldwide lack of other attempts and the one highly visible failure indicate that maybe rather than falling out of favor, it never became popular in the first place.

But, yes, it's hard to prove a negative.
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:03 PM
iamthewalrus(:3= iamthewalrus(:3= is offline
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“But,” a skeptical person might say, “That’s not the same thing. We’re talking about terrorists like Arab jihadists with bombs, not idiots and rednecks who left a knife in their pocket.” At this point, I would remind such a reader that 9/11 was perpetrated with box cutters.
The problem with this argument is that it became effectively impossible to take over a plane with knives sometime during the morning of Sept 11, 2001, regardless of TSA actions.

The only reason it worked for a while that morning was that no one had ever done it before, and the standard response of passengers was to keep your heads down. But once you know that someone trying to take over a plane is going to use it as a guided missile with you inside, people fight back. Which they started doing that very same day.

A confiscated knife has never prevented a terrorist attack.

It is possible but in my opinion somewhat unlikely that other screening measures have prevented attacks.
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:25 PM
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How could we possibly know about the deterrent effect?
In fact, it should be very easy to infer the effect of deterrence. If there are many determined would-be terrorists who are deterred from the hijacking of aircraft in a September 11, 2001-style plot we should see them selecting other, less protected targets with many vulnerable people, such as concert or sports venues, schools and other public gatherings, municipal water supplies, et cetera which are not protected by the TSA or any other analogous security force. That such alternate attacks have not occurred would seem to indicate a lack of enthusiasm, ability, or interest in pursuing attacks on US soil by fundamentalist Islamic organizations supporting terror attacks.

In fact, the frequency of terrorist attacks on US soil have declined since 2001 and remained relatively flat until 2014, when they suddenly increased again. And while violent fundamentalist Islamic attacks have occurred, the largest number of individual attacks has been due to far-right violent extremists, e.g. white nationalists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, et cetera.. Nearly all Islamic-based attacks since those that destroyed the World Trade Center One and Two towers and damaged the Pentagon with hijacked airliners have been self-radicalized US citizens or permanent residents, with nearly half being US-born American citizens.

Preventing a repeat of the September 11, 2001 attacks has less to do with restricting items permitted to be brought on board planes than it did with taking the basic measure that security experts had been warning about for several decades, e.g. securing the cockpit door to prevent essentially unrestricted entry to the flight deck by would be hijackers. As Great Antibob has noted, the efficacy of the Transportation Security Administration screening is poor, both in false negatives which fail to uncover passengers often unwittingly or in system tests carrying prohibited devices and substances through the checkpoint, and false positives and inappropriate physical contact that borders on and in some cases meets the definition of sexual assault under the aegis of official policy. The TSA exists to provide two functions; to assure the public that the federal government is doing “something” (even if just for show), and to create a jobs program that essentially anyone with a high school diploma and a relatively clean criminal background check can pass.

The actual value of TSA checkpoints in preventing a terorrist attack, even at an airport is risible given the lack of phasing of security measurees and the compounding of a vulnerable and unprotected travelling public in queues entering checkpoints. The almost complete lack of pre-checkpoint security within airports combined with “lines” that are essentially a crush of travelers standing en masse who could be attacked with any kind of mass casualty weapon or even injured by the threat of such a weapon and resulting stampede. In airports where travellers stand in an open common area in queues that snake back and forth (e.g. Orlando or Denver), a single improvised explosive weapon could injure and kill hundreds, potentially even thousands of people.

This doesn’t mean that screening is useless, or that there shouldn’t be some universal standard instead of the “as you like it” screening that was essentially determined by individual airport policy, but the extreme measures taken by the TSA including sometimes invasive genital probing and public disrobing, the absurd restrictions on fluids and small tools and pocket knives, et cetera (particularly given how readily more deadly weapons could be improvised from ideas still permitted to be carried aboard airliners today) are not the big deterrent to terrorist attacks which the Department of Homeland Security would like the public to believe. Nor has the expense on various systems for detecting weapons and explosives (often advocated by consultants who had a vested interest in the companies producing these devices) been validated by objective performance metrics, and have often been taken off-line or removed from use with little explanation.

The TSA, more than any government agency in history, is emblematic of “fraud, waste, and abuse” when it comes to mistruths about performance, accounting for the use of budget, and oversight and discipline of agents in their interactions with the public. Even the Department of Defense can claim to have some legitimate successes of public benefit and occasional weapon system that actually works as advertized once in a while. DHS has yet to demonstrate that the TSA has provided any real value in deterrence of terrorism or in any other way improved air traveler security.

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Old 01-08-2019, 06:30 PM
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1. Just FYI, in 2017 a record-setting 3,957, firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country, averaging 76.1 firearms per week. Approximately 84 percent were loaded. Another 198 items (mostly knives and tasers) were found after being deliberately concealed in a hidden pocket or deceptive packaging. And there were also a handful of other containers of gunpowder and pyrotechnics.

“But,” a skeptical person might say, “That’s not the same thing. We’re talking about terrorists like Arab jihadists with bombs, not idiots and rednecks who left a knife in their pocket.” At this point, I would remind such a reader that 9/11 was perpetrated with box cutters.

2. I would also submit that while I cannot recall TSA ever finding a bomb, I also cannot recall the last time an American plane exploded. The last time a bomb actually made it onto an American plane was 2009. This implies to me that - for whatever reason - bombings and hijackings on US aircraft are no longer a popular course of action.
1. I don't think it would just a 'skeptical person' saying that. It would be any reasonable person asking for positive evidence that any such case was related to an intended hijacking or attack. None AFAIK (though I wouldn't be surprised if the real answer was 'a handful, though not provably related to any organized or ideologically inspired terrorist effort'). Although the same person, since reasonable , would accept that absence of proof of such intent isn't proof of its absence.

2. There's also a lot of ambiguity here, but I'd actually go along with this point more than the first one. Because it focuses on what the TSA was built into its current form to do, stop actual jihadist attacks on planes (there could be other similar attacks, there have been, but realistically that was how it justified the funding and massive hassle: jihadists). And there have been a lot fewer attempts. There are other possible reasons for that. Such as offensive military action by US/allies. And, different approach by jihadists, for example ISIS has emphasized other things (territorial gains in ME though recently much less successfully, starting up affiliates in other heavily Islamic parts of the developing world, inspiring very low end amateur attackers in the West, etc), not expert bomb makers to defeat the latest security.

And as has often been predicted, attacks on the airline system have also shifted, to the limited extent they still happen, to attacking people lining up outside security at airports rather than the more spectacular feat of getting a bomb on a plane.

All in all though, it's probably not fair to say the TSA build up has nothing to do with point 2. It probably does have something to do with it.

Last edited by Corry El; 01-08-2019 at 06:33 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:54 PM
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The actual value of TSA checkpoints in preventing a terorrist attack, even at an airport is risible given the lack of phasing of security measurees and the compounding of a vulnerable and unprotected travelling public in queues entering checkpoints. The almost complete lack of pre-checkpoint security within airports combined with “lines” that are essentially a crush of travelers standing en masse who could be attacked with any kind of mass casualty weapon or even injured by the threat of such a weapon and resulting stampede. In airports where travellers stand in an open common area in queues that snake back and forth (e.g. Orlando or Denver), a single improvised explosive weapon could injure and kill hundreds, potentially even thousands of people.
I always thought the whole security theater thing was more to protect assets (airplanes, airports) than to protect people, and the way you describe it here aligns well with my assumption. An event such as you describe would not require a would-be terrorist to even bother with an airplane. But, I also assumed a terrorist would be more keen on a showy event like hijacking and crashing an airplane as opposed to a more mundane massacre at the airport terminal.
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Old 01-08-2019, 07:38 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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I always thought the whole security theater thing was more to protect assets (airplanes, airports) than to protect people, and the way you describe it here aligns well with my assumption. An event such as you describe would not require a would-be terrorist to even bother with an airplane. But, I also assumed a terrorist would be more keen on a showy event like hijacking and crashing an airplane as opposed to a more mundane massacre at the airport terminal.
In terms of public spectacle (the “optics” in the current vernacular of media pundits) crashing hijacked airliners into iconic buildings certainly accomplished everything that Osama bin Laden and other jihad-seeking fundmentalist Islamic terrorists desired; it produced an enraged American public which supported military incursions into the Middle East and Afghanistan, destabilizing governments and leaving a power vacuum that groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda could exploit as well as serving as a recruitment tool for a new generation of disaffected Muslim youth. Which is really the point; al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups don’t need to pull off another “9-11”-type attack; they’ve gotten everything they needed.

An attack on a crowd at a TSA checkpoint might not be quite as spectacular in the movie-blockbuster sense but it would be enormously disruptive to air travel, especially multiple simultaneous attacks. The fiscal impact and resulting disruption would be significant. But then, Islamic fundamentalists don’t actually care about doing economic damage to the United States or the West in general; they want to perpetuate a state of cultural warfare which drains the United States not only of money but prestige far in excess of any kind of material damage such groups could do on their own. While the TSA is ostensibly “security theater” to reassure the public, it is also a constant annoyance to travelers in general, and a reminder of the need of hightened vigilance against a publicized threat, even though you are far more likely to die on your drive to the airport or have a heart attack from eating a diet of greasy fast food than you are to be killed in some kind of terror attack.

Far from preventing “a single terroristic plot”, the existance of the TSA in its current form is actually captiulating to the intent of Islamic terrorism. A better system would be a phased surveillance and security system that is less blatantly obtrustive and balances the need for legitimate screening with minimizing inconvenience and doesn’t require intimate “frisking” without some kind of justification beyond the all-too-frequent false positives of airport scanners (which I am convinced are deliberate and intended to keep TSA agents alert). But this would also require more forethought, training, and redesign of airports with an eye toward actual secuirty rather than just weaving queues in every open space regardless of how it actually makes the public less secure and obstructs foot traffic. But nobody wants to devote the effort and cost into that because, again, the actual threat of Islamic terrorism on domestic soil is just ahead of lethal shark attacks.

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Old 01-08-2019, 08:33 PM
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Isn't it time to start ramping down this shit? Why is everything a one way ratchet against freedom? This should have been a temporary response after 9/11, not a permanent restriction on people getting on airplanes.

As has been said, the card has been played. If someone hijacks an airplane, there will be 400 passengers that attack them. Let's stop this nonsense and go back to the way things were on September 10, 2011.
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:03 PM
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Isn't it time to start ramping down this shit? Why is everything a one way ratchet against freedom? This should have been a temporary response after 9/11, not a permanent restriction on people getting on airplanes.

As has been said, the card has been played. If someone hijacks an airplane, there will be 400 passengers that attack them. Let's stop this nonsense and go back to the way things were on September 10, 2011.
Nobody wants to be the one to make the decision to dial back the security theater, because if something did happen then those responsible for the dial down would be held responsible. Even though, as stated above, the current security practices have little positive effect, and certainly aren't useful in a cost/benefit sense.

Instead of eliminating stupid security procedures they are being bypassed through the introduction of new programs such as TSA precheck, known traveler, global entry, etc. Now that I have a known traveler number, my security line experience is similar to what it was pre-9/11---a metal detector and bag x-ray.
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:16 PM
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Fortunately, we have data from outside the US to compare against in this case. It hasn't occurred anywhere else in the world outside the US either, and few if any of those other countries inspect shoes to the same degree or even inspect them at all.
The worldwide lack of other attempts and the one highly visible failure indicate that maybe rather than falling out of favor, it never became popular in the first place.

But, yes, it's hard to prove a negative.
Try Metrojet 9268
Anyone who travels internationally in first world countries at least knows that there are significant checks there also, so we'd expect no bombings from these airports.
Most countries with poor security are not going to be targets, since they are not considered the enemies of terrorists.
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:20 PM
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The TSA is regularly tested by DHS. And have failed to find fake weapons and explosives in those tests with alarming frequency in 2015 and 2017. So not very long ago.

Rather than testing a negative, they created positive (albeit with weapons/explosives that did not work) testing under real-world scenarios, and the TSA has repeatedly come up short.
If you are implying that these tests show that TSA does not detect any weapons, the number of guns and knives that TSA does detect shows this is incorrect. Hell, the people behind me on the last flight I took got their long screwdrivers confiscated.

I'm old enough to remember when every other plane, it seemed, was hijacked to Cuba. There are lots of copycats for successful crimes. That there have been none, - no copycat shoe bomber, etc., shows that there is at least some evidence that TSA is being successful.
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:24 PM
Great Antibob Great Antibob is offline
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As an example of a shoe bombing? That doesn't quite fit.

As an example that the TSA has prevented a similar attack? Not sure how that follows.

I agree some kind of aviation security is necessary. But there isn't a lot of good evidence the TSA itself provides adequate security vs the other measures we take. Actually, there's evidence they do a poor job of it (see my previous post). And still not much evidence that having passengers remove their shoes does much of anything at all.
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:38 PM
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The TSA is regularly tested by DHS. And have failed to find fake weapons and explosives in those tests with alarming frequency in 2015 and 2017. So not very long ago.

Rather than testing a negative, they created positive (albeit with weapons/explosives that did not work) testing under real-world scenarios, and the TSA has repeatedly come up short.
So wait- they found 4000 guns, but the test indicated they failed 80% of the time?!??

so there were really 30000 guns carried on airplanes in 2017?
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:43 PM
Great Antibob Great Antibob is offline
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If you are implying that these tests show that TSA does not detect any weapons, the number of guns and knives that TSA does detect shows this is incorrect.
Well no, that's not what I'm implying. It's clear the TSA detects weapons. But it's not clear that simple detection of some number of weapons - even a record setting number of weapons - is sufficient. There's the old saying that even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. What if the TSA is merely improving to 5 times a day?

What I'm stating, backed by the government's own assessment as cited in those articles I linked, is that the TSA is currently inadequate to the task to which it has been assigned. The DHS itself has tested this and found that weapons and explosives can easily be smuggled through security checkpoints.

Does that mean all of them will get through? Clearly, no, even those tests showed somewhere between 5-20% got caught. But that leaves the remaining 80-95% that don't get caught. And if that's the case, a record number of confiscated weapons at TSA checkpoints is just that much scarier - it implies that there were even more examples that were never detected in the first place and that the record number of confiscated items today may only represent an improvement from 'terrible' to 'merely bad' leaving the majority of weapons/explosives undetected.

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So wait- they found 4000 guns, but the test indicated they failed 80% of the time?!??

so there were really 30000 guns carried on airplanes in 2017?
Maybe? Who really knows? Certainly more than 4000. It's not hard to find websites and photos of people who figured out too late that they forgot to leave a knife or whatever at home but still got through security.

That 80% also represents explosive devices. Presumably people don't typically pack explosives in their carry-ons so there's a low sample size problem there. But yeah, really scary.

Last edited by Great Antibob; 01-08-2019 at 09:46 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 11:52 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
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I don't think there's a GQ answer to this because results don't equal intent.

They have confiscated tens (hundreds?) of thousands of knives & thousands of guns. That doesn't mean the person truly didn't remember having it in their bag, was a dumbass, tried to sneak something thru to avoid a check baggage fee or was intent on doing something bad if they got their weapon onto the plane.
So both the TSA and the bouncers at the night club down the road can both claim to have *maybe* prevented a terrorist attack with all the weapons they've confiscated.

The answer to the OP is still no though.
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:06 AM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
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So wait- they found 4000 guns, but the test indicated they failed 80% of the time?!??

so there were really 30000 guns carried on airplanes in 2017?
That's not a valid calculation.

The 80% is from people who were deliberately try to test the TSA, so presumably actually hid the fake weapons (it wouldn't be a very good test otherwise)

The majority of those 4000 guns was just dumbasses who forgot they were carrying a gun, so didn't.take much skill from the TSA to find them.
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:12 AM
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A confiscated knife has never prevented a terrorist attack.
Prove it.
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:24 AM
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That's not a valid calculation.

The 80% is from people who were deliberately try to test the TSA, so presumably actually hid the fake weapons (it wouldn't be a very good test otherwise)

The majority of those 4000 guns was just dumbasses who forgot they were carrying a gun, so didn't.take much skill from the TSA to find them.
I'm not sure if we are saying the same thing or not, but if the majority of those 4000 simply forgot that they had a gun in their gym bag, then those people would not have represented a harm to the aircraft.

If I got on the plane, looked in my bag and saw my pistol (and subsequently shit myself and counted the seconds until I was able to leave the airport) then I would not be a person that is the purpose of the screening. Yes, we try to keep guns off of planes, but not for its own sake. We keep guns off of planes so that people do not use those guns to do violence on planes.

So it seems that even the 4000 guns the TSA did catch made between nil and fuck all difference in aircraft violence/terrorism.
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:27 AM
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Well no, that's not what I'm implying. It's clear the TSA detects weapons. But it's not clear that simple detection of some number of weapons - even a record setting number of weapons - is sufficient. There's the old saying that even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. What if the TSA is merely improving to 5 times a day?

What I'm stating, backed by the government's own assessment as cited in those articles I linked, is that the TSA is currently inadequate to the task to which it has been assigned. The DHS itself has tested this and found that weapons and explosives can easily be smuggled through security checkpoints.

Does that mean all of them will get through? Clearly, no, even those tests showed somewhere between 5-20% got caught. But that leaves the remaining 80-95% that don't get caught. And if that's the case, a record number of confiscated weapons at TSA checkpoints is just that much scarier - it implies that there were even more examples that were never detected in the first place and that the record number of confiscated items today may only represent an improvement from 'terrible' to 'merely bad' leaving the majority of weapons/explosives undetected.
I've done sampling theory for work, and I suspect the tests - which are no doubt designed to find holes, not to certify how good TSA is - are too few in number to say much about the actual detection rate.
If 80% of guns get through, you'd expect some gun use on a plane - even if not by a terrorist. We've certainly seen fights break out.
Also note that the terrorists, who probably have a good handle on this, seemed to go to weird stuff like shoe bombing. If there was really an 80% fail rate, they could get on planes without much worry. After all, if they got caught they could say whoops like all the other people getting caught.
So the present system is either catching weapons terrorists are trying to get on board, or discouraging them from even trying. The on the ground incidents show they haven't given up.
  #30  
Old 01-09-2019, 12:30 AM
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So it seems that even the 4000 guns the TSA did catch made between nil and fuck all difference in aircraft violence/terrorism.
When is the last time a plane got diverted to Cuba? That was pre-TSA, yes, but the same thing. It's not like screening started on 9/11.
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:38 AM
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When is the last time a plane got diverted to Cuba? That was pre-TSA, yes, but the same thing. It's not like screening started on 9/11.
I agree with your statement, but I'm not sure what your point is. Freedom should not be a one way ratchet. Event X happens so we restrict your freedom a little. Then Event Y happens so we do it a little more. And we keep looking for Event X.

There will never be another successful aircraft hijacking in the United States. The old school "give them what they want and everything will be okay" was forever put to rest on 9/11 and will never happen again. So why conduct security as if that is the goal?
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:45 AM
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I would also submit that while I cannot recall TSA ever finding a bomb, I also cannot recall the last time an American plane exploded. The last time a bomb actually made it onto an American plane was 2009. This implies to me that - for whatever reason - bombings and hijackings on US aircraft are no longer a popular course of action.
I don't think you can make any claims about bombs being less popular now without showing that they were more popular in the past. If the last bomb on an American plane was in 2009, that's one bomb in the last ten years. How many bombs were found in the ten years prior to that? More to the point, how many bombs were found in the ten years prior to 2011, when security was tightened?
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:59 AM
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Just FYI, in 2017 a record-setting 3,957, firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country, averaging 76.1 firearms per week. Approximately 84 percent were loaded. Another 198 items (mostly knives and tasers) were found after being deliberately concealed in a hidden pocket or deceptive packaging. And there were also a handful of other containers of gunpowder and pyrotechnics...
Uh, the number of guns and knives confiscated has zero to do with whether TSA is effective.

I've accidentally carried knives on planes since 9/11. And I've intentionally hidden them to carry them back home. And you know what, I had no intention of using them to commit a terrorist act. And the ease with which I have hidden knives to carry them back home when I mistakenly carried them elsewhere suggests that any terrorist worth his salt will be able to carry a knife onto a plane.

All those confiscated weapons were ones that someone forget were in their bag. I'm going to guess that zero of them were brought to the airport with the intent of causing harm. Because if they were, I don't think they would have been found.

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Why haven't there been any more successful 9/11 attacks?...
Prior to 9/11 the "rule" was to go along with hijackers, let them force you to Cuba, and deal with them after landing. On 9/11, between the first plane to crash into the WTC and the one that passengers brought down no-place-in-particular-Pennsylvania the rule changed. And it stopped being useful to hijack a plane to fly it into something. Also, since 9/11 we have taken serious precautions to secure the cockpit. (Something El Al did long before 9/11, because El Al had a problem with people wanting to hijack their aircraft.)

The whole knife ban is just security theater, and adds absolutely nothing to the aircraft security. Except, I suppose it reduces the odds that a drunk passenger will pull a knife on the flight attendant who refuses to give him another drink. But that's about it.
  #34  
Old 01-09-2019, 08:49 AM
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I had no intention of using them to commit a terrorist act
You had no intention. Can you prove that none of the others had criminal intention?

The purpose of TSA is to prevent people from bringing weapons and other prohibited items on board the plane. We see, indisputably, that they do this many thousands of times each year. Therefore TSA accomplishes it’s purpose with at least some success.

As many others have already pointed out, it is impossible to know the intent of the person. So as with iamthewalrus above, we are stuck trying to infer that a confiscated weapon was not intended to be used in terrorism, therefore TSA is somehow ineffective. (???????)

We have no good way of knowing whether a person is an inept terrorist, a forgetful traveler, whether they aborted their terrorist plot after their weapon was discovered, or if the actual terrorists were so intimidated by security procedures that they just didn’t even bother trying.

Anyone involved with the security industry learns very quickly that deterrence is an impossible metric to assess. I find it utterly baffling that someone would assume that NONE of the weapons confiscated ever had a criminal intent. (As if that somehow makes it okay to bring a gun on a plane?)

Also, as I noted above, last year 198 weapons were found which were deliberately concealed (eg in a hidden pocket or false container). Can you prove to me that zero of those intercepted weapons were intended to be used in terrorist plots?

The logic of saying “The fact that it was discovered proves it was not a terrorist plot, because if it was a terrorist plot it would not have been discovered,” is the most boneheaded and fallacious chain of logic I’ve ever heard. So then if intercepting thousands of weapons has nothing to do with preventing terrorism, what is your standard for success? You’ve eliminated the entire possibility of success with your sweeping definition that all positive outcomes be automatically excluded from consideration.

If an MP had stopped Nidal Hassan and discovered his handguns, would you say he is not a terrorist? Or that he did not have terrorist intent? Of course! We’d just say, “Oh, he lives in Texas where lots of people have guns and he just forgot they were in his car.” And he’d have gotten a small penalty and we’d never know his name.

Please, prove to me that none of these people had intent to commit a crime. Because unless you can figure out how to open up someone’s skull and look inside, you can’t.

Last edited by JB99; 01-09-2019 at 08:54 AM.
  #35  
Old 01-09-2019, 09:11 AM
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I don't think you can make any claims about bombs being less popular now without showing that they were more popular in the past. If the last bomb on an American plane was in 2009, that's one bomb in the last ten years. How many bombs were found in the ten years prior to that? More to the point, how many bombs were found in the ten years prior to 2011, when security was tightened?
Sorry for the typo; I meant to write "2001", not "2011".
  #36  
Old 01-09-2019, 10:00 AM
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I always thought the whole security theater thing was more to protect assets (airplanes, airports) than to protect people, and the way you describe it here aligns well with my assumption. An event such as you describe would not require a would-be terrorist to even bother with an airplane. But, I also assumed a terrorist would be more keen on a showy event like hijacking and crashing an airplane as opposed to a more mundane massacre at the airport terminal.
I think it's the same in either direction. Jihadists aimed at crashing planes because they believed it would have more negative impact on Western societies than killing the same number of people in more mundane settings, Western societies basically agreed.

It's not about assets v people. It's about impact on society. It's not to say the societal consensus is always right, but it's not really some public (or secret) desire to protect airplanes over people. It's that airplanes blowing up in the air with people has more psychological effect on society than the same number of people killed in one incident on the ground, and much more than the same number of people in total killed in a large number of incidents a few at a time, or where there isn't a single motive. IOW the same reason 9/11 had orders of magnitude more effect on societal perceptions than the same total of people killed in car accidents. Society wasn't collectively crazy, or venal, to reach the consensus that 9/11 required dramatic reaction that a steady stream of car accidents or individual homicides did not.

Although, such prioritizations based on psychological impact shouldn't be immune from reexamination and criticism either.
  #37  
Old 01-09-2019, 10:31 AM
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Also, as I noted above, last year 198 weapons were found which were deliberately concealed (eg in a hidden pocket or false container). Can you prove to me that zero of those intercepted weapons were intended to be used in terrorist plots?
Let's look at the data we have.

198 concealed weapons found last year
Security tests imply that the TSA fails to find weapons at least 50% of the time.

This suggests, in the conservative case, that approximately 200 concealed weapons were NOT found last year.

It is impossible to PROVE they were not found, but if a system fails spectacularly in undercover tests, it is highly unlikely that they succeed fantastically during normal times.

So, if 200 weapons were not found, and there weren't any terrorist attacks on planes with these weapons, I'd say the smart money is on the other 198 not being terrorist plots as well.
  #38  
Old 01-09-2019, 11:42 AM
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Before anyone gets all riled up about this, I fully agree that there's no strong evidence to assert that TSA is an effective organization. I think it's a very difficult question to answer, and as mentioned, the tests of TSA's screening abilities have uncovered alarming gaps.

However, there are indications that the bad guys are attempting to adjust to screening procedures, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Most notably, the late top bombmaker for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was heavily engaged in finding new ways to conceal bombs in ways that would evade screening methods. He was responsible for the underwear bomb that Abdulmutallab wore on Christmas Day 2009, and the printer cartridge bomb plot that was narrowly avoided a little while later. But each of his designs were of increasing sophistication, and seemed to be of increasing capability to avoid detection. But it also seems that these plots -- as far as I know -- were generally based on getting something through screening overseas for aircraft headed to the U.S., as opposed to getting the bomb through TSA here to attack an airplane.

Now, one can view this many different ways:

* Maybe the bad guys decided to put extra effort in concealing bombs because of efforts around the world to modernize detection technology.
* Maybe the bad guys saw so many flaws in screening technology that they precisely targeted loopholes
* Maybe this is just what bad guys do

But for some reason, we've been safe from airplanes getting bombed (though that was just luck in the case of Reid and Abdulmutallab). Is that because we've had good enough intelligence to disrupt the plots? Is it because the bad guys are just incompetent?

Tough question to answer.
  #39  
Old 01-09-2019, 11:48 AM
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TSA is incredibly effective. They confiscated and destroyed my 200ml shampoo bottle, thus preventing... not sure what
  #40  
Old 01-09-2019, 12:20 PM
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First of all, we'll never know for sure if a plot was prevented by TSA or not, even if no claim is made that one was, because for all we know, one of the many confiscated weapons prevented a person from attempting a terrorist attack, but we just never realized it. Proving a negative is very difficult with so many possible positives.

Second of all, there are comparisons that can be made around the world; not every airport in the world screens as aggressively as TSA does. So comparison statistics can at least attempt to answer the probability of the question being "yes". Obviously, one has to compensate for the fact that terrorists might not be as interested in taking down Royal Nepal Airlines Flight 101 as in taking down Delta Flight 823. But given that insertion into the system somewhere else can still lead to subsequent flying in the US on US carriers ...

Thirdly, the fact that there are other options for committing mass murder outside of the off-limits area does not mean that failure to attack them demonstrates a lack of effort to attack areas beyond the screening line. As a simple example, please note that the most efficient place to commit mass-murder at an American high school (or any school) is to attack students pouring out the door at the end of the day headed to their buses. No such attack has occurred, yet continued attacks inside the school (much less efficient) occur yearly, despite the use of metal detectors, armed guards, etc.

Fourthly, the flipside to that discussion is that there are numerous methods to commit mass murder type terror in the US, none of which have been attempted (yet), indicating that there may not be much desire to try such terrorism in the wake of the response to the September 11 attacks. For example, I chuckle every time I drive over the open to air Los Angeles Aqueduct near Olancha, CA on US 395. They have whited-out the sign proclaiming that you are crossing that aqueduct, as if by not having a sign, terrorists won't know what it is. It seems to me that, if you want to sow some real terror in the US, simply hitting LA's water supply would be an excellent method. I cannot believe there aren't terrorists who have thought of that in the intervening 17 years.

I personally have put the lack of successful mass terror attacks on American soil down mostly to the much better efforts of our counter-terror investigative agencies, rather than to any efficacy on the part of TSA at airports. All reports from the lead-up to 9/11/01 show that the FBI, CIA, etc. were very un-coordinated in their efforts to stop such plots. As for hijackings themselves, I don't see how they could be an effective weapon any more. One of the reasons hijackings were successful in the past was that there was an unstated agreement between the hijackers and the passengers that, if the passengers co-operated, no one got hurt (not always followed, of course, but generally speaking true). After United Flight 93 went into the ground at Shanksville, would-be hijackers have to accept that that agreement is unlikely to be kept to by passengers any more.
  #41  
Old 01-09-2019, 12:46 PM
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I've been getting a few reports that this thread should be moved to GD. From what I can see, most posters are making a reasonable effort at keeping responses factual. So long as that continues, the thread can stay here. If it does not continue, it will be moved or closed.
  #42  
Old 01-09-2019, 02:00 PM
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Prove it.
I laid out my argument in the post you took that quote from. I think it's pretty clear. Do you have something to add?
  #43  
Old 01-09-2019, 02:27 PM
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I agree with your statement, but I'm not sure what your point is. Freedom should not be a one way ratchet. Event X happens so we restrict your freedom a little. Then Event Y happens so we do it a little more. And we keep looking for Event X.

There will never be another successful aircraft hijacking in the United States. The old school "give them what they want and everything will be okay" was forever put to rest on 9/11 and will never happen again. So why conduct security as if that is the goal?
In the Cuban hijackings for the most part the plane went to Havana, the hijacker got off, was thrown in jail by Castro, and the plane returned with no one getting hurt. I'm not sure that an unsuccessful hijacking due to the plane crashing or people getting shot would be better than that.
We haven't had unsuccessful hijackings since 9/11 either.
We had successful ones after screening and before 9/11 due to lax security in terms of sharp object. This was no secret - I've heard a George Carlin routine from before 9/11 where he says that the security system is stupid for allowing knives om.
They should have hired him to run security.
I certainly agree that measures like locking the cockpit door are good and have helped. And I'm not against better screening. But success speaks for the effectiveness of the current system, annoying as it is.
  #44  
Old 01-09-2019, 02:36 PM
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I laid out my argument in the post you took that quote from. I think it's pretty clear. Do you have something to add?
I think it’s pretty clear that you (and the other posters with a similar argument) are assuming facts not in evidence. It is very difficult to prove intent. I find the idea that “Because no terrorist attacks happened, it proves no one intended to commit a terrorist attack,” to be an absolutely absurd and unsupportable argument.
  #45  
Old 01-09-2019, 05:15 PM
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How could we possibly know about the deterrent effect?
How can we possibly know whether or not my tiger repellent undergarments are working? Nevertheless I wouldn't propose spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a federal tiger repellent undergarment program to protect Americans from tigers. If such a program already existed, I wouldn't accept "we couldn't possibly know whether it is working" as an argument to keep the program in operation.

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TSA is incredibly effective. They confiscated and destroyed my 200ml shampoo bottle, thus preventing... not sure what
TSA is incontrovertibly winning the war on clean hair.
  #46  
Old 01-09-2019, 05:25 PM
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I think it’s pretty clear that you (and the other posters with a similar argument) are assuming facts not in evidence. It is very difficult to prove intent. I find the idea that “Because no terrorist attacks happened, it proves no one intended to commit a terrorist attack,” to be an absolutely absurd and unsupportable argument.
That's... not my argument at all.

My argument is that no one would attempt a knife-based attack any more because it's a stupid tactic that won't work. And we know it won't work because the window for it working didn't even last a whole day. Therefore, we don't need to take knives away, and taking them away doesn't help prevent anything.

Last edited by iamthewalrus(:3=; 01-09-2019 at 05:25 PM.
  #47  
Old 01-09-2019, 10:10 PM
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When is the last time a plane got diverted to Cuba? That was pre-TSA, yes, but the same thing. It's not like screening started on 9/11.
But that was in great part a matter of the geopolitical landscape changing. The US is the only country where non-jihadist terrorism has gone up since the Wall fell. And while there were enough "take me to Havana" hijackings to become a meme before the general public had a word for them, it wasn't either the only location (I just found a newspiece about a Havana-Madrid plane diverted to Miami in 1996, for example) nor something which happened as often as it got joked about.
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  #48  
Old 01-09-2019, 10:47 PM
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That's... not my argument at all.

My argument is that no one would attempt a knife-based attack any more because it's a stupid tactic that won't work. And we know it won't work because the window for it working didn't even last a whole day. Therefore, we don't need to take knives away, and taking them away doesn't help prevent anything.
The fact that it did not work on United Flight 93 does not mean it cannot work ever. The situation might be different with, say 15 knife-wielding terrorists, rather than 4 or 5. The situation might be different if they threatened to slit the throat of the flight attendants one by one, until they got access to the cockpit. Etc.

I agree it's unlikely to work, but that doesn't mean I don't want them screening for it.
  #49  
Old 01-09-2019, 11:01 PM
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You had no intention. Can you prove that none of the others had criminal intention?
No, but I think it's unlikely. Can you prove that even one of them did?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JB99 View Post
The purpose of TSA is to prevent people from bringing weapons and other prohibited items on board the plane. We see, indisputably, that they do this many thousands of times each year. Therefore TSA accomplishes it’s purpose with at least some success.
I'm sorry, if their purpose is just to steal shampoo and pocket knives from people, I have no idea why we are supporting them with taxpayer money.

Oh, wait, it's because their purpose is actually to prevent terrorist attacks to airplanes. Not to confiscate stuff. Sorry. This is not evidence they are doing any good at all.

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Originally Posted by JB99 View Post
As many others have already pointed out, it is impossible to know the intent of the person. So as with iamthewalrus above, we are stuck trying to infer that a confiscated weapon was not intended to be used in terrorism, therefore TSA is somehow ineffective. (???????)

We have no good way of knowing whether a person is an inept terrorist, a forgetful traveler, whether they aborted their terrorist plot after their weapon was discovered, or if the actual terrorists were so intimidated by security procedures that they just didn’t even bother trying.

Anyone involved with the security industry learns very quickly that deterrence is an impossible metric to assess. I find it utterly baffling that someone would assume that NONE of the weapons confiscated ever had a criminal intent. (As if that somehow makes it okay to bring a gun on a plane?)

Also, as I noted above, last year 198 weapons were found which were deliberately concealed (eg in a hidden pocket or false container). Can you prove to me that zero of those intercepted weapons were intended to be used in terrorist plots?
No, but having hidden a "weapon" myself (successfully) I think there's a decent chance that those people just wanted to take their weapons wherever they were going.

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The logic of saying “The fact that it was discovered proves it was not a terrorist plot, because if it was a terrorist plot it would not have been discovered,” is the most boneheaded and fallacious chain of logic I’ve ever heard. So then if intercepting thousands of weapons has nothing to do with preventing terrorism, what is your standard for success? You’ve eliminated the entire possibility of success with your sweeping definition that all positive outcomes be automatically excluded from consideration.

If an MP had stopped Nidal Hassan and discovered his handguns, would you say he is not a terrorist? Or that he did not have terrorist intent? Of course! We’d just say, “Oh, he lives in Texas where lots of people have guns and he just forgot they were in his car.” And he’d have gotten a small penalty and we’d never know his name.

Please, prove to me that none of these people had intent to commit a crime. Because unless you can figure out how to open up someone’s skull and look inside, you can’t.
That's true. I can't prove it. But I'd like some evidence more than "hey, look, they confiscated a lot of knives".

A few years ago, the security experts tried to make it legal to fly with knives again. Probably not with big swoard-like things, but small pocket knives were going to be legal. Because now that the rule is "fight back" there's really nothing much a terrorist can do with a knife. The new rule was announced. And nervous members of the public (and flight attendants, who sometimes deal with drunk and unruly passengers) got all bent out of shape, and we were stuck with a continued useless ban on small pocket knives.

It's security theater. The solid door is for real. The ban on guns (which pre-dates 9/11) is for real. The ban on liquids might even be for real, although we were supposed to get better scanners -- that could tell the differences between explosives and all the usual things people want to fly with -- about two years ago, and somehow haven't.

Has TSA screening stopped a single terrorist plot? There's really no way to know. But it seems very unlikely, and I've yet to hear any plausible argument for them having done so.
  #50  
Old 01-09-2019, 11:03 PM
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The fact that it did not work on United Flight 93 does not mean it cannot work ever. The situation might be different with, say 15 knife-wielding terrorists, rather than 4 or 5. The situation might be different if they threatened to slit the throat of the flight attendants one by one, until they got access to the cockpit. Etc.

I agree it's unlikely to work, but that doesn't mean I don't want them screening for it.
If the cockpit door is locked, what good does it do to slit the throats of the flight attendants? As soon as the pilot brings the plane down, lots of armed men will enter and those perps will be escorted to prison.
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