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Photo: Ross Borden, Feature photo: Mike Licht,

In response to public outrage surrounding the Transportation Security Administration’s recent changes to airport security procedures, TSA administrator John Pistole stated: “We all wish we lived in a world where security procedures at airports weren’t necessary but that just isn’t the case.”

Yes, Mr. Pistole, we can all agree with that, but what many people – including me – don’t agree with is the way in which the TSA is allegedly attempting to increase airport security. How things stand right now, air passengers are faced with the option of going through a body scanner which produces virtually naked images, submitting to an invasive pat down, or leaving the airport under threat of an $11,000 fine.

As these new, stricter, procedures were rolled out in airports across the US during the last few weeks, the internet buzzed with horrific stories of women being forced to remove prosthetic breasts, a bladder cancer survivor being covered in urine after a TSA pat down, and a young boy having his shirt removed during a secondary screening.

Americans are questioning whether this invasion of privacy and personal rights – having to choose between getting a nude image of yourself produced or basically being groped in public – is worth it.

Not only are the TSA security procedures not worth the hassle, but they are simply just not effective at doing what they are supposed to do, which is find and prevent terrorist attacks. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Only a percentage of air travelers go through the TSA’s enhanced security measures

Currently 68 US airports have the new imaging technology machines in use, yet there are over 5,000 public-use airports in the country. At many international airports like San Francisco International, only one full body scanner is located at each major entrance to the departure gates.

It’s easy for passengers to see which queue will end up going through the scanner rather than the metal detectors, and unless you’re pulled out of one line and asked to go through another, you can basically choose if you’ll go through the scanner or not. In one incident, several people opted out of the body scanners and were just sent through metal detectors instead.

If a passenger had something to hide, he or she could walk through the line for the metal detector instead of the scanner. Alternatively, a passenger with ill intent could simply board an aircraft at an airport or terminal that does not utilize the scanners.

2. Airports can legally opt out of TSA services and hire private security instead

In addition, airports are under no obligation to utilize TSA services; they can hire private security companies instead. This means that some airline passengers will be screened by TSA agents, while others will not be.

Once a passenger boards a domestic flight, he usually does not have to go through security again even if he catches a connecting flight in another city. If airports administrators exercise their right to hire private security, people flying out of those airports will then be transferred to other airports, and passengers on a single plane may have been subject to vastly different security measures.

TSA security procedures are based on submitting ‘everyone’ to enhanced security checks, but in reality, only a small, random minority of travelers are subjected to these checks, which will be even less logical should some airports start utilizing non-TSA security services.

3. Real threats are detected by intelligence, not by screening

As Marijn Ornstein, security boss at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has recently stated:

If you look at all the recent terrorist incidents, the bombs were detected because of human intelligence not because of screening … If even a fraction of what is spent on screening was invested in the intelligence services we would take a real step toward making air travel safer and more pleasant.

Photo: Ross Borden

4. TSA procedures focus on finding objects, and they tend to be one step behind the terrorists

What TSA does is often based on a response to the previous threat. A bomb is found in someone’s shoes, and hence all passengers must now remove their shoes for screening. Liquid explosives are found, and so now we must all meticulously organize our 100 ml bottles of shampoo in zip-lock baggies. The ‘underwear bomber’ spurred on the latest phase of body scanners and genital area pat downs.

Bruce Schneier, long-time critic of the TSA, argues that “the whole system is designed to catch stupid terrorists” and goes on to describe how a smart terrorist could easily make his own knife in an airplane bathroom.

5. TSA protocol leaves passengers more vulnerable

Discarding all liquids (supposedly because they could be explosive), and then keeping them stored in a trash bin right there where hundreds of people are wrapped around the line makes little, if any, logical sense. If the TSA really believes that some of these liquids could be explosive, wouldn’t it make more sense to move them out of that crowded area of people?

Personally, I felt more comfortable with the security procedures in Lahore, Pakistan, where you aren’t even allowed to drive up near the airport without showing your airline tickets. When you approach the airport parking lot, you’re confronted with huge cement barriers, guards armed with AK-47s and an automatic assault weapon aimed directly at your vehicle.

The guards question you, may ask you to show ID, and if they have any reason to be suspicious they’ll question you right there, far away from the airport and any crowds.

6. Increased wait times at security checkpoints create greater risk

In addition, TSA security checks tend to be time consuming (particularly with the pat down option) and result in long lines at completely unsecured security checkpoints. If someone wanted to wreak havoc at an airport, all he would have to do is approach a security gate and detonate a bomb right there. It seems crazy that this “last line of defense” is so far inside the airport and is an area where passengers become bottlenecked.

The US should learn from the example of Israel, where getting passengers through different layers of security happens quickly and with much less hassle.

7. The new imaging machines do not detect all explosives

Former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority, Rafi Sela, has expressed doubt about the capabilities of these machines:

“I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747,” Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

“That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport,” Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

8. Money spent on current TSA staff and procedures is a waste of resources and is making private companies rich off of fear-mongering

The TSA payroll includes over 67,000 employees and continues to grow. At the same time, although the TSA is a federal government organization, many privately-held, for-profit companies are making significant profits due to these security increases. Each full-body scanner costs up to $170,000, and the TSA expects to have at least 500 total machines in place by the end of 2010 – currently there are 385 in use.

This money would be much better spent on having a smaller, more highly trained staff and focusing more on intelligence gathering and less on screening.

Photo: Craig ONeal

9. TSA security procedures could ultimately lead to more driving deaths

According to economics professor Steve Horowitz, “Driving is much more dangerous than flying, as you are far more likely to be killed in an automobile accident mile-for-mile than you are in an airplane,” said Horowitz. “The result will be that the new TSA procedures will kill more Americans on the highway,” provided Americans choose to avoid flying in light of the procedures.

This scenario could ultimately pan out, as according to the National Safety Council, the average American has a 1 in 85 chance of dying in a car accident during his or her entire lifetime, while the odds of dying in an air or space travel related accident are 1 in 5,862.

10. Passengers are more likely to contract cancer from full-body scanners than to be killed by a terrorist attack

While the government claims the effects of radiation from the body scanners’ technology is negligible, many prominent scientists and physicians have disagreed. A group of faculty from the University of California at San Francisco put together a report that ultimately states:

There has not been sufficient review of the intermediate and long-term effects of radiation exposure associated with airport scanners. There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations.

Bruce Schneier even goes so far as to say that the machines could end up being statistically more dangerous than terrorists, as estimates are that out of every 1 billion passengers who go through the scanners 16 people may contract cancer; “Given that there will be 600 million airplane passengers per year, that makes the machines deadlier than the terrorists.”

11. Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer or auto accidents than an airborne terrorist

Just after 9/11, Business professor Michael L. Rothschild put together some statistics detailing the odds of actually dying in an airplane hijacked by a terrorist. In any given year, an American with an average life span has a 1 in 400 chance of dying from heart disease, a 1 in 600 chance of dying from cancer and a 1 in 7,000 chance of dying in an automobile accident. He hypothesizes:

Let us assume that each week one commercial aircraft were hijacked and crashed. What are the odds that a person who goes on one trip per month would be in that plane? There are currently about 18,000 commercial flights a day, and if that person’s trip has four flights associated with it, the odds against that person’s being on a crashed plane are about 135,000 to 1. If there were only one hijacked plane per month, the odds would be about 540,000 to 1.

With all of these factors taken into account, I have to agree with Bruce Schneier and Jeffrey Goldberg that what the TSA is doing is more of “security theater” than actual security.

Of the ‘underwear bomber,’ the man whom we can thank for enhanced pat downs (which notably can NOT be utilized by US military personnel to search Afghan women and children due to modesty concerns), Schneier writes:

Finally, we need to be indomitable…We’re reacting out of fear, wasting money on the story rather than securing ourselves against the threat. Abdulmutallab [the 'underwear bomber'] succeeded in causing terror even though his attack failed.

If we refuse to be terrorized, if we refuse to implement security theater and remember that we can never completely eliminate the risk of terrorism, then the terrorists fail even if their attacks succeed.

Community Connection

Do you think the TSA’s procedures, full-body scanners and enhanced pat downs, make air travel any safer? Have you had any first-hand experiences that would testify one way or the other?



About The Author

Heather Carreiro

Heather is a secondary English teacher, travel writer and editor who has lived in Morocco and Pakistan. She enjoys jamming on the bass, haggling over saris in dusty markets and cross-country jumping on horseback. Currently she's a grad student attempting to wrap her tongue around Middle English, analyze South Asian literature and eat enough to make her Portuguese mother-in-law happy. Learn more on her blog at

  • Julie

    For me, 4 and 8 are the most compelling reasons on your list, Heather. I’m so bothered by the fact that TSA policies seem to be predicated on a cluster of logical fallacies, and that so many Americans are so whipped into submission with fear-mongering that they say ridiculous things like, “Well, sure, these policies are annoying, but they make us safer, so I’m all for it.”

    I’m NOT all for it. As if it wasn’t enough to pull off my shoes, pull my laptop out of my bag, make sure I never wear a watch, a belt, or a metal hair clip, and hope that the titanium rods in my back from surgery don’t ever set off the x-ray machines, I now have to pull of my baby’s outer layers, fold up her stroller and stick it in the x-ray machine while I hold her with the other hand, and then open every bottle of milk I carry and allow it to be inspected while I have other TSA agents yell at me for my stuff piling up meanwhile.

    None of it makes us safer.

    • Deborah

      Agreed. Sheeple make me sick. They bend over to our rights being taken and then scream like whinny pigs when THEY become victimized. Get off the couch stupid sheeple and stop waiting for your turn at the slaughter house. Gobberment does NOT protect & provide for it’s subjects it is working to fund itself and works to PROTECT itself and its PARTNERSHIPS from liability at ALL costs: up to and committing MORE crimes on the victims: twisting, turning, flippings truths making victims into villians rubber stamped in their CORRUPT gobberment courts.

    • Heather Carreiro

      D and I were just talking yesterday about what going through airport security will look like once we’re doing it with a baby or a toddler…

      I found looking into this TSA stuff interesting as I’ve been writing about South Asian literature and film that acts as a critique of post-9/11 America. In the film Sharif Don’t Like It, one South Asian American man named Sharif is incarcerated and questioned with a one-way microphone. His interrogator (the one with the mic) doesn’t even bother to ask Sharif any security related questions, and Sharif can’t answer anything anyway because he doesn’t have a working mic. The interrogator basically just enjoys the power he has over his subject and muses that “someone has to pay.” The film suggests that at the top levels of security, the government is well aware that it’s all just ‘security theater’ designed to increase fear and polarization in society – to me it looks like the same thing is happening with the TSA.

  • Mike

    I think the author completely miss the point…the #1 reason these scans do not make anyone safer is because the terrorists can at this moment, travel to any airport and simply blow themselves up in the security line. Not only is it easy, cheap, and deadly…the “terror” value is actually better than blowing up a plane.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hey Mike,

      I totally agree – that point is covered in #5 and #6. You might find my observations about security in Lahore (which takes place far from the airport entrance) to be of interest.

  • huy

    Yes lets let everyone just walts through with whatever they want, that sounds like a much better idea. Its an electronic body scan, thats like saying you’re embrassed to get x-rayed christ. Get over it.

    • Heather Carreiro


      I’m not sure you read through the arguments. My main issues with the current TSA procedures is not the potential for embarrassment, but the fact that the procedures being used don’t seem to be effective from the point of view of actual security. I spent three years in Pakistan and had my fill of full-body pat downs (notably by women in a private, closed off area), and I didn’t mind them. The main point being made here in this article is that these procedures seem to be more based on creating an atmosphere of fear than of actually preventing terrorist attacks. The system, as is, will not catch halfway-savvy terrorists, and as Mike pointed out, terrorists could easily wreak havoc by planting a bomb in the security line itself.

  • Kristin Conard

    I can’t decide if I want to risk the privacy issues/radiation issues of the scanner or having someone feel me up since I’ll have to fly out of New York, all the airports (I believe) have the scanners. I wonder how/if the “Opt-out” day tomorrow will go.

    • Heather Carreiro

      I’d just suggest getting to the airport early!

  • michael apgar

    This article is so one sided, so soft. It is peopel like this author who live in la la land, and would have been first in line to pacify Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon.

    Many of the reasons are so far removed from any reality.

    How does this stuff get published anyway?

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hey Michael,

      Not exactly sure what you mean by “soft” (soft on the TSA or soft on terrorism?), but yes it is one-sided because I’m trying to make a point that the current TSA procedures are not the most effective way to actually increase security in US airports. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call Lahore, Pakistan (where I lived for over three years) “la la land” – especially during the imposition of martial law, the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the shooting attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team and numerous suicide bomb attacks – one of which I physically felt the blast from. I’ve had my university lectures cancelled due to riots, been barricaded out of my own neighborhood due to security concerns and been questioned (several times) by Pakistani ISI agents. You can call that “la la land” if you’d like, but I think you’d be working from a different definition than what most Americans think of when they use the term.

      And how does this stuff (yes I censored your comment) get published? I’m the editor.

      • John H

        “I’m the editor:… ’nuff said ! haha

  • Diana

    All of this stupidity brings to mind the quote of one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

    “Those who would surrender essential liberties for a little temporary security shall receive neither security nor liberty”

    I do NOT choose to surrender my essential liberties. Period.

  • Deborah

    What if some ‘nut’ puts a bomb in his underwear and tries to get on a train? a bus? Do we ALL have to be EXPOSED in scanners or FELT up? And why don’t the criminals in the decision making seats have to ‘stoop’ to the SAME abuse they put the rest of in?

    Time to get off the couch Sheeple and give these criminals in Washington the SIZE 13 BOOT…VOTE THE OUT in 2012 NO MORE POLITICIANS…NO MORE LAWYERS True Americans..people who KNOW how to CREATE jobs not STEAL our income/assets

    • vishal

      A bus has less potential to damage infrastructure, so you are unlikely to get as felt up as you would on a plane. If you become a pilot, I imagine that you will soon need to sign off to compulsory cavity searches.

      Anyone who thinks that you are not at war, is misguided. You are losing all the freedoms that come with an increased threat level. The war is not as apparent as one which bombs your village; but it’s trappings and constraints on your life, whilst causing less apparent pain and suffering – still keep you from living your life in freedom and harmony with your surroundings.

      Unless you are smart. Like really, really smart.

      The problem is, if those you care about aren’t quite as smart; there emerges a distance between yourself and those loved ones. You can either try to bridge the gap (good :)) or keep some distance. Or worst of all, cave in and conform to zombie nation.

      I like the word sheeple. Quite funny and quite accurate.

  • LIttle

    What about those people that wear false breasts? What do they gain from embarrassing people? If they’re (TSA) looking for a way to endear themselves to the US public, they aren’t doing very a good job of it.

  • Jacob

    Have any of you who would view this article as a la la land article have you ever put any thought into all of the bad things that someone could do to take down a plane. Do you have any knowledge of chemistry? There are a lot of smart people everywhere, not just in the US. In 5 min. of thought I can think of at least 10 different ways to do it that do not require explosives, just a visit to the bathroom. Knives are not on my list. Comparing these guys to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or any other leader that killed over 1 million people is giving them just a little to much credit. The first thing to realize is that if everyone in America just said piss on them, gave money and support to the other side in the area’s, and sent in the CIA with funding. Not the NSA which has garnered a great deal of the funding lately. This would be unnessesarry. Part of the reason alquida has gotten so much funding from people who hate the US is because according to popular opinion and the news people we are all TERRIFIED of them. When so many people here can’t even tell you which states but up against the state they live in, for so many to be afraid of something that is right up there with the risk of being eaten by a great white shark in Colorado. They do have an aquarium there after all. We all need to remember the words that, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

  • Adam Roy

    Hear hear! I especially like the point about Israel. They’re safer than the US, and don’t even require passengers to remove their shoes when going through security.

  • jason

    Don’t fly then…stay home…its that easy……the minute a plane goes down everyone is going to say they new there was a threat that something was going to happen and did nothing..and then all the crybabies families will line up with law suites…cant have it both ways….

    • Heather Carreiro


      I think you missed my point (if you even read the article). I’m not anti-security, what I’m saying here is that the current procedures are ineffective and should instead be based on intelligence. The way Israel runs airport security (which is referenced in the article) is a good example. There are many documented cases where the US intelligence services were informed of threats (based on intelligence) and did nothing. The case of David Coleman Headley, one of the 26/11 Mumbai attack plotters and an American, is a good example. The US gov was tipped off several times about him but did nothing. Of course it complicates the matter that was on the US gov payroll as a drug enforcement agent. I think you’re simplifying the TSA case too much to get what I’m trying to say here.

  • Christine

    Nobody likes feeling vulnerable during the pat downs and searches. However the remaining friends and family of the passengers on a plane taken over by terrorisic people is a much worse feeling.

    What should be done is get the TSAs trained on how to do their job in a more tactful, yet effective manner, vs spending all this time and hot air complaining.

    • Heather Carreiro

      This article really isn’t about how I feel about pat-downs and searches, but it’s about how the current TSA methods are not the most effective way to enhance security. I agree that the TSA agents should be more highly trained, but I don’t think the training should focus on learning how to be more tactful – it should focus on hard skills like learning to read people. The article is more of a call to open up discussion as to what procedures/strategies really will increase airport security, and if you click through to the dozens of links, you’ll see that what’s written is not ‘hot air’ but is backed up by solid sources and experts in these fields.

  • Dontask

    Anyone who thinks this article is correct has lost their minds. It states that “TSA procedures focus on finding objects…” That is absolutely NOT true. The purpose of these procedures is to DETER, repeat DETER terrorists. Obviously a terrorist strapped with bombs is not going to walk through a detector he knows will get him caught… it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

    If we take the author of this article seriously, we would also need to get rid of traffic laws. For example, the author says that “Only a percentage of air travelers go through the TSA’s enhanced security measures”, which is like hinting that we shouldn’t have speeding laws because only an extremely small percentage of drivers who speed actually received speeding tickets. Obviously that is ridiculous. We have speeding laws for the same reason we have airport security procedures… BECAUSE IT DETERS A SPECIFIC ACTION. That is the only reason!

    … and so many of you are ironically so stupid you don’t even know it. The fact that we HAVE NOT HAD ANOTHER 9/11 is thank to, in part, these hardcore security measures. OBVIOUSLY you people would be complaining EVEN MORE if another 9/11 happened, so please grow up and stop complaining about this. It is beyond my comprehension that we Americans can be such stupid prudes.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Dontask, it may seem like the purpose of these procedures (which essentially focus on looking for things) is to deter terrorists, but what I’m saying is that these procedures are only going to deter very dumb terrorists. You may want to read this to get a fuller picture of the security issues at stake here:

      A major problem with TSA strategy is that the procedures focus on preventing “another 9/11″ – or a another 9/11-style attack. Doing so leaves air passengers vulnerable to other methods/types of terrorism. I actually don’t think the current procedures are “hardcore” – they are just meant to give the illusion of being so.

    • jan


      Two security measures post 9/11 guaranteed that there will never be another 9/11. Securing the cockpit doors, and prohibiting cooperation with hijackers. Those two simple changes will ensure it won’t happen again. Look at United 93. Once the passengers were aware of what happened, they took the plane down themselves.

      That being said, correlation doesn’t mean causation. Ever since I started to carry this magic stone in my pants, I’ve never once been attacked by a lion. Would you pay $10,000 for this magic stone? No. You know it’s got nothing to do with being attacked by a lion. Likewise, all the shenanigans that the TSA is pulling at the airport won’t (and hasn’t!) stopped any bad guys. And even IF the TSA does “deter” terrorist attacks at the airport, then the terrorists will just attack somewhere else where that “deterrence” does not exist. The mall. A bank. The grocery store. A federal office building. The airport itself (prior to going through security). The TSA doesn’t make one bit of a difference to the overall equation. Not an iota. And for that you’re willing to pay 8 billion dollars a year?

      • Reannon

        Wow, Jan. Well said!

  • Thomas

    Even if these procedures were 100% effective in stopping a terrorist from getting on board, what about the commercial cargo that’s in the hold of passenger airplanes that are not checked?

    • jan

      Don’t worry, they banned printer cartridges. That’s what they tried to use last time, right?

  • Ethan

    I think its wrong for the tsa to do that. Ya I know airports need more security but mayby a little to much security.

  • Mark

    It is a sham.
    they used to confiscate your disposable lighters at the security checkpoints until it became too expensive to dispose of them.
    The TSA has determined that lighters are no longer a threat to your safety because they cost too damn much to throw away.

    Follow the money. Who is making all of the scratch on keeping us safe?

    If I stood to make tens of millions of dollars It would probably be worth it to stage something like parking a car full of fire crackers at an airport so the media could sensationalize it as a huge safety issue prompting congress to pass laws that require the airlines to buy worthless expensive machinery.

    Where do you draw the line at searching people when it is possible to carry enough explosive material to blow up an airplane up your ass… and then ignite it with your bic lighter

  • Mark

    I believe that we need to fix two real issues before we move ahead.

    The first is the idea that aircraft can be made safe by inspecting the passengers. This is simply not true. There are entirely too many attack vectors that do not involve passenger participation.

    The second is that, despite all the nanny laws pressed on to us by our governments, we are all going to die. Nothing that the government does or demands that we do (or do not) will confer immortality.


    My greater concern is the precedent we establish by accepting that the government has the right to force us to be searched.

    If we accept this warrant-less search on the idea that it is interstate commerce, how do we avoid the expansion of this search to EVERY person who moves between states by any means? If this is a justified ‘protection’ of interstate commerce on aircraft, why not trains, buses, ferries or private cars?

    If we do not allow these searches because it is ‘Interstate Commerce’, and instead accept the idea that we can be searched because we have a ‘lower expectation of privacy’ in an airport, how do we then claim privacy protection on a public street, beach, golf course, or any place outside a private residence?

    Whether or not the security screener is paid by the government or private industry, the standards are mandated by the TSA administration. TSA agents are trained and in place, and forcing them to re-apply for their jobs will not benefit anyone or anything.

    The new nude scanners do not improve aircraft safety, but they do vastly improve the surreptitious and unlawful search for drugs and money that is an increasing, but unacknowledged part of the TSA mission.

    Until the TSA mission is actually restricted to increasing aircraft safety, their image and performance cannot improve.

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  • sam

    israel is famous for the best security and they do NOT use pat downs and radiation scanners!! They ASKS Questions and use THIER BRAINS.

  • Don

    Great article.

    Thanks for pointing out the stupidity of the TSA. Hopefully no one tries to anally insert a bomb in the future. If they do, get ready for some major probing.

  • Jason Wire

    What’s the most amount of people that can fly in a single aircraft? The new superjumbo jet Airbus A380 holds around 850 passengers, plus a crew, so let’s just round up and say 900.

    If a terrorist’s priority is a high body count, I think that a hijacked airplane is probably going to be one of the least effective ways to achieve the goal. Subways and railways have no security screening whatsoever, and have many more people–trapped underground, no less. Wouldn’t this be prime territory for the TSA?

    How about concerts or sporting events? I’ve never felt seriously searched at any large outdoor event I’ve been to, including concerts of more than 80,000 people.

    Lastly, having the TSA as our last line of defense is a mockery of what we as Americans are capable of. The TSA security screeners are not hard-working, aspirational, leaders of our society–they’re people for whom the TSA was one of the last places that would give them a job, and one which does nothing more than any other assembly line worker. What poor applicant wouldn’t want to make an average of 46,000/year being a glorified bouncer for travelers?

  • MC

    I believe that private security companies will have to follow the sames rules & regulations that TSA follows. So in practice, using a private company wouldn’t make any difference. They might just be nicer.
    Otherwise, I completely agree with you. I just wish I could drive across the Atlantic so I didn’t have to put up with it. TSA is a complete joke and a huge waste of our tax dollars at a time when we really cannot afford it.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Good point MC. I’m wondering how things will play out if airports start using private security companies, and if those companies will be required to use the imaging technology or not.

  • Erica L.

    I don’t agree with all of these points, especially the first two (it almost seems like you’re arguing for MORE useless, potentially dangerous scanners) but I absolutely agree that the US should adopt a security measure like Israel’s.

    I went to Israel on Birthright in 2006 and was very impressed by how thorough and accurate the security was at JFK airport, without ever making people feel like they were cattle. And the security measures took place right at the airport door, before any luggage was checked. We should absolutely have trained psychologists taking tickets and handing out boarding passes, asking questions about the intention of travel. The answers to the questions don’t matter, but these people are trained to detect anxiety, excitement or fear.

    I’ve never been to Pakistan or a country like it, but I would feel very uncomfortable with armed guards treating every airport visitor like a criminal. Our military should never, ever point loaded guns at civilians. Ever.

    Overall, the new security measures are the government’s way of desensitizing Americans to more control, more invasiveness and fewer freedoms. Sovereign Man wrote an excellent article the other day which illustrates this point better than I can:

    I, for one, am sticking to trains and buses for the indefinite future, at least while traveling within and out of the United States.


    • Heather Carreiro

      Hey Erica!

      Nice to ‘meet’ another Sovereign Man reader. I agree that military / security personnel should not point weapons at civilians. The scenario I was describing in Lahore (which is part of a military-run country, so seeing men with AK-47s around is totally normal, seems like every little shoe store or jewelry shop has an armed guard after evening hours) is one where at the airport there is an unmanned automatic weapon located up high and pointed down toward the cement barriers. My guess is that this is there so that it can be used should someone try to rush the barriers/crash through the security gates with a truck full of explosives. Seems more practical than keeping a sniper on the roof 24/7 in case of such incidents, which sadly, in the case of Pakistan are becoming more and more common. I honestly felt a lot more secure having it there than not having it there, even though it meant for a few minutes my car would be in its range. Having armed gunmen point weapons directly at people would definitely not be something I’d support!

      You say, “We should absolutely have trained psychologists taking tickets and handing out boarding passes, asking questions about the intention of travel. The answers to the questions don’t matter, but these people are trained to detect anxiety, excitement or fear” – I think this is KEY to having our airports (and other transport centers) more secure. I’d rather the $170 for one body scanner be spent on this type of training.

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  • D.Daniel

    You made some good points but missed one that I consider critical. The majority of cargo shipped in planes today is still not scanned. It is considered “cost prohibitive”.

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  • Bystander

    Good article. It isn’t about security measures, it is about effective security measures. It is about spending the money in the right places.

    The next time you go through TSA security at an airport, have a good look at the people who are paid to be the last line of defense between you and an intelligent, determined, fanatical terrorist who wants to blow up your plane. If you are happy with that, fine. (Personally, I would prefer someone more like Jason Bourne.).

    As far as I can recall, all plots which have been thwarted in recent times have been thwarted by good, professional intelligence, passengers and crew on the plane, tip offs (including someone’s Dad who was ignored), a guy selling papers in Times Square.

    Terrorism is about getting you to surrender your freedom and making you pay for it. You do get a certain leeway in how much of your freedom you are willing to give up and how much risk you are willing to take. I would be willing to take a bit more risk in order to hang onto a bit more freedom, because that freedom was bought at a very high price and I would not want to sell it cheaply.

  • Paulo

    What rationalize the preposterous? Even if the threat were as high as we have been mislead about for nearly a decade now, the TSA is the last line of defense. We should be holding intelligence organizations to a higher degree of responsibility then the people who scan bags.

  • MavericksHMB

    Heather, excellent article and excellent responses to the nay-sayers. One person commented, “Follow the money.” That’s really all that needs to be done to explain the over-reach in security measures at airports now days. Michael Chertoff, Bush’s “czar” of Homeland Security, left the administration and heads up The Chertoff Group. Who does the Chertoff Group represent? Good question! The answer would be RapiScan, one of the manufacturers of the AIT machines (porno scanners). You can bet that Chertoff had a lot of influence in peddling these machines under the guise of “terror! terror! terror!” “Be afraid, be VERY afraid!”

    A lot of the same people who have been screaming about their constitutional rights lately, seem to be okay with being groped before flying, or risking skin cancer (or worse) by subjecting themselves to these scanners — all in the name of “enhanced security”. We’re supposed to be safe from unreasonable searches & seizures without a warrant. So… where’s the warrant when we line up at the security checkpoint?

    Does anyone else wonder what other companies Chertoff represents that might have the next best, latest and greatest, security technology? It doesn’t even have to be Chertoff’s group. Maybe it’ll be another ex-congressman or ex-staff from Bush’s or Obama’s administration who has now gotten into the security field. There’s too much money to be made off of America’s FEAR.

    • Heather Carreiro

      I think you summed it up right here: ” There’s too much money to be made off of America’s FEAR.” So true.

  • MavericksHMB

    Oh, as an aside, I wonder why we don’t learn from countries who seem to be doing it right when it comes to securing their airports. Countries like Israel. We’re putting money into ineffective machines and ineffective procedures when we should be asking questions and watching for responses. Also, why not invest in bomb-sniffing dogs? They’re a lot cheaper and more accurate than the back-scatter machine. But then, that would be taking money out of Chertoff’s (and people like him) pockets!

  • Karin-Marijke

    Good article!
    It’s all about power and spending money on negative energy. Especially the last point is so true. I can remember years ago there was some sort of threat for a biological or chemical attack – can’t remember the details, had to do with Israel and Middle East / Iran. Anyway, the world panicked and especially in the US these gas masks were sold out in no time, leading to all kinds of complaints.

    Then a journalist commented something like, “If the Americans are so concerned about their lives and really want to live they better stop smoking, drinking, and eating fast food, and start wearing a seat belt. That diminishes much more the threat of being killed than a possible attack with biological/chemical stuff.”

    That was such a simply but true statement, and is valid today as well.

  • joanna

    Just what I’ve been trying to tell people all along – only said so much better than I ever did!

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  • anonri

    This was perhaps one of the least well thought out articles I have read on Matador. I am as put off by the TSA as anyone else, and I love this website, but asinine lists like this ruin it for me.

    Who is honestly concerned that less people flying means more people driving?

    Do the following three “reasons the TSA is NOT making us safer” make any sense at all?

    2. Airports can legally opt out of TSA services and hire private security instead
    6. Increased wait times at security checkpoints create greater risk
    11. Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer or auto accidents than an airborne terrorist

    How could you possibly argue that these are reasons why the TSA is NOT making us safer. It is frankly pathetic that I am even posting a response, but I am THAT annoyed by this absurdly idiotic list.

    My apologies, but this was not the least bit persuasive… or rational, for that matter.

  • Rick

    As a constant flier, I cannot believe that you can publish such rubbish and make a point of trying to encourage people to create as easy as possible an environment for terrrorists to repeat 9/11 and kill as many people in the air as possible!!!!

    These procedures are put in place to PROTECT US and THEY DO.
    The TSA cannot have too many safety procedures in place – however it may upset your delicate so-called false sense of privacy.

    It is precisely this sort of Liberal idiocy that has created such a godless and irresponsible society that is completely awash and being constantly destroyed with constant whining for political correctness, so called freedom of rights at any cost and other fronts that attempt to hide your striving for complete control of peoples ways and thoughts.

    I recommend that airlines have 2 types of flights…
    One without real security or security checks – for the likes of you and your cohorts…
    and one which is fully and completely secured, whatever the cost both financially and personally…

    I know which one I will choose.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Rick, I’m not sure you read the article. My point is that what the TSA is doing is actually ineffective in stopping terrorists, and that more effective security measures should be adopted instead of submitting passengers to what only really amounts to a bunch of drama and hype.

      If you think what the TSA is doing is going to stop a halfway smart terrorist, read this article in The Atlantic –

    • Natalie

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks for bringing up ‘godlessness’ and ‘liberalism.’ No discussion is complete nowadays without a healthy dose of party politics. So necessary. So pertinent.

      It’s unfortunate you became so offended by this article. Heather was just raising a few points for discussion, for those who were interested. No one’s forced to agree, so just keep your pants on.

      Also, as ‘that guy’ who proselytises in the comments section of articles, you’ll want to remember that this is a travel magazine, not a church or a city hall. From the sound of it, though, the latter could use you: this ‘two-plane’ idea of yours is shockingly feasible, and so compassionate towards your fellow Americans. That sort of policy-making (and financial disregard–not to mention punctuation apathy) makes you a prime candidate for public office. Go for it!

      Heather: Intriguing, timely, and from the heart, as usual :)

  • Lauren

    This is what upsets me so much about the new TSA procedures. If they actually did anything to prevent new attacks, THEN we could move on to the discussion/debate of safety vs. personal liberties — but they don’t! It’s security theatre, created, as the article states, to fear monger and make people feel something is being done to make them secure (even though the reality is that there’s no such thing as complete security).

    It’s so frustrating! Terrorists are nothing if not innovative. If someone wants to be malicious, they’ll make it their business to get through any automated standard security system that’s in place.

    But if you are concerned about the civil liberties aspect, they’ve got t-shirts now with the 4th amendment written in metallic ink (so that it shows up on TSA body scanners). A way to demonstrate displeasure without possibly being escorted out of the airport.

  • Dick Pilgrim

    I agree with your articles premise – TSA (Thousands Standing Alone) is a waste of time as now organized. It is not really necessary to have psychologists doing the assessments – if you cross into the US from Mexico at any land border you experience this type of observation by the ICE. These are not psychologists but they are pretty effective at noting suspicious behavior. Yes many smugglers are able to get across but that is mostly due to the fact that there is only one stop for questioning. An arrangement like that described for Israel with several checkpoints prior to boarding is more effective than the present scare tactics imposed on us. The border crossing also implements a “safe traveler” program using pre-screening, profiling and background checks to allow faster movement by those of us who travel frequently.


  • Kirsten

    I agree with this article. We need security, but we need EFFECTIVE security and as it stands now the TSA is neither effective nor logical in almost any of its practices.

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  • Sarah

    Good article. TSA is getting pretty insane with their new measures. I’m completely opposed to the scanners but I wouldn’t mind getting patted down by female security somewhere private. However, I have to make the point that Israel’s airport security is effecient but they have a great fewer amount of airplanes going in and out and their measures are a bit more harsh in my opinion. Israel’s airport security system is impractical in America.

  • Joe


    Thoughtful piece, but I think you got a few points wrong.

    About #4, I’d agree that the TSA often implements reactionary procedures. If we could anticipate terrorist methods, though, we’d be substantially safer. Unfortunately that’s hard to do. The reason that the TSA checks our liquids now is so that those methods we’ve discovered can’t be used again. Would you rather the TSA ignored previous tries, enabling copy cats?

    Your points about vulnerability in the waiting time don’t take into account that a terrorist attack on an airplane is not meant just to kill the people on board, but also to use the plane as a weapon to kill hordes more, as we saw on 9/11. A crowd the size waiting to get through security is probably not an ideal target.

    #10 is unfortunately as unsubstantiated as the claim that cell phones cause cancer. The technology is so young that its age alone has prevented definitive conclusions about its harm to human health. The “report” you cite is a letter of concern, not a study. There’s just a lack of evidence on this point.

    I’m with you that we often overreact to possible threats, but it’s also hard to say that the TSA is not making us safer when we’ve never lived without it.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for sharing your input Joe! Really, these kind of comments are the best we can have here on Matador, because it opens up the discussion and makes us all think about what IS really important and what does and doesn’t make us safer.

      I do think that crowds waiting to get through security could be an ideal target for some, not necessarily because of the numbers, but simply because of the chaos it would cause and the feeling of fear it would create among the American public. Most terrorist attacks that take place around the world don’t kill as many people as the 9/11 attacks did, but continual, smaller attacks are also quite damaging – not only for the victims and their families but also for a nation’s psyche. I experienced this in Pakistan, where smaller, but lethal bombings are carried out at least once a week (or almost every day – 2010 timeline here). I actually doubt that ‘terrorists’ (whoever they are!) that are organized and smart would attempt another 9/11-style attack since now there ARE so many barriers to doing it – ie reinforced cockpit doors.

      As for #10, you’re right I’ve cited a letter of concern from scientists and not an actual study. As a pregnant woman, that’s enough for me to decide not to go through the scanners until there is sufficient research that does prove them safe in the long-term. I’m not sure if I’ll feel comfortable going through them in my lifetime, since as you pointed out the technology is very new and we don’t have any research to go by. I guess I’d rather by cautious by avoiding them than put my trust in the government’s claims that they are safe – especially because it’s way too early to prove it one way or another.

  • Don

    I feel too ashamed to be afraid of risking both my life and that of my family in support of the Constitution of the United States. It looks like we are dishonoring all those who died for our freedom, by not standing up to something as silly as the TSA. Are all our government leaders losing the strength to support and defend the Constitution of the United States?

  • vishal

    The issue appears to me, to be that the TSA is protecting US infrastructure above and beyond human life. The statistic about car deaths is fairly telling.

    The individual is not valued as highly as the way of life, american dream, ideological bases for living; from what I have experienced in the US.

    One would assume that intelligence in security staff, is not a capital efficient strategy for USA otherwise they would incentivise better and train better.

    When the effects of being in an ideological war begins to impinge upon the freedoms, way of life and ability to live of the individual citizens past a certain point; society must rally to protect their individual freedoms. Otherwise democracy fails. It would be good to see more media organisations in US rallying to encourage quality of life rather than distracting and medicating the general public through shock reports and scare tactics.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for the comment Vishal – very interesting point about the value of infrastructure vs. human life. Will have to ponder that more…

  • bg

    “Intelligence” HAS NOT stopped more terrorist attacks than just plain luck. The underwear and shoe bombers were not stopped by intel — their plans failed and passengers jumped them before they had a second chance. Therefore, BRING ON THE SCREENING! If all you screening haters would just learn to wear lace-less shoes, keep your computer in an easily screened bag and put your watch, belt, keys and coins in your carry on bags BEFORE you get into line then there wouldn’t BE a line. And instead of spending all the money on “protecting” us in Afghanistan in Iraq, how about MORE money for airline security in the US. BTW, the Israelis basically use “profiling” as a defense against attacks instead of focusing on objects. Do we as Americans really want to imitate them?

    • Aestuo


      Your point about how screenings and luck rather than intelligence managed to catch terrorists such as the underwear and shoe bombers is noteworthy, but those are small-time, if not idiotic, terrorists. One of Heather’s points in the article, if you recall, was that a smart terrorist could easily get through the TSA security procedures if he chose the right combination of objects, chemicals, etc. to avoid detection. The TSA does not implement hardly any form of intelligence gathering or behavior observation; you can get straight through an average TSA security checkpoint without saying one word. It is the general questioning and behavior and reaction reading that is more likely to detect these more cunning and much more dangerous terrorists than screening or intimidation alone. Perhaps a combination of the two methods, focusing more on intelligence gathering (questioning and behavior reading) and less on screening and searches (but still at a reasonable level, just not the unnecessary and ineffective level we have now) would be the most effective way to secure a point while still keeping passenger privacy and liberties intact.

      Also, regarding your comment about how “if all you would just learn to wear lace-less shoes, keep your computer in an easily screened bag and put your watch, belt, keys, and coins in your carry on bags before you get into line, then there wouldn’t be a line.” This makes sense, as passengers would be more prepared and ready to proceed, rather than holding up the lines as they prepare while they’re in-line. However, why must we all submit to these excessive procedures in the first place if they are not the most effective methods at stopping someone of ill intent? It just seems like a waste of time, effort, resources, and money to go to all this trouble if there is a much easier, more effective, and rights- and liberties-maintaining solution. That solution would be what I mentioned above – focusing more on in-line questions and behavior- and reaction-reading and less on unnecessary, less-effective screenings. A combination of both methods would be, from what I can gather, the most effective security procedure.

  • emma

    The point you’ve overlooked is that, whilst you get pulled over for having 101ml of moisturiser, there’s a bloke currently being investigated for importing thousands of firearms into the UK from the US. They found them in his luggage, he said they were parts and samples and they just let him through. How much safer do you feel now? And in case you think that sounds far-fetched, here’s the link:

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for sharing the link Emma!

  • KB

    Well, I’m going to go ahead and be honest with this (despite the fact that I probably shouldn’t). I’ve worked customs in the military doing essentially what TSA does for U.S. airports. The actual process has been changed far too many times to be certain that it is effective (protocol is searching every bag of approximately 10% of a flight’s passengers). All other bags are scanned. While our agents quickly became very skilled at noticing anything out of the ordinary on the scanners (bullets essentially GLOW on the screen…), we’re all human, and can make mistakes. Have you ever just stared straight at a computer screen for hours, paying attention to ONLY the screen? It’s not an easy job.
    As for the scanners that scan your body–yea, it may be “embarrassing,” but these people are professional and don’t give two shits what you’ve got under your clothes. We don’t like seeing you naked any more than you like us to, trust me (the agent who works the scanner during a flight is usually someone who lost a bet of some kind, and they hate their life for a few hours).
    I do NOT understand the reasoning (necessarily) behind TSA regulations about liquids and gels…but whatever. We don’t make (or enforce) those rules…we just tell them people the U.S. will eventually force them to follow TSA regulations–SO glad we’ve never had to be the bearers of THAT sort of bad news.
    Yes, I think my job is ridiculous, and I don’t ever want to do this again in my life. But we ARE still military police officers, and we do protect you from some things. Don’t be surprised when we tell you we’ve found large amounts or drugs and explosives. Or hidden magazines filled with rounds (when everyone is carrying weapons). Or smuggling illegal firearms. While I can’t speak for the TSA specifically, I can speak for us. Some (clearly not all) of the things we do are for your safety.
    …Those TSA people and procedures put us to shame in how ridiculous they are. But I didn’t say that.

    • Heather Carreiro

      KB, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I definitely agree with what you say here, “we do protect you from some things” and yet at the same time some of the procedures do get ridiculous. Thanks for reminding us of the procedures that are effective and that our criticisms really need to focus on the systems in place and not the agents who carry them out.

  • Karen

    I found your article insightful and you made many very valid points. I agree that TSA seems to be going about security in a non-effective, inefficient and costly way. I am sure that Mr. Chernoff is laughing at the flying public all the way to the bank.

    The scanners are very frightening for pregnant women. Both my kids were born overseas (quite a few years ago) and I traveled by plane a number of times when I was pregnant. I often wonder now (and have seen this mentioned very few times) how the xray screenings might affect embryos and fetuses…easy to say “don’t travel if you are pregnant,” but sometimes one must, and also, many women don’t realize they are pregnant until the second or third or even later months, so they may have subjected their unborn child to a scanner without realizing it.

    We saw at Moscow that a bomb at an airport can be an effective terror weapon. But it seems that no one in US security is taking that matter very seriously. Anyone can go into any airport.

    Another issue is that security can often be lax when flying into the US from other countries. Remember the underwear and shoe bombers were on flights originating outside the US.

    One point to be considered when discussing airport security: Many people refer to Israel’s top-notch security. We must remember when making comparisons that Israel has ONE commercial airport, and the US has thousands, hundreds of which handle flights from outside the US. So the entire situation is different.

    You should send a copy of this article to the TSA….

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks Karen!

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  • Cactusric

    We need to get rid of Congress way before the TSA – Congress is costing a million times more and doing nothing to help the public or uphold the constitution! 

  • SimpleTruth

    A pilot friend once told me that the two thing that ACTUALLY improve your chances of surviving an airline terrorist attack were in place by Sept 12, 2001.  Thing #1: They lock the cockpit doors now.  Thing #2: No passengers will ever willingly go along with suspicious or aggressive behavior.  Everything else is FAA and airline industry/suppliers looking to save money or make money off the hysteria.

  • Concered Citizen

    Wow this article summed up my thoughts exactly. Coming back from France one time, my family and I were fined $250 for having and apple on the plane. That has forever changed my opinion, and I agree we need to do something about it.

  • Amy Masters

    That would be customs (CBP) not TSA…

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