TSA responds to The Atlantic's article on airport security penetration testing

Bruce Schneier writes:
Kip Hawley, head of the TSA, has responded to my airport security penetration testing, published in The Atlantic.

Unfortunately, there's not really anything to his response. It's obvious he doesn't want to admit that they've been checking ID's all this time to no purpose whatsoever, so he just emits vague generalities like a frightened squid filling the water with ink. Yes, some of the stunts in article are silly (who cares if people fly with Hezbollah T-shirts?) so that gives him an opportunity to minimize the real issues.


  1. Be fair though, the man knows he only has a job for another 3 months, and everything he has touched at work will be un-, re-, or properly-done under the next admin (really, either one will do better).

    So, why shouldn’t he just blow smoke?

  2. That what you get from a former corporate hack at Union Pacific Corporation. Another “Brownie” appointment, where actual knowledge and compentence is not a job requirement.

  3. Wait. The TSA has hand-held devices that can detect hydrogen peroxide?!?

    No wonder why it’s so damn tough catching a flight out of Los Angeles.

  4. I love it. Because every week the TSA stops lots of children, military and air marshalls from flying because their names are loosely similar to names on the no- fly list, Hawley feels we’re safer. I think he genuinely believes that the TSA helps makes flying more secure. Any terrorist who has evaded the FBI far enough into their plot will definitely get past the TSA, since they seem to only be looking for stuff they can steal.

  5. I think Kip Hawley has gotten to the point where he’s started to believe his own paranoid delusions.

    I just imagine him standing there stomping his feet and demanding that behavior detection works while his officers harass a six year old with a toothache.

  6. His response doesn’t pass the sniff test.

    “We identify dozens of terrorist-related individuals a week”

    Dozens, really? And why do you IDENTIFY them rather than ARREST them? (Yes, the TSA can’t really arrest people but they can cause them to be arrested and they’re not so careful with their wording in other ways.) What does it mean for them to be terrorist-RELATED?

    It’s a shame the TSA doesn’t take the simple approach of insuring that people who get on our planes are made harmless, rather than this insanity of trying to track “dangerous people.” Diverting planes to disembark Yousef “Cat Stevens” Islam because he donated money to an unsavory group is pointless. Take that guy off ID patrol and start consistently detecting weapons.

  7. It is becoming clear that the metric by which the TSA judges its own performance relates more to the quantity of interceptions, and less to the quality of interceptions.

    This vastly increases the noise-to-signal ratio, creating a smokescreen behind which terrorists can (and almost certainly DO) hide.

    Therefore, TSA measures endanger us.

  8. Wow. Just…wow. Hawley writes, “Using stolen credit cards and false documents as a way to get around watch-lists makes the point that forcing terrorists to use increasingly risky tactics has its own security value.” So basically, he underlines Scheier’s basic point: TSA’s tactics are really good at deterring dumb terrorists. Smart oneshave to work a little harder.

    Also, shouldn’t this post have a link to Schneier’s 10/23/08 blog responding to Hawley’s (non-) response?


  9. “James Bond” terrorists? That’s a new one. Do these guys, in addition to making bombs, drive cool cars, seduce sexy women, chase TSA agents Parkour style, and order martinis at the casino?

  10. if Kip Hawley had been hired to do door security at an LA night club, HE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO KEEP HIS JOB. Let’s watch where his golden parachute takes him.

  11. I’d post an intelligent response on the TSA blog but I’m afraid I might end up on a government watchlist.

  12. “Clever terrorists can use innovative ways to exploit vulnerabilities. But don’t forget that most bombers are not, in fact, clever.”

    Oh. Really? Wow, learn something new everyday.
    I feel safer already. . .well, except for that word “most.” If they identify “dozens” every week, how many “clever” ones are getting through?

    And all these years I thought the Unabomber was pretty clever. . . oh wait, how DARE I use a positive adjective to describe a terrorist!

  13. Kip Hawley is a complete incompetent. Identifying travelers who have ties to terrorism is just a means to an end. Identifying them and giving them extra attention might keep a bomb or weapon off a plane.

    Suppose they could identify 100% of the travelers who have some kind of tie to terrorism. Would that keep us safe? It would not. Terrorism isn’t an organization or tribe; it’s a set of tactics, and a motive for using them.

    And yet, look at the CLEAR program. It fast-tracks pass holders through security. And what does it check for? Known ties to terrorists! All of the 9/11 bombers would have qualified for it!

  14. Oops, I often can’t tell when I’m trolling – in the case above, I really did want some info, or a link. I totally agree with Marks post and the original that he referred to.

  15. Kip Hawley is attempting to find a needle in a haystack by calling the entire haystack a bunch of needles, and it’s not working.

  16. Hawley didn’t mention that putting the public through security checkpoints and invasive searches desensitizes them to the state’s encroachment on more of their personal liberties. Not necessarily a benefit for us but score one for Homeland Security.

    “We identify dozens of terrorist-related individuals a week” – On this Hawley might be correct if you consider historically who terrorist usually work for. It ‘s kind of like the statement: “They hate us for our freedom.” – likely true when you put the pronouns in the proper perspective.

  17. I have yet to see any news of a terrorist TSA “identified” be prosecuted and convicted. This is just more CYA rhetoric, WHERES THE BEEF?

  18. I posted this. Its not my most coherent comment ever, but hey.

    The comments about TSA not hassling the reporter for carrying a Hezbollah flag or AQ T-shirt are more in the entertainment category

    We’ll, no, Kip; they should be in the entertainment category. Unfortunately your screeners have detained people for having shirts with pictures of guns on them, or pictures of giant robots, or pictures or bombs, or jewelry with little tiny gun pendants, or charm bracelets with things that look like guns …

    So, yes, in a perfect world, with competent security, it would absolutely be the case that that is entertainment. However your security has repeatedly shown the Global War on Screen Printing is something you don’t consider mere entertainment.

  19. #9: I was wondering myself what he actually meant by terrorist-related individuals. Are we talking actual terrorists or the Western Pennsylvania definition of terrorist.

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