Aviation security expert: TSA wasted $56B on junk security

Ben Brandt, once an aviation security advisor to Delta, has published a scathing indictment of the TSA and its methods, arguing that they've spent $56B on "security" that won't stop terrorists, while ignoring actual threats.

But the last several years’ worth of plots on the friendly skies indicate the terrorists have switched their game plans. In January, a suicide bomber didn’t try to board a plane at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. He detonated before going through security, in the crowded entranceway, killing 35 people and wounding over 150 more. Last fall, al-Qaida’s Yemen branch skipped the boarding call and shipped bombs packed in printer cartridges back to the States.

Less conspicuously, terrorists have started to infiltrate the airlines and airports themselves. Rajib Karim, for instance, worked as an IT specialist for British Airways. But inspired by al-Qaida YouTube preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, Karim offered to help al-Qaida sneak bombs aboard planes at London’s Heathrow airport, and claimed to have support from sympathetic airport workers. The airlines and airports barely conduct employee background checks, Brandt claims — and of course, none of those employees need to go through a “porno scanner,” get a pat-down or have their luggage rifled through.

Insider: $56 Billion Later, Airport Security Is Junk


  1. TSA = Security Theatre. Nothing more.

    HUGE Prop Budget, poor acting, limited dialog, no real plot to speak of. Poor direction.

  2. I’ve been saying this since they started this crap. You make people stand in line and go through this crap, all you’ve done is created a new target if someone wants to kill a bunch of innocent people. I guess it saved the airline industry from losing some planes, and whatever the planes would have crashed into. Unfortunately/fortunately, that model of terrorism is dead. Fortunate because it’s horrible and it’s gone, unfortunate because we don’t know what they will try next. If someone took over a plane, it would be shot out of the sky, so there’s not much point in trying to take it over. If they just wanted to get the passengers killed, well, now all the passengers are lined up on the ground waiting to get probed.

    tl;dr Someone said it; TSA = Security Theatre.

    1. I’ve always thought a devastating attack would be during holiday travel like Thanksgiving (in the US) or Christmas. Just stand in the screening line with several pounds of explosive wrapped in nails. Wait until you buried deep in the crowd and detonate.

      DHS in general and TSA specifically need to stop reacting to the last threat and focus more on prevention of future events through the use of Investigation and Intelligence. Of course this would require all the various TLAs to be able to coordinate resources and pool information. Which is supposedly why DHS was created in the first place.

      I worked in the security field for a while before getting fed up and moving on to more lucrative and rewarding endeavors (I was evaluating and designing FRAMEWORKS not specific end products). While my particular thrust was information and communications, the foundation of threat prevention and mitigation seems fairly similar no matter the applied domain (physical, information, etc..) It’s simply frustrating to not only see groups fail to learn from the past and abandon what doesn’t work, but to ignore experts who are screaming at the top of their lungs that what they are doing doesn’t work. It’s one reason why I left the field.

  3. Security theater, intended to keep us feeling _insecure_ because we’re easier to manipulate that way, and to make it look like politicians are Doing Something so they don’t get asked about what we’re really doing to address the root causes (which is very little).

    That’s all it’s ever been since 9/11.

    And frankly, it’s all I expected when they announced that they were going to call it the Department of Homeland Security. “Homeland” is a loaded word with all the wrong connotations. If they were serious they would have used “Domestic”… and they would have made it an advisory and best-practices-sharing group rather than trying to control everything from that point.

    And people still think the Republicans know something about national defense? Pitiful.

    1. While a lot can be laid at the feet of the Republicans, this stupidity and institutional blindness appears to transcend all political parties.

      Initially, DHS was supposed to function as you described. That and act as a clearing house for the collected intelligence activity of the FBI, NRO, NSA, CIA, etc… Unfortunately, by the time it was finalized, some seemed to feel that what they were doing wasn’t visible enough to “reassure” the public and started all these reactionary policies and procedures.

      A government’s departments ultimately exist to justify their continued funding. By perpetuating a culture of fear, they are able to do this without actually fulfilling their mandate.

  4. “And people still think the Republicans know something about national defense? Pitiful.”
    Well if after the eight year orgy of spending that was the Bush administration the Republicans can still claim to be the party of smaller government, I guess anything’s possible.

  5. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.

    Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials

  6. I had the opportunity / misfortune to go to a meeting at TSA in DC a couple of years ago.  There’s something institutionally very wrong with that organization – literally every person we came into contact with in that building was an asshole – from receptionist, to security guard at the door, to technical people, everyone.

    Made me very aware that the attitude at the security gates in the airport is a feature not a bug – they are trained that way and the internal culture is that way

  7. The airlines and airports barely conduct employee background checks, Brandt claims

    I can’t speak as to the background checks performed by America’s “partners” but as a holder of numerous SIDA badges, I’m actually fairly impressed by some of the things coworkers have been flagged for.  They are clearly looking much more broadly than criminal and immigration background.  Now we always go after the “all access” badges, so perhaps the checks on those are more rigorous than those with only sterile area or other restricted access…

  8. Only $56 billion wasted?  Spread out per pornoscanner, pervert TSA grope-specialist, and inalienable right trampled and shat upon, that sounds like a damn good deal.

    That being said, the F-22 program reportedly cost $67 billion and they got like 140 fairly cool planes out of the deal.  If the TSA slashed their budget down to about $10 million a year for some rent-a-pervert-cops, sold the pornoscanners on eBay and bought some of those much cheaper and just-as-effective-at-stopping-terrorists magical Iraqi wands that detect bombs, AND drugs AND money then they could take the other 55.9 billion and spend it on something useful, like a giant space-based anti-terrorist laser or an aircraft carrier or two.  Or just refund it to all those poor, over-taxed, over-burdened, “I just want to create good jobs for good, honest, hard-working Americans!” millionaires.  Won’t someone think of the millionaires?

    1. My bad, they got 170+ F-22’s out of it.  With an extra 57 billion and economies of scale maybe they could get 200-300 more and instead of having air marshals on flights (savings!) just have F-22’s next to most planes flying across the US.  At the first sign of trouble they blast those naughty terrorists outta the sky.  This would in turn benefit Boeing/Airbus, the scrap metal recycling industries and United Coffin Makers Local 173.  Trickle-down economics!  It makes sense if you are drunk or stupid or a politician.

  9. Add to this 56b figure the amount of tourism business (professional seminars, conferences, etc.) lost due to the unprofessional over-reaction to 9/11 and this whole fiasco has likely cost Americans more, not to mention prestige. 

    I am an fairly average American and have friends and family there, but I don’t want to go back for vacation partly due to this mess which has cost me enough inconvenience as it is.

  10. Fun story – I had to go through the porno scanner AND get a pat down/wand search. WHY? Because I’ve lost 40lbs and my pants will fall down with out a belt. I wear a web material type belt, with the two little buckles to thread through. Apparently this belt was so feared that it was hiding something the scanner could not see, resulting in additional actions taken against me.

  11. “Wasted?”  No, just a redistribution of wealth from the taxpayer to the friends of various government agency heads.  You know, the politically-acceptable, conservative-friendly sort of redistribution.

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