Walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier

Vanity Fair's Charles C. Mann walked through Reagan International Airport with Bruce Schneier, noting all the ways in which "security" adds expense and inconvenience without making us safer. By the end of the trip, he concluded:

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. The best memorial to the victims of 9/11, in Schneier’s view, would be to forget most of the “lessons” of 9/11. “It’s infuriating,” he said, waving my fraudulent boarding pass to indicate the mass of waiting passengers, the humming X-ray machines, the piles of unloaded computers and cell phones on the conveyor belts, the uniformed T.S.A. officers instructing people to remove their shoes and take loose change from their pockets. “We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

Smoke Screening (via Kottke)


  1. Sounds like terrorists should be teaching deer to jump through the windshields of strategic vehicles.   Hmmm.   Has there been an increase in deer collisions since 9/11/01?

  2. Always want to intrust the important stuff like quality control and security to those barely making minimum wage. Recall all the big bucks spent on security at Los Alamos during the WWII A-bomb project only to find 3 Russian spies on the payroll. Makes you wonder how many terrorists are working as baggage handlers. Only screening they received was how little they would be willing to work for.

  3. The TSA will respond to this by saying, “If you knew what we knew, you wouldn’t complain. You have no choice other than to trust us. Now kindly remove your clothing and bend over.”

    1. My brother in the US armed services used to say that when I said Clinton fought ‘terror’ more/better than Bush did. (apart from the clothing part…)

  4. My thoughts exactly. After the TSA extensively searched my entire family because I was wearing a video coat with wires on it, they blithely handed back to me my eight big LiPo battery packs with the special Chinese plugs that allow you to plug two of them into each other to create a fine lithium fire.

    I mean, why bother inspecting us at all if they’re going to let us bring incendiary devices on board?

  5. WELL Mr. Schneier, if you’re such a smarty pants maybe YOU should be DHS Chief!

    /no seriously, he should be Chief, the man actually knows WTF he’s talking ’bout.

  6. I applaud Charles Mann’s comments. If the intention of the 9/11 bombers was to change and impact everyone’s life, then they have succeeded. Without taking anything away from the immediate tragedy and respecting those innocents killed, I’ve often felt the real ‘attack’ was in the days following 9/11. Never forget what happened but allowing it to change our lives is giving breath and life to the actions of the terrorist. The attack itself was horrendous, there is no denying that, but, keep it in perspective.
    Terrorism as a feature of asymmetric warfare which, is a fancy way of saying, your enemy has no resources, weapons and is not perceived as a threat. To provide the terrorist with the profile and fear he demands is their ambition. By all means, instigate plans and methods to deny them the opportunity to repeat their attack but those plans must not change your life to such an extent that you are constantly reminded of the threat of terrorism. The real defeat for a terrorist is to be ignored and forgotten.

  7. Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood.

    Most boingers would beg to differ.  If you go back and check the coverage here of Fort Hood at the time it happened, you’ll find that BB bent so far backward to avoid calling the shooter an “Islamic terrorist” that heads almost dented the floor.

    1. Boingboing has a search function.  Why don’t you provide a link to one of those threads in which this happened?

        1. Yes, how dare those bleeding heart terrorist apologists not immediately jump to a conclusion that had no solid evidence at the time.

        2. It seems like a better reaction than the opposite to me, that post was made a day after the shooting and a lot was still very unclear about what the real details were. Having read most of the comments it seems to me that there was a good balance of views from people who were mainly trying to make sense of Malik’s motives and possibly how they fit into the wider narrative of the war. It’s too easy to grab at some obvious pattern when it fits nicely into a story we get told so often.

        3. Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander of III Corps at Fort Hood, said on the day of the shooting that terrorism was not being ruled out, but preliminary evidence did not suggest that the shooting was terrorism.

          Oh, we’re such wacky leftists here at Boing Boing. Look at the kind of crazy anti-US people that we listen to.

  8. I’ve always wondered why terrorists aren’t more successful if they’re always trying to attack us. Why even bother with secure areas when there are plenty of high concentrations of people that you can reach without walking through a scanner? Why put a bomb on a train when you could attack the tracks in some isolated area (like a bridge)? People steal and damage railway infrastructure all the time in the UK, causing delays and wasted money, but most cases can’t be traced because of the logistical issues of policing that much space. Is there a good reason why terrorists should want to kill themselves in the process? (although they don’t all kill themselves, so presumably there are other reasons). I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one who looks at the terrorist plans that succeeded or failed, then first thinks “that is one sick person who planned that” before going on to think “that’s a very inefficient way to do things. If I were that way inclined, I would probably…”.

    1. Let me guess… now I’m either on some government watch list, or anyone who likes the last comment is.

    2. Terrorists aren’t trying to kill people.  I know that’s not the common wisdom but think about it for a minute.

      Terrorist are trying to make everyone’s life miserable, so that we do whatever their political goals are. Being too effective at killing people is actually counterproductive, because we will make it that we put in too much resources into hunting them down. 

      So we will see enough attacks that we remember them, and they are in our mind, but not enough that they actually become a significant effect in our lives.

  9. Here in Australia, they randomly ‘sniff’ your entire exterior and carry-on luggage for explosives, not just your hands (and that’s for minor domestic flights). Now that we have automated check-in, the boarding pass thing would probably work though. They also scan boarding passes at the gate before you board a flight, however a fake boarding pass could get you into the departure lounge area without having to show ID, lots of evil uses there.

    Ex-cops and terror experts have been saying for Years that better policing/intel work is the most effective way of preventing terror. Tracking materials and known bomb-makers, patterns of meeting/communication between known terrorists, close ties with moderates in minority groups (people with a vested interest in peace, etc), all work much better than last-mile stuff, as flashy as it is.

  10. Just remember, Bush did NOT create this monstrosity.  He resisted.  Democrats came up with both the TSA and the Homeland Security Department.  It was only when he realized that Democrats could end up being perceived as the party that protects the homeland that he “embraced” the policy.  Here’s just one source showing that the Democrats were the idiots who gave us the money-wasting, time-wasting, privacy-intruding bureaucracy.


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