# Does the TSA stop terrorist attacks?

An article on Slate wonders “Does the TSA Ever Catch Terrorists?”  An excerpt:

The aforementioned “behavioral detection program,” also known as SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques), has been one of the TSA’s most roundly criticized initiatives. In May, the Government Accountability Office released a report noting that SPOT’s annual cost is more than \$200 million and that as of March 2010 some 3,000 behavior detection officers were deployed at 161 airports but had not apprehended a single terrorist.

Now, I admit, that I am not an expert in anti-terrorist tactics.  TSA activities, however, should not be evaluated solely on the number of terrorists they catch.   As the article mentions at the end, TSA screening would be very useful if it could prevent terrorists from entering the airport.

Consider the following equation:

• Sucesful Attacks=P(Attempt)[1-P(Caught|Attempt)]

The TSA can reduce the number of terrorist attacks either by increasing the probability someone who attempts a terrorist activity is caught, or reducing the probability of terrorist attempt.  The Slate article basically assumes that if the number of terrorist attempts is held constant over time and no one has been caught, then P(Caught|Attempt) is 0.  This certainly would represent one type of failure.  However, if the TSA can reduce the number of terrorist attempts near 0, then the TSA could feasibly be very efficient.

[Even if at least 16 individuals later accused of involvement in terrorist plots flew 23 different times through U.S. airports since 2004, but TSA behavior-detection officers didn’t sniff out any of them.]

1. Schelly says:

If we are to go on probabilities, should we not then weight factors such as those who are more likely than others to commit terrorist activities? I’ve stated numerous times, if you can demonstrate to me that a significant percent of terrorist activity is perpetrated by overweight blonde, bespeckled grandmothers carrying large totes full of toys for her grandchildren, I’ll be more than happy to submit to an in-depth security screening *once* in exchange for a card that clears me for deep on-the-spot screening at the gate rape stations.

Honestly, the planes carry cargo shipped from all over the world which, we now know, can as easily carry explosives (reference printer toner cartridge bombs), and tell me how the TSA is making these package shippers demonstrate they are safe? These packages are on commercial flights you and I fly – hidden in the cargo hold. Tell me how safe we are because some unknown person of unknown criminal background looking at my revealed nakedness or touching my intimate areas does any of us any good?

I’m prone to anxiety attacks. I was raised to be modest about my body. Whether you think that is a good thing or not, why should I be precluded from traveling the friendly skies unless I submit myself to this type of handling? I’m not the problem!

Let the airlines arrange for (and pay for) their own security measures. Let the passengers decide with their dollars what works and what risks they are willing to take. Get the government OUT of my pants!

I feel violated just at having had to pay for somebody to feel me up!

2. JerryR says: