TSA Admits Success

Charles Leocha at TSA News Blog wonders what the TSA is doing for us if they have not caught any terrorists. The TSA responds by asserting that the full-body scans are scaring away the terrorists.

Now I have nothing nice to say about the TSA, and I strongly agree with the bulk of his article about the need to restrict and reform the TSA. I disagree only with his method of evaluating the success of the TSA. He starts off by stating their purpose, and then pointing out they have not actually caught any terrorists:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started out as an organization with a mandate to protect Americans from terrorists in the post-9/11 world.

Halinski was asked directly whether there has been even a single instance of an arrest or detention of anyone, in any way, related to terrorism based on airport whole-body scanners. His answer was, “No.”

The TSA is meant to prevent terrorist attack, not to catch terrorists. The difference here seems to often be lost when discussing preventive security measures. Properly implemented security would make it useless to try a terror attack, so it will never actually prevent one.

There is no way to know if the TSA is doing a good job at fulfilling its primary purpose. We can only have a negative proof – if there is a terror attack, then we know they did not do a good job. As long as there are not any terror attacks, we can never know if that is due to the effectiveness of the TSA in discouraging terrorists from trying, or simply because no one was interested in a terror attack. The TSA cannot prove they are doing a good job, but a lack of arrests also does not prove they are not doing a good job. The security is preventive, and we can never know if anything was prevented by it.

Does someone who put security bars on their windows regret the purchase because no burglars tried to get through their windows? The bars are meant to stop people from trying, not to trap them on their way in. The TSA is much the same.

That being said, Charles Leocha was completely correct about mission creep, and about inefficient and excessive measures. We have no reason to think the full-body scanners are necessary for the level of security the TSA is trying to achieve. The TSA should be seriously reducing the invasiveness and burden of its security checks. Hopefully, we will never know if they are actually keeping anyone away, since the only way to objectively evaluate their success rate is if they fail to keep terrorists away.

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