Email from a TSA worker

A week ago I received an email from a TSA worker asking how to better be able to detect bombs and explosives. I considered the possibility that the person might actually be trying to get something by TSA rather than working for them. But as the conversation progressed it seemed less and less likely. I gave him a few links and apparently he read quite a bit on both my blog and others because he specifically mentioned Breda’s adventures with the TSA.

In one long email he defended the TSA and the job they were doing. I asked if he would like for me to post it so it could get a little more exposure and he said he would like that. I then said:

Before I post it I would like to ask you a few questions. Let’s start with:

So given that I’m pretty sure I could get a few cups of flour in my carryon bag, and an ounce or so of black powder and matches on via a body cavity if nothing else. You know that I can bring down the plane with it, right (

So if you can’t stop that then what is the point of doing 90% of the other searches and tests?

He responded with:

[Stuff that was apparently identifying — so I deleted it.–Joe]

Obviously that doesn’t really answer the question–what is the point of TSA if there is an easy way to defeat it? Security is a like a chain. It’s only as strong as its weakest link.

I haven’t heard back from him and that was over two days ago. So, even though I didn’t get my questions answered I’m posting his defense of the TSA:

Sent: Tuesday, December 08, 2009 6:19 AM
To: Joe Huffman
Subject: Re: Hey Joe

I’ve been reading through the blogs about TSA. A lot of it seems to be first-hand experience taken to another level with speculation about motives, means, and why we do what we do.

Like ammo, for instance, our ETD’s don’t detect ammunition or residue. Come to us after a week of shooting and making home-made ammo and you’ll only look dirty, but pass all of our security, as long as you don’t have the ammo or the gun. We just work harder every day with testing and training to detect prohibited items and IED’s, whether whole or in part.

Doesn’t feel so good to see a lot of crap posted about you and your job without people being there to understand, and like I’ve said in the past, the only fully secure air travel is none at all, but while Americans travel the skies we’ll be there to make sure they make it home to their families in one piece.

It is rewarding, because nothing blows up or goes down. Those kind of professions aren’t suited for everyone because there is no actual number to be put up for security, and at the end of the month you can’t see results unless you understand that the quiet is the result, however TSA isn’t perfect (which is an understatement, as threats evolve we must evolve to detect and deter) but while there have been no major, or for that case, minor hijackings, shootings, killings, etc, that I know of and no terrorists on flights what-so-ever, I can see results.

It may not be easy, but while there are people on flights to or from my airport, I’ll be giving 100% to make sure they get there safely. I could never live knowing something went wrong because I didn’t screen people doing everything according to the SOP and then some. And while you work with the traveling public who will you hear the most, people who are satisfied, or those who have a bone to pick?

Want to be pissed because you have to take off your shoes? Thank Richard Reid.
Want to be pissed because you can’t take your water? Thank those terrorists in England.
Most of what we can’t say isn’t because we don’t want to, it’s not that we don’t trust you or want to talk down to you like a parent, like no-answers or ‘because it has to be’ or ‘because we say so,’ it’s always a matter of security. Ask the troops where they are, what kinds of weapons they have and where they store them, how many people they have on guard at night, what the sensitive parts of the bases are, etc, and what will you get? Answers that don’t make sence or no answers at all. Same thing. If we have an open forum where all of what we do comes out, who wins? The Americans who whine and complain, and the terrorists who just got all of our methods, sizes, and modes on a silver platter.

Doesn’t mean we don’t want to tell you everything, like why we have to screen your prosthetics, or what the ETD’s look for, or what types of metal alarm the MD, etc. It’s not up to us, and the ones who make the decisions say people will get hurt if we do talk freely, just like the military. We can’t be armed with weapons, so we’re armed with as much knowledge and electronic tools as the government can standardize and ship. Some of the best X-Ray and ETD machines in any country, and the world finest training for such a large force.

But, just when you hope we can do better, TSA accidently releases our Screening Management SOP, not ecactly how we do everything, but what to do with everyone. More like where the battles were and not how they were armed, but still damaging.

Should be hitting the web today or tomorrow, very not cool.

But anyways, I’m going to bed, try to have a nice day Joe.


I’m almost overcome with the temptation to comment on and tear apart what he says but I somehow don’t see that as quite fair.

I think the question I posed to him about bringing down a plane with materials found in nearly every kitchen (substitute ground match heads for the black powder) is sufficient rebuttal in the present context.

What can you really say to someone that demonstrates how to defeat $2 Billion a year spent on security with $2 worth of materials you can find in grandmas kitchen?


13 thoughts on “Email from a TSA worker

  1. “The BDO’s are very quiet though, and they usually just stand around, but they are good at their job, and when they choose someone it’s not just random screening.” So then, if we assume that the population of air travelers contains 1% terrorists, this statement would lead me to believe that somewhere around 2-3% of people that BDOs screen are terrorists. Otherwise, it is just random chance. (Since the % of terrorists in air travel is much smaller 0.0001%, the magnitude still holds true). Frankly, I haven’t seen more than one or two news reports of TSA catching a terrorist through screening (or maybe that is zero). I have heard of plenty of hassled passengers who missed their flight. And the economic expense of confiscating water bottles and lotions larger than 3 oz. probably reaches at least a billion dollars a year.

    But hey, they are keeping us safe, right!?

  2. …He could start by spelling “flour” correctly.

    If you eat turnips, it keeps wolverines away — I know ‘cos I ate them once and I haven’t seen a wolverine since.

  3. This TSA persons reasoning leaves much to be desired.

    Quote;”, take the FFDO for example, the Federal Flight Deck Officer program allows pilots to be armed on any flight they want, they just show up, sign in at the exit and walk through it as we can’t screen them at all, they could have a briefcase bomb or whatever in their carry-on and we can’t touch them unless they mess up badly”

    If an FFDO pilot wants to bring a plane down all they have to do is push the yoke forward till impact, you moron!

    This is exactly my problem with TSA, they are focusing on the wrong people for political correctness or other reasons and think they are the top of the food chain and everyone will respect their authority. All this while ignoring the inconvenient truth about who and how to take down a plane all in the name of FEELING SAFER.

    I used to fly all over the world for a living (Field Service) and am glad I don’t any more. TSA thinks that they are keeping us safe and purposefully ignore the tools that could make their job more effective and efficient. Attitudes like his attacking FFDO’s shows just how screwed up their priorities are.

  4. TXGunGeek got there before me. One other thing. Most pilots I knew carry a very heavy and effective metal club with tham. It’s called a “Maglight” and they use it during walkrounds preflight. There is also at least one other metal club on the flight deck called a “Fire Extinguisher”.

    Don’t want your crewmate to interfere with your plans? Whack him on the noggin with your maglight first!

    Your TSA poster clearly isn’t the brightest of the bunch and is a fine example of groupspeak.

    The only reason we have not had a repeat of a 9/11 style attacj is because people will now fight back. Flight 91 showed the way.

    The TSA is an utter farce.

  5. Rather than a direct fisking, I’m going to expand on one part:

    Doesn’t feel so good to see a lot of crap posted about you and your job without people being there to understand, and like I’ve said in the past, the only fully secure air travel is none at all, but while Americans travel the skies we’ll be there to make sure they make it home to their families in one piece.

    This, we agree on 100%. Therefore, what we must do is determine how safe is safe enough. Right now, that is being decided, in secret, by unelected bureaucrats. America is a republic with citizens. These decisions bear directly on the rights of the same citizens. These decisions, being made for the people, should be made by the people, and carried out with the consent of the people.

    Right now, I think that a significant amount of the reduction in American air travel is from that consent being denied by the people. I certainly avoid air travel where I can, while before the “enhanced security” I relished it.

    If America is a nation of, by, and for the people, then secret laws by unelected bureaucrats that bear directly on citizens cannot be tolerated.

  6. I have suspected for a while that our security apparatus is predicated on the concept that the dedicated, active enemy is comprised of poorly educated folks, for the most part, and only a few smart ones, and those not very smart to begin with. Clever, perhaps, but not smart. The whole idea is that TSA’s efforts will suffice to catch or deter the stupid ones. I have often wanted to query some folks I used to know who would be in positions to answer this question: have the terrorists we’ve encountered, captured and interrogated been generally very uneducated, uninformed, and/or not particularly bright? Does the terrorist “chatter” we intercept generally confirm that idea? If the answers were “yes” then it would probably change a bit of my attitude towards TSA.

    Yes, an evil and truly intelligent person could defeat the whole thing in an instant as we all know. So far, perhaps we’ve not encountered such a person. (No, I don’t think the 9/11 hijackers were particularly bright.)

  7. None of what I write should be taken as a criticism directed at the correspondent.

    This is what I call a one-hundred and one percent solution: one-hundred percent of the effort is expended trying to stop an activity in which no more than one percent engage. It has had a very bad track record of success thus far, and is also expensive.

    I can’t figure out why we have false metrics offered, such as number of guns “taken off the streets”, but there is no clearing house for data showing counts of actual deadly contraband and dangerous persons prevented from boarding planes. We have this: , which is impressive, but three years old, and lacking detail about bad guys caught.

    When I say “deadly contraband” and “dangerous persons”, I mean it in absolute terms, not political terms. Harvey CCW who forgets that his pistol is in his jacket doesn’t belong in either category. I mean people like Johnny Jihad, which a book bag full of explosives, and switch in his cold, sweaty hand.

  8. 1. I think that most of what airport screening does is nothing more than to give that ‘warm fuzzy’ to the populace that worry about those things. Otherwise ineffective. For example: when they banned lighters, but book matches were OK. With a book of matches and a cigarette, I can bring down any commercial aircraft, but not sure if it could be done with a disposable lighter.

    2. Political correctness precludes the TSA from really keeping us safe. A few weeks ago my wife and I were at the airport to pickup our grandkids. As we were going through security, I noted that there were 4 people getting personal security attention. Every one of them were over 70 years old – three of them female. Not many people that age are a threat to anyone, other than themselves. I think in this case, some type of profiling would be more effective.

    3. I agree with TXGunGeek and Earl. If a pilot wants to bring down the aircraft, no one will be able to stop him or her. Period. Give every pilot a safety course and issue them a gun.

    4. I don’t care who or how it is, if someone tried to take over an aircraft that I was a passenger, I don’t care if I die in the process, the bad guy is going with me! I think the bad guys know this. To that end, if CCW holders were allowed to carry onboard, I would feel a lot safer, knowing that a lot of good guys with guns are onboard.

    5. The most secure flying would give the entire TSA staff a stroke: flying with a GE mini-gun between your legs and 10,000 rounds under your seat. Go ahead, punk. Make my day!!!

  9. Y’know, all rational debunking aside:

    “The Americans who whine and complain…”

    Don’t you hate when the help forgets who they work for? If I called _my_ boss a whiner, I’d be fired. That this little punk is shielded from the reality of his relationship with those “whiners” is a pretty vivid demonstration of how badly broken our system’s become.

  10. “With a book of matches and a cigarette, I can bring down any commercial aircraft, but not sure if it could be done with a disposable lighter.”

    With a carton of cigarettes and one match (chain-smoking), I can bring down the entire plane plus the rest of the universe via the power of second-hand smoke, or so the American Cancer Society would like us to believe.

  11. Having read Chris’ examination of the TSA and his work with it, and now this, as far as I can tell the main aspect of the TSA is as an employment agency/program much like most other federal programs. They are tasked with a job and they do it, but their actual main reason for existence isn’t really that job or even doing it, it’s the *performance* they display while at work. As you say, it’s theater – it really is performance art – and should probably be under the NEA but since it’s scary-theater it’s under under scary-acronyms.

  12. I think most people missed what the TSA guy was trying to get to, because I too almost missed it amid thinking of ways to take apart the statements. On a grand scale, what he was saying is that they have an impossible job. Stopping any and all types of people, weapons, drugs, and not to mention bombs is impossible, but they try to do it anyway, and for that they have my support and thanks. I do agree that TSA feels more like something to calm the public about flying fears, but I’ve actually seen them get police involved when one of the TSA people found a gun in someones bag when I was going through security on my way back to New York and they guy was going to be on my flight because I was behind him when we checked in on Jet Blue! What I agreed most with was that the only one-hundred percent safe air travel is not to fly, but that is just a dream as our economy runs on flight and I don’t want to drive to my meetings and conferences in California and Michigan, thats for sure! I know what the TSA person was talking about the pilots who go through the exits, but I didn’t know what they were called. I saw one of them do this, while another was walking past me towards the security line and as we grabbed the containers that go into the machines I asked what that was all about. He told me that the pilots who go through the exit are armed! I thought this was great and hoped that was the pilot on my plane, except the fact that they just let him walk off with his bags when he left the exit. I asked the pilot in front of me about this, and to my astonishment he said they don’t and can’t check the armed pilots bags at all! I could only imagine what could be in that bag he was rolling behind him!! An easy way to get anything through security?!?! I could spend all the money in the world on machines to tell if you are a terrorist or if you want to blow up my plane, but if you can WALK AROUND the security, what good is any of it???

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