Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How Many People Has the TSA Gotten Killed?

Last Friday, those of you who get the newsletters from Ammo.com received a link to a story on the TSA.  That story, combined with the post from ASM286 on Borepatch today, about the Lesson of Manchester got me thinking.

One version of the Law of Unintended Consequences says that no matter how good the intent, or indeed the actual construction of a program, there are always unintended consequences.  They may be hidden or they may be slap-your-face obvious but they are always there.

An undeniable aspect of the TSA's Airport Security Theater of the Mind is that it's annoying; something that people put up with simply because they have to.  That leads to an unintended consequence: people will say "I'm not putting up with that for a trip that's an easy drive" and will drive to their destination instead of flying.  Driving is more dangerous than flying, statistically.  Using that information, some researchers have concluded in a 2005 journal article that
We find that driving fatalities increased significantly following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an event which prompted many travelers to substitute less-safe surface transportation for safer air transportation. After controlling for time trends, weather, road conditions, and other factors, we attribute an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month to additional road travel undertaken in response to 9/11. In total, our results suggest that at least 1,200 additional driving deaths are attributable to the effect of 9/11. We also provide evidence that is consistent with the 9/11 effect on road fatalities weakening over time as drivers return to flying. Our results show that the public response to terrorist threats can create unintended consequences that rival the attacks themselves in severity. [Bold added - SiG]
242 fatalities per month??  Depending on exact model and carrier, a Boeing 737 might carry between 85 and 200 people.  The reaction to the TSA causing 242 fatalities could be the equivalent of two or three fully loaded 737s crashing and killing everyone on board every month.  

Unfortunately, that's a snapshot study so while we can think it has gotten worse in the 12 years since 2005, we don't have real numbers.  They say that drivers were returning to flying, but we also hear air travel is increasing so perhaps those two trends offset each other.  If the number of 242/month has stayed constant, we're talking on the order of 3000 people dying from the TSA itself.  9/11 itself officially claimed 2996 lives, so it's possible that the TSA has killed as many people as the terrorists themselves. 

The TSA would say it's not their fault that those people died.  The fault lies with the people who decided to drive rather than go into the loving care of the TSA and airline reaccommodation.  I'm going to reference IMAO on this, from a completely unrelated topic. 
And that’s how government rolls: burn down your house, then blame you for choosing not to continue dwelling on the ash heap.
But if you do decide to face Uncle Pervy of the TSA, there's another unintended consequence: the TSA is completely, horribly ineffective at what it's supposed to be doing.   It's the worst kind of security kabuki. 
During covert tests conducted by the DHS in 2015, TSA agents failed to detect guns and fake explosives 95 percent of the time. In one test, an undercover DHS agent was stopped and received an "enhanced" pat-down search after setting off a metal detector, but the TSA screener failed to detect the fake bomb taped to the agent’s back.
If the BATF is the "F Troop" of federal law enforcement, they finally have someone to feel superior to.  Clever Hans, the horse that was famous for knowing arithmetic almost 120 years ago, could look down on the rank and file TSA.

A 95% failure to detect bombs and other contraband, of course, means that if someone suffering Sudden Jihadi Syndrome had actually tried to sneak a bomb onto a plane, there's a 95% chance they would have succeeded.  If there had been two trying on the same day at different airports, it's a virtual certainty that one would have succeeded with only 1/4% chance of them both being found.  If a duplicate of Operation Bojinka happened with one suicide bomber at each of 10 different airports on one day... well, you can complete that sentence. 

Still, that all might well pale in comparison to the biggest unintended consequence: the kind of mass murder the TSA could facilitate even if they caught everything they should catch - as ASM286 points out over at Borepatch's.  It doesn't require the TSA to mess up at all, just do what they do with the crowd in the airport. 
The lesson of Manchester is you don't need to get on a plane, into a secure area, or past a search.

Think about that the next time you're standing in the cattle chutes with your shoes in your hand hoping you don't get selected for extra screening. All those people in line with you haven't been screened yet either. That rolling suitcase the next guy has could be his underwear and socks for a week or it could be another nail bomb like the one at Manchester.
 (Source: Click Orlando)
While problems like that remain, private security employed at various airports around the country has been tested and found to be better at their jobs than the TSA. 
Private screeners at SPP airports (Screening Partnership Program) have proven themselves to be more efficient and more effective than the TSA. A report by a House oversight committee in 2013 found that private screeners at San Francisco International Airport were much better at detecting prohibited items than TSA screeners at LAX, and wait times were shorter. As a result of the report, calls are growing in Congress to abolish the TSA and return to private screening companies.
Having flown out of one of those SPP airports, abolishing the TSA and going back to private contractors is a move I could get behind.


  1. Ah yes! We're from the government and we're here to help! From past experience, that help is 95% ineffective as well. Take it private if you want results. No more make work projects.

  2. 242 a month is 2904 a year, almost 10% of the approximately 30,000 vehicle deaths a year - that is a big change; I'd have to see lots of details about the study before going with that.
    Note that as far as has been publicly discussed, the TSA has yet to stop a single terror attack, yet they keep increasing the weight of their screenings to stop things they can't - there is an old saying: "The best way to undermine your authority is to pass a law you can't enforce". They have prohibited things they find with any confidence, so people ignore their prohibitions and instead of making their prohibitions reasonable, they makes the searches more invasive and irritating without making them any more effective.

  3. I am one of the "will never fly commercial again" crowd, since late 2001, not long after 9/11. I remember seeing military men with M-16s at several of the airports, stateside and in Hawaii (our last trip by air). I can't remember if TSA had already formed at that point, but we were already taking off our shoes and having our carry-on luggage opened and searched by people at every airport we went through.

    As you may recall, SiG, my wife and I made a trip from Montana to the west coast of Florida to see her 95 year old mother, then the east coast of Florida to see my 88 year old step-mother. Trip total by the time we got back home was just over 8100 miles. A lot of nasty traffic on the interstates (especially I-10, which we avoided on the return trip), but no close calls. We came a lot closer to getting hurt driving a few hundred miles next door into Idaho, where driving skills leave a lot to be desired (three near misses, with an approaching semi-driver drifting into our lane, a UPS truck pulling out right in front of us, and a local who spun out in front of us. But our trip cross-country and back didn't feel at all like a dangerous mode of travel, even in the cities and on I-75 in Florida.

    We aren't afraid of flying. I'm a helicopter pilot and was also a crew member on S-2 anti-sub aircraft in the Navy, and my wife was an airline stewardess when she was in her early twenties. It is the invasive and often arrogant behavior of TSA (mostly from what we have read and seen on the Internet) that keeps us from ever wanting to fly commercial again.

  4. There is something else our government has mandated that I think is killing people. The law that requires you to move over when a "emergency" vehicle is stopped on the side of the road. Since implementation I have seen numerous dangerous situations caused by this single law. Typically 18 wheelers suddenly moving into the left lane, sudden braking, even vehicle moving into the left lane for non-emergency vehicles.
    I do understand the need for awareness when police and other emergency vehicles are on the side of the road but this is all useless showboating. Because it is NOT the drivers who see them and move over who put the emergency workers at risk. It is those drivers who are not paying attention or nod off to sleep and drive into the shoulder who are the problem. This law does not and can not prevent that problem. All that this law can do is force a 18 wheeler to suddenly drive into your automobile as you are passing them on the left.

    It would be interesting to see the stats on how many accidents this stupid law has caused.