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The Newest TSA Rumor Sweeping the Internet

October 28, 2013 at 5:43 PM | by | Comments (0)

Long-time Jaunted readers will remember a somewhat contentious comment thread from a year and a half ago, in which we wrote about a video made by anti-TSA blogger Jonathan Corbett showing how to defeat an old kind of full-body scanner. It started off as a more or less routine post: we criticize both TSA security theater and full-body scanners when they need criticizing, and that was one of the times they needed criticizing.

Except there were many people - not a few of them from the conspiracy fringe where people imagine that TSA is a United Nations plot to bad touch grandma until she gets PTSD and starts drinking fluoride - who got grumpy because we noted that Corbett's trick probably wouldn't work on TSA's new gingerbread man scanners. Those people wanted to believe that a blogger had just defeated all of TSA's scanners, because that would absolutely prove that the government was screening people for no reason, and so that's what they believed. Never mind that it simply wasn't true.

Now conspiracy theorists - as well as some news and tech sites that frankly should know better - have been publishing what they insist is absolute proof that TSA doesn't think terrorism is a problem at all. Again Corbett is at the center of the controversy, and again it's just not true.

Quick background: Corbett is suing the government over its use of scanners, and as part of his lawsuit he was given some TSA documents. Some of those documents were "sensitive" but Corbett wanted to share them because they had some quotes minimizing the threat of terrorism. He quoted those passages and filed a challenge with the court to allow him publish them. Then his challenge - which remember, had all those "sensitive" quotes - accidentally got published on the 11th Circuit Court's website.

For the last week some people have been pointing to the documents as proof that TSA doesn't think terrorists are trying to blow up planes. The Daily Caller, for instance, characterized the documents as concluding that 'the risk of an airline bombing or hijacking is essentially nil.' Tech dirt said that critics were justified in believing that 'the TSA knows that there's been little threat of any such attack for quite some time.'

Nope. Here is the key passage:

As of mid-2011, terrorist threat groups present in the Homeland are not known to be actively plotting against civil aviation targets or airports; instead, their focus is on fundraising, recruiting, and propagandizing.

Of course there are terrorist groups from outside the Homeland who are not so much "fundraising, recruiting, and propagandizing" as plotting to take down American airliners. What if one of them sent a terrorist on, say, a boat, and then he got on a plane? A similar point applies to another passage getting passed around, where Corbett quoted TSA noting that there have been no domestic hijacking plots since 9/11. Maybe true, maybe not - this month the U.S. Airline Pilots Association was worried about terrorist dry runs - but again not the point (although maybe the pilots' union is in on the conspiracy with the TSA!)

But what about a third statement, where Corbett quotes TSA saying that the agency is not "aware" of any ongoing explosives plots? To our ears, that sounds like the opposite of reassuring. They didn't know about the last one either.

We're not saying that TSA doesn't go overboard, or isn't callous, or doesn't cover up mistakes, or doesn't have broken hiring practices. Jaunted is a blog with an entire tag devoted to security theater. But it's batshit crazy to suggest that the U.S. government is, on purpose, just doing this whole airport security thing for funsies. Let's have a good debate about what's reasonable and what's not, based on what's accurate and what isn't.

[Photo: trans2021ccc / YouTube]

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