Friday, November 15, 2013

TSA Doesn't Think Terrorists Are Plotting To Attack

Jonathan Corbett, a long-time vocal critic of TSA body scanners, has been engaged in a lawsuit against the government concerning the constitutionality of those scanners. In the course of the case, the TSA gave him classified documents, which he was ordered not to reveal. In using some of that information to make his case, he needed to file two copies of his brief: a public one with classified stuff redacted, and the full brief under seal, for the government and the courts to look at. Just one problem: someone over at Infowars noticed that apparently a clerk at the 11th Circuit appeals court forgot to file the document under seal, allowing them to find out what was under the redactions... Included in there is the following, apparently quoted from the TSA's own statements:
“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.”
Elsewhere, the TSA appears to admit that "due to hardened cockpit doors and the willingness of passengers to challenge hijackers," it's unlikely that there's much value in terrorists trying to hijack a plane these days (amusingly, that statement is a clear echo of Bruce Schneier's statement criticizing the TSA's security theater -- suggesting that the TSA flat out knows that airport security is nothing more than such theatrics).

Elsewhere, in the redacted portions, the TSA is quoted as admitting that "there have been no attempted domestic hijackings of any kind in the 12 years since 9/11." 

As Corbett notes in his filing, the entire basis for the nude scanners is that they were somehow necessary to stop terrorists with explosives from getting on planes. Yet, as he makes clear, the TSA knows that there's been little threat of any such attack for quite some time. He also details how the machines are not very good at tracking down explosives, and pretty much everything that has been caught with these machines (such as guns) could be easily found via traditional metal detectors. Further, as noted above, other protections that have nothing to do with the nude scanners are the main reason (which the TSA admits) that terrorists have moved on from targeting airplanes.

Amazingly, it appears that the government forced Corbett to redact the revelation that the TSA's own threat assessments have shown "literally zero evidence that anyone is plotting to blow up an airline leaving from a domestic airport." Corbett argues that this shows why the searches are not reasonable under the 4th Amendment. Corbett also points out that about the only thing the machines seem useful at catching are illegal drugs -- but, as he notes, that's "irrelevant to aviation security." Sure, the government may like the fact that it catches illegal drugs with these machines, but the TSA can't argue it needs the machines for "terrorism" when it knows that's not true, and then tries to keep them just because it finds some narcotics...

While it still seems unlikely that Corbett's lawsuit will actually succeed, he's right that these revelations mean that, at the very least, Congress should be investigating why the TSA insisted that it needed these machines to find terrorists that it now admits aren't actually plotting to attack airplanes.

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