ARE AIRPORT SECURITY HASSLES MAKING US SAFER? TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION SAYS YES, TSA ADVISOR CALLS IT "SECURITY THEATER" - "60 MINUTES"
Even as Transportation Security Administration officials beef up airline security with expensive new technology, a prominent security expert, Bruce Schneier, who has advised the TSA, tells Lesley Stahl the TSA's efforts are largely "security theater" -- a show to make passengers feel safe. Schneier says truly effective security starts before the airport, with intelligence on terrorists, in a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 21 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"'Security theater,' It's a phrase I coined for security measures that look good, but don't actually do anything," says Schneier, referring to the security measures that irritate airline passengers every day and that have cost billions of dollars.
That assessment angers Kip Hawley, the Bush Administration's outgoing head of the TSA. "This isn't theater. This is war," he tells Stahl. Hawley argues that all the security and especially the technical improvements have made people safer. But Hawley admits continued high failure rates on tests conducted by government inspectors who smuggle bomb parts through checkpoints. "Our results have improved," Hawley says. "Knives and guns do not present a big problem for us now. We have to continue to work to get at even the smallest pieces of an IED."
The extra measures Hawley points to and Schneier discounts have cost $40 billion since the 9/11 attacks, money spent mostly on the hiring and training of 50,000 new federal screeners at airports. But lately, the TSA is spending even more to upgrade airline security checkpoints with more sensitive x-ray machines and better training and police-style uniforms for its screeners. It is also spending $160 million a year on over 2,000 undercover officers posted at checkpoints to read people's facial expressions and body language. TSA claims they can help spot potential terrorists.
"There's not a lot of truth in that," says a skeptical Schneier, who tells Stahl such surveillance has some value. "In all seriousness, we are safer if the bad guys believe we've got this piece of magic." Schneier believes that terrorists will always be a step ahead as far as getting through security. "We take away guns and bombs and the terrorists use box cutters...confiscate box cutters and cork screws and they put explosives in their shoes...take away liquids and they are going to do something else," he says.
So what is effective? Schneier points to the capture of would-be bombers with liquid explosives in London before they ever got to the airport. "They were captured because of investigation and intelligence. If you want to deal with the terrorist threat, you've got to do it before they get to the airport," Schneier tells Stahl. Click here for an excerpt.
No matter what critics charge, the TSA isn't easing up on the security measures that can make travel an irritating hassle. People may be inconvenienced, but, says Hawley, "These people are trying to kill us. They got on the planes on September 11, 2001, killed 3,000 people," he says. "We understand the American public doesn't have 9/11 in the front of their mind. But it's why the TSA was created: to never forget," he tells Stahl.