Interview with an Empty Suit

BoingBoing interviews Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, with predictably bullshit results, for example:

Chertoff: What I can tell you is that in the period prior to September 12, 2001, it was a regular, routine issue to have American aircraft hijacked or blown up from time to time, whether it was Lockerbie or TSA or TWA 857 [I believe he meant TWA 847 – Joel] or 9/11 itself. And we haven’t had even a serious attempt at a hijacking or bombing on an American plane since then.

But BoingBoing bothered to do some legwork:

According to, the last flight previous to 9/11 to be hijacked with fatalities from an American destination was a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight on December 7th, 1987. “Lockerbie” refers to Pan Am Flight 103 which was destroyed by a bomb over Scotland after departing from London Heathrow International Airport on its way to JFK, with screening done — as now — by an organization other than the TSA. TWA Flight 847 departed from Athens (Ellinikon) International Airport, also not under TSA oversight.

While Wikipedia’s list of aircraft hijackings may not be comprehensive — I cannot find a complete list from the FAA, which does not seem to list hijackings, including 9/11, in its Accidents & Incidents Data — the last incident of an American flight being hijacked was in 1994, when FedEx Flight 705 was hijacked by a disgruntled employee.

The implication that hijacking or bombing of American airline flights is a regular occurrence is not borne out by history, nor does it follow that increased screening by the TSA at airports has prevented more attacks since 9/11.

In other words, as we might’ve predicted, Chertoff it talking out of his ass, and does nothing here but make noises designed to support the obviously worthless policies his organization has pursued since 9/11.

This is as good a place as any to point out “End, don’t ment, the Transportation Security Administration,” an op-ed from the Christian Science Monitor that ran last week. In it, the author points out the absurdity of the liquid ban as an example case: enacted after the British “liquid explosives” plot, experts have since shown that it’s essentially impossible to fabricate an explosive from components in flight. You need a lab, careful procedures, a lot of time, and significant training. Further, British juries returned ZERO terrorism convictions associated with the “plot:”

The TSA makes it sound as though anyone with a year of high-school chemistry and some hydrogen peroxide can whip up explosives in an airplane’s restroom. But mixing a truly explosive bomb is a delicate operation. It requires exact temperatures, precise measurements and methods, and specialized equipment – all more commonly found in laboratories than lavatories. The procedure takes a while, too. And the fumes are likely to alert the passengers shifting from foot to foot in the aisle as they await their turn in the washroom.

In fact, chemists worldwide doubt that even the most accomplished terrorist can concoct such a combustive cocktail high above the Atlantic. A British jury this summer didn’t buy the allegations, either. Due to lack of evidence, only eight of the plot’s original 25 suspects finally made it to trial. As it turns out, police should have freed all the defendants: jurors refused to convict anyone of terrorism. They exonerated one man, returned no verdict on four others, and settled on lesser charges for the remaining three.

But none of these facts seem to matter to the TSA. It needs something to justify its existence: Despite six years of patting down passengers, it hasn’t reported uncovering a single terrorist. No wonder it latched onto the nonsense about liquid bombs. Ferreting out and confiscating everyday substances not only makes work for 43,000 screeners, it also fools us into thinking this protects us.

The TSA has always been a political, not practical, response to 9/11. It hassles us at checkpoints not because of penetrating insights on security or some brilliant breakthrough, but because politicians handed it power. Specialists in security didn’t invent the TSA; the Bush administration imposed it on us. So we might hope the incoming president would abolish this absurd agency.

Word. So far, Obama has pledged to improve, but not abolish the agency. Let him know what security people actually think.

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