Take the 2-minute tour ×
Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How effective has the TSA been in preventing terrorist attacks in planes travelling to and from the United States?

share|improve this question
As effective as this cool stone I have that protects me from tigers. There are no tigers in Canada? See how it works! :-P –  Lagerbaer Apr 16 '11 at 2:16
They have stopped countless homegrown terrorists from taking hostages and threatening to shave passengers to death or torture them with baby shampoo. They've also advanced internet anti-terrorism technologies like "am-i-hot-or-not.com" with x-ray imaging. And donut sales are up. –  Paul Apr 16 '11 at 2:55
@Andrew: Why consider only 2001? Since 1991, 9/11 is about the only significant attack on US soil. So about 300 people/yr. Not a very large number. One could argue that the money could have been spent in better ways. –  apoorv020 Apr 16 '11 at 17:00
@Andrew Grimm While you can say that in all the years after 9/11 TSA has prevented terrorist attacks, note that in all the years before 9/11, nothing happened either. Then note that TSA only reacts: People try liquid explosives, THEN they ban it. Shoes are inspected after the shoe bomber incident. Now you get an extend pat-down, after the underwear-bomber attempt. I wonder what will happen if someone smuggles a bomb in his intestines. Cavity search for everyone? –  Lagerbaer Apr 16 '11 at 17:27
How effective is garlic at preventing vampire attacks? –  Christian Jun 5 '11 at 14:27
show 12 more comments

closed as off topic by Borror0 Dec 20 '11 at 9:08

Questions on Skeptics Stack Exchange are expected to relate to scientific skepticism within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

1 Answer

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The only thing the TSA has managed to do that is measurable is subdue and annoy the US public at the same time.

The current TSA rules (and those in the UK and many other countries) keep being proven to fail. They are all designed to prevent an attack like one of the previous ones (as well as showing the public that 'something' is being done.)

All terrorists have to do is come up with new ideas. Or even keep using the same ones - this list of hijackings at Wikipedia shows that people can get hold of aeroplanes.

For some examples check out the entries in the last 5 years' worth of the Movie Plot Threat competition - Some excellent ideas in there, which would not be hindered at all by the Department of Homeland Security or the TSA - in fact at risk of sounding like a Schneier sycophant, these two links are also very interesting:

Admittedly El Al's sky marshal policy of the last 35 years does look like a good one.

But to be honest, the risk is so small, the amounts spent on this almost beggar belief. Use the interactive chart at GTD and select 'by weapon type'. Out of over 80,000 terrorist attacks, 40 were using a vehicle as the weapon. And that includes cars, trucks etc. Search by type of attack, and hijacking is the lowest category.

share|improve this answer
-1 for saying "people can get hold of aeroplanes" without stating that none of them were flights that involved the Transport Security Administration, and for no citations in the first two paragraphs. (An unrelated clarification question: in your last paragraph, are you only describing the number of attacks, or the number of deaths involved)? –  Andrew Grimm Apr 17 '11 at 0:08
@Andrew: The question was whether the TSA was deterring terrorist attacks, not whether it was deterring them in the places it tried to. If a terrorist can get hold of an airplane that doesn't involve the TSA, doesn't that mean the terrorist got hold of an airplane and the TSA neither stopped nor deterred the terrorist? –  David Thornley Jun 4 '11 at 2:24
@David: The question asked about "planes travelling to and from the United States" –  Andrew Grimm Jun 4 '11 at 2:29
The TSA has also seriously hurt international trade and especially tourism to the USA. Many people (myself included) have decided we don't want to risk dealing with them and adjust our travel plans to avoid even having to switch planes there. So I took a trip via Moscow instead of Atlanta, easier that way for the transit passenger... –  jwenting Jun 6 '11 at 8:13
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.