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Abolish the Department of Homeland Security (schneier.com)
332 points by nextparadigms on Jan 14, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

DHS is too inconsistent to be credible. The only flight I've ever missed (I was running late to a wedding), I missed because I had a tube of toothpaste in my carry-on. It was found to be small enough to be acceptable, but not until it had gone through a second round of X-ray.

On another occasion, I was equally late to a connection flight (this time, not my fault), and I got through security despite having a bottle of water, a toiletry kit (including 5" blades), etc.

Why? Well, I don't know and I don't really care. The fact of the matter is that they will give me an aluminum can on the flight anyway, so who cares how long of a blade I bring onboard in the first place? It's security theater no matter how you slice it.

Look up the term "security theater". That's exactly what they are doing.

Well, that and buying extremely expensive machinery from a company partially owned by the very man, Michael Chertoff, who co-wrote the PATRIOT act and jump-started this whole stupid thing. Talk about revolving-door politics and corruption. That bothers me more than any pat-downs.

Is there a list somewhere of all of these corrupt politicians / traitors? If not, I'm going to start a wiki. Who knows, maybe it will be useful if the winds of change ever blow through this country.

Is it too cynical to say "look at the congessional roster"? I think it would be hard to identify who are truly corrupt and who are doing what they think is right but get caught up in the machine. I would love an objective way of identifying that.

What we really need is real campaign finance reform. Politicians need to get money for office from real, individual people, not lobbyists and corporations. Want different outcomes? Change the incentives.

You know? This is not a bad idea.

I've been wondering for months what kind of thing one could do to 'awaken' people about all these corrupts running stuff. It's not that they hide what they do. Oh, no! In general they are quite blatant about it. The problem is that most journalists (with the exceptions of people like Matt Taibbi and Greg Palast) can't be bothered to do their job and actually do some... well, journalism.

So, I wonder if creating a compendium of these facts won't make it an easier job for the journalists in the mainstream media to pick them up and maybe expose them to the public a bit more. I'm making a big, big, assumption here that mainstream media actually gives a crap about this at all.

Wikileaks appears to be the best option out there at the moment. But while it's a good resource to mine for data, it is pretty useless to the average person who may want some easily discovered facts.

If you're really serious about that wiki though, and would like some help, shoot me an email, you can find it in my profile.

That would be a great website -- though perhaps somewhat dangerous to run.

You could ask the Wikileaks folks and community around them for help. I'm sure they wouldn't be adverse to such a project.

It was inconsistent before, too.

Anecdote. In 1998 I went through Gate 1 to catch a flight. Realized I left something in my car. Out to get the thing, back through Gate 2, which was closer to my gate.

Where an alert-looking agent pulled me aside, took out a candle I'd had in my bag [1] and wiped it down with what I assumed was a sniffer for explosives.

This amused me because his sleepy-looking peer at Gate 1 had waved me through with no problems twenty minutes earlier.

I don't think you can get consistency of effort/organization/process across a large organization of civilians. The only group I've been a part of that managed to come close is the US Marines.

And most people will not be willing to subject themselves to 9 weeks of brainwashing in basic training, then the rigid hierarchy of command, for the sake of a job screening passengers.

[1] Gift for sister-in-law

Policing is Too Important to be Left to the Government: Economist Ed Stringham http://reason.com/blog/2011/10/26/policing-is-too-important-...

> TSA was created two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) [.pdf] to keep the millions of Americans who travel each day safe and secure across numerous modes of transportation.

The rise in death rates after 9/11 from people switching from safe air transport to dangerous road transport is well known by now.

So it's surprising to see TSA still saying they're spending money to keep transport safe. That is blatantly not true. One man tries to set fire to plastic explosive stored in his shoe - now everyone has to take off their shoes. Meanwhile, thousands die in road traffic every year.

I've travelled on California[1] roads. God almighty; for a nation obsessed with doing everything by car some parts of the US have an appalling road system. (I never knew why Americans were happy to drive cars with awful gas milage. Cheap gas doesn't quite answer that question. Cheap gas and bloody terrible road surfaces which need a big comfy car does.)

You can kind of forgive Joe Sixpack for being bad at risk assessment and management. But a government department, spending millions and billions of public money? It's a disgusting waste.

I'm not a native english speaker, the word "homeland" just seems like a weird choice to me. It feels too patriotic and even a bit fascistic. I can't recall any public discussion about the name when they were created, but then I'm not from the US so I might have missed those.

Also, I'm associating the word with "fatherland", from the post-WW2-nazis-won-movie with Rutger Hauer :-/

When it was coined, patriotism was all the rage.

Yes, it is a weird name when looking externally. But it (like the PATRIOT act) is a product of the fear at the time.

And it's time to dump both of those creations.

You intuition is right, it's kinda creepy to native speakers of American english, too.

There was some discussion at the time, but not enough to modify the course of the barreling train in Washington DC that created the DHS.

Here's one example from 2002:


I'm a native english speaker, and i always refer to it as "der Heimatsicherheitsdienst", has a more appropriate ring to it.

There are a great many native English speakers who make exactly the same association.

Absolutely. I always referred to it as 'Homeland Security, Comrade'. But that's pretty much what they were after, a totalitarian fascist government with 'total information awareness', so it makes perfect sense.

It's a euphemism.


The US government uses typical propaganda tactics like this, grease up the names of their authoritarian bills to make them sound nice, when in fact they are usually quite sinister. For example, the Patriot Act includes provisions for torturing and spying on Americans.

That is happening almost in every country in the world. Privacy, freedom of speech, you name it. Blood was spilled to assure we have rights. Even though, most people are consistently waiving them and they seem not to care about it. How is it even possible? I'm perplexed by this.

That's something that really bothers me. I try to talk to people about this stuff and they honestly don't care, because it doesn't effect them yet.

Have you seen this: NY Times has an article. Good friend did the research and filed the FOIA: http://epic.org/2012/01/epic---foia-documents-reveal-h.html <---EPIC - FOIA Documents Reveal Homeland Security is Monitoring Political Dissent

I was reading along, nodding my head, then I got to this:

Hard to argue with most of that, although abolishing the TSA isn't a good idea. Airport security should be rolled back to pre-9/11 levels, but someone is going to have to be in charge of it. Putting the airlines in charge of it doesn't make sense; their incentives are going to be passenger service rather than security.

What? How many passengers can you service if the airport is unsafe? Is the author unaware of the hundreds of different types of businesses that operate in hostile environments yet manage to keep their customers safe as part of their service? Has he never walked into a fast-food restaurant on a weekend night and seen the security guards? Hell, that's McDonalds, for chirstsakes, they sell you 2-dollar burgers. Don't you think the airlines would do a bit better?

The TSA is the one department we should abolish. They have too broad of a mandate -- they think they are responsible for controlling, er, protecting _all_ transportation, not just airline travel. They have too many powers -- the ability to virtually strip-search passengers, prevent innocent people from traveling, and interfere with international commerce. And, worst of all, they've combined the military-industrial complex with a paramilitary quasi-police force. This is like an endless cold war where the people themselves are the enemy.

The TSA is a terrible mess. That's the one thing we have to get rid of. The facts are that we went 70 years without the TSA just fine. The threat has not increased so much to warrant this kind of intervention. So we have tens of thousands of "officers" harassing normal business travelers daily as part of this ongoing shoddy security theater. It's a witch hunt without any witches, but with lots of government dollars, security contractors, and union jobs. They'll just keep tightening the screws until they do find something alarming. Then they'll congratulate themselves and ask for more money (and authority.) You don't need to be a genius to see where all of this is heading.

The TSA is a monster and a menace to freedom. I doubt we'll ever get rid of it, but that's no reason to give up. Speaking out against it at every opportunity, to me, is a civic duty. I freely admit to being over-the-top in my language here, but you have to remember that the entire idea of the type of security state we now live in was the wildest fantasy just thirty years ago. I'm just trying to write something that will still be relevant in another 20 years or so. Using that standard, I'm not sure I've been over the top enough.

I don't think a free market solution would work - airports will cut costs until there's a disaster. But airports could do it the way they handle general aviation safety. You don't have a TSA minder next to the pilot, giving instructions on how to lower the landing gear - there's a system in place which seems to work pretty well.

You could argue that no solution (an honor system?) is better than the TSA. Or that it would be better putting the police in charge (and giving them the funds to put a couple of officers in each airport gate). If that's a waste of valuable police time, they could reduce their presence.

I don't think a free market solution would work - airports will cut costs until there's a disaster.

Except this is how airport security was ran before 9/11.

9/11 didn't happen because costs were cut. 9/11 happened because the attackers worked the problem, discovered gaps, exploited them.

Gaps that the government, who set the standards and rules for security, had no idea were there.

Recall that in August, 2011 'everyone' knew that hijackers would jack the plane, hold hostages, make demands.

The idea that anyone use airliners as improvised cruise missiles was so far into looney-tunes land that Tom Clancy used it as a plot device to catapult Jack Ryan into the presidency.

"""The idea that anyone use airliners as improvised cruise missiles was so far into looney-tunes land that Tom Clancy used it as a plot device to catapult Jack Ryan into the presidency."""

And that, IMO, sums up what is wrong with how we handle airport security. We continually focus on fixing what happened last time instead of looking at what could happen. Of course, once you do that, you realize there are too many variables to account for and that it is an intractable problem that needs to be approached differently.

Of course, once you do that, you realize there are too many variables to account for and that it is an intractable problem that needs to be approached differently.

I don't see our government - or any current government being able to do that.

It's like expecting Ford to suddenly decide they want to get into the software business, and stop making cars. It's just not going to happen: not in their DNA.

Take 'a' proposal that would have prevented 9/11: issue every passenger a pistol and frangible ammunition. [1] Can you imagine any government doing that? Trusting their citizens to be adults?

So, no: We're stuck with TSA and the government screwing the pooch by insisting they can control was can't be controlled.

[1] If you want, issue them only to people who can prove competence with firearms, or veterans. Instructional videos: "So you want to use your pistol!"

I don't see our government - or any current government being able to do that.

The Israeli's have a completely different approach to security - orientated around threat-intelligence and behavioral analysis.

It's like expecting Ford to suddenly decide they want to get into the software business

As it goes, they're about to open a software lab in Silicon Valley. I take the point you're really making here, but just saying :)

"I don't see our government - or any current government being able to do that."

The Israeli's have a completely different approach to security - orientated around threat-intelligence and behavioral analysis.

True. Israel might be the exception to the rule.

Of course, Israel has a much smaller area to control and a unique motivation.

You could have the airport security run by private enterprise. The Federal government would have a minimum set of standards and random plainclothes inspectors. These inspectors would periodically try and infiltrate security, and if successful at penetrating security, issue a $x fine.

Airports would be free to implement whatever they needed to within the current laws in order to meet said standards.

People seem to conflate 'free markets' with 'freedom to do anything they want'. In reality, effective markets are done under a strict rule of law. Set the rules in place, enforce the rules, and let people innovate the best way to operate within those rules. If one airport decides on strip searches and another on random checks then people can decide for themselves (to a limited extent if there is only one airport) which airports they wish to use.

This works for everything from vehicle standards to building standards to food standards - I can't think of a reason why it wouldn't work with security standards.

There would be problems with this system, but it at least has the advantage of not expanding government powers and creating yet another state police force.

I agree, "free market solutions" sounds nice until you notice that capitalism has no soul. It was only a few years ago that airlines bribed the FAA to skip inspections on their planes. Watch the frontline documentary on how airlines treat their pilots, barely giving them enough sleep, paying them terribly low wages, and putting non experienced pilots in senior positions, all to make a profit. Not to mention this: http://www.defraudingamerica.com/faa_corruption.html and lets not forget that every few years a major airline files for bankruptcy.

"Oh but the airlines will want to protect their planes because in the long term it will affect their customers"

We the passengers look into the long term and assume that airlines do too. History has shown that corporate greed plans for nothing beyond the next fiscal quarter. I wouldn't trust them one bit.

I don't like the TSA either but leaving it up to the airlines... We can't go "back" to the way things were, times change, society changes, new threats emerge.

AND at the end of the day we're all just a bunch of speculators sitting in front a computer reading one sided stories off of some guy's blog. We don't have a fraction of enough real data and information to make a call that would affect millions of people.

> I agree, "free market solutions" sounds nice until you notice that capitalism has no soul.

I've got news for you. Economic models are inanimate. Sorry Che.

> I don't like the TSA either but leaving it up to the airlines...

It is up to the airlines. All the mechanical components on that capitalist plane were made by free enterprise. Now, why you trust a private corporation to manufacture jet engines and brakes, and not checking for bombs is pretty irrational. And besides, when you have choice which, free markets afford you, you can take a greyhound bus if you're that afraid of the "terrorists".

> why you trust a private corporation to manufacture jet engines and brakes, and not checking for bombs is pretty irrational.

Naa, Irrational is when you trust airline companies that don't give their pilots 8 full hours of sleep and bribe officials into giving them passing safety inspections simply because you've been conditioned from a young age to assume that the free market would never do anything to jeopardize human lives in the name of profit. Now that is irrational.

I don't like the TSA either, I'm not trying to protect their wasteful security theatre, I'm just saying, leaving it up to airlines to somehow collaborate together to work on increasing safety isn't going to happen on its own.

Why trust McDonalds to cook a burger? Because money. Crashing planes costs money. What, now you don't believe in profit motive? You admit it's a security theater, why defend it? Is TSA presence welcome only at airports, or how about in your home?

<whisper>Pssst. Read my previous comment. No, actually READ it. </whisper>

'Capitalism has no soul?'


And a socialist centrally-planned one-party state does?


If you think corruption is only possible in a free market, I've got news for you. The free market is about the only hope you've got in a fight against corruption. Have a look at the world indices for corrupt societies - the worst offenders are the ones with the least freedom. I have no doubt at all that the TSA is already fighting corruption at some levels, and this will get worse as they fight to expand their powers.

I also have news for you. Surprise! I'm an American who dislikes socialism and loves to make money. So please stop assuming that anyone who isn't an extreme free market ass kisser is some socialist European who's against capitalism and competition. Please don't bring emotional baggage like that into conversations.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 10 years, Bankers, oil, auto, healthcare, insurance, airline, and countless other industries have consistently shown the public that they are willing to go to dangerous lengths to make cuts where ever they can to save money. Many times at the cost of HUMAN lives on a massive scale. The airline industry is ALREADY guilty of that with the way they treat, train, deploy pilots, and the way they've bribed the FAA to give them passing grades on safety inspections.

> The free market is about the only hope you've got in a fight against corruption

Freedom, opportunity, and the rule of law combined accomplish this. With only a free market you end up with anarchy, chaos, and disorder. Full and total free market capitalism sounds great in theory but doesn't work out in reality, the same way communism sounded like paradise in theory but never lived up to its promises when actually implemented. I think the problem is most people with this 'total free market all the way' attitude have NEVER lived anywhere but America, they don't know what totally free markets without rule of law or regulations are like (ie: Bulgaria after the fall of communism, Russia, etc...). They don't realize how bad things can get.

Airports aren't subject to higher scrutiny than buses for the sake of the airports' customers. 9/11 would have been unremarkable if people had stolen buses and driven them into the same buildings. Airports are subject to higher scrutiny because their planes can potentially become missiles with a high-power payload. In a totally free market, most of the airlines could probably absorb the loss of a plane every year, but that plane would be flown into someone who has no connection to the airport.

Although, airlines would probably still cause less damage to people in the US than cars.

Schneier states the case that the solution to this risk has already been completed:

For years I've said that exactly two things have made us safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door and convincing passengers that they need to fight back.


Neither of those solutions required increased security measures.

How does one fight back against an underwear bomber? Do the passengers instinctively smell the pube-laced explosives, jump on the terrorist and disarm him?

Well, yes, apparently that's what did happen.

Remember two things: a) the underwear bomber got through the TSA checks b) you just can't pack enough explosives in your underwear to really do any serious damage.

Both the shoe and the underwear bomber were apprehended on the plane. That alone shows why the TSA is useless.

You hold him down, choke him; and find the burning shoe or underwear. There's usually water in the form if bottles to throw on someone.

In the end, you fight back and don't deal with idiocism.

It reminds me when I was working at Starbucks. We had a long-ish line. A guy who we knew would cause problems shows up, and a Japanese barista tried to take his order. He then starts yelling at her, for repeating it wrong (it was right, but he couldn't understand the accent).

Then a guy 2 people behind says out loud, "either order or get the hell out!" A lady behind him then said "Be nice to her, or leave"

Once one person had the courage to say something, more did. And the customer eventually left without ordering anything. We baristas did nothing but stand there, trying to get the order.

DHS is the poster child for mission creep. The White House suggested last year that they could help track down "circumvention devices" such as game console mod chips. From the Office of White House's "Copyright Czar":

“[It] is illegal to import or traffic in devices that can be used to circumvent technological measures that control access to copyrighted works,” they wrote. “When DHS discovers the importation of a potential circumvention device, current law does not authorize DHS to share a sample with a rightholder to aid CBP in determining whether it is, in fact, a circumvention device. Allowing DHS to provide a sample would aid enforcement efforts.”

They also hired contractors to monitor social networks: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3463850

So the argument is that DHS is ineffective and wasteful? I thought the article would talk about how DHS is dangerous because it systematically dismantles your freedom in exchange for omnipresent surveillance and faux security.

Then again, I'm only watching it from the outside.

The security wouldn't be "faux" if the department were efficient and effective.

Link seems down, anyone have a mirror?

the link isn't just down, the domain is not resolving for me now

Non-authoritative answer: Name: schneier.com Address:

Guidelines ask why is this posted. :( http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Before the decade is out they will just rename it to do an end-run around public relations. Nothing will change and it's never going away because there's major money being made from it's fake foolishness already.

You really think they are going to give up the "visual response teams" for searching people at bus and train stations (and even in traffic)? That's the gold topping of security theater.

ZERO terrorists caught for all that money and other than the box cutters the original 9/11 would have still made it on the planes for all the rights violated and money spent.

The should have just secured all airplane cockpit doors and called it a day but first rule of government, why spend just a million when you can potentially spend a billion and get lots of wartime powers.

I'm always fascinated when writers use the phrase "defeat terrorism." It would be equally stupid to say: defeat murder. It's the kind of jingoistic bull that led to the Patriot Act and Homeland Security.

If someone told you the price for living in the most free society possible, is that 5,000 of your fellow citizens would die annually by terrorism, would that not be worth it? I would willingly risk my life, given the threat ratio, for that exchange. Particularly given the counter-terrorism efforts are already killing that many now.

If someone wants to blow their self up, or randomly stab you in the throat with a knife, the odds favor they're going to do it. You can try to prevent it, you can deal with the outcome, sometimes you'll succeed, sometimes you'll fail - what ultimately matters is that you don't fail big (nukes). That's it. You battle and deal with terrorism, you don't defeat it. You can't argue with irrationality or insanity, and someone somewhere is always going to be willing to commit terrorism.

>> If someone told you the price for living in the most free society possible, is that 5,000 of your fellow citizens would die annually by terrorism, would that not be worth it?

It depends how many people are in that society. If everyone else is too scared to join you, you might just be the only one and be 1 of the 5000 next year, if you're lucky this year.

I sometimes wonder how many violent crazies are out randomly walking the streets. I'm impressed (and glad) that there isn't more random violence as you described. It would be very easy to stab someone, run off, and never be caught. But it just doesn't happen (well....extremely rarely anyway).

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