Spinning the TSA

March 26, 2012

Two committees of the US House of Representatives, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, held a joint hearing today to review the performance of the Transportation Security Administration [TSA].    The advertised title of the hearing was “TSA Oversight Part III: Effective Security or Security Theater?”.

The hearing will examine the successes and challenges associated with Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, the Transportation Worker Credential Card (TWIC), and other security initiatives administered by the TSA.

Originally, one of the witnesses scheduled to testify was Bruce Schneier, Chief Security Technology Officer of BT Global Services, and author of the Schneier on Security blog, as well as several books (including Secrets and Lies, Applied Cryptography, Beyond Fear, and his latest, Liars and Outliers).   He is certainly a security expert by any reasonable definition.

Schneier has also been critical of the TSA’s approach to security for some time, and in fact coined the term “security theater” to describe many of its tactics.  The TSA, apparently, did not want to testify before Congress with Schneier there, so it managed to have him “disinvited” last Friday.  (His name has been crossed off on the hearing page.)  The stated reason was that Schneier is involved in a lawsuit that is attempting to get the TSA to suspend its full-body scanner program.   This is not particularly convincing; Schneier has a blog post about the situation.

If Congress wants to exercise oversight over the TSA (or any other agency), it seems perverse to allow the agency to control the witness list, especially when the witness is an acknowledged authority in the field.

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