Security expert interviews TSA head

Bruce Schneier interviews Kip Hawley, in part 1 of a 5-part interview. At least Hawley has a sense of humor.

Bruce Schneier: By today’s rules, I can carry on liquids in quantities of three ounces or less, unless they’re in larger bottles. But I can carry on multiple three-ounce bottles. Or a single larger bottle with a non-prescription medicine label, like contact lens fluid. It all has to fit inside a one-quart plastic bag, except for that large bottle of contact lens fluid. And if you confiscate my liquids, you’re going to toss them into a large pile right next to the screening station — which you would never do if anyone thought they were actually dangerous.

Can you please convince me there’s not an Office for Annoying Air Travelers making this sort of stuff up?

Kip Hawley: Screening ideas are indeed thought up by the Office for Annoying Air Travelers and vetted through the Directorate for Confusion and Complexity, and then we review them to insure that there are sufficient unintended irritating consequences so that the blogosphere is constantly fueled.

AHA! So it is a deliberate conspiracy to make air plane an exceedingly large PITB.

Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright, and motivated to protect the public with the least intrusion into their lives, not to mention travel themselves. How might you engineer backwards from that premise to get to three ounces and a baggie?

While you might not agree with all they do, the interview at least explains reasonably well why TSA thinks these procedures are needed.


  1. I’ve argued for years now that to the TSA (as to the Bush administration), the APPEARANCE of security is much more important than actual security. Anyone who has traveled overseas has no doubt seen how security is done where an actual threat exists. It is in every case I’ve seen much more efficient, at times more invasive, but always less frustrating.

    (See the National Insecurity series at

  2. Remember also that security officers of the TSA, the ones who actually implement the regulations, are paid something like $22,000 a year. Israel, for all its faults, has reasonably good security because they place highly trained, sophisticated and therefore expensive personnel to react on their instincts if they sense something is wrong. The American approach is to go cheap. If you’re going to go cheap, you’re not going to be able to have the level of sophistication that the Israelis have, and you need very simple regulations to implement on the intake level. 3 ounces and a baggie is easy to understand and follow. May not work, but it CAN be implemented. As DJ says, it’s the appearance of functioning, not the reality.

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