An article on Slate wonders “Does the TSA Ever Catch Terrorists?” An excerpt:
“The aforementioned “behavioral detection program,” also known as SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques), has been one of the TSA’s most roundly criticized initiatives. In May, the Government Accountability Office released a report noting that SPOT’s annual cost is more than $200 million and that as of March 2010 some 3,000 behavior detection officers were deployed at 161 airports but had not apprehended a single terrorist.”
Now, I admit, that I am not an expert in anti-terrorist tactics. TSA activities, however, should not be evaluated solely on the number of terrorists they catch. As the article mentions at the end, TSA screening would be very useful if it could prevent terrorists from entering the airport.
Consider the following equation:
- Sucesful Attacks=P(Attempt)[1-P(Caught|Attempt)]
The TSA can reduce the number of terrorist attacks either by increasing the probability someone who attempts a terrorist activity is caught, or reducing the probability of terrorist attempt. The Slate article basically assumes that if the number of terrorist attempts is held constant over time and no one has been caught, then P(Caught|Attempt) is 0. This certainly would represent one type of failure. However, if the TSA can reduce the number of terrorist attempts near 0, then the TSA could feasibly be very efficient.
[Even if at least 16 individuals later accused of involvement in terrorist plots flew 23 different times through U.S. airports since 2004, but TSA behavior-detection officers didn’t sniff out any of them.]