Begging National Security Questions #1

In the interview of Bruce Schneier by Steward Baker (formerly of the DHS and NSA), Bruce was too polite to point out that Baker was begging the question on a number of national security issues.

That sort of rhetoric comes up often in discussions of national security issues and just as often is unchallenged by reporters and other participants in the discussion.

One example (I will post on others) of begging the question was when Baker talks about the DNS reviewing passenger manifests from airlines to decide who they need to interview.

Baker “begs” the question of whether terrorists are flying airline monitored by the TSA and if they are, that TSA methods are sufficient to discover them. He simply assumes those to be true in order to justify his conclusion that the TSA needs the information from passenger manifests.

But what are the facts about airline passengers and the TSA?

If you look at: Passengers All Carriers – All Airports, a webpage maintained by the US Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, you will find a table that reads in part:

Year Total Passengers
2002 670,604,493
2003 700,863,621
2004 763,709,691
2005 800,849,909
2006 808,103,211
2007 835,436,440
2008 809,449,524
2009 767,816,588
2010 787,478,056
2011 802,134,604
2012 813,127,939
2013 824,956,471
2014 847,767,888
2015 63,344,516
Total: 10,295,642,951

Out of over 10 billion passengers, how many terrorists has the TSA apprehended?

0, nada, the empty set, none.

It isn’t possible to know from the available evidence if:

  • There are no terrorists.
  • Terrorists do not fly into or out of airports monitored by the DHS/TSA.
  • DHS/TSA methods are insufficient to catch terrorists who are using US airports.

Rather than assuming terrorists justify the governments use of passenger manifests for screening passengers, Baker should be challenged to produce evidence that:

  • Terrorists fly in or out of airports under the control of the U.S. government, and
  • DHS/TSA techniques result in the arrest of terrorists.

Lacking proof of either of those points, there is no demonstration of need or effectiveness on the part of the DHS/TSA.

The government has the burden of proof for any government program, but especially ones that intrude on the privacy of its citizens. Force them to carry that burden in discussions of national security.

Comments are closed.