The TSA’s Chicken Little Approach, Does It Work?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) frequently issues similar warnings. Over the agency’s nearly ten years in existence a pattern has emerged of not only the unsubstantiated travel security warnings the agency issues, but the timing of these warnings … with near Swiss precision.


With the busy winter holiday travel season set to begin in the United States, first with Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas, New Years and the February school vacations, a few days ago the TSA’s Administrator John Pistole began warning that airports an mass transit centers should be aware of potential security threats. At the same time Pistole bean warning of potential threats, he was also stating that the TSA and Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) intelligence reports indicated there was presently no known specific or viable threat.


The TSA’s threat warning for this winter travel season no includes mass transit facilities, as the agency has been aggressively working to expand the TSA’s role in transportation outside of airport environments. Recently, Pistole explained the agency’s shift into a larger mass transit presence by stating, “It’s something that we’ve seen in reporting over time that terrorists, around the world, clearly, are interested because of the accessibility, the open architecture, of both buses and rail, and so we try again to work with our state and local counterparts as best we can.”


The TSA’s consistent message of vigilance, asking travelers to be on the look out for suspicious packages, people or activities, is a similar message that law enforcement and security use around the world.  The best set of eye security teams in airports and transit centers have are the set eyes regular travelers, as regular travelers are a great resource for spotting things out of the ordinary, however the constant fear mongering that a specific threat may exist, when no evidence exists of a specific threat, in fact diminishes the TSA’s message.


If a consistent unsubstantiated threat is consistently brought to the public’s attention, the important message the TSA is trying to instill in travelers becomes akin to Chicken Little constantly crying that the sky is falling.  Should a verified threat suddenly appear, the message of that threat will be largely discounted and the impact of the TSA’s real message may go unheeded by not only travelers, but law enforcement who have become numbed to the TSA’s constant threat alerts.


There are more effective was for the TSA to spread its message of being alert and it should explore those options before they start to sound like a three year old complaining of a red glowing fuzzy ghost that speaks Japanese in their closet on a nightly basis.


Happy Flying!




  1. Respectfully, I don’t think your “chicken little” analogy is quite apt. The idea that the sky could possibly be falling is ridiculous; the notion that terrorists would attack aviation is not. Perhaps a “crying wolf” analogy would be a better fit… in which case, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suggest that the herd ought to be constantly vigilant against the very real, continuous threat of wolves. Admittedly, there’s a fine line between promoting vigilance and fear mongering… but I don’t see a case made for how TSA has crossed it here. Perhaps an expanded discussion of the “more effective ways for the TSA to spread its message” would help make that case.

  2. It is fear mongering plain and simple. There is no way possible the TSA or any other agency can “protect” a rail system which is wide open by nature. Same with bus and other transportation systems. You may be able to “screen” passengers, but once it leaves the station you are out of luck. Checkpoints are the next logical step.

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