Did The TSA Stop A Terrorist Through ID Authentication?

On the 20th of September 2012 the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Transportation Committee on Homeland Security released a report entitled “Rebuilding TSA into a Smarter, Leaner Organization.”   Within the 59 page report on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Subcommittee covers a wide range of topics, some logically, some that sound good and can never be implemented, some that are counter productive such as, one section both asking “Pat-down have hit a nerve with the general public, and TSA has failed to adequately explain why it continues to use this procedure two years after its initial rollout” …  and answering “put-down are one important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives.”


OK … so asked and answered in the same section is a bit confusing, and in reality pat downs have been in use by the TSA since its inception in the 19th of November 2001 and by private security firms, under the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 1972 when pre-departure security check points were widely implemented in the United States … but …


… of all the content contained in the Subcommittee report, the most interesting comment come not from the TSA, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Members of Congress; it comes from the Government Accountability Office‘s (GAO) Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, Steve Lord.


In Mr. Lord’s testimony before the Subcommittee, discussing the TSA’s need to verify passenger identity through verification of authenticated identification, in regard to the funding of the Credential Authentication Technology/Boarding Pass
Scanning System (CAT/BPSS) program he stated, “there have been some instances where in the past terrorists have been exposed and have used fraudulent IDs.


This is an interesting statement, although he went onto to state he didn’t believe the US$100,000,000 investment is justified, because no terrorist as ever been stopped the TSA, or captured by the United States due to being tripped up by a fraudulent identification.


The GAO has been unable to clarify this statement since the release of the Subcommittee report and the TSA certainly has not stopped any terrorist, under any circumstances, much less through identification authentication.


The only terrorist suspect captured in relation to aviation security was Faisal Shahzad, on the 3rd of May 2010, at New York’s JFK International Airport. Shahzad was onboard Emirates Flight 202 and his flight was stopped as it turned onto Runway 22R for departure. His capture was due to the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), New York City Police Department (NYPD) and an airline employee. The TSA and DHS were not integral to his capture.


It is puzzling how the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues could believe terrorists have been identified and captured due to the authentication of identification, when there is no evidence to support this. The GAO is an independent agency tasked with analyzing large government agencies and this kind of incorrect information can make the difference between funding an essentially functionless program that puts an agency such as the TSA outside the bounds of its core mission, and furthering the agency’s mission creep and sprawling actions outside its core missions.


Hopefully an answer comes to light, otherwise it begs the question of “Has the TSA caught a terrorist we don’t know about?”  … because if they had I’m sure they would have been shouting it from every airport rooftop to justify their tactics and existence.


Happy Flying!




  1. I’m wondering if the fact that the system worked wasn’t supposed to be let out. If terrorists knew about this, they would know that they needed better fake IDs. Also, the agency that now handles the caught terroristprobably does not want this let out because it may compromise a mission. TSA might have wanted to toot its own horn, but it was forbidden by a covert agency.

    Just some random theories.

  2. Well, if you read it pedantically (which may or may not be a good idea), the statement doesn’t say that terrorists were caught based on ID checks, just that “terrorists have been exposed” and “have used fraudulent IDs.” Heck this doesn’t even say they were the same terrorist(s). It could have been 2 totally different 6 years olds…

    More to the point, it doesn’t say this was done by the TSA or happened in the US. The report may state that elsewhere, but I wouldn’t assume the statement applied to our domain unless stated explicity. That doesn’t make it invalid: I’d hope that our TSA is taking lessons from the Israelis and other experts in the field. Using their data as a basis for planning would actually make sense. So…

  3. Steve,

    I’ve been asking around the TSA for the past few days, no one has heard of any terrorist being stopped. These folks are people who would likely know this kind of info.

    Happy Flying!


  4. Another corrupt Washington insider trying to justify wasting taxpayer money buying useless equipment from a political crony.

  5. CAT/BPSS deserves a “we don’t store” restriction — in the regulations and in its code — similar to the body scanners. Otherwise it’s a huge target for (non-terrorist, domestic) ID theft.

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