The TSA Continues To Miss 95% Of Weapons — HOW IS THIS OKAY?!?

Filed Under: Security/TSA

Fox9 Minneapolis-St. Paul reports on how this past week the TSA at MSP Airport missed 95% of weapons, etc., that were brought through security as part of an internal test:

Last Thursday, what’s referred to as the “Red Team” in town from Washington D.C., posed as passengers and attempted to sneak items through security that should easily be caught.

In most cases, they succeeded in getting the banned items though. 17 out of 18 tries by the undercover federal agents saw explosive materials, fake weapons, or drugs pass through TSA screening undetected.

Two sources told Fox 9 that the tests carried out Thursday were eventually stopped after the failure rate reached 95 percent.

This isn’t the first time the TSA has performed so poorly. In 2015 the TSA failed 67 out of 70 tests that were conducted around the nation, also giving them a 95% failure rate.

The only area where the TSA is excelling is with consistency, it seems. And by consistency I mean the ~95% fail rate they’re achieving.

The fact that this continues to happen and nothing is done about it just blows my mind. That’s part of the reason that I found the electronics ban so laughable. We’re implementing something like that for flights to the US, while our flights within the US continue to have next to no security.

Let’s be perfectly clear here — the reason nothing has happened on planes in the US in the past decade isn’t because the TSA is keeping us safe.

I don’t necessarily expect government organizations to be the most effective, but the fact that the TSA continues to have a 95% failure rate and nothing is done about it is just beyond reproach.

What does the TSA have to say about this situation?

“TSA cannot confirm or deny the results of internal tests and condemns the release of any information that could compromise our nation’s security.”

Hey TSA, how about you condemn the horrible failure of your organization? What’s compromising our national security isn’t these results being released, but rather how ineffective the organization is.

  1. LOL the TSA does kind of have a point; advertising that they fail 95% of the time would likely embolden terrorists to try something…

    Of course such performance is inexcusable and needs to be fixed ASAP. The primary motivator in the private sector is getting fired, something that’s hard to do if you work for the government. You have to work really hard to get fired from US Civil Service.

  2. I think finding weapons is not the TSA’s real main purpose. The main purpose is to support public confidence in the safety of air travel (which would be pretty safe even without the TSA) by performing security theater. They’re doing an OK job of that, because people are flying in greater and greater numbers.

  3. I agree with Jeff. My own two sense is that most terrorist attacks have to be stopped in the plannin/ dry run phase. That’s why intelligence is so so important and cooperation between countries. If you are relying off of a TSA agent to stop a terrorist attack something is seriously wrong.

  4. Wait… you mean the TSA is supposed to find weapons and bombs? I thought they were just there to seize bottled water.

  5. The best part is “the tests carried out Thursday were eventually stopped after the failure rate reached 95 percent.”


  6. Curious if any tests have been done at the privatized security airports (like SFO)?

    Not expecting great performance, but it has to be better than TSA.

  7. @ Lucky: “Let’s be perfectly clear here — the reason nothing has happened on planes in the US in the past decade isn’t because the TSA is keeping us safe.”

    This is complete speculation. You offer no reason why it isn’t the TSA keeping us safe, nor any alternative explanation as to what it might be instead.

    You are entitled to an opinion, of course, but you state this as a fact, and you have provided no evidence to back it up. If you are right, I’d like to see the proof.

  8. @TravelinWilly It’s my understanding that they don’t look for illegal drugs but if they find them they call in the local 5-0.

    I find it the height of irony and completely shameless that the spokesperson for the agency chides the media for helping terrorists when reporting on that very expensive and intrunsive agency’s utter failure in its sole mission.

  9. @John
    Its called LOGIC. TSA failure rate is above 50%, almost 100% (the test stopped at 95%). As if they’re non-existent at all.

    If you are sick, would you drink a medicine with 95% rate of failure?
    If you need a lawyer, would you seek counsel with 95% rate of loosing? C’mon… think a little will ya?

  10. While I don’t dispute they are bad at their job… finding *drugs* is arguably a lot harder than finding handguns. Unless the statistic is literally “they missed 17 out of 18 GUNS” then I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take away from it, if those wildly different categories of contraband are lumped together.

  11. Also @John the TSA has stopped a grand total of 0 terrorist attacks. The alternative is simple, military action and intelligence gathering has prevented the terrorists from launching effective operations. James is 100% on point with the second part of it.

  12. Yes I always feel safer after they confiscate my sealed bottled water but let weapons through

  13. What a shame! Insulting normal passengers for nothing? Maybe they could at least be nice to people?

  14. @John. You write: “This is complete speculation. You offer no reason why it isn’t the TSA keeping us safe, nor any alternative explanation as to what it might be instead. ”

    Huh? The “reason why isn’t the TSA keeping us safe” is that they fail to keep us safe almost 100% of the time. That’s the subject of this entire post. They’ve never caught a terrorist.

  15. If your so dissatisfied with TSA it’s simple, take the Amtrak or travel by car.

  16. Andy
    They did make me throw out my aftershave bottle after 5 years of passing !!!!
    Another Gov piece 0f Trash..

  17. As @Reed points out, scoring on failure to detect drugs may be skewing the results somewhat. The TSA shouldn’t be looking for drugs at all – the only security argument for looking for drugs is that drug money may be used to facilitate terrorism elsewhere…but if the drugs are already in the US, that battle’s already lost.

    I wonder what the statistics are for checked luggage? That, to me at least, is more of a concern than issues in the cabin.

    But all that said, it reinforces the message I’ve seen from several security experts that the only post-9/11 changes that really make a difference are the armoured flight deck doors and the fact that passengers will now rise up against terrorists immediately.

  18. “Yes I always feel safer after they confiscate my sealed bottled water but let weapons through”

    Something I’ve always wondered about … I’ve accidently brought a sealed bottle/can through the scanner and been “caught” 100% of the time … but they miss 95% of the weapons. What’s up with that. I also see mothers bring through numerous UNsealed bottle of liquids brought through with a simple wave through.

    It’s all Kabuki theatre for the masses ….

  19. I know the TSA can be frustrating but I’ve always found it a bit strange that they are judged by their success against an internal team that knows their processes. I’d be curious to see how non employees would fare.

  20. Drugs shouldn’t be a metric that they check for.

    They should privatize security and use metrics to see how well they do and how fast they process.

    They are going to give u SSSS for life for this arrricle

  21. They performed this tested back in 2015 for weapons (instead of drugs plus weapons) and the failure rate was 67/70, or 95%. Just Google “TSA 95”.

    In short, despite this being a known problem, nothing actually changed in the past two years.

    Besides, terrorists have shown that they can attack via other forms of transport or simply detonate a bomb in any crowded space. Airport security is like a door lock on a convertible: It’s outrageous that we’re spending so much money on a broken lock, but a working lock wouldn’t have prevented theft anyways.

  22. I point out how important it is to make a distinction between guns / bombs and *drugs* for a couple reasons. First, drugs aren’t going to bring down or threaten a plane. If we take the TSA’s word that they aren’t a drug enforcement agency, and only report drugs to local police when they happen to be found, then why are federal agents “testing” TSA screeners with drugs at all?

    Second, illegal drugs could be anything from a half ounce of weed, to a few opiate pills, to a kilo brick of cocaine. The latter might be easy to spot on an X-ray, the former would be nearly impossible to distinguish from a bottle of Tylenol or a piece of food. The headline grabbing statistic is meaningless unless the numbers are broken out.

    But back to the issue: I *want* the TSA to screen for guns. They don’t belong on airplanes, period, especially not in the hands of untrained, dimwitted yahoos who might have three too many jack and cokes, and decide to go Rambo on the nearest dark-skinned passenger who might scare them (who may himself decide to naturally return fire, in self defense!). Or, just as likely, the gun slips out of the waistband of John Q Remington while he snores in the aisle seat on a bumpy flight, to be picked up by the 4 year old girl playing in the seat behind.

    In other words, “terrorism” (however you want to define it) is not the only reason to screen for weapons. Do we want to abolish the TSA and instead replace security with a simple “firearms not permitted on board” placard where security used to be?

  23. And yet they make me empty my water bottle only to force me to buy a new Crystal Geyser 15 steps later at $4.99 a bottle.

  24. @Reed
    You want TSA screen for guns. Yet, air marshal can legally bring guns, and sometimes they make more trouble then a drunk passenger.

    On a side note, if Lucky is going to be targeted by TSA because of this article, then what difference between Lucky the blogger and Otto Warmbier who allegedly stole a propaganda material?

  25. @Dan – Yes, the same “red team” style test was done in 2015, but again, the 67/70 results cited do not break out the types of items that got through the tests. Some of the news stories say just “weapons”, others say “weapons and explosives”, others include the catchall term “other contraband”. There is no clarity about what exactly what brought through.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way trying to defend the TSA, and I’m sure that a totally unacceptable number of weapons made it through. But the reporting on this has been shoddy, imprecise, and frustrating – and none of it is backed up by any data that was actually released.

    The only data you can find about firearm detection by the TSA is the numbers they release about how many they caught in carryon bags – somewhere around 2600 per year. Believe the statistic or not, if you pair it with a 95% failure rate… that must mean **another 50,000+ guns get through screening and are carried on board by passengers every year**.

    Do you believe there are 50,000 guns carried onboard every year? If not, then the 95% statistic would seem inapplicable to TSA’s rate of detecting guns. If you do believe it, then holy shit.

    *I go on and on about guns because those are far and away the most common dangerous object Americans might carry on board on any given day. Bombs are of course a concern – and harder to detect – but most Americans don’t absent-mindedly carry around bombs in their purses, on their belts, or strapped to their legs – the way we do with guns.

  26. @James: I think if we’re going to have air marshals at all (they appear to be a poorly trained waste of resources) – they shouldn’t carry guns either. Give them a taser or some mace and call it a day.

  27. I don’t see why the article has to take such a negative tone. Instead of looking at the glass as 95% empty, why not see it as 5% full? Maybe the agents missed 17 of the 18 hidden threats, but they got lucky and stumbled upon that one random one. No credit at all?

  28. For some reason I get the feeling that this is fake and the TSA along with the red team just want terrorists to think that they probably won’t get caught, as this might make them put their guard down, but who knows? I am a little crazy minded sometimes.


    Maybe TSA is just too far ahead of the American public my focusing on the obvious threat that more damage can be done with a computer/internet connection.

    And there are more weapons in first class even in America where I noticed their cutlery is a higher grade of steel. Not Japanese grade because that’d be to high quality, nice, and expensive lol

  30. The government NEVER wants you to know how bad (or wasteful) they are doing at anything. I could cite examples all day long …. but we’re talking about the TSA.

    Pre-9-11, the screening was a simple magnetometer with a warning if you bring a gun on board it was a crime (don’t recall the punishment). I don’t ever recall reports of drunk passengers shooting up the cabin …

    The solution post 9-11 was quite simple: secure the cockpit and require pilots to be trained and carry a handgun onboard. Bingo …. no 9-11. Instead, politicians decided to adopt this kabuki theatre show called the TSA (and spend untold billions). The terrorists are laughing their asses off as they watch us all take our shoes off and empty our liquids and raise our hands in the arrest position …. all just to visit Grandma.

    Terrorists: 1
    Flying Public: 0

  31. Security is one part of air travel that badly needs to be automated. Not check-in. I like giving my passport and letting someone else do it. The ideal would be just let everyone walk through a practically invisible scanner, and let the system stop suspcious ones.

  32. Oh, and somehow they miss 95% of weapons, but when I forget to pack my fruit knife into the check-in bag as I did at BOS 2 weeks ago, it’s part of the 5% that gets caught.

  33. > Do you believe there are 50,000 guns carried onboard every year? If not, then the 95% statistic would seem inapplicable to TSA’s rate of detecting guns. If you do believe it, then holy shit.

    @Reed The TSA screens about 2 million passengers daily, across about 430 airports. 50,000 undetected guns per year (140/day) implies that there’s an undetected firearm at an airport once every few days, with more at busy red-state airports.

    So I do believe it. 50,000 sounds like an enormous number at face value, but it needs to be set in the context of how large the country is and how many people are traveling. Framed as, “An airport like DFW may have 1-2 handguns in carry-on baggage go undetected daily”, the statistic is no longer so inconceivable.

  34. @Dan – sure, the math is conceivable, although you’re assuming an equal number of people passing through each and every commercial airport every day, which simply isn’t the case. Weight it for passenger numbers, and we’re talking a couple guns a day through major O/D hubs like LAX.

    But that’s beside the point, which is that none of these statistics are saying TSA misses 95% *of guns*. I think, as bad as TSA might be at other things, metal detectors and X-rays are pretty good at catching guns, which are bulky metal objects with clearly identifiable x-ray images. You simply don’t hear about gun incidents in airports or on aircraft these days. There’s a reason hijackers don’t even try to bring guns anymore… do we want to make it easier for them now?

    As as I said above, I’m focused on guns, since they are by far the most common deadly weapon carried by many Americans on a regular basis.

    As for bombs, they are a lot rarer, and harder to produce. We can and should criticize the TSA for not catching more explosives (if that is indeed their failing). But nobody here seems to have a good, generally applicable strategy for improving that.

  35. @W: You should have flown first class. The airline gives you a nice metal knife with your meal to cut your meat, fruit or whatever … and they thank you for being a loyal member of their FF program.

    The kabuki theatre continues …….

  36. Hi! @Lucky and thanks for your great blog – I read every day. But, as a writer, I can’t let the incorrect use of “beyond reproach” slip by…‍♀️‍♀️

  37. @Reed:

    Few points:

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that TSA is missing 95% of guns … but I contend they should be able to catch near 100% of guns (as you said, they are easy to detect).

    I have no problem with scanning of the bags for guns … but I believe they should be analyzed by a computer and not some high school dropout who was smoking weed last night (google “drug testing TSA agents”). I’ll take the computer any day (more accurate and reliable and it’s cheaper). Simple magnetometer will detect the idiot trying to carry a gun on their person through security. No need for the hands up kabuki theatre …

    And while we’re at it, why to TSA agents need to write the Gettysburg address on my paper boarding pass and hand it back to me (which I can then throw away and get the airline to print me a new one)? Kudos to anyone who can give a logical answer to that one (and a beer if you meet in in a Skyclub lounge).

    Bombs … I agree they are difficult if not impossible to reliably detect. How many bombs have we had bring down aircraft in the USA (or USA carrier) in the past 50 years? I believe the answer is none. My solution: criminal profiling. It’s what the FBI, CIA, police detectives are “suppose to be” good at (at least that’s what they tell us and we spend billions paying them to do).

    Safe travels my friend!

  38. False headline, again. There were no real weapons in the tests and only some -fake- weapons for part of the tests.

  39. @Boco
    Its a trained security institution who failed the test at 95%, at which the test was stopped. How can anybody but a overoptimistic moron see this as 5% full? Are you?

  40. This is so laughable. Fake weapons are ok. The crew know the difference.

    So funny those stupid rednecks.

  41. I honestly can’t wait until somebody actually takes something inside a plane. Then we may have an improvement.

  42. I always thought that the primary use of airport security wasn’t to find anything terrorists would use to bring down a plane, but to scare potential terrorists from bringing things in the first place. They always manage to find every single bottle of water, so I guess they do have the ability to find guns and whatever (but they don’t for whatever reason??? idk)

  43. Probably because they are pepper sprays, pocket knifes, and kinifes made from titanium which are hard to see. BS tests.

  44. I don’t think this story is credible. I have seen officers pull guns, knives and other harmful things out of passengers bags.

  45. The government is inefficient at something? Color me shocked…

    But regardless there are a ton of ways to trick those scanners. Not long ago MIT students (I think MIT at least) found out if they spray painted guns with something the body scanners didn’t pick up on the weapon. The whole thing is a joke.

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