There's no denying that the country is in an uproar over the TSA's new heightened security procedures, raising one fairly obvious questions: Does the TSA actually catch terrorists? The answer isn't very clear-cut, writes Juliet Lapidos in Slate's Explainer column. The TSA won't cite any specific instance when it stopped a terrorist; it says that's because of national security concerns, but some argue it's actually because the organization has never actually stopped a terrorist.
What the TSA does make public are incidents like "artfully concealed prohibited items" that were confiscated (six last week), and success stories like the US Army veteran who was caught with pipe bomb materials. However, the former could include some honest mistakes ("Whoops, forgot I had that meat cleaver on me!"), and the latter is not an example of a would-be terrorist, but simply a "random nut job." It's very likely that the TSA prevents terrorist attacks simply by existing—but it's not clear if the agency is any more effective at that than the private contractors who used to handle airport security.
(Read more TSA stories.)