Searching Examination


According to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, airport screeners still Need Improvement. That will not come as a surprise to anyone who travels, but some of the details, as reported by A.P., are still disturbing:

-Screeners didn't receive enough hands-on practice using machines for screening checked baggage, partly because of limited access to practice equipment.

-Screeners weren't taught some basic skills they need to do their jobs, such as handling dangerous weapons and objects, repacking bags after searches, reading airline tickets and recognizing identification for travelers who claim they can bring weapons onto aircraft.

-Screeners aren't tested on when they should pat down passengers and what the passengers' legal rights are.

-Screeners aren't tested on or trained how to physically search animals and their cages for weapons and bombs.

Animals can be tricky, I'll grant you. I know our cat Cinnamon, for one, would not sit still for a full-body cavity search. But reading airline tickets? Repacking bags after searches? How much training do those tasks require?

Jim Bovard reviewed the Transportation Security Administration's problems in the February issue of Reason. It sounds like things have not improved much, although at least screeners no longer get a sneak preview of their tests (not officially, anyway).


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  1. Must be because the Screeners aren’t psid enough, of course! I’ll check with the local union.

  2. We should go back to private security run by the airlines. Like on September 11.

    I’m reading the 9/11 Commission Report. In Chapter One, they describe the actions of the screeners as the terrorists went through.

    Boggles the mind.

  3. Well, of course they’re not tested on what passenger’s legal rights are! The answers are too secret to expose!

  4. I have taken firearms in my checked baggage since 9/11 and I will second the notion that baggage screeners need to be schooled in the handling of firearms. When you check a firearm, it must be declared, unloaded, and locked. The screeners must examine the weapon, in your presence. In all the times I’ve done this, not once has a screener known how to operate the weapon, check if it’s unloaded, or even the proper way to pick one up and hold it. Most firearms are of several basic types and it doesn’t take much training to be able to figure out a new one once you’ve handled others. Screeners should not be in the position of having to take the word of the passenger that a weapon is unloaded and properly locked.

  5. Ironchef, you may be more right than facetious, since the current pay seems to be only enough to apparently hire yokels and dullards. But there’s no way that the TSA is going to be able to change that, especially since people who are effective at the job probably won’t want to work with the ones who aren’t, and it’s also hard to justify increasing the pay for the current crop of screeners. I also like how the report quoted in the Post article says, essentially, “We should develop better technology to make up for the inadequacies of our workforce.”

    I think my biggest problem with the screening system is that it really seems to only look at the cockamamie schemes of the past, like shoe bombs, box cutters, metal weapons, and people talking about bombs but doesn’t really seem to have a handle on how to search for security risks in and of themselves. It’s totally reactive, just waiting for the next innovation by some terrorist to incorporate that into their checklist of things to specifically look for.

  6. It is tempting to say that remaining privatized would have allowed more flexibility in adopting measures to improve performance, but the Federal Government tends to be such a inevitably idiotic customer, I’m not sure if that is the case. The military, for all it’s faults and ineffciencies, does seemto have an easier time firing people than the rest of the government, which has employees protected through civil service regulations. Hell if I know what a good solution looks like.

  7. What’s missing is the incentive to do a good job.

    How about randomly selecting ten passengers from the flight manifest, and letting them do the screening before they board the aircraft?

  8. In regard to private screeners, I recently flew through Rochester, NY, where the screeners are contractors. They were really no better or worse than their public employee counterparts. If the feds provide the funds, write the rules, and manage the whole process, there aren’t all that many gains to be had from changing the employer name on the ID tags from TSA to [insert contractor here]. Not to say that private contractors are necessarily a bad idea, just that they aren’t a panacea either.

    Besides, all this is moot. Nobody will ever again successfully hijack a plane in the US. The only thing they need to be looking for is bombs, because hijacking is finished for good. The passengers and crew will fight back in the future.

  9. To an extent no matter what the pay the TSA will only attract the lowest of the low in terms of employees due to the sheer boredom and stupidity of the work. Telling people to take off belts and shoes and wanding them…

    That the sort of thing we need to invent robots to do.

  10. Well, we could outshore the boring and stupid jobs.

  11. I’m kinda curious as to how the TSA managed to hire all of the androgynous people in the U.S.

  12. YEP we’re so much safer now that the Feds are running things.

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