This Holiday Season, The DHS Would Like To Remind You That It's Not A Huge Waste of Money


As you move slowly and shoe-lessly through the security lines at your airport, trying to get home to your loved ones for Christmas, the Department of Homeland Security would like you to remember that you would be dead if it weren't for them and their $50-odd billion a year. So give them some gratitude and dive into their "DHS' Progress in 2011: By the Numbers."

For example, airport travel involved the following"to prevent terrorism and enhance security": 

  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA)'s 52,000 Transportation Security Officers screened more than 603 million passengers at 450 airports across the country.
  • TSA discovered over 125,000 prohibited items at airport checkpoints.

Aren't those numbers large-sounding, vague, and impressive? 

There's plenty more on the ten year old Department's list of yearly triumphs here.  I particularly enjoy the details that "to mature and strengthen the Department" they did the following:

  • Through the Efficiency Review and component initiatives, DHS has identified more than $1 billion in cost avoidances and implemented 36 efficiency initiatives across the Department.
  • DHS responded to more than 145,000 requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

No mention of what "responded to" actually entails, but like the rest of the list, it sounds nice.

The DHS blog also just dropped some aggrandizing photos from Secretary Janet Napolitano and CNN's Erin Burnett's trip through the wonderment of the DC area's various protections against Terrorism. 

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair has a delightful piece where the author goes airport-adventuring with security expert and staunch TSA critic Bruce Schneider, who you may remember from such 2008 Jeffry Goldberg pieces as "The Things They Carried" in which Schneider — as he does in the Vanity Fair piece — demonstrates just how easy it is to get around laughable security measures such as checks for fake boarding passes.

So once again, not only does the TSA subject grandmothers to various indignities, fear grenade-shaped belts and gun-motif bags, they also don't notice when you fake a ticket; their scanners would miss certain explosives, air marshals have high turnover rates and their cost is high when their benefits are overrated. In summary security theater is security theater and the article concludes: 

To walk through an airport with [security expert] Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. The best memorial to the victims of 9/11, in Schneier's view, would be to forget most of the "lessons" of 9/11. "It's infuriating," he said, waving my fraudulent boarding pass to indicate the mass of waiting passengers, the humming X-ray machines, the piles of unloaded computers and cell phones on the conveyor belts, the uniformed T.S.A. officers instructing people to remove their shoes and take loose change from their pockets. "We're spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.

The rest here.

And Wired recently summed up TSA in similar terms:

According to Ben Brandt, a former adviser to Delta, the airlines and the feds should be less concerned with what gels your aunt puts in her carry-on, and more concerned about lax screening for terrorist sympathizers among the airlines' own work force. They should be worried about terrorists shipping their bombs in air cargo. And they should be worried about terrorists shooting or bombing airports without ever crossing the security gates.

Reason on TSA and DHS. And, once more for the folks in Gitmo, Remy's holiday classic: