TSA

Undetected Bombs and Weapons Underscore Uselessness of TSA Airport Gauntlet

Can we just get rid of the damned agency already?

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TSA

"The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security has provided me with a classified, preliminary briefing that reflects test results centered largely on a specific manner in which someone may seek to bring prohibited items through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening into the secure area of an airport," Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson revealed yesterday. "it is not appropriate or prudent to publicly describe these results," he cryptically added, though he conceded that "The numbers in these reports never look good out of context."

They probably don't look a hell of a lot better in context. ABC News got hold of the results revealing that "undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials."

So, if you were wondering if there might at least be some gain in security as a tradeoff for being fondled by the TSA's perps and pervs at airport security, the answer is: no. A would-be terrorist is more likely to leave his paraphernalia in the shitter than to be detected by America's (not-so) impenetrable moat o' humiliation.

Not to fear. Acting TSA Administrator Melvin Carraway was promptly bounced. So all is well. Except…We've been down this path before. The TSA has zealously combined a talent for abusiveness with utter ineffectiveness for years now, to the frustration of critics and other government agencies. There's no reason to believe that the latest round of bureaucratic musical chairs will be the game-changer.

In 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) pointed out (PDF) that not only had the TSA offered no evidence that its Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program works, nobody has ever found any support for the idea. That report emphasized that the GAO had raised the same concerns in 2010 and 2012, with no apparent impact.

This is actually a bit of a trend. A 2007 review of TSA methods published in the British Medical Journal found "no comprehensive studies that evaluated the effectiveness of x ray screening of passengers or hand luggage, screening with metal detectors, or screening to detect explosives." It was all implemented on a guess, apparently, with no effort made to discover if the security gauntlet actually accomplishes anything.

Last summer, researchers from the University of California at San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins revealed that weapons can be easily smuggled past at least some models of full-body scanners simply by taping them against the body. Their study followed up on blogger Jonathan Corbett's video revelation of just that weakness in scanners. The researchers focused on a now-dropped scanner because they weren't able to gain access to other models, but Corbett tested his technique at airports against machines that are still in use.

Which is all to say that epic fail is not a new quality of the Transportation Security Administration—it'a characteristic that has been revealed, complained about, and baked in for years. Despite ongoing complaints about the unknown effectiveness or outright uselessness of the TSA's techniques, and the much-resented intrusiveness of its presence at airports, the federal agency keeps on keeping on with the utterly pointless and humiliating gauntlets it inflicts on travelers.

The latest report about explosives and weapons slipping through the TSA security cordon with apparent ease should, by all rights, raise calls to abolish the agency, and its equally awful parent department, too. Year after year of willful failure would seem to be ample justification for trying something different—if not more effective, at least less unpleasant.

I'd be more hopeful, if we hadn't already been through this before.

NEXT: My essay on "How Constitutional Originalism Promotes Liberty"

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  1. Get rid of it? clearly you want the terrorists to win… obviously they just need more money!

  2. You don’t need to bring weapons through security — the long lines to get through security in a (usually) confined space makes a big target.

    1. So, you’re suggesting…pre-security line security lines? We have to keep those security lines safe, after all.

      1. Given the TSA failure rates, the airlines should actually set up pre-security security lines, if only to protect their very expensive airplanes.

        1. Private entities? They’d just use the program to make evil profits! No, what we need is another airport security agency to fill the gaps.

          1. Just to be safe, though, the new agency shouldn’t be limited to airports. It ought to make secure Our Nation’s train and bus stations, taxi fleets, and highway rest stops… really put the “T” in TSA.

            1. “T” for “Tiresome”, I assume?

              1. “T” for “Time to leave!”

            2. Ever heard of a VIPR Team?

            3. “TSA – We put the Line in AirLine”.

              CB

        2. But what about people in those lines? Wouldn’t we need a pre-pre-security line?

          Aw, fuckit, lets just search peoples’ homes before they can travel to the airport.

          1. Licensed Traveller

            1. Flying in an airplane is a privilege, not a right.

              1. Re the way airliners are configured these days, where is the “privilege” you reference or are you flying First Class.

          2. I solved this problem long ago with a particularly cunning plan: Force everyone to travel nude, with no luggage. As a further security feature, lock each passenger into a separate compartment, then render him unconscious.

            1. Wasn’t that basically the solution at the end of Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters?

              1. Did I say Heinlein solved this problem? No, I did not.

            2. This is an amazing idea. Travel nude, no luggage. But, this would make people uncomfortable so there should be free drinks on the plane. And, you wouldn’t want private parts being hurt, so perhaps the entire cabin should be just a large mattress with tons of pillows to lie on.

              I for one would feel safe on that airline.

              1. That’s a different cunning plan.

              2. Take a look around next time you’re in a security line and see if you would want to be rolling around nekkid on Mattress Airlines with 90% of those people.

                1. You’ll have to pass a test to fly on Allnude Air.

                  1. He’s a good man. And thorough.

                  2. All I need is investors to buy the jet and get me a type rating and we’re off the ground, baby!

                    Oh, and we’ll need a good autopilot.

                2. I’m 64 Kristen. Everyone looks sexier than me.

                  1. Not Lena Dunham.

                3. You are being far too generous with that 90% figure.

              3. It would definitely entice Bubba off of Pedophile-1.

            3. “I know it’s rather large, stewardess, but I still consider it “carry-on.””

      2. It’s security lines all the way down!

        1. Well, all the way out the door, anyway.

  3. Surely this time the right Top. Man. will be put in charge, and all is well!

  4. Could the tests have been conducted by secret terrorists?

    1. If by this you mean that TSA agents let weapons through on purpose, sure it’s possible..

      1. Do we screen TSA employees to make sure they aren’t terrorists?

      2. There have been multiple cases where TSA agents were involved in drug smuggling (this ignores that the TSA shouldn’t be looking for drugs in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there) by letting it through their systems. It’s not exactly a stretch to a situation where they’re allowing weapons through.

  5. But, Mr. Tuccille, you’re mistaking the purpose of the TSA. It isn’t to provide security, but to provide the appearance of security. Well, that and provide government jobs for the otherwise only marginally employable.

    1. Those motivated for power become politicians.

      Those without enough ambition (and with enough sadism) become cops.

      Those not competent enough to become cops become correctional officers.

      Those not competent enough to become correctional officers become mall cops.

      Those not competent enough to become mall cops become TSA agents.

      1. Don’t talk shit about mall cops. They provide a valuable enough service that business owners are willing to pay them without coercion, unlike anyone else you listed.

      2. Those not competent enough to become TSA agents become politicians.

    2. This! Exactly this! The TSA exists because. After 9/11 the publc desperately WANTED somebody to “do something” about airport security. Mind you, nobody with a moiety of his marbles thought one was NEEDED. So an agency was created to be windowdressing, and nobody with any intelligence watched it very closely, all of them being busy with stiff that was more important (like watching paint dry). Consequently the TSA filled up with dolts, cowboys, empire-builders, and people one jump,ahead of an ethics investigation from their LAST government agency. And they have done exactly what you would expect such a mess to do.

      Disband them, hell. Boil them in oil. It would raise the median IQ of the country.

  6. How can you say that the TSA is a failure? Millions of U.S. citizens groped, humiliated, and taught unquestioning obedience; large sums of taxpayer money spent in futility; many thousands of new federal jobs “created”; a new entrenched bureaucracy, yet another tick attached to the body public. For a statist, it’s a big wet dream.

    1. That’s some value right there!

  7. OT: My favorite comment at the TSA’s blog, ever, from one of their greatest apologists. What kind of mental gymnastics does it take to conflate Snowden with Aldrich Ames? (Yes, I know; anyone going against the state is an unperson, right?)

    Anonymous said…
    OMG the Humanity! Veterans have to take their SHOES OFF!

    Snowden. Aldrich Ames.

    Remember those names.

    May 18, 2015 at 10:25 PM

    1. That reminds me of the security briefing everyone here gets before being issued an ID badge. They brag about how they caught whasstheirfaces (Googling….Googling…) the Myers. I really wanted to raise my hand and ask why they would even mention their name, as it seems like a massive failure on Diplomatic Security’s part, given they were active for MORE THAN THIRTY FUCKING YEARS!!

      1. I really wanted to raise my hand and ask why they would even mention their name, as it seems like a massive failure on Diplomatic Security’s part, given they were active for MORE THAN THIRTY FUCKING YEARS!!

        *talks into radio* “We have a turd in the punch bowl, repeat, we have a turd in the punch bowl.”

    2. Link? I like to get my outrage from the source.

      1. It’s in the comments here.

  8. the British Medical Journal found “no comprehensive studies that evaluated the effectiveness of x ray screening of passengers or hand luggage, screening with metal detectors, or screening to detect explosives.”

    But you berate the government for funding studies of other obviously true stuff. Those poor folks just can’t win!

  9. But I bet no one’s testicular cancer go through undetected!

  10. I can remember the peerless Hairy Read standing in front of cameras and saying, “You can’t professionalize unless you Federalize!” or some such horseshit.

    Sorry, it was Tom Daschle.

    Here’s some Stossel on the subject.

    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Giv…..823&page=1

    1. Have I mentioned I like Stossel?

  11. After unpacking from my Utah trip in February, I found a full Swiss Army knife in my purse. My purse, which I carried on both flights. Which was run through at least two metal detectors.

    1. Report to Disintegration Chamber 3 for processing, please.

      1. Darn your quick whatevers.

    2. So, did you turn yourself in?

    3. About a year ago my sister-in-law said she forgot her taser flashlight in her purse and didn’t remember until she’d already made the round trip and was back at home

    4. My wife has discovered her pepper spray in her purse after trips in the past.

    5. Wish I had your luck. They confiscated my corkscrew because of the foil cutter (approx 3/4″).

    6. Yet my 5 ounce bottle of green liquid aftershave was a serious threat to National Security and had to be confiscated…

      1. I forgot about the can of shaving cream once when I decided to do carryon only. They actually found that. I guess they’re not completely blind.

        1. Stupid on the other hand…..

  12. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent to solve a problem that solved itself less than an hour after the first plane struck the first tower.

    Christ, I hate government.

    1. Solved itself? What do you mean?

      1. “Let’s roll”

        1. “Let’s roll”

          Words spoken by the last free Americans. They gave all, that we might throw it away.

      2. Are you serious?

        The passengers prevented the 4th aircraft from striking its target. There will NEVER be another successful hijacking of a US aircraft again. Ask the shoe/underwear bombers.

        1. Nevermind. Something about that phrasing sounded insidious to my addled brain.

        2. If that target was the US Capitol Building, I wonder if we actually achieved anything.

    2. Agreed. The reason the terrorists on the first planes were successful was that it was a new tactic. All of the hijackings committed during the 1980’s and 1990’s were hostage-type situations where the hijacker would land the plane somewhere with other goals in mind. Crashing the planes into buildings was new. As soon as people figured that out, there was resistance.

      People understand now. Something like 9/11 will never happen again because there will be enough people on flights willing and able to fight back.

  13. If the TSA isn’t detecting bombs well enough that only shows that staff/funding has to be doubled or tripled.

    Letting travelers fly unmolested means that the terrorists have won.

    1. Yes, the TSA needs more money with which to smother the flames of incompetence.

      1. *smoldering embers of incompetence.

        full-blown flames is expecting too much

  14. the typical government response will be they just need more money and training to search harder and deeper into more cavities

    1. If they would recruit some Hooters girls to do the searching, I wouldn’t get upset about it.

  15. The thing about the TSA that drives me the craziest is the people that staff the TSA itself. I understand that these would probably be the same people who would staff security if it was privatized, but give these morons a TSA badge and they turn in to complete control freaks with an air of authority that makes me want to punch things.

    1. “Sir. SIR! I’m going to ask you just once more to SIMMER DOWN NOW!”

    2. I’ve found that this really varies between airports. At really high volume airports the checkpoints seem to be staffed by “just a job” types who really just want to get you through with minimal hassle for themselves. At lower volume airports you get more law and order types who think they’re doing important national security work. And the Milwaukee airport seems to staff their checkpoints with members of the Hitler Youth.

      1. The most aggressive TSA screening I ever endured was at Glacier/Kalispell airport in Montana. You may be on to something.

      2. So much this. Our little local airport has the some of the worst TSA agents. The ones I ran into at DC – for example – were actually a lot nicer.

        I hate to fly now because of the TSA.

    3. I had a conversation with one chick who was giving me the full body grope (because of my refusal to be rapescanned). She “graduated” from one of those TV “colleges” with a “degree” in “criminal justice”.

  16. “Fun” Fact: The TSA can, without due process, hit you with a fine of up to $11,000 for breaking their rules. Like asset forfeiture, it’s a “civil” citation, not a criminal one, so your ability to appeal is limited.

    http://www.tsa.gov/civil-enforcement-policies

    1. No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;

      Funny, I don’t see any exceptions in the Fifth Amendment for the government taking “civil” action against you.

  17. Alt text:

    “Bomb? I thought you said, bum!”

  18. Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson… conceded that “The numbers in these reports never look good out of context.”

    ‘Ol Jeh is both unsurprised – and unfazed – by his Agency’s poor performance.

    Top

    Man

  19. Another branch of the Federal government (the FDA) uses the phrasing “safe and effective” for approving procedures (and drugs). 95% failure rate is NOT “effective”. It really is time to shut down this entire tragedy before someone gets hurt.

  20. It was all implemented on a guess, apparently, with no effort made to discover if the security gauntlet [insert government program here] actually accomplishes anything.

    FTFY. This is pretty much SOP for all government bureacracies.

  21. “ABC News got hold of the results revealing that “undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials.”

    So, I suppose ABC officials are scrambling to get asylum in Russia right now, as what they’ve revealed is far more useful to “the terrorists” than anything that “treasonist criminal” Snowden did.

  22. But the government employees’ union that they belong to wants to keep the program, and with the Democrats in charge, nothing else matters.

  23. Fallout 4 to be announced tomorrow.

    1. Finally, some news I care about!

  24. If anybody’s still reading and actually wanted to read the ABC News link, the one in the story is wrong. Here’s the real one:
    http://abcnews.go.com/ABCNews/…..d=31434881

  25. It’s sort of shocking how fast the TSA came into being. On Sept 10, 2011, every airport had its own security vendor, whether private or a public agency. All of the sudden, the TSA is (incompetently) doing the job at every airport, checking for things that would not have even stopped the 9/11 attacks, but doing a GREAT job of making targets of the hundreds of people lined up outside the security checkpoint on the sidewalk.

  26. The TSA doesn’t exist to stop terrorism. It exists to physically and psychologically disarm the peasants ordinary honest people so as to keep them from committing acts of self-defense. (Which in the eyes of our elite overlords are inherently criminal acts.)

    And as a side-benefit (from our elite overlords’ POV) it conditions the peasants ordinary honest people to grovel with the proper respect before the Holy Anointed State (blessed be its bureaucrats).

  27. TSA is, looking at all the RICE BOWLS involved, likely with us, forever. Did you ever have success ridding your garden of crab grass or other weeds?

    1. Roundup works well if sprayed generously and often on everything. Rototilling too! And I’ve got a nifty propane burning rig that I’m itching to try.

      But that’s a bad analogy, since I’d like my garden to grow something useful. In the case of the TSA, complete eradication looks like the right idea. Let (require?) the passengers to each carry a knife at least 4 inches long. There might still be the occasional explosion, but there sure won’t be any more hijackings.

  28. Just another un Constitutional centralized government agency. Abolish it along with the DEA, NSA, FCC, IRS, DHS, Dept of Ed, Dept of Ag, Dept of fartz

  29. Why not open carry on commercial aircraft? That should discourage terrorists. Maybe some passengers too.

  30. INSANITY!

  31. Why can’t they simply copy what El-Al does? Since 1948 only one El-Al flight has been hijacked, in 1968.

    That’s when they implemented security measures, including armed guards on EVERY flight. Would be hijackers know they WILL be shot if they try to hijack an El-Al aircraft.

  32. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.jobnet20.com

  33. Put them all on a chain gang and make them cut weeds and pick up trash along the US highways.

    1. Brush clearing from Brownsville TX to Imperial Beach CA.

  34. Time to ring down the curtain on this farce of security theatre.
    And to bounce DHS Sec Jar-Jar Johnson, too.

  35. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.www.jobnet20.com

  36. The formation of the TSA was a political response. Efficacy was not a requirement then, and the lack thereof now won’t change anything.

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