TSA

For Once, the TSA Is Right

Blame normal TSA incompetence, not the government shutdown, for allowing a passenger to smuggle a firearm through security.

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ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS/Newscom

A passenger sneaked a firearm through airport security in Atlanta earlier this month before flying with it to Tokyo. This has attracted a lot of media attention, with CNN, Time, CBS, The Hill, The Washington Post, and others publishing write-ups of the incident.

Meanwhile, we've seen a lot of stories about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, who are working without pay during the partial government shutdown, calling in sick. Airports in Houston and Miami have even closed down some security checkpoints.

So is the shutdown making airports less safe? Was it the stalemate in Washington, D.C., that allowed someone to slip a gun past TSA screeners?

The short answer: probably not. The story about the firearm appears to have been first reported by WSB-TV, an ABC affiliate based in the Atlanta area. On January 2, a man boarded his Delta flight to Japan with a firearm. Once he landed, he informed Delta workers that he had a gun. Delta in turn informed the TSA, who said in a statement that "standard procedures were not followed."

The TSA insists the shutdown had nothing to do with the incident. "The perception that this might have occurred as a result of the partial government shutdown would be false," the agency said in a statement to the press. "In fact, the national callout percentages were exactly the same for Wed, 1/2/19 and Wed, 1/3/18 (when there was no shutdown)—5%," an agency spokesperson added in an email to Reason.

In other words, this wasn't the shutdown; it was just normal TSA incompetence.

Sounds plausible to me. The TSA has a pretty bad track record when it comes to identifying items that could actually pose a threat. A 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigation, for instance, revealed that in 67 out of 70 cases, undercover investigators succeeded in smuggling weapons or explosives through security.

Acting TSA Administrator Melvin Carraway lost his job as a result of that investigation, but things didn't get much better. In March 2017, a woman made it through airport security in Charlotte, North Carolina, before realizing she had forgotten to remove a loaded gun from her purse. In July of that year, KMSP reported that undercover investigators had been able to smuggle explosives or fake weapons through Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport security 16 out of 17 times. And in November 2017, another DHS investigation revealed that TSA screeners were still failing to identify test weapons at a high rate. The failure rate was "in the ballpark" of 80 percent, a source told ABC News at the time.

The TSA just isn't very good at evaluating risk. It may be great at confiscating plastic toys and bullet-shaped ice cubes. But firearms and explosives are a completely different story, shutdown or no shutdown.

This post has been updated with an emailed statement from a TSA spokesperson.

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  1. It’s weird that they admitted it.

    1. I have problems with the whole TSA and firearms thing. Surely if people have the right to bear arms in the rest of the country they should be allowed to carry them in airports and onto aircraft. If laws in destination countries differ then guns can be confiscated upon arrival.

      1. As a common carrier, airlines can contract that guns are prohibited. Problem solved.

        The idea being a hole made in a pressurized airplane cabin at 45000 ft is dangerous.

        1. The catch is that the airlines need to protect me since I cant carry my pistol to defend myself.

        2. So, a carrier’s rights can overrule constitutional rights? I didn’t know that.

          A hole in my head at ground level is pretty dangerous too, but at least I can protect myself with my glock.

        3. First they rarely fly that high. 40K is about the ordinary max alticude.

          Second the small hole an errant round might make in the fuselage would have very little real effect. and could easily be temporarily blocked until lower altitude is reached.

          And for those of us who carry everywhere anyway, there are certain types of rounds that can be employed that would prove effective for defence against a nefarious operator, as in a hijacker, pantybomber, rowdy passenger roughing up the flight crew….. but are VERY unlikely to present a problem if discharged on board and contact the outer skin of the aircraft. WHAT do the Federal Air Marshalls carry in THEIR guns? And don’t tell me their trainin gprecludes any possibility of an errant round hitting the shell of the aircraft. The percentage of total ,iss by government LE is astoundingly high, several multiples that of normal folks in public.

          1. Huh. According to this page, and a few other assumptions:

            1. Outside pressure is vacuum
            2. Boeing 747 interior pressurized volume is 1035 m3
            3. 9mm hole is 0.64 cm2

            … it would take 7.5 hours for the cabin pressure to reach half of the starting pressure. Of course:

            4. Outside is not nearly vacuum
            5. Airlines run less than sea-level air pressure
            6. 9mm bullet hole in aircraft aluminum is going to be larger than a perfect circle
            7. Blowers and aircon systems will try to compensate
            8. Oh, yeah, and divide that 7.5h by the number of holes you are going to make in the aircraft skin.

            Still, it’s not nearly as fast of a blowout as I expected. Probably a hellish noise, though.

      2. Have you recently suffered a trauma to your brain?

  2. Delta in turn informed the TSA, who said in a statement that “standard procedures were not followed.”

    AND?!? Having gotten one past the security screeners and checkpoints the man was allowed to roam the Japanese countryside fully armed, right?

    1. A new Toho monster: Armamerguy!

  3. They found a large pocket knife in a vest pocket of mine that I threw in at the last minute. Sent it through again and found a small knife caught in a seam at the bottom of my backpack. I was embarrassed and they were extremely nice. I was able to keep my place in line as well as my global pass for easy access to security. Whew! And I do not like that standing in a massive line makes passengers a target for an idiot.

    1. Who are you, Gil Renard or somethin’?

  4. I’ve been reading old Perry Mason stories and watching the corresponding old TV episodes to see how they compare. One of the last books, around 1969 or 1970, has a key plot point of a woman opening her purse at an airline ticket counter and the clerk seeing a gun in it and DOING NOTHING. No one else comments on how scary that is.

    I realize it’s just a story, not an actual incident. But it is indicative of how little people used to care about scary scary guns.

    1. watching the corresponding old TV episodes to see how they compare

      Which were based on the premise that Hamilton Burger was the worst defense attorney in the history of the law.

      1. Prosecutor, actually.

        1. In Crusty’s defense, Ham Burger was probably the worst lawyer period.

    2. Yeah, and it was right about that time I rode my bicycle to the airport, wheeled it to the ticket counter, asked for one ticket to my destination, was told the price, $19.95, plopped one twenty dollar bill on the counter, was given a chit and told which gate to head toi, flight leaving in aboiut fifteen minutes. She never asked my name, no ID, nuthin… the Dead Hamilton was good enough identification. I wheeled the bike out onto the macadam to the bottom of the baggage conveyor, handed it off to a nice young baggage jockey, and walked up the stairs leading to the cabin. At the other end, instead of heading into the airport terminal, I wandered round to the bottom of the baggage belt, and a different fellow wheeled my bike out, I signalled it was mine, he handed it off to me no questions asked, and I hopped on and rode the fifty miles to my final destination, Noe one person involved knew even my first name, no ID, no search…….. pay me my money down, hop on board, and ride on….. simple. And no one was the least bit afraid.

      1. Halcyon days indeed.

        When did we decide riding in an aircraft was radically different from riding in a bus or train?

        1. You don’t think the same level of pants-shittingness is coming for busses and trains?
          Oh, wait.

    3. Also, Mason and Della Street used to book flights under false names not infrequently, if I remember right. No requirement for government ID.

  5. I just thought of something else that pisses me off about the TSA being the media’s golden child for re-opening the government since the National parks ploy didn’t work.

    Every flight leg includes TSA fee for security. That should total billions since 9/11.

    There should be plenty of money to keep limited security operating at major airports even with a federal shutdown. Airports/airlines can also pay security/TSA to keep the airports running along.

  6. And yet they feel the need to grab my junk about 50 percent of the time I go through TSA. Which granted is like only 2 out 4 times but that was 2 times 2 many. Especially because I’d of thought they’d give you a free drink coupon after each molesting at the least.

    1. Maybe they could charge extra for the service?

    2. TSA lie: “?contact with Plaintiff’s genitals, if any at all, was incidental and occurred through the course of a typical security pat-down.”

      It’s deliberate, humiliating & sexually abusive and it seems as if some screeners enjoy it.

  7. Dissolve the TSA. Throw every single one of their worthless perverted agents in prison.

  8. it was just normal TSA incompetence.

    There have been zero successful terrorist attacks via the air since the TSA was created; how does that jive with your cosmo squish logic?

    1. and before 911 there were also zero terrorist attacks via air. not a bad record without TSA

    2. That is complete BS. TSA would not have stopped 9/11. Your cosmo squish logic notwithstanding.

    3. Do you have any tiger repellent rocks?

    4. there WERE two signficant attempts at bringing down an airliner in or headed to the US. Both times, alert and proactive passengers dealt with the attempt. In at least one of those two incidents, the device failed to operate as intended/hoped.

      TSA had NO PART in foiling either of these two events. and there is rock solid evidende the new TSA protocols were not only useless in preventing the attempts, but that some officials seriously looked the other way or even aided and abetted in the attempt in one of the incidents.

  9. They’ve never failed to confiscate my shaving cream, but they do fail repeatedly to catch weaponry.

    1. 95% failure rate is huge most people get fired for far less

  10. A passenger sneaked a firearm through airport security in Atlanta earlier this month before flying with it to Tokyo.

    In March 2017, a woman made it through airport security in Charlotte, North Carolina, before realizing she had forgotten to remove a loaded gun from her purse.

    I can understand why the guy didn’t want to take a gun through Japanese immigration. But, why didn’t the woman just STFU and get on with her life?

  11. What I’m curious about

    Did they try to screw over the honest passenger?

    1. What passenger? Are you suggesting the story isn’t manufactured out of whole cloth?

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  13. Courtesy of the Reverend Horton Heat – Callin’ in sick, Callin’ In Twisted

  14. Invading and bombing primitive countries led to counterattacks, just as we ourselves have counterattacked bombing invaders in the past. But all indications are that the Republican reaction of organizing the Transport Sozialist Arbeiterpartei is slowly edging us back to the railroad era or, who knows, to before the Wright Brothers’ development of flight. Anyone getting on a plane is running a gauntlet of fanatics no less religious, paranoid and prohibitionist than the Saracen sand creatures who twice attacked the World Trade Center. With any luck we’ll see the return of the Pullman car–only this time pulled by nuclear-powered Taggart Transcontinental locomotives.

  15. Worked security at a major airport for four years. TSA were the most entitled, sloppy ass double dippers I have encountered. That’s comparing them to city employees.

    Many of them worked in another federal capacity previously. Infuriated me because they said I was too old to apply for the job, yet they had all these sextagenarian putzes working there.

    They were arrogant and didn’t know their jobs. Told me I couldn’t access certain areas even though I had better clearance than they did. They would close lanes for no apparent reason, probably to beat each other off in the break room or play video games. They would treat us like peasants when they entered our gates, because they could pick up a phone and bitch us out to the city.

    They aren’t the only incompetents at the airport, there are plenty of private and city employees that can give them a run for their money. But they are paid far too much to be so incompetent.

    And for the one that commented that there have been no terror attacks since TSA were brought in – those a-holes came through several secured areas in the baggage areas before they ever hit the door of the airplane. TSA would have only caught them coming through the regular security lines, which they wouldn’t have passed through.

  16. The TSA is Kabuki Theatre……NOT VERY GOOD KABUKI THEATRE either.

  17. I went thru the TSA training program. Looking at X-rays of luggage is a joke. Anything short of an AK-47 in profile is likely to be missed.

    1. They sure freaked out over the boxes of sopapilla mix I took to my sister over Thanksgiving, though.

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  19. TSA is just more security theatre. Giant waste of taxpayer dollars as are most of the alphabet agencies.

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