Has the TSA become its own worst enemy?

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By Christopher Elliott

You don’t have to read the 59-page congressional report on the TSA Transportation Security Administration’s shortcomings, released on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, to conclude the agency has “become its own worst enemy.” Just pay attention to the news.

Last week’s numerous TSA meltdowns underscored the findings of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security. It recommended a dramatic restructuring of the beleaguered agency. It includes privatization, streamlining its lumbering bureaucracy, and giving it the resources to adapting more quickly to new security threats.

It’s almost as if someone planned it that way

Let’s start on Monday, Sept. 10, a day before the release of the congressional report. A day on which the TSA should have been on high alert. But not at Port Columbus International Airport. A cat stowed away in a passenger’s luggage was allowed to pass through the TSA’s vaunted 20 layers of security.

Bob-Bob, the feline in question, is owned by Ethel Maze of Circleville, Ohio. She was flying to Orlando for a Disney vacation that day. Somehow, Bob-Bob slipped into Maze’s luggage and remained there, undetected, until she opened her bag in Florida.

The TSA has no idea how it missed a cat in the bag

“Our machines are very sensitive to picking up explosives and other threats to aviation,” Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, told the Orlando Sentinel.

That’s just fine. But what if Bob-Bob had been a Bomb-Bomb?

Fortunately, America’s finest were willing to protect us from the Passenger With a Bad Attitude who posted a video of her confrontation online for the world to see (see clip, above). As that story broke, observers noted, it was the first time an agent admitted on camera that extra screenings are retaliatory in nature. Indeed, the passenger — whose name remains a mystery — claims she missed her flight.

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Note to the TSA brass in Washington: How hard can it be to get your employees to follow the script? After all, they were smart enough to answer your ad on a pizza box. How difficult can it be to memorize a few lines?

At least TSA’s PR department repeated its pre-approved response when asked to explain itself.

“In our initial review,” it claimed, “we concluded that this individual was screened in accordance with standard procedures.”


JFK liquor theft ring and TSA oversight at Reagan National Airport

On Wednesday, we heard the remarkable story of the liquor theft ring at JFK Airport. Authorities in New York made a series of arrests after an informant bought 55,000 stolen mini-bottles of booze from the alleged thieves, according to prosecutors. Among the group of suspects were airline employees. And private security guards with clearance to be in sensitive areas of the airport.

Makes you wonder what might have happened if these presumed criminals had darker motives than swiping a nip of Grey Goose. What if they had a taste for something a little stronger — like maybe incinerating themselves and a planeload of passengers in a final, glorious act of Holy Jihad?

Then on Friday, TSA screeners found a gun and ammunition in a traveler’s carry-on bag at one of the airports that should be most concerned with security: Reagan National Airport. Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority police reportedly confiscated the gun and magazine, which contained six rounds of ammunition, cited the passenger on weapons charges, and then — get this — let him catch his flight.

Seriously. They let the guy fly. (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

Congressional report highlights TSA’s lack of transparency

Given the total ineptitude of the TSA on display during a week when everyone was paying attention to airport security, the congressional panel’s statements seem so obvious, they’re almost redundant.

“In many ways,” its report noted, “TSA has become its own worst enemy.”

Specifically, the report cites the agency’s refusal to explain itself. Those canned statements from spokesmen come to mind. Congress also says the agency has an established track record of telling us nothing of value when we ask questions about security procedures.

“The American people could be more supportive of TSA if they understood why TSA was implementing a particular policy or procedure and what threat or vulnerability it was addressing,” it adds. “Instead, in the last eleven years the American people have become increasingly more critical of TSA.”

And 11 years of stonewalling later, we have this ridiculous security circus. The TSA is asked about its porous security, its latest civil liberties violation, and it offers denial and double-talk.

The terrorists aren’t the TSA’s enemy. Critics like you, me, and the American Congress, who demand accountability, aren’t either. How will the TSA ever change?

Maybe, just maybe, the TSA has become its own worst enemy.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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