TSA Watch: 10 things the TSA should do on its 10th anniversary

No one was surprised by this week’s report that the Transportation Security Administration glossed over the health risks of its airport X-ray scanners.

The investigation found that anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year could get cancer from the machines — a hazard critics have warned about ever since the devices were quietly deployed in many airports almost two years ago.

The real shocker, coming on the eve of the TSA’s 10th anniversary, is when you combine that fact with a lesser-known one: For whatever reason, and with greater frequency, TSA agents have been insisting that airline passengers walk through the dangerous scanners, despite agency rules that make using the machines optional.

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The agency charged with protecting the nation’s transportation systems turns 10 on Nov. 19. It’s also the one-year anniversary of the pat-down controversy, when the TSA arbitrarily decided that selected airline passenger had to either walk through the airport scanners or get patted down at the security checkpoint. Who can forget that?

Let me disclose my bias right up front: I’m no fan of the TSA’s current practices and it is doesn’t particularly care for me, either. The agency has lied to me, threatened me and served me with an illegal subpoena that would have forced me to name a source. (I declined.) But I support the idea of professional airport screeners, and I believe the TSA’s next decade can be a lot better than its first.

Here’s how.

1. Stop scanning passengers.
It’s already plainly obvious to everyone except the TSA, Rapiscan and the lobbyists over at the Chertoff Group, that scanning airline passengers is an awful idea. The existing scanners haven’t stopped any terrorism attacks and, if the reports are to be believed (and I do) then they’ve put the lives of countless passengers and TSA agents in danger. Never mind the alleged privacy violations. The TSA needs to stop radiating us like produce before we board the plane. Now.

2. Deploy some common sense.
It’s difficult to know exactly what the TSA was thinking when its agents reportedly forced a wheelchair-bound, terminally ill grandmother to remove her adult diaper. Or when it patted down a six-year-old. To its credit, the agency revised some of its rules when these incidents came to the public attention. But it’s not enough. Passengers continue to complain about invasive and unnecessary pat-down and screening procedures. Those need to end immediately.

3. Enough with the chat-downs and liquid bans.
The TSA recently began testing a system of interrogating passengers at the screening area, better known as “chat-downs.” It will probably expand the system to other airports soon, perhaps in time for the busy holiday travel season. It’s a silly idea. There is no evidence that a jihadist has ever been caught by a security chat-down. Nor is there any hard proof that the preposterous restrictions on lotions and potions have made air travel safer. Unless there’s a compelling argument to the contrary — and I believe there isn’t — we should jettison both.

4. Know your place.
The TSA likes to think of itself as the last line of defense in the war against terrorism. That’s nonsense. It is nothing more than a minor but expensive cog in the homeland security wheel. The TSA replaced the underpaid rent-a-cops employed by airlines before 9/11, and they will never be anything more than security guards with no law enforcement authority. They should make their peace with that and try to treat air travelers like the taxpayers who fund them, not criminals who are guilty until proven innocent.

5. Beware of mission creep.
Despite its mission statement that the agency is supposed to protect the nation’s transportation systems, the truth is that the TSA is focused on airport security. The agency’s recent incursions into road travel with its controversial and unconstitutional Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response program — yes that’s right, it goes by the unfortunate acronym “VIPR” — is making some travelers uncomfortable. The blueshirts were out in full force in Tennessee recently, randomly inspecting cars and trucks with the help of bomb-sniffing dogs. Many Americans stopped flying in order to avoid the TSA. And now this.

6. No more secrets.
The TSA is so secretive, it often can’t even tell travelers if its own rules have changed. These classified directives, called Sensitive Security Information (SSI) are applied to almost everything the TSA does, so that it ends up being accountable to almost no one, because no one knows what it is doing. We deserve to know what the rules are when we fly and we deserve to know when they change. SSI is more like something an unimaginative bureaucrat pilfered from a dystopian novel he read in high school. That’s not the America I want my kids to grow up in.

7. Obey the law.
The TSA routinely defies the law, whether it’s holding public hearings on body scanners (which it didn’t do) or showing up to a Congressional hearing. How can we expect to take an agency seriously that doesn’t respect the law of the land and routinely thumbs its nose as the constitution?

8. Deal with your little PR problem.
Despite its claims that the agency enjoys near-universal support from the American public, the truth is that air travelers have little confidence in federal screeners. I know because I talk to passengers every day. They don’t trust the agency and often go to great lengths to avoid dealing with it. That’s a massive problem for the American tourism industry, which generates $1.8 trillion in economic output and is heavily dependent on air travel. Travelers would take an average of two to three more trips per year if the airport hassles could be reduced without compromising security, adding $84.6 billion in travel spending and support 888,000 additional jobs, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

9. Engage your critics.
The TSA is too quick to dismiss its detractors, even those that make reasonable and valid points. Just ask someone like Bruce Schneier, who, even when he lands an interview with an official, gets the brush-off. I’ve tried to interview TSA Administrator John Pistole several times — he’s always “too busy.” Hiding in your office is no way to deal with someone who disagrees with your policies. What’s more, it further cements your agency’s reputation for being unresponsive to the concerns of its own customers.

10. Lose weight now.
If I had told you 10 years ago that the TSA would devour $8 billion a year of the federal budget, you probably would have laughed out loud. The TSA budget for that year? Just $1.3 billion. Do we get eight times the security for that — or eight times the hassle? I think you know the answer. The agency is too bloated for its own good — and ours. It needs to downsize, to do more with less. We’re screening passengers for weapons, after all, not saving the planet.

Some of you hawks out there are probably saying to yourself, “Hang on! If we stop scanning passengers, let the grannies through security and start being accountable to the American public, won’t that open the door for another act of terrorism?”

Actually, no.

Although the TSA claims its greatest accomplishment in the last decade is preventing a 9/11 repeat, we simply don’t know if all the elaborate precautions and alleged civil liberties violations have protected us, or would continue to protect us. We aren’t letting our guard down as much as we are taking a more reasonable approach to aviation security.

That said, I’m optimistic about the next 10 years. I think the TSA is slowly getting the message from an increasingly angry traveling public. There’s evidence of that everywhere, from its recent move to a more risk-based screening system, to the witty posts by Bob Burns, its resident blogger who often seems to appreciate the irony, if not the humor, in this troubled agency.

But the TSA has a long flight ahead. It will have to overcome a well-earned reputation for being intransigent, invading the privacy and dignity of air travelers and general incompetence.

At least it has one thing going for it: Things can’t get much worse.

(Photo: eper ales/Flickr)

66 thoughts on “TSA Watch: 10 things the TSA should do on its 10th anniversary

  1. I wish there was an ‘occupy’-type of event for TSA. They got BoA to change policy…. I think its time to get TSA to change, too.

    1. Can’t do it at airports, because airports have free speech locked down.  When we protested at BWI on Opt-Out Day, we were only allowed to have 3(!) people there and all had to stand behind a table in an out-of-the-way hall.  Luckily the press came looking for us and we got to make our points on TV, but an Occupy Airports would just wind up in ejections or arrests.

      Better: let’s Occupy TSA headquarters in Arlington, VA. 

      1. I would love to join you but it’s just too far for me to drive by myself.  Medical issues won’t permit it.

        If there’s ever a chance to do something in NJ or NYC, I’m in.

  2. +1 to your post, Chris.

    My GF refused to use the scanner at IAH last week. She just found out she’s pregnant (yay) and wasn’t sure it would be safe for the baby. The idiot working the line berated her for her “ignorance” to which she replied, “And what medical school did you graduate from?”

    She was given a pat down and during the whole thing, the agent kept insulting her for “being difficult” and “rude.” I told her to record it with her phone next time, since y’know, they’re supposed to be “accommodating” when you don’t want to go thru the scanner.

    1. Didn’t you know?  Former Wal-Mart cart-pushers are the most knowledgeable people on the planet.  The TSA is constantly losing their screeners to M.I.T.

      Actually, I have to apologize to the cart-pushers for equating them with the TSA.  The cart-pushers are way more competent in their jobs.

    2. I am very sorry to hear about how your girlfriend was treated.  She did not deserve to be roughed up like a dangerous criminal or berated for exercising an option the TSA offers every passenger.  

      However, the TSA’s bullying, arrogance, and rudeness actually help my cause.  I will fight against what the TSA stands for no matter what, because the principles of the Constitution are important to me.  No warrant, no probable cause, no search.  But some people only respond to personal slights, and so it’s convenient for me that the TSA provides such frequent doses of humiliation, condescension, meanness, pettiness, and creepiness to millions of people who have done nothing to deserve such treatment.

      1. Thanks! I’m pretty excited!

        But yes, since we both travel 2-3 weeks a month, I figure it’s only a matter of time before she gets hassled again…  😐

          1. Won’t do a bit of good. They’ll just say “oh that website is out of date”. Happens all the time.

  3. The TSA employs too many of the wrong people for the wrong jobs.  The rules and choices for the scanners and other procedures should be clearly posted at each location.  Therefore, passengers and TSA agents alike can point to them and avoid the confusion.

    1. What a great idea, Bill!  I know that passengers often report that they went to great lengths to find the details of a particular rule, and even took the time to print out the TSA website’s description of the rule, only to be told by screeners that “The website is out of date, and the rule is something completely different.”  Printed signs and/or rulebook handouts at the airport could address the information asymmetry here that prevents passengers from ever being sure of what they agreed to when they got in the security line. 

    2. But if they do that, the terrorists might figure out “the system” and figure out ways to get around it!  (You can’t hear the sarcams dripping from my words, but it’s there).

  4. A couple of things in this article jumped out at me:

    1. “There is no evidence that a jihadist has ever been caught by a security chat-down.”

    The Feds act as though a chat-down will get a jihadist to say, “Ah, yes, it is my intention to blow up this plane.”  Seriously?  This is just more smoke and mirrors to delude the American public into believing TSA is doing its job.

    2.  “They should make their peace with that and try to treat air travelers like the taxpayers who fund them, not criminals who are guilty until proven innocent.”

    But they can’t do this.  We live in a time where the Feds bully us into believing they know better than we what is best for the collective “us”.  I believe the IRS and its actions best illustrate this isn’t going to change any time soon.  Guilty until proven innocent?  This is their MO…

    3.  “The TSA routinely defies the law, whether it’s holding public hearings on body scanners or showing up to a Congressional hearing. How can we expect to take an agency seriously that doesn’t respect the law of the land?”

    We are under an administration that simply doesn’t believe the law applies to them.  They allow themselves to commit civil rights violations with impunity.  They do this because the Community Organizer/Constitutional Law attorney leading them knows we the people will continue to allow him and his cronies to get away with it.  In a private staff meeting to discuss his jobs bill last month, the COOTUS (Community Organizer of the United States) had the following to say, “The American people are too stupid to understand (my jobs bill).”  This is what they think of us.

    TSA is out of control because that’s what they are being permission to become.  No, they don’t respect us because they aren’t being made to. This was an organization created right after 9/11 when the country was so afraid.  By the time people came out of their fog of grief, it was too late.

    1. Nancy, I agree with ALMOST everything in your post – except the part where you launch into partisan politics, and go on to claim that Obama said something that he didn’t say. He DID make a comment recently suggesting that Congress didn’t completely understand it – but he did NOT use the word “stupid”. (And frankly I agree with him that perhaps Congress needs to spend more time trying to understand the bill, rather than rejecting it out of hand.)

      Look, if we’re going to get anywhere in our fight against TSA abuse, we all need to accept that this is a non-partisan issue. Those of us on opposite corners politically need to put our politics and party loyalties aside and join together.

      I am a liberal, and proud of it. I voted for Obama, and I believe in many of his policy decision: eliminating DODT, working to repeal DOMA, reforming healthcare (imperfect as that may have been), stimulating the economy, attempting to create jobs for the American people. That does not mean I don’t blame Obama for his role in the TSA debacle: as our President he needs to STOP THE TSA ABUSE NOW. Instead he makes jokes about pat-downs in speeches! As someone who was sexually assaulted in a pat-down, I did not find that to be funny at all.

      Let’s work TOGETHER to fight TSA abuse. We’re on the same side – let’s keep that in mind. Please don’t drag in comments about partisan politics, as that will just derail the fight. I agree wholeheartedly with most of your post…until you started in on things that have nothing to do with the TSA.

        1. You are the type of person the TSA would be proud to hire! Go apply before your post disappears into the archives.

          1. Yes, FNORD, and be sure to take your pizza box with you so they will know what job you are applying for!

      1. LeAnne – you’re walking around with blinders on doesn’t mean what I say isn’t true.  Obama’s approval rating has dropped AGAIN, which would insinuate more American voters are realizing we were all duped in the last election by a man who wrote his biography at the age of 36.  I don’t know what you call it but I call that narcissism.  Narcissists tend to believe “they” are always right and “we” are always wrong.

        There’s tons of blame to go around with regard to the abuses committed daily by TSA – TONS!  However, for the last (nearly) three years, we have had a presidential administration that violates the law on a regular basis and doesn’t apologize for it 

        (Google Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry – he was a neighbor of mine and an incredible person.  He’d still be alive today were it not for Obama and his cronies violating the law and believing there was nothing wrong with it.)  They are responsible for the murder of a federal agent and don’t give a rat’s behind – why should all of us being sexually assaulted in order to fly bother them?

        To be honest, you’re one of the few who will even admit any longer that you voted for Obama.  I noted you didn’t say you would vote for him again.  Is it a matter of, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me”?

        Agree or disagree with me, I don’t care.  However, I have the extreme pride of saying I didn’t fall prey to the white guilt I’m supposed to have and vote for a complete incompetent.  I didn’t vote for the man and I don’t know if I had I’d be throwing that around to prove a point.  Kind of backfires, IMHO.   

        1. #1: I did not vote for Obama because of “white guilt” – that’s absurd on its face. I agreed with his policies and political standings more than the other candidates, as did most Americans – simple as that. #2: I will not get sucked into a partisan political debate in a discussion that is supposed to be about something we AGREE on: stopping TSA abuse. I will not sink to that level. Feel free to roll around in the muck yourself – I will not join you. I will stay out of the mud and remain focused on the goal: STOP TSA ABUSE.

          I realize that some people are unable to remain above the fray, and cannot stop themselves from rolling around in mud. That’s sad. But sorry, you can’t drag me down there with you.

          By the way, I couldn’t help but notice that you suggested that Obama is “a narcissist who tends to believe ‘they’ are always right and ‘we’ are always wrong.” Sounds to me like YOU think YOU are right, and those of us with differing political viewpoints are flat-out WRONG. Personally I don’t feel that way. I see these as complex issues, and I do my best to apply my personal beliefs and morals in setting my own viewpoints on these issues…and I choose candidates who align the closest with them. I wouldn’t dream of saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” – politics are way too complicated for that. But I realize there are some who can’t see the nuances, and simply believe they are “right” and everyone else is “wrong”, and those who disagree with them are “wearing blinders”. Again, sad.

          1. If indeed you have chosen to align yourself with a president that has no problem with sexually abusing you and millions of others on a daily basis with no remorse and there are still millions like you out there, we truly may be doomed. And yes, unfortunately I drank the Kool-aid, but fortunately for me it wasn’t a lethal dose. Hopefully this time around we won’t elect somebody that enjoys shoving his disgusting, disease-ridden digits into the panties of innocent Americans. ALL sexual abusers should be incarcerated no matter what office they hold! 

          2. Not once have I said that I have chosen to “align myself” with President Obama. In fact I made it clear that I completely disagree with his inaction on this issue.

            What I HAVE said is that I will not get sucked into a political discussion that has nothing to do with the TSA.

            We’re on the same side. Let’s try to remember that, and not allow ourselves to get sidetracked into issues that we disagree on. All that will serve to do is to divide us, dilute the discussion, deflect the mission.

            I, like you, believe that ALL sexual abusers should be incarcerated…including that vile woman who karate-chopped her hand into my vulva at LAX a couple months ago. If there is a candidate in our next election who will DO something to STOP TSA ABUSE, I will support him.

          3. I’m voting for Ron Paul too. I’ve been a Dem all my voting life, but now I don’t care about parties anymore. Ron Paul is the ONLY presidential candidate who has taken a stand against the obscene atrocity called TSA. He has my vote. Any other candidate for any other office who will take a stand against TSA will get my vote. I don’t care what party they belong to.

          4. Great idea! I’ll do just that. I remember my father used to do that. He was a staunch conservative but he always registered Democrat. The Reps never had more than one candidate in the primaries back then but the Dems had several.

            He always said it was good to choose the best Dem among the candidates. That way if the Dems won, at least it would be the one he considered to be the least offensive candidate.

            Well, that’s the way I feel about the Reps. I’ll never be a true Rep, but I am open to voting for one now. Today is election day in NJ and I plan to vote for the Rep candidate for state senate.

            There has been legislation proposed in NJ to make scanners illegal in NJ and to make sexual touching by TSA agents a third degree sexual assault. I called the office of both candidates. The Rep candidate expressed strong support for the bills. The Dem candidate expressed qualified and cautious support. So today will be the first time in my life that I am going to vote for a Rep.

          5. I feel the same way – lifelong Dem, now considering voting differently. I still need to learn more about Ron Paul – there are certain other political stances on which I cannot bend, and I need to confirm that he does not hold opposite views – but from what I can tell right now he is the right candidate if we want to take a stand against the TSA.

          6. I disagree with a lot of the other things that Ron Paul stands for, but I have decided that if I don’t have control of my own body, then nothing else matters.

            If we don’t stop this now, the terror of what’s coming in the next 5-10 years is unbearable to contemplate.

            Believe it or not, I’m very glad that I’m 57 with the majority of my life behind me. I’m so afraid of what’s coming. And I’m VERY glad I don’t have children to leave behind in all this horror.

          7. Daisymae I hear ya. I’m struggling with the concept of becoming a single-issue voter when there are so many other important issues…but this one has such far-reaching implications that I’m getting closer and closer to making that decision. I’ve always had libertarian leanings anyway, and much of what he stands for rings those chimes for me. But I’m also a strong advocate for civil rights in general, as well as separation of church and state. I’ve been doing research into Ron Paul, and he is definitely looking better and better in my book! If he can restore our nation to the democracy that it used to be, he’ll do more for America as a whole than any of the other candidates.

          8. You do know that Ron Paul would take away what control women have left over their own bodies, right?

          9. I assume you’re referring to abortion. As I stated before, I don’t agree with everything he stands for, but the most basic, elemental right of human beings is to be able to decide who touches your genitals and who sees you naked. Without that right we are no longer human beings…we are slaves.

            That right to control access to our bodies must be restored to Americans NOW. That is priority number 1 and everything else falls in line behind it. Once we regain that right, we can concentrate on all the other problems.

          10. LeeAnne, don’t feed the trolls. There are people who will see what they want no matter what you say or present. It’s just not worth the energy. If Obama walked on water and pooped roses those people would say the water was thicker than normal and the roses the wrong color. Usually a good sign to just move on is when someone will attack a person instead of a policy or action. No ONE person is 100% bad. Insinuation of such is a sign of ignorance and extreme bias. This won’t change no matter what you present or how much data you have to back it up.

        2. What’s the point in this partisan BS?

          Bush pushed for TSA AND he took us to Iraq, both moves weakened the US as a whole and provided for untold abuses.

          See how easily it goes both ways?

  5. The biggest issue in all of this is the cynical way TSA claims all its procedures are secret.  It’s patently absurd to do something to 2 million people every day in a public place and then claim it’s some big secret. TSA is simply hiding behind “SSI” in order to avoid being held accountable. 

    Secrecy protects malicious, abusive, and plain incompetent screeners.  Since we have no documentation of what the official procedure is, we have no way to complain when the procedure isn’t followed.  For instance, when a bunch of male screeners decided to sexually exploit big-breasted women by pulling them into stairwells and forcing them to expose their breasts at Reagan Airport, the women had no way to know that this was a crime and not standard procedure.  When screeners make mistakes, not only are passengers hung out to dry because we are unable to document that the procedure isn’t being followed, but the screener’s mistakes can never be fixed and the screener’s performance can never improve because neither side knows the correct rule.

    Even if screeners follow their secret procedures perfectly every time, secrecy is grossly unfair to passengers.  Passengers are told that we’ve consented to search by getting in line and that we have no right to walk away from the checkpoint after screening has started, but TSA won’t tell us what we’re consenting to!  TSA screeners, are you touching people’s genitalia or not?  Because thousands of passengers report that you are, but the standard verbal explanation of the patdown does not mention the correct anatomical names of the body parts that will be touched.  When passengers ask, “Are you going to touch my _________?” and fill in the blank with the correct medical terminology for a sexual organ, the screeners often call the police over.  Screeners expect the police to intimidate the passenger into agreeing to the procedure without requiring the screener to answer the question.

    Finally, TSA hides behind secrecy to prevent Americans at large from answering the 8-billion-dollar question: does any of this painful, costly, upsetting, time-consuming security theater even work?  We pay 8 billion dollars for something but we can’t see the effectiveness data on it?  I’ve got an 8-billion-dollar rock that also prevents airline terrorism – and the TSA can’t prove their system works any better than mine.   That’s what  secret does for you; it keeps the money flowing without any need to demonstrate that spending the money achieves the objective.

    1. Sommer, this is one of your best posts. I couldn’t agree more. I can only hope that some of the “anything for security” types will read this and see the undeniable truth in it, and stop allowing the TSA to routinely, with total impunity, violate our rights, our bodies, and our property.

        1. I used to be one of those “anything for security” types, but being a regular reader of this column opened my eyes to the abuses of the system and the idea that our perceived security is not worth the loss of our personal freedoms.  So, yes, some of us are open minded and have ability to see reason 🙂

          1. Glad to hear it, Marla!  I wish more people were open-minded like you.  I only seem to run into close-minded people or people who just simply don’t want to know what is happening because it disturbs their rosy little view of the world.

            So thanks for letting us know that sometimes people can change.  It creates a little hope for the future.

    2. I heard about this guy who knows this other guy who’s dog’s former owner’s second cousin (note to TSA, I don’t directly know this person so don’t knock on my door) who leaves stuff in his carryon bag just to see how effective the TSA is and came to the conclusion that they’re worthless. One time this guy got a 9 inch pair of scissors through 3 TSA checkpoints before having them pulled at the 4th. Liquids also don’t seem to be a problem.

      The TSA isn’t about security, it’s about making people feel their secure so they keep flying. Also they don’t seem to be anywhere near consistant. One time they say my kids don’t have to take off their shoes so the next time I leave them on and they say they do.

      It seems that the ONE consistent trait is bullying. Whatever you do, they want you to do it a little bit more or a little bit less.

  6. “Things can’t get much worse.”

    Yeah, I’m sure the Jews kept thinking that, too.

    The only thing TSA should do on it’s 10th Anniversary is close up shop permanently.

    1. Cjr, you get the “Godwin’s law” award for this thread. And I’m glad it’s you this time, because I’m usually the one who gets it! 😉 The sad fact is, you simply can’t have an intelligent discussion about the TSA without bringing up the inherent and undeniable similarities to Nazi Germany. The parallels are just way too close.

      1. Well, Christopher has had an article in the past about whether we are moving closer to a police state with things like TSA.

        And I said at the time: yes, yes we were.

        And it’s not Godwin’s Law if the parallels are accurate. And, as you say, the are certainly there.

        Police states do not happen overnight. Fascism did not happen overnight. It was a slow process by taking one step at a time, where each step was allowed by a willing populace.

        TSA was created, however, all but overnight 10 years ago because of knee-jerk reactions to 9/11. And a year ago, they took the next step, the latest in a series, that are certainly more in line with a police state than a free society.

  7. This is a little off-topic, but did you know that their disgusting “If you see something, say something” public service commercials/annoucements now play in all hotels that use the LodgeNet movie service?  You see it when you turn the TV; it defaults to the LodgeNet intro channel and is part of that continuous loop.  This has been brought to us by a partnership between the DHS and one of the big hotel associations (sorry, I forget which one).  It just started this week.  I saw it at a Hyatt.

  8. BRAVO Christopher! This is one of your best columns about the TSA ever. You explain clearly and concisely what is so wrong with the TSA and their nonsensical practices. I think this article should be required reading for any American before they set foot into an airport. This, and the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.

    If more travelers would read these two things, I expect that there would be far fewer “anything for security” types who are happy to allow ill-trained, uneducated low-level clerical workers irradiate them or rub their genitals.

    The American people need to wake up, RISE up, and stop letting this bloated, useless, illegal agency abuse us.

  9. For a few years I’ve been reading this blog and several others.  In those years I have read many criticisms of the TSA, their policies, practices, and actions.  I have also read lists, like what Mr. Elliott posted today, of what the TSA should stop doing.
    Never have I read detailed and reasoned suggestions of what the alternative could be or should be.  “Detailed” means that there is a thorough analysis of risks and countermeasures, and the benefits of the alternate suggestion.  “Reasoned” means that the alternate suggestion bears the hallmarks of rigorous critical thinking, peer review, the absence of emotional screed, and a cost-benefit calculation.  Maybe such a suggestion as what I ask for has already been published and I missed it because it is not saleable in the popular media and is too long for a blog such as Mr. Elliott’s.
    I expect that there are enough security experts who do not like the present approach that the TSA is taking who could develop and write such an analysis.  Perhaps they will organize and act.  With that document, our legislators will have more ammunition with which they can proact versus reacting, as they sometimes do today, in piecemeal fashion to the emotional complaints that come to their offices.

    1. Bruce Schneier, who happily enough was referenced in the above article, is a security expert who has been publishing detailed and reasoned approaches to airline security (among other things; he’s also a computer security expert) for a decade or more.

      Here’s a collection of his works on airline security:

      and here are two I particularly recommend:

      From the first: “Defending against a particular tactic or target makes sense if tactics
      and targets are few. But there are hundreds of tactics and millions of
      targets, so all these measures will do is force the terrorists to make a
      minor modification to their plot.

      What we need is security that’s effective even if we can’t guess the
      next plot: intelligence, investigation and emergency response. Our
      foiling of the liquid bombers demonstrates this. They were arrested in
      London, before they got to the airport. It didn’t matter if they were
      using liquids — which they chose precisely because we weren’t screening
      for them — or solids or powders. It didn’t matter if they were
      targeting airplanes or shopping malls or crowded movie theaters. They
      were arrested, and the plot was foiled. That’s effective security.”

      I agree with Schneier.  The only thing that will work is intelligence and police work to identify plotters ahead of time.  If someone’s standing in the security line at the airport with an explosive device and the intent to use it to kill civilians, then it’s far too late and the TSA can do nothing to prevent a terrorist incident.  The bad guy could simply detonate it and kill hundreds of passengers on the ground.  We lose.  Airport checkpoints are transparently valueless.

      Unfortunately, the TSA’s secrecy machine is determined to resist to the
      utmost having any sort of discussion of costs, benefits, and
      effectiveness of any of their measures.  For instance, here’s the Government Accountability Office criticizing the TSA for failing to analyze its decisions: “In October 2009, GAO also recommended that TSA complete cost-benefit
      analyses for new passenger screening technologies. While TSA conducted a
      life-cycle cost estimate and an alternatives analysis for the AIT, it
      reported that it has not conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the
      original deployment strategy or the revised AIT deployment strategy,
      which proposes a more than twofold increase in the number of machines to
      be procured. GAO estimates increases in staffing costs alone due to
      doubling the number of AITs that TSA plans to deploy could add up to
      $2.4 billion over its expected service life. While GAO recognizes that
      TSA is attempting to address a vulnerability exposed by the December
      2009 attempted attack, a cost-benefit analysis is important as it would
      help inform TSA’s judgment about the optimal deployment strategy for the
      AITs, and how best to address this vulnerability considering all
      elements of the screening system.”

    2. “Never have I read detailed and reasoned suggestions of what the alternative could be or should be.”

      Then perhaps you haven’t been reading as long as you say you have, because we have presented “detailed and reasoned suggestions” — backed by empirical evidence, statistical analysis, risk assessment, historical fact, logic, and security expertise — countless times.

  10. Boston TSA has a cancer cluster right now. The TSA unions will be the ones to help stop these scanners. I could care less if ignorant Americans get cancer from the scanners. It is too bad their children will get cancer also.

  11. Things can’t get much worse? But 137 (87 percent) people voted that they believe things will get worse.

    I believe the TSA will continue to proceed from one outrageous atrocity to the next until the American public finally becomes more frightened of the TSA than the terrorists.

    And since the government does such an excellent job of fostering hysteria about terrorism, that may take a very long time indeed. I suspect many Americans will ultimately die from a result of TSA/DHS abuse before this happens.

    It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed by these thugs. Possibilities: cancer from radiation, being deprived of insulin or other life sustaining medications, heart attacks from the stress of being assaulted/molested/humiliated by TSOs, being shot by a trigger-happy DHS agent storming onto an airplane because brown people are using the restroom, a plane load of people being shot out of the air by fighter jets tailing planes after brown people use the restroom. I’m sure there are endless other possibilities where the incompetence and abuse of TSA/DHS could cause the death of innocent Americans.

    1. We already know that the TSA is killing people. Scientists (ACTUAL scientists, not the fake-science-for-hire employed by the TSA) have stated that up to 100 airline passengers each year WILL get cancer from the machines. That’s 100 times more people than have been killed by terrorists on American soil since 9/11.

  12. TSA is just a jobs program creating an illusion of airline security. After nearly a trillion dollars over ten years they can’t cite one real success. Meanwhile 60% of the freight in the cargo hold gets on unscreened, half of that is from foreign shippers, but they often confiscate passenger property that their website says is allowed.

    Add to that there have been 59 TSA screeners arrested for serious crimes in the first ten months of this year, including two in September for rape and murder. Of these, ten have been charged with sex crimes involving children. They can’t prevent crime within their own ranks, but we’re supposed to trust these deviants with airport security.
    Pistole has failed miserably in managing this agency and he and TSA needs to be replaced with something that actually works.

    TSA Crimes & Abuse

    1. Agreed on all points but with a quibble: we haven’t spent a trillion dollars over 10 years on TSA.  Chris’s article mentions a range from about 1 billion to 8 billion over the past ten years, so it’s something less than 80 billion dollars that we spent on TSA. 

      Still, we should never have spent even one cent to pay a child pornography enthusiast to look at naked children at the airport.  We should never have spent even one dollar to pay a child rapist to lay his hands on the genitals of innocent children at the airport.  These actions constitute assault, not security, even when the perpetrator isn’t guilty of other crimes.  John Pistole deserves serious jail time for this.

  13. Chris, I like the thoughtfulness embodied in your article about the TSA.  My family does not fly as often these days, partly due to the potentially abusive behavior of the TSA.  Might I suggest the acronym – Terrorist-State Apparatus?

    LeeAnne Clark, good for you to speak up for your political viewpoint, AND stay out of the mud…

  14. tsa refusing entry ORD T3 F security to passenger with non-US govmt issued pic ID -Got the above from a road-warrior friend. This was a foreign national with a non-passport gov’t ID traveling domestically (US)

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