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Can We Please Admit the TSA Is a Failure?

Does This Make You Cringe?

Yet another scathing review of the TSA’s methodology and general ineffectiveness. Originally pointed to this article by Adam Savage (of MythBusters fame) via Twitter. This post is from a former FBI agent and someone familiar with the air travel industry. Here is a piece of his critique:

TILTING AT WINDMILLS
The entire TSA paradigm is flawed. It requires an impossibility for it to succeed. For the TSA model to work, every single possible means of causing danger to an aircraft or its passengers must be eliminated. This is an impossibility. While passengers are being frisked and digitally strip-searched a few dozen yards away, cooks and dish washers at the local concourse “Chili’s” are using and cleaning butcher knives.

While bomb-sniffing dogs are run past luggage, the beach at the departure end of LAX is largely unpatrolled, and anybody with a shoulder launched missile (you know the ones they regularly shoot down U.S. helicopters with in Afghanistan) could take out any plane of their choice. I am reticent to discuss anything further that would give anybody ideas. However, these two have had wide dissemination in the media but are by NO means the biggest threats.

I sometimes ruminate while standing in line waiting to take off my shoes, remove my belt, laptop, iPad, etc., etc., about the improvised weapons I saw in prisons and how hard they were to find. It’s fascinating what weapons prisoners can make out of plastic forks, newspapers and toothbrushes. Ask any prison guard if an inmate can make a weapon out of an everyday item, and how long it would take them.  Approximately 99% of what the average traveler carries on a plane would be considered contraband in a maximum security prison, due to the fact that it can easily be converted into a weapon. Toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks, pens, pencils, anything with wire (iPod headset), any metal object which can be sharpened, etc., etc. is a potential weapon. Carried to its logical end, TSA policy would have to require passengers to travel naked or handcuffed. (Handcuffing is the required procedure for U.S. Marshalls transporting prisoners in government aircraft.)

TSA’s de facto policy to this point has been to react to the latest thing tried by a terrorist, which is invariably something that Al Qaeda identified as a technique not addressed by current screening. While this narrows Al Qaeda’s options, their list of attack ideas remains long and they are imaginative. Therefore, if TSA continues to react to each and every new thing tried, three things are certain:

  1. Nothing Al Qaeda tries will be caught the first time because it was designed around gaps in TSA security.
  2. It is impossible to eliminate all gaps in airline security.
  3. Airline security screening based on eliminating every vulnerability will therefore fail because it is impossible. But it will by necessity become increasingly onerous and invasive on the travelers.
The rest is worth the read. I think he is right on, as I’ve said before. You can find previous comments on the TSA here, herehere, here, and here.
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