Media continue to pamper the TSA

The more you read, the less you know.

News coverage of the Transportation “Security” Administration routinely accepts premises that are ridiculously exaggerated, breathlessly framing stories around falsehoods and fantasies.

And here we go again, with a story in the Tampa Tribune about the legal travails of TSA officers who are suing the agency over its supposedly unfair employment practices. Here’s how senior military affairs writer Howard Altman introduces his protagonist:

For four years, Angnel Blanco was a top employee with the Transportation Security Administration at Orlando International Airport.

She earned accolades as a behavior detection officer, using agency techniques developed by the Israelis to help locate illegal drugs and keep passengers safe.

Almost every word of that second sentence is false. The TSA has no formal role — none — that requires or allows it to “help locate illegal drugs.” Its function at the airport is to keep weapons and terrorists off of airplanes, full stop. TSA smurfs aren’t cops. They aren’t sort-of cops. They have no law enforcement authority. And they work for an agency that doesn’t exist for the purpose of being any kind of junior drug enforcement agency at all.

Judges have thrown out cases that resulted from TSA searches that turned up drugs and cash, ruling that the agency has no authority to conduct that kind of search (though they continue to flout the law and do it anyway). To the extent that the TSA has a role in illegal drug trafficking, their officers tend to be on the other side. The TSA’s “behavior detection officers” cannot lawfully be trained to “help locate drugs,” because they have no legal authority to do so.

Nor are the TSA’s pathetic behavior detection workers engaged in techniques “developed by the Israelis.” Israeli airport security is radically more invasive than the U.S. model, and is far more targeted on religion and ethnicity. Israeli security officials have rolled their eyes at the comparison, and with good reason.

As for the effectiveness of those eagle-eyed behavior detection officers, the Government Accountability Office found that TSA-trained BDOs’ ability to detect suspicious or evasive behavior is “the same as or slightly better than chance.” They are unambiguously worthless, which we’ve been pointing out for years. And years.

In just one sentence, then, a news report about the TSA is flatly wrong in at least three different ways.

Reporters, this is pretty simple: Those who work for the TSA like to tell dramatic stories about themselves. Trained by the Israelis! Standing on the front lines of the war on terrorism! Catching terrorists and drug dealers! Those stories are false, stupid, and pathetic. You should stop the practice of credulously typing them up as if they were in any way true.