TSA Fail: FBI guy explains why TSA is useless

by Amy Alkon on February 16, 2012

Great blog item at GManCaseFile. An excerpt:

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.

His idea of effective screening is random screening:

Approximately 80% fewer screeners needed, complete unpredictability of the likelihood of a search, and extremely effective searches of those, say 10%, selected. It would not reduce by 1% Al Qaeda’s belief that they could get through screening with a weapon. A 1-in-10 chance of a full search is too much of a risk for Al Qaeda. They do not plan their attacks on the “Well, it’s got a decent chance” method. They require a sure thing. Putting explosives in a shoe and depending on a 10% chance of failure are odds they will not accept. So rather than ineffective (yet incredibly intrusive) screening of 100% of the passengers, there should be highly effective screening of an unpredictable 10% with a reduced screening requirement for the other 90%, say a magnetometer and bag X-ray, allowing people to wear their shoes, belts and pacemakers through screening.

And check out what congressional investigators said:

“Today, TSA’s screening policies are based in theatrics. They are typical, bureaucratic responses to failed security policies meant to assuage the concerns of the traveling public.” Translation? TSA doesn’t know what it’s doing, but is trying to put on a good show to keep the traveling public from catching on. The report, entitled, “”A Decade Later: A Call for TSA Reform” sharply criticized the agency, accusing it of incompetent management. Former DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner dropped this bomb, “The ability of TSA screeners to stop prohibited items from being carried through the sterile areas of the airports fared no better than the performance of screeners prior to September 11, 2001.”

Frankly, the professional experience I have had with TSA has frightened me. Once, when approaching screening for a flight on official FBI business, I showed my badge as I had done for decades in order to bypass screening. (You can be envious, but remember, I was one less person in line.) I was asked for my form which showed that I was armed. I was unarmed on this flight because my ultimate destination was a foreign country. I was told, “Then you have to be screened.” This logic startled me, so I asked, “If I tell you I have a high-powered weapon, you will let me bypass screening, but if I tell you I’m unarmed, then I have to be screened?” The answer? “Yes. Exactly.” Another time, I was bypassing screening (again on official FBI business) with my .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, and a TSA officer noticed the clip of my pocket knife. “You can’t bring a knife on board,” he said. I looked at him incredulously and asked, “The semi-automatic pistol is okay, but you don’t trust me with a knife?” His response was equal parts predictable and frightening, “But knives are not allowed on the planes.”

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