TSA – America’s Maginot Line

by Bill Fisher on October 16, 2012


After being invaded by Germany in World War I, France embarked on an ambitious and expensive project intended to prevent a future attack on its northern border. The series of fortifications was termed the Maginot Line in honor of French Minister of War André Maginot.

Unfortunately for the French, German generals in World War II failed to see this series of outposts as an obstacle and flanked the line by first invading Belgium and entering France via the Ardennes Forest. The Maginot Line was a colossal strategic failure. It has since become synonymous with foolishly ineffective strategies based on hindsight and “feel good” defenses.

It is said that history repeats itself, and such is the case in America’s response to 9/11. Much like the Maginot Line, the U.S. responded to the “last threat” and immediately created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to replace the local airport security.

This new bureaucracy offered little benefit, since most of the screeners in the newly formed TSA were the same ones who were in place before 9/11. It was largely a case of government needing to “do something” and to make travelers “feel” safer, even if in reality nothing had changed.

Fast forward ten years. The TSA has morphed into an oversized and cumbersome agency made up of almost 60,000 largely unskilled, poorly educated workers. The agency has not improved security beyond the “feel safe” status of 2002, and its incessant blunders and increasingly offensive behavior have made it a lightning rod of public and Congressional criticism.

Passengers in the U.S. continue to shuffle barefoot through longer and more hostile security lines, waiting to be scanned, swabbed, groped, and berated, while U.S.-bound planes are being cleared by airport workers with far less harassment and scrutiny.

Despite frequent public misconception, there is nothing the TSA can do to prevent the hijacking of a foreigner carrier originating outside the U.S. Passengers will be screened at Customs on arrival but only after they have flown through U.S airspace and over major cities.

In a recent example, a man entered the U.S from South Korea carrying a smoke grenade, which, while not inherently dangerous, demonstrates the lack of consistency and coordination in security practices for planes flying over U.S. cities. The TSA claims to require that foreign airports meet American standards for U.S.-bound flights, but in reality the TSA has no control over them. While the Korean Airlines flight was airborne nearly ten hours before reaching U.S. shores, allowing time for a plot to be discovered, many can reach U.S. airspace in just a few hours.

In a troubling report in June, three airport police officers were killed in an airport shootout with drug dealers in Mexico City. This resulted in the replacement of all 348 police officers at the airport after the investigation revealed that the three federal policemen were killed by fellow officers involved in drug trafficking through the terminal.

Police are responsible for airport security in Mexico, and many are corrupt or involved with the drug cartels. The breadth of corruption that led to the replacement of 348 officers is startling and belies a more ominous risk. It’s folly to think that Mexico City International is unique or that smuggling has been eradicated in all Mexican airports anymore than it has in American airports.

Aeromexico operates dozens of flights to U.S. destinations daily, some within less than three hours of their those destinations. One example, Aeromexico flight AM472, is within two-and-a-half hours of Houston, equivalent to a flight from New York to Atlanta. By enlisting the aid of a corrupt police officer, a terrorist could easily load explosives or weapons instead of drugs aboard a U.S.-bound flight.

This year alone two Arizona Department of Corrections officers and a border patrol agent were apprehended for smuggling drugs. A TSA agent also pleaded guilty to helping the cartel launder money and get past airport security.

In the past two years there have been eight TSA screeners arrested for drug smuggling through airport security: two in Atlanta, four at LAX, one in Hawaii, and one in Buffalo. Once compromised, any one of these TSA screeners could have been responsible for allowing explosives aboard a domestic flight, either knowingly or unwittingly.

Airport security practices around the world vary widely. It is foolhardy to suppose that the TSA or any other airport-based security agency can do anything to stop a determined terrorist. For countermeasures to be effective, threats must be intercepted far in advance of execution, not at the doorstep of the intended target.

The TSA, like the French generals, is fighting “the last war.” The French weren’t successful, and neither is the TSA.

As the by now old saw goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.” The same can be said for the TSA.

It’s time to stop the insanity.

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Jane Belinda Smith)

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