Monday, November 15, 2010

TSA - The $7 Billion Dog and Pony Show

In accordance with the very understandable public backlash against the increasingly intrusive actions of the bullies of the TSA, I will be posting a series of short commentaries I made about 11 months ago, following the attempted ‘Christmas Day’ “Fruit of Kaboom” (to quote Rush) Bomber.  This agency is a laughingstock at best; a criminal-enabler, leech of economic activity at worst.
Each and every time our TSA (and associated international screening processes and intelligence procedures) fail, we, the traveling populace and the airline industry suffers the highly-predictable outrageous overreaction by the TSA.  Can someone tell me how reactive measures defend against future attacks?  They of course do not.  So, with this preamble, here is part one of this series:
I had to choke back laughter when I read the December 11 issue of the online Weekly Homeland Security Newsletter.  Here it was about two weeks before the Secretary of Homeland Security stated the “system worked” when the Christmas Day bomb plot of the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was narrowly averted by the heroics of a foreign citizen; and she appears on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report (Chunovic 2009).  How richly ironic.

In a far more serious matter of irony, Wired Magazine reported on the same day that the FBI provided testimony to the US Senate that their “Terrorist Screening Center” received 55,000 reports of “encounters” with suspected terrorists; 19,000 of which matched information contained on several lists.  A component of this number is the no-fly list, containing roughly 4,300 names (Zetter 2009).  How frighteningly ironic.

This tragic comedy highlights the continuing problems the US government continues to face in dealing with ‘homeland security.’  To echo Napolitano’s 28 December retraction, the system clearly does not work (National Public Radio 2009).  Just this past week, the current administration added “dozens” of names to the no-fly list from the appropriately bureaucratically named “Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment List,” on which the underwear-bomber’s name had resided (Weisman 2010).  This step is yet another Band-Aid applied to a far more serious wound.

In my opinion, if the goal of the terrorists is “to intimidate or coerce, [especially] for political purposes,” then the terrorists are winning ( 2010).  The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration (how appropriate that their title contains the word administration; a word that has become synonymous for bureaucratic, paper-shuffling incompetence) will most likely continue to implement changes in the security screening process that will further exacerbate the huge inconvenience that is commercial flight today.  I really wish someone would conduct a study of how much economic activity, measured quantitatively, is stifled because of these airport security rules.  When applied non-discriminatingly as they are currently practiced, it can only be mind-blowing.  What the future holds, I can only say I plan to travel by car.

The only way to logically approach this threat, is to abolish the TSA, re-privatize the airline security industry (where the profit motive still works wonders and where the possibility of your paying customers being killed in terrorist events is an even greater incentive) and give a far more liberal reign to these security personnel.  We should enable them to use common sense, judgment, bias, incorporate lessons learned from their counterparts in Israel.  Only then will I feel safer.  True, if implemented, some perfectly innocent middle-age Muslim males will be subjected to secondary screening, but it is a far cry from the current practice of subjecting 100% of travelers to the same undignified treatment.


Chunovic, Louis. "If she’s here, who’s securing the homeland?’." Government Security News Magazine. December 9, 2009. (accessed January 5, 2010). ""Terrorism"." January 5, 2010. (accessed January 5, 2010).
National Public Radio. "Al-Qaida Group Claims Responsibility In Foiled Attack." NPR. December 28, 2009. (accessed January 5, 2010).
Weisman, Jonathan and Perez, Evan. "Dozens of Names Shifted to No-Fly List." The Wall Street Journal. January 5, 2010. (accessed January 5, 2010).
Zetter, Kim. "FBI: 19,000 Matches to Terrorist Screening List in 2009." Wired Magazine. December 9, 2009. (accessed January 5, 2010).

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