National Security

The Continuing Tale of Incompetency and Failure in the TSA

An undercover investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security discovered that TSA checkpoints fail to detect threats more than seventy percent of the time. This isn’t a new discovery.

Whether it has been the rampant drug abuse among TSA agents, TSA agents committing crimes while performing their duties,  or the total failure of TSA agents to even do their jobs at the most basic level, the fact that the Transportation Security Administration is derelict in performing their duties is not new news.  However, the results of an undercover operation performed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed that most TSA screening at airports completely fail to detect weapons.

During testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, it was revealed that undercover DHS agents were able to get through checkpoints with mock knives, guns, and explosives seventy percent of the time.  The information was delivered to the Committee at a classified briefing, but was revealed to the public in a hearing open to the media.

The specifics of the findings remain classified and it is unknown what the eight recommendations to the TSA consisted of.  Two years ago, it was reported that the DHS had conducted a similar investigation and 95 percent of weapons and explosives made their way through security checkpoint measures designed specifically to stop those threats.

What the findings of the investigation into TSA checkpoints tell us is that neither the equipment nor the processes in use are effective.

Despite this dismal track record, Representative Bill Keating tried to make excuses for the TSA by claiming “We have the technology and resources to do it, but we’re not doing it because…we’re paying for a wall.”  However, the TSA’s track record shows that the problems were endemic long before President Trump was sworn into office.

Reacting to the testimony, TSA Administrator David Pekoske say that “We take the OIG’s findings very seriously and are implementing measures that will improve screening effectiveness at checkpoints.” At the Committee hearing, Representative Mike Rogers told the former Coast Guard Vice Admiral that “This agency that you run is broken badly and it needs your attention.”  Peskoske took over running the TSA in August of this year and in September he said that some of his priorities were validating equipment put in place enhanced security and speeding up passengers movement through checkpoints.

During a visit to the Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport, the head of the TSA stated: “Every time I visit a checkpoint, I learn a little bit more about what the processes are that we use.”

What the findings of the investigation into TSA checkpoints tell us is that neither the equipment nor the processes in use are effective. The current model is focused on detecting low probability events with expensive equipment that is completely ineffective.  Simple metal detectors and bag x-rays would yield the same results, at a much lower price point.

If the government is truly interested in investing in the best security personnel and cutting-edge technology, it is time to seriously consider privatization of airport security.  The terror attacks of September 11th happened sixteen years ago and the United States airport security is nowhere near the levels that are seen in Europe.

Government bureaucracy will never be able to react effectively to the rapidly changing threats of modern terrorism, nor does government structure incentivize superior performance or punish the subpar.

Chris Erickson

Chris Erickson is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier. He spent over 10 years in the Army and performed multiple combat deployments, as well as various global training missions throughout the world. He is still active in the veteran community and currently works in the communications industry. Follow him @EricksonPrime on Twitter.

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