Politics & Policy

The TSA’s 95 Percent Failure Rate: Security Theater as Farce

(David McNew/Getty)

When he lamented the crimes of socialism in arms, George Orwell received the usual rejoinder, that one has to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Orwell, who was unique among the literary men of his generation, had the insight to ask the necessary question: “Where’s the omelet?”

We might ask the same thing regarding the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA, and the inconvenience, financial losses, and personal degradation associated with TSA procedures, is necessary to keep us safe, or so we are told, e.g., “Heightened TSA Security Is Necessary to Keep Us Safe” is a headline in a U.S. News and World Report over a column written by a former TSA official, Jeff Sural, who wrote:

Regardless of recent, widely publicized attacks and thwarted plots, some Americans continue to question TSA security initiatives. Our narcissistic obsession with someone viewing or getting too close to our “junk” and anecdotes of pat-downs gone bad have diverted our attention from the seriousness of this reality.

What role did the TSA have in those “thwarted plots”? None, if we are talking about 9/11-style terror attacks. In 2012, TSA global strategies chief John Halinski was asked directly whether there had been a single arrest or detention on terrorism charges creditable to the implementation of whole-body scanners. He answered that there was not. A 2010 Government Accountability (ho, ho!) Office report found that the TSA’s $200 million “SPOT” program — a behavioral-detection system involving 3,000 officers trained to detect terrorists — detected no terrorists, and that it in fact failed to detect at least 16 people later involved in terrorism cases even as they traveled through the very U.S. airports that the program was policing.

RELATED: Transportation Secrecy Administration: Agency Brass Abuses Its Authority to Hide Evidence of Wrongdoing

And on Monday, the acting chief of the TSA, Melvin Carraway, was transferred to a comfortable new sinecure (he’ll be at Homeland Security’s office of state and local law enforcement) after he successfully discovered the answer to a question that has puzzled White House watchers: What does it take to embarrass the Obama administration? In this case, it was revelations that 95 percent of explosives and weapons intentionally sent into the TSA apparatus for the purpose of testing its efficacy went undetected. Which is to say, when it comes to detecting bombs and guns, the TSA’s success rate was found to be approximately 5 percent. A chimpanzee taking the LSAT does better than that.

Jeh Johnson, secretary of homeland security, could not summon the mettle to fire Carraway — nobody gets fired for incompetence in the federal government — but he did reassign him.

RELATED: GAO Report: The TSA Wasted $900 Million of Your Money

The TSA is very little more than an employment program swelling the ranks of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The TSA is incompetent, hostile, abusive, and a den of thieves. Its agents have been charged in a range of crimes, many of them related to looting the passengers they purport to protect but also including drug smuggling and child pornography. The agency is very little more than an employment program swelling the ranks of the American Federation of Government Employees, a sure source of Democratic political donations (more than $5 million in recent years; it is the 29th largest single donor in the country), and a platform for patronage.

We could do the traveling public a great service — not only in terms of their convenience and the security of their property but also in terms of actual flight security — by adopting a two-step reform. One: Make airlines corporately responsible for the security of their passengers. Two: Put the airlines themselves in charge of screening.

RELATED: Where Have All the Air Marshals Gone? TSA Is Driving Them Away en Masse

Air travel in the United States is a nightmare, from the hours of bristling hostility that travelers must endure at international points of entry such as John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City to the delays and invasions imposed by the TSA, whose practices are, to make things even worse, significantly different from airport to airport. From porno-scanners to conspiracy to grope, the low-rent theater that we are all expected to pretend is a security procedure reduces Americans to the condition of livestock. And for what? A 5 percent success rate when it comes to detecting actual threats?

Where’s the omelet?

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.

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