Airline passengers, not federal airport security personnel or equipment, have kept the millions of daily flyers safe from terrorist plots.
That’s one of the central conclusions of a Congressional report charging that the nearly $57 billion spent for transportation security has failed to make passengers and baggage more secure.
The failures of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are detailed in a combined report by two committees of the House of Representatives.
“TSA staff has grown from approximately 16,500 in 2001, to over 65,000 today, a near-400 percent increase….In the same amount of time, total passenger enplanements in the U.S. have increased less than 12 percent. TSA‘s massive Washington headquarters supports 3,986 administrative personnel earning on average $103,852 per year. In addition, the agency continues to support an army of 9,656 administrative field staff, on top of the security officers who actually conduct the physical screening.
“TSA must get out of the human resources business and direct its energy and resources towards securing the American public,” the report said firmly.
With 65,000 employees, the report said, TSA is larger in personnel than the Departments of Labor, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the State Department combined.
For the 457 airports where TSA operates, an average of 60 administrative people are at each airport.
Although we are safer now than ten years ago, this is largely because of “the vigilance of American citizens and passengers, the actions of flight crews, and armed pilots, the addition of hardened cockpit doors, and the assistance of foreign intelligence agencies,” stated Rep. John Mica (R-FL) chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“TSA was envisioned and sold to the American people as a proactive agency that would strategically deploy the latest technology and cutting-edge tactics to protect travelers,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Despite these high ambitions, the agency has become a backwards-looking dinosaur that seeks employees through pizza box advertising and struggles to detect actual terrorist threats. TSA needs a vision and purpose that goes beyond throwing expensive equipment and invasive searches at passengers who do not pose a security threat.”
TSA’s focus on guns and knives is misplaced, the report pointed out. “The primary threat is no longer hijacking, but explosives designed to take down an aircraft, said the report released Nov. 16. “Fewer that half of the largest 35 airports have explosive detection equipment.”
TSA now is more concerned with human resource management and consolidating power and acting reactively instead of proactively,” the report declared. Moreover, the incorporation of TSA into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has shrunk its status, making it “a tangential and inert unit within DHS’s massive structure.”
The report also addresses the inept attempt by TSA to screen airline passengers according to detection of behavior—mainly by trying to spot signs of stress or fear in a passenger. TSA has spent more than $800 million on screening passengers since 2007 by “observation techniques” and it says it needs another $1.2 billion over the next five years, according to committee data.
“Thus far, this program has been one of TSA’s largest failures,” the report maintained, citing inadequate scientific evidence that the technique works and especially the fact that known terrorists have been undetected in airports using the screening of passengers by observational technique, known as (SPOT).
The report said the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found 17 known terrorists traveled on 24 occasions through security at eight airports. Not one terrorist had been caught by the SPOT program, it added.
More than 25,000 security breaches have occurred in the past decade, according to the congressional report, as a result of the obviously inefficient measures taken by TSA. The report also said that although “two billion passengers had passed through airports between 2004 nd 2008, only 1,100 persons were arrested—none on terrorist charges.”
Members “are currently proposing new legislation to reform TSA,” Rep. Mica said.
“TSA must develop an expedited screening program using biometric credentials [Biometric identification uses a physical human characteristic such as a person’s fingerprint, voice pattern or retina images for identity verification] that would allow TSA to positively identify trusted passengers and crew members so that the agency can prioritize its screening resources based on risk.
“TSA will never be able to function as a truly risk-based organization until the agency can differentiate between passengers based on levels of risk,” the report concluded.
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