Airport Insecurity

The TSA finds itself in a staggering bureaucratic mess.

report revealing that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) "rushed to install" the highly vaunted full-body scanners in the nation's airports despite the reality that officials have known for years that the machines were incapable of stopping a terrorist wearing an "underwear" bomb.

The 21-page report titled "Airport Insecurity" sheds a lot of light on the kind of bureaucratic waste, inefficiency and arrogance that has become a hallmark of the Obama administration in general, and the TSA in particular. Among its key findings were "Major TSA Procurement and Deployment Failures," including a $30 million expenditure to procure 207 "puffers" that ostensibly detect explosives -- only to discover after the fact that they did not do so in an "operational environment," even as they were "ignoring internal procedures designed to prevent this type of waste."

Lesson learned? "Failing to learn from its failed procurement of 'puffers,' and in the wake of  the Christmas Day Bomber, TSA rushed to install 500 Advanced Imaging Technology devices, without clear evidence of effectiveness, at a cost of more than $122 million," the report reads. The agency also employed Advanced Imaging Technology Devices despite a Government Accountability Office GAO report noting that it remained "unclear" as to whether or not "the AIT would have been able to detect the weapon Mr. Abdulmutallab used in his attempted attack" on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas 2009.

Despite these concerns, the TSA acquired another 378 and still has plans to buy nearly 1,000 more in the next two years--despite the fact that studies dating back to 2010 revealed the scanners did not work as advertised. "GAO has estimated increases in staffing costs alone, due to doubling the number of AITs  that TSA plans to deploy, could add up to $2.4 billion over the expected service life of the AITs," says the report.

It also accused the TSA of "failing to deploy in-line Explosive Detection Systems in a cost-effective and risk-based manner." EDS technology is used to screen baggage, and the report indicates that their successful deployment could reduce the number of required baggage screeners "by as much as 78%"  Reality check? "However, despite the potential security and economic benefits of in-line baggage screening, GAO found that TSA is struggling to upgrade its deployed fleet of checked baggage-screening machines and that some of TSA’s deployed machines are detecting explosives at standards promulgated in 1998." In other words, like any other bloated government bureaucracy, the TSA is taking its time in order to keep as many unnecessary workers on the government payroll as long as possible.

Yet inefficiency is only part of the problem, as the lengthy title of another critical section in the report reveals. "TSA Intentionally Delayed Congressional Oversight of the Transportation Logistics Center and Provided Inaccurate, Incomplete, and Potentially Misleading Information to Congress in Order to Conceal the Agency’s Continued Mismanagement of Warehouse Operations," it reads. The report contends that the TSA's willful delays, including a failed attempt to hide the disposal of approximately 1,300 pieces of equipment, even as the agency knowingly provided inaccurate warehouse inventory reports to congressional staff during an investigative visit, could amount to a violation of the law.

Members of Congress were not amused. "TSA continues to demonstrate its penchant for bungling aviation security and wasting taxpayers’ money," said T&I Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL). "The CIA uncovered terrorists’ latest modified underwear bomb plot, but TSA has repeatedly failed to effectively procure and deploy screening equipment that actually detects threats, and incredible amounts of its state-of-the-art technology is gathering dust in Texas warehouses. Significant reform is necessary to transform this bloated and inefficient bureaucracy into the effective security agency it needs to be.”

OGR Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) echoed that sentiment. “Money spent on equipment sitting in a warehouse in excess is money not spent on the front lines," he said. “Systematic flaws in the procurement and deployment systems at TSA continue to plague the agency. These flaws are exacerbated by a management structure that seems content to throw millions of dollars at untested solutions that are bought in excess and poorly deployed and managed. This is not a security operation, but rather a recipe for waste and abuse.”

Waste and abuse are key elements here. A Huffington Post report on the latest attempt by al-Qaida to get another underwear bomb aboard a jet included a rather revealing email from former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. Chertoff contended that it is "too soon to tell how technically advanced [the] new device is. Imaging will pick up anomalies below clothing but [the U.S. government] has to analyze [the] device before adjusting protocols."

Why is that email revealing? Because in 2010, Chertoff's consulting firm, the Chertoff Group, began representing OSI Systems, one of two companies licensed to sell full-body scanners to the TSA. OSI makes a machine called Rapiscan, 300 of which were sold to the TSA in wake of Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up a jet using an underwear bomb. Shortly after that attempt, Chertoff was lobbying for stronger airport screening procedures on ABC's "World News Tonight," "Fox and Friends," CNBC's "Squawk Box" and Bloomberg TV. He also wrote an editorial in the Washington Post one week after the incident contending that the Obama administration "must stand firm against privacy ideologues, for whom every security measure is unacceptable"--even as he failed to mention he was promoting the same technology he was getting paid to promote.

Thus, it is hardly a surprise that Mr. Chertoff wants more government analysis of existing procedures before protocols are "adjusted."

The American public? Hardly a week goes by without another outrage foisted upon Americans by an over-bearing TSA. Fort Lauderdale, Florida was the location of the latest TSA absurdity. On Tuesday an 18-month old child was ordered off a Jet Blue flight because she was tagged as a "no fly" passenger. Such over-bearing nonsense is amplified by the revelation that the latest version of an underwear bomb confiscated by a CIA double-agent in Yemen "would not have been caught by the TSA’s most conscientious human screeners or its highest-tech fullbody scanners," according to experts who relayed that information to the NY Post. “They would not have gotten him," added a top law-enforcement official. Another official was equally blunt. “Frankly, the caliber of the screeners is not that good. It’s kind of hit or miss,” the source said. “The equipment is wonderful--but it isn’t bulletproof.”

Apparently Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano didn't get the proverbial memo. “There is a high likelihood that [the bomb] would have been detected had he boarded a flight in the United States," she contended, even as she failed to address the likelihood of detection on flights that originated abroad.

The only realistic alternative to the current technology? Bomb-sniffing dogs, say the experts. Yet they are currently considered impractical to use at large, crowded airports. Compared to what? Inefficient and expensive technology? TSA employees who stealgrope genitalia, or miss detecting bombs and other weapons slipped past security by government agents testing TSA efficiency--or those taken aboard planes by actual passengers?

The entire rationale behind airport security is to stay one step ahead of the terrorists. This report reveals that the TSA, with its one-two combination of inefficient technology and a workforces besieged by the inevitable torpor that attends federal bureaucracy, is two steps behind.

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