Friday, October 10, 2014

Getting rid of the TSA is long overdue

Getting rid of the TSA is long overdue:

  • Created weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Transportation Security Administration has become an object of scorn by countless travelers for its invasiveness and unconstitutional behavior
  • Security experts have said the TSA’s procedures are little more than ‘security theater,’ and that terrorists will simply find softer targets than airliners to attack
  • More and more airports are considering using cheaper, more efficient private screeners who provide the same level of security
No federal agency is more maligned than the Transportation Security Administration. Unpopular from the outset, the TSA has developed a much-deserved reputation for ineptitude, invasiveness, and aggressive violations of what once were bona fide “can’t cross this line” constitutional rights to privacy. Sure, the 9/11 attacks, having been launched through airports and involving commercial airliners as guided missiles, left most Americans feeling eerily vulnerable. Something had to be done to shore up airport security; the TSA was Uncle Sam’s answer.

More than a decade and thousands of inappropriate pat downs later, there have been no new attempts by terrorists to take over commercial jets, all of which have been hardened, making it next to impossible to get into the pilot’s area, and which are often inhabited by armed sky marshals. The TSA, much as it would like to, cannot take most of the credit for that; in fact, in a 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office, researchers concluded that a $1 billion effort to bolster TSA’s screening process has been a miserable (and expensive) failure:

“TSA has yet to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of the program despite spending about $900 million on it since 2007,” said Steve Lord, who directed the investigation for the GAO. He added that the screening program – called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques – “is viewed as a key layer of aviation security.”

The TSA has a history of failing to live up to expectations. By 2011, the U.S. government had spent an enormous amount of money – $1.1 trillion – on “homeland security,” Vanity Fair reported:

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.
Bruce Schneier, one of the TSA’s most vociferous critics, believes that nothing the security agency has done has boosted the safety of airline travel. “The only useful airport security measures since 9/11,” he told Vanity Fair, “were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching”—ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them —“and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”

Schneier says the money spent on the TSA and airport security in general is akin to focusing on a few specific threats – threats that can change easily and quickly, because terrorists will simply find easier targets.

“You spend billions of dollars on the airports and force the terrorists to spend an extra $30 on gas to drive to a hotel or casino and attack it,” Schneier says. “Congratulations!”

Adds Vanity Fair:

Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs.
While there is some value in appearances (most Americans who fly would probably agree that too much TSA is better than nothing) there are alternatives, and airports more and more are utilizing them.

The Daily Signal reported recently that Orlando (Florida) Sanford International Airport just became the 19th commercial airport to drop the TSA for a private airport security contractor (like airports used to have pre-9/11):

SFB just joined the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program (SPP) that allows airports to replace TSA screeners with more flexible and cost-effective screening services provided by private companies and overseen by the TSA. While this may seem strange to many Americans who have grown accustomed to TSA-manned checkpoints, it really isn’t abnormal for airports to manage their own security with government regulation and oversight. After all, most European airports are run this way, and now 19 airports in the U.S. are as well.
The trend toward private airport security contractors has quickened in recent years amid rising passenger complaints about overly invasive TSA checkpoint procedures. And as that trend has quickened, the TSA – which much approve applications from airports – has stiffened resistance. In 2011, the agency stopped all approval of SPP applications, but in 2012 Congress acted to reverse the TSA’s policy of refusal. Now the agency simply slow-rolls applications; Orlando applied for private screeners more than two years ago.

There are more than 52,000 TSA employees nationwide; the agency spends nearly $10 billion a year to provide “security” against a threat – airline seizure – that is now so remote as to be nearly impossible to statistically estimate. Private security firms can do the job just as well, providing equal levels of security more efficiently and at less cost to travelers. It’s time to give taxpayers – and fliers – a break and get rid of the Transportation Security Administration – a bad idea that only gets worse as time passes.

Should more airports begin applying to use private security firms? Or do you think only Uncle Sam’s screeners are good enough to stop the next airborne terrorist attack? What do YOU think the chances are that terrorists will try to hijack U.S. planes again? TELL us!

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