Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TSA Blows Off Congressional Hearing on Why They Suck

Posted by on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 9:40 AM

A House Committee is apparently taking the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to task for routinely fucking up its job to keep America's skies safe:

No one would argue that the T.S.A. should not be held closely accountable. There have been too many problems. Since the agency was created in the aftermath of Sept. 11, this column has regularly reported on many of them, like the outrage that began in 2004 over charges that some screeners were groping female travelers. More recently, the agency faced questions about its decision to replace metal detectors with those whole-body image machines, which the T.S.A. still has not adequately defended against claims that they are personally invasive, arguably unsafe and ultimately not as reliable as good old metal detectors.

On the other hand, the hearing last Thursday seemed to have an agenda, which was that the T.S.A. should be replaced by private security companies — you know, like the ones that were accused of hiring poorly trained, underpaid screeners at airports before Sept. 11 brought a somewhat more intense focus to checkpoint security.

I'm no security expert but I suspect that replacing one terrible system with another won't fix the clubfoot ballet that is our airport security system. For instance, I've inadvertently flown with a canister of pepper spray in my bag on two separate trips in the last month without being flagged by TSA, so clearly their security still has gaping holes to fill.

Pepper spray vs eye drops. Its all going to the same place
  • The Stranger
  • Pepper spray vs eye drops. It's all going to the same place
The pepper spray was an unintentional oversight on my part—it lives in my purse and I tend to forget it's there until I'm walking around alone after dark in Seattle (meaning after 4:00 pm), when it keeps my hand warm.

Nevertheless, I've gone through four TSA checkpoints in the last month and apparently the hawk eyes manning our x-ray airport machines haven't caught it. Neither did the man who searched my purse on one flight out of SEATAC—he was after the 1/3 fluid-ounce bottle of eye drops I'd forgotten to remove. That got me a finger wagging!

Obviously, I need to be better about checking my goddamn purse for instruments of terror (eye drops, pepper spray) before I leave my house on trips out of town. But it also handily illustrates how spot-shoddy our security system is. TSA may get more elaborate every day but that doesn't mean we're getting any safer.


Comments (32) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
"clubfoot ballet" is a lovely phrase
Posted by qafeqe on December 4, 2012 at 9:53 AM · Report this
My theory: The push to privatize the TSA by Senate Republicans is deliberately hamstringing it.

The budget contraints on the agency makes it virtually impossible to have fully trained well paid professionals. Instead it's staffed by poorly paid and poorly trained kids barely one step up from WallMart Jobs whose main function are as props in security theater.

It was set up to fail and private contracting agencies have had their knives out just waiting to slice up the rest of the agency.

Real security woud cost way more than the congressional tea baggers are willing to spend - unless those lucrative federal dollars are going to cronies and campaign donors.
Posted by tkc on December 4, 2012 at 9:58 AM · Report this
AmyC 3
Oh, man. The pepper spray. I have one of those same jobbies on my key ring and it has never OCCURRED to me to remove it/leave it at home/whatever. I bet I've flown with it 12 times. I usually put my liquids in the quart ziploc, but only take the ziploc out of my suitcase about 1/2 the time (sometimes I forget, sometimes I am lazy). When I flew last month, I returned from Las Vegas with an open, half-consumed bottle of Patron in my carryon. I assumed they'd throw it away and scold me, but nope. Didn't even notice. The TSA is a fucking joke.
Posted by AmyC on December 4, 2012 at 10:10 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 4
All the whack jobs in congress overseeing anything is a joke. Besides being the most corrupt bunch, they are also the most incompetent.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on December 4, 2012 at 10:13 AM · Report this
biffp 5
Meantime, I continue to take my shoes off for absolutely no reason, although my kids have been given a reprieve. There are just so many idiosyncracies 11+ years along. Seattle is ridiculously slow and annoying while SF and NYC are minor inconveniences.
Posted by biffp on December 4, 2012 at 10:21 AM · Report this
Max Solomon 6
@5: if you think Seattle is bad, you should try a small city airport like bozeman or helena. the line isn't long, but the intrusive lengths they go to are utterly absurd.
Posted by Max Solomon on December 4, 2012 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Its my understanding that the TSA authorization bill specifically says what committed of Congress.has oversight and this one wasn't it. I actually admire them for telling this 'investigation' to stop wasting time.

Wish a few more people would tell the Darrell Issas of Congress to go fuck themselves.
Posted by BornAgainInBellevue on December 4, 2012 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 8
Omaha's TSA is hardcore. I always refuse to go through that new X-ray thingy (mostly because I kind of like getting groped) and they get really angry and put-out about it. Since I am a stubborn, passive-aggresive northwesterner, that makes me more determined to get my grope. They delay, and hem and haw and repeatedly point out that if I would JUST GO THROUGH THE MACHINE, I could be on my way, but I won't have it. Therefore, I make it a point to arrive at least two hours early when flying out of there.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on December 4, 2012 at 11:04 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 9
We need do-nothing organization like the TSA because actual security is based upon profiling (not race-based however), and as a country, we have decided that the risk of people dying is worth it as long as we avoid maybe hurting someone's feelings. And of course, you have to have someone in a uniform making people feel better.

Israel's airport security is essentially the best in the world, and they do none of this TSA-style bullshit. It is bascially all profiling and observation. By their own admission, the TSA security procedures have not foiled any terrorist plots. Passenger and crew observation have stopped several.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on December 4, 2012 at 11:06 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
I was a security expert.

The TSA is a farce.

Time to pull the plug.

We got Bin Laden - Let's Get Our Freedoms Back!
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 4, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Report this
I completely agree that the TSA needs some new management capabilities to be more effective. But I think the main weapon they use on people is deterrence. There's a far less chance of someone bringing anything through security now than there has been before. This vitriol against them is pretty surprising.

I've accidentally left bottled water in my bag (always gotten caught and thrown away), and once left a utility knife in accidentally (also got caught and thrown away). Obviously, I'm sure there are incidents (and PLENTY of them) where people get through security with Patron or pepper spray and even guns, as in Montana. Statistically, I'm curious as to how much they catch vs miss (impossible to determine though). I do bet it is a function of location, though... some airport workers are more attentive than others. This needs to be addressed.

And the gropers... well, there are perverts in every profession, unfortunately. We don't get angry at all teachers and priests because there are some that abuse their positions. We just have to get them out of that position immediately, and work towards being selective in employees (though it could never be foolproof).

In short, the TSA needs better organization and decision making, but to say they suck overall because there have been lapses is an overstatement. I, for one, feel safer with the precautions they have.
Posted by Pav on December 4, 2012 at 11:15 AM · Report this
Just remember, if you find yourself flying about the country carrying pepper spray, that even if you leave out the whole "flying" bit and the TSA, the pepper spray could itself be illegal in some jurisdictions. You can't have pepper spray without a license in Massachusetts, and I suspect there are other similar laws in some other places.
Posted by Warren Terra on December 4, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Report this
CMRz 13
In Chattanooga they just asked me if I had weapons on me and I said "no."
Posted by CMRz on December 4, 2012 at 11:19 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 14
I was serious when I said I enjoy getting groped. At my age, you have to get your kicks where you can find them. And one time I did run across a real perv in the TSA line at SeaTac. It was like something out of an early John Waters film.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on December 4, 2012 at 11:21 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 15

Israel does racial profiling.
Posted by keshmeshi on December 4, 2012 at 11:22 AM · Report this
agdtinman 16
Last time through SEA-TAC, getting my Opt Out pat down, the screener actually had the balls to ask me who I voted for in the last election.
Posted by agdtinman on December 4, 2012 at 11:26 AM · Report this
Simone 17
I've never had problems with my eye drops. I've also never removed my small carry-on liquids (eye drops, moisturizing cream, toothpaste, etc) from my backpack. They are in a plastic baggie but I've never had to remove the baggie from the backpack for the screening machine.
Posted by Simone on December 4, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 18
@15: Yes, that is true, but you typically do not get any actionable data from a simple racial profile. It can be one aspect of profiling, but is is nowhere near the end-all.

I did not mean to imply that Israel does not take this route, but in America, racial profiling at airports would be essentially worthless. Too diverse a population, quite frankly.

But the fact of the matter is, profiling stops terror attacks and catches criminals, TSA style security theater does not.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on December 4, 2012 at 11:45 AM · Report this
I've always been nervous in the long lines for security, particularly at JFK, because in my mind a suicide bomber in line would take out hundreds of people. Just hundreds, including a lot of children and a fair number of cops.
Posted by wxPDX on December 4, 2012 at 12:28 PM · Report this
gttim 20
Flew over the holidays. Went through TSA twice. Never took bottles, that were not in a clear bag, out of my backpack. Then once at the gate, a bunch of TSA folk came and set up a little screening line at the gate. They pulled a few young looking people with backpacks and hand searched their bags. I had a backpack, but was coughing like I had tuberculosis. They didn't come anywhere near me!
Posted by gttim on December 4, 2012 at 12:28 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 21

Even still. There are significant differences.

First, Israel has been victim of far more attacks at airports and on airplanes than we have (although I doubt all of their airport attacks/plane hijackings combined would add up to one 9/11).

Second, I would guess that Israel has a much more educated workforce than we do. They definitely have a workforce almost entirely made up of individuals who have already served in the armed forces.

Third, they have the political will to spend serious cash on anti-terror measures. We don't. We half-ass it by hiring minimum wage goons to work security. Do you trust a minimum wage goon to profile effectively and not just stop every passenger with dark skin?

Israel is serious enough about anti-terror measures to put armed guards in *foreign* airports. We're serious enough about anti-terror measures to put an employee fresh out of McDonald's in charge of airport security.
Posted by keshmeshi on December 4, 2012 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Scalpel 22
In actuality, our airport security system is second-to-none at detecting and stopping terrorist threats. The thing is, that system isn't at the airport itself. It consists of the nearest field offices of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and local law enforcement, who have over the last 11 years detected, investigated, and stopped every terrorist threat before the perpetrators ever arrived at the airport. They do it through the radical process of intelligence gathering and old-fashioned investigation, and in most cases do so without the racial profiling everyone wants us to copy from Israel.

The TSA hasn't actually prevented a single terrorist attack. But since their process is so inconvenient, frustrating, and emotionally traumatizing, it MUST be doing some good, right? If they're physically molesting women, children, and infants, it must be for the greater good, right?

The TSA does not make us safe, the TSA makes us FEEL safe. We could go back to the old shoes-on, X-ray-machines-only process tomorrow and be just as safe, because the real security process isn't anywhere near the airport itself.

P.S.: As it turns out, flying is already so safe that the whole terrorism threat is almost irrelevant. Statistically, let's take a fully-loaded 747 flying around someplace and blow it up, with no survivors. Do that the next day, and the next day after that, and keep blowing up a 747 someplace on the globe, once a day, forever. Even with all that carnage and loss of life, even with 365 airline tragedies a year, flying someplace would STILL be safer than driving there in a car.
Posted by Scalpel on December 4, 2012 at 1:24 PM · Report this
@21 FYI: The TSA hired experts from the IDF as consultants back in the early 2000's.
Posted by tkc on December 4, 2012 at 1:27 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 24

Posted by keshmeshi on December 4, 2012 at 1:59 PM · Report this
Knat 25
@6: Aw jeez, that means my trip back from FCA for the holidays is probably going to suuuuuuck. It might get a little awkward when I ham it up for my Freedom Grope in front of my mother.

@23: I bet if you ask him, Will in Seattle will tell you he was a security expert for the IDF. (Presumably before he invented the Internet). Actually, that's probably classified, so I bet he can't talk about it.
Posted by Knat on December 4, 2012 at 3:03 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 26
@25 no. You are correct I can't talk about it in specifics.

And yet, at the end of the day, the TSA is still a farce and can't stop 1 out of 5 "potential" terrorists.

Have fun living in your rose colored world. There is no such thing as safety.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 4, 2012 at 4:23 PM · Report this
TVDinner 27
@26: If only you were in charge, Will, you could keep us all safe with your ninja security skills.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on December 4, 2012 at 4:36 PM · Report this
Eye drops are explicitly allowed past TSA checkpoints and were never subject to the liquid ban as they are considered a medical item.

You can have a fucking gallon jug of eye drops if you want, so long as it is labeled as such.…
Posted by mayberrymachiavelli on December 4, 2012 at 4:39 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 29

I'm with Catalina Vel-DuRay. I flat refuse those new scanners. I show up 2 hours early for a flight to give them plenty of time to moan and groan and whine. It doesn't bother me in the least if they feel like they need to grope me. It might even give me a little thrill.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on December 4, 2012 at 4:51 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 30
My wife just accidentally took pepper spray on a flight too, and it was not one of those little pink lipstick containers it was a Law enforcement sized can of Fox Labs Mean Green.…

Though we did get detained on the way to our wedding for accidentally leaving a 1911 mag in a backpack and were told by TSA we were going to jail and would be fine. When the very bored looking Port Police Officer arrived he offered to mail it back to us and sent us on our way. He also seemed to be rather annoyed by TSA.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on December 4, 2012 at 5:20 PM · Report this
I flew from seattle to texas, to miami, then took a cruise around the Caribbean, then flew from miami to texas to seattle with a box knife in the bottom of my backpack. I had no idea it was there. I went through six TSA checkpoints and around five cruise checkpoints as well as customs and immigration.

Nobody found it. I found it when I was unpacking after the trip.

Posted by sonder on December 4, 2012 at 7:33 PM · Report this
@24 The point being the IDF's own security ALSO serves a political purpose.

The shit the IDF Consultants were recommending the TSA do would never ... uh, "fly" here. Although the neocons at the time were all for it. But when the Bush administration saw how angry the TSA made people in the election year most of the recommendations were quietly shelved.

Clearly the IDF and the Neocons desire a level of paranoid security theater (and resulting civil rights sacrifice) to ratchet up the anti-brown people anxiety. Which would to make it even easier to bomb the fuck out of innocent people in the middle east. A skill the IDF also excels at.

So. Let' be cautious about holding up Israel as some paragon of practical virtue here. They are every bit as Machiavellian as we are.
Posted by tkc on December 5, 2012 at 11:02 AM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy