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June 2 2015

TSA: Leave Us Alone. We’re Busy Wanding Three Year Olds

Patrice J. Lee

ABC News broke news of the undercover investigation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to send teams undercover to pose as passengers. TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 times to identify hidden weapons and explosives. In one instance, an agent was stopped when he set off an alarm, but the ensuing pat down failed to detect an explosive device taped to his back.

The DHS team designed the tests to be as difficult as possible because real terrorists push the limits and are innovative in their tactics. These tests were meant to expose vulnerabilities and position agents a step ahead of terrorists.

This is not the first time that the TSA failed to do its job, however. In 2013, DHS conducted a similar series of tests and an undercover agent managed to smuggle a fake hidden bomb has he passed through a metal detector at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport.

In addition, undercover tests targeting checked baggage screening at airports exposed “vulnerabilities” throughout the system attributed to human error and tech failures, according to DHS. That was despite spending $540 million for checked baggage screening equipment and another $11 million for training since 2009.

Not surprisingly, the TSA has lots of reasons for this failure. Previous TSA leadership faulted DHS agents for designing hard tests to exploit known vulnerabilities. You read that right, the TSA blamed the tests for being hard:

In a 2013 hearing on Capitol Hill, then-TSA administrator John Pistole, described the Red Team as “super terrorists,” who know precisely which weaknesses to exploit.

“[Testers] know exactly what our protocols are. They can create and devise and conceal items that … not even the best terrorists would be able to do,” Pistole told lawmakers at a House hearing.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced new measures that were immediately instituted. The acting director of TSA has been reassigned (what’s wrong with fired?).

We’ve reported previously about the TSA’s head-slapping behaviors and embarrassing episodes. Just a couple of months ago we learned that a couple of agents were purposefully targeting attractive men for extra fondling – I mean patting down – in Denver Airport. Last year, another report found that TSA doesn’t know how often someone on the “no fly list” was allowed to fly after slipping through security undetected. There have also been security lapses such as a woman who boarded a plane in San Jose without a ticket and boarded a plane to the West Coast.

We have to ask, just when will the TSA get its act together?

But there is another, perhaps more important question, to ask: are the showy actions of the TSA agents who give us such a hard time in airports really the best-designed ways to keep terrorists out of the skies?  As Charles Krauthammer observed last night on “Special Report:”

"Everybody understands that 95 percent of the TSA activity is a farce and a Kabuki theater," Krauthammer said. "That, I think, is worse than the failure rate. You'd expect a high failure rate."

"But everybody is participating in a charade for one reason: We want to show that we are politically correct. If you actually narrow it down to those people who are likely to be carrying an explosive, you would have an infinitely more effective system."

In other words, the system should be redesigned to focus on potential terrorists rather than grannies whose wheelchairs set off metal detectors. Then maybe the agents would catch the hidden explosives.

For the $7 billion budget we give this agency to protect us, just what are we getting for our money?

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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