Why would we expect the TSA, Transportation Security Agency, to be an effective tool in the war against terrorism? If Congress is a failure, why would an agency regulated by our legislators be successful?
The failure of the TSA begins with its hiring process. As with most government-related jobs, applicants must pass a couple of tests. The first is a written test which is primarily about the English language; there are few general knowledge questions related to possible employment. The second test is intended to simulate looking at the screen of an airport scanner as luggage and other personal items are passed through the machine. Very few of the jobs performed by the TSA are those where the individual sits in front of a scanner.
The second test is unfair because it involves shapes and colors. If an applicant is color blind, he or she will fail the second test; I know this is true because I took the test and I am color blind.
Unlike many who are presently working for the TSA, I was extremely qualified. When I was in the military I was given a top secret clearance. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s I worked for an airline in Los Angeles at LAX. I worked in the departure, or gate area. When added security became necessary, every passenger’s carry-ons, including purses and camera cases were hand searched; the lines moved more quickly than they do now.
After a series of ‘skyjackings,’ metal detector were placed at the exits to the aircraft, and ‘Sky Marshalls’ were stationed at the airport. As a boarding agent, I performed a ‘politically incorrect’ duty; I profiled passengers. If a non-Caucasian male, between the ages of 25 and 50, traveling on a one-way ticket, paid for by cash, checked in with me, he received a red mark on his boarding pass. One time my associate and I helped catch a probable ‘skyjacker.’ When boarding passes were flagged, the Sky Marshalls were also summoned. As this individual was passing through the metal detector, a red light flashed and the alarm sounded. He was searched by the Marshalls, and inside a large book he was carrying rested a hand gun in the cutout pages.
Before I applied for the TSA, I worked for the United States Census Bureau as the Assistant Manager of Field Operations for all of Northern Nevada. I was responsible for more than 1300 field agents and 60 office personnel; but none of that qualified me to work at an airport.
Recently a Philadelphia resident was flying to Miami to participate in a half-marathon. In is carry-on were power bars and a heart monitoring device in watch form. The heart device caused the agent to question the man. He was then asked if there was ‘organic matter’ in his carry-on. The man said ‘no,’ unaware that the TSA considers power bars organic material. According to the passenger, the TSA agent became belligerent. He responded by asking for a complaint form. Instead of the form, Philadelphia police arrived and took him to a holding cell.
After three hours and having all of his personal items confiscated, the man was taken to a Philadelphia jail where he remained for 17 hours. He was then arraigned, charged with threatening to place a bomb on the aircraft. He was released on $40,000 bail.
At his trial four months later, the TSA agent claims the passenger became agitated when his bag was being searched, and made ‘bomb threats.’ Surveillance film dispelled the agent’s claims, and the charges were dismissed. The man is suing the TSA for an un-reported sum.
A report by the Government Accountability Office, after investigating the effectiveness of a TSA training program which cost taxpayers $900 million, says that the agency is ineffective, and failed most of its tests.
The TSA is a failure for many reasons. The first is that they are too reliant on electronics. They are supposed to regulate themselves, and we know how that works with the government; politics exist within the agency far more frequently that people believe; their focus is primarily on luggage rather than people; the focus of their screening process is too centralized; the TSA does not ‘gather intelligence’ about potentially dangerous passengers; and our airports are poorly constructed in relation to security in all areas and all buildings.
It appears that a lot of money spent on training has been wasted. Although the TSA is a security agency first, they are also public servants. Teaching them a little ‘customer relations’ would not be harmful.
By James Turnage