Study: The TSA’s Security Theater Troupes Missed 95% Of Smuggled Weapons And Explosives

When it’s not aggressively groping patrons, being outwitted by TSA-safe luggage, failing to understand the First Amendment, trying to expand its authority in strange and aggressive new ways or burning through taxpayer money, there’s a popular narrative afoot that the Transportation Security Administration is supposed to protect air travelers and secure airports. Of course, as we’ve well documented, the agency is exceptionally awful at that as well, resulting in what it does being far more akin to security theater than anything resembling actual security.

The latest case in point: an internal Homeland Security Inspector General investigation of the TSA revealing massive failure on the part of the TSA across dozens of the country’s busiest airports. According to a copy of the findings, undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through security checkpoints — 95% of the time:

“According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints. In one test an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer, but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down. Officials would not divulge the exact time period of the testing other than to say it concluded recently.”

That’s not just a little dysfunction, that’s a wholesale systemic breakdown, and it once again raises the question of what precisely taxpayers are paying for. And while the TSA is quick to consistently insist it’s making improvements every day, this is effectively the same thing that happened last year when a “red team” member was able to smuggle a mock bomb onto an airplane. This latest survey also piggybacks on earlier reports that indicate no matter how much money we throw at the TSA, it’s still awful at doing its job, whether that’s passenger or luggage screening:

“That review found “vulnerabilities” throughout the system, attributing them to human error and technological failures, according to a three-paragraph summary of the review released in September. In addition, the review determined that despite spending $540 million for checked baggage screening equipment and another $11 million for training since a previous review in 2009, the TSA failed to make any noticeable improvements in that time.”

Great job, team! Of course, whenever you find this level of dysfunction you can usually find a dodgy money trail — since just like nation destroying and rebuilding — presenting the illusion of security is extremely profitable. That likely won’t be getting better anytime soon, with a lobbyist for Rapiscan Systems (the company that provides the controversial X-ray scanners used in most major airports) taking a job with the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee, which oversees the TSA budget. We’ve been talking about Rapiscan’s overly-cozy relationship with government for five years now.

Realizing how broken the TSA truly is can easily lead one down the path of worrying that there’s a much thinner line between you and being wind-dispersed fertilizer than most would care to admit. But as Robert Graham points out, the fact that the TSA is horrible at its job — combined with the fact that planes aren’t exploding — statistically suggests that bombs are a much smaller threat to airplanes than we’ve historically assumed:

“This leads to a counter-intuitive result that the TSA is really not stopping any danger. If guns and bombs are getting on planes, but planes aren’t falling out of the sky, it must mean that they aren’t a danger. I point this out because in the end, safety is an emotional thing rather than logical. No matter how much I do the math, people do not believe it. They believe bombs are a danger to airplanes in much the same way many don’t believe the safety statistics compared to driving.”

Note that’s not to say we don’t the need the hidden and not-so-hidden security apparatus that exists outside of this costly new game of make believe. But these latest findings continue to prop up the argument that the TSA is a glorified high school theater troupe playing dress up, doing little more than adding a very expensive layer of dysfunction to the already frequently-dismal air travel experience.

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