TSA – Is It All Worth It?

I’ve previously written about my airport experiences which, overall, have been generally good.  I fly often enough to know what I can and can’t bring on the airplane; I know what I have to remove from my bags to get through security without any significant hassles; and I’ve been willing to put aside any privacy issues because I believed the scanners are doing the job they were intended to do.

But, I continue to read unsettling news reports that the scanners may not be as effective as we were led to believe.

When Canada installed these scanners, Rafi Sela, a leading Israeli airport security expert, called them “useless” and said, “I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747.  That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport,” referring to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International

Airport, which apparently has some of the toughest security in the world.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office concluded in scanners might well not have found the explosives concealed in the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who did not go through a body scanner inAmsterdam.  The Nigerian tried to detonate plastic explosives on a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas 2009.

Earlier this year, the Seattle Times reported about a 27-year-old engineer named Jonathan Corbett, who outsmarted the scanners when he sewed a pocket to the side of his shirt, placed a metal carrying case that he says would “easily alarm any of the old metal detectors” inside it and walked through the full-body scanners without incident (watch here). Corbett’s theory was that the case, hanging to the side of his body rather than in front of or behind it, would disappear into the black background of the scanned image, thus escaping detection.

And, finally, last month, I read yet another article that some scanners are used less than 30 percent of the time, and at one of 12 airports that the GAO investigators visited, the TSA deployed three scanners in a terminal that handled one flight a day with about 230 passengers.  This is all wasting millions of taxpayers’ money.

I’ve always been in favor of profiling and I’m hoping that the TSA is actually doing it even if it is an unwritten protocol.  After all, 60-year gray-haired American ladies of Polish and German descent and 65-year Native American men, like me and my husband, are not flying planes into buildings or carrying explosives in our underwear!

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
Author website: http://www.idontgetit.us
  • Chief98110

    I fly so often that I am a VIP airline member and can tell you that if I
    was inclined to bring a weapon on board it would be no problem. We need
    to go back to the the basics of metal detectors and profiling. As for
    the ACLU and their concerns about profiling I say to them, “shove-it”.

  • Roger Ward

    Fisher1949:  you make some good points.  Lisa Simeone:  not so much.

  • TSAisTerrorism

    I appreciate the author’s candor here. However, I find it odd that her bio points out that she specializes in the areas of child abuse and neglect. I find it odd because what TSA is doing in airports today is re-traumatizing untold millions of childhood sexual abuse survivors. One would think that she wouldn’t be so flippant as to assume the privacy invading aspects are easily cast aside.

    As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I must undergo several mental exercises just to get through the process. This is particularly acute because as a former airline manager, I also know that these machines, and other assorted methods employed by TSA, simply don’t work as advertised. They never have. TSA is the largest boondoggle ever foisted upon the American public. In spite of the fact that I fly for free, I have stopped. I just can’t take the nausea, the knots in my stomach, the prolific sweating, and heart pounding that re-awakens my long-ago ordeals every time I go through “security” screening.

    With this knowledge, I hope she can understand that as an advocate for children who are abused, she should be working to stop this abusive, barbaric, and deviant process. It does no good, and in fact causes irreparable harm.

    You might also be interested to know that the TSA knows the scanners fail to detect items 100% of the time in their own tests: http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/TSA-Agent-Slips-Through-DFW-Body-Scanner-With-a-Gun-116497568.html 

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    You’re a “news junkie” yet you’ve been bamboozled for all this time about the criminal, abusive agency called the TSA.

    You’re a lawyer, yet you don’t understand why crude profiling doesn’t work. Ever heard of Martin Niemöller?

    Sounds like you need to brush up on him.

    • Ron F

      I generally agree with you about the TSA and an overreaching government.  I am not sure about the connection to Martin Niemöller.  I believe his main argument was agains political apathy, First they came for the communists and I wasn’t a communist . . . .  I am not sure that applies to profiling.  On the other hand I question the effectiveness of profiling unless we could somehow obtain the expertise of Israel.  As I said below, drug trafficer profiling is all over the map and basically allows police forces to pull over whomever they wish.  And weren’t there two blonde middle class ladies arrested for terrorism activities in connection with the threats against the Danish cartoonists that probably would not have fit any profile category for a terrorist.  I think one was called Baghdad Jane.

      • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

        You’re thinking of Colleen LaRose — Jihad Jane.

        As for Israel, yeah, they’ve gotten rid of terrorism on planes. They still accept the risk of it elsewhere — cafes, markets, buses. Bombs still go off there. 

        They also rely heavily on racial and ethnic profiling. If you’re with an American tour group, you’ll be ushered quickly through. If you’re the “wrong” racial or ethnic type, you’ll get a thorough going-over. And if you’re a peace activist, forget it — you’ll be cavity-searched in a back room. Just ask Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, who’s written publicly about her experience.

        There’s no such thing as 100% security, anywhere. This childish fantasy that so many Americans cling to that there is, is why they’re willing to bend over and spread ‘em every time an authority figure tells them to. It’s pathetic. 

        Millions of people around the world have suffered and do suffer far more from terrorism every day than this country ever has. Yet we have this post-9/11 hysteria and paranoia — “The Terrorists! The Terrorists Are Everywhere!”  It’s another age of McCarthyism. Very convenient for our overlords, and very profitable for the “security” industry.

  • Ron F

    Aren’t these the same body scanners promoted by Michael Chertoff when he was head of Homeland Security and made by a company that became a client of his.  It seems that this is another example of lobbyists having too much power in influencing government decisions and politicians relying on the so-called experts.  How many weapon systems are purchased based on being produced in a Congress person’s district instead of need .  Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the F-22 fighter jet was not needed and argued against its purchase.  Nevertheless we have spent almost $80 billion purchasing the jet and it has never seen combat.  I would agree on profiling if we could do it as successfully as Israel but I am not sure that we could.  I remember seeing a report on the profile different police departments used for apprehending drug trafficers.  There was no consistency. 

  • Fisher1949

    Germany banned the scanners because they generated too many false positives and required unnecessary pat downs. This isn’t an improvement just further government invasion of our privacy and erosion of our rights.

    Because of the 54% false positive rate and failure to detect hidden items 44% of the time approximately half of those using the scanners receive some form of pat down, adding 8 to 30 seconds to the process. All of the items found by TSA in 2011 were found on the x-ray belt and walk through metal detectors, not the scanners.

    They also claimed the images were suitable for Readers Digest last year until the privacy software was installed on the millimeter wave systems.. In August Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom, said the scans ” were graphic, no doubt about it.” The MMW scanners still produce the naked image but TSA has added a software overlay to hide the image shown to the public. The Rapi-Scan units will continue to produce the naked image.

    Neither system has been demonstrated to be more effective than the metal detectors, which are still used in most airports. It’s disturbing that a government agency would sacrifice passenger privacy and put their health at risk to protect private manufacturers’ profits. There is an implication of corruption in the deployment of the scanners, which warrants investigation by Congress.

    TSA isn’t paying for the scanners and abuse; taxpayers are, to the tune of $8 billion a year. We are paying TSA $8.88 per passenger to strip search old women, grope children and harass us at checkpoints.

  • Roger Ward

    P. S.  I forgot to agree with your comment on profiling:  I’m in favor of it.  When we get a rash of people like me who are bombing planes (I’m your average 70 year old man with movie-star looks), then we can expand the profile to include me, too.  Until then, the FBI and the CIA and other other police agencies know where to look for the next terrorist.  We’d all be safer if they were allowed to profile …. and millions of innocent Americans wouldn’t be subjected to to the intrusions that they now face.

    • Ron F

      Roger, isn’t it amazing, Leona has two readers with movie-star good looks.

  • Roger Ward

    I don’t know if the TSA machines are the reason we have not been hit again …. or whether they are just self-fulfilling prophecies.  Their potential for safeguarding us is unknown …. but their actual dollar cost is staggering.  Maybe it’s worth it to have the possibility of an occasional incident of terrorism — but only if the TSA were abolished and the money to maintain its programs and staff were saved and used better elsewhere.

    It’s kind of like the smog problem in California.  I remember the bad old days when we could see what we breathed, so I can say the smog programs have really worked …. but at what cost?   Maybe it would have been worth it to have not spent the billions we did in fighting smog.  If we hadn’t spent that money, maybe California would not have come to the door of bankruptcy.

    Dunno.

    • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

      Roger Ward writes: “I don’t know if the TSA machines are the reason we have not been hit again …. or whether they are just self-fulfilling prophecies.  Their potential for safeguarding us is unknown.”

      Not true.  Their potential for safeguarding is well known — and it’s nil.  The strip-search scanners began to be implemented nationwide in January 2010, after the oh-so-convenient appearnce of the mentally disturbed young man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Underwear Bomber (who never had a chance in hell of blowing up anything). Quel coincidence. The gropes were implemented nationwide on November 1, 2010.  

      So before the implementation of this Reign of Molestation, why weren’t planes being blown out of the sky left and right?  If there are so many terrorists, if we were all so unsafe before the scanners and gropes, then where were all the bombings?

      The scanners are a billion-dollar boondoggle for the so-called security industry, and for the Congresspeople it bribes. And the entire arsenal of procedures of the TSA is simply a method for cowing and subjugating a credulous populace who live by fear and think A Terrorist Is Hiding Around Every Corner, including up their butts.