6. ON THE LIST: TSA DYSFUNCTION
Employees raised concerns. And then they were silenced.
Every week, The Shit List shares one problem. Here’s what we’re adding.
When terror strikes, the national conversation often turns to security. And in America, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is largely responsible for making us feel safe. That’s why we take off our shoes, pull out our laptops and throw away our water bottles as we pass through the airport.
But despite these rituals, multiple TSA employees have pointed out serious vulnerabilities in the system — and instead of being acknowledged, their voices have repeatedly been silenced. In the meantime, people who profit from public fear are heard.
Whenever TSA employees report security failings, they find themselves promptly pushed aside. That puts us all at risk.
Just last week, two female managers were “involuntarily reassigned” after highlighting some problems at the airport in Honolulu, where they worked. Now, Congress is investigating whether the TSA improperly retaliated against them.
Everyone’s understandably a bit mum on what those security shortcomings were, but this follows a pattern at the TSA. Snitches don’t get stitches, but they do get shuffled off to a bureaucratic no-man’s land with some regularity. A study by Reveal, uh, revealed that it’s happened some two dozen times in the last two years. Why fix a TSA problem when you can make it disappear?
After the bombing in Brussels, some are calling for this incompetent agency to be expanded even further. Michael Chertoff, a former head of Homeland Security, even suggested that we should establish screening checkpoints outside the airport — an area that’s currently under the jurisdiction of local police, not the Feds.
This isn’t an unprecedented notion. It’s common in places like Israel and Turkey, which deal with terrorist threats on a regular basis. But when security officials from those countries visit the United States, they’re often appalled by how little our screening already accomplishes. (“What the USA has done is not even close to airport security,” one Israeli inspector told TIME.)
It gets worse. Although folks like Michael Chertoff claim to speak in the interest of the people, they have far more than your safety on the brain. Chertoff is the leader of The Chertoff Group, which trades on his government experience to help clients “grow and invest in the security industry.” Last decade, Chertoff was one of the biggest champions of replacing metal detectors with full-body scanners. One of his biggest clients? Rapiscan, makers of the scanner devices.
Just think about it.
Keeping calm. So far, at least, it looks like Brussels won’t significantly expand the TSA’s purview. While Congress has called for increased security, so far these plans are closer to the “planning and coordination” realm than the “everyone enters the airport naked” dystopia.
And the savvier approach might actually be less intrusive. In Israel, they train security screeners to focus much more on personal behavior rather than toothpaste, with specialized training to detect signs of nervousness or hidden explosives. There are no full-body scanners, and everyone leaves their shoes on. And while no system may be able to prevent an attacker truly dedicated to causing mayhem, it’s a lot more practical (and proven) than our approach in the U.S.
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