Long-Suspected TSA Abuse and Incompetence Confirmed by Former TSA Employee

tsa-nun-screeningPolitico Magazine has a disturbing article by former transportation security officer Jason Edward Harrington. At least it would be disturbing if it wasn’t largely just a confirmation of what many of us had long suspected. (Titled “Dear America, I Saw You Naked: And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.”) Harrington details the dim view the Transportation Security Administration holds of traveling public, in addition to their willful use of ineffective screening techniques and technologies, which may or may not be deployed by spiteful TSOs to humiliate or delay a passenger who rubs them the wrong way. A taste:

We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.

“They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.

Read the whole thing.

CEI has been fighting TSA’s unjustifiable use of “advanced imaging technology” (AIT, the official term for the strip-search machines in airport screening lines), filing a coalition amicus brief in support of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s lawsuit that led to a court-ordered rulemaking on the use of AIT scanners.

We later submitted formal comments to the TSA on the proposed rule in June that were joined by former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall and are still waiting for the agency to produce a final rule. In our letter, we argue that the TSA is still not complying with the Administrative Procedure Act, nor the court order requiring it to comply with the APA, and that it fails to properly analyze issues of risk or conduct a legitimate cost-benefit study.

Based on what Harrington claims in his essay, our worst suspicions have been confirmed: the TSA is an ineffectual, lawless agency. It should be abolished as quickly as possible, with passenger screening responsibility being reverted to the airlines and airports, as it had been for three decades until the entire country briefly went insane following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Both airlines and airports have much stronger incentives to both screen effectively and minimize passenger inconvenience and discomfort than bumbling government bureaucrats.

Read the comment letter here for details. In addition, see this op-ed co-authored with Crandall for background on the issues at stake.