TSA Incompetence Is Astounding, and Understated

My earlier post about the incompetence of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which generally fails to detect explosive ingredients and fake bombs, was understated. I observed that a “study found that the TSA is 2.5 times as likely to fail to detect a bomb as the none-too-effective private security firms it replaced.”

Actually, a better comparison would be between the TSA and the private security companies that continue to operate today. And there, the TSA’s failure is even more glaring. A private security company fails to detect fake bombs only 20 percent of the time. The TSA, by contrast, failed to detect such bombs three or four times as often — a failure rate of 60 percent at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, and an astounding 75 percent failure rate at the Los Angeles airport (LAX).

We are all in danger because of the TSA’s incompetence, and the federalization of airport security that replaced many private security companies with the TSA.

Although the TSA does not detect bombs, it does detect baby bottles. The TSA forced my wife to throw away all the bottles of baby formula she was carrying for our daughter Sarah when she traveled to France on Monday to be with her father, who will soon undergo quadruple-bypass surgery.

In an earlier flight this year, the TSA rummaged through all her baby bottles and searched the baby, forcing my wife to remove the wrap my wife had painstakingly wound around herself and the baby so that she could carry the baby without using her arms (my wife, a small woman, had to carry two heavy suitcases at the same time as she was carrying the baby). My wife once worked in a job where she was trusted to receive sensitive national-defense information. But the TSA apparently believes that she cannot be trusted to carry baby bottles onto an airplane.

While the TSA obsesses about baby bottles and nail clippers, it ignores other relevant characterists, calling that “profiling.” The Constitution bars racial profiling and discrimination, except in very limited circumstances, but it gives the federal government broad power to consider characteristics other than race, such as whether the passenger is a citizen of a country known to sponsor terrorism, whether or not the ACLU or trial lawyers would call that “profiling” or “discrimination.”

But TSA regulations ban considering not only passengers’ race, which is understandable, but also stupidly forbid security screeners to consider a legion of other relevant passenger characteristics, which federal law allows the TSA to consider. Terrorists are not evenly distributed across all demographic categories, and often share certain characteristics. The 9/11 hijackers, for example, were overwhelmingly from Saudi Arabia. As the Supreme Court observed in its Kimel and Garrett decisions, the Constitution’s equal protection clause generally does not keep the government from taking into account people’s non-racial characteristics the way it forbids racial discrimination.

Nor is it “racial profiling” to take into account a passenger’s support for anti-American violence, or origins in a country where such support is prevalent. As the Supreme Court made clear in Washington v. Davis (1976), the Constitution (unlike some employment laws) does not forbid taking into account a non-racial characteristic (like support for Al Qaeda) merely because that characteristic is more prevalent among people of certain races or ethnicities (say, Arabs) than others.

Interestingly, while former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta objected to “profiling” (even non-racial profiling permitted by the Constitution) after 9/11 as supposedly being “racist,” and prevented the TSA from engaging in non-racial profiling, he was an avid supporter of racial set-asides in government contracts, which do discriminate based on race, and which cost taxpayers a bundle, as I explain here and here.