Charlie Leonard: It’s time to dismantle the TSA
October 5, 2011
On a recent flight from Aspen to Denver, a long-time local woman with a very obvious disability was greeted by a large number of people in the security line. She was so popular it turned out that one of the TSA employees recognized her as well. But that didn’t stop them from putting her through the most horrific ordeal of a full-body search and pat-down. You couldn’t help but feel both distress for this person and contempt for the whole airport security process.
When I shook my head and quietly mentioned to the person next to me in line that what we were watching was disgraceful, another friendly TSA person told me that he could “have me arrested for interfering with their official duty.”
Clearly, a basic understanding of the Constitution – particularly the parts about unwarranted searches and free speech – must not be part of the intensive three-week training he was given before someone entrusted him with a gun and put him in a position of authority. (That’s right: TSA employees receive three weeks, or 120 hours, of training.)
In 10 short years, the TSA has grown from the original 5,000 employees who were supposed to focus on intelligence gathering about security threats into a federal bureaucracy of more than 60,000 employees who primarily function as airport screeners. In the current year, the agency will cost the taxpayers more than $9 billion.
And here’s the most egregious part: Not once in the 10 years that the TSA has been harassing airline passengers, draining productivity from our fragile economy, confiscating toothpaste and water bottles from innocent tourists, and wasting tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, have they caught a single terrorist. Not once.
When confronted with this fact, time and time again TSA officials say something approaching “we can’t talk about that.” The implication in these kinds of statements is they have, in fact, disrupted plenty of terror threats, but they are far too concerned about protecting their security procedures to brag about their success stories.
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According to numerous reports from the agency’s own inspector general, they have also wasted tens of millions of dollars on equipment that does not work, and they have repeatedly failed to detect weapons and explosive devices being carried by government agents who randomly test the airport security provided by the TSA.
Over and over again, the TSA has also argued that we don’t know where the next threat will come from so we need to consider that possibility that any passenger could present a risk.
Octogenarians who are traveling between Spokane and Boise – and need wheelchair assistance – present no risk. Babies traveling with their American-born parents between Peoria and Kalamazoo present no risk. High school girl soccer clubs, regardless of their flight plans, are not a risk. I could go on, but I think most people get the point. And here’s the most obvious reason why:
On Sept. 22, police in England arrested six men between the ages of 20 and 32 who they believed were in the advanced stages of a major terrorist plot. All six have been described as Islamist extremists of Middle East origins. As were the people who carried out the attacks on the U.S.S. Cole, the World Trade Center, the Bali nightclub, the London subways, the Madrid trains and Fort Hood, Texas.
I think most Americans have known for a long time what many in our government still refuse to acknowledge – that our principal terror threat is young, male Muslims, particularly those who were foreign-born.
That is neither a racist nor an anti-Muslim statement. It’s a fact and a reality and our national security policies should reflect it – not hide from it.
Leading security experts in a number of countries around the world have figured out how to focus their resources on combating this particular threat without harassing every Middle Eastern traveler, and it’s high time our government learned how to as well.
Today, there are two competing agendas in Washington for changing the TSA. A proposal by the chairman of the House Transportation Committee would essentially dismantle the federal bureaucracy and return airport security functions to the local governments that operate airports.
President Obama, on the other hand, proposes to double the tax on airline tickets to grow the size and scope of the TSA. His administration has also taken the first steps to allow the TSA to become a public employee union.
Anyone who says elections don’t matter has obviously not flown in a very, very long time.