I’ve Received a Lot of Email About How Generally Annoying the Official TSA Blog Is, Recently.

In case any of you haven’t heard, the TSA did, in fact, find guns— the same ones that have been such a hot topic in the media lately for unfortunate reasons. Coincidence? — with their 8 billion dollar annual budget, and they have even managed to do it with pre-9/11 security methods. If you think that’s impressive, wait until you see what they do with the part of the budget that isn’t devoted to simply doing what pre-9/11 security did.

Go on, wait and see. And wait. And wait. And wait. Like the opening voice over in Casablanca.

There was a day, about a year ago, when rumors began flying among the screeners at my airport about the holy TSA grail having been found: screeners were all aflutter with a rumor that a man had been caught trying to board a plane with C-4. The rumor was that it had been discovered on a positive explosives test alarm.

“Well I’ll be damned,” I said to myself. “I may have to give it up to them on this one, after all. This may be The Big Catch.”

Then the details of the story emerged, and it was never spoken of again by the TSA, as far as I know. It turned out that the man had flown through one airport, where the TSA had failed to detect the explosives, then attempted to board his flight home (this being the point at which the TSA finally made the catch) only to discover that their “terrorist” was a U.S. Army demolitions expert who had forgotten the C-4 in his carry-on; C-4 he had carried home from his tour in Afghanistan.

And all this coming just as the agency was attempting to ease security restrictions on military personnel. Needless to say, the holy grail Big Catch turned out to be a giant embarrassment in various ways.

The big splashy photos on the TSA Blog are, of course, theatrical in nature. Any theoretical real, 8 billion dollar budget-justifying accomplishment of the TSA’s privacy-compromising and oftentimes reckless theatrical production would be deterrent in nature, hardly visible– someone who was going to try something nasty with our nation’s aviation system, but who then decided that the TSA was simply too formidable an opponent, and aborted their mission.

Given that these metrics of “success” are difficult to get a read on, the one thing you could look for would be terrorists who were detected in attempts to hit other targets in lieu of aviation; indications of a sort of displacement at play. What you actually get are a lot of people such as the Times Square Bomber– thwarted by alert citizens– and successful stings by real intelligence and police agencies. Basically, what you get are successful security plays by entities to whom most of the TSA’s budget would be better allocated: the FBI, for instance, or, even better, back into the pockets of the taxpayers who will probably be the ones to thwart any exceedingly rare attempt at a terrorist attack, via tips to police and intelligence agencies, anyway.

Various security experts have said it time and time again, and I believe that the public could stand to be reminded of it as often as possible, in light of the TSA’s historical penchant for flashy, distracting theatrics: the fatal hole in aviation security, the one that actually warranted panic, was closed before the September 11 attacks even concluded; before the heroes of UA Flight 93 brought that now-legendary battle to its close: passengers’ belief that there was no need to fight back. That’s how lightning fast that smart, natural, decentralized human security systems are. Enormous, ill-conceived, lumbering bureaucracies are good at wrapping and debilitating those systems in expensive, senseless, irritating red tape.

TSA, here are 5 things to consider:

1. Take your screeners out of the blue uniforms, do away with the badges. Inspector-beige and-black is a good look. Personally, I would have been thrilled to find out that we were changing over to a beige look. It would look great in summer, and it wouldn’t have made me feel as though I were masquerading as a fake police officer all the time. Walking around in that uniform on the way home during off-hours, a TSA screener will often hear a little kid say, “Mommy look! A police officer!” to which the parent usually replies, “No, he’s just airport security.” It is extremely embarrassing when this happens. Have some mercy on your screeners (the ones not interested in playing cop, anyway; the good ones, in other words), and save them that daily humiliation.

2. Get a dry erase board. On it, depict your entire security operation rolled back to pre-9/11 security.

3. Identify the things that you can do on a random, minimally-invasive basis in order to provide adequate deterrence. For instance, there is a segment of the public who actually loves the full body scanners: people with metal implants. I used to hear them singing the praises of the full body scanners every day. The full body scanners are actually adored by them, which is a good sign that something smart and useful is going on. Go ahead, have one ATR-fitted full body scanner near every checkpoint, and randomly select people to get into that line, with, of course, the right to opt out. But enough with your quest to make them the primary screening method. Stop buying and staffing thousands of full body scanners, only to replace them all when you find out that they don’t work. It is ridiculous, which is why EPIC filed a federal lawsuit against you.

Announce that there may be an occasional, random swab of shoes, but otherwise, people can keep their non-alarming shoes on. The liquids restriction can be almost entirely lifted as well, with the caveat that liquids can and will be tested on a random basis.

4. Phase out the multi-billion dollar SPOT program. It is an egregious waste of money.

5. Now you have a leaner, less despised, and more cost-effective operation. Spend more time on better hiring, personnel management, passenger interaction training, and identifying and weeding out the bad apples in your midst.

The people who will hate you and complain about you incessantly, no matter what you do, will have to reach a lot harder to do their inevitable complaining, and you’ll be wasting a lot less taxpayer money and time, as well as doing a lot less insulting of people’s intelligence with flashy photos of inert bazooka rounds and weaponized chastity belts on your official blog.

I’m not sure that it was a weaponized chastity belt that I saw on the official TSA blog earlier this evening (a link to the official TSA blog was emailed to me by a very smart reader, thank you) but in general, that sums up what it is you’re doing with that silly blog of yours: bragging about goddamned weaponized chastity belts.

Taxpayers are funding a person to sit at a computer and write words such as “we found a chastity belt! Ha ha! Look at us!” (“And we found it with your billions of dollars, mounting privacy concessions, and good faith willingness to put your toddlers in our ineffective radiation machines a couple years back!”)

Truly, hats off.

-NJR

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