The SCOTUS Obamacare decision from last week has monopolized the conversation ever since and, for today at least, I need to take a break. And there is something that is almost as important, just as frustrating and arguably more dangerous. It is, in my opinion, one of the worst agencies we’ve ever created: the Transportation Security Administration, or as it’s better known, the TSA.
When discussing Airport rules and what qualifies as the “new normal”, I admittedly become a bit nostalgic: It was wonderful having family accompany my wife and kids to the gate, then seeing them wave from the window (sounds crazy, doesn’t it?), and it was kinda nice to not be felt-up like I’m Andy Dufresne’s stunt double, too.
Ahhh, the good ol’ days……
But now? Now we have stories like this. From theindychannel.com:
INDIANAPOLIS — A man’s attempt to bring the ashes of his grandfather home to Indianapolis ended with an angry scene in a Florida airport, with the ashes spilled on the terminal floor. John Gross, a resident of Indianapolis’ south side, was leaving Florida with the remains of his grandfather — Mario Mark Marcaletti, a Sicilian immigrant who worked for the Penn Central Railroad in central Indiana — in a tightly sealed jar marked “Human Remains.”
Gross said he didn’t think he’d have a problem, until he ran into a TSA agent at the Orlando airport. “They opened up my bag, and I told them, ‘Please, be careful. These are my grandpa’s ashes,'” Gross told RTV6’s Norman Cox. “She picked up the jar. She opened it up.”
“I was told later on that she had no right to even open it, that they could have used other devices, like an X-ray machine. So she opened it up. She used her finger and was sifting through it. …..And then she accidentally spilled it.”
Gross says about a quarter to a third of the contents spilled on the floor, leaving him frantically trying to gather up as much as he could while anxious passengers waited behind him.
I quite literally have no idea what I would have done if I was in Mr. Gross’ place, although I’m comfortably sure I would have been “indefinitely detained” as a result.
I understand the rationale for the TSA’s existence. But are they worth it? Is this humiliation and ever-growing bureaucracy giving us safer airports? You’d need to be looking through the world’s most rose-tinted glasses to think so.
For one example, do you remember Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber of December 2009? Do you recall HOW he was caught? Not by our fancy-schmancy technology, no sir. It was only when Abdulmutallab set his explosive-laden pants on fire after boarding the plane that we managed to “catch” him. Thankfully, the contraption mysteriously failed to actually explode, and it was a fellow passenger who jumped over the seats to beat him into submission while others grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s assurances to the contrary, the “system” most definitely didn’t work that day.
And that’s just the most visible example. According to CNN and the TSA’s own reports, the nation’s airports have suffered more than 25,000 security breaches between November 2001 and July of 2011.
So what do we do? Well, it’s not as if a working model for efficiency and effectiveness doesn’t already exist. It would reduce the astronomical bloat of the TSA, provide far more efficient security at our airports, and do so without having to go through an informal prostate exam before a flight.
I’m referring, of course, to Israeli airline El Al and their proven methods of airline security. From abcnews.com back in 2010:
The best way to protect airplanes isn’t with improved technology such as full-body scanners but by profiling and questioning passengers, some aviation security experts say. But such a move is an extremely controversial one that opponents say would violate travelers’ privacy and could unfairly target some passengers for more-intense screenings.
Isaac Yeffet, the former head of security for the Israeli airline El Al, says the only way to secure the skies is to employ highly-educated, well-trained agents to question passengers. Forget bomb-sniffing “puffers” or scanners that can see through passengers’ clothes. Yeffet said that he has seen many terrorists outsmart airport security over the years, and as technology improves, so do the terrorists’ methods.
“We are dealing with a sophisticated enemy who knows how to beat our technology,” said Yeffet, who now runs his own firm, Yeffet Security Consultants.
So, how ’bout an example?
[Yeffet] told the story of an Irish woman several years ago who flew from London to Israel. She had fallen in love with a man, was pregnant with his baby and was flying there to meet his family. He packed her bags, including a gift for his family. Her suitcase cleared airport security without a problem, Yeffet said, but when El Al agents started to question her as part of their routine checks, something just didn’t seem right.
Even though she had nothing to hide, they questioned the situation. An inspection of her luggage found 4 kilograms of explosives — a bomb, planted by her lover, that airport security scanners had missed. She was so upset that this man would try to use her to kill everybody on the 747 that she gave the police all the information they needed to prosecute.
This Irish woman didn’t fit the national or ethnic identity of the stereotypical profile of a terrorist wanting to take down an Israeli jet, yet they uncovered the plot. The secret is in their hiring and training process. When hiring people to do profiling, Yeffet said, they must be qualified staff, “very well-educated people” with at least a college education and fluent in English and at least one other language. Then, the subsequent testing process of those hired is even more brutal.
“We test them always. Anybody who fails is fired. We have no mercy because we are dealing with lives,” Yeffet said. “The problem with the TSA is that they don’t have experts, they don’t have qualified people.”
Will we ever adopt a training system which has worked with such effectiveness for over 40 years? I pray, against all hope and common sense, that we will.
…but I’m not exactly holding my breath.