Strong words for (and from) the TSA


Finding a politician willing to speak out against the TSA has, for the most part, proven to be a challenge. No one wants to give an opposing candidate the opportunity to label them soft on terrorism or other similar smears. So it is somewhat surprising to find that not only is there a Congressman starting to make some noise, but it is Representative Mica (R-Fla), the Chairman of the House committee that oversees the department and one of those intimately involved in building the organization. Apparently he’s having some regrets about that move now.

Among other things, Mica notes that the "chat" interrogations being conducted at Boston‘s Logan airport are a farce implemented by untrained individuals and which offered up "idiotic" questions to passengers. This implementation in Boston is the first trial site of an expanded program where the TSA tries to analyze the behavior of passengers, a plan that the GAO has noted lacks scientific validity. Said Mica, "It’s almost idiotic. It’s still not a risk-based system. It’s not a thinking system."

Ouch.

Speaking of the TSA, why not pile on a bit here. There are a couple additional stories in the news over the past couple weeks that can make one sympathize with Mica’s view on things. For starters, there was the hand-written note on the back of an inspection notice in a checked bag with the simple message, "Get your freak on girl" when the agent spotted a vibrator in the checked bag. Real classy there.

And then there is House Resolution 3011 which is now under consideration. This bill will, among other things, amend Section 709 of Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 33 of the US Code. That section defines a variety of federal agency names, mostly related to banking or law enforcement, and makes it illegal to use the names or associated images (e.g. badges or uniforms) of such agencies in print or performance in a manner which is meant to convey that the agency involved is approved, endorsed or authorized by that agency. The amendment will add the TSA and Federal Air Marshall services to the laundry list of protected agencies.

There is some concern that adding the names to this list will prohibit satirical and other less than sanguine portrayals of the Agency. I’m not quite as convinced, as it would also require that the portrayal suggest that the agency approves the parody. I suppose making a movie where the TSA officer character, wearing a suitable costume, is a buffoon or otherwise does something stupid could be construed as a violation, but that would be quite the stretch on the enforcement side of things. Still, it is an interesting move by a group that is frequently subject to significant mockery to potentially limit that. If you can’t beat ’em, outlaw them??

Next up there’s the report of a handgun falling out of a checked bag at LAX on Monday. This one is actually not the TSA’s fault so stop beating them up on it. Guns are permitted in checked bags. The owner is an idiot for not properly declaring it or packing it (supposed to be in a separate, locked container), but the TSA didn’t do anything particularly wrong here.

Finally, there’s the story of Eduardo Valdes who tried to bring a gun through a TSA checkpoint in Miami a couple weeks ago. This wouldn’t be so awkward if

  1. Valdes wasn’t a TSA agent responsible for keeping guns out of the secure area of the airport;
  2. The gun was not unregistered; and,
  3. Valdes did not have a permit to carry the gun.

Nothing but top-rate professionals minding the farm it would seem.

Yeah, it is hard not to sympathize with Mica and his views that the TSA is an idiotic system that doesn’t involve much thinking. The only question is whether he can actually put some action behind those words. Let’s see out elected officials hold the Agency accountable. Let’s see them actually do something about the problems rather than just campaigning for political gain. So, Mica, you’ve identified the problem. What are you going to do about it?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

7 Comments

  1. In regards to the added note on the woman’s inspection notice.

    A good idea would be to add an inspector number to the printed notice. This would make identification by the TSA an easier task, while preserving the officers anonymity with the public.

    For example often when I buy a pair of pants a slip of paper may be in one of the pockets reading “inspected by #39”.

    This could be done with TSA as well, so that if there is a specific offense TSA can quickly find the officer in question and take appropriate action.

  2. First of all — While I’m not as familiar with Mica’s comments; I tend to think TSA has not added value, period.

    As far as their successes; I’m sure there are tenfold situations where a gun did make it through, or other weapons did (such as the occasional notice that a larger knife or other weapon is found on a plane).

    Ultimately, the issue with TSA is not their existence (although I question it), it is the fact that they are fighting the last war; the fact that we still must take out our liquids, take off our shoes and belts, after BILLIONS spent, and yet, things still slip by proves this.

    Bottom line – TSA cannot, and should not be expected to reduce risk 100%, it just won’t happen. What TSA or any other Homeland Security/Defense organization should be responsible for, is identifying that point of diminishing returns, and lower (or in the off chance, increase) their efforts and expenditures, to that point just before diminishing returns. I am not convinced that TSA has any level of gauging this, nor any metrics to gauge their effectiveness. Until they are held accountable (and I like Andrew’s comment of numbered inspection notices), TSA is, by definition ineffective, because its effectiveness cannot be proven.

  3. I still take a deep breath – load my items up and remember that these are the people who couldn’t get the jobs at the Post Office.

  4. You have not been paying attention. Rep. Mica has been rudely de-humanizing TSA employees for years. He says strident outlandish things constantly. To people like him, and to some of you, TSA can do nothing right. This example is the perfect irony. He goes to Logan Airport with his hateful attitude ready to be outraged. He is asked a few questions and then goes off the handle (like TSA haters usually do) with his smug, all-knowing, opinions. He doesn’t know if the employees are trained or not. That doesn’t prevent him from insulting them.

    The irony of course, if it needs to be pointed out to the “couldn’t get a job anywhere else” crowd, is that the main reason there is a TSA in the first place is that the incompetent, private company security employees AT LOGAN AIRPORT didn’t stop terrorists on 9/11. Remember?

    The biggest bores in the traveling world are the self-annointed security experts who pontificate about how horrible the so-called “security theater” is. For the rest of us who see people trying to keep us safe you are just obnoxious. Get over it and just keep the line moving. Quit the incessant whining and criticism.

    1. Mica is better than many others but he still isn’t nearly as aggressive as he could be, especially considering his position on the Committee.

      As for the irony you mention, perhaps you should consider this fact: The private contractors on 9/11 did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG. They were 100% in compliance with the security policies of the day, policies that they did not set. Box cutters and other small knives were considered permissible in cabin baggage per the rules set by the feds.

      If you see a set of incoherent, reactive and poorly implemented policies as “people trying to keep you safe” then you’re missing out quite a bit on the real world. Good luck with that.

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