Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, you have no doubt noticed that security at airports seems to be much tighter. Longer lines at the security checkpoints and extensive searching through bags and on your person can make for a rough day at the airport. Most of us take these searches with a grain of salt as it means increased safety on airplanes…or so we thought.
The United States Department of Homeland Security has been conducting many tests of airport security conducted by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) by sending undercover agents through security. These agents are bringing test weapons through security checkpoints to see if TSA employees are able to successfully spot them. In turns out that they’re missing a disturbing amount, and have been for years.
When asked if the amount of weapons that have gone unspotted was at 80 percent, a source said “You are in the ballpark.” Inspectors that tested the TSA’s efficiency said that they were able to identify “vulnerabilities with TSA’s screener performance, screening equipment and associated procedures.” At one point, the failure rate for these tests had gotten all the way up to 95 percent before intervention.
It is somewhat encouraging that the failure rate has dropped in recent years, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to increase airport safety. US Representative Bill Keating agreed that more needs to be done, saying “We have the technology and the resources to (increase security), but we’re not doing it.” He added that increased use of police dogs could help spot more dangerous items.
The tests runs by the Department of Homeland Security come as part of the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The TSA responded to the report, saying they agree “with the DHS OIG findings and is committed to aggressively implementing the recommendations…We take the OIG’s findings very seriously and are implementing measures that will improve screening effectiveness at checkpoints. We are focused on staying ahead of a dynamic threat to aviation with continued investment in the workforce, enhanced procedures and new technologies.”
Michael McCaul, a US Representative from Texas, said that “Quite frankly, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we found (the failure rate) disturbing.” He added that America’s airlines are the “crown jewel of terrorist targets…America’s enemies only have to be right once, while we have to be right 100 percent.”
TSA officials are hoping that the increase in technology can make security checkpoints more efficient, including adding better scanners that had only been used on bags that were headed to cargo before. Being able to make them small and mobile enough to use at checkpoints would tremendously increase security measures. Administrator David Pekoske said that the TSA still needs more funding, however, as “Additional investment would make travelers, whether they’re Americans or people visiting our country, safer.”
Independent investigators say that part of the problems that the TSA struggles with might be from inattentive employees. More than 850 TSA employees have failed drug tests over a six-year span, and complaints keep piling up. Reports said that “TSA employees have been criminally charged for using cocaine on the job, and facilitating large scale drug smuggling.”
When it comes to federal agencies, employee morale ranks nearly dead last for those that work with the TSA. All of these reports have left people alarmed, with many feeling more worried about flying. One passenger in Cleveland, Ohio said “When you fly, you don’t worry so much about yourself as you do worrying about other people and what they’re doing. You’re counting on TSA to screen people sufficiently.” Unfortunately, a lot of new measures will have to be taken to make people feel safer while traveling once again.