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Thursday, November 29, 2012

There Are Somethings That Only The Government Can Address (see The North Pacific Gyre story for an example), And Somethings They BOTCH Completely (see the Business Week story below).

P.S. After millions of miles and dozens of international flights, we gave up on air travel six years ago, and now devote our travel time to seeing America.  It is a beautiful country.

Airport Security Is Making Americans Less Safe

The TSA was created to replace the patchwork of private security companies that handled airport security in the pre-9/11 era. Its budget quickly ballooned: Since 2002 the number of TSA agents has risen from 16,000 to more than 50,000. Still, to a traumatized public, any amount of overreaction in the name of preventing another terrorist attack seemed acceptable.

More than a decade later, it’s time to move on. For one thing, the attention paid to terrorism in the U.S. is out of proportion to the relative threat it presents. Since 2000 the chance that the death of a U.S. resident resulted from a terrorist attack was 1 in 3.5 million, according to John Mueller and Mark Stewart of Ohio State and the University of Newcastle, respectively. Out of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. between 9/11 and the end of 2010, Islamic extremism accounted for fewer than three dozen. In fact, extremist Islamic terrorism resulted in just 200 to 400 annual deaths worldwide, outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq—the same number, notes Mueller, that occur in bathtubs in the U.S. each year.

Yet the TSA still commands a budget of nearly $8 billion—leaving the agency with too many officers and not enough to do. The TSA’s “Top Good Catches of 2011,” reported on its blog, did include 1,200 firearms and—their top find—a single batch of C4 explosives (though that payload was discovered only on the return flight). A longer list of the TSA’s confiscations would include a G.I. Joe action doll’s 4-inch plastic rifle (“it’s a replica”) and a light saber toy. For all the face cream, breast milk, and live fish that vigilant screeners collected in airport security lines last year, the TSA didn’t spot a single terrorist trying to board an airline in the U.S.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As long as passengers aren’t flying to the U.S., Canada allows them to keep their shoes on and their iPads in their bags (where they are less prone to being nicked). The U.K. will allow you to carry small decorative snow globes onto a flight, deeming tolerable the risk of onboard snowpocalypse. And those fancy new backscatter scanners where you stand with your legs apart and stick your thumbs on the top of your head as agents get to see what you would look like if you were naked and very furry? They’ve been banned in the European Union.

In the U.S., kids and old people can now keep their shoes on through security, while the backscatter scanners—which have been linked to cancer—are being moved out of major airports. These are small signs of progress, but they’re far from adequate. According to an estimate by the New York Times, the 9/11 attacks caused $55 billion in “toll and physical damage” to the U.S., while the economic impact was $123 billion. Costs related to increased homeland security and counterterrorism spending, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled $3,105 billion. Mueller and Stewart estimate that government spending on homeland security over the 2002-2011 period accounted for around $580 billion of that total.

As Rand Corp. President Emeritus James Thomson argues, most of that expenditure was implemented “with little or no evaluation.” In 2010 the National Academy of Science reported the lack of “any Department of Homeland Security risk analysis capabilities and methods that are yet adequate for supporting decision making.” DHS (and the TSA in particular) is spending huge bundles of large denomination bills completely blind.

All this spending on airline security is worse than wasteful. Following the official rules while still attempting to show decency toward passengers all but forces TSA employees to delay, embarrass, and inconvenience many thousands every day. Faced with the prospect of such unpleasantries this holiday season, countless Americans will skip the flight to grandma’s house and drive instead.
Kenny is a fellow at the Center for Global Development and the New America Foundation.
And some of the comments are hilarious!!

Reader Discussion Showing 15 Comment now

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  • El Al has not been hijacked since 1966. Their secret? They lock the flight deck door. That simple. Since 9/11 we do too.

  • I got stopped by the TSA at LAX because I had a "laptop hidden in my carry-on" and didn't give it to the screeners.  Even though it was never mentioned to me anywhere, and it wasn't an issue at Reagan National, when i left for LA three weeks prior.
        The agent didn't even say anything to me until I reached for my gym bag, which she had her hand on and grabbed it back from me, saying nothing.  I politely asked if something was wrong and she simply nodded.  I asked what was wrong, and she said, "You have a laptop."
    "I thought laptops were allowed in carry-on." I replied.
       "You have to take it out for us to look at it."
       "Sure, no problem," I reach for the zipper.
       "Don't touch the bag."  She says.
       "But you JUST said you need to look at my laptop.  I can't show you the laptop without opening my bag, and it doesn't open by mind control."
       She simply cranes her neck in response.
    "You can open it yourself if you want, it's in that pouch right there."  She pulls it away as I simply point to the zipper.  "Are you going...
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  • Allen MacDiarmid, 11/25/2012 12:21 PM

    The TSA is not the only reason I no longer fly commercial. I also no longer fly recreational because of the idiots in the air, the unqualified pilots, the rudeness of people in the system and the fact that 4 hours of the flight are not even in the air, but the act of being hassled on both ends, from parking to boarding to deplaning to escape from the airport. At least when I drive, I get to choose the weather, the route, the time and whether or not to use my safety equipment.
  • Add to that, you can stop and get a good meal, enjoy the scenery, and not expose yourself to the most unsanitary conditions you will likely ever encounter.

  • They also Profile in Israel...saves a lot of time and grandma's and kids from being harassed and targeted. I stopped flying after 9/11.  I was a Flight Attendant for United and when we went back to work after the catastrophe's, nothing was the same, and the fun was over so I quit.  The whole reason I became a FA was to travel the world and come and go, not be a subject of BS harrassment and to have my nail file confiscated...Ttotally not worth it to me....the private security contractors DID NOT fail the system.  the TSA does not need to exist, at all.
  • anglocooler48, 11/25/2012 08:33 AM

    Excellent article. Incidentally, this is why former Federal Air Marshals, Red Team leaders, and FAA Security Special Agents refer to TSA as the "Terrorist Support Administration." Also note that those congested "security" checkpoints are a target-rich environment for  a bomber or shooter.
  • V Christine Bingham, 11/26/2012 11:03 AM

    I am a former US Army Interrogator. My family quit flying as soon as we heard about TSA abominations.  Not only because we refuse to give up our 4th Amendment Right that was hijacked by the US government as a pretext of 'keeping us safe', but because the entire premise is a lie. As anyone trained in interview and interrogation techniques can confirm, were the TSA and federal government truly interested in nabbing suspicious flyers, they would take the time to train the dolts who filter people to recognize truly suspicious behavior. Judges, FBI, CIA, police, investigators and Army personnel are trained to do this and the training works at all intellect levels.  Even a TSA agent could be taught. Hell, they train DOGS to sniff out suspicious behavior.  Why not the TSA? As it currently works, to treat EVERYONE as suspicious, in reality SO waters down the screening effort as to make a total waste of time and money. While the TSA clowns are frisking elderly citizens, a genuine suspect can be easily avoiding their focus. Yes, This article is painfully true. The abomination being passed off as 'security screening' at American airports, is making travel, in addition...
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  • I live in Oakland, California, where the mayor and city council maintain only half a police force compared with most major cities. TSA, please fund an offer giving 600 employees the opportunity to become real police officers in our city, which is dying in a tsunami of robberies, muggings, and forced-entry burglaries.

  • More citizens with firearms and concealed carry permits might help without having to give up more tax dollars and more liberty.

  • As to N606XQ's post, above, El Al's "secret" is a lot more complicated than a locked door.  In any case, people are always eager to draw TSA and  El Al and the Israeli model of airport security into this discussion, which is somewhat unfair.  Israel has ONE major airport.

  • Charles Kenny, please contact Freedom to Travel USA (, no www) and ask about the presentation given in May 2012 in Washington D.C. to Congressional staff.

  • "Washington should ask itself why it values the life of an airplane passenger so much more than a bus or train passenger (or the daredevil bath-taker) in terms of the time-wasting, expense, and invasions of privacy it’s willing to tolerate to protect them from harm."
    so true.  but nothing gets done in Washington these days...
  • KlashKlad, 11/25/2012 06:54 PM

    Your country would have to attain a level of autarky to be able do do that

  • If we are so worried about terrorist, why are the borders still wide open?

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