A Modest Proposal – DHS Suggests DIY

Nov. 13, 2019

First, a little background:  4,239 guns were seized at US airports by TSA last year, 3,645 of them (86%) loaded – up 17% from the previous year. That’s just from carry-on baggage at the passenger screening checkpoint - just guns ... the list of knives, sharp, pointy or flammable objects is extensive and occasionally bizarre, and still continues to grow 18 years after 9/11.  Not to worry; TSA constantly conducts “Red Team” testing at US airports nationwide to be certain  our highly trained stalwart  screeners continue to identify and remove such threats from your family’s vacation-bound aircraft before it departs.    

Feeling safer?  Not so fast.  At one point during that prior year, those TSA Red Teams failed 95% of their tests.  Those tests continue, but no later test scores have been released.  The obvious inference is not only that some unknown number of dangerous weapons continue to get on board, but also that their oblivious owner is sitting next to you, sharing an arm rest, with his/her gun tucked into that bag under the seat by his/her feet, comfortable in the knowledge that the rules apparently don’t apply to everybody.

I am not suggesting they’re all terrorists; indeed, I’ve seen no statistics at all regarding how many of those armed travelers may have been arrested for anything more than stupidity – most of them claim, after 18 years of being screened for weapons, (you guessed it):  “I forgot I packed a gun”.    

And so, in recognition of the fact that TSA’s $7.7 billion 2019 budget providing roughly 47,000 screeners appears to need a little help finding questionable stuff on yourself and your carry-on, the Department of Homeland Security has come up with a certain winner to engage free help at every airport, from someone who probably knows exactly where you hid that gun:  You...  if you haven’t already forgotten where you put it.  It’s  titled “Passenger Self Screening Systems for Aviation Checkpoint” put forth in an official DHS  Request For Information (RFI) for the public and/or  industry...

“...to gather relevant information from interested sources regarding feasibility, technological capability, and general levels of effort required to develop a passenger self-screening solution.”

Words fail me.

Yes.  Screen yourself and your carry-on in an unsupervised process at the checkpoint, with agent intervention only when something alarms, or presumably you see something weird in your own bags and self-report... or subtly report the sex object in the luggage of guy next to you to distract TSA’s attention from your own “forgotten” gun. Yes, I’m being ridiculously facetious, but the entire concept demands it.  As one industry expert noted,   we’re not sure if they are just posturing so they can claim to be open to new techniques and technologies, or perhaps seeking to backfill the TSA Pre-Check program which has significantly failed to reach its projected numbers – 8.5 million instead of 25 million.

This smacks somewhat of the old concept of the “Tunnel of Truth” in which passengers would pass through a literal tunnel lined on both sides with marvelous new technologies that could detect everything on you and about you, and in all those roller boards and tote bags, and the mustard on the burger for the long flight on the cheap carriers.  Some of  the emerging technologies are promising for expediting throughput for certain processes such as facial recognition for faster boarding, but not for the one task that by definition has as its primary purpose the defeat of those technologies.

Perhaps we are in that proverbial rock/ hard place where advancing technology is finding more and different stuff which keeps changing the nature of the threat, requiring more screeners, slower lines, changing regulations  - or has it reached a “plateau” of the laws of physics where any practical advances are incrementally too large for the cost/benefit/life-span cycle they induce – not to mention operational costs such as necessary terminal renovations and constant re-training, higher ticket costs, and public complaints over personal pat downs and bad attitudes. 

So if you want to skip all the checkpoint delays and help out TSA with the personal pat downs of the next guy in line, DHS wants to hear from you about their RFI.

Tell them I sent you....