The More Things Change...

Jan. 13, 2016
The issues are mostly variations on the same few themes: (a) passengers complain about their treatment at the checkpoint; (b) TSA screws up; (c) GAO and/or IG investigates; (d) Congress gets involved; (e) not much happens.

While mulling over this month’s column, I promised myself I would not do a year-end/year-ahead review of airport security.  Then, as I contemplated my running collection of 97 pages (sic) of links to clips of various occurrences to talk about in just the past year (just links, not full articles), it became obvious that little has changed, and little is likely to do so any time soon.  The issues are mostly variations on the same few themes: (a) passengers complain about their treatment at the checkpoint; (b) TSA screws up; (c) GAO and/or IG investigates; (d) Congress gets involved; (e) not much happens.  To wit:

  • In 2015, TSA found 2,063 guns, 17.7% more than 2014; 46 just during Christmas week – 37 of them loaded.  That doesn’t include thousands of knives, stun guns, grenades, ammo and more, and that’s in carry-on, not checked bags.  The most common excuse for packing heat  is “I forgot”.  Are people really still that dumb?
  • In one series of tests, TSA screeners failed to find 95% (67 out of 70) of the weapons and explosives tests attempted. See bullet #1 above – how many more guns than 2,063 got through screening?  If the same percentage had held up nationwide during the year (admittedly extremely unrealistic), 39,197 guns is the answer.  That scares the hell out of me. 
  • The Real-ID law is a generally good idea with respect to reducing identity theft; it requires a great deal more personal data on a much more shareable national data base.  However, notwithstanding all the privacy lawsuits and government-wide data base hacks, TSA has announced it will not accept non-compliant (but still perfectly legitimate) drivers’ licenses as ID to board a plane.  But wait!!  Only 23 states are currently in compliance, 23 only partially so, and four more objecting.  My own license doesn’t require an update for 6 more years.  This should make for some exciting discussions at the checkpoint.
  • DHS’ new National Threat Advisory System (NTAS) dumped the old Homeland Security Advisory system (HSAS) five color system that stood in perpetual orange for more than 6 years – nobody knew what that meant anyway – in favor of a two-tier system of (a) bulletins and (b) alerts, which may be issued as “elevated” or “imminent”.  The stated purpose was to allow DHS to “more effectively communicate information about threats.”  The capability of providing useful information was apparently not possible without first establishing a new government acronym (NGA).
  • TSA recently announced that opting out of a full body scan in favor of a pat down would no longer be optional if TSA demanded it “for security concerns” – contrary to TSA’s own representations in the Circuit Courts’ decision in the EPIC v. DHS constitutionality case, where they said exactly the opposite – that pat down is always an option.  Several lawsuits are pending, but it leads one to wonder if there may be some connection to the aforementioned 95% failure rate of screeners.  Yeah, I guess that could be deemed a “security concern.”