Following the 9/11 attacks, Americans have become accustomed to increasingly obtrusive and expensive security measures ostensibly designed to keep terrorists from boarding airplanes.
But recent government security tests confirm what many of us suspect: Most of the poking, prodding, wanding, X-raying and searching by Transportation Security Administration security guards is largely for naught.
Government Accountability Office investigators easily and repeatedly passed through airport security with enough banned components to build firebombs.
The GAO’s report, released earlier this month, was the subject of a congressional hearing. Democrats — who previously assured the nation that turning security agents into unionized government workers was the key to enhancing airport security — were most outraged at the security breach.
“It’s disappointing that after all the years we’ve had TSA in place and all the money, billions of dollars, that we have put into the problem, it’s still not fixed,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, according to published reports.
Disappointing, perhaps, but completely expected, given the nature of bureaucracies.
According to GAO, the investigators were wildly successful at smuggling bomb components through security screeners at 19 airports. TSA officials didn’t even pass the most basic test of truthfulness during testimony on Capitol Hill.
TSA Administrator Tip Hawley denied that TSA tipped off security screeners that such a test was going to take place even though members of Congress produced a TSA e-mail to 650 TSA employees that warned about a coming test and was quite specific, even explaining that one of the investigators was a Caucasian woman with an Asian woman’s photo ID.
In one case, reported on by the Los Angeles Times, “an investigator deliberately put coins in his pockets to trigger a secondary inspection. The screener did both a hand-wand and pat-down search, the report says, but ‘did not detect any of the prohibited items.’”
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the stinging report, the agency is promising even tougher security measures, but all that will do is exacerbate the current situation, whereby regular travelers will endure further delays for only miniscule increases in security.
Governments create bureaucracies. Those who are part of those systems are rewarded by the degree to which they follow the rules, not to the extent that they use creativity and common sense to achieve the fundamental objective.
Our airports are only the most obvious reflection of government at work: high costs, long lines and many hassles, and only illusory security gains. Nothing will change as long as we rely on the government to protect us.