Has the TSA become its own worst enemy?

Has the TSA become its own worst enemy?

You don’t have to read the 59-page congressional report on the Transportation Security Administration’s shortcomings, released on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, to conclude the agency has “become its own worst enemy.”

Just pay attention to the news.

Last week’s numerous TSA meltdowns underscored the findings of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security, which recommended a dramatic restructuring of the beleaguered agency that includes privatization, streamlining its lumbering bureaucracy, and giving it the resources to adapting more quickly to new security threats.

It’s almost as if someone planned it that way.

Let’s start on Monday, Sept. 10, a day before the release of the congressional report and a day on which the TSA should have been on high alert. But not at Port Columbus International Airport, where a cat stowed away in a passenger’s luggage was allowed to pass through the TSA’s vaunted 20 layers of security.

Bob-Bob, the feline in question, is owned by Ethel Maze of Circleville, Ohio, who was flying to Orlando for a Disney vacation that day. Somehow, Bob-Bob slipped into Maze’s luggage and remained there, undetected, until she opened her bag in Florida.

The TSA has no idea how it missed a cat in the bag.

“Our machines are very sensitive to picking up explosives and other threats to aviation,” Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, told the Orlando Sentinel.

That’s just fine. But what if Bob-Bob had been a Bomb-Bomb?

Fortunately, America’s finest were willing to protect us from the Passenger With a Bad Attitude who posted a video of her confrontation online for the world to see (see clip, above). As that story broke, observers noted, it was the first time an agent admitted on camera that extra screenings are retaliatory in nature. Indeed, the passenger — whose name remains a mystery — claims she missed her flight.

Note to the TSA brass in Washington: How hard can it be to get your employees to follow the script? After all, they were smart enough to answer your ad on a pizza box. How difficult can it be to memorize a few lines?

At least TSA’s PR department repeated its pre-approved response when asked to explain itself.

“In our initial review,” it claimed, “we concluded that this individual was screened in accordance with standard procedures.”


On Wednesday, we heard the remarkable story of the liquor theft ring at JFK Airport. Authorities in New York made a series of arrests after an informant bought 55,000 stolen mini-bottles of booze from the alleged thieves, according to prosecutors. Among the group of suspects were airline employees and private security guards with clearance to be in sensitive areas of the airport.

Makes you wonder what might have happened if these presumed criminals had darker motives than swiping a nip of Grey Goose. What if they had a taste for something a little stronger — like maybe incinerating themselves and a planeload of passengers in a final, glorious act of Holy Jihad?

Then on Friday, TSA screeners found a gun and ammunition in a traveler’s carry-on bag at one of the airports that should be most concerned with security: Reagan National Airport. Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority police reportedly confiscated the gun and magazine, which contained six rounds of ammunition, cited the passenger on weapons charges, and then — get this — let him catch his flight.

Seriously. They let the guy fly.

Given the total ineptitude of the TSA on display during a week when everyone was paying attention to airport security, the congressional panel’s statements seem so obvious, they’re almost redundant.

“In many ways,” its report noted, “TSA has become its own worst enemy.”

Specifically, the report cites the agency’s refusal to explain itself. Those canned statements from spokesmen come to mind, but Congress also says the agency has an established track record of telling us nothing of value when we ask questions about security procedures.

“The American people could be more supportive of TSA if they understood why TSA was implementing a particular policy or procedure and what threat or vulnerability it was addressing,” it adds. “Instead, in the last eleven years the American people have become increasingly more critical of TSA.”

And 11 years of stonewalling later, we have this ridiculous security circus. The TSA is asked about its porous security, its latest civil liberties violation, and it offers denial and double-talk.

The terrorists aren’t the TSA’s enemy. Critics like you, me, and the American Congress, who demand accountability, aren’t either.

Maybe, just maybe, the TSA has become its own worst enemy.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Guest

    On a trip from LAX to Honolulu I watched a male TSA agent pat down what looked like a skinny 8-9 year old girl who was wearing a pink tube top and blue short shorts with flip flops. The tube top and the shorts were the type that were thin elastic material fitting very tightly on her. You could probably see a dime through the clothes if you stood close enough. There could not be any possible place to hide anything on the little kid, but there he was, off in the special area, some pervert patting her down. It was child molestation straight up, nothing less.

  • Raven_Altosk

    When we fly with the baby next month, I’m hoping she leaves a weapon of mass destruction in her diaper just as we pass through security. Test that, TSA.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Wait until she gets a little older and is on solid foods. That’s when the fun begins …

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    That’s ridiculous. And to think, that could have been my daughter — or anyone’s daughter!

  • Fisher1949

    It’s as though they are intentionally making a mockery of airline security and fools of the American people. Is this because the secure area is so porous that they don’t trust it?

    In the past two years they have added taking naked images of us and our kids, fondling our privates in public and performing back room strip searches.

    Then they added warrantless interrogations of travelers, demanding answers to questions that law enforcement can’t ask.

    Now they expose people’s drinks purchased to some unknown chemical without providing any Safety data Sheet information required by OSHA and DOT for any substance that humans are exposed to or that is transported on US roads.

    They say the test liquid is safe but won’t say what it is. They told us the x-ray scanners were safe and now they’re removing them. This is from the same government that said that Agent Orange and nuclear testing were okay and we know how that turned out.

    Test drinks at the vendor, not after a person pays $8 for a cup of coffee.

    Now they are showing up at bus and train stations and even at public events that don’t even involve transportation. Soon they’ll be stopping people leaving their house under the pretext of “safety”.

    What’s next from this unstable agency, random executions of 1% of passengers? That grandmother from Iowa could be a terrorist so we better eliminate her just in case. Anything for safety you know.
    king air travel less secure.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    It’s worse than ridiculous. It’s criminal.

  • Guest

    What I watched that TSA agent do to that little kid is so indelibly burned into my memory I think I was a little bit traumatized by it. This event so angered me that I cannot see a TSA agent without thinking what kind of perverts and awful humans they really are, and how they are nothing less than organized crime. And that is sad because as a traveling salesman for nearly 30 years I have to keep my mouth shut at least twice a week, sometimes more.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    You should tell your story. I will publish it.

  • Simone

    And who’s the boss? The man in the Oval Office, that’s who. He’s the one that looks the other way while those hired to protect us from harm allow a man with a gun and ammunition to fly(albeit after taking it away) without question, but babies and little girls get felt up my perverts hands and those that question agents are in jeopardy of retaliatory perverted searches? Oh and how many millions of our tax dollars were thrown away so some pervs could see us naked, and the rays are a potential cancer threat?
    How come the boss never addresses this?

  • TSAisTerrorism

    And this is precisely what TSA counts on. They continue to operate because of a conspiracy of silence. Which is exactly what serial abusers and pedophiles do. I should know, I survived both.

  • TSAisTerrorism

    Not to forgive anyone higher up, but the stories are so completely unbelievable I imagine they think they’re made up. That’s why child abuse goes unnoticed for so long.

  • SoBeSparky

    Complaints of silly searches of completely unsuspecting travelers is what TSA counts on. Keeps any potential air terrorists off guard.

    I certainly am not defending all searches or the cat, guns and other things getting through security. But to some degree, upsetting the public over “why was that person ever searched?” and “that search was unnecessary given the clothing” are what keeps the criminals off guard. That does not excuse child abuse and “rape by hand.” (Both conditions can be a matter of interpretation. Only a complete video in context could solve the undependable human-witness problems so many criminal court attorneys could tell you about. “Eye witnesses” are just about the most unreliable allowable testimony in criminal court.)

    The “don’t touch my junk!” episode was perfect to warn any organized terrorist group than those underwear bombs might not be so hard to detect. (I sometimes wonder if TSA is clever enough in psychological warfare to have hired that guy in advance.) These anecdotal stories feed into fear of detection by criminals. (Yeah, and it feeds into fear of ordinary citizens that their “private areas,” however that is interpreted, will be touched. Hence they focus on that fear when being patted down.)

    The American public agreed to the invasion of their privacy with the Patriot Act and other similar legislation, all in the name of the War on Terror. Frankly, I am far more offended by having my international telephone calls legally tapped and emails monitored than a hand a little too close to sensitive areas of my body. It is a matter of personal perception of invasion of privacy. Ideally neither of these would occur in a freedom loving nation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    TSA management has had enough chances to get it right. Get rid of them all and start over, see if we can manage travel security with competent people. Oh, that’s right, all the TSA people would be without jobs and that would probably violate their rights.

  • frostysnowman

    The Patriot Act is an act of Congress signed into law by George Bush (extended by Barack Obama). The American public did not get to vote for it; we did not “agree” to these invasions of our privacy.

  • SoBeSparky

    The USA is a republic. We have had five congressional elections to vote out the pro-Patriot Act legislators. So far we have not. That is ample opportunity to demonstrate opposition to this law. In fact, voters allowed them to extend it without consequences.

    We have agreed to the Patriot Act through our elected representatives. If we have an opinion on the Patriot Act, then we can register to vote, and actually go to the polls and exercise our rights.

    For example, if the President is re-elected, expect the Affordable Health Care for America Act to be fully implemented. If the President is defeated and both houses of Congress are Republican, expect the Act to be modified or repealed. So too goes the Patriot Act.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    That’s a very strange perspective that I hadn’t considered. Could it be that the TSA wants horror stories about screenings in the media? I doubt it. I’ve heard that every member of Congress is getting angry letters and phone calls about the TSA. Accordingly, the TSA is now under pressure from Congress, so much so that John Pistole is afraid to show up for hearings and has started to refuse to attend various committee hearings by arguing that only one committee has the right to oversee what he does.

    Actually, I think only a tiny fraction of the truly egregious and violating things that the TSA does to innocent people end up as news stories. The TSA hurts people every single day – and it’s a rare victim who is willing to go public with the story, and who has enough corroborating evidence that the media will listen, and who happens to have a story different enough from the other outrages that have already hit the papers, et cetera. John Pistole arrogantly excuses all the TSA’s shameful behavior by calling the people he’s injured “one-offs”, as if it’s okay for him to hurt people so long as fewer than “X” victims complain.

    But I totally agree with you that having the government spying on my phone calls, emails, library borrowing, and movements is just as creepy as having some lowlife’s hand down my pants. The whole kit and caboodle makes me sick. I want my America back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    It’s never that simple. We have a two-party stranglehold on elections that manipulates our votes to ensure that no alternative voices are heard. Both Republicans and Democrats want to stamp out our privacy, our civil liberties, and our basic human decency until we silently let them invade our pants and our homes without resistance. I’m voting for Gary Johnson, but most voters have never heard of him because the two-party machine is afraid to let him on the debate stage.

  • SoBeSparky

    Just a thought. Larger covert activities have been hidden than a possible organized faux program to discredit the TSA while it pursues its intended objective, i.e. keep everyone off balance.

    I do not think this is paranoia or beyond feasibility.

    Yes, a goodly amount of missteps can be attributed to lots of other factors, such as poor training, poor judgment, and simply the “I am the Law” mentality.

  • emanon256

    Is Bob-Bob still alive?

  • SoBeSparky

    It is that simple in matters of national security. LBJ was forced to remove himself from a second term because of Democratic Party objections to the Vietnam War. Carter was defeated by Reagan in part by Carter’s vague and seemingly rudder-less approach to the Iranian hostages, never mind the same problem with the economy. Congress went overwhelmingly Democratic in 2006 as America grew very weary of the land wars in Asia and the lack of truthfulness of Bush on national security affairs.

    The mood of American voters in national security is reflected in the elections. This year, with the Iran War done with, and bin Laden dead, the electorate might very well decide to stick with the President despite the economic doldrums.

    If Americans felt it was a priority to get rid of the Patriot Act, then sufficient opposition would become apparent, and a movement would emerge. Instead it was amended with objections by a few. Self-described Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) was one of the loudest of the bunch.

    America seems to be apathetic to the implications of the Act. It will take a major scandal in personal liberties (remember Nixon’s enemy list and using the FBI?) to get a major revision.

  • emanon256

    That is just so wrong. So wrong! This makes me sick.

  • Guest

    It was 2006 on our Honeymoon going to Hawaii leaving out of LAX. My wife and I both observed it, as did some other people. Its a memory of seeing a child molested under the legal authority of our government that neither of us have managed to shake. Seeing something like this stays with you, especially if you have kids of your own.

  • Guest

    Deleted by user. Thanks Ed Boston. You’re right.

  • Matt Blumenfeld

    On a recent flight from Knoxville, I was surprised to find that EVERYONE went through the “magic look at me naked” machine on the way through security. I was even more surprised to see that people with drinks were having a mysterious stick waved over their beverage while waiting for their flight. What is that about, anyway? By the time you get inside to purchase your drink from an approved vendor INSIDE THE SECURED AREA, haven’t all the potentially dangerous sodas been confiscated and stashed in a secure place for further analysis (or whatever nonsensical thing is done with them)? If there is a secret terrorist organization selling exploding coffee, wouldn’t it make better sense to catch them before they distribute their deadly cargo to unsuspecting dupes that are simply trying to go from Point A to Point B? It’s absurd.

  • EdB

    While that is a great example of a FA abusing their authority, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the discussion. Neither the FA or the Air Marshall is part of the TSA.

  • Drontil

    Accordingly, the TSA is now under pressure from Congress, so much so that John Pistole is afraid to show up for hearings and has started to refuse to attend various committee hearings by arguing that only one committee has the right to oversee what he does.”

    That’s very interesting information, Sommer. I’ve been under the impression that he is afraid to show and instead is throwing his underlings to the wolves. Too bad the wolves aren’t devouring them.

  • BillCCC

    Please don’t. A six year old story where someone is accused of molesting a child would out you on very dangerous grounds. This is the kind of story you should leave alone.

  • jennj99738

    He’s fine. His owner found him when she opened her suitcase in Orlando after a 10 hour trip. I don’t want to think about what could happen to him health-wise in the future from being put through high-powered X-rays, though.

  • ScreamingLisa

    TSA still going strong after how many years? Geez more than 10. And I’ll bet each and every one of you is going to vote for an idiot who authroized it or propagated it this year. Who supprots the TSA? Look itn he mirror folks.

    ME? I find them entertaining. God forbid they go away.

  • mburrows

    I wonder how they will get Bob-Bob home. Pistole should send his jet to pick the animal up after missing him at the airport.  And before Travel Troubleshooter has to get involved – how ddid the hotel deal with the cat?