“Meltdowns” the TSA forgot to mention

By | June 3rd, 2012

John Mica is sounding the alarm bells about “another TSA meltdown.” In a vaguely worded press release issued late Friday, the Florida congressman, who chairs the committee that oversees the airport screeners, warned of a “dramatic meltdown of TSA operations” at an unnamed Florida airport.

He declined to provide details, except to say that it may involve a substantial number of TSA employees, including high-ranking airport security officials.

“When confirmed,” he added, “the significant security system failure at this Florida airport once again highlights the need to get TSA out of the human resources business and back into the nation’s security business.”

A nebulous press statement filled with hyperbole? Sounds like something a legislator might do during an election year.

Oh, wait. It is an election year.

But Mica’s rhetoric — and his obvious agenda, which is to privatize the TSA — looks amateurish when compared with the spin that’s sputtering out of the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems every week.

I’m referring to the weekly updates on the TSA’s blog. In the latest, delivered the same day as Mica’s oblique warning, the agency boasts of the dangerous weapons caches its agents discovered.

“7 stun guns were found this week in carry-on bags,” it reports. “Among them were a couple of standouts both discovered at Detroit (DTW). One was disguised to look like a smart phone while the other doubles as a punching weapon.”

In all, the TSA confiscated 31 firearms last week — 22 of them loaded, 9 unloaded. It also discovered illegal narcotics in nine separate incidents, thanks to its full-body scanners. Although agents aren’t “looking” for drugs, the agency insists the busts are a “a testament that the technology works.”

Related story:   When should hotels refund non-refundable rooms? Survey says ...

Don’t you feel safer already? (Well, you shouldn’t; terrorists don’t carry guns or smuggle drugs — the last one to bring down a plane did it with boxcutters and brute force. Remember?)

No one knows exactly what Mica is referring to. The congressman says the TSA is keeping the press in the dark about it. Maybe it’s connected to the proposed termination of five agents in Southwest Florida the same day. Who knows?

What’s certain is that the TSA missed a few things last week — things that could be considered a “meltdown” in their own right.


For example, there’s the strange case of Marc Rory Duncan, 38, the stowaway on a commuter flight in San Diego. Just the night before, Duncan had been released from jail, where he’d been serving time for theft.

Duncan reportedly managed to penetrate San Diego’s TSA defenses and hop on a United Express plane just before it departed for Los Angeles. An alert flight crew noticed the ex-felon, who was making some “pretty incoherent statements.”

TSA says it’s initiating an investigation and will take appropriate action. But what, exactly, is appropriate when someone who is probably not in his right mind just waltzed through every legendary layer of security you have?

Chairman Mica? Anyone?

TSA misses — or meltdowns — are so routine, no one notices them even more. Just a few days before the former jailbird tried to fly in San Diego, the the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged a Piedmont Airlines pilot with attempting to board a flight in Buffalo, NY, with a loaded revolver.

Related story:   On vacation? Odds are, you're checking email over and over and over and over ...

Brett Dieter of Barboursville, Va., was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, but the specifics of his case are interesting. Apparently Dieter had been flying with his .357 Magnum for several days before it was discovered.

If I were an aspiring jihadist, the path to paradise would be clear to me now. I’d buy a pilot’s uniform and a handgun and walk through a TSA screening area babbling incoherently.

They’d have to let me through.

Do you really need me to tell you this isn’t working? Well, maybe you do. So I’ll say it again: the TSA is broken beyond repair. This isn’t security theater (and whoever coined that term has done us a great disservice by reducing it to simple theater) it’s incompetence on a grand scale, the likes of which we haven’t seen in at least a generation. This makes every Soviet five-year-plan look the very model of efficiency. The TSA, for its part, wants to double down its bet with its own five-year plan of sorts: an ambitious proposal to increase its size by doubling security fees for round-trip flights. The proposal is making some headway in the Senate.

The TSA’s critics — that would be every man, woman and child subjected to an invasive scan or pat-down this summer — might disagree. If the agency could show them a single terrorist caught, a single passenger saved from a criminal or a drug-toting passenger, they may see things the TSA’s way. They’d happily pay more to be kept safe from these dangers.

But as it stands, many air travelers can’t figure out exactly what the TSA is protecting us from.

Related story:   If it's called Secure Flight, why do I feel so insecure?



  • chevy4wd

    Ok, I would truly like to hear from the 4 people (at this time at 11:18 mst) who would seriously vote “yes, the TSA is effectively protecting America’s transportation systems.”  The TSA at it’s current state is a joke and giving them more money won’t improve security.

  • LeeAnneClark

    It’s TSO Ron and his buddies.  Delusional as always.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Got to be TSOs playing on their smartphones while “working”.

  • Joe Farrell

    The simple question to ask TSA when they tout their ‘successes’ in finding weapons is to ask them how many prosecutions they have led for attempted air piracy and for terrorism. 

    If the person they caught with the banned [fill in the blank] was a threat to commercial aviation I cannot imagine that they would not seek to press charges for the maximum penalty they could find.  If they were catching people who were attempting to hijack or bomb airplanes – don’t ya think they’d prosecute them for attempting to hijack airplanes?  

    Yet – after all this brouhaha – there has not been a SINGLE prosecution for attempted air piracy or for terrorism by airplane from a single seizure the TSA has EVER done.  

    Hmmm – interesting – so while it is administratively interesting that they have caught all these guns, soda bottles and toothpaste tubes – not a single person who has been caught with them has been a threat to the flight they were attempting to board.  Whooops.  

    The key to fighting TSA is not the numbers of prohibited items they find – but the safety that they have brought.  The only terrorism attempted against Americans in the air has been from foreign sourced persons and aircraft out of the control of the TSA. . . . 

    Journalists need to ask the REAL question to get the real answer –

  • After opt’ing out and getting a 25 minute delay going through security, multiple full body searches, my luggage left out (with my purse etc.) where anyone could take it while they told me severely to stay on the seat they put me on… and oh then, when they finally realized I wasn’t going to sit down until they did something about my luggage, they ran it thru AGAIN.  Oh good solution, now it’s back where it was.  Perfect.  Yes, that was clearly a solution. The level of intelligence displayed was, well… I don’t have a polite word for it.  My luggage was x-rayed four times (all that does is make me think the person running the x-ray can’t get it right the first time), wiped down once, hand searched once and I got two full searches, one ‘in private’… all just because I didn’t want to get back scattered.  If they wanted to make me despise them and truly KNOW they were completely incompetent, they succeeded.  They have so many darned false positives with those wipes it’s pathetic, I don’t think my luggage has ever passed that.  This was the first time they also wiped ME down with those… including under my arms.  HOW my deodorant is a security risk is beyond me.  I’ve been through Israel’s security inspections, this organization is ridiculous and needs to be gotten rid of.

  • Erin, power and control, power and control.  It’s not about security.  None of this is about security. It’s about showing you who’s boss. Abuse is just part of the package.

  • And those Big Scary Confiscated Items are metal. Caught by — duh — metal detectors.

    As for journalists, hah! Journalists, so-called, are complicit.  They’re just as credulous and sheep-like as the millions of Americans who think a terrorist is hiding up everybody’s butt.  Don’t look to journalists for any skepticism on this issue. They’re just as willing to bend over and spread ’em as anybody else.

  • cjr001

    That’s 25 minutes they didn’t spend looking for a terrorist.

    The 9 people (so far) who voted yes should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

  • LeeAnneClark

    And let’s not forget that the only terrorism attempted against Americans in the air was stopped not by the TSA, but by…passengers!

  • LeeAnneClark

    Well, they would be, except they’re too busy terrorizing and feeling up children and senior citizens, and rifling through our belongings looking for something of value they can swipe. 

    No time for feeling ashamed when they’ve gotta use their break time to add their vote to Christopher’s blog.

  • ClaraCWhitsett
  • About a week ago, my wife and I flew from MHT to STL on SWA.  We were originally in the line to go through the metal detector when they decided to move that line to the body xray (back scatter) machine.  This was the first time in the past several years that we had to go through this.  After going through it, they did pull me aside and double check a spot that showed up on the scan, which was on my belt (without the buckle attached).  All checked OK, but then they did an extra inspection of my carry-on luggage.  What is funny about this, is that what showed up on the xray was an object that appeared to them to be a solid “brick” of something.  Turned out it was 2 large (about 6 oz) pieces of locally made fudge that they were concerned about.   I asked them if they were going to confiscate it, but they just chuckled and said no.  But, they had to run it through the xray again.   Just a minor inconvenience for me and we didn’t lose our fudge!   However, we did observe  other people getting many items confiscated, such as large bottles of gels or liquids, aerosols, etc.  Don’t people realize that these are forbidden in carry-on bags?

  • LeeAnneClark

    I think the more appropriate question is “doesn’t the TSA realize that neither fudge, shampoo or sunscreen will bring down an airplane?”

  • Daizymae

    Why are you advertising a kindle on this blog?

  • LeeAnneClark

    It’s spam.  Look at the profile activity – they are spamming the same link on numerous blogs.  Christopher needs to delete stuff like this.

  • DavidYoung2

    Why do you do it?  Just to let the TSA-crazies vent lest they explode in their hovels?  There’s lots of imperfect systems staffed by imperfect people.  Although it is entertaining to watch the regulars start their engines and then go ‘full throttle’ against any perceived injustice from the TSA.

  • NakinaAce

    They will all vote for Obama and the scum that is the modern democratic party. That is their only reason for existing. I wish he would buy their votes with his money and not ours though. 

  • Drontil

    Here’s an interesting suppostion posted at another website, regarding this week’s “big catches” thread at the TSA blog:

    http://www.travelunderground.org/index.php?threads/tsa-tries-to-hide-admitting-to-an-illegal-search.3588/#post-34232 

    This is something that needs to be investigated, Chris.

  • GeoffDepew

     if you mouse over the ‘x time ago’ on the post, there’s a little picture of a flag that shows.  Click on that, and you can report it.  Christopher may not know about it unless you flag it for his attention, especially on heavily trafficked posts.

  • Andy wittal

    Hi there i would strongly appreciate TSO’s for their effort in the profession….thanks alot……

    Cheap Flight To Tirana

  • cjr001

    TSA shills like you, on the other hand, are not funny at all.

  • cjr001

    Because the Republicans were so much better with Bush, who, lest you so easily forget, was the one who pushed for TSA’s creation.

  • jim6555

    I don’t think that a political discussion belongs here but since you started one, you need to aware that the TSA was conceived and initially staffed during the administration of George W. Bush. There are many other sites that are the proper forum to vent political opinions.

  • You are thanking screeners for abusing innocent people?  Screeners are immoral losers who consider forcing unwelcome sexual contact on minor children to be “proper procedure”.

    Everything the TSA does makes us less safe.  The TSA is dosing pregnant women with ionizing radiation, re-traumatizing rape survivors, risking falls by placing people with compromised balance in stress positions, training children to cooperate with sexual predators, creating and transmitting nude images of minors, causing thousands of excess road deaths by diverting people who don’t want to deal with their abuse from the safest mode of long-distance travel, and switching from effective metal detectors to body scanners that make it trivially easy to conceal metal weapons (see Jonathan Corbett’s how-to video on YouTube).  Americans have had it with this failed agency and its gang of bullies invading our airport.  TSA, go away and never come back! 
    Congress, we demand that you end this debacle immediately.

  • cjr001

    Based on the unusual wording of the comment, as well as the included link, I’m thinking that comment is spam.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.