To determine the effectiveness of what has become one of the most invasive airport security systems in the world, the TSA sent 70 undercover agents with weapons to airports across the USA. Shocking, 67 out of 70 agents managed to get through customs without having their weapons detected: a failure rate of 95%.
The rate of success was so low that it can be explained by random chance, and the result so embarrassing that the head of the TSA (Melvin Carraway) was immediately reassigned to another position in the DHS (in the Office of State and Local Law Enforcement).
Keep in mind that the TSA gets over $4,000,000,000 ($4 billion) per year to make flying in and out of the United States safe. The long lines and use of expensive body scanners -which are slower and more expensive than other forms of detection- have always been justified with the rationale that they keep us safe.
In one example, an agent carrying a mock plastic explosive strapped to his back set off a detector, and then remained undetected during a pat-down.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement on June 1st saying the results of the security checks were classified but that he had directed the TSA to revise screening procedures “to address specific vulnerabilities identified” in the undercover operation. He also ordered training for all TSA officers and supervisors across the country and testing of airports’ screening equipment.
Training is likely the answer, but competence with the equipment is only a very small piece of the puzzle. It would probably also pay off for the agents to be trained in body language, and a more friendly demeanor and non-adversarial disposition would probably help in relaxing most people: making it easier to identify those who are potentially considering their own death.
It’s obvious that current training and strategy is worse than inefficient: it is little more effective than catching people based on random chance. We can only hope that whoever Congress chooses to become the new director of the TSA