The Verdict Is In, And TSA's $1 Billion Surveillance Program is a Colossal Flop


In the latest report damning the Transportation Security Administration’s management of airport security, a report to be released late this week finds that there is little evidence that the $1 billion airport passenger screening program, believed to promote racial profiling, screens passengers objectively. 

The TSA’s “behavioral detection program” relies on officers selecting passengers who exhibit suspicious signs or behaviors. According to the report, the program and its 2,800 officers had never been assessed by the TSA, and did not have a comprehensive program.

The TSA cannot “show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion,” the report said. Further, this report is especially troubling because it is illegal to screen passengers because of their nationality, race, ethnicity or religion.

A New York Times report in August found that officers at Logan International Airport were singling out Hispanics traveling to Florida or blacks wearing baseball caps backward in response to demands from managers. The managers believed that questioning these individuals would lead to an increase in arrests for drug offenses and outstanding arrest warrants, which would justify the program and earn managers promotions.  

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, said that the report “deals yet another blow to TSA’s efforts to implement a behavioral detection screening program.” Thompson added that he would “prevent any more taxpayer dollars from being spent on this failed and misguided effort.”

This latest incident is just one in the TSA’s history of ineptitude. A report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security the in 2011 before said that between 2001 and 2011 there were more than 14,000 incidents of individuals getting into secure areas without going through TSA screening. A similar congressional report law showed that the TSA could save $800,000 a year by reducing storage of $184 million in outdated and unusable equipment.

That report highlighted “serious inefficiencies' in the Transportation Security Administration’s “management and deployment of screening technology” at airports. The report added that the TSA “is wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by inefficiently deploying screening equipment and technology to commercial airports.” A Department of Homeland Security report a year earlier had “identified vulnerabilities” in the $200,000 scanners.

Most recently, this past March an undercover TSA inspector with an IED stuffed in his pants got past two security screenings at Newark Airport, including a pat-down. In response to the TSA’s failures, Rep. John Mica, who wrote the legislation establishing the TSA, says, “The whole program has been hijacked by bureaucrats … It’s an agency that is always step out of step.”

Rep. Mica summed up the problem with the TSA: “Everything they have done has been reactive,” Mica said. “They take shoes off because of [shoe-bomber] Richard Reid, passengers are patted down because of the diaper bomber, and you can’t pack liquids because the British uncovered a plot using liquids.”