Monday, December 28, 2009

"The system works" -- I guess that means the Transportation Security Administration doesn't

Who doesn't wonder when they take a plane whether all that TSA folderol actually accomplishes anything other than to build the world's largest collection of confiscated pocket geegaws with sharp edges? I like to think that TSA is more than the do-nothing federal job creation caricature critics make it out to be, but like a lot of folks, I wonder now and then. The sorry saga of the would-be Christmas Day skybomber on that Detroit flight certainly gives critics of TSA lots of ammunition.

But the real confidence-shaker was the way Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano limped on a single leg from one Sunday morning talk show to another with her other foot planted firmly in her mouth, two full days after the event. It was amazing she could talk at all with her mouth so full. She told CNN the incident demonstrates "the system works." She said the same thing on This Week when I was was watching. I couldn't believe she said what I thought she said and had to turn to the internet to confirm it.

If you take what she said literally, she seems to be advocating an extreme privatization approach to homeland security in the air -- that is, making it the responsibility of individual brave, quick-thinking and resourceful passengers. I doubt that's what she meant. But since it's impossible to figure out what she really did mean, can't President Obama at least reassign her to some distant Homeland Security outpost where she would have no operational responsibility whatsoever and wouldn't have to talk to the press? Someplace like Antarctica?

And while he's at it, he might show some real concern and urgency about ending the track record of hapless security bungling that seems to be taking place on his Administration's watch lately. They shouldn't have gate crashers at the White House, and they shouldn't be letting a person they were warned about board a U.S. plane with pentaerythritol trinitrate taped to his leg.

Update: Now she says the system didn't work after all. Which is it? We haven't seen such an example of complacent cluelessness in public for some time. "Heckuva job, Brownie."


Jesse said...

In 2002 I was one of the people contracted by the government to train the new Transportation Security Administration agents how to use the baggage screening equipment. I can tell you it is all a dog and pony show. Right up until the last week of the year we all believed we would be continuing our contract because the company we worked for, AIS, kept telling us we were only 60-70 percent done training at airports (I still have the emails from December 15, 2002 saying as much). Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves heading home on New Year's Eve with Rumsfeld addressing Congress and tell them the job had been completed. I don't know how they finished training the remaining 30 percent.

As far as we could figure out during our last night drinking in a hotel bar in St. Louis was that it explained why during the last two weeks they had us doing "Delta Training" of the passenger screeners. The baggage handler were required to have 40 hours of training, but the passenger screeners only needed eight hours. It meant we could push through more passenger screeners over the course of a week because they didn't fall under the baggage handler 40 hour mandate. The TSA probably turned around and put all of those people on baggage duty.

thechrisproject said...

The TSA certainly frustrates me. Bruce Schneier, my go-to think-tank on security issues big and small, has said that there are only two things that have made flying safer since 9/11: reinforced cockpit doors and the fact that passengers now know to fight back.

We certainly can't rely on that. The TSA just reminds me of any other giant bureaucracy. Policies are reviewed, data is looked at, rules are instituted and followed... it probably feels like progress to them, but we're not safer.

Guy from Beantown said...

If you think this is bad just WAIT until "Obama Care" kicks in. Talk about another giant bureaucracy.