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Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

My New Year’s Resolution was to stop making fun of the Transportation Security Administration. Not because I changed my mind about the bureaucracy and its level of (in)competence, but rather because I felt as if I was taking candy from a baby. Kicking the TSA is just too easy.

But I can’t resist low-hanging fruit. I recently mocked the TSA for repeatedly failing to catch an undercover agent who carried a gun through the porno-scan machines.

Now it’s time to abuse the bureaucrats for another world-class blunder. A man recently got on a flight with three of the weapons that were used to hijack planes on 9-11. According to the New York Post.

A passenger managed to waltz past JFK’s ramped-up security gantlet with three boxcutters in his carry-on luggage — easily boarding an international flight while carrying the weapon of choice of the 9/11 hijackers, sources told The Post yesterday. The stunning breach grounded the flight for three hours Saturday night and drew fury from Port Authority cops, who accused the Transportation Security Administration of being asleep on the job. “In case anyone has forgotten, the TSA was created because of a couple boxcutter incidents,” said one PAPD source, referring to the weapons used by al Qaeda operatives to commandeer the jets they later slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.

In an unusual display of honesty, a TSA bureaucrat basically admitted that passengers were not in danger because of other factors. Which raises an obvious question of why we maintain an expensive bureaucracy that has no impact other than to inconvenience the traveling public?

The TSA spokeswoman Davis insisted that the traveling public was not at risk. “There have been a number of additional security layers that have been implemented on aircraft that would prevent someone from causing harm with boxcutters,” she insisted. “They include the possible presence of armed federal air marshals, hardened cockpit doors, flight crews trained in self-defense and a more vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to intervene.”

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This is really remarkable. We’re supposed to go through porno strip machines at the airport so the bureaucrats can detect firearms. Yet the Keystone Cops at the TSA in Dallas failed when an undercover agent tested their awareness by hiding a gun in her undergarments. They didn’t just fail. They. Failed. Every. Single. Time.

Check out this local news report, including a video at the link.

An undercover TSA agent was able to get through security at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with a handgun during testing of the enhanced-imaging body scanners, according to a high-ranking, inside source at the Transportation Security Administration. The source said the undercover agent carried a pistol in her undergarments when she put the body scanners to the test. The officer successfully made it through the airport’s body scanners every time she tried, the source said. “In this case, where they had a test, and it was just a dismal failure as I’m told,” said Larry Wansley, former head of security at American Airlines. “As I’ve heard (it), you got a problem, especially with a fire arm.”

This story worries me. But not because a terrorist might smuggle a gun on board. Passengers are now the most effective line of defense against hijacking, along with hardened cockpit doors and armed pilots.

But I am worried that the TSA might over-react, demand more intensive scrutiny, and cause airport security lines to become even slower.

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We all grumble that going to the airport now means long lines and invasions of privacy, but we hope that at least we’re getting safety in exchange for all the hassle. But based on results of random tests, the only thing we can really conclude is that terrorists must be very stupid. When undercover agents try to sneak bombs, guns, and other contraband through TSA security, they inevitably seem to succeed more than 50 percent of the time. Here are some key passages from an ABC News story about TSA’s incompetence, and I also encourage you to watch the video at the link.

Last fall, as he had done hundreds of times, Iranian-American businessman Farid Seif passed through security at a Houston airport and boarded an international flight.

He didn’t realize he had forgotten to remove the loaded snub nose “baby” Glock pistol from his computer bag. But TSA officers never noticed as his bag glided along the belt and was x-rayed. When he got to his hotel after the three-hour flight, he was shocked to discover the gun traveled unnoticed from Houston.

…the TSA did miss it, and despite what most people believe about the painstaking effort to screen airline passengers and their luggage before they enter the terminal, it was not that unusual.

Experts tell ABC News that every year since the September 11 terror attacks, federal agencies have conducted random, covert “red team tests,” where undercover agents try to see just how much they can get past security checks at major U.S. airports. And while the Department of Homeland Security closely guards the results as classified, those that have leaked in media reports have been shocking.

According to one report, undercover TSA agents testing security at a Newark airport terminal on one day in 2006 found that TSA screeners failed to detect concealed bombs and guns 20 out of 22 times. A 2007 government audit leaked to USA Today revealed that undercover agents were successful slipping simulated explosives and bomb parts through Los Angeles’s LAX airport in 50 out of 70 attempts, and at Chicago’s O’Hare airport agents made 75 attempts and succeeded in getting through undetected 45 times.

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I hate writing about the TSA and airport security, especially since I fly frequently and despise the pointless “security theater” of the whole process. I keep doing posts about the issue, though, because it seems a day doesn’t go by without some new revelation about foolish government action.

Here’s a video (courtesy of Pejman Yousefzadeh and Megan McArdle) indicating that TSA bureaucrats violated federal law and deliberately hassled a woman for not surrendering to their petty demands.



A couple of quick thoughts…

1. If the statements in this video about the treatment of breast milk are true, the manager and screeners involved should be fired. And if they’re not fired, that tells us things will get even worse.

2. The passenger being harassed may be an activist who deliberately wanted to provoke this reaction, but even if she was the world’s biggest b*tch, that does not justify the TSA’s behavior.

3. What did the TSA accomplish by making the woman pour the breast milk into smaller containers? Let’s assume the liquid actually was some sort of compound that becomes dangerous in amounts greater than 3 ounces. Couldn’t the woman just pour the little bottles back into the big bottle once she got on the plane?

4. Having said all this, we do have real security concerns. I have no doubt that there are people in the world (and even in America, as shown by the recent Portland bombing plot) who gladly would like to blow up a plane using fake breast milk. Heck, some of these nut-jobs would probably be willing to smuggle explosives onto a plane in the diaper of one of their own children (though I’m not sure what an infant will do with 72 virgins if such a bomb plot succeeded).

5. When all is said and done, I’m amazed that these fanatic morons haven’t blown up a plane since 9-11. In part, this may be because they actually are morons. But I suspect a lot of the credit goes to our intelligence services, so kudos to the FBI, CIA, et al, but continued jeers for the TSA’s empty security theater.

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Our airport security system is a giant hassle. It’s very costly. And now we have the incredible privilege of having government bureaucrats grope our private parts.

So are we getting big benefits to offset these high costs? Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner has a column about the TSA that includes a single sentence (actually, a fragment of a sentence) that pretty much tells us what we need to know.

…despite years of imposing increasingly invasive new security procedures, the TSA has yet to catch one terrorist.

To be fair, one interpretation of this sentence is that the TSA and its overseas counterparts have done such a great job that terrorists have given up. Yet the “shoe bomber” made it on a plane, as did the “underwear bomber.”

Moreover, the Government Accountability Office warns that it’s unclear whether the new body-imaging approach would have caught the underwear bomber. And since this approach apparently is unable to detect certain types of bombs hidden in body cavities (use your imagination), we’re still left with the fundamental issue of whether the bureaucracy is imposing high costs on innocent people without providing a fail-safe way of stopping bad guys.

That being said, I confess that I’m amazed that terrorists haven’t succeeded in knocking down more planes since 9-11. Somebody, somewhere, deserves some credit. After all, protecting us from aggression is one of the few legitimate responsibilities of government.

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For those who follow the Drudge Report, you’ve presumably seen several stories about “Big Sis” and her plans to require either body imaging or a full pat down. I’ve always viewed this as a cost-benefit issue. There are crazies out there who want to blow up planes, so it is a legitimate function of government to figure out sensible ways of stopping this from happening.

But is the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, using a sensible approach? Setting aside issues of modesty and privacy (as well as possible radiation risks), will this new approach stop terrorists? Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune is not overly optimistic.

When it comes to protecting against terrorism, this is how things usually go: A danger presents itself. The federal government responds with new rules that erode privacy, treat innocent people as suspicious and blur the distinction between life in a free society and life in a correctional facility. And we all tamely accept the new intrusions, like sheep being shorn.

Maybe not this time.

…The agency is rolling out new full-body scanners, which eventually will replace metal detectors at all checkpoints. These machines replicate the experience of taking off your clothes, but without the fun. They enable agents to get a view of your body that leaves nothing to the imagination.

…Besides the indignity of having one’s body exposed to an airport screener, there is a danger the images will find a wider audience. The U.S. Marshals Service recently admitted saving some 35,000 images from a machine at a federal courthouse in Florida. TSA says that will never happen. Human experience says, oh, yes, it will.

For the camera-shy, TSA will offer an alternative: “enhanced” pat-downs. And you’ll get a chance to have an interesting conversation with your children about being touched by strangers. This is not the gentle frisking you may have experienced at the airport in the past. It requires agents to probe aggressively in intimate zones — breasts, buttocks, crotches. If you enjoyed your last mammography or prostate exam, you’ll love the enhanced pat-down.

…Though the harm to privacy is certain, the benefit to public safety is not. The federal Government Accountability Office has said it “remains unclear” if the scanners would have detected the explosives carried by the would-be Christmas Day bomber. They would also be useless against a terrorist who inserts a bomb in his rectum — like the al-Qaida operative who blew himself up last year in an attempt to kill a Saudi prince. Full-body scanning will sorely chafe many innocent travelers, while creating only a minor inconvenience to bloodthirsty fanatics.

I travel enough that all I care about is getting through the security line without losing an hour of my time. But I’ve been through these machines and they don’t seem to speed up the process (and if anybody checked me out, at my age, I’d be flattered). So chalk this up as another victory for senseless government policy.

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