Washington, DC is my favorite city in America and other than family and friends, that is the thing (well, place) I miss most as I enter my third month in Germany. DC is a bustling city filled with great restaurants, beautiful architecture, rich history, and all-you-can-eat politics. As a member of the American Bar Association, I received an invitation to hear Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator John Pistole speak at the Capital Hilton in downtown Washington, DC earlier this week. Sadly, all I can do is report back what he said:
If we want to continue to ensure the secure freedom of movement for people and commerce across this great nation and around the world, there are solutions that go beyond the one-size-fits-all system…Everyone is familiar with the current system in place that screens nearly everyone the same way…My vision is to accelerate TSA’s evolution into a truly risk-based, intelligence-driven organization in every way.
I still have severe reservations with the federal government requiring passengers to submit to background checks in order to be deemed "trusted" when traveling internally within the United States, but the system is broken and maybe this will be a temporary patch until we become courageous enough to honestly reassess the airport security model in America. Recall that a TSA trusted traveler program is an idea that dates back many years.
The security framework we have in place today is broken. While we have not experienced a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9.11, I think it is reasonable and accurate to say that the TSA shares no credit for this. Last week, I blogged about full body scanners failing to detect a handgun in Dallas and this week we see that the TSA at JFK was apparently asleep on the job.
A man flying on JetBlue from JFK to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic was asked to stow his carry-on bag while the aircraft was still on the ground in New York. As he lifted his bag up, out dropped three box cutters. A shocked FA alerted the captain, who called in authorities to question the man. Turns out he was just an industrial worker from Jersey City who wasn’t aware the box cutters were in his bag. He was released and even made it to the Dominican Republic, but the flight was delayed by more than three hours, costing JetBlue and its passengers valuable time and money
The TSA released the following statement:
TSA continues to review the circumstances under which prohibited items were discovered on a plane at JFK International Airport on Saturday. TSA takes this matter very seriously and we can assure travelers that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken and remedial training will occur for the officers involved. There have been a number of additional security layers implemented on aircraft since 9/11 that would prevent someone from causing catastrophic damage with small cutting devices. They include the possible presence of armed federal air marshals, hardened cockpit doors, armed pilots, flight crews trained in self-defense and a vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to intervene.
To some extent, I think the TSA’s response is quite appropriate. If you read it closely, they essentially admit that it’s not them that will ultimately protect Americans from another hijacking attempt, but items like hardened cockpit doors and "a vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to intervene." That’s nice to hear from an organization that has taken far too much credit in the past for the lack of a successful terrorist attack in America over the last nine years.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: perfect security is impossible and the game of security theater we are playing now is counterproductive. Let’s see how Pistole roles out this new security program. Conceding it is fraught with unresolved issues, it will still probably be better than the mess we have now.