TSA Takeover Complete, But Flying Not Necessarily Safer
July 7, 2008 - 8:20 PM
Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The federal agency charged with protecting the nation's air passengers has reached its goal of replacing private-sector security screeners at all commercial airports in the country with federal workers by Nov. 19.
But on the day after that accomplishment, security and counter-terrorism experts aren't convinced the government takeover will make any difference.
Transportation Secretary Norman Minetta said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had "defied the critics" who said the agency could not meet the deadline.
"Today every checkpoint at every airport is staffed by the best-trained, most consistently professional screening force in aviation history," Minetta said.
In spite of the fact that there are more than 44,000 new passenger screeners and 158 federal security directors serving the country's 429 commercial airports, not all security experts agree that the federal presence means flying is safer.
Missing a Critical Element
Kelly McCann, managing director of Kroll's Protective Services and Training Group in suburban Washington, D.C., said Tuesday the federal screening workforce is still missing what he called "a critical element."
"They've been well-trained on the machines. They've been trained to be courteous. They've been trained to more properly handle the traveling public," McCann noted. "But, I've been traveling recently and I haven't seen any situation where they ask you anything different than they used to."
McCann, who trains bodyguards, government agents and military special forces, said screeners must know how to ask specific questions designed to root out passengers with unwelcome intentions.
"[These are] questions that are designed to evoke a response that is observable and then, based on the manifestation when you ask the question, that learned questioner decides whether you should pass on through the line or get pulled out of the line and asked other evocative questions to see what [happens]," McCann explained.
McCann doubts the TSA's screeners have the ability or authority to conduct such interrogations.
"You can't tell me that someone who is trained for only 40 hours is going to be knowledgeable enough about behavior patterns to do that," he added.
TSA 'Pulls Rabbit Out of Hat'
Charles Slepian is CEO of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, a New York think tank addressing issues of traveler safety. He told CNSNews.com Tuesday that he too is skeptical about the TSA's accomplishments.
"I don't think we're a hell of a lot safer than we were before," Slepian said. "I think they're to be congratulated for pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Last July they had virtually no federal employees and, by hiring 3,300 people a month since July, they were able to meet their requirement of 44,000."
The TSA's mandatory 40 hour classroom training is as unimpressive to Slepian as it is to McCann.
"That's a week's worth of training in such things as detecting bombs, doing a limited amount of profiling of passengers, knowing how to go through carry-on bags properly," Slepian noted. "November 19th was the deadline for the 44,000 workers. Well, they met the deadline. I would expect that they would. They've spent $6 billion 'securing' the airports."
But Slepian questions the ability of the TSA to conduct appropriate criminal background checks on its 44,000 workers in less than six months, when the Federal Aviation Administration was never able to complete background checks on the thousands of employees who have access to secured areas of airports. That concern, he said, leads logically to another major area of trepidation.
"Unless we stop the [potential] flow of weapons and bombs from the back of the airport by the hundreds of thousands of employees who have access to baggage and airplanes who are not being searched the way you and I are in an airport, we haven't yet begun to deal with the problem," he concluded.
Pilots Not Impressed
Airline Pilot's Security Alliance Chairman Capt. Tracy Price, a commercial airline pilot, was also less than enthusiastic about the TSA's "bragging rights" to having met the congressionally mandated deadline.
"We shouldn't feel any safer," Price said. "What we're doing is nothing more than a show."
Price said that numerous weapons are specifically designed to bypass traditional detection equipment, and trained terrorists will know how to improvise weapons from items that are readily available to crewmembers on an airplane.
"By embarking on the fantasy that we can solve this problem strictly by screening, we're doing nothing but wasting the taxpayers' money," Price concluded. "It sure isn't making the traveling public any safer."
Price's group supported legislation to allow pilot volunteers to be trained and armed with firearms to repel assaults on an aircraft's cockpit, a provision that is included in the House-passed version of the bill and is expected to be included in homeland security legislation under consideration Tuesday in the Senate.
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