A senior TSA “whistleblower” claims his agency has chosen expediency over keeping passengers safe. But is “safe” really about safety or more about optics?
Jay Brainard has been a TSA officer in Kansas for 17 years and has a history of filing complaints against his own agency. He recently sfiled a new round of complaints that speed is taking precedence over safety.
Per CNN, his claims include:
- Walkthrough metal detectors at all US airports have been switched to a reduced-sensitivity setting — below levels they were at in the years following 9/11 — which Brainard says could potentially enable bomb components, 3-D printed weapons and other suspicious items to pass through. Brainard says sensitivity levels have not been altered with the body scanners.
- The TSA has instructed officers to keep the X-ray conveyor belts moving in the expedited PreCheck lines, hampering their ability to zero in on questionable items in bags.
- The TSA before late 2017 failed to adequately screen TSA officers for colorblindness, which is a disqualifier for employment in the agency because officers need to be able to differentiate between colors to spot potential explosives when using the X-ray machines.
- Automated settings on X-ray machines on PreCheck conveyor belts for luggage that flag suspicious items for employees operating the machines have been turned off, removing a computerized tool to help them scan for threats.
- The TSA has ordered that officers allow some passengers with medical devices, such as casts or prosthetics, to do a self-pat down when they set off the alarm. The decision was made out of sensitivity to people with medical conditions. Although, they are allowed to do a self-pat down they will undergo an explosive detection test and have hand swab to check for evidence of explosives.
- The TSA allows unvetted non-PreCheck passengers into the PreCheck lanes in order to speed up the lines.
Security At Any Price Is Not A Price I Am Willing To Pay
Airport security, like so many things, is a tradeoff. Certainly we could strip search every passenger and ensure no contraband ever makes it onboard an aircraft. But time and civil liberties are great counterweights to the notion of security.
Politicians, airlines, and consumers demand not only the illusion of safety, but efficiency. When TSA wait times creeped way up earlier this year, the outcry echoed through the mountains…long wait times are simply not feasible.
And yet we are faced with this dilemma: the TSA’s undercover “Red Teams” detected a 95% failure rate in 2015 in finding illicit weapons or other contraband. If that statistic has any merit—and I don’t see any reason to think otherwise—then this whole TSA game we play every time we travel is a sham.
So all of Brainard’s criticisms, some of which are reasonable, some which may be a stretch, really don’t move the TSA from useful to useless, but more like useless to more useless. It’s like crying over spilled milk.
Thus, I’m not losing any sleep over this latest “whistleblower” report.
I view airport security and the TSA not as an actual provider of safety, but merely as a deterrent. More so, I view the TSA as phycological crutch that makes travelers feel safer, with all emphasis on feel. My position has not changed in the 10 years I have written this blog.
Sure, the TSA is speeding things up. I, for one, appreciate that clearing security rarely takes more than a few minutes. And as long as it just theatre anyway, I’m simply not all that concerned about the latest revelations. They merely demonstrate what we’ve long already known.