Response so far to TSA failures not going to fly

Most of us who have traveled by air over the past 13 years have experienced the inconvenience of dealing with Transportation Security Administration screenings, random searches and regulations. And, most of us dutifully packed our toiletries in tiny containers, inside separate clear plastic bags; submitted to full-body scans and patdowns; took off our shoes; endured the long lines … followed all the new rules, because we believed what we were told – that it all would keep us safer.

In fact, the invasions of privacy and increased hoops to jump through were billed as necessary in order to ensure that our larger freedoms remained safe. Now, as the result of a Department of Homeland Security investigation, we are learning we were duped. An internal investigation conducted by Homeland Security teams showed TSA airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons an unfathomable nearly 96 percent of the time. Banned items made it through screening in 67 of 70 attempts in airports across the country.

In announcing what has become the typical response to government failures these days – acting administrator for the TSA Melvin Carraway has been “reassigned” -Homeland Security reminded Americans that airport screenings are but one of many ways in which we are told the government keeps us safe. An agency representative cited “intelligence gathering and analysis, cross-checking passenger manifests against watchlists, screening at checkpoints, random canine team screening at airports, reinforced cockpit doors, Federal Air Marshals, armed pilots and a vigilant public.”

We know intelligence gathering does not stop a man in a gyrocopter from landing on the U.S. Capitol lawn. We know screening at checkpoints fails almost every time. We know reinforced cockpit doors mean once a crazed co-pilot gets the pilot out of the cockpit, no one can get back in to stop him. We know watchlists can contain gaps and mistakes, and do not account for first-timers.

That leaves us to put our faith in dogs, armed marshals and pilots, and each other – not a bad plan, actually.

But meanwhile, more than $540 million in taxpayer money has been spent on baggage screening equipment alone, with millions more spent on training users, over the past six years. That is well over half-a-billion dollars for a program that simply does not work. Lawmakers had better demand a lot more accountability than simply the reassignment of one administrator for that kind of waste.