Undercover TSA Investigation Finds 96% of Fake Weapons Got Through Airport Security

Source: AP
Source: AP

It turns out you've been hassled at the airport for the past decade and a half for pretty much nothing.

An alarming report alleges Transportation Security Authority checkpoints at the airport do nothing to prevent people from smuggling weapons or explosives onto planes, meaning those nightmarish holiday-season delays aren't even keeping passengers safer.

Brace yourself: An ABC News report on an undercover Department of Homeland Security investigation found, "TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints."

In other words, approximately 95.7% of the time, the faux terrorists were able to get something deadly past the TSA.

In one particular incident, a Red Team investigator was "stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnometer," but TSA agents failed to find a fake bomb under the back of his shirt with tape.

While the TSA tried to blame their abysmal performance on insider knowledge the Red Teams possessed, allowing them to bypass or fool standard TSA screening procedures, the public embarrassment is already resulting in a major backlash. After the details of the review became public, acting TSA director Melvin Carraway has already been reassigned.

Can't get its act together: Even after all these steps that are routine on many domestic flights, the TSA apparently can't find anything that doesn't look like a cartoon bomb. In case you've forgotten what it's like to fly recently, the process goes like this:

1. Wait in line.
2. Present valid ID and ticket.
3. Wait a little longer to actually enter the security checkpoint.
4. Empty your pockets.
5. Remove your belt, shoes, watch and any items of clothing that might set off a metal detector.
6. Take laptops out of your baggage.
7. Put all of these things in a bin to be scanned.
8. Walk through a metal detector, or a more modern scanning device.
9. Possibly submit to a random hand-swabbing for traces of explosives, either manually or by machine.
10. If you're really unlucky, get detained for further checks based on an arbitrary set of factors, sometimes resulting in further pat-downs, questioning or even lengthy detainment.
11. Take several minutes to retrieve your bags and personal items.

The inconvenience might be worth the hassle if the TSA was capable of detecting something. But while the agency has made considerable strides getting average wait times down, it also has yet to prove that its more than $7 billion budget does much that's useful.

As libertarian blogger Glenn Harlan Reynolds noted in 2013, it looks a lot like the TSA is "security theater" put on to present the illusion of safety. Vanity Fair in 2011 called it "so much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost," arguing authorities would be better off focusing on disrupting plots before they reach the airport. The agency has likely never caught a terrorist, and may be no more effective at deterring them than the private contractors that oversaw security before 9/11. Even the New York Times hates the agency.

It's expensive, inconvenient and doesn't keep us safer. It's more than time for the TSA to be subject to real reform.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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