Tag Archives: security

The TSA: an illusion of security

Some of you may have heard the reports about the Transportation Security Administration’s failure to pass surprise inspections that tested their effectiveness at stopping threats. If you haven’t, allow me to fill you in.

What’s significant here is the scope of their failure. According to ABC news, the TSA allowed 67 out of 70 possible threats to sneak by their airport checkpoints unnoticed. That’s a 95 percent failure rate. But how can the TSA be so ineffectual at what is literally their only job? That’s what we’re here to find out.


Homeland Security personnel dressed as civilians walked into dozens of airports all over the country and were able to smuggle everything from mock explosives to weapons past the security checkpoints. These “red teams” were part of Homeland Security’s push to identify the TSA’s most serious weak points.

The TSA claims that the numbers in reports like these never look good out of context, with some officials even going as far as to claim the Homeland Security agents were “super terrorists” who pushed every aspect of the TSA’s operation to the limit.

But isn’t that the point?

In fairness, the TSA say they’ve already corrected some of the security lapses that led to their procedural failings, but it’s very unfeasible that they have already corrected all or even most of them.

A look through the TSA’s website reveals that they’ve installed new equipment such as the Advanced Imaging Technology scanner. They’ve also expanded their new two-lane checkpoints to 2,640 square feet, which the agency says will create more space for both passengers and security personnel.

However, these improvements were only made at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, with no mention in the press release of similar improvements being made in any other locations. There are no speech transcripts, testimonies, or press releases available on the TSA’s website from the month the story broke that address their security failures.


Peter Neffenger, Ambassador for the TSA, told the House Committee on Homeland Security he was “greatly disturbed” by the TSA’s failure rate on the undercover tests. Neffenger cited DHS Secretary Johnson’s ten-step plan to improve the TSA’s methods and increase their effectiveness.

According to the transcript of Neffenger’s testimony to congress, “The assessments are designed to determine the proximate root causes of these failures and provide effective system-wide solutions.” When the testimony was given, Neffenger promised a “systemic review” to identify vulnerabilities across the aviation security system as a whole.


The rhetoric coming from TSA brass may sound reassuring, but the agency’s actions in response to its security lapses have been baffling. The TSA spent nearly $50,000 on an app that splits waiting passengers into two lines with a simple right swipe/left swipe function – a job that could easily have been done without the assistance of an iPad.

According to Politico, fewer passengers are going to be funneled through the less-invasive PreCheck lines in an effort to be more thorough, but many criticize this plan as slowing down an already slow process. There has also been talk of increasing the presence of drug-sniffing dogs and bomb-residue detecting hand swabs.

Representative Bennie Thompson of the House Homeland Security Committee told Politico that he supports adding more manual screening and increasing the selectiveness of expedited treatment, but he’s also worried about how this shift would look in the wake of the TSA’s efforts to speed the screening process for the millions of passengers they see every day.

It has become clear that we as a nation are going to have to make the choice between spending more time in airport lines, and increasing the risk of someone dangerous getting through the checkpoints.

While submitting to more screenings may not seem ideal, it’s hard not to argue that something must be done about the TSA’s security lapses. If the TSA are going to change up their act in an effort to improve, it’s up to us as passengers to be ready for it.

An effort to reach the TSA at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport for comment was unsuccessful.

Photo source: fox9.com

Homeland Insecurity

Updated: June 2, 2015

It may be just a coincidence that both Canada and the U.S. have experienced serious breaches in homeland security in the last month, but it is very important not to miss the underlying significance of it all. Let’s start from the top. One month ago Omar Gonzalez scaled the walls of the White House, ran across the lawn, forced his way into the building, and made it all the way to the East Room before finally being tackled by security (oh, and Gonzalez was armed.) And now our neighbor to the north has suffered an even more serious breach.

Omar Gonzalez
Omar Gonzalez (photo curtesy of the Washington Post)

As most of you have no doubt already heard, lone gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo to death on Wednesday in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (near Canada’s Parliament building.) Zehaf-Bibeau then entered said building and opened fire on security guards before being fatally shot. In both the American and Canadian incidents the assailants were subdued, but not before causing great alarm in their respective countries. You would think the measures used to protect important assets such as the Canadian Parliament building and the White House would be a bit tighter, especially in this age of global terrorism. I’m aware that the shock of 9/11 faded long ago, but the danger of terrorism never did; it was only temporarily disrupted.

Unfortunately, terrorism is something that will never be defeated. It only takes one person to cause a major incident, as we’ve seen firsthand in recent months. That’s why it is all the more important to stay vigilant at home and not allow these egregious breaches in homeland security occur. But in every tragedy lies a valuable lesson to be learned. Let’s examine the parallels and contrasts between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Omar Gonzalez. Both men are thought to be mentally unstable, but for different reasons. Authorities believe that Zehaf-Bibeau was disgruntled due to a delay in receiving his passport.

According to an informative article from NBCNews.com, Zehaf-Bibeau is a radicalized Canadian who’s next move was to get to Syria in order to join ISIS. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/canadian-parliament-shooting/ottawas-parliament-hill-reopens-public-after-deadly-shooting-n233821. Omar Gonzalez, on the other hand, is an American veteran of the Iraq war suffering from PTSD. His family was quick to rush to his defense in the aftermath of the incident, explaining how he was reduced to living out of his car prior to the incident. A detailed piece on Gonzales and his personal history can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/09/30/alleged-white-house-intruder-omar-gonzalez-is-a-veteran-does-it-matter/.

Now, what is the most prominent trait these men share? They’re both natural-born citizens of the countries they attacked. This is further proof that domestic terrorism is alive and well. We as a nation, and indeed every nation in the world, must constantly keep an eye peeled for one of our own that could snap at any moment. I don’t want this to sound hysterical, because there is actually good reason to be concerned. Far from the fearmongering-for-ratings game that every major news network has played at some point over the years, this article is designed as a warning and a reminder: our government needs to keep a firm finger on the national pulse. Both of these incidents are repeats of previous incidents very similar in nature, and the people in charge need to start recognizing the patterns.

Michael Zehef-Bibeau
Michael Zehef-Bibeau (photo curtesy of thepunditpress.com)

Not only our government, but average citizens as well. No one can predict with 100% accuracy when the next catastrophe will strike, but it’s evident that in times of international crisis (brought on by things like Ebola and ISIS) the average person is more likely to suffer some kind of breakdown, private or public. In the case of Zehaf-Bibeau and Gonzalez, it was public. Very public. And while their’s is an extreme example, the truth is that it can happen to anyone who has experienced similar hardships. I’m not excusing their actions by any means, but I am saying that both Canada and the U.S. have to learn from these incidents and provide more help for people under physiological duress.

Think of this whole situation in terms of a mother and her toddler. If the toddler doesn’t get enough attention, he’s going to act out. If the U.S. had solved the embarrassing VA fiasco, maybe Gonzalez wouldn’t have been so disgruntled. Same applies to the bureaucracy in Canada that delayed Zehaf-Bibeau’s passport. Again, I’m not excusing the actions of either of these men. I’m simply pointing out solutions that may very well prevent future incidents of a similar nature.  While the mother/toddler metaphor may be a bit too juvenile for the seriousness of the situation, it is apt none-the-less. I believe said metaphor applies to every country, even well-established democracies.