- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2009


On too many days, it is easy to forget that the T and the S in TSA stand for “Transportation Security.” More to the point would be “Totally Squandered” credibility, “Terminally Sloppy” screening and - most recently - “Transparent Secrets.”

The TSA has wasted millions of dollars on untested equipment that it turns out can’t stop explosives from passing through its airport checkpoints. The agency’s baggage screeners fail skills tests so often that employee representatives are pressing to abandon the tests. Now we learn agency officials approved the posting of documents online that outline standard operating procedures for screening airplane passengers. This snafu offers a road map for slipping through airport security.

The information was posted in March and removed only this month, although it is now reproduced across the Web. The document details who is exempt from secondary screenings, which foreign travelers automatically get a second screening, as well as the frequency and methods for ID verification during peak travel periods and the circumstances when airport screeners allow police, fire or emergency personnel past a checkpoint.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees TSA, went so far as to tell the House Homeland Security Committee that “the security of the traveling public has never been put at risk.” All right, add “Truly Specious” to the list of sobriquets that apply to this bureaucracy.

The agency published easy-to-copy examples of federal air marshal, congressional and CIA identification cards. They also provided details about the calibration process for airport metal detectors and specifics about the gauge of wires that may not be detected by airport machines, information that wouldn’t change unless we upgraded or replaced them all.

Both TSA and the House Homeland Security Committee have opened investigations into the matter. But no matter what they turn up, there’s no getting the information back - and the real problem at the agency isn’t one of failure, but a culture of incompetence.

If the George W. Bush administration had one historic achievement, it was preventing terrorists from striking at the United States for seven years after Sept. 11, 2001. If President Obama and his administration hope to build on the Bush accomplishments, transforming TSA into an agency that advances “transportation security” will be critical.

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