- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

The editorial pages of practically every major newspaper in the country have warned that the Transportation Security Administration is failing. Left, right, center, it doesn’t matter. The incompetence is obvious to anyone who looks.

Just last week this page dubbed TSA the “Terrorism Service Administration” for broadcasting detailed security information that could be used to slip through our defenses. The failed Christmas bombing of an Amsterdam-to-Detroit airline flight only underscores what everyone already knows: The Obama administration has continued failing security polices that don’t protect Americans from terrorists.

The crotch bomber should have been flagged before he ever set foot on an airplane. That could have happened if the U.S. government had fully implemented a searchable database to screen passenger lists for potential threats.

The U.S. government knew purported bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab might be dangerous, but only placed him on a watch list that failed to bring him to the attention of anyone who could do anything before he got on the plane. That he was banned from entering Britain alone was surely enough to subject him to great scrutiny at airport checkpoints. He purchased a ticket with cash and had no checked luggage, all behaviors that are supposed to flag passengers. They were two of the very red flags we missed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Even if such a functioning database existed, TSA has repeatedly shown it is not up to the task of being the last line of defense for the American flying public. TSA spent more than $795 million on new air-passenger screening technologies since its 2002 inception that it has yet to deploy nationwide, we pointed out in November. That doesn’t really matter, since TSA’s machines can’t stop explosives from passing through airport checkpoints, anyway.

Indeed, we’d been warned exactly what explosive might be used. Richard Reid used the same stuff in his failed attempt to blow up an airplane with an improvised explosive device. Instead of being able to detect the explosives, airline passengers take off their shoes. Christmas Day events show that remains a sham.

And the people protecting us aren’t much better than the machines. Baggage screeners fail TSA skills tests at a rate of about 50 percent nationwide and as high as 80 percent at some airports. Nevertheless, House Democrats and the Obama administration want to give screeners’ unions a role in determining the future of those tests - tests one union wants to weaken or abolish. We reported that in September.

In the latest act of ineptitude, TSA officials approved the posting of documents online that outlined standard operating procedures for screening airplane passengers. The move offered a road map for foiling airport security. And the TSA knew that an Abdulmutallab could slip through because U.S. investigators were able to do the exact same thing at multiple U.S. airports.

TSA’s actions since Christmas offer little hope for a change in direction. Instead we’re getting increased passenger pat downs, increased bag searches and rules that people can’t stand an hour before landing. None of these knee-jerk changes would stop the sort of attack seen Christmas Day.

It was terrorist incompetence, not government success, that saved people’s lives on Christmas Day. If travelers are to remain safe, Obama administration excuses need to end. Their proffered policy reviews offer only false assurances and delays. TSA executives should know what to do. More Americans shouldn’t have to die before they get their act together.

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