If anyone needed the perfect example of the giant waste, fraud, and abuse a government emboldened by fear and ineptitude can achieve, that example absolutely has to be the TSA’s body scanners. These glorious devices that didn’t work in catching weapons or explosives but did let TSA agents see you naked, and which are administered by the TSA, an agency so perfectly unable to do its job properly that all us Techdirt writers now have carpel tunnel syndrome from writing up posts on its exploits, now have a detailed price tag associated with them. So, what did the public pay for all of this fail?
Oh, only $160 million of taxpayer money, according to Politico.
The cost breakdown, which the TSA recently turned over to some members of Congress, provides the latest look at the agency’s investment in body imaging technology since it decided to make the scanners the centerpiece of the checkpoint screening process. The price tag averages more than $150,000 per unit since the agency bought the first batch of 45 devices in 2008.
And for that money, lawmakers privy to classified reports say, the TSA has gotten a woeful failure rate. Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson has such low confidence in the scanners’ ability to catch explosives and weapons that he says the agency should make fliers walk through metal detectors after passing through the body imaging machines.
Yes, dear sirs and madams, full body scanners, so inept that esteemed government officials are suggesting people exiting them should immediately go through a traditional metal detector, come at a $150k/ea price tag. But the danger of a program like body scanners, when it comes to government malfeasance, isn’t solely in the primary failure of the program. Rather, the danger is in the way the failure then begins to infect everyone around it, like some kind of IQ-deteriorating brain bacteria. For example, the esteemed SHS Chairman mentioned above, who suggested metal detectors be used immediately after the body scanner, begged pardon if you had thought he meant that the body scanners weren’t still needed.
“If you really want to keep using those, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, at a minimum we should put a metal detector on the other side,” the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview. “Why not go through two? You’ve just gotta use common sense.”
Ah, yes, common sense. Well, Senator, let me try some of this common sense thing you speak of for myself. My common sense suggests that any procedure about which the following can be written ought be permanently done away with:
A recent security audit found that TSA had failed to find fake explosives and weapons in 96 percent of covert tests. And members of Congress familiar with the classified details say the body scanners are to blame for much of the problem.
Common sense does not inform me that, rather than removal of these devices, our best bet is to simply stack devices upon devices through which we should walk, all while being uncertain of their efficacy. The problem isn’t a lack of devices to walk through; the problem is there are too many.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said he has received assurances from L-3’s CEO that the company will work with the department to improve the technology.
Ah, yes, an assurance that this next go ’round they’ll get it right, from a company that screwed it up the first time. You’ll excuse me, sirs, if I am laughing. The point is that it’s time to give up the game. The security we get at our airports is mere theater and we know it. The devices that didn’t work the first time around while costing American taxpayers a hundred and sixty million dollars shouldn’t get another bite at the apple. 9/11 is far enough in the rearview mirror that we can’t use fear as an excuse any longer. It’s time to end the masquerade and get on with it.