Michael Hampton
Homeland Stupidity
August 3, 2008

“Your safety is our priority,” the Transportation Security Administration web site tells us. So how does the TSA explain these four ways it’s keeping air travelers unsafe?

First, there’s getting your ticket from the airline. If you’re one of the unlucky million people or so whose name matches an entry on the TSA’s watchlists, you’re going to have an even stranger experience at the ticket counter. The TSA has said that airline ticket agents aren’t allowed to tell passengers their name was on the list, or they face fines of $25,000. The problem, of course, is TSA can’t tell the difference between two people with similar names. Most of us managed this trick before we grew up.

There’s getting to the checkpoint. TSA says it’s going to allow the Registered Traveler program to expand to any interested U.S. airport, and is eliminating the required background check, but at the same time it’s backing away from the program. Head idiot Kip Hawley says the background check is duplicative, and the program overall is not “an effective operational tool” against terrorists. So all you get by registering is your personal information taken and stuck in yet another database where it can get lost or stolen, and shorter lines at some airports before you get to the security checkpoint.

Then there’s the insanity of security screening. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe admits that the agency “over-hyped” a story posted on its Web site about a passenger who built a homemade battery pack to power his DVD player during a flight from Mississippi to Hawaii. The passenger, described as an engineer, was required to give up the battery pack because running a portable DVD player on external batteries “could be seen by other passengers as a threat.” More likely that other passengers would ask him where to get one of their own. Here’s some over-hype:

“We must treat every suspicious item the same and utilize the tools we have available to make a final determination,” said Federal Security Director David Wynn. “Procedures are in place for a reason and this is a clear indication our workforce is doing a great job.”

“But the average person doesn’t know what a bomb looks like; all he knows is what he sees on television and the movies,” explained the real security expert, Bruce Schneier. “And this rule means that all homemade electronics are confiscated, because anything homemade with wires can look like a bomb to someone who doesn’t know better. The rule just doesn’t work.

“And in today’s passengers-fight-back world, do you think anyone is going to successfully do anything with a fake bomb?” Why should they, when the TSA is so focused on water bottles that it misses real bombs?

What if someone strips naked, runs up and down the aisles and then tries to open the emergency exit door? Or what if someone goes to the lavatory and dies of a heart attack? The air marshals will take care of it, right? Well, no, they won’t, because they weren’t on those flights and they aren’t on your flight either. Where have all the air marshals gone? (In May we reported that air marshals were leaving the agency in droves and the remaining ones being reassigned to short-hop, low-risk flights.)

Back at the loony bin that is Homeland Security headquarters, the TSA is hiring the most unqualified people it can find, such as Sonia Pitt, a new “transportation security specialist,” whatever that is. Pitt, described as a “belligerent, abusive” employee, when the I-35W bridge collapsed a year ago in Minneapolis, Minn., skipped out and went on an unauthorized trip to D.C. on the taxpayers’ dime, and a state auditor found she had bilked the state for “thousands of dollars in excessive compensation for airfare, hotels, mileage and personal cell phone calls,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. Pitt was fired for violating state ethics codes and “activities that cannot withstand public scrutiny without embarrassment. . . . do not safeguard the public trust in the integrity of MnDOT, and undermine public trust in the Department.” Naturally, as a belligerent, abusive employee who likes to pad the expense account, she’ll fit right in at the TSA.

(Update: DHS has fired Sonia Pitt after receiving information from Minnesota about the circumstances of her firing there.)

Hopefully you’ve had an uneventful flight, but if something happens, as it invariably will, just remember, the TSA are the ones who put you in danger.

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