Blowing the whistle on Security Theater

Former Transportation Security agent Jason Edward Harrington has a lengthy article at Politico in which he talks about all the crazy stuff that goes on with the TSA.  He’s been blogging on the subject for quite some time.  To sum up his article: it’s as bad as everyone thought it was.

There are stories about the juvenile antics of TSA agents, who have at least half a dozen code phrases to signal each other when a hot female airline passenger is spotted.  They really are scoping you out with the X-ray machines, and making sport of what they see.  They have ways of retaliating against passengers who annoy them.  Security procedures for the hiring of TSA agents can be somewhat… relaxed.  (Harrington nurses fears that it might not be all that difficult for wrongdoers to infiltrate the agency.)

Perhaps most troubling, and annoying, are his thoughts about the X-ray machines we’ve been made to stand in.  Although the public is constantly assured they’re perfectly safe, Harrington says many TSA agents aren’t eager to stand next to them all day.  And the extremely expensive machines are functionally useless for detecting terror threats.  The instructor who gave Harrington a crash course in using the machines described them with a four-letter word normally reserved for the temporary contents of a toilet:

He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.

When a blogger revealed the weakness of the scanning systems in a viral Internet video, the TSA went into spin control mode:

Officially, the agency downplayed the Corbett video: “For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field,” an agency representative wrote on the TSA’s official blog. Behind closed doors, supervisors instructed us to begin patting down the sides of every fifth passenger as a clumsy workaround to the scanners’ embarrassing vulnerability.

But don’t worry, folks, Big Government is fully qualified to run your health care, set you up with an ersatz 401k account, and manage every other aspect of your life.  When things go wrong, you can rest assured they’ll leap into action to prevent you from knowing about it, then spend a few years pondering the possibility of resisting bureaucratic inertia.