Is the TSA Really Keeping You Safe?

Posted on May 18, 2016




Unless you have been living in Life in the Boomer Lane’s old, non-functioning washing machine that she stores in the basement because the stairs are too tight to be able to remove it, you are probably aware that TSA lines at airports have exceeded lines to get into a free Beyoncé concert. This opening sentence is not only way too long, it is entirely alarming.

LBL has just returned from Seattle, where she spent two weeks with her existing two-year-old granddaughter and her new one-week-old granddaughter (congratulations will be happily accepted, both for the new addition to her family and for her stamina). On the way back, the security line at the airport was the longest she had ever encountered. It snaked back and forth so many times that it became the world’s largest speed dating event. LBL conservatively estimated that there were as many people standing in line as there were planets in the galaxy, although Nel DeGrasse would probably accuse her of being both overly dramatic and clueless about the galaxy.

The reason for such long TSA lines is twofold.  One is heavy spring travel. The other is the ever-increasing demand for security.  LBL doesn’t have the power to force people to stay home on days she chooses to travel. But she has always been curious as to whether the arduous, confusing, and debilitating security measures people are subjected to actually increase our security, as they were intended. Everything LBL has read indicates they do not.

According to Vox, “The TSA’s inefficiency isn’t just aggravating and unnecessary; by pushing people to drive instead of fly, it’s actively dangerous and costing lives. Less invasive private scanning would be considerably better…Despite some very notable cases, airplane hijackings and bombings are quite rare. There aren’t that many attempts, and there are even fewer successes.

Homeland Security officials looking to evaluate the agency had a clever idea: They pretended to be terrorists, and tried to smuggle guns and bombs onto planes 70 different times. And, in 67 of those times, they succeeded. Their weapons and bombs were not confiscated, despite the TSA’s lengthy screening process. That’s a success rate for the Fake Bad Guys of more than 95 percent.”

LBL continues to be perplexed as to why her Baconnaise (bacon-flavored mayonnaise) was confiscated, as well as to why Now Husband has had to give up nail scissors every single time he travels (one would think he would learned by now to leave them at home), but guns and bombs manage to happily slide through the scanners, along with the shoes we are all forced to take off.

The TSA says the screening doesn’t have to be foolproof.  It only has to deter terrorists. If that’s the case, LBL assumes that terrorists have no access to reports such as this.  If they did, they would be adding tanks and the Toyota trucks favored by ISIS,  to the guns and bombs they happily bring through security.

The bottom line is that all of these security measures haven’t actually prevented any terrorist activities. According to Vox,  “The Government Accountability Office is also skeptical that the TSA is stopping terrorists. It concluded in 2013 that there’s no evidence the agency’s SPOT program, which employed 2,800 as of the study and attempts to scan passengers for suspicious behavior, is at all effective. Only 14 percent of passenger flaggings by TSA officers led to a referral to law enforcement. Only 0.6 percent of TSA flaggings led to an arrest. None of those arrests were designated as terrorism-related.”

The two most popular-to-complain-about regulations are shoe removal and liquids. LBL especially dislikes shoe removal because it’s a no-win. Either her feet or her socks will be covered with all manner of unsavory debris, and she will be forced to then sit on the plane, imagining that her feet or her socks have become a living Petri dish of the Next Big Contagious Disease to strike mankind.

Vox states that excessive regulations actually harm people. LBL can attest to this, having been slammed under the chin by a large brass buckle on a belt that someone pulled through their pants loops and then swung through the air. But Vox suggested another result:

“One paper by economists Garrick Blalock, Vrinda Kadiyali, and Daniel Simon found that, controlling for other factors like weather and traffic, 9/11 provoked such a large decrease in air traffic and increase in driving that 327 more people died every month from road accidents. The effect dissipated over time, but the total death toll (up to 2,300) rivals that of the attacks themselves.”

Other studies have reached the same conclusion: Fear of terrorists on planes leads to more people dying on the road. 

Vox suggests that airports employ private screeners.  LBL has read that bomb-sniffing dogs are actually a far more effective deterrent than security scanners. They do double-duty.  They keep us safe and provide something for small children to focus on, while standing in line.

The point is to make people feel more secure about air travel and keep their driving to a minimum. All regulations should be dropped, especially the ones about removing belts with large brass buckles and preventing Baconnaise from travel. On the other hand, airport vending machines should be heavily regulated, as LBL’s most frightening, life-threatening event was due to a vending machine, not a terrorist.