Should TSA Be Privatized?

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Anybody who has dealt with a large bureaucracy of any kind understands that it's an eternal thing, like a gigantic ship steered with a rudder the size of a canoe paddle. You might be able to nudge it in one direction or another, but forget about stopping it, much less making it disappear.

With that image in mind, it's going to be interesting watching Rep. John Mica try to get TSA under control. Mica is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and he's taken to openly calling TSA his "little bastard child." Except with 67,000 employees, there's nothing little about it. As does every federal bureaucracy, TSA has morphed into a large, entrenched agency that is, in some ways, worse than any other because it pretends to be answerable to no one. As one of the authors of the bill that created it, Mica now figures it's his job to fix it. Good luck.

One thing he would like to try is privatizing the agency's airport functions, which is already happening at a few airports, including San Francisco, where screening is done on a per passenger basis for about half the cost of airports where TSA does it. Several dozen airports have applied for permission to switch to private screening, but TSA's John Pistole, in open defiance of Mica, has refused to allow those airports to convert. It will be an interesting political season for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to see where this little fight goes.

But is privatizing the right solution? Given the abuse, corruption and overspending in the military contract system, I'm not sure it is. Billions got flushed down the rat hole in Iraq and Afghanistan in unsupervised outside contracting and it's easy to see how that could happen in the airport screening realm, if the government does a re-set-and-forget on it.

The Congress seems in a mood to cut spending so maybe the first place to start is to junk Homeland Security and put TSA under the transportation department, but force it to reduce its bloated size. Not for nothing do some people call TSA "Thousands Standing Around."

But this isn't Mica's first day, so I suspect he has no illusions about making much of a dent in the monster he helped create. He has said on numerous occasions that he's surprised at how the agency has expanded. If that's a sincere statement, maybe he ought to consider another line of work.

Comments (56)

Privatized? No. Eliminated? Yes.

Businesses, incidentally, have the same problem as any other bureaucracy. If anyone thinks that making the TSA private will fix things is going to find out they are wrong.

Posted by: Jesse Derks | October 4, 2011 8:21 PM    Report this comment

Lets put this privatization thing to bed. Have you heard of a company called jeppesen? I dare you to buy and keep updated a USA subscription for only one year! It cannot compare with NOS charts for price and ease of update. Not convinced? Lets have a looksie to the north shall we? Has anyone had the pleasure of using NAV CANADA? Better yet, lets go full monty here! Go fly a twin from france to london. Try your hand at a practice ILS, and a couple touch and goes. Let me know how that works out for ya, financially and beauricratically.

Posted by: rob haschat | October 4, 2011 9:23 PM    Report this comment

Dont' know how to fix it, but something should be done. For ninety-nine percent of the time it is just a waste of time. Perhaps they should get the Israelis to help them figure it out and cut down on the workforce. Searching little ole ladies is just plain wrong and disgusting.

Posted by: Daniel Carlson | October 5, 2011 6:07 AM    Report this comment

tsa should be abolished before we lose all our freedoms. They are nothing less than nazi brownshirts! We would NEVER fly commercially now...

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | October 5, 2011 7:38 AM    Report this comment

It's easy to destroy a complex, functioning market with the stroke of a nationalizer's pen.

Unfortunately, it's much harder to recreate a functioning market afterward.

Although there IS such a thing as "nationalization," there is, in effect, no such thing as "privatization".

The problem is that the bureaucrats don't understand how the market worked, so they can't re-create it.

As a result, most of the beasts created by "privatization" are horrid to behold - NavCanada is reportedly an example.

Real privatization, the restoration of a functioning market, can't be done in a single step; it has to be done in small steps. Dismantling the TSA is likely to take at least as long as dismantling the BATF. So, good luck to him with that.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | October 5, 2011 7:41 AM    Report this comment

Eliminate TSA completely.

1. Beauracracies can never be fixed there are too many people in them that don't care and they have momentum. No large entity can ever do really well.

2. We can never be totally safe-sorry it is impossible. We are wasting way too much time and energy on tiny improvements in safety. In the process, we have created such inconveniences that more people drive than fly so they are MUCH less safe.

3. We should not have to give up our civil rights, the TSA violates the constitution not matter what the Supreme Court or anyone else says.

4. Let the airlines do their own security with their own rules. Let them differentiate based on security just like they try to do on price. Get the Fed Gov totally out of the aviation security business.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | October 5, 2011 8:16 AM    Report this comment

Crazy idea -- you will get a stadium type turnstile you have to pay to go through before you get to the metal detector! Just what the flying public need.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | October 5, 2011 8:22 AM    Report this comment

robert hasiak pretty much summed up the arguments for and against the holy grail of privatization, at least as it would affect GA as we know it. I have no doubt that privatizing TSA and creating the associated fees to fund it would lock out all but the most affluent GA users. Some things do well when handled by private entities (for example, food production - provided there is oversight to prevent adulturated products that the profit motive inevitably injects into the product stream). Most public goods don't do well when privatized. Imagine a private police force. That's what many 3rd world countries have... I think they call their "police chiefs" "warlords" - accountable only to themselves. Some functions of TSA might be done by contract, but I doubt we'd like a fully privatized (and largely unaccountable) bureaucracy in charge of our homeland security. The ultimate privatization solution would be vigilantism. Arm airline passengers, hire the modern Pinkertons to protect our ports and rail lines, and let the chips fall where they may. I don't think we'd like that solution either.

Posted by: John Townsley | October 5, 2011 10:17 AM    Report this comment

"Privatized? No. Eliminated? Yes."

Amen, brother.

Posted by: JON CARLSON | October 5, 2011 10:26 AM    Report this comment

There are very few functions that any government can do more efficiently than the private sector. Competition and the profit motive drive efficiencies. Governments don't have to compete, and their process for removing poor employees is an enormous waste of time and money. With 67,000 employees, don't you suppose there are a few thousand who are not performing up to par? Yet they get to keep their jobs and benefits (and eventually retirement programs) that taxpayers and the flying public are paying for. In the private sector it's do your job or get fired (unless there's one of those unions that protects the inept - good unions don't, but try to find one).

Private security firms exist all over the country handling various functions. San Francisco proves they can get the job done at a substabntial savings. Do it gradually and phase out yet another wasteful bureaucracy.

As far as searching Grandma, keep in mind that any passenger might feel forced to cooperate if terrorists threatened the passenger's family. As soon as you stop checking a certain part of the population, that part becomes a potential tool for terrorists that could be exploited. I don't like it either, but there is some sense to it.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 5, 2011 11:32 AM    Report this comment

There is no way to reduce the level of fear when fear is so useful. It only grows. Economics and pride seem to lead us into creating larger and more beautiful targets. We cannot be somewhat secure until we believe none would have profit in harming us. A shift to privatizing of Security would cause me to trust the system even less. I have noticed that government workers do pay attention to the clock with more diligence than contractors. More accountability perhaps?

Posted by: Art Sebesta | October 5, 2011 11:36 AM    Report this comment

Doubtful a privatized TSA would lead to a better "travel experience" since they would still operate by every rule the overseeing government bureaucracy can come up with.

A private company would likely be somewhat cheaper for the taxpayer if the government allowed it to operate non-union, but that's pretty far-fetched under a Democrat-controlled government. The current 44,000-plus AFGE-represented screeners represent a significant bloc of faithful voters, and even more importantly AFGE itself cannot be "crossed".

Posted by: John Wilson | October 5, 2011 12:45 PM    Report this comment

The TSA indicates that we are no longer "the land of the free and the home of the brave". We are all forced to suffer the indignities as if we were prisoners on a Con-Air flight. The armed guards, barbed wire, security checkpoints, cavity searches, taking away of anything that could be a shank, all complete the prisoner transfer motif.

Ironically, high officials who could disband the TSA all take private(government) jets and never have to submit to the TSA at all.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 5, 2011 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Sounds like everyone has forgotten that the reason the we have federal employees working security at airports is that the PRIVATE security firms screwed it up so badly prior to and during 9/11. The screening needed to be improved beyond what you get with a minimum wage/no-benefits worker. And that has in fact happened. I can't tell you how many times under the private system I'd look over and see the worker looking away from the screen as my baggage passed through.

Make the TSA efficient but don't pass the work BACK to private companies. Their profit motive will eventually bring back the sort of quality that allowed box cutters to get through on 9/11.

Posted by: Andrew Cleveland | October 5, 2011 3:16 PM    Report this comment

Andrew, You sound like a government employee or a big union guy to believe that crap. Pay and benefits do not at all imply quality, as the many government agencies have proven over and over ad nauseum. I've been a government employee three times, and I can tell you that in all three very different organizations, the inability to terminate those who didn't perform was a drag on those who did. There are many great government employees, but the system is fraught with policies that reward mediocrity. And when you reward mediocrity, you get mediocrity. Ask the good ones and they'll tell you exactly that.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 5, 2011 3:28 PM    Report this comment

Oh I get it. You're trying to say that only private sector companies have the ability to attract the best and brightest. To what do you attribute the mediocrity that brought us the minimally qualified screeners at the private companies pre-9/11?

Posted by: Andrew Cleveland | October 5, 2011 3:48 PM    Report this comment

The screeners on 911 followed the rules then in effect. Remember, no one forsaw airplanes being used as weapons. The current TSA misses huge amounts and refuses to search those most likely to cause harm.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | October 5, 2011 3:51 PM    Report this comment

I am against privatization, and for elimination of the agency.

This reminds me of Will Rogers' observation all those years ago that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program.

Given that the attacks at WTC and the Pentagon were staged events in the tradition of false flag operations, and that General Aviation aircraft were not involved in any way, the very foundation of today's TSA and aviation security is based upon fraud.

This represents intrusive big government at its worst.

Posted by: Richard Sinnott | October 5, 2011 4:36 PM    Report this comment

I am not jumping to a false conclusion. As an airline pilot I passed through the metal detectors an average of three times a day, 17 days per month prior to 9/11. This was all over the country and not just in one geographic area. I am telling you there are better people there now than there were then. I am dead certain it was an entry level wage with no benefits when the private companies ran the show.

You can bash unions and government all you want but the fact is unless a private organization is required to pay what it costs to attract a certain level of competence they won't do it. You'll end up with a very few large contractors, just like before, with McDonalds wages.
I for one am not willing to trust anything so important as this to a low bid contractor. We've seen the results. Government and unions aren't the enemy here.

Posted by: Andrew Cleveland | October 5, 2011 8:16 PM    Report this comment

Andrew et. al., The thinking that "PRIVATE security firms screwed it up so badly prior to and during 9/11," misses the bigger picture. 9/11 was a criminal justice and intellignece failure of the FBI and CIA, respectively.

The attacks worked becuase they were so different and diabolically ingenius. Previously, hijackers used real weapons like bombs and guns, I'm not aware of anyone who anticipated a hijacker using the plane as the weapon. Assume the TSA existed before 9/11, would the events of that day played out differently?

I would say "No."

Posted by: Matt Recupito | October 5, 2011 10:59 PM    Report this comment

"I for one am not willing to trust anything so important as this to a low bid contractor. We've seen the results."

And the results are that PASSENGERS make the difference, not the 67,000 TSA agents sniffing shoes and being suspicious of cripples. Private citizens have made the difference, not the outright silliness of TSA saying a 10 ounce liquid container is banned but 100 2.5 ounce bottled liquids are OK.

After all the indignities that we suffer, it's still private passengers (not the TSA) that actually catch shoe bombers, underwear bombers, and the violent.

Government and unions are not the enemy; but they DO treat private citizens as "the enemy" at every airport.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 6, 2011 7:24 AM    Report this comment

I was against the creation of the TSA from the beginning because I knew this is where it would end up. No one would listen because we were too busy "running for our lives!”. So what happens? Bush and Mica (who were supposed to be small government conservatives) create the Dept. of Homeland security and the TSA. What should have happened is let the airlines should handle their own security and be allowed to do whatever they want. I worked for a major airline during 9/11 we had titanium reinforced cockpit doors designed, built and ready to install before the FAA could stop running around screaming “the sky is falling”. If you don't like the way the airlines handle things just drive. Good luck trying to get rid of the TSA now.

Posted by: Rod Pollard | October 6, 2011 7:35 AM    Report this comment

If we nudge the gigantic TSA ship out to sea and poke a few holes in the hull, will it sink into the abyss?

Convince Congress to reduce funding for this giant. It would help with our deficit and limit the size of the TSA.

Posted by: Rick Lettow | October 6, 2011 9:35 AM    Report this comment

As one that has worked with this agency, I have seen the good, the bad,and the ugly of how the interaction can get out of control. What can start as a small intent for the good of all can and will mutate into an udesirable situation, especially in the control arena. The prime example is the current drive to take charge of the small GA airports now that the others are firmly in their grasp. Find one with a mix and you better watch what lines you taxi near, even with permission from the "control" tower. Who now is secondary to the TSA wants. Like with anyone given a blank check, once the camel's nose is under the tent... Kudo's to Mica and anyone else with the courage to say "enough". The countries approach should have been "know your customer" ie "profiling" which really means stop spanking the class. Terrorist make up .000000003% of the 650 million that fly, yet we strip search all while the Fruit of the Boom, with all the warning bells, gets onboard.

Posted by: Chuck West | October 6, 2011 9:35 AM    Report this comment

We don't need a government security force at the airports . Put the burden on the airlines since it is their business. Why should the public pay for the airline industry problems ? The can hire there own security people and put the cost on each ticket. Let the free enterprize system work. If they do a poor job, their own industry will suffer after a few planes are brought down. I do think the TSA could supervise standards in the industry if necessary.

Posted by: David Jaeb | October 6, 2011 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Andrew, You jumped to a false conclusion when you said "Oh I get it. You're trying to say that only private sector companies have the ability to attract the best and brightest." I never said that. You took what I said and twisted it into an incorrect assumption. I had already stated that "There are many great government employees, but the system is fraught with policies that reward mediocrity." It's not just the federal government. One of my sons-in-law works for Los Angeles County. They have an employee who's purpose in life is to milk the system. He does not perform up to par, but getting rid of him would take at least two years and a lot of aggravation, so those who are too busy getting the real work done simply have to make up for him. Meanwhile, the rest of us are paying him and will pay for his lucrative retirement someday. In the private sector, he'd be out (unless there was a big union that would protect such employees). We've gone from a country where the work ethic was strongly ingrained in the majority to where the majority are now on the receiving end, and poor performers are protected by policies that run counter to productivity and competitiveness in the global economy. Is there any wonder the mess just keeps getting worse? TSA is a bloated federal bureaucracy that could easily be replaced with private sector jobs of equal or better quality for a much lower total operating cost.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 6, 2011 10:56 AM    Report this comment

I'm going to address a minor point: the alleged efficiency of privatization. As Paul notes, the privatization of our war efforts has resulted in tax dollars going to inflated profits for private companies. Another example is health insurance: a third of your health insurance dollar goes to profits and overhead, whereas Medicare is about 95 percent efficient in this regard. (Medicare has other problems, which I acknowledge but can't discuss here.) A third example is the immense profitability of some charter schools.

Why is this? When private companies work in an open market, they have to be efficient. This drives prices down and quality up. By the same token, when a government program is operated in a goldfish bowl of open accounting, overseen by conscientious officials, it can be efficient.

But what happens when private companies, whose internal financials are secret, get government contracts? They find ways to exploit the taxpayers. The buyer (the government) isn't free to lower the price paid, even when it's obvious that the contractor is making an absurd killing. Low-bidder laws are no barrier to this exploitation, because the company lawyers can add in massive profits after the fact. Political contributions have a huge effect.

If there's a solution, part of it would be that any company that gets a government contract should have its books completely open for the government contract work. That would at least give the muckrakers new information.

Posted by: John Schubert | October 6, 2011 11:20 AM    Report this comment

John, There are certainly cases of inefficiencies in both government and private sector organizations. But having worked on both sides of the contract, I can tell you that contractors usually compete for the work, and that the specs are set by the government. A MIL-SPEC item that has to operate from -65F to 145F, survive a 40-foot drop, be tested and certified for a variety of remotely possible failure modes, etc. is not always the same as what you buy at Home Depot. Are the specs necessary? In some cases, they are simply overkill that is part of the boilerplate that goes with a government contract - and the government program manager and/or contracting officer were too lazy to take the time to go through them and see what could be eliminated (personal experience). That's not the contractor's fault - the contractor must meet the spec or be deemed technically unacceptable. Have you seen how much boilerplate comes with even a small government contract these days? A lot of which has nothing to do with getting the job done, but is there as a result of political correctness? As far as the books, every government contract I've worked on required access to the complete accounting details for that contract. What makes you think the government cannot audit the books that relate to government contracts?

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 6, 2011 11:37 AM    Report this comment

"We've gone from a country where the work ethic was strongly ingrained in the majority to where the majority are now on the receiving end, and poor performers are protected by policies that run counter to productivity and competitiveness in the global economy."

Oh, c'mon Walt. That's a gross generalization not supported by fact and a slap in the face to American workers--many of whom have to have two jobs to stay afloat.

In the U.S., productivity per worker has never been higher and neither has profit per unit labor or profit per worker, all data freely available on the BLS web site. You don't get those numbers with people who don't work hard.

Sure, there are deadbeats. Always have been. But the majority?
I reject that.The majority of the workforce I am in puts out all day, every day and we do more with less than ever before.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 6, 2011 4:03 PM    Report this comment

"What makes you think the government cannot audit the books that relate to government contracts?"

Well, how about this for a start, reported by Business Week:

"The losses to fraud and waste in Iraq are almost certainly in the billions, current and former government officials agree. The Special IG for Iraq Reconstruction says it has more than 80 open investigations and has referred 20 more cases to the Justice Dept. for prosecution. A spokesman for the criminal investigative arm of the Defense Dept. says that office expects a "rise in referrals of potential fraud or corruption cases" because of the recent deployment to Iraq of additional Pentagon investigators and FBI agents."

The good thing is that the government discovered and acted upon it. The bad thing is that lack of government oversight let it happen in the first place and those billions (with a b) aren't coming back.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 6, 2011 4:09 PM    Report this comment

Are you happy with (privatized) Flight Service?

Posted by: Bill Hopkins | October 6, 2011 6:02 PM    Report this comment

Paul, Sure, there were billions in the cases you mention in Iraq. And because the government WAS able to audit the books, the fraud was uncovered. The fact that it took place to begin with tells you how poor the monitoring was by the government employee(s) who had the job of managing these contracts.

On the other hand, do you really think the waste within government isn't on a much higher basis? The Solyndra loan alone was $528 million dollars - a stupid government mistake that even put us taxpayers last in terms of collecting in bankruptcy court - and this was rushed through approved by government employees.

As far as the majority being on the receiving end, I'm referring to the fact that more than half the country now does not pay income taxes. So they benefit from the services that taxes that are paid for by the less than half that does. I did not say that more than half don't work hard - you made that up.

Of course productivity has never been higher, and it will always continue to go up because of technology. It's not that we're working harder than our parents and grandparents did - it's because we're working smarter and partly because productivity is measured in (inflated) dollars of output per manhour.

Bill, privatized flight service has been completely adequate when I've used them, which is not often because I get more easily interpreted information from the Internet with visuals and printouts of whatever I want to take in the cockpit.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 6, 2011 7:15 PM    Report this comment

I have to agree totally with Walt on the privatized flight service. I get most of what I need from the Internet but when I need or have used FSS they are right there, friendly and giving me what I ask for.

So as far as I am concerned, the notion that only a government worker can do a decent job is pure fantasy.

Posted by: John Wilson | October 6, 2011 7:29 PM    Report this comment

How bad is the TSA? I would rather travel 10 hours by car to avoid flying. I hate flying commercial now. Fixing the TSA could be pretty easy. Begin by cutting the budget by 80%. All the TSA would do is set security standards and inspect for compliance. Each airport can decide how to comply with the standards. Distributing the security capability will foster innovation and lower costs. The best ideas will be adopted by the other airports.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | October 6, 2011 9:07 PM    Report this comment

"On the other hand, do you really think the waste within government isn't on a much higher basis? "

This is a common refrain from people who think we can reduce the deficit and public debt merely but cutting the waste and fraud out of the government. Yet virtually all of the reporting on the subject covers one egregious example, then extrapolates this to the whole, without further evidence.

You're doing that with the Solyndra example. I did it with the contract example. $528 million is barely 10 percent of the $60 billion believed to be lost in fraudulent contracting practices. If you used 10 percent as the basic fraud and waste percentage, you'd barely scratch the current deficit.

As far as what you said, here is what you said:" We've gone from a country where the work ethic was strongly ingrained in the majority to where the majority are now on the receiving end, and poor performers are protected by policies that run counter to productivity and competitiveness in the global economy "

You didn't say a word about income taxes. You said "poor performers" suggesting slackers at work, people who show up and do nothing and get paid.

Or are you suggesting that the family of four with two people working and household earnings of $50,000 are slackers because (a) the current tax code gives them enough deductions to pay no income tax or (b) they are slackers because real wages are on a global downward trend, companies are cutting jobs, benefits and wages?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 7, 2011 5:14 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps you don't know any of these people. Here in Florida, we have a lot of them. Across the street from me is a house recently foreclosed, formerly owned by a guy in his 40s with his own tile business. Probably worked seven days a week.

When the housing market tanked, so did his business. He lost that, the house, everything. I doubt if the household was making $50,000 during the last year, so they didn't pay much if any income tax.

Is he one of the slackers you're talking about? There are a lot of these people in the current economy and I would imagine they feel somewhat perplexed to be called freeloaders, when all they really want are jobs to earn a decent wage.

Not to suggest there are not freeloaders. We all know there are. But the myth of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen dragging us toward ruin is just that.

And just as a factual point, the Tax Foundation says 47 percent of households pay no federal income tax. That's not a majority by any means. And they still pay payroll, state and other taxes.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 7, 2011 5:26 AM    Report this comment

Taking something out of context and trying to turn it into something else you can argue against, rather than sticking with the issue at hand is not the way to have an honest debate. You first used the word slackers, not me. And you're right about taking single examples and extrapolating, but you can only put out an example or two - it's impossible to list everything that supports your position. So we both do it and have to accept it for what it is.

Here's a quote from an April 2010 article on Yahoo! (your system deletes links): "The result is a tax system that exempts almost half the country from paying for programs that benefit everyone, including national defense, public safety, infrastructure and education. It is a system in which the top 10 percent of earners -- households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 -- paid about 73 percent of the income taxes collected by the federal government.

The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment.

"We have 50 percent of people who are getting something for nothing," said Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation."

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 7, 2011 3:18 PM    Report this comment

So if it's 47 or 51%, it's not a great difference - plus, that was for 2009, and the trend has been a continuous increase in that number for many years. So when I recently read that it had passed 50%, it was probably for 2010 or 2011.

Welfare spending has gone from about $50Bn in 1964 when the war on poverty began, to about $370Bn in 1981 when Reagan 'slashed" welfare, to about $580Bn in 1996 when reform under Clinton "ended" welfare, to about $700 Bn in 2005, then dropped a bit in 2007 and 2007, but shot up to $890Bn in the last two years under you-know-who - the sharpest two-year increase in history (OMB and CBO numbers).

Again, I say we have great workers in the U.S. overall, but we also have created a generation or two of many with an entitlement mentality that has hurt the country and made us less competitive in world markets. Those of us who grew up in the 50's saw our folks working two jobs without complaint and working to build their American dream of owning a home and a car.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 7, 2011 3:19 PM    Report this comment

"TSA violates the Constitution"

TSA employees wear badges but are NOT law enforcement officers (think mall security). If they were, the 4th Amendment would limit their ability to search. They are 'administrative searchers'. Splitting hairs? Yes. Setting up the TSA this way was deliberate; to circumvent the 4th Amendment. Otherwise, nearly everything they do would have required probable cause, or at least 'reasonable suspicion'. Imagine how bad it would be for the TSA to have police powers considering how they exercise the administrative ones?

Absent being able to articulate probable cause or reasonable suspicion, TSA would have had to stand by unable to hinder the movement of an ostensibly free populace that, even today, 99.9+% give the TSA absolutely no reason to suspect much less question. But, their administrative status allows them to interfere with everyone on no basis other than they are 'protecting us'. Is that right? No. Who let them do this? Your elected representatives, who now seem incapable (but more likely are unwilling) of undoing the immense harm they created. Whenever TSA needs enforcement, they must rely on federal, state or local 'real' law enforcement officers for detention and arrest. Those officers must comply with the 4th
Amendment. This why you rarely see anyone charged with anything because most of what TSA does produces no actionable cause. The TSA runs roughshod over civil rights with no penalties or effective oversight on them for doing so.

Posted by: Stephen Fleming | October 8, 2011 4:52 PM    Report this comment

"9/11 was a criminal justice and intelligence failure of the FBI and CIA, respectively."

9|11 resulted from stupendous and cascading failures of the FBI, CIA, Customs and Immigration to do the very core of the jobs they were tasked with. We were spectacularly poorly served by organizations which, even on 9|11, possessed all the necessary tools and authority to detect and prevent what happened. Bluntly, they were derelict in their duties. The response to those agencies' significant failures of intelligence and cooperation and just plain incompetent police work was not to hold them responsible, but rather to inaugurate and institutionalize serious assaults on citizens' civil rights. This is 'blame the victim' to an unprecedented degree. The similarly bloated and arguably ineffective Department of Homeland Security has yet to solve many of the very issues of cooperation and interoperability cited for their creation.

Posted by: Stephen Fleming | October 8, 2011 5:15 PM    Report this comment

“Convince Congress to reduce funding for this giant. It would help with our deficit and limit the size of the TSA.”

That would be very nice but who, in our climate of national 'all fear, all the time' will be bold enough to reign them in? The first elected official brave enough to propose curtailing the out-of-control security apparatus will be called unpatriotic, ignorant, an aider and abettor of the enemy, etc. And that's on top of the inevitable finger-pointing and scapegoating that would immediately occur in the instance of another event. These 'risks' also are what keeps the TSA and DHS ever alert to any opportunity to further curtail civil rights in the name of not making any mistakes that could bite them in the hiney.

Perhaps more remarkable and troubling is the bold opposition of agencies to Congressional oversight. Witness the recent issues of gunrunning and the Solyndra loan fiasco, etc. Congressional demands for information are stonewalled. That this is allowed to occur for even a day is remarkable. The power is in the purse and Congress could bring such agencies to their knees if only it had the backbone to act. The cheap theater you see on these scandals underscores the attitude that Congress won't act and cannot compel their cooperation.

Posted by: Stephen Fleming | October 8, 2011 5:20 PM    Report this comment

To privatise the TSA, or not, is to miss the point. The point is that we have given the aviation security folks an impossible mission, to prevent all terror attacks on transportation, and they are setting up systems to prevent them from getting blamed when the inevitable attack occurs. Striking a wise balance between liberty and security, and delivering value for money, are non-goals.

The first thing we should all do is become courageous. Accept that a free society with liberty and dignity is also a society with lots of soft targets. Accept that if we have enemies, they may sometimes succeed in attacking us. We should resolve, if and when that happens, to "keep calm and carry on".

Then, dial back the aims of the transportation security orgs to making an attack harder, not impossible. Charge them with striking wise balances. Cut the budget hugely. Keep half the savings. Devote the other half to prevention (intelligence and policing) and resilience (emergency response and community preparedness).

Posted by: James DeLaHunt | October 10, 2011 4:57 AM    Report this comment

Skimming back over this now-stale thread, I see widespread misunderstanding of the event that triggered this whole TSA thing.

It is important to recognize that 9-11 was not caused by the failure of any agency or individual, it came about because some clever and very dedicated people recognized that, if they were willing to die in the process, they could exploit a glaring weakness in our aviation system. Prior to 9-11 it was a hard and fast rule that if someone threatened violence on board your plane and demanded control, you gave it to them, no questions asked. The terrorists used box cutters to initiate the violence, but grabbing a flight attendant in a choke hold and threatening to snap his or her neck would have worked just as well. The cockpit door would have been opened and the results would have been just the same.

The “fix” for that security hole was simple: Fortify the cockpit and change the policy on turning over the aircraft on demand. This change alone brought us back to approximately the same security position we had prior to 9-11, except for the need to consider that in addition to bombs planting bombs on the aircraft, a terrorist might try to bring one on board on (or in) his person.

The proper response would have been to follow the path outlined by James DeLaHunt in his posting above, but instead we had the massive over-reaction that created our out-of-control TSA/Homeland Security monster. The public doesn’t do nuanced analysis.

Posted by: John Wilson | October 11, 2011 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Abolish the TSA and put airport security back in the hands of the airports and the airlines. Who has more of a vested interest in safe flights than they do? Certainly more than some TSA worker collecting a paycheck in anticipation of a government pension. The TSA will rank, at least for me, as Bush's worst decision....or at least tied with Medicare Part D entitlement. Which costs us more in the long run remains to be seen.

Posted by: Loren Jones | October 11, 2011 11:02 AM    Report this comment

"Are you happy with (privatized) Flight Service?"

Actually, I am...but use them much less than I did 30 years ago before the internet. I do miss walking into the nearby FSS for a chat with a friendly briefer face-to-face. That was always sorta nice....a real human being who knew local conditions and took the time to explain stuff to a young pilot. But I also recognize that was a very expensive luxury that technology dramatically reduced the need for. So we adapt. It would be interesting to see what the costs of the old system with all the regionally deployed staff, would cost today vs. the current system.

Posted by: Loren Jones | October 11, 2011 11:10 AM    Report this comment

It is important to recognize that 9-11 was not caused by the failure of any agency or individual.

The 911 Commission would disagree in detail it not concept. Recommend Richard Clark's book as well, which also disagrees. The failure was collective, as the commission pointed out. And that failure had to happen before your clever box-cutter wielding terrorists could succeed. The play-along hijacking doctrine was one piece of a big puzzle. The massive breakdown was in intel, which the agencies possessed, had someone cared to connect the dots.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 11, 2011 1:29 PM    Report this comment

All those high-paid government employees that were involved back then and it happened anyway - because they didn't talk to each other? Certainly that was a contributing cause, but John has a point - we had a different philosophy for dealing with hijackers prior to 9/11.

So now we have 67,000 more government employees and who has stopped the disasters (e.g., shoe bomber and underwear bomber)? The passengers...

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 11, 2011 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I must respectfully take exception.

The thing is, saying it happened because a person or group didn't “care” to connect the dots (and what the hell does that mean?) is tantamount to saying it happened because a meteor failed to fall and strike the hijackers while they were plotting.

The 911 Commission was formed, as is typical, not to correct any deficiency but to place blame and they did, more or less. Unfortunately, blaming the policy, which was after all based on our Western thought patterns, was not an option. I mean, how would it have gone over with Americans if, prior to 9-11, someone had tried to institute our current policy of “let ‘em kill the stews & passengers but don’t open the door”?

Posted by: John Wilson | October 11, 2011 2:54 PM    Report this comment

I think you're correct, Paul, but the "connecting of the dots" today has little to do with TSA and everything to do with getting the CIA, FBI and military intel to communicate and share information. Have Federal employees sifting through our underwear and groping us has nothing to do with that.

Posted by: Loren Jones | October 11, 2011 2:58 PM    Report this comment

You're right, but I was referring to letting the government entirely off the hook for the attacks that got us saddled with TSA in the first place. TSA is merely the over-reaction after the fact.

One aspect of the no-one-could-have-seen-this-coming argument that I reject is the FBI's ineptitude. As early as 1998, an agent developed a detailed memo based on good intel about men of Middle Eastern extraction taking flight lessons. It was more than a smoking gun, but for cultural reasons in the FBI hierarchy, it was ignored. Might not have changed the outcome, but then again, it might have.

On the other hand, the FBI/CIA/DIA appears to have rolled up this Iranian attempt to kill the Saudi ambassador, if reporting is correct on it.

Richard Sinnott, I have deleted your false flag posting. There are quite a few 911 conspiracy sites, but this is not one of them.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 12, 2011 7:28 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for being a man about it Paul. I know it is a most unpopular subject.

As Orwell observed all those years ago, in a time of universal deceit, speaking the truth becomes a radical act.

The Trojan Horse was uncovered in time, and so has this contemporary trojan horse been uncovered, 10 years later.

I understand that ignorance is bliss, and wish you the best.

Posted by: Richard Sinnott | October 12, 2011 1:57 PM    Report this comment

(Love a good philosophical discussion) I certainly would never say "no one could have seen it coming" as long as you substitute the more accurate word "imagined" for "seen", a word which implies supernatural powers to divine the future.

The trick for the decision maker is in properly evaluating the likelihood of a hypothetical scenario and deciding what resources to assign to it, which could range from nothing at all to an all-out panic maximum effort. A misjudgment in this area, even if it later has disastrous consequences, may be a contributing factor but is not properly a “cause” of the event.

While anyone can argue in retrospect that someone “should have” done this or that and loudly censor them for not having done so, absent truly gross malfeasance I would never blame them for the incident. In the case of 9-11 I place blame on the people who conceived and carried out the operation, and view the failure to pre-detect and block it just another misstep among thousands made in the past & still to be made in the future by those who inhabit the shadow-and-mirror world of intelligence analysis.

But then I’m a follower of the philosophy that poo happens, and yes, sometimes the poo is so deep that thousands drown in it.

Posted by: John Wilson | October 12, 2011 4:59 PM    Report this comment

The FBI agent in question was Kenneth Williams, from the Phoenix office. Of his own volition and with good, basic police report he's the guy who kicked a detailed memo upstairs to HQ outlining what he had discovered. This was all revealed in the 911 commission investigation.

It wasn't so much as a failure to imagine as it was just the killing, plodding quality of federal bureaucracies. It's not as if they weren't on alert, because this was after the Kenya attacks when Al-qaeda was vividly in view on the intel radar.

While I'd stop short of saying "they should have known" I would also point out that they are paid to know. Now, after the fact, we're stuck with paranoid over reaction as a result. If, before the fact, we let them off the hook by suggesting "it could have happened to anyone," we lower the bar on future expectations.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 13, 2011 12:00 PM    Report this comment

Well it's really quite simple--President Bush had it figured out pretty much THAT DAY exactly whodunnit. That is why he and his VP fought any proper investigation for 2 years. Finally the pressure became too great and they had to give in and allow the 911 Commission. His first choice as head of the Commission was Henry Kissinger, but he eventually declined the offer. Apparently Richard Nixon informed Kissinger through spiritual channels that he should decline the offer.

But Bush's words at the UN in November 2001 pretty much set the tone then, and are still being obeyed today: "Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September 11; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty."

Posted by: Richard Sinnott | October 17, 2011 12:55 PM    Report this comment

From the NY Times on September 29, 2011:

"Al Qaeda has a message for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran: enough with the conspiracy theories about Sept. 11.

The latest issue of the terror group's English-language magazine, Inspire, lashed out at the Iranian president for indulging in the claim that the American government -- and not Al Qaeda -- was responsible for the attack. It was a claim Mr. Ahmadinejad repeated during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week, when he suggested that the killing of Osama bin Laden was part of a dark conspiracy to conceal the real perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

Only the radical fringe would keep trying to make 9/11 into a U.S. government conspiracy. So Richard Sinnott - what is your real name and affiliation?

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | October 17, 2011 2:01 PM    Report this comment

I'm just a regular american like yourself Walt. Back in the Summer of '69 at Fort Bragg I took that oath to protect & defend the US Constitution from domestic & foreign enemies. Did some time in Southeast Asia in a Helicopter Ambulance outfit.

If you do a little research on that story you reference, you will discover that NYT and everybody else withdrew it after it was determined to be a hoax.

I assume you are some sort of aviator, and I will bet my last dollar that you have not studied at all the details of the events of 11 September. If you had, you would discover that the maneuver attributed to the 200 hour Hani, first time at the controls of a Boeing, was absolutely flawless. So flawless that hundreds of Boeing line pilots say it is impossible.

I agree.

You are, most probably, grossly uninformed about what happened that day.

Posted by: Richard Sinnott | October 17, 2011 4:12 PM    Report this comment

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