Transportation Security Administration

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Transportation Security Administration
Transportation Security Administration Logo.svg
Agency overview
FormedNovember 19, 2001
Preceding AgencyFAA - Office of Civil Aviation Security
JurisdictionTransportation systems inside, and connecting to the United States of America
HeadquartersPentagon City, Arlington County, Virginia
Employees58,401 (2011)
Annual budget$8.1 billion (2012)
Agency executiveJohn S. Pistole, Administrator
Parent AgencyDepartment of Homeland Security
TSA Official site
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Transportation Security Administration
Transportation Security Administration Logo.svg
Agency overview
FormedNovember 19, 2001
Preceding AgencyFAA - Office of Civil Aviation Security
JurisdictionTransportation systems inside, and connecting to the United States of America
HeadquartersPentagon City, Arlington County, Virginia
Employees58,401 (2011)
Annual budget$8.1 billion (2012)
Agency executiveJohn S. Pistole, Administrator
Parent AgencyDepartment of Homeland Security
TSA Official site

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that exercises authority over the security of the traveling public in the United States.[1]

The TSA was created as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, sponsored by Don Young in the United States House of Representatives[2] and Ernest Hollings in the Senate,[3] passed by the 107th U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. Originally part of the United States Department of Transportation, the TSA was moved to the Department of Homeland Security on March 9, 2003.

John S. Pistole is the fifth TSA Administrator, having replaced former head Kip Hawley.[4]


History and organization

Seal when under the Department of Transportation

The TSA was created as a response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Its first administrator, John Magaw, was nominated by President Bush on December 10, 2001, and confirmed by the Senate the following January. The agency's proponents, including Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, argued that only a single federal agency would better protect air travel than the private companies who operated under contract to single airlines or groups of airlines that used a given terminal facility.

The organization was charged with developing policies to protect U.S. transportation, especially in airport security and the prevention of aircraft hijacking.

With state, local, and regional partners, the TSA oversees security for highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, pipelines, ports. However, the bulk of the TSA's efforts are in aviation security. The TSA is solely responsible for screening passengers and checked and carry-on baggage at 450 U.S. airports.[5][not in citation given]

It also works with local police and other law enforcement official to reduce baggage theft in many airports.[citation needed] In Las Vegas in summer 2007, a sting operation caught two airport employees stealing weapons.[6] However, the TSA does not, as a matter of policy, share baggage theft reports with local police departments.[7]

Private screening did not disappear under the TSA, which allows airports to opt out of federal screening and hire firms to do the job instead. Such firms must still get TSA approval under its Screening Partnership Program (SPP) and follow TSA procedures.[8] Among the U.S. airports with privately operated checkpoints are San Francisco International Airport; Kansas City International Airport; Greater Rochester International Airport; Tupelo Regional Airport; Key West International Airport; Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport; and Jackson Hole Airport.[9][10]

TSA security search

TSA Employees

Among the types of TSA employees are:[11]

The TSA also oversees the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which gives some pilots permission to carry firearms in the cockpit as a defense against hijackers.

The salary for a TSO is currently $25,518 to $38,277[17] per year, not including locality pay (contiguous 48 states) or cost of living allowance (COLA) in Hawaii and Alaska. A handful of airports also have a retention bonus of up to 35%.[18] Employees receive an annual uniform allowance and public transportation vouchers upon request. Employees are also eligible for medical, dental and vision benefits along with a federal retirement and pension plan. This is considerably more than what private screeners were paid.[19] TSA Officers are all paid the same and are only paid more if they are promoted, or if they receive an in-band bonus. TSA Officers range in rank from D, E, and F Band Officers and F Band leads. There are also G Band Supervisors and the Managers are H, I, and J Bands.[20]

Behavior Detection Officers

The Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program initially rolled out in 2003, and nationwide in 2007. There are around 3000 Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) at 161 airports. BDOs are screening officers whose primary responsibility is to observe the behavior of passengers as they go through security checkpoints, to identify anyone as potentially high-risk, through non-intrusive analysis techniques. If suspicious behavior is observed a passenger will be subjected to additional screening. SPOT screening officers are trained to observe behaviors only and not on a persons appearance, race, ethnicity or religion.[citation needed] Sometimes police officers are called in to help ask questions or do a background check.[21]

In July 2012 BDOs were credited with using their skills to rescue a kidnapped woman, after the woman attempted to hide facial injuries at the ticket counter.[22]

Congressional criticism

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has had several joint hearings concerning the cost and benefits of the various safety programs including the advanced imaging technology (AIT), the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), and the behavior detection program, among others.[23]


In 2008, TSA employees began wearing new uniforms that have a blue-gray 65/35 polyester/cotton blend duty shirt, black pants, a wider black belt, and optional short-sleeved shirts and black vests (for seasonal reasons).[24] The first airport to introduce the new uniforms was Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Starting on September 11, 2008, all TSOs began wearing the new uniform. One stripe on each shoulder board denotes a TSO, two stripes a Lead TSO, and three a Supervisory TSO.

Notice of Baggage Inspection


TSA has had five administrators. They are John Magaw (2002), Admiral James Loy (2002–2003), Rear Admiral David M. Stone (2003–2005), Kip Hawley (2005–2009) and most recently John Pistole (2010–). Current Deputy Administrator Gale Rossides served as TSA's Acting Administrator from early 2009 until Pistole's confirmation in the summer of 2010.


For fiscal year 2011, the TSA had a budget of roughly $8.1 billion.

TSA agent screening luggage
2009 Budget[25]$ MillionsShare
Aviation Security4,80971%
Federal Air Marshals76711%
Transportation Security Support & Intelligence5248%
Aviation Security Capital Fund2504%
Checkpoint Screening Security Fund2504%
Transportation Threat Assessment & Credentialing1642%
Surface Transportation Security471%

ID requirements for airport checkpoints

Adult passengers (18 and over) are required to show a U.S. federal or state-issued photo identification.[26]

Luggage locks

TSA lock with symbol and general key access

The TSA is allowed to open and search air passengers' luggage for security screening in the U.S.[27] They are also allowed to cut open, destroy, or otherwise disable locks during a search.

The agency has sanctioned two companies to make padlocks, lockable straps, and luggage with built-in locks that can be opened and relocked by tools and information supplied by the lock manufacturers. These are Travel Sentry[28] and Safe Skies Locks.[29][30] TSA agents have these tools, as do certain authorized security agencies such as HM Revenue and Customs.

Large printer cartridges ban

After the October 2010 cargo planes bomb plot, in which cargo containing laser printers with toner cartridges filled with explosives were discovered on separate cargo planes, the U.S. prohibited passengers from carrying certain printer cartridges on flights.[31] The TSA said it would ban toner and ink cartridges weighing over 16 ounces (453 grams) from all passenger flights.[32][33] U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the ban would apply to both carry-on bags and checked bags on domestic and international flights in-bound to the U.S.[33] PC Magazine opined that the ban would not affect average travelers, whose toner cartridges are generally lighter, but would affect the importing of laser printer supplies, as many laser toner cartridges weigh well in excess of a pound.[33]

November 2010 enhanced screening procedures

Beginning in November 2010, TSA added new enhanced screening procedures, including expanding the use of backscatter X-ray and millimeter wave detection machines at airports that allow security officers to detect both metal and non-metal weapons hidden underneath passengers' clothing. The agency also modified its existing pat-down procedures to allow officers to more thoroughly check areas on the body such as waistbands, groin, and inner thigh.[34] This was due largely in part to the actions of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian Islamist who attempted to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253 using explosives that he had smuggled aboard the aircraft in his underwear.

As of November 23, 2010, the new procedures were implemented at all U.S. airports, with many having added the new Advanced Imaging Technology, or AIT, units. Passengers who enter the AIT unit are directed to hold their hands above their heads for a few seconds while front and back images are created. These images are displayed only to a TSA officer in a remote, secured room.[citation needed] The officer viewing the images cannot see the passengers in person, and the officers screening the passengers cannot see the images.[citation needed] The images are then reviewed for various materials, which typically takes on average 10–15 seconds, then discarded.[citation needed] While the machines can be capable of storing images, the manufacturers disable these features prior to delivering them to the TSA.[35] In February 2011, the TSA began testing new software on the millimeter wave machines already used at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport that automatically detects potential threats on a passenger without the need for having an officer review actual images. Instead, one generic figure is used for all passengers and small yellow boxes are placed on areas of the body requiring additional screening.[36]

Of the two imaging systems the AIT is far less invasive using the generic body images. The backscatter systems use the chalk like visual image it is still of the actual person being processed and AIT with enhanced programming is not at all locations. Ellen Terrell told a Dallas CBS reporter she was made to go through the scanner three times and the female TSA officer told her she had a "cute figure." At a point Terrell stated she heard the female officer state, "Come on, guys!" and "They're not blurry. I'm going to let her go." While a female officer must perform a "pat down" of another female there is no such requirement on the officer viewing the image. The question was asked, "Why would female agents do such a thing?", and the answer was, "So the male agents viewing the scans could get a better look at their bodies.". The TSA issued a statement that the "TSA does not profile passengers.", but According to CBS, DFW no longer uses the body scan machines, referred to as the "see-you-naked machine", that show detailed images of passengers' bodies and have switched to using technology that only shows vague outlines. According to the report "the Naked Machines" are still being used in 39 airports across the country.[37]

Passengers who have an anomaly on their person at the AIT unit, decline to go through the AIT unit, or who alarm the metal detector are referred for additional screening, which will include a physical search to resolve or detect any possible concealed items. All physical searches are conducted by a TSA officer of the passenger's gender, and can be done in a private room if requested, and the passenger may have a witness present as well.[38] The TSA, on their website, assures the public they "implemented strict measures to protect passenger privacy which is ensured through the anonymity of the image.".[39]

TSA officials said they created the measures in reaction to the "underwear bomber" who smuggled plastic explosives onto an airplane in Amsterdam in December 2009.

TSA officials have declined to provide specific details of the pat-down procedures, as they are classified as Sensitive Security Information.[citation needed] The public learned about the extent of the searches from passengers who posted their stories on the Internet, and news reports providing what information they have.[40][41]

To prevent potential terrorists from probing the security system, U.S. federal law prohibits passengers from withdrawing from the screening process after it begins, thus passengers who decline any secondary screening (including a pat-down search) are considered to be refusing the screening process and can be subject to civil penalties[citation needed] and will not be permitted to board the aircraft. A person though still has the right to refuse any primary search and leave the airport before the screening process has begun, but will not be reimbursed the cost of their airline ticket should they be barred from flight.[42]

TSA Administrator John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano meet with President Obama in the Oval Office; October 2010.

On November 23, 2010, TSA officials said that some high-ranking US government officials were being allowed to bypass some security procedures if they were traveling with government bodyguards and escorts. Among the officials are executive-branch leaders such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller and congressional leaders such as Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner. Law-enforcement officials are also allowed to bypass the screening process if they are traveling armed, have the appropriate paperwork, and have completed a training course by TSA.[34]

In January 2013, it was announced that the body scanners developed by Rapiscan would no longer be used, due to the fact that the manufacturer of the machines could not produce "privacy software" to eliminate the almost nude images that agents view and turn them into stick like figures. Although Rapiscan machines will no longer be in use at airports, the TSA will continue to use other full body scanners. [43]

Concerns about radiation

Concerns have been raised with regards to exposure to radiation emitted by backscatter X-rays, and there are fears that people will be exposed to a "dangerous level of radiation if they get backscattered too often".[44] Ionizing radiation is considered a non-threshold carcinogen, but it is difficult to quantify the risk of low radiation exposures.[45]

While the most recent studies have deemed the radiation risk from AIT units to be trivial,[46] some physicians have voiced concerns about the radiation emitted by the scanners. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society told CNN that he "takes a pat-down instead of going through a scanner when he travels" because he is "concerned about whether the machines are calibrated and inspected properly."[47] Brawley's deputy, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, does "whatever [he] can to avoid the scanner," since he is "concerned about the cumulative effect of the radiation":[47]

This is a total body scan—not a dental or chest X-ray. Total body radiation is not something I find very comforting based on my medical knowledge. I can still remember getting my feet radiated as a child when I went to the shoe store and they had a machine which could see how my foot fit in the new shoes. We were told then that they were safe, and they were not.

Dr. Dong Kim, chair of the department of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School and neurosurgeon for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, stated that "[t]here is really no absolutely safe dose of radiation. Each exposure is additive, and there is no need to incur any extra radiation when there is an alternative."[47] Dr. Andrew Weil agreed, saying that "All radiation exposure adds to the cumulative total you've received over your lifetime. Cancer risks correlate with that number, so no dose of radiation is too small to matter."[47]

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created a webpage providing backscatter X-ray scan safety information.[48] However, biochemists and biophysicists at the University of California, San Francisco, in a May 2010 letter to the head of the TSA, raised concerns about the validity of indirect comparisons the FDA used in evaluating backscatter x-ray machine safety, asking that additional data be made public. When the much-redacted report was made public, the same UCSF biophysicists objected in an April 2011 letter that the data could not be independently verified and called for the use of readily-available alternate technologies in preference to backscatter x-ray scanning, which they continue to maintain is dangerous.[49][50][51]

Legal Challenges

On July 2, 2010, the Electronic Privacy Information Center petitioned the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for review of three DHS actions— one failure to act, one agency Order, and one agency Rule—of the TSA, a DHS component.[52] The Petitioners filed a motion for emergency stay, urging the Court to shut down the program as soon as possible in order to prevent irreparable harm to American travelers. On July 15, 2010, the federal agency opposed the motion. On July 20, 2010, EPIC filed a reply to the opposition. On September 1, 2010, the Court ordered the motion be denied, and set out the briefing schedule.

On November 1, 2010, EPIC filed its opening brief, arguing that the DHS "has initiated the most sweeping, the most invasive, and the most unaccountable suspicionless search of American travelers in history."[citation needed] EPIC further argued that the TSA "must comply with relevant law, and it must not be permitted to engage in such a fundamental change in agency practice without providing the public the opportunity to express its views."[citation needed]

On November 5, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security moved to exclude religious objector Nadhira Al-Khalili from the lawsuit. Ms. Al-Khalili is Legal Counsel for the Council on American Islamic Relations, one of the organizations that supported EPIC's petition, which is the basis for the challenge to the body scanner program. Ms. Al-Khalili's claims are based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Islamic modesty requirements. EPIC opposed the government's motion and stated that the agency is "simply afraid to have the Religious Freedom Restoration Act claims heard by this Court." EPIC further argued that "Respondents hope by seeking to exclude Ms. Al- Khalili . . . they will avoid judicial scrutiny of an agency practice that substantially burdens the free exercise of religion in violation of federal law."[citation needed]

On December 23, 2010, Respondent DHS filed its answer brief, again urging the Court to exclude Nadhira al-Khalili as a religious objector in the suit. Respondents also asserted that the body scanner program was not substantial enough of a change in agency policy to constitute a "rule" under the Administrative Procedures Act. EPIC has previously argued that the body scanner program is "the single most significant change in air traveler screening in the United States since the creation of the agency,"[citation needed] adding that the agency has considered far less significant changes to be rules, including policies relating to butane lighters and transportation worker identity documents.[citation needed]

On January 6, 2011, EPIC filed a reply brief, arguing that "the TSA has acted outside of its regulatory authority and with profound disregard for the statutory and constitutional rights of air travelers, the agency’s rule should be set aside and further deployment of the body scanners should be suspended." On the same day, EPIC hosted a one-day public conference "The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures" in Washington, DC. Oral Argument in the case were scheduled for March 10, 2011.[53] On July 15, 2011, the D.C. Circuit court of appeals ruled that the TSA did violate the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to allowing a public notice and comment rule making period. The Court ordered the agency to "promptly" undertake a public notice and comment rule making. On October 28, 2011, and December 23, 2011 EPIC filed motions for the court to enforce the order but both motions were declined. On July 17, 2012, EPIC filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus again asking the court to force enforcement.[54] On August 1, 2012 the DC Circuit Court of Appeal granted the request to compel the TSA to explain its actions by the end of the month.[55] The agency responded on August 30, saying that there was "“no basis whatsoever for (The DC Circuit Court's) assertion that TSA has delayed implementing this court’s mandate,” and said it was awaiting approval from the Department of Homeland Security before the hearings take place. The TSA also said that it was having "staffing issues" regarding the issue, but expects to begin hearings in February 2013, a full 19 months after the original court order was given.[56] As of March 1st, 2013, the hearings have not taken place.

TSA Precheck Program (Trusted Traveler)

In October 2011, TSA cooperating with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, allowed selected members of the Delta Skymiles and American Advantage frequent flyer programs, along with members of Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI to receive expedited screening.

TSA Precheck is available for domestic itineraries on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaskan Airlines and US Airways. Precheck is not available for international itineraries. Selected frequent flyers from the respective airlines, who are US citizens, may be invited to use Precheck on that airline. Members of Global Entry, NEXUS (US and Canadian citizens) and SENTRI (US citizens only) may use Precheck on any airline that offers Precheck as long as they provide the airline with their Customs and Border Protection identification number. The airline provides TSA additional information about the passenger, who decides if the passenger is approved for expedited screening. If approved for expedited screening, it is embedded in the barcode on the boarding pass and the passenger is directed to the Precheck screening line by the TSA document agent.

Precheck is currently available at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Miami International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Boston Logan International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, Denver International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Honolulu International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia International Airport, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, O'Hare International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport, Portland International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Tampa International Airport, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.[57]

TSA has said that they will incorporate random and unpredictable security measures and no individual would be guaranteed expedited screening.[58]



Measures employed by the TSA have been accused of fostering a false sense of safety.[59][60] This has been described by security expert Bruce Schneier as security theater.[61]

Criticisms have also included assertions that TSA employees slept on the job,[62][63][64][65] bypassed security checks,[66] and failed to use good judgment and common sense.[67][68][69]

TSA agents are also accused of having mistreated passengers, and having sexually harassed passengers,[70][71][72][73] having used invasive screening procedures, including touching the genitals, including those of children,[74] removing nipple rings with pliers,[75] having searched passengers or their belongings for items other than weapons or explosives,[76] and having stolen from passengers.[7][77][78][79][80][81][82][83] The TSA fired 28 agents and suspended 15 others after an investigation determined they failed to scan checked baggage for explosives.[84]

The TSA was also accused of having spent lavishly on events unrelated to airport security,[85] having wasted money in hiring,[86] and having had conflicts of interest.[87]

The TSA was accused of having performed poorly at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration viewing areas, which left thousands of ticket holders excluded from the event in overcrowded conditions, while those who had arrived before the checkpoints were in place avoided screening altogether.[88][89]

A survey of frequent flyers found that 90% of frequent flyers think that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is doing either a poor or fair job in performing security screenings at the nation's airports, and 76.1 percent of respondents indicated that the TSA's screening procedures are either not effective or not too effective at preventing acts of terrorism on an aircraft (19.1% indicated somewhat effective, 4.1% stated very effective, and only 0.6% said extremely effective).[90]

Screening Center

The “Terror Watch List” had more than one million names, including the name of a CNN reporter who said he was added to the terror list while he was reporting critically on the Federal Air Marshal Service. According to the TSA, the watch list, maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice's, division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Terrorist Screening Center. The TSC was formed by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 (HSPD-6) on September 16, 2003,[91] as a multi-agency along with the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF) of the FBI Counterterrorism Division and the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC)with efforts to identify, screen, and track known terrorists through the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). The list contained about 755,000 people as of 2007,[92] most of whom are not US persons.

The TSA list contains some US citizens incorrectly flagged as suspicious, notably Michael Winston Hicks of Clifton, NJ, at eight years old (in 2010), despite attempts as early as the age of two by his family to have him removed.[93][94][95] The TSA denies Drew Griffin's claim that he is on the list.[96][97] The TSA reacted to complaints of misidentification by saying it would fine airlines $25,000 for wrongfully informing a traveler that he or she is on a government watchlist.[98]

Unintended consequences of strict security

Two studies by a group of Cornell University researchers have found that strict airport security has the unintended consequence of increasing road fatalities, as would-be air travelers decide to drive and are exposed to the far greater risk of dying in a car accident.[99][100]

In 2005, the researchers looked at the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and found that the change in passenger travel modes led to 242 added driving deaths per month.[99] In all, they estimated that about 1,200 driving deaths could be attributed to the short-term effects of the attacks. The study attributes the change in traveler behavior to two factors: fear of terrorist attacks and the wish to avoid the inconvenience of strict security measures; no attempt is made to estimate separately the influence of each of these two factors.

In 2007, the researchers studied specifically the effects of a change to security practices instituted by the TSA in late 2002. They concluded that this change reduced the number of air travelers by 6%, and estimated that consequently, 129 more people died in car accidents in the fourth quarter of 2002.[100] Extrapolating this rate of fatalities, New York Times contributor Nate Silver remarked that this is equivalent to "four fully loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year."[101]

The 2007 study also noted that strict airport security hurts the airline industry; it was estimated that the 6% reduction in the number of passengers in the fourth quarter of 2002 cost the industry $1.1 billion in lost business.

Covert security tests; gaming and failures

Undercover operations to test the effectiveness of airport screening processes are routinely carried out by the TSA's internal affairs unit and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's office.

A report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that TSA officials had collaborated with Covenant Aviation Security (CAS) at San Francisco International Airport to alert screeners to undercover tests.[102] From August 2003 until May 2004, precise descriptions of the undercover personnel were provided to the screeners. The handing out of descriptions was then stopped, but until January 2005 screeners were still alerted whenever undercover operations were being undertaken.[103] When no wrongdoing on the part of CAS was found, the contract was extended for four years. While employees of the firm and TSA were disciplined, none lost their jobs.[104][105]

A report on undercover operations conducted in October 2006 at Newark Liberty International Airport was leaked to the press. The screeners had failed 20 of 22 undercover security tests, missing numerous guns and bombs. The Government Accountability Office had previously pointed to repeated covert test failures by TSA personnel.[106][107] Revealing the results of covert tests is against TSA policy, and the agency responded by initiating an internal probe to discover the source of the leak.[108]

In July 2007, the Times Union of Albany, New York reported that TSA screeners at Albany International Airport failed multiple covert security tests conducted by the TSA. Among them was a failure to detect a fake bomb.[109]

In December 2010, ABC News Houston reported in an article about a man who accidentally took a forgotten gun through airport security, that "the failure rate approaches 70 percent at some major airports".[110]

In May 2012, a report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General stated that the TSA "does not have a complete understanding" of breaches at the nation's airports, with some hubs doing very little to fix or report security breaches. These findings will be presented to Congress.[111]

Employee records lost or stolen

On May 4, 2007, the Associated Press reported that a computer hard drive containing Social Security numbers, bank data, and payroll information for about 100,000 employees had been lost or stolen from TSA headquarters. Kip Hawley alerted TSA employees to the loss, and apologized for it. The agency asked the FBI to investigate.[112]

Unsecured website

In February 2007, Christopher Soghoian, a blogger and security researcher, said that a TSA website was collecting private passenger information in an unsecured manner, exposing passengers to identity theft.[113] The website allowed passengers to dispute their inclusion on the No Fly List. The TSA fixed the website several days after the press picked up the story.[114] The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated the matter,[115] and said the website had operated insecurely for more than four months, during which more than 247 people had submitted personal information.[116] The report said the TSA manager who awarded the contract for creating the website was a high-school friend and former employee of the owner of the firm that received the contract.[117] It noted:

neither Desyne nor the technical lead on the traveler redress Web site have been sanctioned by TSA for their roles in the deployment of an insecure Web site. TSA continues to pay Desyne to host and maintain two major Web-based information systems. TSA has taken no steps to discipline the technical lead, who still holds a senior program management position at TSA.[118]

In December 2009, someone within the TSA posted a sensitive manual entitled “Screening Management SOP” on secret airport screening guidelines to an obscure URL on the FedBizOpps website. The manual was taken down quickly, but the breach raised questions about whether security practices had been compromised.[119] Five TSA employees were placed on administrative leave over the manual’s publication, which, while redacted, had its redaction easily removed by computer-knowledgeable people.[120]

Screening procedures – 2010 to present

Screenshot from an active millimeter wave scanner
X-ray backscatter technology produces an image that resembles a chalk etching.[121]
A backscatter unit.

After the November 2010 initiation of enhanced screening procedures of all airline passengers and flight crews, the US Airline Pilots Association issued a press release stating that pilots should not submit to Advanced Imaging Technology because of unknown radiation risks and calling for strict guidelines for pat downs of pilots, including evaluation of their fitness for duty after the pat down, given stressful nature of pat downs.[122][123] Two airline pilots filed suit against the procedures.[124] Additionally, retired police officer Robert Yamin stated that the pat downs are "fake" and are not an effective way to search for contraband as they do not conform to proper search procedures.[125]

A number of publicized incidents created a public outcry against the invasiveness of the pat-down techniques,[126][127][128] in which women’s breasts and the genital areas of all passengers are patted.[122] Concerns have also been raised as to the constitutionality of the new screening methods, with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union leading the opposition.[129] As of April 2011, at least six lawsuits have been filed for violation of the Fourth Amendment.[130][131] George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen has supported this view, saying "there's a strong argument that the TSA's measures violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.".[132]

The American Civil Liberties Union has called the scanners a "virtual strip search."[133] United States House of Representatives by Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act (H.R.6416).[134] Two separate Internet campaigns promoted a “National Opt-Out Day,” the day before Thanksgiving, urging travelers to “opt out” of the scanner and insist on a pat down.[135] US. Representative John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the incoming chair of the United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, called for refining TSA procedures and for airports to consider private screeners.[133] Rand Paul, who had previously been detained by the TSA, has called for the entire program to be eliminated and will be introducing legislation to do so.[136] Georgia Congressman Paul Broun has called for TSA chief John Pistole to resign, saying Pistole "has been totally incompetent in his position." Broun also called for DHS head Janet Napolitano to resign.[137]

On November 17, TSA chief John Pistole defended the TSA's screening policies in a Senate committee hearing, and was quoted as saying "I’m not going to change the policy".[138] TSA also promised to correct issues brought to their attention.[139]

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she personally would like to avoid a pat down but said United States President Barack Obama administration officials were responding to terrorists "getting more creative about what they do to hide explosives in, you know, crazy things like underwear." President Obama said he had asked his counter terrorism team if the measures were "absolutely necessary."[133]

In May 2011, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it illegal for Transportation Security Administration officials to touch a person's genitals when carrying out a patdown. The bill failed in the Senate after the Department of Justice threatened to make Texas a no-fly zone if the legislation passed.[140][141]

In March 2012, technology entrepreneur Jonathan Corbett posted a video on YouTube explaining a simple way to bypass the TSA's screening procedures. He subsequently tested it at two airports with a metal carrying case, and managed to get through security with no issue. Corbett concluded that the program is "a giant fraud."[142][143] The TSA subsequently stated that Corbett's video was "a crude attempt to allegedly show how to circumvent TSA screening procedures."[144] while at the same time "cautioning" media outlets from covering the issue, stating that Corbett "should not be aided by the mainstream media."[145] Corbett has since presented his video to Congress, in conjunction with Freedom To Travel USA, and filed a lawsuit with the United States Supreme Court, asking them to judge the constitutionality of the procedures.[146]

The TSA themselves have been noted for stating that "proper procedures were followed" in many of the highly publicized incidents regarding the security procedures, or otherwise stated that the claims made in the initial stories by travelers who claimed to have been mistreated by agents could not be verified during their analysis of security footage.[147] This stance has been the subject of additional criticism, as the TSA does not make such footage available for independent review.

Public opinion

A CBS telephone poll of 1137 people published on November 15, 2010 found that 81% percent of those polled approved TSA's use of full-body scans.[148] An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted by Langer Associates and released November 22, 2010 found that 64% of Americans favored the full-body X-ray scanners, but that 50% think the "enhanced" pat-downs go too far; 37% felt so strongly. In addition the poll states opposition is lowest amongst those who fly less than once a year.[149] A later poll by Zogby International found 61% of likely voters oppose the new measures by TSA.[150] In 2012, a poll conducted by the Frequent Business Traveler organization found that 56% of frequent fliers were "not satisfied" with the job the TSA was doing. 57% rated the TSA as doing a "poor job," and 34% rated it "fair." Only 1% of those surveyed rated the agency's work as excellent.[151]

Baggage theft

The TSA has been criticized[152] for an increase in baggage theft after its inception. Reported thefts include both valuable and dangerous goods, such as laptops, jewelry[153] guns,[154] and knives.[155] Such thefts have raised concerns that the same access might allow bombs to be placed aboard aircraft.[156]

In 2004, over 17,000 claims of baggage theft were reported.[153] As of 2004, 60 screeners had been arrested for baggage theft,[153] a number which had grown to 200 screeners by 2008.[157] 11,700 theft and damage claims were reported to the TSA in 2009, a drop from 26,500 in 2004, which was attributed to the installation of cameras and conveyor belts in airports.[158]

As of 2011, the TSA employs about 60,000 screeners in total (counting both baggage and passenger screening)[159] and approximately 500 TSA agents have been fired or suspended for stealing from passenger luggage since the agency's creation in November 2001. The most affected airports are in the New York area – John F. Kennedy International Airport JFK, LaGuardia Airport LGA and Newark Liberty International Airport EWR.[160]

In 2008 an investigative report by WTAE in Pittsburgh discovered that despite over 400 reports of baggage theft, about half of which the TSA reimbursed passengers for, not a single arrest had been made.[7] The TSA does not, as a matter of policy, share baggage theft reports with local police departments.[7]

In September 2012, ABC News interviewed former TSA agent Pythias Brown, who has admitted to stealing more than $800,000 worth of items during his employment with the agency. Brown stated that it was "very convenient to steal" and poor morale within the agency is what causes agents to steal from passengers.[161]

The TSA has also been criticized for not responding properly to theft and failing to reimburse passengers for stolen goods. For example, between 2011 and 2012, passengers at Altanta Hartfield Jackson Airport reported $300,000 in property lost or damaged by the TSA. The agency only reimbursed $35,000 of those claims. [162] Similar statistics were found at Jacksonville International Airport - passengers reported $22,000 worth of goods missing or damaged over the course of 15 months. The TSA only reimbursed $800. [163]

See also


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External links