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The TSA Isn't Much More Than Security Theatre

I hate the TSA, and if you've been on a plane in the past twelve years, you probably hate them too. From egregious Fourth Amendment usurpations, to nudey scanners, that one time they reached into my purse while I was at the gate waiting to board a plane, rampant theft and molestation of children and grannies... the list of reasons to rid the air travel experience from the scourge of TSA grows daily. 

Imagine if you will, a world without TSA. This lucky man lived it:

I had the pleasure of flying on Cape Air from Lebanon, N.H., to White Plains, N.Y. Cape Air is a commuter airline, and as this flight was on a plane with a total of eight passengers (plus the pilot), and disembarked outside the secure or "sterile" zone of the White Plains airport, it was exempt from TSA passenger screening requirements as laid out in §1544.101 of title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The flight was at 11 a.m., and boarded at 10:50, so I got to the airport around 10:30. I could have gotten there at 10:45, and it would've been totally fine. I just walked up to the airline counter, gave my name, got my ticket and walked into the aircraft. Because the plane was so small, you have less control over your carry-ons than you might usually, as the crew has to carefully place luggage so as to not put the plane off balance. But you also are spared baggage claim upon arrival, as the plane is unloaded for you right on the tarmac. It felt basically like riding Amtrak, or Bolt Bus. You just show up, show a ticket, and get on. No muss, no fuss.

Compelling evidence that perhaps we need to re-evaluate government mandated feel-ups. But saaaaaafety, right?  The TSA has behavioral 'experts' on the case. In 2010, a CBS News investigation revealed that a TSA program that was supposed to use science to detect would-be terrorists and malintents didn't live up to the hype.  There are 3,000 specially trained officers (experts) working in airports throughout the country behind the scenes, allegedly identifying bad guys and keeping us all safe from imminent doom. As you'd imagine, the results are less than stellar. Zero success rate stellar. As CBS reported:

The GAO uncovered at least 16 individuals later accused of involvement in terrorist plots flew 23 different times through U.S. airports since 2004. Yet none were stopped by TSA behavior detection officers working at those airports.

"It's a disgrace," said aviation security analyst Charles Slepian. "Why didn't they stop them? If it worked, you would catch them." 

Scientists are split over whether it's even possible to recognize terrorists simply by behavior detection. A 2008 report found no evidence it works.

"TSA is doing a number of things in the area of behavior detection and I personally think that some of them are shams," said Stephen Fienberg, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

The price tag for this security sham? $200 million in cold hard tax payer cash. Factor in that government inspectors routinely pass IEDs (improved explosive devices) through TSA airport checkpoints and we have all the makings of security theater. A very expensive one at that. No plots foiled, no safer homeland, just grubby blue-gloved government officials sticking their hands down the pants of the sales guy trying to close a deal. That's the security we're willingly paying for.

As the gentleman who was fortunate enough to experience air travel sans TSA put it, "That world is possible. I've lived it, and it is amazing. All we have to do is abolish the TSA. Entirely. Just let people walk off the street and onto a plane."  

Even an investigation by Congress revealed over 25,000 security breaches, and notes that the size of the agency contributes to its own inefficiencies. It begs the question, "Do we really need the TSA?"  

Tara Ruvalcaba

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