Since the inception of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency has faced some mathematical discrepancies … with a few major math discrepancies showing up in public statements by the past two weeks, I decided to try and find out why these issues occur. I sought explanations to two math discrepancies … with the TSA answering one and seemingly hoping I’d forget about the other.
So … lets start with the one the TSA can explain. On the 9th of December the TSA posted to its blog, Response to Claims that TSA Opted out of Using AIT During Opt-Out Day, stating that the TSA was operating 430 whole body imaging scanners (ie: advanced imaging technology or AIT scanners) at 70 airports during “National Opt Out Day” on the 24th of November.
These numbers did not line up with the statement I received from a TSA Spokeswoman just before National Opt Out Day that there were 385 scanners at 68 airports. Why don’t they line up? Because the TSA chose to use a number for scanners currently in place on the 9th of December, not the 24th of November, when it posted it entry on the agency’s blog.
As of today for instance, the TSA is operating 464 scanners at 75 airports. This break down is 242 backscatter scanners at 38 airports and 222 millimeter wave scanners at 37 airports. These numbers are continually in flux, so that explains one mathematical question …
… but now onto the math head scratcher the TSA has been shuffling around and ignoring. On the 4th of December TSA Administrator John Pistole was quoted stating the following to The Wall Street Journal:
I am not sure where to start with this one, because Administrator Pistole’s math for both numbers is wrong … and not wrong by a little bit. Rather than Israel only having 50 flights per day … Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) alone will see one hundred and eleven departing flights today. This one airport, albeit the major airport for Israel, does not factor in the five other commercial airports in Israel that are served by airlines and also require passenger screening.
While yes, Israel is far smaller than the United States, when discussing why the United States cannot adopt some Israeli influenced airport security tactics the person change of running everything within the TSA shouldn’t use numbers as the total justification … especially when they have their numbers wrong.
In addition to Administrator Pistole’s comments regarding how many departing flights Israel handles daily, he stated that the United States has 456 airports, another incorrect number. The official tally from the Airports Council International (ACI), the international council that oversees airports and creates information used by airlines and governments around the world, is that the United States has 494 airports that are served by commercial airlines. The break down of ACI’s accounting of US airports with airlines is as follows:
29 – Large Airports
26 – Medium Airports
70 – Small Airports
127 – Non-Primary Airports
232 – Non-Hub Airports
The miscount of 38 airports in the United States with commercial airline service is a far smaller error than stating that Israel only needs to screen 50 flights per day, but it shows a distinct disconnect within the TSA for pinpoint accuracy. The TSA is charged with finding and stopping those who seek to do harm to the traveling public, but how can it handle the complexities of seeking out threats, that are harder to find than the proverbial needle in a haystack, if those running the agency are unable to know how many airports have commercial airline service in the United States?
After a week of asking how Administrator Pistole arrived at the number ’50’ for flights screened daily by Israeli airport security I am still left wondering not only where this information came from … but why others aren’t challenging him on this comment.