TSA’s 25,000 Security Lapses & How They Can Be Reduced

Earlier this week documents from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) revealing more than 25,000 known security breaches since the agency took over airport security screening on the 13th of February 2002 became public knowledge during U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security hearings on TSA Oversight.


First off,  keep this in mind … 25,000+ known security breaches accounts for approximately 0.00045% of the approximately 5,500,000,000+ passengers the TSA has screened since coming into existence. Secondly, the 25,000+ known security breaches aren’t broken down into minor breaches or major breaches, which means that the TSA discovering knitting needles when they were banned back in 2003 in the post-security sterile zone is the same as the discovery of a loaded hand gun according to these documents.


While airport security breaches can never completely be eliminated, because there will always be those actively seeking to navigate their way around security, there are a number of ways the TSA can close major gaps in its security. The agency often fails to acknowledge certain primary security gaps, which can be summed up in a statement made by T.J. Orr, Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s (CLT) Director of Aviation, that states the TSA operates with “a rigid attitude of arrogance and bureaucracy.


Presently the TSA can reduce security breaches by changing its procedure and technology on two factors that lead to breaches in security being allowed to occur.


1) Boarding Pass Verification – Presently when passenger identities are verified by TSA Travel Document Checkers (TCD), a passenger’s drivers license, passport or other identification are verified, but not their paper boarding pass.   While mobile boarding passes, in use by a limited number of passengers, and only available at a limited number of airports, are scanned by TSA TCDs for verification, paper boarding passes are not. TSA TCDs glance at a boarding pass to match a passenger’s name to their identification. Currently paper boarding passes lack key security features, such as an Aztec Barcode. Aztec Barcodes have existed for more than a decade, and are commonly in use every day, but the TSA has not worked with airlines to implement these impossible to forge barcodes and increase the verification of passenger identity.


2) Two Tier Security – The TSA’s current deployment of security at airports throughout the United States is not uniform, causing major lapses in passenger screening.   Presently the TSA operates a significantly higher level of security at large airports and hubs, leaving smaller airports with fewer assets to identify and prevent a security breach.


Major airports are equipped with Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners, Behavior Detection Officers (BDO), Federal Security Director/Deputy Federal Security Director (FSD/DFSD). While some smaller airports have the controversial AIT scanners, and some smaller airports have the controversial BDOs and some smaller airports have an FSD or DFSD, there are many lacking all of these layers of security.


The smaller assets deployed at my home airport, Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport (HVN), for example provide a prime example of an airport that is susceptible to an undetected security breach.  HVN is a tiny airport with only four to five flights per day, all on 37 seat Bombardier Dash-8-100 aircraft, and all flights only flying to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).   While it is unlikely someone would undertake an act of terrorism ageist a tiny turbo-prop, once a person has passed through security at HVN, they have access to enter the travel stream to every major airport in the United States without having to clear security again.


The dual tiers of security are a clear and substantial divide between airport security appearance and effectiveness … this two tier security puts steal bars on the windows while leaving the back door wide open.


So, while the TSA admits to more than 25,000 known security breaches, the real question is this … how many unknown security breaches have occurred on the TSA’s watch?  I personally know of hundreds of undetected security breaches that quickly come to mind.


Happy Flying!



  1. I don’t know how to read your reports sometimes … I see a minuscule number of reported breaches and wonder why granny needs to be stripped searched and the kids are allowed to be molested, especially when you consider how many of that minuscule number was caused directly by TSA screwups, and not any act on the part of the traveling public. The TSA is a self fulfilling prophecy of pervasive abuse far beyond something that a terrorist will cause, and we aredoing it to ourselves.

    I don’t disagree that security is needed, but this organization has utterly failed to protect the traveling public, and instead has exposed way too many travelers to abuses, theft and emotional/physical/mental distress. Transparency is needed now – TSOs have a license to steal as can be seen from numerous arrests of people doing this for YEARs; TSOs need to be held to a higher standard and punishment if they are caught in any abusing the traveling publics trust; cameras of the TSOs checking baggage both carry in and checked luggage should be required at every airport, and required to be held for up to six months minimum to support investigations of theft and abuse, with appropriate punishment for any FSD who doesn’t ensure the tapes arevavailable (broken cameras should be fixed, it is not an excuse); the nude o meters need to be halted immediately until consensus on their safety, or lack thereof can be made – the TSA has lied too many times, but congress wants to be oblivious; and TSA is they continue their overreach needs to be moved from an administrative program to one held to the same standards as law enforcement (hoping it doesn’t happen, but I lack faith in our govt) in innocent until proven guilty and no search without due cause.

    The US is on a downwards slide and being pushed faster and faster by this agency and their policies.

  2. The problem for any airport security organization, well run or not, is that they are searching for a needle in a haystack. So the percentage of lapses is actually quite impressive in the circumstances. Even more impressive is that no terrorists have got through, so far. IMHO this is the primary question.

    The next question is whether the same, or better, result can be achieved either more cheaply or with less inconvenience to the travelling public. This is the emotive, but secondary, question and it’s here that the answer is much less straightforward. It’s also here that the TSA does not help itself with its bureaucracy and arrogance (not an uncommon feature in government officials, especially those in the USA).

    My feeling is that it could do the job better if it were to adopt aggressive profiling as an additional layer of protection, but I can already hear the howls of protest. It would struggle to do the job more cheaply as it’s so labor-intensive. I suspect it could do the job with less inconvenience and intrusion, but only if it employed higher-grade staff. I cannot see that happening any time soon – just look at the willingness of Americans to put up with all sorts of inconvenience to score a cheaper ticket: will they happily pay $5 more to go through security?

  3. Best solution for reducing TSA security lapses: get rid of the TSA. It’s a ridiculous, over funded, poorly managed, and violates the civil rights of innocent Americans repeatedly EVERY SINGLE DAY.

    Get rid of this law-breaking, abusive organization IMMEDIATELY. Problem solved.

  4. So Fish,
    first of all, aztec barcodes are not “impossible” to forge. Are they significantly more difficult, yes, but they are not impossible. Anyone determined enough can make it happen, so you have to be careful about statements like that.

    Also, you bring up the AIT’s, but in the multitude of traveling that I have done this year, I have hit the AIT once, but a coworker’s daughter (who happens to be extremely attractive) has been through it on all 10 times she has been through security. I have heard this from other people too, that it seems like all of these attractive high school, college and 20-30 something females are all put through the AIT, but many others are not.

    Realistically, though I think that security needs to be tight and better, there needs to be someone watching the watchers, and the security needs to be affective. How much of what we go through is security theater vs actual security? My argument is that the majority of it is the prior.

  5. The important thing to note is that if someone is reasonably skilled they can take something through the checkpoint and it is *NOT* counted in those statistics.

    Funny how they say there have been 25,000 breaches when they have no way of knowing how many breaches there have been. I’d say the real number would be significantly higher.

    And what’s this nonsense about Aztec codes not being able to be forged? Here, check this one out…


    If you scan it, you’ll get the following text: “FlyingWithFish.com thinks that Aztec codes cannot be forged. Of course they can.”

  6. The ‘professionals’ at TSA would know a Serious Security Breach from a minor, inadvertent one, if it bit them on the nose – or shot them through the arse. Despite years of ‘repairs and retraining’ the TSA staffers actually doing the check-point screening are minimum wage-qualified thugs who STILL seem to enjoy thowing their weight around and causing as much inconvenience as possible for those who can afford to use air transportation. “If I cannot afford it, I’ll make it as difficult as possible for you, (anyone who earns more than minumum wage) ‘rich person.'” They are, more often than not, angry about something and they certainly let the flying public know about their frustrations. In ANY other country, the pre-boarding security inspectors are professionals, and even when not, tend to behave as if they were. First and foremost, professionals are polite. With the USA’s TSA, I guess the conversation ends right here. Especially in the larger, busier airports, the TSA thugs have apparently never encountered the words, “Please,” “Thank you,” or “Sir/Maam,’ or at least without dripping sarcasm. I actually look forward to foreign screening and even U.S. pre-screening, when done by local agents. They DO the job and thoroughly, but they are also polite, kind, usually in good humor and have no axe to grind with polite folks who fly on airplanes. How many times do we have to say it? The TSA’s thugs are abusive, rude and too often miss the things that they are supposed to be looking for. You get what you pay for, TSA. Hire street trash, give them a badge, but NO worthwhile training – and what does TSA really expect? Inconvenience and delay, and NO effective screening.
    I guess I just got myself on a no-fly list – and that’s OK with me! I’ll drive, usually at a sedate 55 MPH and be quite happy. Grr.

  7. What they failed to mention is that half of those occured at Newark Airport, or maybe it just seems like that since they’re always in the news.

    It does seem that they’re so worried about a bombing that they have taken away focus from the little things, which are still threats. If they can’t find my bottle of lens cleaner in my carry-on that I always forget to take out then I’m not confident they’ll find a bomb on someone.

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