The TSA Needs To Focus On Security Not Popularity … it has none

Yesterday Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that children, 12 and younger, would no longer be required to remove their shoes at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints and be able to have their hands swabbed for explosives rather than be subject to a pat down.


The TSA’s move to allow children to keep their shoes on and avoid enhanced pat downs is intended to quell public outcries that children are not threats to the traveling public … however … this change in TSA security procedures for children is contrary to not only internal reports from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicating that domestic extremists show little regard for using children as agents of terrorism, but it is also contrary to TSA Administrator John Pistole’s statement earlier this year, “Unfortunately we know that terrorists around the world have used children as suicide bombers.”


While the TSA states its pilot program for testing the screening of children with their shoes on and swabbing their hands has allowed the agency to reduce the frequency in which children are patted down, the agency is unable to show any benchmark for which the statements of the program’s effectiveness were tested against.


This recent change in TSA policy creates a new, and easily exploited, gap.  This past July Flying With Fish wrote Airport Security Searches Of Children & Children As Legitimate Threats, which detailed two recent cases where terrorists detonated a child acting as an explosives delivery device and another failed attempt to use a child as a suicide bomber. These threats are real and have been used more often that we may choose to acknowledge.


Aviation security must evolve, constantly exploring new security options, refining current security policies and procedures. It is important to remember that aviation security is not popularity contest, as long as it is effective.  The DHS and TSA altering security procedures to win a popularity contest is not effective security, it’s showing an appearance of security while trying to appease the masses, in lieu of providing real security.


To be successful, the TSA needs to look at the real threats, these threats exist on an individual basis and know no age, gender or race.  Looking for knives isn’t the answer; swabbing palms may prove fruitless as well given the ease in which Semtex can be smuggled through security.   The TSA must look for not only what is in front of them, but for other signs that not all Transportation Security Officers are trained to look for.


In the future, the TSA needs to focus its efforts on true threat based security. Not everyone is a threat, not everyone needs to be treated as a threat, but during the initial “great equalizer” passenger screening, all passengers must be treated equally.


It is likely that those smuggling a weapon are those unaware they are smuggling a weapon … at least that is what DHS says … so they may want to listen to themselves.


Happy Flying!


  1. […] The conclusion is this, the rereversal of the original reversal to once again allow small pocket knives on commercial flights is a decision made based on public opinion, much like the decision to allow children and the elderly to leave their shoes on and pass through the walk through metal detector rather than the advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners … despite actual intelligence and threat analysis showing that children and the elderly could potentia…. […]


  1. Although I agree the TSA needs to spend some serious time in developing a true security plan involving heavy training of it’s public face (i.e. screeners) as well as employ some under cover agents with additional training, I can say, flying without needing to subject my young daughter to improper “stranger touching” is highly comforting. I agree that we are in the great equalization period, but we have also been in it too long. It’s past time to force the TSA to make real changes already. Just because we fly, should not make us criminals. Focus needs to change to finding the true threats instead of assuming EVERYONE is a threat. And the argument of “just don’t fly” is not only counterproductive to airline longevity, but it is also unrealistic to demand people either drive, take rail or return to a 10 square mile world of interaction and discovery.

  2. EVERYONE CAN BE A THREAT. Simple as that. There is no reason a 6 year old should be treated any different than a 30 year old. They are both fully capable of smuggling prohibited items through. Doing this completely defeats the purpose of security, if they are letting some people through with reduced security, they might as well let everyone through with reduced security.

  3. I agree. While I do think agents should have a little more leaway with children to resolve issues before resorting to a pat down. I don’t think they are helping their case, that anyone can be a potential terrorist, by changing the rules regarding children.

  4. Are u serious? Tsa is theater. Quit molesting kids and start profiling who to target. This is so laughable. If you feel safe today, the theater is working.

  5. MD,

    No one said they felt safe or didn’t feel safe with the current airport security policy and procedure. Go back and read Flying With Fish posts on profiling, human intelligence, background intelligence, inter-agency/inter-national information shared, etc.

    Happy Flying!


  6. With twin toddlers (2 strollers, 2 diaper bags, CPAP for mom, 4 pairs of shoes, etc) it takes us long enough to get through security that I’ve taken to warning people who get in line behind us. Still, I’m happy to deal with it. It is MY kids that are at risk from some dumb SOB who is willing to blow up another child.

    There is an interesting point however: how many of these kids are actually being blown up by their parents? I’d assume that if this is a real threat, simply requiring a parent to prove they are the parent would help immensely. At the moment, there is basically not even identity verification if a child if flying domestically and has a paid ticket.

    Oh, and here’s an idea… perhaps the TSA should not have ANNOUNCED they are implementing a security loophole?!?!? At least make the terrorists work to fine these things…

  7. There is no loophole here as a pat-down is not more effective then metal detection and explosive trace detection. There is simply no need for touching anybody. And as stated many many times before there are far easier ways to avoid detection. TSA should stop the touching all together and focus on metal and explosives.

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