A TSA Analyst Speaks Out On Current Security Procedures

Yesterday I wrote about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new enhanced pat downs being ineffective, providing commentary from a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) anti-terrorism expert.

The DHS expert detailed how someone could potentially smuggle explosives through both the new whole-body-imaging scanners and discussed technology under development that could identify concealed items. After posting the comments from the DHS anti-terrorism expert yesterday … I received an e-mail from a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport security analyst on their views of what would create a more effective airport security experience.

This is what the TSA airport security analyst had to say:

“In many ways I agree with the DHS anti-terror expert on the reasons the new pat downs are not an effective security procedure. There are far to many holes in the TSA’s current first line security. It is my job to closely look at airport security options and I see holes forming faster than a crumbling dam, without the funding of The New Deal to build the Hoover Dam to fix all the holes.

Ideally the TSA and the international aviation security community would channel their resources towards human intelligence gathering and interagency intelligence sharing, but politics gets in the way of this effective security. In an ideal security building environment we would not be beholden to politicians that want a tangible item rather than one based in the intangible nature of intelligence gathering in a nonmilitary environment.

In the absence of human intelligence options, due to very limited budget allocations for additional TSA Behavior Detection Officers, as well as those officers needing additional training and placement in a wider selection of airports, first line security needs to be layered. A metal detector misses things, a pat down misses things, advanced imaging technology scanners miss things.  What needs to be created is a multistep screening for all passengers, without the ability to opt out.  Building this system of course comes with the political pit falls, space constraints and budget allocations that plague the airport security systems that I am responsible for working to improve.

Within a multilayered environment a passenger would initially enter an advanced imaging technology scanner, then proceed through a metal detector, before finally being swabbed for explosives.  Yes, this system might miss a small number of low density explosives and nonmetallic items hidden in a body cavity, but this system needs to be augmented with Behavior Detection Officers and a more effective use of preflight name cross checking of passenger manifests.

Nothing will stop everything, but security procedures need to be created by security experts not people in the front office focused on the politics of their careers. What the flying public is now experiencing are security measures that most airport security architects within the TSA generally disagree with.

There are multiple ways to cheat an advanced imaging technology scanner, the way you beat these new scanners is the same way you cheat the pat downs, you hide something deep inside a body cavity that will not be detected by current scanners or patting you down. Behavior Detection Officers however would likely detect these cheats.  There is not a simple straight forward solution to devising airport security, but the present evolution is a step backwards when we need to be moving leaps and bounds forward.”

Hearing the thoughts of those within the DHS and TSA I am honestly left wondering what is wrong with the system.  Clearly there is a disconnect between what needs to happen, what people in the DHS and TSA want to happen and what is actually being put into practice on the front lines of airport security.

Happy Flying!


  1. Even more concerning are the pets they allow through security without adequate screening. It would be easy surgically implant explosives in the abdomen of a dog or other animal. Shouldn’t all pets pass through x-ray and receive a more thorough screening than humans?

  2. The TSA security analyst laments the current funding limitations, and then proceeds to describe a procedure that would cost several times more than current screening. He wants everyone to go through full body scanners, then metal detectors, then explosive swabs. Based on my observations, the full body scanners take about 8-10 times as many employees as metal detectors (4-5 employess manning the full body scanner including the off-site person looking at the images) and half the throughput. The existing metal detectors need to be staffed. And now we are going to swab everyone for explosives? That’s not a fast process, either.

    The resources to do all this don’t exist and cannot be provided cost effectively. We might as well cancel all flights under 1000 miles and put everyone on trains, buses or cars.

    How about approaching the problem in a very different way. Maybe a subset of passengers does always get exposed to some or all of these techniques. But instead of lamenting that there aren’t enough behavior detection officers, maybe we decide that’s an important function that we will staff, perhaps by having less routine search of everyone. Perhaps we get the pilots and flight attendants out of the queues, and maybe even some of the highly frequent travelers for whom there is an ample history. Maybe the solution isn’t trying to vet every single person on every single trip, but to figure out really needs attention, coupled with some surprise element.

    Increasing the cost and hassles of security procedures is not the right path. instead, we need to figure out a more effective and efficient process.

    By the way, wouldn’t some of this money save a lot more lives if invested in road safety or child nutrition or many other needs? We are spending $7 billion/year on aviation security. All of the threats we’ve seen have occurred abroad, not in the U.S.

  3. unfortunately, the broken TSA has instilled so much fear and loathing, that even if a sensible regime, with effective security, were to appear tomorrow, it will be many, many years, before the flying public will once again trust and willingly cooperate

  4. Unfortunately, I think we are seeing a situation where the TSA is “drunk with fear”. I have seen this in my friends who work in law enforcement. After dealing with the criminal element their thinking quickly develops from “ANY person MIGHT be a criminal” to “EVERY person IS a criminal.”

    It seems clear to me that the TSA thinks “EVERY person IS a terrorist” and proceeds to treat them that way. This is a sure recipe for distrust, abuse of power and security theater.

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