Debra Burlingame: The TSA is inept; We Must Assure Our Skies Are Both Safe and Friendly

This was first published on April 20, 2012 as my Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Kip Hawley, the Transportation Security Administration’s former administrator, fails to acknowledge a November 2011 congressional report documenting that the TSA has become a bloated, 65,000-person bureaucracy larger than the departments of Labor, Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and State, combined (“Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It,” Review, April 14). It has spent $57 billion since 2002, $2.7 billion of which was spent on training. Yet half of the people it has hired and trained have left the agency. With the highest attrition rate among the federal work force, the TSA has resorted to placing employment ads in the Washington, D.C., area on pizza boxes and over the pumps at discount gas stations.

The report notes that 25,000 security breaches have taken place at U.S. airports since 9/11. According to the Government Accountability Office, 17 known terrorists have flown on U.S. carriers on 24 occasions, including traveling through eight airports where behavior-detection officers are deployed—a program that has spent $800 million since 2007 and will cost $1.2 billion more over the next five years. While not one terrorist has been spotted, the TSA has justified the expense by citing the discovery of passengers involved in common crimes, such as credit-card fraud or drug smuggling, resulting in mission creep and the pervasive sense that anyone who approaches the check point is a potential suspect.

After the Christmas Day bombing attempt in 2009, the take-away lesson for the TSA wasn’t that it should be looking for dangerous people instead of dangerous objects. Instead, the agency doubled down, ordering up more invasive body scanners whose manufacturers have reluctantly admitted can’t detect low-density powder hidden behind male genitals. The virtual strip-search photos put out by the TSA depict captured images of hard metal objects, guns and knives, not explosives.

For me, the sad reality is that the TSA has succeeded in accomplishing what Osama bin Laden couldn’t. I now dread the airport. I view the TSA as an inept government agency, which makes complicity in my own humiliation the price I must pay to fly.

Debra Burlingame
New York

Ms. Burlingame is a co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America and the sister of Capt. Charles F. Burlingame, III, pilot of American Airlines Flight 77.

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