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.

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

  1. panhead20
    April 28, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.

    Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials

    I will not subject myself nor my family to needless radiation exposure nor TSA molestation. My family and I will not be flying until the TSA changes these procedures.

  2. Bill Fisher
    April 23, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    TSA is just security theater and a jobs program for unemployable misfits and it’s creepy that this wholesale sexual assault on women and children is being sponsored by a blatantly gay woman. It has become a haven for criminals and deviants. There have been a total of 84 TSA workers arrested in the last 16 months including 12 for child sex crimes, over 20 for theft from bags and even one for murder.

    After sixty billion dollars over eight years they can’t cite one success. In two separate GAO tests in 2011, TSA failed to detect weapons 70% of the time while allowing 60% of the freight in the cargo-hold to go unscreened. How does groping a child make us any safer when the bomb is in the hold? TSA has done more damage to our liberty, way of life and morality than Al Qaeda could have ever hoped to do.

    TSA is a less than useless and their lack of oversight and responsible management allow these crimes and abuses to continue to occur. Pistole has failed miserably and he and the agency need to be replaced with a sensible and effective system.

    • Really?
      April 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      Really, Bill? “a blatantly gay woman”?

      You invalidate everything else you might have to say with your bigotry.

      • April 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm

        Bill’s blatant homophobia aside, the facts remain; the TSA is ineffective.

        Body scanners do not detect the powder-based bomb making materials on the persons of would-be terrorists. Pat downs during anything other then secondary screening, based upon behavioral profiling, are wholly offensive to the overwhelming majority of the flying public who are not threats to airline safety.

        While TSOs in cities work for what amount to poverty wages, the TSA’s former senior officials soon go onto become bigwigs in the very companies that contract with or sell equipment to the TSA. The Transportation Security Administration is a multi-billion-dollar racket, a crony capitalism cash cow.

        There are only enough air marshals to cover about 5% of domestic flights. The Obama administration has ended funding to arm pilots (and no one will disclose the percentage of unarmed pilots). Yes, passengers will not soon again remain in their seats as terrorists try to break through cockpit doors, murder crew and passengers, open exit doors, or set off powder-based explosives. Yet America’s flying public is not safer because of anything the TSA has done.

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