The agency that was set up to protect the American public from terrorists had a bad month. So much so that travel commentator Christopher Elliott asks if they have “hit bottom.”
Perhaps the worst recent incident involved box-cutters which was part of the reason the Transportation Security Administration was formed after 9-11 and its infamous box-cutter-carrying terrorists.
Some observers wondered if the agency can’t even detect box-cutters, how successful have they been? The incidents have led some critics to say it’s time for the US Congress to take a closer look at the TSA’s effectiveness.
All 141 passengers and crew members aboard a JetBlue flight about to depart JFK had to be evacuated because TSA screeners missed three box-cutters stashed in a passenger's carry-on bag.
As The Post's Philip Messing reported, Jersey City factory worker Eusebio Peraltalajara boarded the plane with the razors, which he'd stowed in a carry-on after work and then forgot about them.
TSA never saw them. The razors were only discovered when they fell to the floor after a flight attendant asked Peraltalajara to stow his bag in the overhead. The attendant raised an alarm, which prompted a full terrorist alert.
So why did the TSA agents miss them?
The Post speculated they may have been sleeping. That was an opinion shared by Port Authority police.
But that was far from the only troubling incident:
---More than two dozen officers with the TSA in Honolulu are being investigated for reports that they were not screening checked in baggage for explosives, as their jobs require. The TSA says they face what they call “appropriate disciplinary action.”
---A federal Homeland Security employee who assisted in screening passengers at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport was arrested on charges that she provided help to drug dealers at the airport. The 43-year-old woman pleaded not guilty.
---The TSA denies it but the Daily reports it is testing a DNA scanner that would give passengers a “DNA patdown.” The TSA also says a report is wrong that it has been planning for years to deploy mobile scanning units at public events and in train stations, as well as mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets.
Then there’s the matter of pistol packers.
Security screeners at the George Bush International Airport in Houston recently failed to detect a businessman’s Glock pistol in his briefcase. But in a later incident, an undercover TSA agent went through security at Dallas-Fort Worth with another pistol.
None of the TSA agents were disciplined, said an insider who blew the whistle on the latest incident.
All of this has caused a new wave of skepticism about the agency’s ability to provide security.
“If TSA screeners can't even stop guns getting through security, why are they taking away our bottled water?” asked the Gulliver columnist in the Economist.
“Incidents like this only lend ammunition to TSA critics who say the whole airport security apparatus is an enormous waste of time and money. The TSA's attitude towards the reporting of these sorts of screw-ups isn't helpful, either,” Gulliver added.
The agency claimed they didn’t reveal their own results of testing for “security reasons” after the latest incident.
The TSA should come up with more forthcoming answers, critics said.
“If it won’t, some enterprising congressional committee should subpoena it. ‘Trust us that this works’ just isn’t cutting it anymore,” said Gulliver.
By David Wilkening
Thursday, March 10, 2011