It’s customary among critics to deride the Transportation Security Administration as “security theater.” One has to wonder what kind of theater this is, though. A period drama, satirizing the 2000s? Vaudeville farce?
Witness the latest embarrassing lapses by airport screeners, as reported by ABC:
An internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports, where undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, ABC News has learned. The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system.
In case the data don’t seem convincing, have an anecdote: In one case, a Red Team member strapped a fake bomb to his back. The screening machinery detected something amiss—so far, so good. But a patdown by an agent failed to detect the device, and the man passed through.
TSA’s failure to detect undercover agents might seem like familiar news, since it’s a part of a pattern. Reports about the TSA failing to find planted weapons and the like pop up every few years. In 2013, the GAO found that a nearly $900 million screening program didn’t work. In 2013, then-Administrator John Pistole was run through a congressional gauntlet over failures, but he insisted that the failures to catch members of Red Teams shouldn’t be viewed so negatively. After all, he reasoned, these were people who knew all of TSA’s internal protocols and were trying to test them—“super-terrorists,” he called them.