Ongoing TSA / Security Theater watch

The monthly "Airport Policy News" reports by Robert Poole, of the Reason Foundation, are a steady source of nuggets about economic, technological, and political developments in the aviation world. I would send a link to the latest report I'm about to cite, except that what's online, here, is routinely a few weeks behind what's come out in the newsletters.

I am not a full adherent to the Reason Magazine/Ayn Rand view of the world (I loved her books when I was 14, though!), including some specifics about aviation. But we are as one in dismay about the combination of authoritarianism, empty symbolism, and undiscriminating clumsiness that makes up much of our current TSA policy. See my Atlantic colleague Jeff Goldberg on this point too.

Poole's latest nugget is a GAO report on how the TSA is doing. Links to the full 75-page report and summary highlights are here. The cover page gets across the essential point, which is that years and years into its existence, the TSA is still not basing its screening plans, its strategy, or its technology on assessment of relative risk. That is, if you wonder why the two-year old in a stroller is getting the full pat-down and why so many TSA procedures fail the basic-logic test, it turns out that the GAO wonders those things too.


From its summary:

"TSA completed a strategic plan to guide research, development, and deployment of passenger checkpoint screening technologies; however, the plan is not risk-based. [My emphasis.]...

"Since TSA's creation, 10 passenger screening technologies have been in various phases of research, development, test and evaluation, procurement, and deployment, but TSA has not deployed any of these technologies to airports nationwide.... In the case of the ETP [ a new scanner], although TSA tested earlier models, the models ultimately chosen were not operationally tested before they were deployed to ensure they demonstrated effective performance in an operational environment. Without operationally testing technologies prior to deployment, TSA does not have reasonable assurance that technologies will perform as intended."

Much more from the full GAO report, here in PDF form. I realize that there are bigger emergencies in America right now. But the ongoing impossibility of applying logic to this situation really is discouraging -- or, more positively, is an opportunity for someone in government to address.