A while ago I got into an argument with a travel blogger who I used to read over his strong anti TSA posts. The blogger never confirmed this but his statements implied that he didn't object to the methods used by the TSA (many of which are used in other countries) but instead the main objection was the employer of these security personnel, namely the government. I found this very odd since the blogger even hinted that it would be acceptable to use the same personnel as long as a non government agency were in charge.
Now I can understand not liking scans and pat downs but this all started with the news that TSA was going to start walking around and talking to travelers to see if they can spot odd behavior. This is common from what I hear in highly secure airports. Yet the blogger seemed to think this was big government trying to wipe out our freedom. And again, it would be just fine if the TSA were run by a private company. I imagined this blogger protesting the interview process in the US then landing in another country and praising them for using the same process.
I will admit that I don't always have the greatest of faith in our agencies (especially after going to DMV) but I was just dumbfounded with this kind of logic. Am I just being too laid back or is this a bit over the top? I can understand not having faith in a government agency when it comes to efficiency or speed or costs, but if they use sound tools or tactics like interviews then I don't automatically fault the tactic just because of who's using it.
Well, there are plenty of people who blindly follow along what they are told to believe, what they want to believe - as in the TSA's actions are making flying safer. Is said blogger an employee of the TSA and writes such opinions in a veiled attempt to save their job...who knows? Maybe they feel the "security" of a government job will be put in jeopardy if a private company takes over, or fewer employees needed for current pat downs if the TSA decides to follow what other governments are doing for their security - looking for odd behaviour or profiling or at least checking the records of those that are scheduled on a flight in advance.
As a travel blogger, and someone critical of the way TSA does its work, I'd like to respond.
When you travel to other countries, and see how their airport security works, you realize how far TSA has to go to even catch up.
Except for specific occasions, no where else do we have to remove our shoes and belts. We're not yelled at nor treated like dirt. If they do find something, our private areas are not groped. In most other countries, you're actually treated with respect.
You bring up the new policy of talking to people. First, remember that in most other countries they don't have the freedoms we have in the U.S. But besides that, let's look at this new policy. TSA is going to take "specially trained" officers and let them decide if you need more interrogation. These "Behavioral Detection Officers" get one month of training to become experts in human psychology. One month.
In Boston, TSA is experimenting with a program that will have BDO's talking to every passenger asking them a series of questions. They want to gauge your response to see if you need serious screening. So far, it's worked so well, that the waiting time to get through security has been as bad as four hours. Well done.
I also don't mind if they ask me questions about what I'm carrying, who did the packing, if there is anything questionable in my bags, etc....but I don't like it when they ask why I'm traveling, who I'm visiting, and the like. We still have rights in this country that allow us to travel from state to state without having to inform the government of our reasons. This is not true in other countries and when there I respect their laws and rights.
I'm also for the privatization of airport security like it is in most other countries. Rather than have a immense government bureaucracy, it is up to the airports to hire and train security personnel under the guidance of the government. These workers are held accountable for their actions unlike TSA where if you send a letter in complaining about the way you were treated, you get a form letter telling you how they are protecting you from terrorism. If a TSO treats passengers terribly and is a bully, TSA has no recourse to get rid of them unless they commit a felony. If privatized, the airport can replace that screener with someone better.
But wait, you say, it was the private guards that let the 9/11 hijackers onto the planes. Yes, that's right, they did. But remember, the hijackers used box cutters to take control of the aircraft. And box cutters were allowed on board aircraft at the time. Don't blame the people at the airport, blame the government administrators who thought it okay to bring a sharp weapon on board.
I applaud the steps TSA are trying to make, but it's virtually impossible to efficiently run a government agency with tens of thousands of employees. Return the security operations over to the airport where there is accountability. Let the government set the guidelines and have inspectors out to make sure those guidelines are followed. But that's it. The airport management does not want unhappy passengers for fear they might start to use alternative airports or alternative transportation. The less passengers, the less money the airport makes. The U.S. government couldn't care less if you're happy or not.
Now I know there are many who believe we must do anything, even give up our Constitutional rights, to prevent terrorism. I'll just leave you with the words of Benjamin Franklin who stated the following in 1755:
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
Excellent piece Frank II. Much better stated than my post!
If Boston were to turn all security personnel and equipment over to the airport I assume that would be the ideal solution. But exactly what would be different then?
The government wouldn't just "turn all security personnel and equipment over to the airport." The airport would hire their own security personnel. Those currently working at BOS for TSA could apply but there would be no guarantee that they would get the job. This way, only the best get the job and the airport gets to fill any empty positions with better qualified applicants.
I truly believe that the vast majority of TSO's are good people who are trying to do their job correctly. They are under great pressure yet remain patient and helpful. I'm sure they don't like some of the new rules either.
But it's when a problem occurs that I believe we see the bad side of TSA. The administrators seem to not care one bit about passengers or anything else. They don't seem to want to follow up on problems, unless the police are involved, nor make sure that their field people get properly trained.
So, when I blame TSA, most of it is towards the management of the organization. With bad management, a growing organization just gets worse.
Why do you think that "only the best get the job"? What about the move to the private sector makes you think that hiring would somehow become better?
So if it isn't the people (who are capable of doing the job) then why is it that the management (who also happen to be people) is NOT capable of doing the job? On the one hand you say "but it's virtually impossible to efficiently run a government agency with tens of thousands of employees". If true then swap the phrase "government agency" with the phrase "private company". Are you saying that just because it's a private company that it's much easier to run a group of tens of thousands people efficiently? If so, what challenges does the government agency face that a private company does not?
Running a private company and running a government agency are two different things.
In a private company, if someone doesn't do a good job, they can be fired simply for that. It's virtually impossible to fire a government employee for the same reason. Secondly, many of the people running these government agencies are not necessarily experts in their field or even good managers. Many are political appointees.
However, by allowing airports to hire their own security people, you will not have monstrous organizations with tens of thousands of people. You'll have at most a few hundred at the largest airports.
The best option would be competition. Let private security companies vie for the job of airport security. Let the government have oversight on training and implementation to make sure they are doing their job correctly. If they aren't, or if there are too many complaints, the airports can then replace one company with another. When a company wants to keep the contract to make a profit, it's an incentive to do a good job.
Even if the airport hires their own people, they can still have higher standards than the government.
With TSA, there is no competition. There are no consequences if they go overboard.
I know, there are lots of private companies that don't do the right thing. But the same can be said for many government agencies and political appointees regardless of party.
My understanding is that the TSA's raison d'etre was to relieve the airlines of liability for "events."
If I start the NTGSA (Not the Government Security Agency) in order to bid for contracts on airports, I will have a large organization that faces the exact same management issues even though I'm not a government agency. Plus the idea that private companies can just fire at will is just an overly simplistic view that glossy over issues that even private companies face, especially if a union is involved. Are you saying the government is incapable of delegating just because it's the government? It makes no difference how large the entire TSA group is since the execution of the daily security at BOS is most likely only handled by the people who actually work at BOS, which is exactly the same way the NTGSA or even just a local BOS owned security unit would handle it. If fact, if BOS security were turned over to the airport I bet the org chart would remain nearly the same as it stands right now - rules and regulations are sent down from government offices in DC and BOS personnel (government or not) is left to execute those rules and regulations.
Let me try to focus on one key aspect of the topic in the quickest possible way. If something like the NTGSA takes over BOS and has an agent ask you generic questions (where are you going, who are you seeing, who do you work for, what do you do for a living) do you still feel like your rights to travel freely are being violated?
I flew from Boston Logan the day they began the additional screening but before it had been made public.
I will tell you it seemed odd to say the least but the TSA agent screening the Boarding Pass before letting me in line with the bags was the first time I have ever had any real conversation with any TSA agent?
He was friendly and polite but it was also a little disarming being asked questions beyond the norm and specific to details I would not really want to share there?
Later on that day I heard a story on NPR and then I followed up online to learn as much about this new technique as I could as it was truly disturbing the more I learned.
Initially it was reported that the screeners selected to do this enhanced screening were given a 1 Hour course in detecting facial Micro-Twitches that would alert them to a potential problem.....1 HOUR!
I have a Girlfriend who is a PHD Physc. Therapist who has a tough time feeling people out so maybe she has had too much training?
The details of this training were like from a Monty Python scene and unfortunately I had little problem believing they were accurate.
To imagine that the TSA could just pile-on this added responsibility/Burden and it could be effective is just crazy in my judgement and yet it makes about as much sense to me as the other Knee=Jerk reactions they deploy which have us removing our shoes and being molested anyway as it is.
If they truly want to take it up a notch and employ techniques used in other more rigorous organizations it is simply arrogant and insulting to make such feeble and token gestures towards that in this way.
Anyway nothing really does surprise me anymore and I do prefer traveling by car whenever I can choose to.
As it turned out I did drive to Boston to deliver a car for a client to use and had a 1-way ticket to return.
When I flew right after 9/11 1-way to pick up a car I was grilled at length at the time for flying 1-way with no obvious return plan they could see.
The TSA had not formed yet but it was exactly the same treatment anyway.
I'm sure the questions can be unsettling, and so can being patted down, but I'm not sure I would go so far as to say it's insulting to only give minimal training. Had the training been a week I think the same argument would come out. Sure you want more than an hour but you can't expect a bunch of PHDs to do the job either.
Maybe I'm too half-full on this but I think it's good to at least show some effort to trying something new. If they do nothing they are criticized for not following what some experts on security recommend. If they do try it, they are criticized for not putting forth enough effort. I just don't get the logic of the no-win situation that seems to be par for the course in discussions on this topic.
But regarding training, perhaps times are tougher in my area but it has been many years since I've seen lots of money spent on training in the corporate world. Even if security were in the hands of the airport or a private firm, I can't see them spending a huge amount more on training than maybe a government agency. Unless the government required some kind of certification it of course. The point being, just because it's not the government doesn't mean funding for expenses (like training) are less of an issue. I'd say expense management is even a higher priority in the corporate world. Anything that doesn't generate money for your corporation is ruled with an iron fist. If the airport were in charge of it's own security, that group would be under huge pressure to keep costs down since they are nothing but a minus on the spreadsheet.
But back to the main point, given a person is uncomfortable with the questions or the scans or the pat-downs, does it become any easier to take if the employer of the security agent changes from who they are today? In other words, is it what they are doing or who they represent that really causes the screening to be uncomfortable?
From what I read they are experimenting along the lines of Israel El Al airlines screeners who have a big job but much lower volume.
Something tells me that El Al contributes more than 1 hour per employee in training.
It thus insults my sensibilities to suggest that after a 1 hour training session a TSA agent would be able to employ those methods and interpret and understand the results.....on ANY level.
To me this mocks the process mostly.
I certainly do not begrudge them being willing and ready to explore newer more effective methods but it seems like more of the same token gestures to me with very little probability of making things faster or better.
I can see your point but I think it depends on how they are "selling" this trial. If they are trying to say they are following what El Al does then yes it's an insult. But if they are just trying a portion of what they do then it's not really a mockery. To fully implement what El Al does would require tremendous effort and training so it would be a huge commitment just for a trial. Then again, perhaps just training for an hour isn't enough effort. Maybe they needed a week of training as a compromise. Even then I'm sure there would be detractors.
Originally Posted by AVService
I still think they should get credit for trying something new. I can recall someone posting how the TSA should look to El Al for guidance on how to do things the right way. It would be a shame if they are still criticized after doing supposedly what the public wanted them to do.
Speaking of Airport Security. Did anyone catch Wait wait...don't tell me this weekend? Paula Poundstone had an interesting piece on airport security :).