The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that has authority over the security of the traveling public in the United States. It was created as a response to the September 11 attacks.
Chiefly concerned with air travel, the TSA employs screening officers in airports, armed Federal Air Marshals on planes, and mobile teams of dog handlers and explosives specialists.
- 1 Constitution
- 2 History and organization
- 2.1 New headquarters
- 3 Administration
- 3.1 Organizational structure
- 4 Employees
- 4.1 Uniforms
- 4.2 2013 LAX shooting
- 4.3 2015 New Orleans airport attack
- 5 Funding
- 6 Screening processes and regulations
- 6.1 Passenger and carry-on screening
- 6.1.1 Identification requirements
- 6.1.2 Large printer cartridges ban
- 6.1.3 November 2010 enhanced screening procedures
- 126.96.36.199 Pat-downs
- 188.8.131.52 Full body scanners
- 184.108.40.206 Reverse screenings
- 220.127.116.11 Reactions
- 6.1.4 March 2017 electronic device restrictions
- 6.2 Checked baggage
- 6.2.1 Luggage locks
- 6.2.2 Baggage theft
- 6.1 Passenger and carry-on screening
- 7 Screening effectiveness
- 7.1 Unintended consequences of 2002 screening enhancements
- 8 Data security incidents
- 8.1 Employee records lost or stolen
- 8.2 Unsecured website
- 9 REAL ID and air travel
- 9.1 Enforcement dates
- 9.2 Current list of acceptable IDs
- 10 Other criticisms
- 11 Public opinion
- 12 Investigations of the TSA
- 13 Calls for abolition
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 External links
The TSA was created as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, sponsored by Don Young in the United States House of Representatives and Ernest Hollings in the Senate, passed by the 107th U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. Originally part of the United States Department of Transportation, the TSA was moved to the Department of Homeland Security on March 9, 2003.
History and organization
Seal when under the Department of Transportation
The TSA was created as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Its first administrator, John Magaw, was nominated by President Bush on December 10, 2001, and confirmed by the Senate the following January. The agency’s proponents, including Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, argued that only a single federal agency would better protect air travel than the private companies who operated under contract to single airlines or groups of airlines that used a given terminal facility.
Prior to its creation, private security firms managed air travel security.
The organization was charged with developing policies to protect U.S. transportation, especially in airport security and the prevention of aircraft hijacking.
TSA Screeners represent a case of a large scale staffing project completed over a short period. The only effort in U.S history that came close to it was the testing of recruits for the armed forces in the Second World War. TSA screeners, during the period from February to December 2002, 1.7 million applicants were assessed for 55,000 positions.
With state, local, and regional partners,[who?] the TSA oversees security for highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, pipelines and ports. However, the bulk of the TSA’s efforts are in aviation security. The TSA is responsible for screening passengers and baggage at more than 450 U.S. airports.
Private screening did not disappear under the TSA, which allows airports to opt out of federal screening and hire firms to do the job instead. Such firms must still get TSA approval under its Screening Partnership Program (SPP) and follow TSA procedures. Among the U.S. airports with privately operated checkpoints are San Francisco International Airport; Kansas City International Airport; Greater Rochester International Airport; Tupelo Regional Airport; Key West International Airport; Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport; and Jackson Hole Airport.
In August 2017, the General Services Administration announced the new headquarters would be built in Springfield, Virginia. The new, 625,000-square-foot headquarters will be a short distance from the Franconia-Springfield Metro station and is projected to cost $316 million for a 15-year lease. The facility is expected to open in mid-2020.
TSA headquarters located in Pentagon City, Arlington County, Virginia
When TSA was established by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in the Department of Transportation, the position was referred to as the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security. Following the TSA’s transfer to the Department of Homeland Security, the position was reclassified as the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. The position has also been referred to as the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration.
There have been seven administrators and six acting administrators in TSA’s 15-year history.
Following the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 which included a provision known as the TSA Modernization Act, the Administrator’s term was set as a five year term retroactive to the start of current Administrator David Pekoske’s term. It also made the Deputy Administrator a politically appointed position.
All offices are headed by an Assistant Administrator, except for the offices of Enterprise Support, Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service, Operations Support and Security Operations, which are headed by an Executive Assistant Administrator; the Office of Chief Counsel, who uses the title of Chief Counsel. The Investigations office and Strategy, Policy Coordination and Innovation office are referred to as a Director for the former and Executive Director for the latter. The Executive Assistant Administrator for Law Enforcement is also the Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service.
- Deputy Administrator
- Chief Financial Officer
- Chief Counsel
- Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement
- Chief of Staff
- Legislative Affairs
- Strategic Communications and Public Affairs
- Strategy, Policy Coordination and Innovation
- Enterprise Support
- Chief Administrative Officer
- Acquisition Program Manangement
- Contracting and Procurement
- Human Capital
- Information Technology
- Professional Responsibility
- Training and Development
- Law Enforcement / Federal Air Marshal Service
- Operations Support
- Global Strategies
- Intelligence and Analysis
- Requirements and Capabilities Analysis
- Security Policy and Industry Engagement
- Security Operations
- Deputy Administrator
Among the types of TSA employees are:
- Transportation Security Officers: The TSA employs around 47,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), often referred to as screeners or agents. They screen people and property and control entry and exit points in airports. They also watch several areas before and beyond checkpoints. TSOs carry no weapons, and are not permitted to use force, nor do they have the power to arrest.
Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) provide security and protection of air travelers, airports and aircraft. This includes:
- Operating various screening equipment and technology to identify dangerous objects in baggage, cargo, and on passengers, and preventing those objects from being transported onto aircraft.
- Performing searches and screening, which may include physical interaction with passengers (e.g., pat-downs, search of property, etc.), conducting bag searches and lifting/carrying bags, bins, and property weighing up to 70lbs.
- Controlling terminal entry and exit points.
- Interacting with the public, giving directions and responding to inquiries.
- Maintaining focus and awareness while working in a stressful environment which includes noise from alarms, machinery and people, crowd distractions, time pressure, and disruptive and angry passengers, in order to preserve the professional ability to identify and locate potentially life threatening or mass destruction devices, and to make effective decisions in both crisis and routine situations.
- Engaging in continuous development of critical thinking skills, necessary to mitigate actual and potential security threats, by identifying, evaluating, and applying appropriate situational options and approaches. This may include application of risk-based security screening protocols that vary based on program requirements.
- Retaining and implementing knowledge of all applicable Standard Operating Procedures, demonstrating responsible and dependable behavior, and is open to change and adapts to new information or unexpected obstacles.
The key requirements for employment are:
- Be a U.S. Citizen or U.S. National at time of application submission
- Be at least 18 years of age at time of application submission
- Pass a Drug Screening and Medical Evaluation
- Pass a background investigation including a credit and criminal check
- No default on $7,500 or more in delinquent debt (but for some bankruptcies)
- Selective Service registration required
As of September 2014[update] the starting salary for a TSO is $25,773 to $38,660 per year, not including locality pay (contiguous 48 states) or cost of living allowance in Hawaii and Alaska. A handful of airports also have a retention bonus of up to 35%. This is more than what private screeners were paid.
TSA security search
- Behavior Detection Officers: In 2003, the TSA implemented the Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT), which expanded across the United States in 2007. In this program, Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), who are TSOs, observe passengers as they go through security checkpoints, looking for behaviors that might indicate a higher risk. Such passengers are subject to additional screening.
This program has led to concerns about, and allegations of racial profiling. According to the TSA, SPOT screening officers are trained to observe behaviors only and not a person’s appearance, race, ethnicity or religion.
The TSA program was reviewed in 2013 by the federal government’s Government Accountability Office, which recommended cutting funds for it because there was no proof of its effectiveness. The JASON scientific advisory group has also said that “no scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behavior, including intent.”
- Transportation Security Specialist – Explosives, formerly known Bomb Appraisal Officers are explosive specialists employed by TSA. These specialists are required to either be former military Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians who attended Naval School Explosive Ordinance Disposal or a FBI certified Public Safety Hazardous Devices Technician who attended the FBI Hazardous Devices School. Furthermore, they are required to possess at least 3 years of experience working in an EOD or bomb disposal unit. The TSS-Es provide workforce training to TSA employees, conduct an Advanced Alarm Resolution process when conventional alarm resolution has failed and serve as a liaison between TSA, law enforcment and bomb squads.
- Federal Air Marshals: The Federal Air Marshal Service is the law enforcement arm of the TSA. FAMs are federal law enforcement officers who work undercover to protect the air travel system from hostile acts. As a part of the Federal Air Marshal Service, FAMs do carry weapons.
The FAM role, then called “sky marshalls”, originated in 1961 with U.S. Customs Service (now U.S. Customs and Border Protection) following the first US hijacking. It became part of the TSA following the creation of the TSA following the September 11 attacks, was transferred to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2003, and back to the TSA in fiscal 2006.
In July 2018, the Boston Globe reported on a secret program called “Quiet Skies”, under which armed undercover marshals in airports and on planes keep tabs on passenger behaviors and movements they deemed noteworthy – including abrupt change of direction in the airport, fidgeting, having a “cold penetrating stare”, changing clothes, shaving, using phones, even using the bathroom – and sending detailed observations to the TSA. The news raised concerns about Constitutional rights by groups like the ACLU and by lawmakers.
- Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDOs) are the airline pilots working for the U.S. airlines, who are deputized as federal law enforcement officers (FLEOs) to carry out the law enforcement duties within their specific jurisdictions (flight deck) and only from the time their aircraft doors are closed and until they are opened. FFDOs have the power to arrest, apply force (only within their jurisdiction) and are required to carry a federally issued firearm. Only active airline pilots are eligible for the FFDO program, which is available for a limited enrollment on a volunteer basis. FFDO’s are trained by the Federal Air Marshal Service and deputized by the Department of Homeland Security. Their primary goal is to work with (or without) the FAM team to defend the flight deck from hijacking or any other terrorist threats to their aircraft.
- Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs): They inspect, and investigate passenger and cargo transportation systems to see how secure they are. TSA employs roughly 1,000 aviation inspectors, 450 cargo inspectors, and 100 surface inspectors.
VIPR team working cars waiting to board a ferry in Portland, Maine
- National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program: These trainers prepare dogs and handlers to serve as mobile teams that can quickly find dangerous materials. As of June 2008[update], the TSA had trained about 430 canine teams, with 370 deployed to airports and 56 deployed to mass transit systems.
- Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams: VIPR teams started in 2005 and involved Federal Air Marshals and other TSA crew working outside of the airport environment, at train stations, ports, truck weigh stations, special events, and other places. There has been some controversy and congressional criticism for problems such as the July 3, 2007 holiday screenings. In 2011, Amtrak police chief John O’Connor moved to temporarily ban VIPR teams from Amtrak property. As of 2011, VIPR team operations were being conducted at a rate of 8,000 per year.
In 2008, TSA officers began wearing new uniforms that have a blue-gray 65/35 polyester/cotton blend duty shirt, black pants, a wider black belt, and optional short-sleeved shirts and black vests (for seasonal reasons). The first airport to introduce the new uniforms was Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Starting on September 11, 2008, all TSOs began wearing the new uniform. One stripe on each shoulder board denotes a TSO, two stripes a Lead TSO, and three a Supervisory TSO.
TSOs are issued badges similar to those carried by police officers, which has led to complaints from the latter group.
A Transportation Security Officer shoulder board
2013 LAX shooting
Main article: 2013 Los Angeles International Airport shooting
On Friday, November 1, 2013, TSA officer Gerardo I. Hernandez, age 39, was shot and killed by a lone gunman at the Los Angeles International Airport. Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, who was shot and wounded by law enforcement officers before being taken into custody. Ciancia was wearing fatigues and carrying a bag containing a hand-written note that said he “wanted to kill TSA and pigs”. Hernandez was the first TSA officer to be killed on the job.
2015 New Orleans airport attack
On March 21, 2015 63-year-old Richard White entered the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport armed with Molotov cocktails, a gasoline lighter, and a machete. White promptly began assaulting passengers and Transportation Security Administration officers by spraying them with a can of wasp killer, then drew his machete and ran through a metal detector. A Jefferson Parish’s deputy sheriff shot and killed White as he was chasing a TSA officer with his machete.
For fiscal year 2012, the TSA had a budget of roughly $7.6 billion.
Part of the TSA budget comes from a $2.50 per-passenger tax. The Obama administration had proposed tripling this fee by 2019, with most of the increase going to reduce the national debt.
Travelers left about half a million dollars behind at airport checkpoints in 2012 and 2013. TSA keeps the money for security operations.
Screening processes and regulations
TSA agent screening luggage
Passenger and carry-on screening
See also: No Fly List
The TSA requires that passengers show a valid ID at the security checkpoint before boarding their flight. Valid forms of identification include passports from the U.S. or a foreign government, state-issued photo identification, or military ID. Passengers that do not have ID may still be allowed to fly if their identity can be verified through an alternate way.
Passenger names are compared against the No Fly List, a list of about 21,000 names (as of 2012[update]) of suspected terrorists who are not allowed to board. Passenger names are also compared against a longer list of “selectees”; passengers whose names match names from this list receive a more thorough screening before being potentially allowed to board. The effectiveness of the lists has been widely criticized on the basis of errors in how those lists are maintained, for concerns that the lists are unconstitutional, and for its ineffectiveness at stopping Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate plastic explosives in his underwear, from boarding an aircraft.
At the airport security checkpoint, passengers are screened to ensure they are not carrying prohibited items. These include most sorts of sharp objects, many sporting goods such as baseball bats and hockey sticks, guns or other weapons, many sorts of tools, flammable liquids (except for conventional lighters), many forms of chemicals and paint. In addition, passengers are limited to 3.4 US fluid ounces (100 ml) of almost any liquid or gel, which must be presented at the checkpoint in a clear, one-quart zip-top bag. These restrictions on liquids were a reaction to the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot.
The number of passengers who have been detected bringing firearms onto airplanes in their carry-on bags has increased in recent years, from 976 in 2009 to 1,813 in 2013, according to the TSA. In 2010 an anonymous source told ABC News that undercover agents managed to bring weapons through security nearly 70 percent of the time at some major airports. Firearms can be legally checked in checked luggage on domestic flights.
In some cases, government leaders, members of the US military and law-enforcement officials are allowed to bypass security screening.
TSA Precheck program logo
In a program begun in October 2011, the TSA’s Precheck Program allows selected members of the American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America, Southwest Airlines, Air Canada, JetBlue Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines frequent flyer programs, members of Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI and active duty members of the US military to receive expedited screening for domestic and select international itineraries. As of August 2015[update], this program was available at 156 airports. After completing a background check, being fingerprinted, and paying an $85 fee, travelers will get a Known Traveler Number. The program has led to complaints of unfairness and longer wait lines. Aeromexico, Etihad Airways, Cape Air, and Seaborne Airlines joined the program bringing the total number of member carriers to 16. On December 15, 2015, the program expanded to include Allegiant Air. On June 21, 2016, it was announced that Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines will also join the program starting in the fall of 2016. On August 31, 2016, the program expanded to include Lufthansa, and on September 29, 2016, Frontier Airlines was added. In 2017, 11 more airlines were added on January 26, and another seven were added on May 25, bringing the total to 37 carriers.
In October 2013, the TSA announced that it had begun searching a wide variety of government and private databases for information about passengers before they arrive at the airport. They did not say which databases were involved, but TSA has access to past travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics, law enforcement and intelligence information, among others.
Large printer cartridges ban
After the October 2010 cargo planes bomb plot, in which cargo containing laser printers with toner cartridges filled with explosives were discovered on separate cargo planes, the U.S. prohibited passengers from carrying certain printer cartridges on flights. The TSA said it would ban toner and ink cartridges weighing over 16 ounces (453 grams) from all passenger flights. The ban applies to both carry-on bags and checked bags, and does not affect average travelers, whose toner cartridges are generally lighter.
November 2010 enhanced screening procedures
Beginning in November 2010, TSA added new enhanced screening procedures. Passengers are required to choose between an enhanced patdown, allowing TSOs to more thoroughly check areas on the body such as waistbands, groin, and inner thigh. or instead to be imaged by the use of a full body scanner (that is, either backscatter X-ray or millimeter wave detection machines) in order to fly. TSA encouraged flyers to choose scanners by emphasizing the “intrusive” nature of the “enhanced” patdown. These changes were said to be made in reaction to the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab bombing attempt.
See also: Frisking
The new pat-down procedures, which were originally not made public, “routinely involve the touching of buttocks and genitals” as well as breasts. These procedures were controversial, and in a November poll, 50% of those polled felt that the new pat-down procedures were too extreme, with 48% feeling them justified. A number of publicized incidents created a public outcry against the invasiveness of the pat-down techniques, in which women’s breasts and the genital areas of all passengers are patted. Pat-downs are carried out by agents of the same gender the passenger presents at the screening.
Concerns were raised as to the constitutionality of the new screening methods by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union. As of April 2011, at least six lawsuits were filed for violation of the Fourth Amendment. George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen has supported this view, saying “there’s a strong argument that the TSA’s measures violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.” Concerns were also raised about the effects of these pat-downs on survivors of sexual assault. In January 2014, Denver police launched a sexual assault investigation against a screener at Denver International Airport over what the passenger stated was an intrusive patdown.
Full body scanners
Main article: Full body scanner
See also: Backscatter X-ray § Health effects, and Millimeter wave scanner § Possible health effects
Screenshot from an active millimeter wave scanner
X-ray backscatter technology produces an image that resembles a chalk etching. A backscatter unit
In November 2010, the TSA began putting backscatter X-ray scanners and millimeter wave scanners machines into airports. The TSA refers to these two technologies as Advanced Imaging Technologies, or AIT. Critics sometimes refer to them as “naked scanners”.
Passengers are directed to hold their hands above their heads for a few seconds while front and back images are created. If the operator sees an anomaly on the scanner, or if other problems occur, the passenger will also have to receive the pat-down.
Full body scanners have also proven controversial due to privacy and health concerns.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called the scanners a “virtual strip search.” Female passengers have complained that they are often singled out for scanning, and a review of TSA records by a local CBS affiliate in Dallas found “a pattern of women who believe that there was nothing random about the way they were selected for extra screening.”
The TSA, on their website, states that they have “implemented strict measures to protect passenger privacy which is ensured through the anonymity of the image,” and additionally states that these technologies “cannot store, print, transmit or save the image, and the image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer”. This claim, however, was proven false after multiple incidents involving leaked images. The machines do in fact have the ability to “save” the images and while this function is purported to be “turned off” by the TSA in screenings, TSA Air Marshalls and training facilities have the save function turned on.
As early as 2010, the TSA began to test scanners that would produce less intrusive “stick figures”. In February 2011, the TSA began testing new software on the millimeter wave machines already used at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport that automatically detects potential threats on a passenger without the need for having an officer review actual images. Instead, one generic figure is used for all passengers and small yellow boxes are placed on areas of the body requiring additional screening. The TSA announced in 2013 that the Rapiscan’s backscatter scanners would no longer be used, due to the fact that the manufacturer of the machines could not produce “privacy software” to abstract the near-nude images that agents view and turn them into stick like figures. The TSA will continue to use other full body scanners.
Health concerns have been raised about both scanning technologies.
With regards to exposure to radiation emitted by backscatter X-rays, and there are fears that people will be exposed to a “dangerous level of radiation if they get backscattered too often”. A petition by both scientists and pilots argue that the screening machines are safe. Ionizing radiation is considered a non-threshold carcinogen, but it is difficult to quantify the risk of low radiation exposures. Active millimeter wave scanners emit radiation which is non-ionizing, does not have enough energy to directly damage DNA, and is not known to be genotoxic.
In April 2016, TSA Administrator, Peter V. Neffenger told a Senate committee that small airports had the option to use “reverse screening” – a system where passengers are not screened before boarding the aircraft at departure, but instead are screened upon arrival at the destination. The procedure is intended to save costs at airports with a limited number of flights.
After the November 2010 initiation of enhanced screening procedures of all airline passengers and flight crews, the US Airline Pilots Association issued a press release stating that pilots should not submit to full body scanners because of unknown radiation risks and calling for strict guidelines for pat-downs of pilots, including evaluation of their fitness for duty after the pat-down, given the stressful nature of pat-downs. Two airline pilots filed suit against the procedures.
In March 2011, two New Hampshire state representatives introduced proposed legislation that would criminalize as sexual assault invasive TSA pat-downs made without probable cause. In May 2011, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it illegal for Transportation Security Administration officials to touch a person’s genitals when carrying out a patdown. The bill failed in the Senate after the Department of Justice threatened to make Texas a no-fly zone if the legislation passed. In Congress, United States House of Representatives by Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act (H.R.6416).
On July 2, 2010, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a lawsuit in federal court asking to halt the use of full body scanners by the TSA on Fourth amendment grounds, and arguing that the TSA had failed to allow a public notice and rule making period. In July 2011, the D.C. Circuit court of appeals ruled that the TSA did violate the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to allowing a public notice and comment rule making period. The Court ordered the agency to “promptly” undertake a public notice and comment rule making. In July 2012, EPIC returned to court and asked the court to force enforcement; in August, the court granted the request to compel the TSA to explain its actions by the end of the month. The agency responded on August 30, saying that there was “”no basis whatsoever for (The DC Circuit Court’s) assertion that TSA has delayed implementing this court’s mandate,” and said it was awaiting approval from the Department of Homeland Security before the hearings take place. The TSA also said that it was having “staffing issues” regarding the issue, but expects to begin hearings in February 2013. The comment period began on March 25, 2013 and closed on June 25, 2013, with over 90% of the comments against the scanners. As of October, 2015, no report has been issued.
Two separate Internet campaigns promoted a “National Opt-Out Day,” the day before Thanksgiving, urging travelers to “opt out” of the scanner and insist on a pat-down. The enhanced pat-down procedures were also the genesis of the “Don’t touch my junk meme”.
March 2017 electronic device restrictions
On March 21, 2017, the TSA banned electronic devices larger than smartphones from being carried on flights to the U.S. from 10 specific airports located in Muslim-majority countries. The order cited intelligence that “indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items”. The restrictions were ended in July following changes in screening procedures at the specified airports.
TSA lock with symbol and general key access
3D printed master keys for Travel Sentry locks
In order to be able to search passenger baggage for security screening, the TSA will cut or otherwise disable locks they cannot open themselves. The agency authorized two companies to create padlocks, lockable straps, and luggage with built-in locks that can be opened and relocked by tools and information supplied by the lock manufacturers to the TSA. These are Travel Sentry and Safe Skies Locks. TSA agents sometimes cut these locks off instead of opening them, and TSA received over 3500 complaints in 2011 about locks being tampered with. Travel journalist and National Geographic Traveler editor Christopher Elliott describes these locks as “useless” at protecting the goods within, whereas SmarterTravel wrote in early 2010 that the “jury is out on their effectiveness”, while noting how easy they are to open.
In November 2014, The Washington Post inadvertently published a photograph of all seven of the TSA master keys in an article about TSA baggage handling. The photograph was later removed from the original article, but it still appears in some syndicated copies. In August 2015 this gained the attention of news sites. Using the photograph, security researchers and members of the public have been able to reproduce working copies of the master keys using 3D printing techniques. The incident has prompted discussion about the security implications of using master keys.
Notice of Baggage Inspection
The TSA has been criticized for an increase in baggage theft after its inception. Reported thefts include both valuable and dangerous goods, such as laptops, jewelry guns, and knives. Such thefts have raised concerns that the same access might allow bombs to be placed aboard aircraft.
In 2004, over 17,000 claims of baggage theft were reported. As of 2004, 60 screeners had been arrested for baggage theft, a number which had grown to 200 screeners by 2008. 11,700 theft and damage claims were reported to the TSA in 2009, a drop from 26,500 in 2004, which was attributed to the installation of cameras and conveyor belts in airports. A total of 25,016 thefts were reported over the five-year period from 2010 to 2014.
As of 2011[update], the TSA employs about 60,000 screeners in total (counting both baggage and passenger screening) and approximately 500 TSA agents have been fired or suspended for stealing from passenger luggage since the agency’s creation in November 2001. The airports with the most reported thefts from 2010 to 2014 were JFK, followed by LAX and MCO.
In 2008, an investigative report by WTAE in Pittsburgh discovered that despite over 400 reports of baggage theft, about half of which the TSA reimbursed passengers for, not a single arrest had been made. The TSA does not, as a matter of policy, share baggage theft reports with local police departments.
In September 2012, ABC News interviewed former TSA agent Pythias Brown, who has admitted to stealing more than $800,000 worth of items during his employment with the agency. Brown stated that it was “very convenient to steal” and poor morale within the agency is what causes agents to steal from passengers.
The TSA has also been criticized for not responding properly to theft and failing to reimburse passengers for stolen goods. For example, between 2011 and 2012, passengers at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport reported $300,000 in property lost or damaged by the TSA. The agency only reimbursed $35,000 of those claims. Similar statistics were found at Jacksonville International Airport – passengers reported $22,000 worth of goods missing or damaged over the course of 15 months. The TSA only reimbursed $800.
Undercover operations to test the effectiveness of airport screening processes are routinely carried out by the TSA’s Office of Investigations and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s office.
A report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that TSA officials had collaborated with Covenant Aviation Security (CAS) at San Francisco International Airport to alert screeners to undercover tests. From August 2003 until May 2004, precise descriptions of the undercover personnel were provided to the screeners. The handing out of descriptions was then stopped, but until January 2005 screeners were still alerted whenever undercover operations were being undertaken. When no wrongdoing on the part of CAS was found, the contract was extended for four years. Some CAS and TSA workers received disciplinary action, but none were fired.
A report on undercover operations conducted in October 2006 at Newark Liberty International Airport was leaked to the press. The screeners had failed 20 of 22 undercover security tests, missing numerous guns and bombs. The Government Accountability Office had previously pointed to repeated covert test failures by TSA personnel. Revealing the results of covert tests is against TSA policy, and the agency responded by initiating an internal probe to discover the source of the leak.
In July 2007, the Times Union of Albany, New York reported that TSA screeners at Albany International Airport failed multiple covert security tests conducted by the TSA. Among them was a failure to detect a fake bomb.
In December 2010, ABC News Houston reported in an article about a man who accidentally took a forgotten gun through airport security, that “the failure rate approaches 70 percent at some major airports”.
In June 2011 TSA fired 36 screeners at the Honolulu airport for regularly allowing bags through without being inspected.
In May 2012, a report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General stated that the TSA “does not have a complete understanding” of breaches at the nation’s airports, with some hubs doing very little to fix or report security breaches. These findings will be presented to Congress.
A 2015 investigation by the Homeland Security Inspector General revealed that undercover investigators were able to smuggle banned items through checkpoints in 95% of their attempts.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, have had several joint hearings concerning the cost and benefits of the various safety programs including full body scanners, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), and the behavior detection program, among others.
Some measures employed by the TSA have been accused of being ineffective and fostering a false sense of safety. This led security expert Bruce Schneier to coin the term security theater to describe those measures.
Unintended consequences of 2002 screening enhancements
Two studies by a group of Cornell University researchers have found that strict airport security has the unintended consequence of increasing road fatalities, as would-be air travelers decide to drive and are exposed to the far greater risk of dying in a car accident. In 2005, the researchers looked at the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and found that the change in passenger travel modes led to 242 added driving deaths per month. In all, they estimated that about 1,200 driving deaths could be attributed to the short-term effects of the attacks. The study attributes the change in traveler behavior to two factors: fear of terrorist attacks and the wish to avoid the inconvenience of strict security measures; no attempt is made to estimate separately the influence of each of these two factors.
In 2007, the researchers studied the specific effects of a change to security practices instituted by the TSA in late 2002. They concluded that this change reduced the number of air travelers by 6%, and estimated that consequently, 129 more people died in car accidents in the fourth quarter of 2002. Extrapolating this rate of fatalities, New York Times contributor Nate Silver remarked that this is equivalent to “four fully loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.” The 2007 study also noted that strict airport security hurts the airline industry; it was estimated that the 6% reduction in the number of passengers in the fourth quarter of 2002 cost the industry $1.1 billion in lost business.
Data security incidents
Employee records lost or stolen
In 2007, an unencrypted computer hard drive containing Social Security numbers, bank data, and payroll information for about 100,000 employees was lost or stolen from TSA headquarters. Kip Hawley alerted TSA employees to the loss, and apologized for it. The agency asked the FBI to investigate. There were no reports that the data was later misused.
In 2007, Christopher Soghoian, a blogger and security researcher, said that a TSA website was collecting private passenger information in an unsecured manner, exposing passengers to identity theft. The website allowed passengers to dispute their inclusion on the No Fly List. The TSA fixed the website several days after the press picked up the story. The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated the matter, and said the website had operated insecurely for more than four months, during which more than 247 people had submitted personal information. The report said the TSA manager who awarded the contract for creating the website was a high-school friend and former employee of the owner of the firm that received the contract. It noted:
neither Desyne nor the technical lead on the traveler redress Web site have been sanctioned by TSA for their roles in the deployment of an insecure Web site. TSA continues to pay Desyne to host and maintain two major Web-based information systems. TSA has taken no steps to discipline the technical lead, who still holds a senior program management position at TSA.
In December 2009, someone within the TSA posted a sensitive manual titled “Screening Management SOP” on secret airport screening guidelines to an obscure URL on the FedBizOpps website. The manual was taken down quickly, but the breach raised questions about whether security practices had been compromised. Five TSA employees were placed on administrative leave over the manual’s publication, which, while redacted, had its redaction easily removed by computer-knowledgeable people.
REAL ID and air travel
Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibits federal agencies, like TSA, from accepting licenses and identification cards for official purposes from states that do not meet these standards.
Beginning January 22, 2018, driver’s licenses or state IDs issued by states that are not in compliance with the REAL ID Act and have not been granted an extension by DHS may not be used to fly within the U.S.
Beginning October 1, 2020, every traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license or state ID or another acceptable form of identification to fly within the U.S.
Current list of acceptable IDs
- Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent) in accordance with REAL ID enforcement
- U.S. passport
- United States Passport Card
- DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
- U.S. Military ID (active duty or retired military and their dependents, and DoD civilians)
- Permanent resident card
- Border Crossing Card
- DHS-designated Enhanced Driver’s License
- Airline- or airport-issued ID (if issued under a TSA-approved security plan)
- Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
- HSPD-12 PIV card
- Foreign government-issued passport
- Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
- Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
- U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential
- Immigration and Naturalization Service Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
Common criticisms of the agency have also included assertions that TSA employees slept on the job, bypassed security checks, and failed to use good judgment and common sense.
TSA agents are also accused of having mistreated passengers, and having sexually harassed passengers, having used invasive screening procedures, including touching the genitals, including those of children, removing nipple rings with pliers, misusing body scanners to ogle female passengers, having searched passengers or their belongings for items other than weapons or explosives, and having stolen from passengers.
The TSA fired 28 agents and suspended 15 others after an investigation determined they failed to scan checked baggage for explosives.
The TSA was also accused of having spent lavishly on events unrelated to airport security, having wasted money in hiring, and having had conflicts of interest.
The TSA was accused of having performed poorly at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration viewing areas, which left thousands of ticket holders excluded from the event in overcrowded conditions, while those who had arrived before the checkpoints were in place avoided screening altogether.
In 2013, dozens of TSA workers were fired or suspended for illegal gambling at Pittsburgh International Airport, and eight TSA workers were arrested in connection with stolen parking passes at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
A 2013, GAO report showed a 26% increase in misconduct among TSA employees between 2010 and 2012, from 2,691 cases to 3,408. Another GAO report said that there is no evidence that the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) behavioral detection program, with an annual budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, is effective.
A 2013 report by the Homeland Security Department Inspector General’s Office charged that TSA was using criminal investigators to do the job of lower paid employees, wasting millions of dollars a year.
On December 3, 2013, the United States House of Representatives passed the Transportation Security Acquisition Reform Act (H.R. 2719; 113th Congress) in response to criticism of the TSA’s acquisition process as wasteful, costly, and ineffective. If the bill became law, it would require the TSA to develop a comprehensive technology acquisition plan and present regular reports to Congress about its successes and failures to adhere to this plan. An April 2013 report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General indicated that the TSA had 17,000 items with an estimated cost of $185.7 million stored in its warehouses on May 31, 2012. The auditors found that “TSA stored unusable or obsolete equipment, maintained inappropriate safety stock levels, and did not develop an inventory management process that systematically deploys equipment.”
In January 2014, Jason Edward Harrington, a former TSA screener at O’Hare International Airport, said that fellow staff members assigned to review body scan images of airline passengers routinely joked about fliers’ weight, attractiveness, and penis and breast sizes. According to Harrington, screeners would alert each other to attractive female passengers with the code phrase “Hotel Papa” so that staff would have an opportunity to view the passengers’ nude form in body scanner monitors and retaliated against rude flyers by delaying them at the checkpoint. TSA Administrator John Pistole responded by saying that all the scanners had been replaced and the screening rooms disabled. He did not deny that the behaviors described by Harrington took place.
In May 2016, actress Susan Sarandon claimed that during the entire time of the Bush administration she was “harassed everytime I came into the country”. She said that she hired two lawyers to contact the TSA to determine why she had been targeted but that she assumed it was because she was critical of the Bush administration. She said the harassment stopped after her attorneys followed up a second time with the TSA.
In July 2018, a case heard in the Third Circuit Appeals Court ruled that TSA agents are not “investigative or law enforcement officers” and thus are not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The case extended from a woman who had been detained and arrested by TSA in 2006 but later the criminal charges were acquitted in court; she had sought damages under the FTCA for damages related to the false arrest and related matters.
A CBS telephone poll of 1137 people published on November 15, 2010 found that 81% percent of those polled approved TSA’s use of full-body scans. An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted by Langer Associates and released November 22, 2010 found that 64% of Americans favored the full-body X-ray scanners, but that 50% think the “enhanced” pat-downs go too far; 37% felt so strongly. In addition, the poll states opposition is lowest among those who fly less than once a year. A later poll by Zogby International found 61% of likely voters oppose the new measures by TSA. In 2012, a poll conducted by the Frequent Business Traveler organization found that 56% of frequent fliers were “not satisfied” with the job the TSA was doing. 57% rated the TSA as doing a “poor job,” and 34% rated it “fair.” Only 1% of those surveyed rated the agency’s work as excellent.
Investigations of the TSA
In 2013 The Office of Inspector General published a reported titled “TSA’s Actions Insufficient to Address Inspector General Recommendations to Improve its Office of Inspection”. The report touched upon several topics of misconduct but the main focus of the report was of the TSA criminal investigators who received a premium on their pay despite not meeting the minimum qualification to be eligible for this pay.
The TSA Office of Accountability Inspection Act of 2015 published by the Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation, was based on a report of an investigation which found issues with the TSA. The act also followed up the Office of Inspector General’s 2013 report, mandating that the TSA should comply with Federal Regulation and correct the wage of the TSA’s Criminal Investigators. Had no action been taken this misuse of funds was estimated to cost taxpayers, in a span of five years, $17 million.
In response the TSA contracted a consulting firm to assist the TSA with the Office of Inspector General recommendations. However Office of Inspector Generals has found the TSA’s response lacking as they have yet to fix a majority of the issues brought up in the report.
Calls for abolition
Numerous groups and figures have called for the abolition of the TSA in its current form by persons and groups which include Sen. Rand Paul, (R-KY), Rep. John Mica, (R-FL), The Cato Institute, Downsize DC Foundation, FreedomWorks, and opinion columnists from Forbes, Fox News, National Review, USA Today, Vox, The Washington Examiner, and The Washington Post.
The TSA’s critics frequently cite the agency as “ineffective, invasive, incompetent, inexcusably costly, or all four” as their reasons for seeking its abolition. Those seeking to abolish the TSA have cited the improved efficacy and cost of screening provided by qualified private companies in compliance with federal guidelines.
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Jim Puzzanghera, ‘Invasive’ airport pat-downs not going away for the holidays Archived October 27, 2016, at the Wayback Machine., Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2010.
Media related to Transportation Security Administration at Wikimedia Commons
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