Pelosi Should Scrap The TSA

Travelers (other then terrorists) see the US Transportation Security Agency (TSA) as an omnipotent Big Brother. In reality it’s closer to the Keystone Cops and has achieved a reduction in travel by innocent folks without improving US security. If the Dems shut the ramshackle mess down, they’ll sweep the board in 2008.

A Brit view:

Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by Brussels and Washington.

By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other messages sent or received on that account…

Much of it is routine but some elements will prove more contentious, such as a passenger’s email address, whether they have a previous history of not turning up for flights and any religious dietary requirements.

Initially, such material could be inspected for seven days but a reduced number of US officials could view it for three and a half years. Should any record be inspected during this period, the file could remain open for eight years.

This is worthless – any self-respecting terrorist will pay in cash, take the standard meal, and use a throwaway email account. Innocent fliers will do the same if they distrust the TSA’s ability to protect their personal data. And some will no longer fly as the risks and inconveniences of travel exceed their personal thresholds.

To match its incompetence in tracking visitors, the TSA has given up tracking departures (hat tip Bruce Schneier):

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 — In a major blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.

Domestic security officials had described the system, known as U.S. Visit, as critical to security and important in efforts to curb illegal immigration. Similarly, one-third of the overall total of illegal immigrants are believed to have overstayed their visas, a Congressional report says.

Tracking visitors took on particular urgency after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when it became clear that some of the hijackers had remained in the country after their visas had expired.

But in recent days, officials at the Homeland Security Department have conceded that they lack the financing and technology to meet their deadline to have exit-monitoring systems at the 50 busiest land border crossings by next December. A vast majority of foreign visitors enter and exit by land from Mexico and Canada, and the policy shift means that officials will remain unable to track the departures.

Domestically, the TSA adds cost and harassment to every domestic flier. A current example is its plan to test an X-ray machine at Phoenix that shows passengers effectively naked. Last year the Brits tried it out at Heathrow Terminal 4 but have abandoned it – I suspect because they’d never get a Muslim woman (or Muslim man dressed as a woman) to submit to it, and that made it rather pointless. In spite of which the TSA is pressing ahead with its usual incompetence (my ellipsis):

PHOENIX — A test of an X-ray security scanner that can see through clothing and take clear pictures of the human body along with concealed weapons, has been delayed until early this coming year at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Critics say the high-resolution images are too invasive, and the (ACLU) has called it a virtual strip search…

The (TSA) initially said one machine would be operating at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4 by Christmas. However, the agency said technical difficulties were creating problems in setting up the equipment so it work properly with the airport’s wireless connections.

It also decided the holiday season was not a good time to start. “The last thing we wanted to do was start this during one of the busiest travel times of the year,” said Nico Melendez, an agency spokesman…

The TSA says it has found a way to adjust the machine’s images so the normally graphic pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still being effective at detecting threats.

So terrorists will simply hide weapons in their “certain areas”.

The TSA is failing not just because it’s run by incompetents, but because it’s been chartered to do the impossible, providing an impermeable barrier protecting all US air travel. But Games Theory tells us that can’t be done, because the number of possible targets is enormous, and all screening is porous and limited by economic costs.

Instead, threats are best contained by focusing on the relatively small number of potential attackers – that’s how our intelligence agencies work.

The TSA is a great target for the Dems – it’s widely detested by US travelers, foreign visitors, and people whose livelihoods depend on visitors. It annoys the ACLU, it’ll drive CAIR crazy when it images Muslim women naked, and most non-Muslim women will be equally unhappy.

Ms Pelosi would be smart to take it out.

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