Measurable improvements in airport security and their effectiveness
Has the current airport security measures have any measurable
improvement since September 11, 2001? Yes and NO.It is hard to come up with a definitive
answer of measurability given the fact that it is hard to actually measure the
results that are reported to security personnel, law enforcement by a
researcher as well as the fact that these reports are not made public to the
media. Given the fact that not all security-related events are being reported to
the public, we do not have all the facts. Thus, we cannot get a full picture of
how deep any security breaches or successes security actions were.
In addition, we cannot know if any security measures that have been
implemented prior event or post-event had any deterring effects on actual
terrorists and criminals, given that no self-reporting or another survey of
terrorists or criminals have been conducted.And so, with this reality, we can only assume the measurability, and not
have a full complete definitive answer.
Airport security regulations are different from state to state, and for the most part, much of the TSA airport security is “security threat”. In many
airports, one can witness police holding submachine rifles, police riding
around in droves on electric-powered scooters, drug, and bomb-sniffing dog units
all over the place makes one feel that they are secure, when in fact it is an
act of theatrics giving the perception of effective security (Levenson, 2014).
How does one scientifically study airport security effectiveness, and if
any current security measures implemented have had any impact on safety and
security? What do we compare it too? Pre 9-11? Has this heightened security
mode prevented another 9-11 style aircraft take over? One can only assume?
However, we don’t truly know if it did prevent another 9-11, and how? If
terrorists did, in fact, chose not to do another 9-11 terrorist act, we cannot
know. Did terrorists themselves changed tactics and targets choosing instead
not to make a copycat airliner take over, we simply cannot know this with certainty.
All airports security directors and TSA agents can do are react to a the terrorist event, and what terrorists try to do next.An example of this reactionary method is when the 9-11 terrorist
hijacked aircraft using blades of some sort and as a reactionary measure,
security made everyone dump their nail cutters as well as other items that have
sharp edges. Another example is the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, who tried to
light a bomb within his shoe, and this reactionary mode thinking made TSA take
everyone’s shoe off for inspection.
Airlines security is a reactionary system
built off a law enforcement model of after the fact investigation versus true
security, which should be a prevention philosophy. This prevention thinking is
done through risk management and developing a system to counter the attack. And
so, we have today what is dubbed “Security Theater” something that looks like
security but is not (Levenson, 2014).This “security theater” mode just shows that the prevention method is
yet to be mastered.
However; with all that said, we can assume that security has gotten
better given what has been done so far, and we can only speculate the impact of
terrorism has nothing been done.On
the flip side, if we take things from a terrorist’s point of view, we can also
say that terrorism works. Terrorism works due to the fact that now more money
and resources must be put into the air travel industry. In addition, freedoms
have been lost by American citizens and an airline screening turned into a
prison model of security. From this point of view, terrorism has in fact
How did terrorism work? Simply by making travelers and governments
fearful, thereby governments are now putting valuable resources into security,
chasing ghosts, and investigating rumors. Security may have improved but at a
cost of civil liberties and profit.
Medias report on airport screeners and security
With all the money and resources were thrown into improving security at
airports, one can read from diverse sources that TSA screeners continually fail
tests in detecting explosives and weapons, as well as many other failures when
it comes to screening for contraband (Bradner, 2015).
The investment into security screeners runs into the millions per year,
yet they fail time and time again, thereby squandering taxpayer money when it
comes to the return on investment.In
one popular case, it has been reported that the homeland security will be
reassigning an administrator due to the fact that after testing the airport
security with 70 tests, 67 screening processes failed. This means that banned
items got through 95 percent time as was reported by internal investigators
(Fishel, 2015). This is obviously a major failure of the system, with a high
and unacceptable 95 percent failure rate.
In addition to major failures in the security screening system, the TSA
is basically a stage for what is dubbed as “Security Theater”. Security Theater
is defined as security measures that are intended to provide a feeling or the illusion of improved security while doing little to nothing to actually improve
security (Yourdictionary, 2014).
In addition to TSA security staff posing to give a “feeling” of
security, police officers are staged as armed characters with submachine guns
pacing around the airport theater as heightened security, once again posturing
as effective vigilant security. For this police unit to actually run into a
terrorist doing an active shooting event by such theatrically placed police, is
statistically small to none. But this theater gives the public the illusion of
effective security (Bradner, 2015).
A few other examples of security theater that does little to actually
improve security but give an image of security, are the ever so invasive
security pat-downs of infants, elderly and sickly as though these three
categories would somehow be suicide bombers or armed felons.What is the logic of patting down an
infant? These invasive pat-downs are a TSA security theater, and this is its
main purpose, to give an image of security.
It is also reported by TSA agents, that body scans are not effective due
to the fact they can be manipulated. By the manipulation of these scanning
machines, they will sound false positives or no reading at all. Therefore the
screening machines are not a reliable tool to fight against weapons hidden as
concluded by TSA security scanner instructors. It is reported by TSA sources
once again in 2015, that the purpose of all these actions of heightened
security measures, is to give the perception of security at nearly all
airports, thereby giving a false sense of security.
In addition, coming to light in past reports, was the instances where an
undercover investigation was conducted and found that 67 out of 70 test with a
red team failed. This translates to a 95 percent failure rate by the
investigating team (Fishel, 2015). This is a gross neglect and violation of
good security and ethics of trust. How can such failure rates go unpunished? In
some cases, there have been punishments handed out, not only to staff but also
to administrators. With such a high failure rate, what justifies all the security
staff budgets and expenses?
What justifies the purchasing of high technology scanning machines? What
justifies the long lines? How is this justified to the public? These are just a
few of the questions asked by Congress and the public.
Statistics and the overall picture about airport screeners
According to reports by the Homeland Security department, a third of the
security employees employed by TSA, resign within their first 12 months of
employment. According to Homeland security Chief Johnson, low employee morale,
as well as a high number of employees leaving their jobs, has caused many
difficulties for travelers. Chief Johnson also testified before congress, that
the TSA had a problem with retaining security screeners; it has been reported
that TSA has 5000 fewer security screeners today, as compared years past
It was also reported that about 117 security screeners leave the job
every week. This is about 35 percent per year, which translates to over 6000
security staff per year. With so many security staff leaving the job, it was
testified before Congress that TSA is having a 10 percent attrition rate and
that TSA sees no solution to this and other such challenges (Abdullah, 2016).
The turnover reported before congress is not only security officers
walking off the job because of job dissatisfaction in general, but also, but
also to officers being fired for crimes such as theft and other crimes.
Customers claiming missing luggage and missing valuables, after leaving
the luggage screening machines between 2010 and 2014, with a whopping number of
30,621 prompted an investigation. The total property loss claims came to
roughly 2.5 million US dollars. In 2002 for example, the TSA fired 513 security
staff for theft, contributing to the high rate of turnover (Zamost, 2015).
Since the undercover investigation of 2015 that exposed a 95 percent
failure rate, the TSA has started to standardize its security staff training,
with this training program development, the TSA is hoping for an improvement in
how security screeners do their job. To address these deficiencies, they
started the TSA training academy to utilize classroom and field training for
security agents to learn their new standardized skills. The academy also will
help to improve morale and turnover by improving and implementing a sense of
professionalism, pride, as well as better pay to the agents working for TSA
(CBS News, 2016).
Improvements, measures to
implemented to reduce costs and effective solutions
Offered or possible solutions
One area of security-related improvement in the TSA comes is in the way of
manpower, technology, equipment, and an actual TSA academy to train the
workers. However, the fact it took over a decade to start such TSA academy,
witnesses to the chaos within this homeland security TSA scheme. Yes, there
have been failures, but it takes time to fix failure as one learns, grows, and
It is without a doubt that the airline security screeners have been a
failure since its inception, but with the development of a TSA academy, there
is still hope. The TSA was a knee jerk reaction to the events of 9-11, and thus
it was a political answer to a more complicated security-related problem.
It is hoped that if a security culture mindset becomes the forefront of
TSA security, it has a good chance of developing into something good. And by
“if”, I mean politics, profit, and industrial complex such as the war
industrial complex stays out of it. If one puts money and profits as well as
corporate interests before security, true security is doomed to fail and will
continue to be security theater as we have today.
When it comes to cost-saving measures in the context of long term planning,
I would invest in people, and the start of the TSA academy is a positive step
towards that direction. This I believe is a very positive step towards reaching
this goal of real security versus Security Theater.By retaining a professional and well-trained staff, will lead to a much happier staff that can take pride in the
fact that what they are doing will benefit their society when it comes to
flight transportation security and safety.
Training and administrative costs to replace and train new screeners to
replace those that have quit will be immense, given the fact that replacement
always costs more than retention.
Since manpower generates the greatest costs, one should invest to stop
the leaks, and find a way to retain the manpower investment, and this
investment of course is going to be tested in time, TSA is a work in progress.
It is obvious to the observer and researcher that TSA security
screenings are a hassle, and it seems that more problems have resulted versus
stopped by TSA. High turnover, wasted resources, bad training, long lines, and
low job satisfaction have all contributed to a mess within the TSA security
system. However, like all things brought about due to a changing world, there
will always be a problem when new programs are implemented. But over time,
these problems will be smoothed out, and we can witness this by the start of
the TSA academy and the standardization of the security infrastructure.
Politics, bad administration, and wasted resources are more to blame for
current and past failed progress within the TSA. Over time the kinks in the
system with its administration will be worked out, or they will simply be
replaced by a private security force as was the case prior to 9-11. I believe
there is hope for this security infrastructure, and throwing out the baby with
the bathwater is not the solution. Like the Israelis, a security culture must
be adopted within society to assist in their own security at airports.
By Shamuel Kohen
Levenson, E.(2014, January 11). The TSA is in the the business of “Security Theater,” not security.
Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/01/tsa-business-security-theater-not-security/357599/
Bradner, E. (2015, June 2). Active
TSA director reassigned after screeners failed tests to detectexplosives, weapon. Retrieved from
Fishel, J. (2015, June 1).
Exclusive: Undercover DHS tests find security failures at US airports.Retrieved from
Abdullah, H. (2016, May 13). TSA to
frustrated travelers: Please pardon our progress thissummer. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/feds-work-long-airport-security-line-waits-n573796
Zamost, S. (2015, September 15)
Hidden cameras reveal airport workers stealing from luggage.Retrieved from
CBS News. (2016, February 11) Behind
the scenes of the TSA’s new training academy.Retrieved from
With security concerns not only by airline companies but also by customers,
how does one balance individual privacy rights with the freedom to search? The
need for less intrusive security screening for customers is a must to satisfy
the customer airlines experience and keep a happy customer base while at the
same time ensuring that potential criminals or terrorists are screened out and
The fourth amendment protects the individual from being unlawfully searched,
but at the same times, security must offer a rational method to searching and
screening out threats. With this challenge in mind, the implementation of
administrative search exception was developed to satisfy the needs of airlines
companies, governments, and travelers.
The administrative search exception implementation
Since 9-11 airlines, terrorism across the world has gained momentum with
terrorists and hijackers alike, and the need for better ways to vet passengers
is the high light of modern security policies. This vetting process
method raises the question of the civil rights of people in the context of
security search measures and the fourth amendment. The solution to this problem
came in the form of what is called an administrative search exception.
The administrative search exception issues as relating airport security
has to do with the fourth amendment versus the person’s right to privacy
against search and seizures with the question of legality. Are the searches preventative based? Or are
they law enforcement based? And how far can security go when it comes to these
The two issues in question are, how the TSA can balance the need for
societal security and the issues regarding the fourth amendment rights of
illegal searches and seizures.
In the analysis of administrative search and probable cause search,
search exceptions are aimed towards serving a purpose for the safety of
society and probable cause is issues of law enforcement which deals with the
fourth amendment protection against illegal search.
Search exceptions also seek to look for a middle road approach in the way of
dealing with searches and therefore have the expectation that people will give
up some privacy interests for the sake of a bigger purpose in keeping
passengers safe. Airline's administrative search actions do not require the
security or law enforcement staff to have a search a warrant.
Given the current terrorism events, if a person attempts to go through
the screening area with banned items exposed or out of sight, the banned items
can be confiscated by security. No warrants needed, due to the fact that people
going to airports have the expectation of warrantless searches. Another search
exception could be if a person enters a screening area and has consented to the
search, he can be searched without a need for permission (Sweet, 2009).
In the first case the person is in the airport area and gets searched,
the other is in the screening area and gets searched without a warrant; both
are examples of how administrative search exception is conducted in practice. How is this warrantless search possible? The government passed laws that
allow airport screeners special permission to search passengers without a
warrant, and in this context, the fourth amendment is not being violated, due
to given, safety concerns.
According to Sweet (2009) in the
Terry and Ohio, 392 U.S 1(1968) was: “to require individualized suspicion or reasonable suspicion less
compelling than that needed for
arrest, the other kind of exception is to require no reasonable suspicion at
all, but instead to be required that
search be conducted pursuant to some neutral criteria, which guards against the arbitrary selection
of those subjected to such procedures and which also serves as a public purpose” (p. 242).
The fact that terrorism, airlines
hijacking or dangerous passengers exist, administrative search exception is
allowed and conducted in the interest of public safety, even though there is no
probable cause. Exception search and probable cause searches have their place
and context within society when it comes to safety and security in fighting
Exception search rules are applied to everyone who chooses to fly and
understands the fact that if they chose to fly, there is no right to privacy
when it comes to searches. A non-airport example can be seen with the search rule that applies to students participating
in sport, both high school, and university. The students in this context submit
themselves to drug tests without a warrant and without fourth amendment rights
These random drug tests in sports within educational systems are an
example of an administrative search exception. And if it is legal to have
warrantless drug tests in sports for the sake of safety, why would this same
logic not be employed with airliners when it comes to a life and death the situation as a result a terrorist attack?
The probable cause search is more law enforcement oriented, and an individual being observed displays behavior indicators giving probable cause to
a warrantless search without the violation of the fourth amendment. An example
of such behavior and a probable cause, a search can be by observing a group of
people gathering in front of a bank building acting and behaving suspiciously,
and the behavior pattern looks like they are casing the bank for a robbery.
If a law enforcement official witnesses such behavior, they can engage
the individuals for a basic pat-down search with the probable cause rule. In
addition, in the case of probable cause search, the police may ask questions
and do a basic pat-down of people in question. And if the people around acting
suspiciously are found to be in possession of tools for burglary, given the
context; they can now be detained or arrested.
The differences between the administrative search exception d and
probable cause are that exception search has no probable cause needed, and the
safety of all is considered, thereby sidestepping the fourth amendment. The expectation of a search is self-evident, no special behavior is needed other
than the fact that you are there.
In probable cause search, you cannot be searched for standing in certain
places like in the case of airport screening, unless your behavior or actions
triggers a suspicious behavior reaction from the police, thereby giving them a
probable cause to search you. When it comes to the Terry vs. Ohio decision, I do agree with the courts
in regard to administrative search. I agree with them due to the fact that
everyone’s safety while in air travel is a priority. If we travel by car, we
know what we are getting into with and whom we chose to let ride with us. We
also chose to let or not let in drunks with guns into our cars due to potential
dangers associated with an angry drunk.
If however we are personally not in control of other passengers and want
to safely arrive at the destination, most of us would hope that there would be
a source of professional and experienced authority to make sure we all arrive
to our destinations safely.
This is a case of logic versus emotionalism and a case of majority
safety over an individual’s private rights to do as they please. An
individual’s rights of the fourth amendment end when potentially all our safety is
jeopardized. We don’t know is a certain person poses a threat to our safety and
well-being, and so with the current global threat, not trusting and being
suspicious in certain cases ensures survival.
Administrative search exceptions are a basic need when it comes to the
security of both people and infrastructure. Without it, criminals/terrorist can
use the fourth amendment and the trusting good nature of people to wreak havoc
in society. From common sense
perspective, to balance administrative searches and the fourth amendment rights
should be a goal of every ethical security practice, but to use the fourth
amendment rights against searches in all contexts of society are neither
ethical nor practical when it comes to fighting crime and terrorism and our
ESIS Comment The fundamental protection against unreasonable searches and seizures falls within the confines of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, the Fourth Amendment has long been open to interpretation that has allowed for certain exceptions, and in this case, the Administrative Search Exception. In other words, the government’s interest outweighs individual privacy. This has proven to be a point of contention as the TSA, under the auspices of national security, has utilized measures to protect the United States against another “9/11”. These measures are inclusive of the searching of all passengers as a prerequisite to air travel. When argued, the courts have routinely upheld its constitutionality and placed less probable cause restrictions as opposed to other cases like Terry vs. Ohio.
By Shamuel Kohen
References Sweet, K. (2009). Aviation and Airport Security Terrorism and safety concerns. Second edition. (pp. 242). Boca Raton, FL. CRC Press.