Photo: (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
A new congressional report highlights “serious inefficiencies” in the Transportation Security Administration’s “management and deployment of screening technology” at U.S. airports.The report, published Wednesday and titled “Airport Insecurity: TSA’s Failure to Cost Effectively Procure, Deploy and Warehouse its Screening Technologies,” states that the TSA “is wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by inefficiently deploying screening equipment and technology to commercial airports.”
The report comes days after the Electronic Privacy Information centre unearthed a November 2011 report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that “identified vulnerabilities” in the scanners, which cost up to $200,000 each and are now being used as primary screening apparatus at 45 airports.
The disclosures seem to corroborate claims made in March by blogger Jonathan Corbett that the $1 billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners are worthless. Corbett posted a video showing him smuggling a metallic object through security at two airports, and subsequently interviewed a TSA whistleblower who admitted that the scanners routinely fail to pick up prohibited items.
The embarrassment for the TSA doesn’t end there as Congress may force the TSA to test the scanners for problematic levels of radiation and multiple recent encounters have shown TSA personnel being grossly negligent and mistreating passengers.
The incidents include accusing a four-year-old girl of carrying a gun, breaking the $10,000 insulin pump of a diabetic Colorado teenager, allowing a man to fly after finding gun parts inside stuffed animals, removing an 18-month-old girl (of Middle Eastern descent) from a flight because she was on the no-fly list, allowing drugs through an LAX checkpoint in exchange for up to $2,400 and several cases in which passengers have allegedly been sexually groped during patdowns.
The TSA was created after 9/11 to “secure travellers through improved passenger and baggage screening operations” and its aviation security program received more than $5 billion in 2009.
In January 2010 — after the failed 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomb attack over Detroit — the TSA began implementing Advanced Imaging Technology (i.e. nude body scanners).
However, the Government Accountability Office has been sceptical since 2010 that the scanners could have even detected the 80 grams of explosive powder that alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had in his underwear.
And the most damning allegation came from a lawyer from Michigan who was on the Christmas Day 2009 flight when he told the court at Umar’s sentencing that he witnessed Umar “being escorted around security by a man in a tan suit who spoke perfect American English and who aided Umar in boarding without a passport.”
He concluded his five-minute statement by saying that that he is “convinced that Umar was given an intentionally defective bomb by a U.S. Government agent … to stage a false terrorist attack to be used to implement various government policies.”
All of this comes in the context of another al-Qaeda underwear bomb plot in which a British man of Middle Eastern origin working with U.S., British and Saudi intelligence services infiltrated al-Qaeda in Yemen, subsequently providing an explosive device and intel to the CIA, M16 and Saudi Arabia. FBI director Robert Mueller told Congress Wednesday that the Yemen plot demonstrates the need for the renewal of international surveillance measures.
Nevertheless, the question remains: Do domestic airports need body scanners that are powerful enough to “identify a passenger’s surgery scars” and “discern whether a woman is on her menstrual cycle or not”?
Photo: 112th Congress
Some of the key findings from the congressional report:
- The TSA is storing at least $184 million worth of security equipment in warehouses at TSA’s Transportation Logistics centre (TLC) in Dallas, Texas
- TSA’s annual costs for leasing and managing the TLC are more than $3.5 million
- Of the approximately 5,700 pieces of major equipment currently warehoused, 85 per cent have been stored for longer than six months (35 per cent for more than a year)
- Delayed deployment of technologies has resulted in a massive depreciated loss of equipment utility at an estimated cost of $23 million
- Deployment inefficiencies have cost between $50 and $100 million annually
- TSA knowingly purchased more Explosive Trace Detectors (ETDs) than were necessary, saying that they “purchased more than we needed in order to get a discount”
- The TSA has at least $44 million worth of ETDs in storage and no plan to deploy them
- The TSA knowingly provided Congressional staff inaccurate and misleading information to “conceal the agency’s continued mismanagement of warehouse operations”
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