Americans have mixed feelings about the Transportation Security Administration. While the organization itself touts impressive crime-stopping numbers, many find them better at creating long lines and conducting humiliating body searches. Let’s take a look at how the TSA came to be and the darker side of such strict airline security.
TSA’s mission: “Protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”
A brief history of the TSA (1)
Sept. 11, 2001
The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center lead both the public and the government to ask for tighter security measures at airports.
President George W. Bush signs the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, leading to the creation of the TSA. All passenger bags are checked by TSA agents.
Explosive detection systems are installed at airports to check bags for hidden bombs.
TSA begins training flight deck officers to handle potential in-flight issues. Commercial pilots are also armed for the first time in flight history.
TSA requires passengers to remove their shoes so they can be checked for explosives.
TSA enhances their security to include random employee screenings, canine patrols and more rigorous ID verification standards.
The ban on liquids is amended, allowing liquids, gels and aerosols in 3.4 oz. containers or smaller to be carried on when placed in single, plastic, resealable bags.
Advanced imaging technology is installed in airports, where passengers must stand in a partially enclosed screening structure, raise their arms and wait for a full-body scan.
TSA Precheck is introduced, allowing pre-screened, frequent fliers to make it through security checkpoints more quickly.
Pat-down procedures are implemented at more airports, taking place even after full-body scans. These procedures have become the source of much controversy among civil rights groups.
Automated screening lanes are introduced, including radio frequency ID tags attached to item bins that are linked to X-rays of the items.
TSA operates … (1)
… in nearly 440 federalized airports
… with more than 44,000 transportation security officers
… and over 600 security inspectors
Percentage of officers with five or more years’ experience in counterterrorism (1)
Percentage of TSA agents who are veterans or still serving in the military (1)
TSA screening numbers (1)
Daily: 2 million passengers
Annual: 700 million passengers
Daily domestic flights TSA screens (1)
Daily international flights TSA screens (1)
Number of advanced imaging technology machines used by TSA (1)
TSA employs law enforcement, including: (1)
- Air marshals that fly millions of miles each year
- 900 canine teams screening passengers and cargo for illegal substances and explosives
- Thousands of volunteer flight deck security officers
- Officers that provide self-defense training to flight crew members
TSA also secures the vast U.S. transportation network through: (1)
- More than 4 million miles of roadways
- More than 140,000 miles of railroad track
- More than 360 maritime ports and 12,000 miles of coastline
- About 2.7 million miles of pipeline
The Dark Side
TSA claims that, in 2015, they confiscated 2,653 firearms. 82.8% were loaded. (1)
Airports with the most firearm discoveries (1)
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: 153
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: 144
Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport: 100
Denver International Airport: 90
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: 73
Despite these seemingly impressive numbers, TSA agents are still failing “Red Team” tests at an alarming rate. The so-called Red Team is a group of Homeland Security agents who attempt to smuggle mock explosive or weapons through TSA checkpoints.
Percentage of TSA Red Team test failures in 2015. Agents failed to find the hidden mock weapons or explosive 67 out of 70 times. (2)
And ever since it was founded, TSA has endured thousands of airline passenger complaints each year.
More than 39,000
Number of complaints TSA received between October 2009 and June 2012 (3)
Amount paid to passengers by the TSA for the loss, damage or theft of personal items (4)
Theft has been an issue with TSA employees in the past. In 2011, two employees from New York’s JFK airport were arrested for stealing $40,000 from checked baggage. (4)
The top five airports with high incidents of TSA theft include: (2)
1. Miami International Airport (29)
2. JFK International Airport (27)
3. Los Angeles International Airport (24)
4. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (17)
5. Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport (15)
Many complaints are also tied to the aggressive “pat-downs” TSA officials give select passengers.
Complaints made to the ACLU from passengers who felt they were subjected to invasive, unjustified searches. In some cases, people reported feeling assaulted and traumatized by their experiences. (5)