Department of Homeland SecurityTSA

Does the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Make Us Safer?

posted by Customs & International Trade Law Blog February 17, 2011 3 Comments

I read a fascinating article entitled "HOMELAND SECURITY HASN’T MADE US SAFER," written by Anne Applebaum, a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate.  It was in the January/February issue of Foreign Policy magazine.  The article criticized the massive spending of time and money by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Ms. Applebaum aimed her barbs right at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with the comment:  "As for the TSA, I am not aware of a single bomber or bomb plot stopped by its time-wasting procedures."

I started thinking about it, and even as a pretty well informed customs and international trade attorney, I could not recall a single incident either.  I have seen the indignities of TSA personnel at the airport force handicapped and elderly people out of their wheelchairs.  I have also been the victim of TSA officers groping around my private areas during one of their random, ‘enhanced pat down’ searches.  For a rollicking good laugh, I encourage you to read the official TSA Blog.  People say the strangest things about their air travel experiences to the TSA from the supposed privacy and safety of their computers.

The TSA submitted a budget request of $8.1 billion for fiscal year 2012. With the billions of dollars spent by both the Bush and Obama Administrations over the past 10 years in the ‘War on Terrorism’ and in support of ‘homeland security,’ the question of whether or not the TSA’s 43,000 trained and certified Transportation Security Officers make us safer through its passenger and baggage screening procedures is still debatable.

I would still like to meet the idiot savant who came up with the 3-1-1 TSA rule about carrying liquids aboard an airplane.  I can’t figure out why we had the technology to send men to the moon in 1969, but in 2011 still have to take our shoes off before walking through a TSA x-ray machine.  I guess the silver lining in all this is that, relatively speaking, the air and ocean cargo screening procedures by the TSA are much better thought out and reasonable.

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3 Comments

David Lennarz February 18, 2011 at 8:54 am

Hi Peter:

Three comments:

2. You mention you’re unaware of any bomb attempt that TSA has thwarted. The problem is, they’ll argue that their existence and procedures are the exact reason there has not been any foiled attempts. Would-be attackers have been dissuaded.

3. I’ve been on numerous international flights with TSA air marshals. You can see them board about 30 minutes before take-off, and they are almost always, in my experience, seated in business class. Wonder how much they cost tax payers, and how effective their presence has been.
Perhaps TSA has some stats somewhere…

Reply
Peter Tirschwell February 18, 2011 at 8:54 am

Peter, while I also question the effectiveness of the TSA, I disagree with the premise expressed in the Foreign Policy article that somehow the country is no safer despite the billions spent to fund Homeland Security programs. Has money on homeland security been wasted to the tune of millions if not billions of dollars in the ways the article describes? Quite likely. But protecting the nation, since it’s a pure government task, can never be efficient. How much untold money have been “wasted” in every war the U.S. or any other nation has fought? Maybe I’m in the minority, but Sept. 11 was an attack that required the U.S. to go to war, albeit a war of an entirely different kind. Did we know or have any experience in how to respond to an asymmetrical attack of this kind, which threatened the homeland in ways we were not used to as a nation with little experience facing anything other than traditional adversaries? We didn’t and so wasteful spending is bound to occur until we move down a necessary learning curve. Should the spending be scrutinized and criticized? Of course, but I object when the suggestion is made that the sum total of these efforts have not made the country safer. We have not suffered another major, successful terrorist attack on our soil in nearly a decade. I ride the New York City subway every day with a degree of confidence that there are a lot of eyes and ears looking out for my safety. How can the claim be made that after the 24-hour rule, C-TPAT, Container Security Initiative, 10+2/ISF and the deployment of radioactive sensors on containers, that those efforts haven’t added up to greater supply chain security? Wars are an imperfect science, but in nearly a decade since 9-11, I would argue that we’ve come a long way.

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Elli Davis February 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm

The only result that the TSA has achieved in recent months is the great number of people who have had to go through humiliating procedures and nobody was interested whether their medical conditions could be deteriorated in the process.

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