As we mark the 15th year this month since the horrific World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, first and foremost I offer my respects to the tragedy’s nearly 3,000 victims and their families, and a tribute to the hundreds of heroic first responders, emergency services personnel and others involved in the rescue efforts, attending to the injured and crowd control. I am so thankful nothing approaching that scale has been inflicted against the United States since then, and extend the utmost gratitude to U.S. intelligence and anti-terrorist agencies and personnel. At the same time, the electronic security industry deserves a big pat on the back for the thousands of systems deployed that have helped prevent dastardly deeds.
With those sentiments aired, I am calling out a major player in this mix that has failed to step up to the plate: the Transportation Security Association (TSA). While the agency’s problems have been well documented the past couple of years (its director was recently dismissed) with respect to low caliber of personnel, understaffing, outrageously long passenger screening queues and ineptitude detecting dangerous carry-on items, I take issue with its lack of innovation, irrational policies and inconsistency.
If you regularly travel I am sure you have some of your own frustrating and mindboggling TSA experiences to share (please do so by writing me). To make the point, I will convey the most recent (not necessarily the most ludicrous) of several such incidents I have endured through the years. This one took place departing from Charlotte, N.C., for a routine business trip to Boston. It was there that one of my carry-on bags was pulled aside while going through the security screening checkpoint.
“There’s nothing in there of concern,” I confidently but courteously told the TSA officer.
However, after combing through the bag he zeroed in on the keyring holding my car and house keys, and in particular a 2-inch-long, keyshaped multitool (see photo). He removed it from the ring, conferred with another agent and then decided to confiscate it because one-third of one of its surfaces was a (dull) cutting edge. For several hundred flights spanning more than 12 years this handy little item had hung on my keyring without incident or issue of any kind.
Really!? Like I or anyone else could hijack or bring down a jetliner with such an implement? Like I otherwise posed any perceivable threat, had an apparent record of any wrongdoing or fit any type of high risk profile? Maybe they are not supposed to be profiling, but c’mon let’s get real here. Where is the consistency, logic or common sense? TSA screening processes have scarcely changed or improved one iota since 9/11. Meanwhile the airlines have made money hand-overfist while nickel-and-diming customers and delivering diminished service at every turn. Where is the accountability? Where is the innovation? Talk about criminal.
Here is a sampling of items that are allowed on planes: screwdrivers up to 7 inches; lighters; walking canes; knitting needles; pens and pencils; and keys. Any of those are at least as “dangerous” as the benign tool TSA stripped me of; hell, long fingernails, teeth, fists and feet are more imposing. I’ve sat next to guys whose B.O. was a bigger hazard. All kidding aside, U.S. airport security is a travesty.
Bringing on a new director is not enough. It’s unacceptable how TSA has been allowed to conduct itself, and the whole system screams for an overhaul. All practices, policies, procedures, training and technology must be revaluated, with a new mentality of continuous improvement instituted. Speaking of technology, today’s security industry has so much to offer with leading-edge solutions like biometrics, video analytics and physical security incident management (PSIM).
While the government, airports, airlines and American public (for not saying enough is enough) must all share the blame, any of them can just as well assume a leadership role in blazing a more sensible future. I get airport security is a monumental task. Nevertheless, we must not give in to fear or allow security to devolve into mindless execution, instead ensuring intelligence, ingenuity and good judgment prevail. Otherwise perhaps as some have suggested, privatization is the answer and we let the Elon Musks, Jeff Bezoses and Larry Pages of the world take a crack at it.