Monday, December 28, 2009

Looking critically at the TSA

Most of you are aware that, on Christmas Day, a Nigerian citizen on a flight en route to Detroit tried to detonate an explosive device made from powder and liquid components smuggled aboard the aircraft.

You know that the plot did not work, because the would-be bomb failed to detonate, instead burning the would-be bomber.

You know that passengers apprehended the would-be bomber and held him until the plane landed, then turned him over to U.S. authorities.

You probably also know that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's claim that "the system worked" is ridiculous and insulting to the intelligence of every American.

The system did not work. No security screener or device anywhere along the line picked up the threat. The plot failed because of quick passenger reactions, but mostly it failed because of bad luck: the explosive didn't detonate.

Governments in general like to pretend they are all-powerful. The U.S. government in particular has pretended for nearly a decade since September 11 that the massive make-work program called the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has made us safer. These are lies; study after study and test after test have shown that TSA is almost entirely ineffective.

Whatever your politics, be aware that the TSA is not a failure because it was created by the Bush administration, and it is not a failure because it is currently under the Obama administration. It is a failure because it is a huge government bureaucracy, and like most government bureaucracies, it is far more focused on looking effective than being effective.

Today, Napolitano is backtracking from her earlier claims and admitting that the system failed. But we already knew that: she is changing the system, which would not be necessary if it had actually worked.

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