TSA Turns 10: A Decade of Changing Security Measures

The Transportation Security Administration was born in the wake of 9/11, when then-President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law Nov. 19, 2001.

Since then, there have been successes and failures – and sometimes, public relations disasters. I fully support the vast majority of the hard-working men and women manning our airport security checkpoints.

9 Ways Airport Security has Changed Since 9/11

Airport Security: It’s a Love-Hate Thing

However, I – like many Americans – have occasionally questioned some of the policies these officers are asked to uphold. The biggest strength of the TSA is also its biggest weakness: we want to be assured we are safe, and when we are safe, we don’t want the inconvenience and time-consuming tediousness of security lines. It’s a love-hate thing – we don’t want them until we need them.

The TSA knows this, too. Bob Burns, who writes as “Blogger Bob” for the TSA Blog, told us that, “I think the majority of travelers believe in and understand TSA’s mission even though they might not be entirely thrilled with it?I think most are willing to do what it takes to keep things safe, but I don’t think it’ll ever get to the point where passengers show up at the checkpoints with rainbow wigs and foam hands reading ‘TSA is #1!’ ”

Security Success and Failures

Our airport security certainly prevents a lot of people from bringing guns on planes – 1,100 firearms were confiscated from passenger carryons this year alone. Here are some other statistics of interest, courtesy of the TSA’s Michael McCarthy:

Passenger Screening: TSA’s nearly 50,000 Transportation Security Officers screen more than 1.7 million passengers each day at more than 450 airports nationwide.

Baggage Screening: Since the agency’s inception, TSA has screened approximately 4 billion checked bags for explosives.

Behavior Detection: TSA deploys approximately 2,800 Behavior Detection Officers at airports across the country, leading to more than 2,200 arrests to date

Cargo Screening: TSA conducts 100 percent air cargo screening on domestic and international-outbound passenger aircraft

Background Checks: TSA conducts daily background checks on over 15 million transportation-related employees working in or seeking access to the nation’s transportation system

Europe Bans Airport X-Ray Machines Used in U.S.

Less popular, are the airport body scan image machines and the alternative pat-downs. To many, when these procedures are used on six-year-old children and 95-year-old women in wheelchairs, that’s a big fat ‘fail.’ Then there was the outcry was over so-called naked photos, but now new health concerns are being raised, particularly in Europe.

Yes, we need airport security, but the debate continues over exactly what kind of security is most effective. Critics call a lot of it, ‘theater.’ What do you say?

More from Rick Seaney:

TSA Turns 10: Examining the Agency’s Strengths and Weaknesses


Published: November 17, 2011