"These stark and continuing failures to perform even simple tasks are shocking and have several important implications,"
Since the report was prepared by the agency itself – using undercover TSA agents nicknamed "secret shoppers" who secretly observed and even went through the screening procedures themselves – rather than some outside organization, no one can argue that it was biased against the agency, or that the observers didn't understand the tasks or held the test subjects to an unreasonably high standard, observes Banzhaf. The study was also deliberately designed to test the screeners on simple everyday tasks, and not in extreme or stressful situations.
The secret report, dated June 8th, and entitled "PACE Airport Evaluation,"
These failures have at least four major implications, says Banzhaf.
FIRST, perhaps most shocking was the finding that in zero percent of the situations observed did the TSA agents properly inform passengers that they had a right to refuse a full-body scan and instead elect a pat-down. This has important implications for civil liberties since passengers are improperly being subjected to radiation which can create unnecessary risks for frequent travelers and others, and gross invasions of personal and bodily privacy which can be particularly offensive to certain passengers for moral or religious reasons, those with unusual body characteristics, etc.
SECOND, and far more importantly, despite massive outlays of taxpayer dollars and major waits at most major airports, we are far from safe. If screeners find prohibited items and take appropriate action only 25% of the time, passengers can be put in deadly danger. "We have to do the screening properly and effectively 100% of the time, and the terrorists can succeed even if we fail only 1%,” he notes.
THIRD, these finding should put the final nail in the coffin of the TSA's experimental "behavioral detection" program, sometimes called "chat downs," where TSA agents require passengers to talk with them while the agents try to detect virtually unrecognizable signs of nervousness including minor vocal tremors and micro expressions – what a high ranking congressman called an "idiotic mess."
Since TSA agents who can't reliably engage in simple routine tasks with even a 50% reliability as judged by their own, no one can reasonably expect them to perform satisfactorily when asked to make instantaneous decisions about fleeting facial expressions and minute changes in a passenger's voice. It may work in Israel, which has only one major airport, and very highly trained, highly paid, and highly motivated screeners, but this report shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that it can't work here, contends Banzhaf.
FOURTH, to lessen the number of mistakes made when TSA agents are spread too thin by trying to treat all passengers equally – and wasting time and resources screening toddlers and old Asian females just as strictly as they do young males – the TSA should utilize an effective search enhancement technique based upon well-established mathematical principles of selecting and testing which is used thousands of times every day to detect everything from rare genetic disorders to manufacturing defects on an assembly line, says Banzhaf, a math expert and the inventor of the “Banzhaf Index.”
If used by the TSA, it would be far more effective than treating everyone equally, and giving no more scrutiny to young Muslim males than to elderly Asian females or toddlers. Not surprisingly, this technique of targeted screening is based in large part on concentrating searches where one is most likely to find a problem, rather than ineffectively and wastefully treating all passengers equally.
Fortunately, terrorist profiling – where screeners can use a variety of characteristics including age, gender, ethnicity, and religion as one or more of several factors considered in selecting passengers for more rigorous searches – is constitutional according to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Justice, notes Banzhaf.
At the very least, Congress should require the disclosure of more of these PACE [Presence, Advisements, Communication, and Execution] reports, and consider whether some major changes in airport screening are necessary now more than ten years after the program was initially established, says Banzhaf.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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