No one would argue that the T.S.A. should not be held closely accountable. There have been too many problems. Since the agency was created in the aftermath of Sept. 11, this column has regularly reported on many of them, like the outrage that began in 2004 over charges that some screeners were groping female travelers. More recently, the agency faced questions about its decision to replace metal detectors with those whole-body image machines, which the T.S.A. still has not adequately defended against claims that they are personally invasive, arguably unsafe and ultimately not as reliable as good old metal detectors.
On the other hand, the hearing last Thursday seemed to have an agenda, which was that the T.S.A. should be replaced by private security companies — you know, like the ones that were accused of hiring poorly trained, underpaid screeners at airports before Sept. 11 brought a somewhat more intense focus to checkpoint security.
I'm no security expert but I suspect that replacing one terrible system with another won't fix the clubfoot ballet that is our airport security system. For instance, I've inadvertently flown with a canister of pepper spray in my bag on two separate trips in the last month without being flagged by TSA, so clearly their security still has gaping holes to fill.
Pepper spray vs eye drops. It's all going to the same place
The pepper spray was an unintentional oversight on my part—it lives in my purse and I tend to forget it's there until I'm walking around alone after dark in Seattle (meaning after 4:00 pm), when it keeps my hand warm.
Nevertheless, I've gone through four TSA checkpoints in the last month and apparently the hawk eyes manning our x-ray airport machines haven't caught it. Neither did the man who searched my purse on one flight out of SEATAC—he was after the 1/3 fluid-ounce bottle of eye drops I'd forgotten to remove. That got me a finger wagging!
Obviously, I need to be better about checking my goddamn purse for instruments of terror (eye drops, pepper spray) before I leave my house on trips out of town. But it also handily illustrates how spot-shoddy our security system is. TSA may get more elaborate every day but that doesn't mean we're getting any safer.