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Billions Spent, But Are We Any Safer?

In its usual witty, acerbic but always readable content, FastCompany  looks at the Transportation Security Administration’s  huge expenditures on air travel since 9/11 in their efforts to keep us safe.

How huge is huge?

Fifty-six plus billion dollars spent on schemes and strategies that more of ten than not fall flat or never get off the ground.

But as the publication asks, who’s getting the money? And what is working?

On balance there seem to be more busts than successes; more wastes of money than strategies that work.

Looking at the TSA’s efforts, FastCompany highlights the hits and the misses: :

• Thirty million for machines that puffed air onto travelers to check for explosive residues. Remember those? Ended in 2006.
Verdict: Not worth it

• 35 million to retrain human screeners because of so many traveler complaints. TSA’s advice to its workers: Smile, be pleasant. Did it work? Hardly.
Verdict: Not worth it

• 103 million to breed and train dogs in TSA’s Puppy Program which, some say, would reduce the need for intrusive pat-downs.
Verdict: Maybe worth it

• 2.8 billion for explosives detection equipment, a boon to supplying-companies like General Electric and L-3 Communications.
Reportedly the program has thwarted some would-be terrorists.
Verdict: Worth it

• 122 million for full-body scanners from tech companies, including Rapiscan Systems.
Several of the full-body x-ray images managed to find their ways onto the Internet, even though no images are supposed to be saved.
Verdict: Barely worth it.

• 13.5 billion for for human screeners. Seems they have intercepted 50 million carry-on dangers from hacksaws to, alligators, since 2007.
Verdict: Worth it

• 5.5 billion to train and employ air marshals.
How many are there? TSA isn’t saying. Doesn't want the bad guys to know the  likelihood of encountering one.
Verdict: Maybe worth it

• 1.2 billion to fund the Threat Assessment and Credentialing Program.

I’m not really sure what this does, except,  to “work closely with intelligence and law enforcement entities, and other appropriate agencies to mitigate the threat posed by an identified individual.”

FastCompany reports that although the program checks employees backgrounds, a couple of TSA agents were arrested fro stealing from checked bags.
Verdict: Still worth it. Maybe

So, are we safer?
Verdict:  Who really knows!

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Comment by Kaleel Sakakeeny on November 21, 2011 at 1:40pm

Que bueno, y gracias.

Yes, you're very right. Tightening security in the name of "safety" is often a political act and an beccome an instrument of the state: Fascism in the wings



Comment by Juan Martinez on November 21, 2011 at 12:25pm

This a good blog that's very thought provoking. I wish every government security minister would read it!

     I only want to add that U.S. foreign policy often angers people but governments also tighten security because of internal conflicts that have nothing to do with their foreign policies or the U.s. foreign policies.  Also it doesn't matter if those internal complaints (for instance: Euskadi separationists in Spain, Kurdish rebels in Turkey, minority groups in central Asia and China) are right or wrong. Whenever governments feel threatened they will tighten up security at airports, road checkpoints, and important places in cities.  Their security ministers should read this too.

Comment by Kaleel Sakakeeny on November 16, 2011 at 11:02pm
Right. NZ doesn't conjure much in the way of strong feelings. It's beautiful, civilized, rather remote with no visible or "felt" foreign policy impact. It's very neutral place, so to speak.

I suspect if it ever becomes a target for a major assault, its reactions will be as knee jerk as those of the US. As I said, an enlightened , even-handed foreign policy is probably our best defense
Comment by Ed Wetschler on November 16, 2011 at 9:44pm

Not exactly, but I got the impression that there's a lot of anger in some quarters -- anger that is not apparent to the outside world. Then again, as you say, it hasn't gotten to the point yet where New Zealand security forces are seizing baby bottles. 

Comment by Kaleel Sakakeeny on November 16, 2011 at 9:38pm

Yes, I thought of that when I wrote my comment and hoped you'd be dazzled enough by my logic that you wouldn't bring the Maori, as an indigenous  people, up. :)

But, still, can you really see a self-contained Maori people, however wronged, as part of global terrorism spawned by nations whom the US has treated with disregard and disrespect and lack of fairness?

Comment by Ed Wetschler on November 16, 2011 at 4:26pm

Still, I'm kind of surprised. For starters, it would be naive to assume that every Maori in New Zealand is thrilled to have a system that's run by the descendants of Europeans -- especially in the wake of the recent oil spill disaster.

Comment by Kaleel Sakakeeny on November 16, 2011 at 4:12pm

Thanks, Ed

I did read your comments in the Travel and Security section, and those of other colleagues.

I would say New Zealand's greatest protection is its rather sane and enlightened foreign policy. Relatively secure in the knowledge that there is no apparent or good reason to "hate" the country (none that I can think of readily) perhaps they can afford a more level-headed and reasonable approach to security issues.

A model then for a just and even-handed  foreign policy?

Comment by Ed Wetschler on November 16, 2011 at 3:05pm

An intriguing report, Kaleel, and one that's far more credible than screeds against the TSA or, alternatively, hysterics that lead to strip-searching Grandma.

See also my comments in Tripatini's "Travel Safety and Security" group about the peculiar security set-up in New Zealand. A model for success or for disaster?

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