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EDITORIAL: Shut down the TSA and privatize airport security already

You’d be hard pressed to find bigger masters of ineptitude and humiliation than the screeners of the Transportation Security Administration. Despite the fact that the tiniest percentage of airline passengers could be considered even partial matches with existing terrorist profiles, all travelers — including children and the elderly — are subjected to an intrusive and insulting cattle call before being allowed to proceed to their gates.

We are put through this exercise so TSA agents can do what they were hired to do: detect bombs and weapons and stop terrorists. But if a recent investigation conducted in dozens of our nation’s busiest airports is any indication, the TSA couldn’t find a jihadist if the agency’s entire workforce were airdropped into Mosul.

Last week, Melvin Carraway, acting head of the TSA, was reassigned after an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security showed that, in 67 out of 70 tests, secret “Red Team” agents were able to get past numerous security checkpoints with weapons, fake bombs and other contraband. The TSA’s staggering 95 percent failure rate was attributed to both human and technological error.

“Red Teams” have been testing TSA checkpoints for 13 years. This wasn’t the first time TSA officers failed to detect fake terrorists and their weapons, but aviation experts are especially concerned now because, in this instance, TSA agents failed to detect almost every single phony bomb and gun. The numbers are especially alarming because terrorism threat levels remain high and the Islamic State is encouraging radicalized lone wolves to strike inside the United States.

“After spending over $540 million on baggage screening equipment and millions more on training, the failure rate today is higher than it was in 2007,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in response to the tests. “Something is not working.”

Upon the release of the initial findings of the Office of Inspector General’s report, Mark Hatfield, the TSA’s acting deputy director, took over for Mr. Carraway until a new acting administrator is appointed. DHS chief Jeh Johnson called for the TSA to take other actions to bolster security, several of which are now in place. The nomination of Coast Guard Vice Admiral Pete Neffenger to become permanent administrator of the TSA is awaiting Senate confirmation. Homeland Security’s full report on the tests is scheduled to be released this summer.

A 95 percent failure rate is a sign of outrageously poor performance. It shows that a highly motivated terrorist or violent criminal can exploit obvious vulnerabilities and training deficiencies, make it through a security screening and onto an airplane to inflict new carnage on America.

So the agency is taking steps to address the breaches? The acting chief was “reassigned”? Please. Americans have known since the creation of the TSA that the agency exists only to try to make air travelers feel safe in a post-9/11 world, not actually make them safer. As if we needed more proof that pulling aside nursing mothers, the elderly and small children for additional scrutiny is a massive waste of time and resources. There will be no accountability for this debacle, just like there will be no accountability when a TSA screw-up costs people their lives.

As Vice Admiral Neffenger continues Senate confirmation hearings, this is a perfect time to rethink our entire approach to airport security. Close this agency down and allow every American airport to retain private security contractors. At least those firms can be fired if they screw up on the job. They certainly can’t perform any worse than the TSA.

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