Former TSA chief says airport security is broken

By Bart Jansen, USA TODAY

Updated 4/26/2012 6:09 PM
WASHINGTON – Kip Hawley, the former head of the Transportation Security Administration, says airport security is broken and should be fixed.

Hawley, who headed the agency from 2005 to 2009, contends that TSA became too rigid after its creation a decade ago and blanketed airline passenger with too much unnecessary screening.

Instead, Hawley said Thursday, the agency should focus more on high-risk threats that could cause a catastrophe.

For example, he said, knives no longer pose a threat because cockpit doors on airline planes are hardened and locked. So the list of prohibited items should drop to guns, bombs and toxicants, he said.

He also would encourage airlines to drop baggage fees in exchange for lower government taxes so that fewer bags are carried on.

“The amount of time we spend fishing through bags and pulling out prohibited items is a waste,” said Hawley, who is promoting his book, Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security, and spoke at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

Instead, Hawley said, the TSA should monitor passenger behavior for threats and reward officers who take initiative to find threats. He would encourage more random security checks.

He said the TSA should “act now to make some major changes” to avoid the routine criticism of the agency and resistance to security measures such as routine patdowns.

Hardly a week goes by without complaints from passengers about the screening, many of which go viral on the Internet. Among the latest:

•Rep. Francisco Canseco, R-Texas, complained that a TSA officer patted him down so aggressively last week in San Antonio that it hurt, so he pushed the officer’s hand away. After sorting out the dispute, law enforcement officers didn’t file charges against either man.

•A 4-year-old girl became hysterical during an airport patdown April 15 in Wichita that her mother criticized TSA in a Facebook post as treating her like a terrorist. TSA defended its officers and said they explained why the child needed additional screening.

“We live in a world where TSA is in a permanent emergency,” Hawley says.

John Pistole, the current TSA chief and a former top official in the FBI, has been focusing more attention on the riskiest travelers. During the past year, the agency has reduced patdowns for children and the elderly, provided faster screening at some airports for passengers who provide more information about themselves and let uniformed pilots skirt regular screening lines at some airports.

TSA officials also have maintained that additional screening is sometimes needed and that random checks still occur, such as the one for Canseco.

“TSA is focused on providing the most effective security in the most efficient manner, while ensuring the freedom of movement of people and goods,” said Sterling Payne, an agency spokeswoman, who added that the agency has “the utmost respect” for Hawley.

“The agency is moving away from one-size-fits-all screening to progress toward improving both security and the passenger experience,” Payne said.

For his part, Hawley said Pistole is a good leader for the agency and he hopes he serves the remainder of his 10-year tenure.

Contributing: The Associated Press




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