Transportation Security Administration

Transportation Security Administration

Infobox Government agency
agency_name = Transportation Security Administration
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jurisdiction =
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minister1_name =
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minister2_name =
minister2_pfo =
chief1_name = Edmund "Kip" Hawley
chief1_position = Assistant Secretary/Administrator
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chief2_position =
parent_agency = Department of Homeland Security
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website = [ TSA Official site]
footnotes =
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a U.S. government agency that was created as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. The TSA was originally organized in the U.S. Department of Transportation but was moved to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on November 25, 2002. The agency is responsible for security in all modes of transportation. [49 USC § 114(d)]

Organization and Background

TSA is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. With state, local and regional partners, TSA oversees security for highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, pipelines, ports, and 450 U.S. airports. However, the bulk of TSA's efforts are in aviation security. TSA employs around 45,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), colloquially known as screeners. [ [ GAO-08-456T "Transportation Security Administration Has Strengthened Planning to Guide Investments in Key Aviation Security Programs, but More Work Remains", February 2008, p. 18] ] TSA also employs Federal Air Marshals (FAMs), Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs) and oversees the training and testing of explosives detection canine teams. [ [ DHS-OIG-08-66 "TSA’s Administration and Coordination of Mass Transit Security Programs", June 2008, p. 4] ]

A Transportation Security Officer (TSO) performs security screening of persons and property and controls entry and exit points within an airport.

A Federal Air Marshal (FAM), while blending in with passengers, is tasked with detecting, detering, and defeating terrorist or other criminal hostile acts targeting U.S. air carriers, airports, passengers, crew, and when necessary, other transportation modes within the US's general transportation systems.

Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs) conduct comprehensive inspections, assessments and investigationsof passenger and cargo transportation systems to determine their security posture. TSA employs roughy 1000 aviation inspectors, 450 cargo inspectors [ [ GAO-08-959T "Aviation Security: Transportation Security Administration May Face Resource and Other Challenges in Developing a System to Screen All Cargo Transported on Passenger Aircraft" p. 11] ] and 100 surface inspectors. [ [ DHS-OIG-08-66 "TSA’s Administration and Coordination of Mass Transit Security Programs", June 2008, p. 4] ]

TSA's National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program prepares dogs and handlers to serve as mobile teams that can quickly locate and identify dangerous materials that may present a threat to transportation systems. As of June 2008, TSA had trained about 430 canine teams with 370 deployed to airports and 56 deployed to mass transit systems. [ [ GAO-08-933R "TSA’s Explosives Detection Canine Program: Status of Increasing Number of Canine Teams", July 2008, p. 15] ]

A Brief History

TSA was created by the federal government in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Prior to its creation, security screening was operated by private companies which had contracts with either:

* An airline (in cases where the terminal was owned by an airline)
* A terminal company (in cases where the terminal was privately owned)
* An airport operator (in cases where the terminal was operated by a government agency)

With the arrival of the TSA, private screening has not disappeared completely. Under the TSA's Screening Partnership Program (SPP), privately operated checkpoints exist in the following airports: San Francisco International Airport; Kansas City International Airport; Greater Rochester International Airport; Tupelo Regional Airport; Key West International Airport; and Jackson Hole Airport. [ [ TSA Announces Private Security Screening Pilot Program] , TSA press release 18 June 2002] [ [ TSA Awards Private Screening Contract] , TSA press release 4 January 2007] Private security firms have been approved by the TSA to provide security, but under the authority of the TSA. [ [,8599,1228247,00.html An Airport Screener's Complaint] ]

The organization was charged with developing policies to ensure the security of U.S. air traffic and other forms of transportation. The TSA says airport security and the prevention of aircraft hijacking are two of its main goals, though it is widely disputed whether the TSA aids in accomplishing these goals and if the TSA is necessary for their accomplishment.

The TSA oversaw the Federal Air Marshal Service until December 1, 2003, when the program was officially transferred to the authority of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the U.S. government's 2006 fiscal year, the Federal Air Marshal Program was transferred back to the TSA. The TSA also currently oversees the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which gives pilots the right to carry guns with them inboard to protect themselves in case of an emergency.

Aviation Security Responsibilities

The TSA is solely responsible for carrying out screenings of passengers and their baggage (both checked and carry-on) at 450 airports across the country.

Voluntarily abandoned items are available for sale to the public, if not claimed by their owner. [ [;_ylc=X3oDMTFrZXJjazY1BF9TAzI3MTYxNDkEX3MDMjcxOTQ4MQRwb3MDMQRzZWMDZnAtdG9kYXltb2QEc2xrA2xvb3Q Leftover Loot; Since September 11, the TSA have collected tons of items at various security checkpoints. What happens to all that stuff? Here's how to buy TSA contraband] Yahoo news, 11/1/97. ] TSA is also working to combat baggage theft in many airports. It is working with local and other federal law enforcement agencies. In Las Vegas, a recent sting operation caught two airport employees stealing weapons. [ [ TSA and Law Enforcement Partners Crackdown on Theft] , TSA official website, 11/1/07. ]

Transportation Security Officers, or "TSOs" are uniformed federal officers with no arrest powers, and do not carry firearms, OC spray or batons. TSOs are given the power of search and seizure due to language within the 4th Amendment. By purchasing an airline ticket, the person whose name appears on the ticket is consenting to the possibility of random searches of his person and items.


For fiscal year 2008, TSA had a budget of roughly $6.8 billion. Congress appropriated $4 billion and law mandated an additional $500 million, while fees brought in the remaining $2.3 billion.

The starting salary for a TSO is $23,836 to 35,754 per year, not including locality pay. [ [ USAJOBS career search] ]

Criticisms and Scandals


TSA has faced a high level of criticism since its inception. Criticisms include but are not limited to:

* Failure of TSA screeners to detect fake bombs brought through security by undercover TSA agents, with detection levels much lower than private security agents on the same tests. In the most recent tests, conducted in 2006, security screeners at LAX failed to identify 75% of fake bombs, while Chicago O'Hare screeners missed 60% of the bomb components. Private screeners in San Francisco missed only 20% of the prospective bomb parts. [ [ Most fake bombs missed by screeners] ]
* Invasive screening procedures, mistreatment of passengers and sexual harassment by TSA officers [cite news |last=Reed |first=Keith |coauthors="Globe" staff |title=US eases patdown policy for air travelers |publisher=The Boston Globe |date=2004-12-23 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03] [cite news |title=Plan to snoop on fliers takes intrusion to new heights |work=Editorial/Opinion |publisher=USA Today |date=2003-03-11 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03] [cite news |author=Associated Press |title=Phoenix airport to test X-ray screening |publisher=USA Today |date=2006-12-01 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03] [cite news |last=Ritchie |first=Jim |author=Jim Ritchie |title=TSA officials being probed |publisher=Pittsburgh Tribune-Review |date=2005-04-29 |url= |accessdate=2008-10-08]
* Engaging in security theater [cite news |author=Robert W. Poole, Jr. |title=False Security |publisher=New York Post / Reason Foundation |date=December 5, 2001 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03] [cite news |author=Ron Paul (U.S. Congressman) |title=TSA- Bullies at the Airport |work=Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk | |date=November 29, 2004 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03]
* Frequent theft by TSA employees [cite news |last=Jamieson |first=Bob |authorlink=Bob Jamieson |title=TSA Under Fire for Rising Theft by Baggage Screeners |publisher=ABC News |date=2004-11-19 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02] [cite news |title=3 ex-TSA workers plead guilty to theft |publisher=Seattle Post-Intelligencer |date=2005-09-24 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02] [cite news |title=TSA Baggage Screeners Exposed |publisher=CBS Evening News |date=2004-09-13 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02] [cite news |last=Goo |first=Sara Kehaulani |title=TSA Under Pressure To Stop Baggage Theft |pages=A01 |publisher=Washington Post |date=2003-06-29 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02 (Registration required). Full text [ here.] ] [cite news |author=TMJ4 staff |title=TSA Screener Arrested |publisher=WTMJ-TV |location=Milwaukee |date=2006-10-14 |url= |archiveurl= |archivedate=2006-11-04] [cite news |last=Parsons |first=Jim |title=Team 4: Airport Baggage Theft Claims |publisher=WTAE-TV |location=Pittsburgh |date=2005-05-25 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02] [cite news |title=10News Exclusive: Are TSA Employees Stealing? |work=10News |publisher=KGTV |location=San Diego, Calif. |date=2007-02-07 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02] [cite news |last=Elliott |first=Christopher |title=Tips to ensure the TSA doesn't swipe your stuff | |date=2008-04-21 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02 ]
* Lavish spending by TSA on events unrelated to airport security [cite news |last=Miller |first=Leslie |title=Lavish party spurs criticism of agency |publisher=Deseret News |date=2004-10-13 |url=,1249,595098094,00.html |accessdate=2008-08-04]
* Sales of items collected from passengers [cite news |last=Stoller |first=Gary |title=Sale of airports' banned items proves bountiful |publisher=USA Today |date=2006-02-06 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03]
* TSA employees skipping security checks [ [ TSA Workers Skipping Orlando Airport Security Causes Concern] ] [ [ KTNV (Las Vegas) investigation exposes airport employees bypassing security (YouTube video)] ]
* Wasteful spending in its hiring practicescite news |last=Peterson |first=Barbara S. |title=Inside Job: My Life as an Airport Screener |publisher=Condé Nast Traveler |date=March 2007 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-04]
* Numerous employees found sleeping on the job [cite news |title=TSA fires screener caught sleeping in Seattle |url= |date=January 6, 2003 |publisher=CNN] [cite news |title=Report: Air Marshal Caught Sleeping on Flight |date=June 7, 2006 |url= |] [cite news |title=Security screener suspended for sleeping |url= |publisher=Associated Press |date=March 11, 2003] [cite news |title=TSA Has Fired 112 Honolulu Employees Since 2002 |url= |date=February 2, 2006 |]
* Failure to use good judgment and common sense [cite web |title=TSA Officers Hassle Female Passenger with Toddler at Reagan National Airport over Sippy Cup? |work=Myth Busters |publisher=Transportation Security Administration |date=June 17, 2007 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02 ] [cite video |people=Keith Olbermann (host), Andrew Thomas (guest), Monica Emmerson (seen in CCTV clip/s and photos) |title=OLBERMANN COVERS *THE SIPPY-CUP TERRORIST*ndash "Countdown w/ Keith Olbermann" |medium=Television production |publisher=MSNBC via YouTube |date=June 18, 2007 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02] [cite news |title=Teen Says TSA Screener Opened Sterile Equipment, Put Life In Danger | |location=Orlando, Fla. |date=2008-03-06 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-02]
* The "Terror Watch List" is currently criticized for having over one million names listed, including the name of a CNN reporter who claims he was added to the terror list within the time frame of the release of his critical reports of the Federal Air Marshall Service. According to the TSA, the watch list, which is maintained by the Department of Justice, contains approximately 400,000 people, most of which are not US persons. TSA denies Drew Griffin's claim that he is on the list. [cite web |last=Griffin |first=Drew |title=The TSA and me - Keeping us all honest |work=AC360° blog |publisher=CNN |date=2008-07-15 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-04] [cite video |people=Drew Griffin |title=American Morning |url= |medium=Television production |publisher=CNN |location=United States |date2=2008-07-16 |time=half hours into the show] The TSA reacted to complaints of misidentification by announcing its intent to penalize airlines with $25,000 fines for wrongfully informing travellers of their being on a government watchlist. [cite news |last=Frank |first=Thomas |title=Airlines may face fines over mistaken terrorist IDs |publisher=USA Today |date=2008-07-30 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03] [cite news |title=Watch-list errors |work=Editorial |publisher=Watertown Daily Times |date=2008-08-02 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-03]


Covert security test failures

Undercover operations to test the effectiveness of the airport screening processes are routinely carried out by the TSA's internal affairs unit and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's office.

A report by the Inspector General found that TSA officials had collaborated with Covenant Aviation Security at San Francisco International Airport to alert screeners of undercover tests. From August 2003 until May 2004, precise descriptions of the undercover personnel were provided to the screeners. The handing out of descriptions was then stopped, but until January 2005 screeners were still alerted whenever undercover operations were going on. [ [ San Francisco International Airport Screening tests were sabotaged] , "San Francisco Chronicle", 17 November 2006]

A report on undercover operations conducted in October 2006 at Newark Liberty International Airport was leaked to the press. The screeners had failed 20 of 22 undercover security tests, missing numerous guns and bombs. The Government Accountability Office had previously pointed to repeated covert test failures by TSA personnel. [ [ Airport screeners fail to see most test bombs] , "The Seattle Times", 28 October 2006] [ [ Screeners at Newark fail to find 'weapons'] ndash Agents got 20 of 22 'devices' past staff. "The Star-Ledger", 27 October 2006. ] Revealing the results of covert tests is against TSA policy, and the agency responded by initiating an internal probe to discover the source of the leak. [ [ TSA seeks source of leaks on airport security tests] , "The Star-Ledger", 31 October 2006]

In July 2007, The "Times Union" of Albany, New York reported that TSA screeners at Albany International Airport failed multiple covert security tests conducted by the TSA, including the failure to detect a fake bomb. [cite news |title=Fake Bomb Eludes Airport Test |url= |publisher=Times Union (Albany, NY) |date=July 4, 2007]

Hard drive with employee records lost

On May 4, 2007, the "Associated Press" reported that a computer hard drive containing Social Security numbers, bank data, and payroll information for about 100,000 employees had been lost from TSA headquarters. Kip Hawley sent a letter to TSA employees alerting them to news of the missing hard drive and apologizing for the loss. The agency stated that it did not know whether the drive was lost or stolen but said that it has asked the FBI to investigate. [cite news |url= |title=TSA Computer Hard Drive Missing |publisher=Associated Press |author=Matt Apuzzo |date=May 4, 2007]

Lubbock, Texas incident

In March 2008, [ Mandi Hamlin] was going through the check points at the Lubbock, Texas airport when a Transportation Security Officer stopped her about her nipple piercings. Mandi Hamlin states she was humiliated at the hands of this employee and her four colleagues. Mandi was told to step behind a curtain and remove the piercings or she would not be boarding her flight. Miss Hamlin states that while she was distraught, asking for pliers to remove the piercing, she overheard TSA Officers snickering at her. Hamlin, who is represented by Gloria Allred, filed a complaint with TSA.

In a [ statement released by TSA] , the agency stated that its employees followed procedure in this incident. The agency also stated they will be changing the procedures for clearing individuals with unresolved alarms.

Insecure website flaws

In February 2007, Christopher Soghoian, a security researcher and blogger, announced [cite web |url= |title=TSA has outsourced the TSA Traveler Identity Verification Program? |accessdate=2007-06-16 |last=Soghoian |first=Christopher |date=2007-02-13 |work=Slight paranoia ] that a TSA website was collecting private passenger information in a highly insecure manner. The website was intended to provide a way for passengers to file disputes in the event that they were incorrectly included on the No Fly List. Passengers who submitted their information through the website were at risk of identity theft. TSA pulled, fixed and then relaunched the website within days, after the press picked up the story. [cite web |url= |title=Homeland Security Website Hacked by Phishers? 15 Signs Say Yes |accessdate=2007-06-16 |last=Singel |first=Ryan |date=2007-02-14 |work=Threat Levelndash Wired News ]

In January 2008, The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a report on the incident, the result of a one year investigation. [cite web |url= |title=Letter Requesting Documents from TSA: Oversight Committee Requests Information on TSA Traveler Identity Verification Website |accessdate=2007-06-16 |last=Waxman |first=Henry |date=2007-02-23 |work=House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ]

The report stated that the flawed website had operated insecurely for over four months during which over 247 people had submitted personal information using the insecure web-forms. [cite web |url= |title=Background on Committee Report Regarding TSA's Redress Web Site |accessdate=2008-03-05 |date=2008-01-11 |publisher=Transportation Security Administration] According to the report, the TSA manager responsible for assigning the contract was a high-school friend and former employee of the owner of the firm that created the website. [cite web |url= |title=Vulnerable TSA Website Exposed by Threat Level Leads to Cronyism Charge |accessdate=2008-03-05 |last=Singel |first=Ryan |date=2008-01-11 |work=Wired News]

The report also noted that "neither Desyne nor the technical lead on the traveler redress Web site have been sanctioned by TSA for their roles in the deployment of an insecure Web site. TSA continues to pay Desyne to host and maintain two major Web-based information systems. TSA has taken no steps to discipline the technical lead, who still holds a senior program management position at TSA." [cite web |url= |title=Chairman Waxman Releases Report on Information Security Breach at TSA's Traveler Redress Website |accessdate=2008-03-05 |date=2008-01-11 |publisher=United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform]

April Fool's Joke

In 2007, Kate Burgess was on a layover in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport when she was surrounded by TSA agents, one of whom yelled, "That's it. Call police!" She started having a severe asthma attack. At that point, a TSA supervisor told her that it was all an April Fool's joke. [ [ Smile! You're on TSA Camera] ]

Evolution of the TSA

Behavior Detection Officer

Behavior Detection Officers, or "BDOs" are TSA officers whose primary responsibility is to observe the behavior of passengers going through the security checkpoint. They watch for suspicious actions, such as overly nervous and agitated passengers, and ask them basic questions such as "where are you headed?" or "what is the purpose of your trip?" Sometimes police officers are called in to help ask additional questions and/or do a quick background check of the citizen in question. On April 1, 2008, Behavior Detection Officers successfully identified a passenger at Orlando International Airport, who was acting suspiciously near a ticket counter. After flagging the man for additional screening at the checkpoint, luggage x-ray detector workers discovered pipe bomb-making materials inside his bag. [cite news |url= |title=FBI: Man tried to board plane with bomb making materials |date=2008-04-01 | |accessdate=2008-08-02]

Uniform Enhancement

Throughout 2008, the TSA will begin implementing brand-new uniforms, which don a completely different look from the uniforms currently in use. The new uniforms will consist of a royal blue 65/35 polyester/cotton blend duty shirt, dark blue pants, a black tie, a wider black belt, and optional short sleeved shirts and black vests (for seasonal reasons). In addition, there will be a DHS federal badge and engraved nameplate, distinguishing the individual as a Federal Officer. The first airport to introduce the new uniforms was Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Training is being conducted as the duties and responsibilities of the TSO evolves to the ever-changing agency. Starting on September 11, 2008 all TSOs will be wearing the new uniform.

TSA luggage locks

The TSA requires access to air passengers' luggage for security screening in the USA, sometimes without the passenger being present. To allow luggage to be locked for protection against theft, the TSA has approved certain locks, identified by a logo on the locks. TSA personnel can open and relock these locks with tools and information supplied by the lock manufacturers. Luggage locked with other types of lock may be forced open. Various forms of padlock, lockable straps, and luggage with built-in locks are available. Some locks indicate that they have been opened by the TSA.

The TSA accepts and recognizes 2 vendors of TSA locks. Safe Skies Locks [] and Travel Sentry [] . Safe Skies manufactures and distributes their own patented TSA Approved luggage lock whereas Travel Sentry licenses their logo to other firms.

The technology behind the TSA lock is protected by US patent|7021537. As of 2007 a patent infringement lawsuit has been filed against Travel Sentry by the patent holder.

Luggage locks references

* [ TSA Recognized Baggage Locks]
* [ The Screening Experience]
* [ Real protection or extra hassle: Should you lock your luggage?]
* [ Lawsuit filed Against Travel Sentry]

See also

* List of United States federal law enforcement agencies
* Canadian Air Transport Security Authority


External links

* [ Transportation Security Administration]
* [ Contact Information]
* [ Reports on TSA, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General]
* [ TSA's List of Permitted and Prohibited Items]
* [ Yahoo! News: Aviation Security]
* [ TSA's Response to the incident in Lubbock, Texas]

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