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$8 Billion Annually Invested Into US Airport Security Procedures

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(Photo: Stock.xchng)
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  • TSA sees 70% failure rate in detecting threats in random tests
  • US Travel Association says 66% of travelers would fly more if security procedures were less intrusive
  • Economist debate concludes US should return airport security to pre-9/11 levels and spend savings on “intelligence, investigation and emergency response”

Currently, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an $8 billion annual budget and a 70% failure rate detecting threats related to weapons and bomb components in random tests, according to the Economist magazine.

These findings beg the question of whether the multi-billion dollar airport security measures in the US are doing more harm than good.

In a recent widely-publicized debate sponsored by The Economist, well-known American security expert Bruce Schneier was pitted against Kip Hawley, a former administrator of the TSA. Schneier argues that in the decade-plus of TSA existence, it has not foiled a single terrorist plot or caught a single terrorist and that its so-called “good catches” are forbidden items usually carried on airplanes by forgetful passengers.

The TSA does not reveal the status of its findings, which casts further doubt on if the government agency has been successful, says Schneier.

Kip Hawley, arguing in defense of the TSA, points out that more than 6 billion consecutive safe arrivals of airline passengers is proof of their performance, saying: “However one measures the value of our resilient society careening through 10 tumultuous years without the added drag of one or more industry-crushing and national psyche-devastating catastrophic 9/11-scale attacks, the sum of all that is more than its cost.”

Heavy Security Discourages Would-Be Flyers

In addition to the vast sums of money invested into airport security, the debate also talked about the economic impact of airport screening practices. According to a recent report, the US Travel Association found that nearly 66% of travelers “would fly more if security procedures were equally as effective as they are now but less intrusive and time-consuming.”

When Economist readers were asked who won the debate, the result was lopsided.

"The 87-13 margin by which readers agreed that ‘changes made to airport security since 9/11 have done more harm than good’ made this the most lopsided result I’ve seen in two years following various debates held by The Economist," said Mitchell Beer, president of a company specializing in analyzing conference content.

Overall, the Economist reports that most voters involved in debate bought Schneier’s argument that ‘if we truly want to be safer, we should return airport security to pre-9/11 levels and spend the savings on intelligence, investigation, and emergency response”.

Key Statistics – Airline Security (Source: CNN Money)

  • Airlines and passengers contributed $2 billion in taxes and fees to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as recently as 2010, but those numbers are on the rise.
  • The US Congress is considering a doubling of the Sept. 11 Security Fee from $2.50 to $5 per enplanement.
  • Rising fees have led to a decline in demand, which has cost the airline industry an estimated $1.1 billion.
  • Only 30%, or almost one in three Americans, say the security precautions put in place since Sept. 11 are “more hassle then they are worth,” according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports.

By David Wilkening for
David Wilkening is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit and Orlando. He now specializes in travel and real-estate business writing.

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