Former U.S. counter-terrorism official and frequent CNN guest Larry Johnson labels the new TSA security measures and the agency's failure to impose a uniform security system as "criminal negligence."
In a blog post, TSA Punts on Security, Johnson, co-founder of BERG Associates and former deputy director in the U.S. State Dept.'s Office of Counter Terrorism, says the TSA's procedures, which went into effect Jan. 4, "likely increase the chance that terrorists will succeed in putting a bomb onboard an in-bound commercial airliner."
Johnson notes that Al Qaeda has recruited people from many countries beyond the TSA's prime focus of flights that originate or stop in Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen [countries of interest] and Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria [U.S. designated state sponsors of terrorism].
After all, Johnson notes, the terrorists who commandeered planes on 9/11 departed from U.S. airports.
In a phone interview, Johnson told Tnooz that the new TSA procedures for flights in-bound into the U.S. revert to the "absurd notion" of "threat-based security," which was in place prior to 9/11 when the FAA had responsibility for airline security and tried to "play Kreskin to figure out where the threat came from."
As he wrote on his blog: "When you have a 'security' based system you are making a huge bet that the intelligence community will be able to alert you when the threat changes. So if Al Qaeda decides to put an underwear bomb on a recruit from Georgia or Uzbekistan or Mali we probably will not find out about the 'new' threat until the bomb wearer sets his bollocks on fire or the bomb actually goes off."
Johnson told me it would be easy for terrorists to come up with "work-arounds" to the gaps in the TSA's new procedures and instead the TSA should be establishing uniform security procedures, including the use of trace and bulk explosives detection technologies. [He notes he has no financial interest in any of these technologies.]
These explosives detection technologies should be combined with "profiling," Johnson says, although not racial/ethnic profiling, which has limited utility and is also susceptible to work-arounds. Instead, the TSA should work up a profiling system based on studying things such as travel patterns, he adds.
As for the TSA's increased use of pat-downs, Johnson notes that "pat-downs won't tell you if someone's hiding explosives in his underwear."
Johnson says the introduction of whole-body imaging systems, the so-called naked scanners, would be "better than nothing," but wouldn't be an adequate substitute for a more comprehensive system that combines explosive detection technologies and profiling.
Some experts and pundits have called for adoption of security techniques -- including the study of passenger behavior during ticket-counter questioning and database searches -- employed by the Israelis. In fact, in this National Post story, Rafi Sela, a security consultant at Ben Gurion Airport, speculates that Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would have never been able to board an aircraft in Israel because of the security techniques in play there.
However, Johnson downplays the usefulness to the U.S. of Israel's methodologies, saying the Israelis "are legends in their own minds" because they have "maybe 32 planes" and a "very small target to protect."
Johnson's viewpoint is sobering, to say the least.
As he wrote in his blog:
"The failure of TSA to impose genuine, uniform security procedures and practices is criminal negligence. The new measures announced yesterday amount to nothing more than cosmetic gestures that will do little to keep air passengers safe. Enjoy your next trip."
Meanwhile, the new TSA measures, which also call for the enhanced screening of a majority of in-bound travelers beyond those passengers who pass through countries under the microscope, picked up the support of the National Business Travel Association and the U.S. Travel Association.
The NBTA applauded the quick implementation of the new TSA measures, and was heartened that federal officials will be meeting with airport leaders to determine next steps.
And, the U.S. Travel Association called the new procedures "appropriate," but called for a detailed review and analysis "of the most effective systems, techniques and technologies to secure the travel process."
The U.S. Travel Association also called on the U.S. Congress to agree on the final passage of the Travel Promotion Act to show international travelers "our increase in security is matched with an increase in our welcome."
Certainly, there is a wide range of viewpoints on these critical issues.