Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has failed us again. Her hostility to allowing pilots to be armed against terrorists is going to make our nation less safe. On Monday, Napolitano's vision for a "risk based" security system failed to keep a box cutter off a commercial aircraft in Houston.
Secretary Napolitano said recently at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing that she is proposing a 50% cut in funding for the Federal Flight Deck Officer's program (FFDO), also known as the armed pilots program, because "the program is not risk based." Yet her Transportation Security Administration failed to detect a box cutter that ended up on a flight in Houston, Texas this past Monday. This is further evidence that President Obama's and Secretary Napolitano's plan to terminate the FFDO program is an aviation security mistake.
The Houston Chronicle reports that a passenger found a box cutter in the overhead luggage bin of a commercial aircraft while a plane was preparing for departure. Note that a passenger was the one that found a box cutter, not an official of the TSA. This is a TSA that subjects travellers to unprecedented levels of screening, yet they still could not stop a box cutter from ending up on a commercial aircraft. This is further evidence that the "risk based" system used by the TSA is more of a "trust us" system with no margin for error.
The Houston Chronicle reported:
A flight was canceled after a box cutter was discovered on board a Southwest Airlines flight at Hobby Airport Monday morning, authorities said. Flight 1636, scheduled to fly out at 6:15 a.m. from Hobby to Dallas Love Field, was canceled after a passenger found the box cutter in an overhead luggage compartment as the plane prepared for departure. The box cutter was handed over to crew members.
A passenger, not a TSA employee, found this one box cutter. Napolitano explained at a House Homeland Security hearing a few weeks ago that the TSA's "risk based" system starts when a passenger purchases a ticket.
There are many layers of defense beginning before anyone gets their ticket.
This screening happens when people go online or in person to purchase a ticket. If they are on a no fly list or purchase the ticket in an unusual manner (one way with cash) they are flagged for increased screening when they try to board a plane. This aspect of Napolitano's risk based system failed and did not identify the individual who smuggled the box cutter onto the plane.
Napolitano during her testimony referred to metal detectors and other machines that are in place to detect knives as another aspect of the "risk based" system.
The checkpoint at the gate which has caused some concern is only one of many layers.
Making people go through a metal detector, other screening machine, emptying of pockets and visual observation is another aspect of the "risk based" system, as is failed the screening of carry on luggage. Neither the screening of the passengers nor the passenger's carry on luggage prevented the box cutter from ending up in the aircraft. This aspect of Napolitano's "risk based" system also failed.
The last check the TSA has is when you enter the plane and that is a visual check of the person. That last check by the TSA failed to detect any problems. So at every level of screening the TSA failed to protect the aircraft from a potential hijacking.
Only when a passenger spoke up and pointed out to the flight attendants that a box cutter was in the overhead compartment did the TSA engage in classic cover your behind activity and empty the plane. This was an epic screening failure by the TSA, yet they are expected to continue with a system that is very reliant on the army of TSA agents screening passengers when they enter the concourse of an airport.
Houston Airport System spokeswoman Darian Ward said after the incident all 97 passengers were re-screened through security. Another plane took the passengers to Dallas, she said. She declined to comment further on the incident.
This is an epic failure on so many levels. Most importantly, the TSA never seemed to figure out what happened. They screened all the same passengers to see if they had any other banned materials and then sent them on their way to Dallas on another aircraft. The TSA's post failure screening, according to this story, did not result in any explanation of what aspect of Napotiano's "risk based" system failed.
This incident proves two things. The TSA needs to keep in place a layered system of security so that armed pilots can provide that important last layer of defense if all other layers fail (as they did in this instance). It also proves that President Obama is wrong to propose a cut in the FFDO program in anticipation of eliminating FFDOs in favor of a failed "risk based" system.
What did the TSA have to say about this incident?
A Transportation Security Administration spokesman says the airline made the decision to cancel the flight and that operations at Hobby are normal. "Anything that is not permitted on the TSA list should be of concern," Romero said. "We dealt with the issue, and our customers went on their way to Dallas. It's over."
Was this an incident where terrorists were testing the system. The TSA probably does not know, because they seem to have no clue who smuggled the box cutter onto the plane. Thanks to a good Samaritan passenger (and no thanks to the incompetent TSA), the other passengers on that plane were made much safer.
It is not over, because this is likely to happen again and again. President Barack Obama, Secretary Janet Napolitano and the TSA failed us this week. Let us hope they don't have their way in their efforts to disarm pilots and destroy a program that has provided a last line of defense to the very items snuck on that Southwest flight on Monday.