NPR logo
With TSA, Are We Safer Or Sorry?
  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
With TSA, Are We Safer Or Sorry?

SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in far-reaching changes in this nation's aviation security. Just two months after the attacks Congress established the Transportation Security Administration and they eventually hired some 50,000 airport screeners. Ten years later, screening has become a routine and often frustrating part of air travel, but has it made us safer? NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: At the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, a small temporary exhibit marks September 11th. Along with the artifacts found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, like a smashed fire truck door and twisted bits of fuselage, is a bin filled with every imaginable object people have tried to carry on airplanes.

MIKE BOESHMAN: The quantity was overwhelming, from grenades, as a couple of people have noticed today, firearms regularly. And it's gotten better as we've been around for nine, 10 years.

NAYLOR: That's Mike Boeshman, a screener at Bradley International Airport in Hartford. He was on hand at the opening of the exhibit as was TSA Administrator John Pistole, who recalled watching on TV as a plane flew into the second tower of the World Trade Center.

JOHN PISTOLE: The thought that came to mind almost immediately after that was, this changes everything. And, in fact, it did change everything for what we know as the American way of life, especially when it comes to travel.

NAYLOR: Especially air travel. What prior 9/11 had been a simple walk through a metal detector before boarding a flight has become an ordeal. Yet after the government spent $40 billion to overhaul airport security, critics say the system still contains holes. This past June, a man traveled across the country on an expired boarding pass. And there was the Christmas Day bomber of two years ago, who boarded a Detroit-bound flight with explosives in his underwear. Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, spoke at a recent conference.

LEE HAMILTON: Our conclusion is that despite 10 years of working on the problem, the detection system still falls short in critical ways.

NAYLOR: Rafi Ron agrees. Ron is a former head of security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport and is now a consultant in the U.S.

RAFI RON: What we have been and still are doing at the checkpoints is not necessarily providing us the level of security that is needed and there is more that needs to be done.

NAYLOR: Ron says the key is not searching for dangerous items, but rather, dangerous people. He says the TSA needs to do more than physically screen passengers. It should use behavior analysis and interview those people it deems suspicious, similar to what security officials do in Israel. He says it does not mean racial profiling and would involve only 1 or 2 percent of passengers.

RON: So if you look at a full 747 flight with 450 passengers, we're probably looking at about five or six passengers that will have to be interviewed.

NAYLOR: The TSA has, in fact, deployed some 2,800 behavior detection officers in airports around the country who look for signs of trouble. Administrator Pistole says his agency is working on less intrusive screening for members of trusted groups, such as frequent fliers and veterans.

PISTOLE: Whether you take the World War II veterans who come on charter flights to Washington D.C. to see World War II Memorial, how we used to do physical screening with them and what we do now. We're working with the actual pilots in charge of aircraft on how we can do different intelligence-based screening for them.

NAYLOR: Homeland Security officials say that behavioral screening will eventually lead to an end to the requirement that passengers remove their shoes. It's unclear when that day might arrive. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano...

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO: I can't say, except that I think you'll be able to leave your shoes on significantly earlier than you'll be able to take on a extra-large bottle of shampoo.

NAYLOR: At the TSA, change comes one step at a time. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.