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The need of maintaining high security levels in various parts of the word has drastically increased in the last decade. This is due to the increased number of cases in terrorism, where modern technology is highly involved, thus making it hard for the concerned security officers to bring to books the culprits of these activities. Moye (41) indicates that in the last five years, the number of terrorism activities across the globe has almost double. For instance, in 2008 more than 11 well-coordinated bombings and shootings took place in Mumbai, the largest City in India. In this incident, there was massive loss of human lives, properties and psychological trauma on millions of residents living in this city. There after, the number of terrorist attacks mainly targeting American National across the globe has been on a rise. The recent terrorist attempt attack took place on 26 December 2009, when a young man from Nigeria, tried to hijack a Northwest Airline flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, where almost 280 lives could have been lost (Sullivan 50). Due to these numerous cases of attacks, especially to the American Nationals, the U.S.A Government has come up with stringent rules, aimed at reducing the number of terrorism activities across the globe. However, it is important to ensure that the methods that are used to combat incidences of terrorism are effective, thus attaining the set goals. This paper will focus on the various security procedures employed by the T.S.A (Transportation Security Administration) and discuss their ineffectiveness.
Background on Transportation Security Administration
On November 2001, one month after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States Government established the Transportation Security Administration, which is now under the Department for Homeland Security. The agency was been found as a response to the attacks and has been operating in various security facilities, mainly airports, with an aim to prevent terrorist activities and enhance the security of civilians during flights. In the ten years since its inception, this agency has adopted several security procedures, but some of them have received widespread criticism. Even after the much-publicized outcry in protest of its routines, the agency continues to act either as the sole security organ, or as the major security overseer responsible for civilian security in most airports in the states (Bolden 33).
The Organizational Structure of the T.S.A
The agency employs various types of workers to carry out security checks in the designated areas. Some of them include transportation of the Security Officers, whose main duty is to carry out security checks on travelers in the airports through screening. There are the security inspectors, who inspect cargo and report on the general flight safely. Explosives and canine detection teams are dedicated team of dogs as well as dog handlers, who are specially trained to locate dangerous materials. The other team is that of F.A.M (Federal Air Marshalls).These officers who locates possibility of terrorist elements from within the travelers through mixing with them.
Security Procedures Employed By the T.S.A
There are various methods used by the agency to carry out its role. The main security routines are as below;
The No Fly List
This is a list of all persons forbidden from air travel to, out of, or even within the American Airspace due to connections or possible connections with terror groups, or for being under other serious security restrictions. Persons under this category are unable to obtain travel bookings online, and must visit travel agencies to have their documents checked and thorough vetting done before they can be cleared for travel.
Inspection generally involves checking the traveler and any luggage they may have to ensure they are safe and pose no security threats. Inspection itself can be categorized into the following routines:-
Backscatter X-ray Scan. This procedure involves having an x-ray scan of the whole body done to trace metallic objects concealed underneath clothing. One is required to hold their arms above their heads for the scanning to complete. If any objects are detected or suspected, the passenger is referred back for more extended screening (Sullivan 51).
Physical Examination (Pat Down).This involves having a security officer use hands to physically examine the passenger’s body, including areas initially forbidden like the groin and the inner thighs. Extensive physical check may result if the backscatter X-ray scan reveals suspicious areas (Moye 41).
Cargo Screening. The luggage is checked for dangerous items and such other items (even those that are safe) as maybe prohibited on the airplanes. A good example is a laser printer cartridge heavier than 453 grams. The T.S.A Team is allowed to open, tear into, or otherwise unlock any access to any luggage for inspection (Moye 48).
SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques)
This method employs the expertise of highly trained officers who focus on passenger behavior in the airports; suspected passengers are requested to submit to further vetting. This method is a relatively recent development in the T.S.A and its effectiveness has been commended, as well as widely challenged.
Criticism of the TSA Procedures
The agency has received heated criticism both from the American people and private institutions over the manner of conduct of officials, procedures adopted by the agency, and the relative inefficiency at crime and terrorist detection at airports (Bolden 33).Below are some major issues raised against T.S.A.
Inhumane Screening Processes, Unnecessary Invasion of Privacy
The pat down screening procedure adapted in 2011 has received widespread criticism due to the relative ease of misuse particularly given the sensitive nature of the body areas to which it can be applied. Scores have complained that officers have touched them maliciously during screening (Sullivan 52). In the case of the backscatter X-ray scan, some people have found this procedure lacking in dignified treatment and protection of privacy. A court petition has been raised citing that the procedure is a violation of the fourth amendment that prevents touch to a person’s private parts.
Lost or Stolen Baggage
The agency has received numerous complaints regarding lost or misplaced luggage since its creation. Some claims are honored and the passengers compensated yet majority of them are not settled. Scheider (11) indicates that the T.S.A had compensated about half of the complainants but no arrests had been made. This might reflect a weakness in the ethics structure of the agency and failure to uphold sound regulatory measures during its operation.
Ionization Effects of the X-Ray Scan
Health concerns have been raised regarding the effects (especially in the long term) of exposure to the ionization effect of the scanning mechanism of the backscatter x-ray machine. While most health experts do not point out an immediate danger, they agree that exposure to any amount of ionizing radiation have a cumulative effect on the body. The scan extends to the young and elderly, some of whom may have medical situations sensitive to even minute radiation. Passengers unwilling to submit to the scan are subjected to extensive Pat down body scan, some aspects of which several people have found unnecessary and humiliating (Moye 49).
Positive feedback on TSA practices
Even with all the criticism for the T.S.A screening and ethical practices, it is true that most Americans find it necessary to have security checks before entering vital areas. The only aspects of the T.S.A procedures that most detest are the intrusive pat down and the scan which intrudes their privacy. According to a poll conducted via telephone by the CBS in 2010, 81 percent of the respondents found the scans to be appropriate, but 50% found the pat down screening process to be way too intrusive and inappropriate (Scheider 5).
Other Notable Shortcomings of the Security Procedures Employed By TSA
Civilian Access to Restricted Areas
One of the core functions of the T.S.A is to ensure that unauthorized persons do not enter sensitive areas, such as weapons bay or security control systems. In an incident on 24 June, 2011, a passenger was allowed to board a plane from the New York to Los Angeles without having proper documentation. The name on the ID and that on the boarding pass did not match yet T.S.A officers did not intercept him (Scheider 10). This has raised concerns that the Agency may allow, through negligence or incompetence, terrorists to board flights after bypassing security checks or presenting false documents. Up to now, no explanation has been given for the incident.
Security Systems Inefficiency
The T.S.A operated a website over which persons listed on the No Fly List were allowed to dispute their status and apply for a change. This website had been found to operate insecurely and allows people to submit their person information in ways that made it possible for others to see. This particular website was fixed, but concerns remained as to whether indeed the security systems maintained by the T.S.A were secure enough from hackers and identity thieves.
Erroneous Inclusion on the No Fly List
The list of persons forbidden from flying into and out of the states has been found to contain names of persons entered there by mistake (Sullivan 50). These names include children under the age of five, high-ranking security officials etc. It is doubted that a potential terrorist’s name may not be omitted just the same way innocent names are netted in the list.
High Detection Failure Rates
According to Scheider (12), the failures rates of up to 70% had been recorded in the year 2004-2005. Such items as guns and knives had passed security checks. While the agency argues that the report was done in a time when new security systems like advanced imaging technology and X-ray scatter scans were unavailable, it fails to state the current failure rates or justify the new inventions. It is obvious that while the T.S.A has contributed greatly to airline security, it is still far from realizing its full potentials. The following measures may help improve its operation.
Stern disciplinary measures maybe taken against officers who recklessly allow unsafe passage of persons or cargo. The current measures are insufficient.
A complete revision of the NFL (Non Fly List) and subsequent improvement in its maintenance to make sure it includes those who should be in it and keeps out those who should not (Bolden 30).
To adopt a friendlier scan mechanism and reduce cases of inhumane or humiliating experiences during scanning/screening.
Constant training of the TSA staff to update their skills in handling their job
From studying the case above, one can clearly see the great role played by security teams across various parts of the world in combating modern forms of terrorism. Despite these, there are shortcomings arising from the way T.S.A carries out its mandates, but most Americans find it necessary to have security checks before entering vital areas. It is on this regard that the body should strive to eliminate the numerous shortcomings, thus making the body to be socially acceptable in the U.S.A as well as across the world.