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Auditors Question TSA's Tech Spending, Security Solutions 239

Frosty P writes "Government auditors have faulted the TSA and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, for failing to properly test and evaluate technology before spending money on it. The TSA spent about $36 million on devices that puffed air on travelers to 'sniff' them out for explosives residue. All 207 of those machines ended up in warehouses, abandoned as unable to perform as advertised, deployed in many airports before the TSA had fully tested them. Since it was founded in 2001, the TSA has spent roughly $14 billion in more than 20,900 transactions with dozens of contractors, including $8 billion for the famous new body scanners that have recently come under scrutiny for being unable to perform the task for which they are advertised. 'TSA has an obsession of finding a single box that will solve all its problems. They've spent and wasted money looking for that one box, and there is no such solution,' said John Huey, an airport security expert."
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Auditors Question TSA's Tech Spending, Security Solutions

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  • Who'da Thunk? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Foobar of Borg ( 690622 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:14PM (#34681078)
    Gee, TSA wasting tax payer money? Who'da thunk Chertoff's big money maker would be a big money waster for the rest of us "little people"?
    • Why not use dogs? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:21PM (#34681144)

      I'm wondering why no one is asking about using dogs for bomb sniffing.

      I'm guessing that the reason the TSA isn't trying that is because dogs can be supplied by many "vendors". It's more difficult to patent a dog than a scanner.

      • by durrr ( 1316311 )
        Bomb sniffing dogs won't find knives and firearms and whatnot, and probably not a whole lot of other volatile stuff you don't want people to take on planes. But of course, the scanners and whatnot are not very good at finding that either.
        My suggestion is body-sized ziplock bags and a trailing luggage aircraft.Probably cheaper in the long run too.
        • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:42PM (#34681302)

          If the pilot is behind a locked door (that the knife cannot cut through), are we really concerned about knives?

          And dogs should be able to detect firearms.

          • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:15PM (#34681552)

            Yes! Oh yes! Remember, those 9/11 trrrrists had nothing but carpet knives!

            Of course, we now tell the pilot to never open that door, no matter the threat, and guess what, this would entirely solve the knife threat (not for the unfortunate passengers, but then... 300 passengers knowing they will get their throats slit vs. maybe 4 terrorists... let's overpower them with mass!).

            The whole threat scenario does not fit reality anymore. But we're deadly afraid of knives and we have to defend against them, ignoring that there is already a solution for it in place. Because, remember, it worked once already!

            • Anyway (Score:2, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              I hope the truth results in action.

              Once I can enter an airport without being molested and/or photographed nude, I might actually start flying once in a while again.

              A lot of people think I am silly for valuing my sovereignty over my own body. I think they are silly for letting the government treat them like animals.

        • Use metal detectors and bomb sniffers and you're done. What did you think a knife was going to do on an airplane?
          • TFS mentions that the bomb sniffers didn't work. There will always be some manual work involved, which is as it should be.

        • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:07PM (#34681492)

          Bomb sniffing dogs won't find knives...

          You're right - for that, you need knife-sniffing dogs.

        • by plopez ( 54068 )

          Though a good dog is also a good judge of when a human is acting in a strange way, e.g. nervous, scared, aggressive etc.

          • Though a good dog is also a good judge of when a human is acting in a strange way, e.g. nervous, scared, aggressive etc.

            What if you are scared of dogs?

            • by plopez ( 54068 )

              What if you are afraid of flying? Or uniforms? Or lines? A TSA employee can misread those things, as can a dog, and flag you as suspicious.

              What if a scanning machine produces false positives?

              It's all the same situation and we cannot cover everything, just make sure it works effectively and efficiently. I trust dogs more than I trust security vendors.

            • My dog knows the difference between someone scared of him and a threat to me (or, for that matter, anyone with me). He's a HUGE, 130lb german shepherd and rottweiler mix. I got him from the pound, who found him as a stray. I guess he must have figured out how to approach people who were scared of him in order to get some chow or something, because he sure tries hard to be everyone's friend. Now, if a person is being shifty, etc. not because of fear of him but something else? He seems to know that too.

              I was

          • The Powers That Be want you to be a bit scared when you're going through the airport, but they mainly want you to be scared of Terrorists, and mainly feel that the TSA are there to protect you and catch the terrorists, not feel directly threatened by the TSA. Big Brother Government is there to Protect You, and you're supposed to be obedient.

            They do use some smaller dogs as sniffers, beagles and the like, that aren't scary dogs, but even then, you expect police sniffer dogs to be looking for drugs, and you

      • by psithurism ( 1642461 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:15PM (#34681558)

        Because dogs don't give security theater the same feeling as machines do.

        In this forum, everyone knows how bad machines can mess up, but to the layperson, a million dollar machine running sophisticated terrorist detection software operated by a surely well trained man in a deep blue uniform will get the job done. Everyone other passenger owns a dog. Dogs aren't magical to them, but machines: machines are magical and completely above reproach. There are millions of dollars of work from people who are far smarter than you in there. You can trust that will keep you safe.

        Remember, it really isn't about safety. We have other people to handle that. TSA is their to handle the illusion of safety.

        • Dogs at the gates would be a great idea and improve the general feeling. Most people are either comforted by the presence of a dog because they like them, or because they are linked with security. There are some, notably those who are allergic or just don't like dogs, that might be put off, but also those who are afraid of getting caught might also get especially nervous and be noticed by the handlers.

          In short, the dogs would provide a better illusion of safety than the detectors.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        Yes, dogs work very well in other places and in military settings. They have found a lot of explosives over the years and each time a different explosive has come out they have been able to be trained to identify that as well.
        Personally I think we should set the dogs on Chertoff. The TSA is looking more like organised crime to funnel taxpayers money into the pockets of those that set it up than any sort of public service. It appears to be completely beyond control now and is busy trying to push things as
      • I'm wondering why no one is asking about using dogs for bomb sniffing.

        Biggest reason is you can't make as much off of a dog as a machine. Plus...if you have TSA perverts feeling up/abusing the dogs for practice/boredom...it would be funny to watch and perverts would be losing their arms/hands/crotches when they won't buy the dogs dinner/a movie.

    • Gee, TSA wasting tax payer money? Who'da thunk Chertoff's big money maker would be a big money waster for the rest of us "little people"?

      What we need is Kabuki sniffing dogs.

    • by Stargoat ( 658863 ) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:52PM (#34682264) Journal

      My Freedom Fondle two weeks ago was a cheap way to strip me of my 4th Amendment rights.

      • Re:Who'da Thunk? (Score:4, Informative)

        by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @01:28AM (#34683190) Homepage

        It really seems like the TSA grope had much more to do with distracting peoples attention away, from how much lobbyists and private corporations where extracting in profits from the TSA.

        The old, look here, look here, subterfuge. Billions in profits but all of you are now focused on being sexually assaulted at airports. No testing, no external corroboration, no valid tenders, no safety, no independent medical evaluation and testing, just billions done the rabbit hole and some sexual abuse to distract everyone attention from it.

        I still find it unbelievable that Americans put up with it, what happened to you people, has baa, baa and, cluck, cluck become you national anthems.

    • Given the lack of concentration of the TSA Staffers, it's only a matter of time before they turn on their masters. Wait, isn't TFA about just this sort of stuff?
  • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:17PM (#34681106) Homepage

    36 million on devices to puff air?

    The TSA can blow me for free.

  • Seeing what happens when you point out holes in the TSA system it may better to just to let it slide. And any ways a of the tech is from pork barrel.

    • by e9th ( 652576 )
      The TSA has pulling this shit since at least 2008. Remember the CNN reporter [cnn.com] who wound up on the no-fly list?
    • Why? You can get a private pilot's license for less than $10k worth of training.

      Who needs the TSA?

      • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:03PM (#34681458)

        does that include lessons on *landing* as well?

      • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:05PM (#34681470)

        Getting a pilot's license is not all that hard (almost every one of my co-workers has a VFR license and most of them own a single-engine ship.)

        The hard part is getting and *keeping* an IFR ticket, where you have to put in so many flight hours that it's really tough to do if you're not a full-time commercial pilot. Let's not even talk about the costs of owning, leasing, or even just fueling and maintaining even a low-end private jet.

        It's fantastically liberating to be able to fly your own plane, but it also tends to be quite limiting. Consider the range on your, let's say, Cessna 182, for the 7-8 hours max you'd want to be in the left seat. Also consider what happens when you're grounded or diverted by VFR.

        Most private pilots still go via commercial carriers when they travel. Flying yourself from Los Angeles to Maine can be fun, but it's no less greuling (and often not much faster) than the equivalent road trip.

        The "use it or lose it" factor of IFR currency (FAR 61.57) in reality pretty much requires you to fly continuously, and without IFR you're stuck with mainly recreational flying in a relatively limited geographical area, only in clear skies. It doesn't suck, but it is not in reality the substitute you hold it out to be, nor do the costs end at the price of school.

        • by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:51PM (#34682258) Homepage Journal

          My girlfriend and I sat down to figure out how we could fly to her dad's airport outside of Baltimore from the LA Basin in a Cessna 172SP. We were looking at 16-18 hours of flight time over two or three days, five or six stops, and a bill of about $2400 to $2700 for the rental -- each way. Even without the rental fees, it would be something in the neighborhood of $650-$730 in fuel each way. That assumes no diversions and reasonable weather the entire way. It would be an incredible trip and a lot of fun, but it would also be much more financially difficult.

          Being a private pilot works when you can get a few friends to go in on a trip to someplace that can be pricey even commercially. Flying from the LA Basin into Sacramento, for example, the numbers and time just about even out. More popular places like San Francisco, Las Vegas, or even Phoenix are tougher to match, and most long-distance flights are just right out. Until one gets into higher-performance aircraft (175 knots or faster and 800NM range or more), long-distance travel just doesn't work economically, and often not even then. For example, the above trip in a Cessna 350 would be a two-hop flight requiring about 12 hours in flight, give or take, depending on the cruise speed. At the common rental rate of $350/hour, that would be $4200 each way.

          I love to sit in the left seat, but for most serious trips, I turn it over to the professionals.

          • by chappel ( 1069900 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @02:21AM (#34683476) Homepage

            I've got an IFR pilot rating and an RV-8 - which gets about 170 knots and a decent range, although it's pretty cramped (better than coach, though), and lacks de-icing capabilities, I regularly fly it around the central US, and for most flights it's faster than commercial (counting drive-to-airport, checking in, waiting, flying, retrieving baggage and leaving airport), and no 'freedom fondle' or worrying about breakage, theft or the TSA rule-of-the-week. As an example, from my home in west-central MN to a client site in Dallas is about a 20 hour drive (direct), about a 6 hour flight in my plane (with one pit stop), or about 7 hours commercially (3.5 hours to 'real' airport, 1 hour AT airport, about 3 hours in air). Fuel is a bit more than a typical coach fare, but less than two tickets if I bring a passenger (it's a 2-seater). I occasionally have to wait or divert for weather, but I get to do it on MY schedule, not the airlines. It isn't for everybody, but it's not as far fetched as many think. I've had the plane about 6 years and I've been (for business or recreation) all over - Fargo, Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, DC, Orlando, Key West, Dallas, Phoenix, St Louis, Atlanta, and hundreds of smaller towns around the country.

            On top of that, the plane is fully aerobatic and fun as hell.

            • Two important points: How much did the training cost, and how much did the plane cost? A perfect 35 hours for each of the PPL and IFR under Part 141 at $50 per hour for the instructor is $3500, and essentially nobody makes those numbers (70 hours is the national average for PPL and it's something like 60 hours for IFR). Factor in plane rental (or acquisition/fuel) and run it over the hours, and it takes a long time to make that back. If you own your plane, you need to take into account all the maintenan

      • Expect similar things for getting your pilot's license within 12 months.

  • by socz ( 1057222 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:17PM (#34681110) Journal
    When they had their contest to find the best system to detect *, I suggested they ditch technology and go with human power. No computer yet can yet process all that we can in that mode of operation. You need to pay people some good money to actually want to do the job && keep it. Minimum wage or close to it means they don't care if they get fired, it's no big loss. Next, you have to have trained people, not people you put through a class and expect them to catch terrorists.

    But don't tell any of that to the people spending money because if they don't spend money, they won't get money... and that's bad for their business and unpatriotic!
  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:17PM (#34681112) Homepage

    The TSA is simply a job creation program that has gone amok. At first it was extra baggage screeners, but it's now grown to the point that the only jobs they could think of involve fondling people. I think the idea is that if they get sued often enough, it will create lots of jobs for paralegals, expert witnesses and attorneys. The TSA likes machines because machines need operators, and each operator is one more job. In short the TSA is the biggest farce I've ever seen the government create, and it can't be closed down completely quickly enough.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:31PM (#34681218)

      It is not simply a job creation scheme - it is primarily a weath transfer machine backed by arse covering beaurocrats/lobbyists/corporatists on the revolving doorway that is the Security-Industrial Complex. The corporations get their money whether the machnes work or not. In fact, it is better if the machines don't work as there is then the option for supplying the Next Solution to Your Problem (TM)

      • "We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security", D. Eisenhower.

        Don't know much about Eisenhower, but i was always impressed with his insights. He warned us all of the dangers of a Military Industrial complex. We didn't listen.
  • Magical thinking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Archon V2.0 ( 782634 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:19PM (#34681128)
    And this is what happens when you let magical thinking get spending power. Buy the magic box, and scare the monsters from the moon cult away. Seen any moon monsters lately? Magic box is working! Wait, scientist said magic box doesn't work? What does he know! Newspaper man proved magic box doesn't work? Nothing to worry about. My shaman/advisor says magic box doesn't work? Time to buy new magic box!
    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      And if there is no Monsters from the moon?

      Why the TSA fabricates a bomb in an insulated beverage container, and uses that fabricated bomb as justification for more scare tactics.

      That's right, they actually built a demo unit to show how it would be done [cbsnews.com], paraded that before TV cameras.

      That't right folks. The only people who have fashioned a beverage container bomb is the TSA.

      • And if there is no Monsters from the moon?

        Obviously the anti-moon-monster box is working!

      • no, lois, I do not like the TSA. it insists upon itself.

      • by shogun ( 657 )

        That't right folks. The only people who have fashioned a beverage container bomb is the TSA.

        At least its slightly better than the game of catch up they've been playing of late, ie someone fails to blow up a plane with shoes then everyone has to take their shoes off etc etc..

    • some people think the exact same thing about internet security boxes. think about it - it all fits exactly the same and its the same mode of thinking.

      internet firewalls and security boxen. same basic idea.

      • And same amount of protection. You catch the stupid wannabes, no doubt. But you will not defend that way against a real threat.

        • by TheLink ( 130905 )
          Catching the stupid wannabes is actually a good thing as long as you don't spend too much on the boxes.
    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @09:28PM (#34681646)

      I see that every time, it's not limited to government. Companies want that magic box that keeps them save from trojans and hackers alike. Buy once, forget about it is the goal.

      And it's insanely hard to get it through a CEOs skull that this is not the way it works. Even if his CISO and CTO are there yelling with you in chorus.

      I can actually give you a box, but it is worth jack without trained personnel and without adapting security protocols. And both cost time and continue to cost money. That's something most beancounters loathe.

      Usually a few weeks later I get informed that they decided against me and bought some solution that gives them that box. And it's working, they haven't been hacked since.

      And if there's no fire, you can build your house out of cardboard and it won't go up in flames.

      • by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:58PM (#34682300) Homepage Journal

        I was discussing this with the security manager recently. We've gone several years without a significant incident. Because of that, it can be very hard to justify new things that we do need: updates, upgrades, new technology that handles the new generation of threats. They don't understand why we want to go through app proxies when the existing firewalls -- glorified stateful inspection firewalls -- seem to do the job just fine. SurfControl worked fine for years, so they don't understand why we need proxies that do more than just traffic categorization. I admit that we can certainly communicate better, but even good communication won't necessarily address the perception that everything is OK now and so probably will be for the time being.

  • Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZDRuX ( 1010435 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:30PM (#34681214)
    I don't think it really matters that they have improperly spent all this money. So what?.. Is someone going to get in trouble for it over at TSA? Obviously not, they couldn't care less. The machines aren't about making you safer, it's about training you how to be a slave in this new globalized terrorist-filled society. If they cared about people's safety, they wouldn't let their workers walk right past security because they too, could be a terrorist.

    Or they wouldn't be raiding the pilot's house that blew the whistle on this blatant hypocritical mission that the TSA is apparently on. http://www.news10.net/news/article.aspx?storyid=113529&provider=top&catid=188 [news10.net]

    These scanners are obviously making their way to shopping malls, schools, gov buildings, and just about anywhere else - so don't let them fool you and tell you it's for the brown men in turbans, feeling up your 14yr old daughter and your 75yr old grandmother has nothing to do with brown men in turbans plotting evil things in caves.
  • They work better than any other system, period. They don't have to irradiate you and they don't have to grope you. Admittedly Muslims and some other people consider them unclean, but they don't even have to touch what they're sniffing. The training takes time and money, it's true, but I have to wonder how many sniffer dogs could be trained for $14 billion...
    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      For the 14 billion, they could probably keep the security lines no more than 3 deep and feed the dogs steak every night while they're at it.

    • Part of the problem with sniffer dogs is that we are inexplicably obsessed with a bunch of silly scenarios that dogs can't stop. Like, some sort of attack by tweasers, or a full tube of tooth paste. Obviously, every attack that has made it in the air since 9/11 has been stopped by the passengers. So, if somebody did bring two katanas and a full collection of viking cutlery on board, there is still no chance that they would be able to hijack the plane. But, official policy is that the passengers should a

  • Dogs and Pigs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:34PM (#34681246) Homepage Journal

    seriously, I've done counter-terrorism and I can tell you that all the tech solutions are literal wastes of money.

    Even the tests of TSA screening show a trained terrorist can get all the items aboard 4 out of 5 times, with a more than 95 percent success rate on getting them into the cargo hold as well.

    The only things that work - and have worked - are:

    1. Dogs.

    2. Pigs. Even better than dogs.

    3. Throwing your coat or blanket on top of any hijacker and subduing them, yelling "Terrorist! We're all going to die - get them!"

    Everything else is an utter and absolute waste of time and effort.

    And a whole lot of cash.

  • I'm very happy that Auditors are Questioning TSA's tech spending...

    I mean, they're only a few months after slashdotters, the general public, and pretty much anyone except the idiots who made the devices.

  • The TSA will be audited again, but by another company. "We will audit until we pass, even if we have to go through all the auditing companies we can get our hands on", a spokesperson said.

  • I've got the stupid magic box they're searching for. It's called the ballot box and if any politician were to grow a spine and stand up to these goons I'd use it. The box that comes next in the series is far less peaceful.
    • jury? nah, that is typically ok. its the 4th option ....

    • by cosm ( 1072588 )

      I've got the stupid magic box they're searching for. It's called the ballot box and if any politician were to grow a spine and stand up to these goons I'd use it. The box that comes next in the series is far less peaceful.

      Soap box. Ballot Box. Ammo Box. Juries are mostly idiots now.

  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @10:17PM (#34682000) Journal

    A bloated bureaucratic behemoth that paid for iPods for cops and bullet proof vests for dogs? But didn't pay for extra employees for searches? Or keeping cops on the street?

    The next thing you will be telling me is that there is a pattern of bribery and corruption between contractors and employees administering the contracts.

    They need their budget slashed immediately.

  • Then you'll change your tune (to a higher pitch when it malfunctions).

  • I'm just thankful that our leftist benefactor, George Soros makes plenty of money off of the TSA body scanners. If he wasn't a leftist, I'd feel like these were bad people ...

    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      give me a break, he owned stock for a flash and immediately sold it. The real villian is Michael Chertoff
  • According to the article:

    "Since the introduction of metal detectors in the 1970s, technologies have been bought and cobbled together in a somewhat piecemeal approach," said Tom LaTourrette, a security expert at RAND Corp., a nonprofit research institute.

    "No one has been able to provide a satisfactory answer to the question of how to best structure aviation security," he said.

    According to most of us in the real world:

    "But the TSA's done a darn fine job of showing us how NOT to."

  • If the do-badders who have it in for the USA and the West have learned anything, it's how to force an empire to it's knees by making them blow all their money. The USA did it by brute force outspending the Soviet Union and now the do-badders will achieve the same to the USA by causing them to blow cash they don't have on totally non-constructive adventures like fighting in the middle east and pissing billions away on useless homeland security ventures.
  • It never has been.

    The solution that works prevents terrorists from even getting to the airport - Intelligence.

    Unfortunately, intelligence is hard work, and requires LOTS of highly trained people to make it work well. Not the minimum wage security people manning the boxes.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:35PM (#34682550)
    Can someone finally get fired? How god damned hard is it to xerox Israels security system and be done with it? If Muslim terrorist want to crash a plane, it's certainly going to be one filled with Israelis. There are clearly not any Jews falling from the skys of the middle east so can we just assume they must be doing something right?
    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      israel has terrible security. who ever is pushing this myth it is better needs to actually understand they are pushing a worse system.
      • There are things we should *not* copy from the Israel model for sure, but there are many things that are really worth following up on. In particular Israels *response* to a attack is very different. Basically they try to fix everything up as quickly as possible. Compensate victims* well and provide proper support. Then carry on with there day. They don't shut down society for a month and a day each time someone farts in a airline que.

        *This "data" is from Israelis or westerners only. Other ethnic groups m
  • tsa needs to have its budget cut by at least half.
  • by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @02:27AM (#34683498) Homepage Journal

    The long lines are what they are bombing now [msn.com], terrorists targeting airports right now are thinking that rolling up with a suitcase filled with explosives in the middle of a large crowd waiting for security:

    a) Shuts down the whole airport.
    b) Inflicts more causalities than randomly crashing an airliner
    c) Will make security spend massive amounts of money countering

    Let''s review, TSA has made us less safe by offering us up as a larger and slower target. It is like putting security at the watering hole to make sure no one is a crocodile while lions eat everyone else who is waiting in line.

  • by rlp ( 11898 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @02:44AM (#34683562)

    1) Make sure that cockpit doors are reinforced (this should already have been done)
    2) Arm any pilot / co-pilot who wants to be armed and has training
    3) Metal detectors, x-ray luggage & carry-ons
    4) Hand every boarding passenger a baseball bat

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:55PM (#34693064) Journal

    Quit taking planes.

    Show the airlines you aren't happy with how things are, and refuse to use them until stuff changes.

    Remember 911? Remember how shutting air travel down for a week caused airlines to claim they were losing mass money and needed bailouts to continue?

    What do you think would happen if for a month, or 2, they got less business? They'd bitch at the government, and TSA would have to get the shaft.

    You need to speak the language, which is money.

    You are the consumer, quit fucking consuming air flights till they fix it.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson