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Transportation Security Administration
Transportation Security Administration Logo.png
Agency overview
Formed 2001
Jurisdiction Transportation systems inside, and connecting to the United States of America
Headquarters Pentagon City, Arlington County, Virginia
Employees 51,448
Annual budget US$7,101,828,000[1]
Agency executive Gale D. Rossides, Acting Administrator
Parent agency Department of Homeland Security
TSA Official site

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. The TSA was originally organized in the U.S. Department of Transportation but was moved to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on November 25, 2002. The agency is responsible for security in all modes of transportation[2].


History and organization

Seal when under the Department of Transportation

The TSA was created by the federal government in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Prior to its creation, security screening was operated by private companies that had contracts with either an airline or a consortium contracted by multiple airlines that utilize a given terminal facility.

With the arrival of the TSA, private screening has not disappeared completely. Under the TSA's Screening Partnership Program (SPP), privately operated checkpoints exist in the following airports: San Francisco International Airport; Kansas City International Airport; Greater Rochester International Airport; Tupelo Regional Airport; Key West International Airport; and Jackson Hole Airport.[3][4] Private security firms have been approved by the TSA to provide security, but under the authority of the TSA.[5]

The organization was charged with developing policies to ensure the security of U.S. air traffic and other forms of transportation. According to the TSA, airport security and the prevention of aircraft hijacking are two of its main goals.

The TSA oversaw the Federal Air Marshal Service until December 1, 2003, when the program was officially transferred to the authority of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the U.S. government's 2006 fiscal year, the Federal Air Marshal Program was transferred back to the TSA. The TSA also currently oversees the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which gives a limited number of pilots the right to carry firearms with them onboard to protect themselves in case of an emergency.

Robert Harding is the nominee to replace former head Kip Hawley[6].


Aviation security responsibilities

The TSA is solely responsible for carrying out screenings of passengers and their baggage (both checked and carry-on) at 450 airports across the country. [7] TSA is also working to combat baggage theft in many airports. It is working with local and other federal law enforcement agencies. In Las Vegas, a recent sting operation caught two airport employees stealing weapons.[8]

The TSA is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. With state, local and regional partners, the TSA oversees security for highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, pipelines, ports, and 450 U.S. airports. However, the bulk of the TSA's efforts are in aviation security. The TSA employs around 45,000 Transportation Security Officers, colloquially known as screeners.[9][10] The TSA also employs Federal Air Marshals, Transportation Security Specialists and Transportation Security Inspectors, and oversees the training and testing of explosives detection canine teams.[11]

  • Transportation Security Officer (TSO) also known as screener perform security screening of persons and property and controls entry and exit points within an airport.They also practice surveillance of several areas beyond the checkpoint and before it in specialized programs TSA has implemented.
  • Federal Air Marshal (FAM) Federal law enforcement officers who while blending in with passengers, are tasked with detecting, deterring, and defeating terrorist or other criminal hostile acts targeting U.S. air carriers, airports, passengers, crew, and when necessary, other transportation modes within the US's general transportation systems.
  • Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs) conduct comprehensive inspections, assessments and investigations of passenger and cargo transportation systems to determine their security posture. TSA employs roughly 1000 aviation inspectors, 450 cargo inspectors[12] and 100 surface inspectors.[11]
  • The TSA's National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program prepares dogs and handlers to serve as mobile teams that can quickly locate and identify dangerous materials that may present a threat to transportation systems. As of June 2008, the TSA had trained about 430 canine teams with 370 deployed to airports and 56 deployed to mass transit systems.[13]


For fiscal year 2008, the TSA had a budget of roughly $6.8 billion. Congress appropriated $4 billion and law mandated an additional $500 million, while fees brought in the remaining $2.3 billion.

Budget[14] $ Millions Share
Aviation Security 4,809 71%
Federal Air Marshals 767 11%
Transportation Security Support and Intelligence 524 8%
Aviation Security Capital Fund 250 4%
Checkpoint Screening Security Fund 250 4%
Transportation Threat Assessment and Credentialing 164 2%
Surface Transportation Security 47 1%
Total 6,814 100%

The starting salary for a TSO is $24,432 to $36,648 per year, not including locality pay (contiguous 48 states) or cost of living allowance (COLA) in Hawaii and Alaska. A handful of airports also have a retention bonus of up to 35%.[15]

Criticisms and scandals


The TSA has faced a high level of criticism since its inception. These criticisms include:

  • Costing taxpayers a great deal of money in exchange for no actual security. Given that screening would never catch, for instance, a non-metal item inserted in someone's anus or vagina (probably not a stretch for someone willing to blow up a plane) or many other modes of smuggling, many people question whether the whole "security theater.[18][19]" is a power-grab or a money-maker, rather than an actual security measure.
  • "Just for fun" planting of coke- or anthrax-like powder in an innocent traveler's luggage [20].
  • Failure of TSA screeners to detect fake bombs brought through security by undercover TSA agents, with detection levels much lower than private security agents on the same tests. In the most recent tests, conducted in 2006, security screeners at LAX failed to identify 75% of fake bombs, while Chicago O'Hare screeners missed 60% of the bomb components. Private screeners in San Francisco missed only 20% of the prospective bomb parts.[29]
  • Invasive screening procedures, mistreatment of passengers, and sexual harassment by TSA officers.[30][31][32][33]
  • Mission creep” — conducting suspicionless preflight searches of passengers or their belongings for items other than weapons or explosives.[34]
  • Lavish spending by the TSA on events unrelated to airport security.[35]
  • Sales of banned items collected from passengers.[36]
  • TSA employees bypassing security checks.[37]
  • Allegations of wasteful spending in its hiring practices.[38]
  • Employees sleeping on the job.[39][40][41][42]
  • Failure to use good judgment and common sense.[43][44][45]
  • The “Terror Watch List” is currently criticized for having over one million names listed, including the name of a CNN reporter who claims he was added to the terror list within the time frame of the release of his critical reports of the Federal Air Marshal Service. According to the TSA, the watch list, which is maintained by the Department of Justice, contains approximately 400,000 people[citation needed], most of whom are not US persons. The TSA list contains numbers duplicates of US citizens who are in no way related to the names included on the list but continue to be incorrectly flagged as suspicious, notably the TSA continues to include Michael Winston Hicks of Clifton, NJ at eight years old (in 2010), despite attempts as early as the age of two by his family to have him removed [46][47][48]. The TSA denies Drew Griffin's claim that he is on the list.[49][50] The TSA reacted to complaints of misidentification by announcing its intent to penalize airlines with $25,000 fines for wrongfully informing travelers of their being on a government watchlist.[51]
  • Security checkpoint problems at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration viewing areas, which left thousands of ticket holders excluded from the event and in dangerously overcrowded conditions.[52][53]


Covert security test failures

Undercover operations to test the effectiveness of the airport screening processes are routinely carried out by the TSA's internal affairs unit and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's office.

A report by the Inspector General found that TSA officials had collaborated with Covenant Aviation Security at San Francisco International Airport to alert screeners of undercover tests. From August 2003 until May 2004, precise descriptions of the undercover personnel were provided to the screeners. The handing out of descriptions was then stopped, but until January 2005 screeners were still alerted whenever undercover operations were going on.[54]

A report on undercover operations conducted in October 2006 at Newark Liberty International Airport was leaked to the press. The screeners had failed 20 of 22 undercover security tests, missing numerous guns and bombs. The Government Accountability Office had previously pointed to repeated covert test failures by TSA personnel.[55][56] Revealing the results of covert tests is against TSA policy, and the agency responded by initiating an internal probe to discover the source of the leak.[57]

In July 2007, The Times Union of Albany, New York reported that TSA screeners at Albany International Airport failed multiple covert security tests conducted by the TSA, including the failure to detect a fake bomb.[58]

Hard drive with employee records lost

On May 4, 2007, the Associated Press reported that a computer hard drive containing Social Security numbers, bank data, and payroll information for about 100,000 employees had been lost from TSA headquarters. Kip Hawley sent a letter to TSA employees alerting them to news of the missing hard drive and apologizing for the loss. The agency stated that it did not know whether the drive was lost or stolen but said that it has asked the FBI to investigate.[59]

Insecure website flaws

In February 2007, Christopher Soghoian, a blogger and self-described security researcher, claimed that a TSA website was collecting private passenger information in an unsecured manner.[60] The website was intended to provide a way for passengers to file disputes in the event that they were incorrectly included on the No Fly List. Passengers who submitted their information through the website were at risk of identity theft. The TSA pulled, fixed, and then relaunched the website within days after the press picked up the story.[61]

In January 2008, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a report on the incident, the result of a one year investigation.[62] The report stated that the flawed website had operated insecurely for over four months during which over 247 people had submitted personal information using the unsecured web-forms.[63] According to the report, the TSA manager responsible for assigning the contract was a high-school friend and former employee of the owner of the firm that created the website.[64] The report also noted that "neither Desyne nor the technical lead on the traveler redress Web site have been sanctioned by TSA for their roles in the deployment of an insecure Web site. TSA continues to pay Desyne to host and maintain two major Web-based information systems. TSA has taken no steps to discipline the technical lead, who still holds a senior program management position at TSA."[65]

In December 2009, someone within the TSA posted a sensitive manual entitled “Screening Management SOP” on secret airport screening guidelines to an obscure URL on the FedBizOpps website. The manual was taken down in short order, but the breach has raised questions about whether security practices have been compromised.[66] Five TSA employees have been placed on administrative leave over the May 2008 manual’s publication, which while redacted, had its redaction easily removed by computer-knowledgeable people.[67]

Evolution of the TSA

Behavior Detection Officer

Behavior Detection Officers, or "BDOs," are TSA officers whose primary responsibility is to observe the behavior of passengers going through the security checkpoint. Behavior Detection Officers watch for suspicious actions, such as overly nervous and agitated passengers, and ask them basic questions such as "where are you headed?" or "what is the purpose of your trip?" Sometimes police officers are called in to help ask additional questions and/or do a quick background check of the person in question. On April 1, 2008, Behavior Detection Officers successfully identified a passenger at Orlando International Airport who was acting suspiciously near a ticket counter. After flagging the man for additional screening at the checkpoint, luggage x-ray detector workers discovered pipe bomb-making materials inside his bag.[68] All charges against the man in question were dropped in June 2009.[69]

Uniform enhancement

Throughout 2008, the TSA began implementing new uniforms, which have a different look from the uniforms previously in use. The new uniforms consist of a blue-gray 65/35 polyester/cotton blend duty shirt, black pants, a black tie, a wider black belt, and optional short sleeved shirts and black vests (for seasonal reasons). The first airport to introduce the new uniforms was Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Starting on September 11, 2008, all TSOs began wearing the new uniform.

TSA luggage locks

TSA: Notice of Baggage Inspection

The TSA requires access to air passengers' luggage for security screening in the US, sometimes without the passenger being present.[70] To allow luggage to be locked for protection against theft, the TSA has approved certain locks, identified by a logo on the locks. TSA personnel can open and relock these locks with tools and information supplied by the lock manufacturers. Luggage locked with other types of lock may be forced open. Various forms of padlock, lockable straps, and luggage with built-in locks are available.[71] Some locks indicate that they have been opened by the TSA.

The TSA accepts and recognizes two vendors of TSA locks,[72] Travel Sentry [1] and Safe Skies Locks [2].

See also


  1. ^ "Homeland Security Budget-in-Brief Fiscal Year 2009". United States Department of Homeland Security. 2009. pp. 46. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  2. ^ 49 USC § 114(d)
  3. ^ TSA Announces Private Security Screening Pilot Program, TSA press release June 18, 2002
  4. ^ TSA Awards Private Screening Contract, TSA press release January 4, 2007
  5. ^ An Airport Screener's Complaint
  6. ^ Ahlers, Mike M. "Obama taps Los Angeles airport police official for top TSA job",, 10 September 2009. Retrieved on 03 December 2009
  7. ^ Leftover Loot; Since September 11, the TSA have collected tons of items at various security checkpoints. What happens to all that stuff? Here's how to buy TSA contraband Yahoo news, 11/1/97.
  8. ^ TSA and Law Enforcement Partners Crackdown on Theft, TSA official website, 11/1/07.
  9. ^ GAO-08-456T Transportation Security Administration Has Strengthened Planning to Guide Investments in Key Aviation Security Programs, but More Work Remains, February 2008, p. 18
  10. ^ TSA needs screeners at PDX
  11. ^ a b DHS-OIG-08-66 TSA's Administration and Coordination of Mass Transit Security Programs, June 2008, p. 4
  12. ^ GAO-08-959T Aviation Security: Transportation Security Administration May Face Resource and Other Challenges in Developing a System to Screen All Cargo Transported on Passenger Aircraft p. 11
  13. ^ GAO-08-933R TSA's Explosives Detection Canine Program: Status of Increasing Number of Canine Teams, July 2008, p. 15
  14. ^ 110th United States Congress (2008-06-23). "DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2009" (PDF). United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  15. ^ USAJOBS career search
  16. ^ Robert W. Poole, Jr. (December 5, 2001). "False Security". New York Post / Reason Foundation. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  17. ^ Ron Paul (U.S. Congressman) (November 29, 2004). "TSA- Bullies at the Airport". Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk ( Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  18. ^ Robert W. Poole, Jr. (December 5, 2001). "False Security". New York Post / Reason Foundation. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  19. ^ Ron Paul (U.S. Congressman) (November 29, 2004). "TSA- Bullies at the Airport". Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk ( Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Jamieson, Bob (2004-11-19). "TSA Under Fire for Rising Theft by Baggage Screeners". ABC News. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  22. ^ "3 ex-TSA workers plead guilty to theft". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 2005-09-24. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  23. ^ "TSA Baggage Screeners Exposed". CBS Evening News. 2004-09-13. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  24. ^ Goo, Sara Kehaulani (2003-06-29). "TSA Under Pressure To Stop Baggage Theft". Washington Post. pp. A01. Retrieved 2008-08-02.  (Registration required). Full text here.
  25. ^ TMJ4 staff (2006-10-14). "TSA Screener Arrested". Milwaukee: WTMJ-TV. Archived from the original on 2006-11-04. 
  26. ^ Parsons, Jim (2005-05-25). "Team 4: Airport Baggage Theft Claims". Pittsburgh: WTAE-TV. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  27. ^ "10News Exclusive: Are TSA Employees Stealing?". 10News (San Diego, Calif.: KGTV). 2007-02-07. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  28. ^ Elliott, Christopher (2008-04-21). "Tips to ensure the TSA doesn't swipe your stuff". Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  29. ^ Most fake bombs missed by screeners
  30. ^ Reed, Keith; Globe staff (2004-12-23). "US eases patdown policy for air travelers". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  31. ^ "Plan to snoop on fliers takes intrusion to new heights". Editorial/Opinion (USA Today). 2003-03-11. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  32. ^ Associated Press (2006-12-01). "Phoenix airport to test X-ray screening". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  33. ^ Ritchie, Jim (2005-04-29). "TSA officials being probed". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  34. ^ Scott McCartney (July 16, 2009). "Is Tougher Airport Screening Going Too Far?". Wall Street Journal. 
  35. ^ Miller, Leslie (2004-10-13). "Lavish party spurs criticism of agency". Deseret News.,1249,595098094,00.html. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  36. ^ Stoller, Gary (2006-02-06). "Sale of airports' banned items proves bountiful". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  37. ^ TSA Workers Skipping Orlando Airport Security Causes Concern
  38. ^ Peterson, Barbara S. (March 2007). "Inside Job: My Life as an Airport Screener". Condé Nast Traveler. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  39. ^ "TSA fires screener caught sleeping in Seattle". CNN. January 6, 2003. 
  40. ^ "Report: Air Marshal Caught Sleeping on Flight". June 7, 2006. 
  41. ^ "Security screener suspended for sleeping". Associated Press. March 11, 2003. 
  42. ^ "TSA Has Fired 112 Honolulu Employees Since 2002". February 2, 2006. 
  43. ^ "TSA Officers Hassle Female Passenger with Toddler at Reagan National Airport over Sippy Cup?". Myth Busters. Transportation Security Administration. June 17, 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  44. ^ Keith Olbermann (host), Andrew Thomas (guest), Monica Emmerson (seen in CCTV clip/s and photos). (June 18, 2007). OLBERMANN COVERS *THE SIPPY-CUP TERRORIST* – "Countdown w/ Keith Olbermann". [Television production]. MSNBC via YouTube. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  45. ^ "Teen Says TSA Screener Opened Sterile Equipment, Put Life In Danger". Orlando, Fla.: 2008-03-06. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^ Griffin, Drew (2008-07-15). "The TSA and me - Keeping us all honest". AC360° blog. CNN. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  50. ^ Drew Griffin. (2008-07-16). American Morning. [Television production]. United States: CNN. Event occurs at half hours into the show. 
  51. ^ Frank, Thomas (2008-07-30). "Airlines may face fines over mistaken terrorist IDs". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  52. ^ "TSA Helps Secure Inauguration". Transportation Security Administration. 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  53. ^ "And Then We Knew It Was Too Late". Washington Post. 2009-01-20. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  54. ^ San Francisco International Airport Screening tests were sabotaged, San Francisco Chronicle, November 17, 2006
  55. ^ Airport screeners fail to see most test bombs, The Seattle Times, October 28, 2006
  56. ^ Screeners at Newark fail to find 'weapons' – Agents got 20 of 22 'devices' past staff. The Star-Ledger, October 27, 2006.
  57. ^ TSA seeks source of leaks on airport security tests, The Star-Ledger, October 31, 2006
  58. ^ "Fake Bomb Eludes Airport Test". Times Union (Albany, NY). July 4, 2007. 
  59. ^ Matt Apuzzo (May 4, 2007). "TSA Computer Hard Drive Missing". Associated Press. 
  60. ^ Soghoian, Christopher (2007-02-13). "TSA has outsourced the TSA Traveler Identity Verification Program?". Slight paranoia. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  61. ^ Singel, Ryan (2007-02-14). "Homeland Security Website Hacked by Phishers? 15 Signs Say Yes". Threat Level – Wired News. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  62. ^ Waxman, Henry (2007-02-23). "Letter Requesting Documents from TSA: Oversight Committee Requests Information on TSA Traveler Identity Verification Website" (PDF). House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  63. ^ "Background on Committee Report Regarding TSA's Redress Web Site". Transportation Security Administration. 2008-01-11. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  64. ^ Singel, Ryan (2008-01-11). "Vulnerable TSA Website Exposed by Threat Level Leads to Cronyism Charge". Wired News. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  65. ^ "Chairman Waxman Releases Report on Information Security Breach at TSA's Traveler Redress Website". United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. 2008-01-11. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  66. ^ Eric Zimmermann (December 11, 2009). "House to hold hearings on breach of TSA screening guidelines". The Hill (Washington, DC). 
  67. ^ "TSA puts 5 on leave after security manual hits Internet". CNN Travel. December 10, 2009. 
  68. ^ "FBI: Man tried to board plane with bomb making materials". 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  69. ^ . 
  70. ^ The Screening Experience
  71. ^ Real protection or extra hassle: Should you lock your luggage?
  72. ^ TSA Recognized Baggage Locks

External links


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