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FY-Eye: Bush's E-mails and TSA's 'Security Theater'

By Ed O'Keefe

Before The Eye departs for his week-long Christmas vacation, he wanted to share two important pieces of reporting worth your time.

First off, in The Eye's household, if it's Sunday it's "Meet the Press," NFL football (when in season) and "60 Minutes." True to form, the nation's longest-running news magazine delivered a controversial Lesley Stahl report (video above) that explores whether the Transportation Security Administration's airport security efforts are merely "security theater" meant to calm the nerves of weary travelers.

From the report:

'Security theater,' It's a phrase I coined for security measures that look good, but don’t actually do anything," says [security expert, Bruce Schneier], referring to the security measures that irritate airline passengers every day and that have cost billions of dollars.
That assessment angers Kip Hawley, the Bush Administration’s outgoing head of the TSA. "This isn’t theater. This is war," he tells Stahl. Hawley argues that all the security and especially the technical improvements have made people safer.
But Hawley admits continued high failure rates on tests conducted by government inspectors who smuggle bomb parts through checkpoints. "Our results have improved," Hawley says. "Knives and guns do not present a big problem for us now. We have to continue to work to get at even the smallest pieces of an IED."

This Eyebrow-raiser is sure to stir emotions both at TSA checkpoints and in the minds of air travelers heading home to Grandma's house this week.

Meanwhile, The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reported on Sunday that "The required transfer in four weeks of all of the Bush White House's electronic mail messages and documents to the National Archives has been imperiled by a combination of technical glitches, lawsuits and lagging computer forensic work."

As Smith writes:

Federal law requires outgoing White House officials to provide the Archives copies of their records, a cache estimated at more than 300 million messages and 25,000 boxes of documents depicting some of the most sensitive policymaking of the past eight years.
But archivists are uncertain whether the transfer will include all the electronic messages sent and received by the officials, because the administration began trying only in recent months to recover from White House backup tapes hundreds of thousands of e-mails that were reported missing from readily accessible files in 2005.
The risks that the transfer may be incomplete are also pointed up by a continuing legal battle between a coalition of historians and nonprofit groups over access to Vice President Cheney's records. The coalition is contesting the administration's assertion in federal court this month that he "alone may determine what constitutes vice presidential records or personal records" and "how his records will be created, maintained, managed, and disposed," without outside challenge or judicial review.

One of the most frustrating elements of this tricky situation is that while the National Archives and Records Administration is supposed to help oversee Bush's record, it has no enforcement powers over the administration's current records management practices, meaning the situation could drag on for months, perhaps years.

"Speaking of the missing e-mails, Archives' general counsel Gary M. Stern said in an interview last week that 'we hope and expect they all will exist on the system or be recoverable,' even in coming weeks. 'We can't say for sure.'"

Stay tuned.

While both Stahl and Smith's reports are well-reported and highlight interesting elements of the federal bureaucracy, they also speak to the legacy of the Bush administration's relationship with and expansion of the federal government.

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 22, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  FY-Eye  
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Next: The Eye Shuts ... Briefly

Comments

not on is it 'theater' it is bad theater.


But seriously it served a two-fer

the main reason for the development of the TSA was to show numbers on the job creation front. This administration created a ponzi scheme of job growth.

there was very little real job growth ourside of government, gov contractors, the war, housing and health.

it has all been a ponzi. the quicker we deflated the ponzis in our economy and government the better off we will be.

its was a joke there was no need for most of the govenrment jobs increase.

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | December 22, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Kip Hawley is an incompetant fool, yet another in a long line of Bush's incompetant appointments. Heckuva Job, Hawley!! Don't let the door hit you on the way out, idiot.

The TSA is a huge joke. "Security Theater" is a very appropriate metaphor, but it doesn't even begin to address the utter failure that the TSA really is. Why do we still have to take off our shoes? I can board a plane in any major city in Europe without going through that ridiculous exercise and then fly straight into Dulles or JFK or any other American point of entry. The idiot shoe bomber wouldn't have done much more than blow off his own foot and possibly burn the guy next to him a little bit, but yet to this day, we have to take off our shoes as an ode to that most cleverest of terrorists - the Shoe Bomber!!

Why do they persist on with the myth that a 3-ounce bottle of anything will bring down an entire airliner when it's been DISproven over and over again that even allowing for the 0.000000001% chance that someone might smuggle enough 3oz bottles to make something interesting, it's a farcical joke to take away hair spray and shampoo.

Posted by: georgejones5 | December 22, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

georgejones5 is right on. The TSA security theater is a huge waste of people's time and money. If the bad guys want to take control of a plane, they could just utilize martial arts experts. A group of these could easily accomplish the same as people with weapons. But as 60 Minutes pointed out, the low cost measure of hardening cockpit doors pretty much eliminated this type of threat. If the bad guys want to use bombs, they could easily use surface to air missiles without ever getting on the plane. So there's no real increase in security associated with the TSA show.
What is real is the monumental waste associated with the unnecessary and ineffective search procedures. I'd like to see a cost/benefit analysis on this; my guess is that we are spending hundreds of miillions per theoretical life saved.

Posted by: a99duncan | December 22, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

There are a lot of Theater type of performances by our Federal Government and their agencies. With the type of technology and security systems that have been installed in and around airports and their terminals today their is really no need for passengers to have to go to all the trouble and inconveniences they have to endure today. Big Brother knows who you are and what your up to before you enter the parking lot. The real concern needs to be about the people who are in control of this technology and it's systems and the possible abuses that could occur.

Posted by: usagator | December 22, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Read this column in today's Baltimore Sun for the facts:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.tsa22dec22,0,1299359.story

Posted by: joekenehan | December 22, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

The article above mentioned is not "facts" about the function of the TSA, it is all about the labor union and the differences between the union and the non-union employees.

None of which makes a bit of difference to the passengers who must endure the farce at the security gate. The only real reform would be a comprehensive review and common-sense approach to the security screening and the elimination of the "theater" part of the job.


Posted by: georgejones5 | December 22, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I disagree a bit with security expert Bruce Schneider’s characterization of TSA airport harassment as ‘Security Theater’. It doesn’t nearly rise to ‘theater’; it barely achieves farce.

It certainly does absolutely nothing significant to protect us.

The perfect federal program is one that costs hundreds of billions of dollars, lasts forever and raises absolutely no expectation of success. Homeland Security and its War on Terrorism is like the failed War on Drugs in that regard. Everyone knows it can’t stop a determined attack. Its highly visible intrusions are exist only to reassure the public and to let Washington to cry after the next attack, “It’s not our fault! We did everything we could. No one could have known”

I fly often. Each time my 5-pound laptop computer rests in the overhead bin with its CPU and timers running silently. My laptop has a 3-pound battery that could easily be adapted to include 2 pounds of sealed C-4 explosive. Sealed C-4 would be undetectable to drug dogs and explosive sensors. It would be invisible to X-Ray scanners.

No one has ever asked me even to turn my laptop on as I passed through airport security lines. No one would ever ask or know if I got off the plane and left a laptop-bomb behind to explode on some other leg of the flight. With even modest care, no one would ever detect to source of the explosion.

Don’t get me wrong. Homeland Security and the TSA are not at fault. The task of securing our airports, trains, buses, 18-wheelers, oil takers, shipping containers, bridges, nuclear power plants, communications and electrical power infrastructures is impossible. Even with a level of public surveillance that would be the envy of the old KGB and Nazi SS, it cannot be done against any reasonably determined enemy.

As I said above, Homeland Security is like the failed War on Drugs. After 30 years, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars wasted and the round-the-clock commitment of thousands of police and military personnel, the War on Drugs manages to stop only a tiny fraction of the illegal drugs smuggled into this country. It is at most a minor inconvenience against drug cartels, a small cost of doing business.

I’m sure Al-Qaeda would love to make a spectacular attack on United States soil. But they don’t really need to. Posting a threatening video Al Jazeera costs them little and forces this financially struggling nation to waste billions to defending against shadows.

Who’s winning this war, anyway?

Posted by: JohnInTexas | December 22, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

The 60 minutes piece was interesting, but I think that it missed an important point. The people who devised this program don't want us to feel safe -- they want us to feel scared. Once you spook the herd, it's much easier to steer everyone in the direction you want them to go. After 9/11, the administration wanted Americans to feel terrified so that it could pursue its own agenda, starting with our war of choice in Iraq. I'm not one of those who believes the conspiracy theories about 9/11, but the Bush administration sure did take every advantage of the opportunity which was handed to them.

Face it, 9/11 was not caused by the fact that terrorists were allowed to bring box cutters onto a plane. Instead, it was caused by two factors: lack of cockpit security, and procedures which emphasized negotiation with hijackers instead of confrontation. Both of these problems were addressed shortly after 9/11.

In addition, as the show mentioned briefly, factor #3 was the fact that this plot should have been foiled before any of those hijackers ever boarded a plane. As we all know, the United States received warning after warning after warning that this plot was underway. Advisors such as Richard Clarke screamed themselves blue in the face to no avail. George Bush's personal response to these warnings was to say to his CIA briefer, "OK, you've covered you a** so you can get out of my office now." This failure was compounded by compartmentalization between government bureaucracies, but make no mistake -- it started at the very top.

The post-9/11 security changes have altered my life in one important way -- I never fly unless I absolutely have to. As a law-abiding citizen, I deeply resent the humiliation of being treated like a criminal when I choose to fly. I understand the need for security, but the current situation -- and the attitude of the TSA that they are the avengers of 9/11 -- is an insult to the public. I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to be fixed any time soon...

Posted by: jerkhoff | December 22, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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