TSA Turns 10: Examining the Agency's Strengths and Weaknesses

PHOTO: TSA agent performs enhanced pat down on elderly traveler
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Let's cut to the chase: The 9/11 attacks killed almost 3,000 people.

Terrorist-piloted planes smashed into two of the world's tallest buildings. We watched them burn on live TV until they came crashing down. Total collapse time per tower: 12 seconds.

And some people have a problem with airport security?

They do. And there are some good reasons for that, and bad ones too. Let's take a look as we approach the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Transportation Security Administration, better known to weary travelers as the TSA.

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

Former President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law on Nov. 19, 2001, and that was the start of the TSA.

But it wasn't the start of airport security in the U.S.; metal detectors began appearing in American airports back in the 70s, thanks to the rise of hijackings. In most cases, the bad guys only wanted money or a change of scenery; planes as weapons of massive destruction was a concept introduced by the murderers of 9/11.

So clearly something more was needed to secure our commercial aviation industry. But that's where people of good will part ways: What exactly do we need?

As I see it, the biggest strength of the TSA is also its biggest weakness: We want to be assured we are safe, and when we are safe, we don't want the inconvenience and time-consuming tediousness of security lines. It's a love-hate thing; we don't want them until we need them.

The TSA's Bob Burns, who writes for the TSA blog, says something similar: "I think the majority of travelers believe in and understand TSA's mission even though they might not be entirely thrilled with it … I think most are willing to do what it takes to keep things safe, but I don't think it'll ever get to the point where passengers show up at the checkpoints with rainbow wigs and foam hands reading, "TSA is #1!"

For the TSA, it can be a no-win job of finding individual needles in millions of haystack fields, but they work hard at the search; nearly 50,000 TSA officers screen more than 1.7 million passengers each day at more than 450 airports nationwide. But never mind that in the past year, the TSA confiscated more than 1,100 firearms from airline passengers (including five loaded handguns at the Salt Lake City airport last month alone); it's that one undetected pistol that fell from a duffel bag at Los Angeles International that gets all the attention.

Failures? There have been a few, including several in the arena of public relations (and if you think that's not important, see recent developments/gaffes in the presidential campaigns of Herman Cain and Rick Perry).

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