Six years after 9/11, airport screeners are getting pretty good at spotting terrorists -- as long as they're inept amateurs. Tests by federal agencies show, though, that there's an excellent chance that anybody who has been trained to get past airport security -- like, say, a member of Al Qaeda -- will succeed.
The latest blow to public confidence in air safety came last week with the release of a report by the Government Accountability Office, which revealed that investigators smuggled components for liquid-based bombs past screeners at 19 U.S. airports. They were able to do this not because they had inside information on Transportation Security Administration screening techniques, but because they scanned publicly available TSA materials and then designed ways to get past security. What's more, they succeeded even though TSA personnel had apparently been tipped off. An internal agency memo, which was the subject of a congressional hearing Wednesday, included physical descriptions of some testers and gave details on their methods.
The report follows recent news that screeners at Los Angeles International Airport missed 75% of the fake bombs that investigators tried to smuggle onto planes during tests two years ago. The excuse from TSA officials: The tests were difficult and designed to trip up screeners. Whereas Al Qaeda will doubtless hide its bombs in brightly marked packages.