The Replacement of Private Airport Security with theTransportation Security AdministrationIntroduction On the sunny, early fall morning of September 11, 2001, the idea that the American homeland was immune from incidents of foreign terrorism was shattered into a million pieces as Al Qaeda extremists inflicted thousands of American casualties through brutal attacks on several key targets, including the nation’s capital.
Perhaps most chilling, however, is the fact that these terrorists were able to circumvent the security measures in place in several of the nation’s largest airports. In the aftermath of these breaches, the private security previously utilized in airports across the United States was replaced with the Transportation Security Administration, a branch of the United States Department of Homeland Security. In this research, several aspects of the replacement of private airport security with TSA agents will be discussed in order to not only better understand that change itself, but also what the change has meant for many different facets of national security, air travel in the US, personal freedom, and the security of the nation’s skies and the planes that fly in them.Why the TSA Replaced Private Airport Security To be able to properly discuss the many aspects of TSA protection of America’s airports and air travel systems, it is important to first understand why the TSA replaced private airport security across the US.
Therefore, this situation will be discussed at this point to set the stage for the discussions and research to follow. In September 2001, more precisely in the aftermath of the horrific events of September 11, the war on terror that had been toyed with by president George W. Bush in the past was essentially kicked into high gear, as the Chief Executive found himself with thousands of casualties on his hands, as well as a booming voice from the public which called for decisive action not only to bring the terror groups responsible for 9/11 to justice, but also to prevent such an attack from ever happening again (Wallis, 2003). Bush’s actions were swift and definite- first, it was determined that the terrorist group Al Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and that their leader, a long-time enemy of America named Osama Bin Laden, would need to be brought to justice. In the meantime, however, defensive measures were immediately needed.
Investigations into the 9/11 attacks revealed that the terrorists who overtook commercial airliners and slammed them into civilian targets throughout the northeastern United States were somehow able to slip past airport security personnel, despite the fact that these individual’s faces were emblazoned on potential terrorist watch lists, which should have been a top priority for airport security to monitor for exactly the reasons that 9/11 happened. Additionally, investigations showed that the terrorists did not use massive firearms or other weapons to overtake the airliners, but rather, small items such as razor knives, the sort that are used to open cardboard boxes in local grocery stores, were sneaked onto the planes in the pockets and luggage of the terrorists, seemingly invisible to the airport security officers. This apparent comedy of errors made it clear on the part of the federal government that action needed to be taken to heighten airport security across the nation, from the smallest airport to the largest.
The retraining of existing personnel would take too much time and money, and would not be highly effective, which is what was needed at that time. Therefore, the critical decision was made to replace in-house airport security with the trained personnel of the TSA (Hulnick, 2004). In fairness, the in-house security of airports across America should not be automatically accused of being outright careless, foolish or deficient. Rather, the reality is that there were many circumstances which compromised the ability of private security to protect airports properly in the days leading up to 9/11. First, it must be understood that the American Air Transport Association, the commercial airline’s trade association, had been fighting for years against increased security measures such as the matching of each piece of checked luggage to a definite passenger, as well as the screening of every piece of checked luggage, citing excessive cost and effort on the part of airport workers (Donohue, 2006). Additionally, unions representing airport security officers had likewise been fighting against excessive training of officers and stringent employment conditions, citing equal opportunity employment law as a protection against too harsh of a standard to which officers would be held. Therefore, what is seen is still a recipe for disaster, but not completely the blame of airport security officers. Rather, there was a combination of factors which led to the problems to come in regard to airport security itself.
The TSA was to be the source of airport security in the United States in light of the needs of a post-9/11 America and the increasing intensity of the war on terror as introduced by the Bush administration. A division of the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA was created by an act of Congress on November 19, 2001, a by-product of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, a piece of legislation which sought to provide for safe air travel in the United States, integrity in the use of air shipments for goods, and to prevent anything like 9/11 from ever occurring again (Hulnick, 2004).TSA Involvement and National Security With the TSA firmly in place to protect America’s airports and planes, mandated by federal law, the question of whether or not the TSA did a thorough job, and continues to this day to do a thorough job, in the maintenance of national security.
While the glib answer would be yes, as evidenced by the absence of any 9/11-type attacks since the TSA took over, this question deserves a closer look as well. If the TSA is to be evaluated strictly on the basis of the absence of terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11, it would be hard to argue that an effective job is being done. In fairness, as was discussed earlier, this is not to say that the previous airport security was intentionally negligent or lacking in the fundamental ability to do their jobs, but that there were many circumstances which conspired to make 9/11 a tragic reality. So, the TSA can be seen as very effective in this respect, while it is unfair and inaccurate to blame private airport security for everything of the past (Weiss, 2007).
A key reason that the TSA has been so effective in its projection of the airports of the nation, and also other key transportation modes, is that it has access to resources, personnel and information that private security never had. Essentially, the TSA has the full disposal of the US government at its fingertips, and such an awesome arsenal is surely a huge advantage for such a vital organization (Donohue, 2006). In addition, there are elements of the TSA which, although not seen by the public for obvious reasons, are also an integral part of the overall security effort. The Unseen TSA The established fact that another 9/11 has not happened brings up an interesting sub-topic; while there have been documented instances of individuals being caught attempting to bring contraband onto commercial airlines, the fact of the matter is that there have not been huge numbers of these attempts happening. Rather, the reality is that there are simply not a lot of instances of potential terrorists being caught at the airport level. This is not to say that potential terrorists have given up on trying to attack the airways of the US, but that they have not been able to successfully do so, before they even arrive at the airport.
What this could possibly mean is that there is a great deal of intelligence work performed by the TSA, behind the scenes so to speak, which has resulted in many clandestine operations which have netted countless numbers of terrorists in the process (Coston, 2004). With the likely existence of an essentially unseen layer of the TSA, a greater appreciation of the awesome responsibility that these individuals have is easily obtained. At the risk of over-simplifying the situation, when one goes to an airport and sees TSA officers standing around with seemingly little to do, this is actually the desired situation, for if potential threats are stopped before the perpetrators reach the airport, the chance of someone slipping through to an airliner is non-existent.
Freedom Versus Security, Post 9/11 Obviously, security at the airports of the nation is absolutely essential, as evidenced by the horrible results when security falls short. However, for a nation like the United States, there must exist a balance between security and the protection of the fundamental freedoms that Americans are guaranteed through the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the other amendments which have been passed over the decades. With this balance between freedom and security in mind, this delicate balance needs to be discussed at length. First, the issue of government power, especially in light of national security issues, comes into focus. Since 9/11, the US government has claimed increased powers of law enforcement, protection of the public and so forth, as evidenced by the birth of the TSA and its assumption of airport security, as well as countless other measures. However, this grabbing of power has been criticized, and fought, by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, who, in many respects, has viewed the actions of the government in the aftermath of 9/11 as an excuse to take additional power that is not related to national security, which has basically resulted in a lessening of the liberties of the average American unnecessarily (Etzioni, 2004). There is also a question of personal freedom in the many activities which the TSA has claimed are necessary to protect the airports as they have been charged to do. Some of these activities seem on the surface to fly in the face of Constitutional freedoms- for example, the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to be secure in their person and possessions; yet, there is an immediate request when entering an airport to submit to TSA searches and extensive personal questions.
For the Constitutional purist, this would seem like something which cannot, and should not be allowed. However, when weighed against the saving of thousands of innocent lives, a balance seems more appropriate. Exactly where the line between security interests and personal freedoms lies is a question that has been debated hotly since 2001 and even before, but is beyond the scope of this research to fully answer. Suffice it to say that while the total ceasing of TSA activities is unrealistic and would truly open the door to massive tragedy, to allow any government agency to completely supersede the rights of American citizens is something which is unacceptable as well. It would seem that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, and must be monitored and revisited going forward. In the earlier passage, the term “American citizen” was used, and this was no accident. There is also a question as to whether foreigners are entitled to the same protections as American citizens in regard to rights and personal freedoms. There are those who hold that anyone who is not an American citizen, especially an accused criminal caught in the US, is not entitled to any Constitutional protections due to both their lack of citizenship and their clear intention to become an enemy of the state.
The more enlightened view, however, holds that the Constitution, in its purest form, was not intended exclusively for American citizens, but was a broad declaration of the rights that all people are entitled to enjoy. Again, there appears to be a valid argument for a middle ground, and an acute need for additional monitoring and adjusting of the situation.Conclusion Assuming the role of protector of the nation’s airports in light of the events of 9/11 was an awesome responsibility for the newly formed TSA, even with all of the resources available to the agency. Additionally, there has been legal pressure against their aggressive actions, allegations of the violation of rights, and many other accusations.
A thankless job to be sure, but one that must continue. The bottom line is the question of the effectiveness of the TSA as a replacement for the private airport security force nationwide. Few can argue that the TSA has done a favorable job in protecting the airports and people of America. What the future holds is important as well. As was discussed earlier, constant monitoring, adjusting and repositioning of the TSA’s efforts will be essential. Therefore, in conclusion, let it be said that the only way for everyone to remain safe and free will be for small sacrifices to be made. At no time, however, should those sacrifices jeopardize the future of America, or all will be lost, giving the terrorists the victory they seek, which must never happen again.Works CitedCoston, C.
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Donohue, L. K. (2006). Anglo-American Privacy and Surveillance. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 96(3), 1059+.Etzioni, A. (2004). How Patriotic Is the Patriot Act? Freedom versus Security in the Age of Terrorism.
New York: Routledge.Hulnick, A. S. (2004). Keeping Us Safe: Secret Intelligence and Homeland Security. Westport, CT: Praeger.Wallis, R.
(2003). How Safe Are Our Skies? : Assessing the Airlines’ Response to Terrorism /. Westport, CT: Praeger.Weiss, R. P. (2007).
From Cowboy Detectives to Soldiers of Fortune: Private Security Contracting and Its Contradictions on the New Frontiers of Capitalist Expansion. Social Justice, 34(3-4), 1+.