Air traffic controllers have been catching a lot of grief for sleeping on the job lately. But do you know what Transportation Security Administration officials have been doing -- or rather, not doing -- lately? A federal watchdog revealed this week that TSA's counterterrorism specialists failed to detect 16 separate jihad operatives who moved through target airports "on at least 23 different occasions." The name of the TSA monitoring program paying for all this flying-blind failure, I kid you not:
Under the "Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques" plan, TSA's designated behavior detection officers are supposed to closely watch travelers who pose potential security risks and who exhibit any number of appearances or activities "indicative of stress, fear, or deception." But long-entrenched, bipartisan American political correctness hampers the kind of effective, efficient national security profiling that Israeli airline security officials practice so well.
The result? TSA's snoozing SPOT-ters catch nobody -- for fear of being accused by the grievance lobby of singling anybody out.
Stephen Lord, who specializes in homeland security issues at the Government Accountability Office, reviewed Justice Department documents showing that "in December 2007 an individual who later pleaded guilty to providing material support to Somali terrorists boarded a plane at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport en route to Somalia. Similarly, in August 2008, an individual who later pleaded guilty to providing material support to al Qaeda boarded a plane at Newark Liberty International Airport en route to Pakistan to receive terrorist training to support his efforts to attack the New York subway system."
Other terror suspect travelers who slipped through the cracks have been subsequently tied to the 2008 Mumbai bombings; the plots to attack a Quantico, Va., Marine base and New York City infrastructure; and an attack by a Pakistani-trained American jihadi on an Afghanistan base.
Young. Male. Muslim. Traveling to al-Qaida friendly hot spots. How did these at-risk terror tourists escape scrutiny?
The GAO noted that the TSA SPOT team uses a numerical grading system that has no basis in science or research. But TSA deployed it anyway despite the government's lack of validation. More appalling: Nearly 10 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks highlighted vast gaps in information-sharing and dot-connecting, TSA is still "not systematically collecting and analyzing information obtained ... on passengers who may pose a threat to the aviation system."
Nobody has guidance on how, when or what data to enter into the agency's "Transportation Information Sharing System." Nationwide airport access to the system, such as it is, only came online last month.
As usual, the now-unionized TSA is clamoring for fatter taxpayer rewards for their systemic failure. SPOT took in more than $211 million in fiscal year 2010; the Obama administration wants to pour $232 million into it this fiscal year -- a 9.5 percent increase in funding -- to subsidize 3,350 SPOT personnel.
The Department of Homeland Security wants separate funding of another $254 million to support 350 more SPOT officers. If they get what they want, TSA will have invested over $800 million since fiscal year 2007 in a program that is not spotting anyone. Labor bosses are too busy counting the $30 million in new dues they're raking in.
In the end, the reckless ethos established by first TSA overseer Norm Mineta still haunts and hamstrings the feds' indiscriminate grab-and-grope airline security apparatus.
Remember? Asked by CBS reporter Steve Kroft whether "a 70-year-old white woman from Vero Beach, Fla., would receive the same level of scrutiny as a Muslim young man from Jersey City," Mineta responded in 2001, "Basically, I would hope so."
Yep, that's your TSA tax dollars at work: Thousands Standing Around, watching the clock while jihad jet-setters fly by.