The TSA Spent $56.8 Billion To Keep Us Safe. Did It Work?

The Transportation Security Administration has spent $56.8 billion on air travel since 9/11. Here, a look at who's getting a cut, and whether it's really paying off.

NUMEROLOGY | Will $56.8 Billion Keep Us Safe? Popup-Icon

Amount: $30 million for machines that puffed air onto travelers and "sniffed" them for explosive residue. Deployment stopped in 2006, after they were deemed slow and unreliable.
Verdict: Not Worth It

Amount: $1.2 billion to fund the Transportation Threat Assessment and Credentialing Program (since 2005), which includes employee background checks. Nonetheless, two TSA agents were busted in February for stealing $160,000 in cash from checked bags.
Verdict: Still Worth It

Amount: $13.5 billion to employ human screeners (since 2007), who have intercepted some 50 million carry-on dangers, including hacksaws, nunchucks, and alligators. The most popular excuse: "Someone else packed my bags for me."
Verdict: Worth It

Amount: $2.8 billion for explosives-detection equipment (since 2007) from companies such as General Electric and L-3 Communications, which in July thwarted one man's plan to fly with a half-ounce of C4.
Verdict: Worth It

Amount: $122 million for full-body scanners from Brijot Imaging Systems, L-3 Communications, Rapiscan Systems, and others. Although the x-ray images aren't supposed to be stored or saved, 100 leaked onto the Internet last November.
Verdict: Tenuously Worth It

Amount: $35 million to retrain human screeners following traveler complaints in 2008. Among the dispensed advice: "Smile, be pleasant, and send positive emotions."
Verdict: Not Worth It

Amount: $103.5 million to breed and train the bomb-sniffing dogs in this year's Puppy Program, which could reduce the need for invasive pat-downs.
Verdict: Maybe Worth It

Amount: $5.5 billion to train and employ air marshals—though the TSA won't reveal how many flights they staff. Per its website, "We should not let terrorists know the mathematical probability" of encountering one.
Verdict: Maybe Worth It

Infographic by Romualdo Faura

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  • Jeff Pierce

    I echo Wendy's comments.

    EMMA: There are some factual corrections and one critical issue not priced.

    CRITICAL ISSUE: The police CANNOT strip search you (even if convenient for passengers when done electronically) nor touch your private parts (sexual organs and breasts) without reasonable suspicion. The TSA is illegally asserting this, contrary to the Constitution. The difference is that police face actual threats.

    In the US, there has not been a suicidal airline passenger on a US domestic flight with a working non-metallic bomb that caused a fatality FOR 48 YEARS (1963 was last fatality) - the whole reason for strip searches and groping the crotches and breasts of children, adults, invalids, and anyone else with the misfortune to be singled out by the TSA.

    The strip searches and sexual assaults - which specifically violate the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution - NOT WORTH IT.

    The factual corrections are:
    - Full body scanners should be relabelled "Strip Search Scanners." Also, the L3 scanners do not use X-rays but millimeter waves.
    - There was no leaking of TSA porn-scans to the Internet. There were images from other scanners, not the ones used by the TSA, from a courthouse prior to November, 2010.
    - Your definition of "carry-on" dangers includes alligators, nun-chucks, etc. The 'dangers' which most people are concerned with are really about 20 guns a week, almost none with ammunition. It can be argued that guns are not as useful since 9-11 when cockpit doors are now reinforced and shooting holes in a plane will not bring it down or really affect air pressurization.
    - The C-4 incident you mentioned was not found by strip searches and grabbing crotches. It was found in an Army soldier's snuff can and is virtually harmless without a detonation device. The soldier had been at explosives training and wanted to take some home with him.
    - TRUE FACT: Not one 'terrorist' of any type has been identified  by the TSA through strip searches and grabbing of crotches and breasts. In fact, no terrorist has been identified at all, although 21 suspected terrorists on the Terrorist Watch List have been on plane flights according to an audit - and even then they caused no mischief.
    - AIR MARSHALS: Not worth it. Considering there are about 9 million flights a year domestically in the US, there have been zero actual attempts at hijacking a plane or taking it over. At $500 Million a year, not worth it.
    - FACT: SEXUAL ASSAULT: Over 1 million Americans a month, by the TSA's own statistics, get a "enhanced pat down" - otherwise known as sexual assault when you and I do it - and those with medical issues are singled out - especially breast cancer victims, those in wheelchairs, and the elderly who more often have metal knees and hips.

    Emma, the TSA may have a place as cargo bombs are the primary threat to travellers and they have spent money to help reduce (not eliminate) obvious bomb screening in checked luggage. But, there is NO PRICE to pay for illegal searches, gross violations of the US Constitution, and continued assault on Americans' dignity and rights.

  • Wendy Thomson

    We are Freedom to Travel USA, an organization dedicated to regaining freedoms taken away from us by the TSA. We believe that suspicionless unwanted touching should not be a condition of travel. We believe that being subject to the equivalent of Peeping Toms without cause should not be a condition of travel. We believe that exposing ourselves to radiation, however small, should not be a condition of travel. We believe that merely the presence of a medical device, in and of itself, should not constitute "probable cause." h t t p : / / fttusa. o r g

  • George Bush

    This article is ridiculous propaganda and the money spent on the TSA is utterly absurd.  Let Airlines handle security and then we decide which airline is the "safest" to fly on in a free market.

    Information you didn't disclose:

     - There have been 27 "real deal" terrorist / problem incidents since 9/11.  The TSA didn't catch a single one of these.  It was usually passengers and other people.  The TSA, post-9/11 is 0 for 27.

    - The X-Ray machines are going to KILL more people per year on average than terrorists kill by giving them cancer.

    - This isn't money "spent", it's money STOLEN from our future because the government is running incomprehensible deficits.

    - Any laptop battery can be shorted and can take an air plane down ... at any time.

    - Anyone can stuff a bomb up their ass and walk right through security, and this has been used to try to assassinate a Saudi prince.

    - 70% of the time you can disassemble a bomb, but it in your carry-on luggage, put it right through the luggage scanner deal with the absurd radiation/sexual assault idiocy, pick your luggage up right after the fact.

    The bottom line is that marines with machine guns standing at the gates would make me feel safer then some buffoon grabbing my girlfriends crotch and forcing us to be irradiated.

    There is -NO- objectionable measure that this money has even remotely been worth it.  If the point is they do this just for security theater, marines with machine guns will do a better job.

    Dissolve 90% of the TSA and hire behavioral marketing people to profile passengers and assign risk values and inspect those people.  They'll get it right about 99.9999% better than the TSA at 98% less cost.

    Dissolve the TSA.  Fire Napolitano.  Fire Pistole.

  • Bill Ott

    "Worth It" Compared to what?  Compared to nothing?  Compared to something?  Compared to some other agency of the US Federal Government?  Compared to a contractor selected by the US Federal Government?  Compared to other countries who have air travel?