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Opinion

Bessent: Why can't the TSA seem to keep NY airports secure?

Airplanes on the runway of John F. Kennedy

Airplanes on the runway of John F. Kennedy International Airport as a boater passes by on the waters of Head Of Bay, located in Queens. (Aug. 13, 2012) Credit: Uli Seit

Reasons to worry about porous airport security in the New York region just keep piling up.

The latest is that security screeners at Newark International Airport properly executed pat-downs of passengers only 16.7 percent of the time. That means only one in six passengers they searched was patted down the way Transportation Security Administration officials say they should be.

That’s not the conclusion of outside security zealots. According to the Newark Star Ledger it’s the assessment of the TSA itself as reported June 8 based on the work of an undercover team it sent into the airport to observe the operation.

That same month eight screeners at Newark were fired for sleeping on the job. They’d been videotaped by surveillance cameras inside terminal B last December.

TSA investigators are also looking into photographs that appear to show screening supervisors sleeping in front of monitors used to detect explosives and other threats in checked bags about to be loaded onto airplanes, according to the Star Ledger.

If the intrusive security measures imposed since 9/11 are worth doing, then they’re worth doing well. And if they’re not worth doing then we should just call the whole thing off. Right now we seem to be getting the worst of everything; Taxpayers are spending $5.4 billion a year for the TSA’s intrusive screenings and other security measures and in the New York region are getting a questionable return on that investment.

The security of the region’s flying public appears even more suspect if you also consider recent developments at John F. Kennedy Airport.

Employees of Global Elite Group, a private security contractor based in Garden City, are supposed to search planes while they’re on the tarmac between flights. Their job is to go over every seat, tray table, overhead bin and seat back pocket for weapons, explosives and drugs. But some of the company’s workers went public in September with complaints that in order to avoid delaying flights the checks that should take a half hour or more are sometimes done haphazardly in minutes and areas of some cabins are skipped altogether.

Global Elite Group officials said in a statement that the company’s employees’ complaints are false and are part of a ploy to generate public support for efforts to unionize. The TSA needs to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

In yet another troubling incident, in August a man breached JFK’s $100 million high-tech perimeter security system. After Daniel Castillo’s personal watercraft conked out in Jamaica Bay, the Queens man swam or waded to land near JFK, climbed a barbed-wire fence, walked across two active runways and into a terminal without being detected by the expensive array of motion sensors, cameras, radar and police patrols. He was finally spotted by an airport worker.

Airport screeners asleep on the job, others awake but performing poorly, haphazard cabin searches and perimeter security that a jet skier who’d been drinking managed to beat won’t do much to thwart terrorists bent on destruction.

Pictured above: Airplanes on the runway of John F. Kennedy International Airport as a boater passes by on the waters of Head Of Bay, located in Queens. (Aug. 13, 2012)

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