As much as I like Mel Carraway (a man I’ve never met in person by the way), it is difficult to disagree with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s decision to reassign Carraway, the (now former) acting TSA Administrator. The news reports of an Inspector General (IG) investigation finding serious problems in TSA screening processes were difficult to ignore.
In the Pentagon, it is an all-too-common action for a superior officer to be removed or demoted when his or her subordinates fail to do the job they were assigned to do. At DHS, accountability has previously been a rare occurrence. Procurement failure after failure has gone on without as much as a peep from the front office. Department morale has remained low. Yet, component leadership has, from all outside appearances, been exempt from any level of accountability.
As bad as these may be, they do not constitute an existential threat to our country. A terrorist’s ability to get a bomb through security and detonate, however, it is a much more serious matter. That is why Secretary Johnson had to act quickly and publicly. And he did. A good man – one whom I am 100% convinced does not condone sloppy security procedures – was sacrificed to set an example to the rest of the agency.
Carraway has been reassigned to the DHS State & Local Law Enforcement office, according to news articles. Given his state law enforcement background, it is a logical place for him to be – but I’m almost certain it was not where he wanted to be.
If the U.S. Senate acts as expected, TSA will have a new administrator by the end of July. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Pete Neffenger is widely expected to be confirmed without much dissent. He is expected to make additional personnel moves at TSA upon his confirmation. How he does that and who he selects will send a clear message to a beleaguered TSA workforce. One can only hope he is given a chance to succeed with his own team while not losing important institutional memory by dismissing existing employees. It is a tightrope Admiral Neffenger will be walking.
Let’s also be clear about what re-training of TSA screeners could mean after the IG found that a vast majority of threat materials were not discovered in IG “red team” tests. Evidence that potentially nasty items were not discovered in TSA’s detection technologies or in human pat-downs means, of necessity, that secondary inspections – meaning screener pat-downs – must be more thorough and potentially more intrusive than they have been to this point.
The self-same libertarians, liberals, civil liberties and anti-TSA groups who are trumpeting today’s news about the IG report don’t seem to acknowledge that the result is likely to be longer, more thorough and more frequent human-to-human pat-downs. Non-intrusive detection technologies reveal too many curves and appendages for the chattering classes. The problem with patting down only bad guys is that no one ever self-identifies as a bad guy. TSA screeners must check everyone, and to be effective, they must do so in a way that bad guys cannot evade.
So here we are:
- The IG’s “Red Team” efforts found significant gaps in TSA screening protocols.
- Secretary Johnson believed someone should be held accountable and acting TSA Administrator Mel Carraway has been removed from his position and reassigned within DHS.
- TSA screeners will be retrained. Supervisors will get an extra dose of training.
- Passengers will find that if they trigger even the slightest blip in security technology, the result will be a very thorough pat-down of their bodies.
- If things go smoothly, TSA will have a new Administrator in the next 60 days.
Will American be more secure? Will we have greater confidence in homeland security? I doubt it. And that is a shame – all the way around.