Frisking, invasive body scans, racial profiling, needless checking of liquids and nail clippers—something lifted out of a page of Fahrenheit 451? Indeed not. For nearly 13 years, fliers have been subjected to TSA indignities to the taxpayer-funded tune of $60 billion. But as Dylan Matthews at Vox writes here, there is no empirical evidence suggesting that the TSA, with over 65,000 employees, accomplishes any of its intended goals.
Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards suggests privatizing the TSA and transferring responsibilities to airports, and Senator Rand Paul and Congressman John Mica propose abolishing the agency entirely. As Charles C. W. Cooke explained in NRO several months ago, the TSA—now larger than the combined forces of the Departments of State, Labor, Energy, Education, and Housing and Urban Development—is the platonic ideal of another government agency gone amuck.
A literature review by George Mason’s Cynthia Lum and Rutgers’ Leslie Kennedy and Alison Sherley shows that studies testing the effectiveness of airport security — specifically, of metal detectors and security screenings — found, on average, that the measures in question prevented about 6.3 hijackings over the years examined. If that were all they found, that’d be a pretty solid case for the TSA.
But the attacks weren’t simply being prevented; they were being displaced. While there were 6.3 fewer hijackings, there were 6.8 more “miscellaneous bombings, armed attacks, hostage taking, and events which included death or wounded individuals (as opposed to non-casualty incidents) in both the short and long run.” Making hijackings harder, in other words, didn’t reduce attacks, but encouraged would-be hijackers to attack through other means. Additional research done after the review has similarly concluded that screenings are, in effect, a wash.