Last modified on October 16, 2021, at 00:43

Transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration was formed immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The agency is a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is responsible for security of the nation's transportation systems.

With state, local and regional partners, TSA oversees security for the highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, ports and the 450 U.S. airports. TSA employs approximately 50,000 people from Alaska to Puerto Rico for the stated purpose of ensuring that travel – by plane, train, automobile or ferry – is safe and secure.


The TSA was formed immediately in the events following in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington D.C.. It was officially established upon the signing of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. The TSA (at the time, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) was founded as a replacement for the Federal Security Division of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which previously oversaw the contraction and execution of security screening procedures in airports nationwide prior to 9/11. Prior to the September 11th attacks, the FAA had supervised the contracting out by individual airports with various Security companies in order to utilize the company's Security Officers to screen passengers and their luggage at airport security checkpoints, a practice which had been in place since the 1970s when metal detectors were first introduced in airports following an upstage in international aircraft hijackings. Following the events of 9/11 and the founding of the TSA, the new administration had originally attempted to retain the privately contracted officers for use in nationwide airports while, at the same time, still requiring that all of the contracted security companies abide by a brand new uniform set of rules and policies implemented by the TSA (as a response to 9/11) including the requirement that passengers who set off the metal detector be given a full body pat down by a security officer, no larger than 3-ounces of liquid may be brought onto the plane, and only ticketed passengers with a valid-government issued form of ID be permitted past the security checkpoint. However, when difficulties arose with the management of implementing the new uniform set of policies between various private Security companies who had contracts with the airports, the TSA made the decision in late 2001 to let go all of the privately employed security officers from airports nationwide, and instead replace them with the administration's own federal team of security screeners. TSA Security Screeners first began appearing in airports in February 2002, and had completely replaced all of the privately employed screeners by the end of the year.

Upon the job creation in 2002, Transportation Security Officers (as they would later come to be known by 2005) wore a uniform consisting of a white-colored shirt with a sewed-on patch TSA badge, along with shoulder patches bearing the TSA and the DOT's insignia, along with black pants. In 2005, when the TSA had moved from the DOT to the newly established U.S. Department of Homeland Security the security officer uniform was revised to replace the DOT shoulder patch with a DHS patch. By 2008, all TSA officers were outfitted with new uniforms as a replacement for the original white-colored version. This new uniform (still in place in the present) consists of a dark blue shirt, an optional vest, a metal TSA badge with a badge number included, shoulder stripes with one-stripe indicating a security officer, two stripes a lead officer and three stripes a supervisor, a new TSA shoulder patch including the administration's motto along with the older DHS badge on the opposite shoulder, and dark pants with blue strips on both pant legs. All TSA officers also wear a pair of blue latex gloves needed to perform full body pat downs on passengers and to conduct hand bag searches, and many (but not all) carry radios and/or their cell phones on their belts. Transportation Security Officers, despite their officious appearance, carry no weapons, do not have the authority to use force and do not have the power to make an arrest, and must contact the local and federal law enforcement officers on-duty at the airport in the event that a criminal is caught at the checkpoint or an illegal item is discovered in a passenger's bag (such as a gun or drugs such as marijuana).

Although the job position of Transportation Security Officer was originally created with the sole intention of screening passengers only inside airports, the federal government began to expand the placement of the officers throughout areas well outside the airport during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Although TSO's have appeared in areas associated with the title of "Transportation Security" in recent years including train stations, cruise ship ports, New York metro stations, cargo inspection points, highway checkpoints and bus stations, they have additionally been utilized for screening of guests in areas where heightened security is needed due to the high risk of potential terrorism, such as the Super Bowl, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, the Academy Awards, Rallies during the 2012 Presidential Campaign, Appearances by Barack Obama in public, the World Series and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

In addition to the Security Officers employed by the TSA in all airports nationwide, the administration also employs a specially-designated security officer as part of this team, who is known as a, "Behavior Detection Officer". BDO's are trained to stand by at the checkpoint and observe the behavior of passengers as they wait in line to proceed through the checkpoint. Passengers which the BDO has indicated to be a potential threat are selected for "additional screening" (regardless if they have set off the body scanner or not) which will include a full body pat-down, a thorough hand search of all of the passenger's items and carry-on luggage and a "chat down" by officers (in which the passenger is interrogated by security with questions including their address, age, home town/country, purpose of travel today to their intended destination and if they hold any connections to terrorist organizations). If the passenger has been determined to be a threat, TSA officers will contact law enforcement officers.

The TSA does employ the usage of Federal Air Marshalls in addition to their security officers, who had previously been in place for longtime years prior to the events of September 11. Federal Air Marshalls are armed federal law-enforcement agents who ride on-board departing flights from the airport and serve as protection of the aircraft in the event that a terrorist threat emerge. The TSA also employs an armed team of special ops law enforcement known as VIPIR, which has been utilized in the past for heightened-security events such as the Super Bowl and the 2012 Summer Olympics. Finally, the TSA employs the usage of a team of inspectors, which utilize drug-sniffing dos used to search the gates and terminals of airports, as well as the inside of the air craft itself for items such as weapons and explosives.

The TSA's equipment and screening procedures in place at the checkpoint have additionally evolved over time since the agency's creation. Following the events of 9/11 in 2001, the TSA strategized plans to upgrade the bag x-ray machines already in place at airports by allowing the machines o detect harmful objects more clearly and specifically, as well as the requirement that any passenger who sets off the metal detector (also in place in the pre 9/11 days) be given a full body pat-down from a security officer, in addition to the new policy that every fifth person in line be pulled aside to be given a random full body pat-down, a 'chat-down' and hand search of their bags and belongings. Beginning in 2005, after TSA was moved into the DHS, then-TSA Director Kip Hawley ordered the installation of a new type of screening device to major airports, known as 'puffers'. Puffers, which did not serve to replace the metal detectors but rather supplement them so that passengers would pass through a puffer prior to a metal detector, were tunnel-shaped machines used to check passengers for explosive-material by spraying a blast of air in their face. Following the failed "Underwear Bomber" attack on Christmas Day 2009, the TSA rushed to quickly install full-body scanners and backscatter machines into airports nationwide, replacing both the puffers and the metal detectors. The Body Scanner is used to x-ray the body of all passengers before displaying an image of their naked body to a security officer, who will alert their fellow officers of the areas in their body which will require a pat down. Due to concerns over the health related effects of radiation caused by this device, passengers do have the option to "opt-out" of the body x-ray, and instead receive a full body pat-down from a security officer. Passengers who refuse both the scanner and the pat-down procedures will not be permitted onto the plane. Due to the controversial nature of the back scatter x-ray machines, which, unlike the body scanners, display a naked image of the passenger's body to the TSO, these devices were completely removed from all airports throughout 2013, and were replaced by the body scanner device instead, which displays a simple stick figure to the security officer, with a highlighted yellow area indicating where in the body the passenger will require a pat down.

Controversial legality

Ever since the TSA assumed control of airport security in the early 2000s following the 9/11 attacks, numerous criticism has arose from the public that the agency's heightened security procedures create an invasion of privacy, and may therefore result in a violation of privacy rights laws. Examples of invasive procedures prominently include the full body pat-down performed on passengers by Security Officers, as well as the previous Backscatter X-Ray machine (due to it displaying an image of the passenger's naked body to officers), which have recently been removed from airports as of 2013.

The implementation of TSA inspections in areas outside of airports in recent years (such as the New York Metro stations and the Super Bowl) have resulted in claims by some that the Barack Obama administration is attempting to utilize the TSA as a form of government intimidation on American citizens.

In addition, the TSA has continued to enforce federal regulations requiring the implementation of their screening procedures on private property in recent years, such as festivities deemed, "National Special Security Events" (including the Super Bowl and the Oscars), NFL games, MLB games and other professional sporting events, theme parks, concerts, high school proms & graduations and NCAA sporting events. Regulations include the screening of guests similar to techniques used at airport checkpoints (such as a metal detector and pat-down search) as well as the training of private security officers in TSA's behavior-detection 'SPOT' program.[1][2][3][4]

List of incidents

  • In Late 2010, Dr. John Tyner was given a fine of $10,000 by the TSA, due to an incident in which Tyner, while attempting to fly out of San Diego International Airport, was selected for random additional screening while proceeding through the TSA security checkpoint. Tyner requested to "opt-out" of the body scanner for a full body pat-down instead, however, when the Security Officer asked if Tyner would prefer to be searched in a private location, he responded, "If You Touch My Junk, I'm Going to Have You Arrested". Tyner, who was refused access to his fight by officers and received a refund on his plane ticket, was additionally threatened with prosecution for threatening a Federal Security Officer, in addition to the aforementioned fine.


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