The 9/11 terrorist attacks drastically changed the landscape of national security, placing a significant emphasis on the safety and protection of vital transportation infrastructure. A common, and as demonstrated by 9/11, extremely vulnerable, target for terrorists is air travel. The well-known Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which oversees the now-familiar airport security, was created as a response to the 9/11 attacks as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) signed into law by George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. TSA was further expanded and transferred under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security with the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (White et al., 2015).
Before 9/11, airport security was provided by private-sector companies which hired screeners and security guards. Private screening and security companies were contracted by airline companies, not even the airport themselves, and were the only force responsible for protecting airline security (White et al., 2015). This system had various flaws, with hired security screeners lacking the training or experience to competently identify threats in passengers and baggage. There was a constant turnover in the workforce (exceeding 100% annually at most large airports) with poor training and low salaries resulting in a largely unskilled and inexperienced labor force providing security for key aviation infrastructure (Dillingham, 2003). This, combined with generally a lack of proper security checks and infrastructure in the airports themselves (as an experiment, fake badges were used by DoT officials to gain access to secure areas with no issues) resulted in the catastrophic flaws that allowed 9/11 to occur in the first place (Dillingham, 2003).
After 9/11, security procedures in public transportation, particularly the U.S. aviation sector, became highly centralized. TSA was a government entity that was able to use the resources and intelligence of the federal government to assess security, establish uniform procedures and protocols, and enhance security measures at U.S. airports. It did not have to deal with various bureaucratic issues, inconsistencies, and cost limitations of private-sector security beforehand. The existing computer-assisted passenger prescreening system (CAPPS) was upgraded to CAPPS II and now screened all passengers, using access to broad government databases. The TSA reformed the risk evaluation system in airports, which at times has been criticized for being prejudiced or in violation of private rights, but highlighted a significant change in attitude and approach of security towards flight safety – eliminating any possible risks and taking numerous precautionary measures (Ergün et al., 2017).
9/11 was a traumatic experience for the U.S. as a country, leading to numerous security reactionary measures, particularly the clampdown at airports since airplanes were the sources of the terrorist attacks. TSA was formed with the sole purpose of reforming the existing security system at the time, eliminating the numerous flaws, and meeting mandates established by Congress and national security officials. In its nearly 20-year existence, TSA has faced several controversies and it has potential flaws of its own. However, the centralized nature of TSA is both beneficial and necessary, with the $8 billion budget and a workforce that can operate effectively even if 10% was incapacitated in some way (relevant in the context of the current pandemic) (Tonar & Talton, 2019). It has been able to address security, at every level and from both physical, cyber, and psychological perspectives which have been vital to reinforcing national security initiatives since 9/11.
Dillingham, G. L. (2003). Progress since September 11, 2001, and the challenges ahead. Web.
Ergün, N., Açıkel, B. Y., & Turhan, U. (2017). The appropriateness of today’s airport security measures in safeguarding airline passengers. Security Journal, 30(1), 89–105.
Tonar, R., & Talton, E. (2019). Is the TSA really necessary? Forbes.
White, R., Markowski, T., Collins, K. (2010). The United States Department of Homeland Security: An overview (2nd ed.). Pearson Learning Solutions.