“Who’s Bogdan Dzakovic?” you may ask. “And why should I care whether he flies?”
For the same reason you care when a butcher avoids beef. Bogdan is an expert at protecting aviation, a guy whose idea of fun is developing eerily accurate methodologies to predict terrorists’ next attack. Not only does he hold an MS in security administration, he’s worked in aviation security for twenty-three years — first for the FAA, then for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — and has repeatedly blown the whistle on jaw-dropping failures and incompetence. He’s also held a top-secret clearance and testified before the 9/11 Commission. So when he says, “I avoid flying like the plague. I’ve flown only twice since 911,” smart passengers ask why.
Because, he says, the TSA and its gargantuan bureaucratic parent, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), endanger aviation as much as our butcher does calves. The Feds’ approach to fighting terrorism is merely an excuse for massive spending, lucrative contracts, and frighteningly unconstitutional abuses. “The bigger threat” to our well-being isn’t terrorists, Bogdan asserts, but “our own government’s knee-jerk reaction” to them.
Such staggering claims usually come from what the DHS scorns as “extremists,” not its own employees. Yet Bogdan insists it’s not only the TSA’s legendary silliness scaring him but the fact that both it and the DHS are completely out of control. “By design,” he tells me, they “will never stop growing. Both in terms of their sizes and budgets as well as the ‘authority’ that they give themselves.” Indeed, documents publicized last month reveal the TSA’s plans to expand its controversial X-ray scanning from airports to streets, “special events, and other points of interest.”
For that, Bogdan blames Congress. “With rare exception, no member of Congress wants to go on record for limiting the DHS/TSA in its alleged role of securing the U.S. from terrorism.”
Indeed, the DHS and TSA regularly defy both Congress and the law. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that the TSA had secretly collected personal information on at least 250,000 people — a direct violation of the Privacy Act. The agency didn’t alert its victims, nor did it tell them who was spying on them, why, or what information it sought, all of which the law requires. When confronted with its criminality, the TSA shrugged. “We [were] conducting a test,” said the manager in charge of it. “I didn’t know what the permutations would be.”
And in December 2009, the TSA’s “acting administrator” refused to supply Congress with the manual that screeners use, despite members’ demands — and outrage. “This implies [we] would disclose the document,” said Charlie Dent (R-PA), whom ABC News described as “visibly frustrated.”
On the other hand, Bogdan’s colleague and fellow whistle-blower flies constantly. Steve Elson boasts 22 years of military experience, followed by seven years at the FAA; he wrote his master’s thesis on terrorism in 1982. Yet he says he has “absolutely no qualms about flying” because it’s “a numbers game.” “Each day in the U.S. we have 30,000-35,000 flights, and the odds of any one person being killed by a terrorist are extremely remote.” Statistics from the National Safety Council back up his claims: Americans are more likely to die from a legal execution than from a terrorist attack.
“Flying is the safest form of transportation,” Steve continues. “Wonderful things have been done to reduce or mitigate adverse odds when it comes to crashes and flight problems.” But it’s just the opposite with security.
Indeed, Steve damns the TSA as the “Terrorist Support Agency” because its “efforts have in fact increased the odds of terrorists’ success.” For starters, there’s the TSA’s transparency — an odd complaint against an agency regularly accused of lying and obfuscation. But to an expert in security, the TSA’s website and its equipment sitting in plain view on concourses, run by poorly trained amateurs and easily reconnoitered, give terrorists all the information they need for a successful attack.
Steve has proved this by frequently penetrating the TSA’s checkpoints with suspicious items while TV cameras rolled. Even notifying the agency in advance of his “tests” didn’t diminish his success: screeners failed to intercept him “between 92% and 100%” of the time.
“I have repeatedly offered TSA a bet that I can put simulated explosives on 40 out of 50 planes,” Steve says. “Of course, TSA won’t take me up on it because we both know that I can do it. And so can terrorists.”
Experts agree: if we value our lives and liberty, we’ll abolish the TSA.
Becky Akers is a free-lance writer and historian who has published with Barron’s, the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the New York Post, the Independent Review, and many other publications and websites.