Senator Chuck Schumer’s Woeful Ignorance of Aviation Security

I am still amazed when a public figure like Senator Chuck Schumer opens his yap and spews nonsense and lies. His latest gaffe concerns aviation security–specifically, who can do screening of passengers at airports.

The TSA should use its canine teams to keep airport security lines moving if there is a worker shortage amid the federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday. . . .

“If TSA lags in jabs, send in the dogs,” Schumer said during a press conference in Manhattan, citing recent revelations from the TSA that 40 percent of its employees remain unvaccinated. . . .

“The canine teams are really effective,” he said. “They can help secure national security and allow TSA agents to more effectively and efficiently screen individuals for explosives. It really works and moves the lines along.”

I have relevant experience here. I was Deputy Director for Transportation Security in the Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism in the early 90s. I also oversaw the Anti-Terrorism Training Assistance program in terms of policy and curriculum. Diplomatic Security had the job of implementing the program and doing the training.

One of the training programs involved dogs for use by foreign police to detect drugs and explosives. Dogs are great when performing a specific, limited task. If you need to ensure that an auditorium that will host a Presidential debate is bomb free, use a dog. If you want to quickly screen passengers arriving from Colombia for illegal narcotics, use a dog.

But dogs cannot do the work that TSA employees do at passenger screening check points. A dog cannot check you id and verify that the picture on your license matches your mug. A dog can not check you for metal or bottles of liquid with more than 6 ounces. A dog cannot do a pat down or run a wand over your body to verify that your artificial hip is not a concealed firearm. The dog can sniff your crotch (and probably will).

Then there is the work limit for a dog. A canine can work for 20 to 30 minutes but then needs a break. The dog’s effectiveness deteriorates if forced to work for an extended period of time. More importantly is the boredom factor. The reality of airport security screening is that serious threats involving illegal drugs or explosives is very rare. Dogs work on a reward system. They are either trained with food or toys/play. When the dog hits on a threat item that furry critter is a “Good Dog” and is rewarded appropriately. If the dog spends thirty minutes sniffing bags and passengers and comes up with nothing, the dog can get depressed. There is no reward.

Other factors to consider. You still need to have a human handling the dog. That means a trained police officer. He or she takes the dog home with them at night. Dogs are not locked away in a kennel and left alone at the end of a work shift. And let’s not forget that Sparky or Spot needs to go outside and relieve themselves. Most airports are not built with easy access to clumps of trees and grass. If you boost the number of dogs working at an airport you are going to increase the amount of canine fecal and urine that has to be scooped up. Most dogs have not learned to squat on a commode.

Once you consider all of the challenges and limitations that come from using a dog for airport security, you quickly realize that Schumer is a moron.