It’s easy to loathe the TSA. They slow down our travel. They cost us money. They scan past the privacy of our clothing. And their screeners tend to have the same perpetually aggravated disposition of the average DMV employee. (Not to mention, their very presence seems to overshadow the multitude of other, simpler destructive options for your average terrorist.)
Any loathing you may have will only be fueled when you look through this infographic. The numbers are infuriating if you trust them all. 70% of weapons make it past TSA screeners? It costs us $6 million to find each gun? We spend more than double on the TSA than we do clean energy?
And don’t even look at the salaries they’re making.
But, in the interest of fairness, we do know that infographics can bend information in interesting ways. And the constructs of this one are remarkably easy to spot. Namely, it lacks context.
Where, for instance, is the listing of what another targeted plane crash would cost Americans? If it costs us $6 million to catch one gun, that seems outrageous. But imagine the flipside. If we keep in mind that the Twin Towers cost about $1 billion apiece to build, and the cleanup and rebuilding after 9/11 cost quite a bit on top of that, then the price of spotting that one devastating weapon, and indeed, the entire $7 billion TSA budget, appears to be supported by some semblance of reason—especially if you start considering the greater costs of human life.
There’s a greater story here, even in the cold, hard numbers sense, that’s not being told. It’s upsetting at a gut level to see what the TSA is costing us, in our taxes, our time and, maybe most importantly, our personal space. But to consider this infographic informing, it really needs proper context: what the price would be if, even once, history repeated itself?
Then again, you can also ask the question of whether the TSA is actually well-placed to prevent terrorism. As many people have pointed out, if the TSA is even put in the position of catching a terrorist, then scores and scores of people from the FBI to the local police have failed their jobs. So does the TSA make us safer? Maybe not, but it’s clearly a political necessity: As much as people complain about pat downs and body scans, imagine how much they’d complain if anything—anything—ever happened again. That’s a risk that no politician is willing to take—which might be the truest rationale behind the TSA.