Last week a man successfully boarded a JFK-LAX Virgin America flight lacking proper ID and a boarding pass for a previous flight from another passenger. To summarize the story, he accumulated boarding passes, and then presented a pass for a previous flight from another passenger, and was able to negotiate his way on the flight. He was not caught until other passengers complained about his smell and the flight attendants checked the manifest. He was detained at LAX, but released after it was determined that he posed no threat. In fact, he was not arrested for this incident until he attempted to perform a similar con for a LAX-ATL Delta flight. To make matters worse, he was not even cought by the FBI, but instead by a Customs and Border Patrol officer who happened to be at the gate. Only at this point did he admit that he did not pay for the flight.
To me this just shows how much attention those TSA agents checking IDs actually check your documentation. If this had just happened at JFK or LAX, I actually could understand it. Sometimes you will encounter one person who makes a mistake. It happens, and we look to figure out a way to avoid having the mistake happen again. However in this case it happened twice which is often a symptom of a problem within the system.
Identity verification is one of the simplest layers in our security scheme, and a failure on such a simple task makes me wonder how badly are they failing at some of the important steps that actually deter serious threats. If an agent can not check identity, how can you be sure they can actually read the output of an x-ray machine, or actually notice a banned item in a pat-down (not advocating heavy use of them). While I may not like some of the policies implemented by the TSA, I at least expect for them to be carried out properly. Is that really too much to ask? Wait, I am talking about the TSA, and any competence is sometimes too much to ask for.