By Keith Laing
A Democratic senator said Tuesday that a report that found Transportation Security Administration workers failed to find fake explosives and weapons in internal tests at almost all of America's busiest airports is “unacceptable.”
“The reported failure rates for detecting prohibited items at checkpoints are more than troubling. They are unacceptable,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said at the beginning of a hearing on the TSA's failed bomb tests.
The report, released last week by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, documented a series of undercover sting operations in which agents tried to pass through security with prohibited items; much of its findings remain classified.The undercover agents made it through security in nearly all the tests — 67 of 70 — including one instance in which a TSA screener failed to find a fake bomb even after the undercover agent set off a magnetometer. The screener reportedly let the agent through with the fake bomb taped to his back, having missed it during a pat-down.
TSA officials have noted the bomb tests were conducted by groups of employees known as “Red Teams,” which are trained specifically in security evasion.
Carper said Tuesday that the TSA’s move from a one-size-fits-all airport security approach to risk-based techniques like its PreCheck known-traveler program may have contributed to the lapses exploited by the testers.
“This approach is designed to allow TSA to deploy its limited resources to the areas where we face the greatest threat,” he said. “However, as the inspector general and GAO [Government Accountability Office] have identified, such a swift transition may have created vulnerabilities in the system.”
TSA officials have touted the changeover to a risk-based system, saying it would allow employees to focus more on searching for explosive devices while ruling out passengers who have volunteered to have their backgrounds checked.
Carper said the investigation's findings show the need for the Senate to confirm President Obama’s nominee to take over the agency, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger.
“Given recent reports, it is more important than ever for the Transportation Security Administration to have a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader in place,” he said.