- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some members of Congress aren’t taking the government’s word there is no security threat from the accidental Internet leak of its airports screening manual.

So when Gale Rossides, acting administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), testifies before a House panel Wednesday, key members say they will press for a copy of what the government says is a newer, more secretive manual to examine for themselves.

Rep. Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania Republican and ranking member of the House of Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security and infrastructure protection, along with Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republican and ranking member of the investigations and oversight subcommittee, asked for a copy of the current version in a letter to Ms. Rossides on Friday.

But the agency is stonewalling and allowed only select committee staffers to review the new manual and its half-dozen revisions for one hour on Monday.

Mr. Dent questions whether the revisions are as substantial as the TSA claims, why mitigation efforts are being put in place if there are no new risks exposed by the leak, and why Congress can’t have a copy.

The manual was posted on a Commerce Department Web site in March as part of a contract solicitation, but a blogger was able to remove redacted portions of the screening procedures at more than 450 airports and posted it earlier this month on his Web site.

The document also outlined specific procedures for calibrating magnetometers and showed photographs of federal law enforcement credentials.

“I believe it has created significant vulnerabilities in aviation security,” Mr. Dent told The Washington Times in an interview Tuesday. “And I suspect the TSA must have taken some steps to mitigate it.”

The credentials of many law enforcement agencies, including federal air marshals and the CIA, were exposed in the manual, and Department of Homeland Security officials are now thoroughly vetting all law enforcement officers who check guns for air travel, two sources familiar with aviation security told The Times.

One of the sources said air marshals themselves are now involved in the airports screening process for law enforcement officers, but the agency’s spokesman declined to comment, based on security reasons.

“The Transportation Security Administration does not discuss where or when federal air marshals will be strategically deployed,” said Nelson Minerly, spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service.

“They are part of the VIPR [Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response] Team that can be deployed anywhere and [on] any mode of transportation to enhance law enforcement presence,” Mr. Minerly said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat and transportation security and infrastructure protection subcommittee chairman, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and Homeland Security Committee chairman, said in a Dec. 8 letter to Ms. Rossides that they also want to know about any mitigation measures put in place by the TSA.

The Democrats asked whether this was an isolated incident, and whether there have been other breaches exposing sensitive secure information.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking committee member, also joined Mr. Dent and Mr. Bilirakis in a Dec. 9 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking whether criminal charges are being considered for posting the secure information on the Internet.

While it may be illegal to release the information to the public, Mr. Dent said he has never seen an instance in which the federal government has refused to share a document of this nature with Congress.

In fact, he said “the law is explicit” that they do so.

Mr. Minerly referred further questions to a statement posted online by the TSA, which said the version of the document posted “was not the everyday screening manual used by Transportation Security officers at airport checkpoints.”

“Thorough post-incident analysis has determined that our systems are secure and that screening protocols have not been compromised.,” the TSA said.

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