- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Transportation Security Administration senior official said Tuesday the agency conducted a review of the 73 individuals with links to terrorism and did not find them to be a threat to the security of the nation’s airports.

The background of those individuals had been checked and cleared, and it was decided they were not a threat, Stacey Fitzmaurice, deputy assistant administrator of the TSA’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, told lawmakers during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

An inspector general report found TSA failed to identify the 73 individuals as potential security threats because, despite having rigorous vetting processes, the agency is not cleared to receive all terrorism categories under an interagency watch-listing guidance.

There is no excuse for that type of behavior when the nation’s security is at stake, said Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat.

“It strikes me as sloppy, and there’s no place for sloppiness when we’re dealing with the security of our nation’s aviation system,” she said. “We strive for a security system that’s airtight and precise — and in order to achieve that, our information must be airtight, everything we do must be precise.”

Ms. Fitzmaurice said the TSA is still working on getting full access to the U.S. intelligence database used by the inspector general’s office to associate the workers with security concerns.

Lawmakers livid over the security blunder said they were prepared to pass legislation designed to improve the vetting for aviation workers since the agency appears incapable of addressing its security gaps.

“The reality is that in this post 9/11 world, the terrorist threat is metastasizing and we, as a nation, must remain responsive to any holes in the security of our transportation systems and ensure that the protocols keep pace with the ever-evolving threat landscape,” said House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul on Tuesday. “Improving the vetting of the aviation workers who have access to these sensitive areas of airports can help close another backdoor vulnerability at our nation’s airports.”

Mr. McCaul is a sponsor of a bill that would boost information sharing between the TSA and other intelligence agencies. That bill would also require the agency to issue guidance by the end of the year on how TSA inspectors should annually reviewing airport badging office procedures for applicants seeking access to sensitive areas of airports.

The effort to reform the TSA comes as Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger prepares to take over as head of the troubled agency, having received Monday the voice vote approval of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and the panel chairman, described him as “well qualified and well suited for the task” of leading the agency.

Vice Adm. Neffenger will replace acting TSA deputy director Mark Hatfield, who stepped in for acting TSA Administrator Melvin Carraway after he was reassigned.

Mr. Carraway left the top position in early June after an internal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General showed how easy it was to slip weapons and explosive materials past airport screeners.

Investigators were able to bypass security while in possession of dangerous material 67 times out of 70 tests.

Vice Adm. Neffenger acknowledged the agency’s troubles in a recent congressional hearing and said that those woes disturbed him.

If confirmed, he promised to make it an immediate priority to pinpoint highlighted security gaps and look systematically at the issues that led to them.

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