- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2015

A new inspector general report found the Transportation Security Administration failed to properly screen 73 airport workers who appeared on terrorist-related vetting lists, adding to the growing list of security lapses that have enraged Capitol Hill lawmakers.

The report came a week after an internal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security uncovered widespread screening flaws that allowed banned weapons and fake explosives to easily get past TSA agents about 95 percent of the time. The shocking success rate has lawmakers questioning the agency’s ability to protect the nation’s travelers from terror threats.

“Too much focus is being placed on the passengers and more focus should be on the incoming cargo and the workers that work everywhere in the airport,” said Robert MacLean, a former TSA employee who was fired in 2006 for exposing security challenges and will be testifying before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on Tuesday.

Mr. MacLean sees resource allocation as being part of TSA’s problem and plans on recommending to lawmakers the TSA reduce the number Transportation Security Officers at screening checkpoints and increase the amount of federal air marshals on the ground in order to improve security.

Lawmakers need to embrace the idea of federal air marshals roaming “deep inside the bowels of train stations and airports” in an effort to gather intelligence on potential security threats, he said.

Mr. MacLean was retroactively reinstated by the Department of Homeland Security last month. He is also the whistleblower liaison for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Earlier this month, the acting chief of the TSA was ousted after an embarrassing internal found that airport security officers badly failed a new test, missing almost every firearm and explosive investigators tried to sneak by them.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he’s demanded TSA come up with new screening procedures aimed at fixing the “specific vulnerabilities” the inspector general found, and said he’s ordered new training for all TSA officers. He also demanded that equipment be re-tested.

Senators on Tuesday will be asking the administration what steps they’ve taken so far to implement these measures as well as what’s further needed to make up for the lapses in security.

“The publicly available facts are disturbing, but the classified details are even worse,” wrote Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in an op-ed published in USA Today Monday. “Millions of families will soon fly to summer vacations, but if moms knew what members of Congress have learned behind closed doors, they would march on Washington demanding an urgent, top-to-bottom reevaluation of airport security,”

Also on Monday, another inspector general report found TSA officials weren’t checking all of the right databases during the vetting process of their employees, allowing some flagged on terrorism-related lists to be active employees of the agency.

Airport operators and vendors are supposed to vet their employees with the TSA, which performs the background checks and does a fingerprint check with the FBI, then sends the information to airports to make a final decision.

The TSA also fell short when it came to screening for criminal history, relying on the employees themselves to report their criminal histories to the airports they worked at.

TSA can only vet workers based on data received from airports,” investigators wrote. “While TSA had made some improvements to its data collection to meet its requirements, TSA lacked assurance that it properly vetted all credential applicants.”

In terms of airport workers, the TSA vets more than 2 million a year. The agency’s job is to look for terrorism links, while the airports themselves are supposed to spot criminal history problems. Since the workers have access to secured areas of airports, the terrorism links check is considered vital.

TSA officials said they are now negotiating with other parts of the government to get access to those databases that would have identified those links. But the TSA is not requesting all of the terrorism-related data, arguing that one of the categories kept by officials is “a more tenuous link to terrorism” and isn’t necessary to be checked.

The latest report comes just as critics of TSA are demanding the privatization of the agency.

“If the government isn’t doing a great job, then why don’t we look to the private sector and see if they can do a better job at doing airport security?” said David Inserra, a homeland security and cybersecurity research associate for The Heritage Foundation.

Many European countries use private screeners to expedite the process, he said. In the past, TSA has toyed with the idea of expanding a screening partnership program that substitutes private screeners, under the watch of administration officials, to examine luggage and other items at airports in place of TSA screeners. As of now, only 21 airports are participating in the program.

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