- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The most recent round of covert testing at airport security checkpoints produced “disappointing and troubling” results, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

The findings come after a June disclosure of major security failures within the Transportation Security Administration’s screening process that led to the ousting of the agency’s acting director.

Investigators who ran tests at eight different airports during an unspecified time attributed screeners’ failure to detect anomalies and potential security threats to problems with technology, human error and the TSA’s own procedures.

“We found layers of security simply missing,” said DHS Inspector General John Roth, describing the results of the latest classified audit during a hearing Tuesday before a Senate committee.

Exact details about the security failures and the airports screened were not disclosed as the information is considered classified.

Newly appointed TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said “a disproportionate focus on speed and efficiency in screening operations rather than security effectiveness” was hampering security performance across the agency. As part of the changes he has made to security since taking over the agency, Mr. Neffenger said security screeners and management have gotten renewed training that focuses on the specific failures detected in covert tests.

During testimony before the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Mr. Neffenger said TSA has put a stop to other tactics used at airport screenings that created “greater risk” to the system, including the practice of randomly allowing people who were not vetted through the TSA Precheck program to go through expedited screening.

“That process has stopped as of September 12. We no longer do that,” said Mr. Neffenger, noting that 14 percent of the daily traveling population was being put into expedited screening lines.

The TSA also made a request that funding for security staff be kept at current levels, rather than reduced by approximately 600 employees as is currently planned for the coming year.

In June, prior covert security test results were leaked and showed that undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints 95 percent of the time. Investigators also found that 73 people were able to obtain federal approval to work in secure areas at airports despite having unspecified connections to terrorism.

The investigations led Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to reassign TSA Director Melvin Carraway and to demand that the TSA come up with new screening procedures aimed at fixing the “specific vulnerabilities” that the inspector general found.

On Tuesday, Mr. Neffenger said that the latest round of training for TSA security officers has already done a lot to address the specific issues raised and that he is also working to develop a process to maintain strict security standards.

“The day you set a security system and say ‘I got it right’ is the day you begin to lose its effectiveness,” he said, noting the evolving nature of terrorism threats.

He said the TSA is also exploring new “queue management” techniques that can help keep the flow of airline passengers moving without compromising security.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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