Monday, January 15, 2007

At least 426 uniforms and identification cards issued to security screeners at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport have been lost or stolen since late 2001, according to Transportation Security Administration records.

The only other airport to report more missing uniforms and badges in the past five years is Los Angeles International Airport, whose security screeners lost at least 789.

More than 3,600 TSA or Homeland Security Department airport security uniforms and credentials have disappeared from November 2001, when the TSA was created, through Sept. 30, records show.

Some lawmakers worry the missing items may find their way into the hands of terrorists. The agency, however, denies the problem poses a national security risk.

Screeners at BWI reported 321 uniforms and 105 identity cards lost or stolen during the five-year period ending Sept. 30.

The number peaked during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2003, when 128 uniforms and 31 identity badges disappeared. Since then, the annual rate of missing items has dropped significantly.

BWI screeners reported seven uniforms and five badges missing for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2006.

The Linthicum, Md., airport, which is publicly owned and operated by the Maryland Aviation Authority, also issues identification credentials to TSA employees, but BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said there has been “no unusual or suspicious level of missing airport-issued identification.”

Security screeners at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport reported 132 missing or stolen items — 97 uniforms and 35 ID cards — for the five-year period. It was the fifth-highest tally nationally.

Washington Dulles International Airport had among the fewest missing items: seven uniforms and no ID cards.

Reagan and Dulles airports are operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, an independent agency created by Congress.

TSA officials said the missing uniforms and badges alone aren’t enough to gain access to sensitive areas of any airport.

“This is not a security threat,” agency spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said. “One number of a combination of a bank vault won’t get you access inside, and a TSA ID card or uniform will not allow you access at the airport either.”

The cards are used only for visual identification and are not programmed to be scanned or swiped.

Because TSA screeners work in teams, anyone who tries to pose as an agency employee would be identified immediately as an impostor, Ms. Kudwa said. “There are a number of [security] layers.”

Where the uniforms and badges have gone is uncertain. Most of the items are thought to have been lost or misplaced, not stolen, Ms. Kudwa said.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has proposed biometric badges that identify TSA workers through their fingerprints, eyes, facial patterns or other physical characteristics. He also wants to impose penalties for losing uniforms or credentials.

“TSA badges and uniforms can provide individuals with access to airport areas and equipment — so the fact that they cannot be accounted for is a security threat,” Mr. Smith wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Dec. 13.

TSA policy requires employees to report any loss of badges or uniform articles immediately to a supervisor. The supervisor is required to notify local law enforcement if theft is suspected. No disciplinary action is taken unless misconduct or malfeasance is found, the policy states.

Employees wear white shirts emblazoned with “TSA” on the back and navy blue pants. The agency also issues jackets, sweater vests, ties and other uniform items.

Ms. Kudwa said she wasn’t sure how many missing items have been recovered, but a TSA jacket was found last month at a San Antonio thrift store and turned over to the agency.

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