A negative preliminary report of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) screening procedures and equipment that was published by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s (IG) Office this week in classified form led Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to sack the screening agency’s acting director and order that screening equipment be re-tested and that security officers receive new training.
Late Monday night Johnson issued a statement says that Acting TSA Administrator Melvin Carraway has been reassigned “effective immediately” to serve in the Office of State and Local Law Enforcement at DHS headquarters. Mark Hatfield, the acting deputy director of the agency, is now leading TSA until a new acting administrator is appointed.
Johnson said the results of the IG report are classified and that it “is not appropriate or prudent to publicly describe” them. He said the IG provided him with a preliminary briefing reflecting IG Red Team testing results that were “centered largely on a specific manner in which someone may seek to bring prohibited items through Transportation Security Administration screening into the secure area of an airport.”
Johnson directed that six specific actions be taken and issued some longer-term instructions. First, he said, TSA must “immediately revise its standard operating procedures for screening to address the specific vulnerabilities identified by the Inspector General’s testing.”
Second, TSA will “immediately” brief the test results to its Federal Security Directors at the nation’s airports. Next, Johnson mandated that TSA “conduct training for all Transportation Security Officers, in a phased fashion, in airports across the country, and intensive training for all supervisory personnel to address the specific vulnerabilities identified” by the testing.
Fourth, and also in a phased approach, the TSA must “re-test and re-evaluate the screening equipment currently” deployed at U.S. airports.” As part of this directive, Johnson said he will meet t with the senior executives of the screening equipment at issue “to communicate to them the importance of their assistance in our efforts to investigate and remedy the deficiencies highlighted by the Inspector General.”
Closely related to the fourth directive, a fifth directive calls for TSA and the IG to keep doing random testing to test the effectiveness of the new measures.
The report to Johnson follows testimony to Congress last month by John Roth, the DHS IG, who said ongoing covert testing of body scanners used at airport screening checkpoints show problems with the technology, namely if they are effective (HSR, May 19). The body scanners, called Advanced Imaging Technology or AIT, are supplied by L-3 Communications [LLL] and non-intrusively screen individuals for potential threats hidden underneath their clothing.
Roth told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform the testing his office is doing is evaluating the effectiveness of the automated target recognition software on the AIT systems and checkpoint screener performance.
ABC News on June 1 reported on the results of the IG testing, saying that in the covert investigation mock explosives and banned weapons were smuggled “through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials.” The news report also said that “TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests.”
A sixth action by Johnson creates a team of senior leaders from the department and TSA to see that his directives are implemented in a timely manner with a requirement to report back every two weeks.
In the coming months, Johnson also mandated that TSA “ensure that all screening equipment is operating up to the highest possible standards” and he asked the agency and the department’s Science and Technology branch “to examine adopting new technologies to address the vulnerabilities identified” in the testing.
Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman and ranking member respectively of the Senate Commerce Committee, say they have spoken to Johnson about the IG findings and have asked for follow-up briefings from DHS and the IG.
“Terrorist groups like ISIS take notice when TSA fails to intercept 67 out of 70 attempts by undercover investigators to penetrate airport checkpoints with simulated weapons and explosives,” Thune and Nelson warn.
Despite the poor cover test results, Johnson said he still has “confidence in the TSA workforce” and noted that Red Team test results “never look good out of context.” Still, he said, the testing is critical to improving aviation security and that the results are taken “very seriously.”
In April President Obama nominated Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Peter Neffenger to be the next TSA Administrator. The Senate Commerce Committee hosted Neffenger in May for a confirmation hearing and the Senate Homeland Security Committee will host him as well to review the nomination.