Last updated: 01:25 PM ET, Mon November 16 2015

TSA Chief: We Will Protect You

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | November 16, 2015

TSA Chief: We Will Protect You

Photo courtesy of TSA

Transportation Security Administration administrator Admiral Peter Neffenger, in a newspaper guest editorial, said that some inaccurate media reports have led to public doubt about the agency’s ability to vet airport workers and flight crews.

And Neffenger said he assures the flying public that the agency is doing everything it can to protect you.

“As we approach the busiest holiday travel season in recent history, I assure the public that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is taking every measure to protect the millions of air travelers and our aviation system,” Neffenger wrote in USA Today.

The TSA has come under fire this year. In June, an undercover sting by the Department of Homeland Security revealed that in 70 different instances at seven major airports, TSA agents failed to find fake explosives and weapons – including one strapped to the back of one of the undercover investigators – a whopping 67 times.

Also, the DHS said that 73 airport workers vetted by TSA should have been flagged for having ties to known or suspected terrorists.

Neffenger countered that.

“Recently, several news media reports have included inaccurate accounts of how TSA assesses aviation security at our airports in the vetting of airport and airline workers. TSA has long recognized the importance of vetting airport workers and flight crews, among others,” he wrote. “In fact, TSA vets millions of transportation workers daily, including aviation workers who have access to secure areas of airports and airplanes. Earlier this year, a Department of Homeland Security inspector general report stated that 73 airport workers vetted by TSA should have been flagged for having ties to known or suspected terrorists. After review, in collaboration with the FBI, TSA determined that none of the vetted individuals met the standards for watchlisting and are not known or suspected terrorists.”

Neffenger said the TSA works with the intelligence community and other government agencies to improve the effectiveness by which TSA accesses information.

“Using the government’s Terrorist Screening Database, TSA continuously vets individuals from their initial airport application throughout the time they have airport access,” he wrote. “We receive a real-time feed of this information from the Terrorist Screening Center. We know instantly when a person has been added or when his or her status has changed. These workers also are subject to immigration and criminal checks. Suggestions to the contrary are inaccurate.”

Neffenger did not address the DHS’ most recent findings by Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth, who testified earlier this month that nothing has changed since earlier this year. According to Roth, the TSA is still missing major security breaches.

"In September 2015, we completed and distributed our report on our most recent round of covert testing. The results are classified at the Secret level, and the Department and this Committee have been provided a copy of our classified report,” Roth said. “ … While I cannot talk about the specifics in this setting, I am able to say that we conducted the audit with sufficient rigor to satisfy the standards contained within the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, that the tests were conducted by auditors within our Office of Audits without any special knowledge or training, and that the test results were disappointing and troubling.

"We ran multiple tests at eight different airports of different sizes, including large category X airports across the country, and tested airports using private screeners as part of the Screening Partnership Program. The results were consistent across every airport. Our testing was designed to test checkpoint operations in real world conditions. It was not designed to test specific, discrete segments of checkpoint operations, but rather the system as a whole. The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error.

"We found layers of security simply missing. It would be misleading to minimize the rigor of our testing, or to imply that our testing was not an accurate reflection of the effectiveness of the totality of aviation security."

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