73 air­port em­ploy­ees found on ter­ror­ism list

The TSA didn’t check work­ers against a clas­si­fied data­base, an of­fi­cial tells sen­a­tors.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Brian Bennett brian.bennett@la­times.com Twit­ter: @ByBri­anBen­nett

WASH­ING­TON — Back­ground checks by the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion cleared 73 peo­ple for ac­cess to se­cure air­port ar­eas even though their names were on a fed­eral data­base of pos­si­ble ter­ror­ists, a se­nior of­fi­cial told a Se­nate com­mit­tee Tues­day.

The lat­est se­cu­rity lapse came to light as John Roth, the in­spec­tor gen­eral at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, de­liv­ered a scathing re­port on prob­lems and blun­ders at the long-trou­bled agency.

They in­clude in­ad­e­quate bag­gage screen­ing, hir­ing of con­victed crim­i­nals, faulty records, ques­tion­able spend­ing, and nar­cotics smug­gling and hu­man traf­fick­ing by TSA em­ploy­ees.

“We re­main deeply con­cerned about [the TSA’s] abil­ity to ex­e­cute its im­por­tant mission,” Roth told the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

The hear­ing was held a week af­ter Jeh John­son, sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity, re­as­signed the act­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor of the TSA fol­low­ing re­ports that au­di­tors from Roth’s of­fice had slipped mock ex­plo­sives and weapons past TSA check­points 67 out of 70 times.

The White House has nom­i­nated Peter V. Nef­fenger, vice com­man­dant of the Coast Guard, to take the helm of the TSA. Nef­fenger is ex­pected to win ap­proval from the same com­mit­tee af­ter a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing Wed­nes­day.

In the lat­est case, Roth said, his in­ves­ti­ga­tors had found the names of 73 air­port work­ers “with pos­si­ble ter­ror­ism-re­lated in­for­ma­tion” in a clas­si­fied fed­eral data­base that the TSA could not nor­mally ac­cess.

“TSA ac­knowl­edged that th­ese in­di­vid­u­als were cleared for ac­cess to se­cure air­port ar­eas de­spite rep­re­sent­ing a po­ten­tial se­cu­rity threat,” Roth tes­ti­fied.

Roth said the risk was dis­cov­ered af­ter he asked the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter to check more than 900,000 ac­tive avi­a­tion work­ers against a clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence data­base called the Ter­ror­ist Iden­ti­ties Data­mart En­vi­ron­ment. It con­tains con­firmed and un­con­firmed in­for­ma­tion about peo­ple with po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist links.

The search found 73 matches of peo­ple cleared for ac­cess to se­cure ar­eas. In­ves­ti­ga­tors im­me­di­ately gave the TSA the names that raised con­cerns, Roth said. He did not say whether they in­cluded any TSA em­ploy­ees, when the dis­cov­ery was made, or whether any of the peo­ple posed an ac­tual threat.

The names of work­ers hired by air­lines and air­port ven­dors are nor­mally checked against a more nar­row, un­clas­si­fied data­base that is main­tained by the FBI’s Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Cen­ter.

Last year, then-TSA Ad­min­is­tra­tor John Pis­tole sent a let­ter to the FBI ask­ing that TSA back­ground checks also in­clude a search of the big­ger, more in­clu­sive data­base, Roth said. But the FBI and the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity have not acted, he said.

“I can’t imag­ine the FBI would not have moved on this with the ut­most haste,” Sen. Kelly Ay­otte (R-N.H.) said at the hear­ing. “The bu­reau­cracy can’t hold this up.”

The fact that dozens of work­ers with po­ten­tial links to ter­ror­ism could ac­cess se­cure ar­eas of air­ports “re­ally does give you pause,” Ay­otte said, “be­cause it re­ally only takes one” to cre­ate havoc.

Roth also re­peat­edly crit­i­cized the TSA’s use of PreCheck, which al­lows ex­pe­dited screen­ing of vet­ted pas­sen­gers. He said the TSA al­lows rapid screen­ing of nearly half the f ly­ing public, of­ten by ran­domly pulling peo­ple out of regular se­cu­rity lanes.

In one case, he said, a felon who was “a for­mer mem­ber of a do­mes­tic ter­ror­ist group” was granted ex­pe­dited screen­ing even though the trav­eler was “suf­fi­ciently no­to­ri­ous” that a TSA screener rec­og­nized him.

The screener “no­ti­fied his su­per­vi­sor, who di­rected him to take no fur­ther ac­tion and al­low the trav­eler to pro­ceed through the PreCheck lane,” Roth said. He did not iden­tify the pas­sen­ger.

Scott Olson Getty Images

THE IN­SPEC­TOR GEN­ERAL at Home­land Se­cu­rity also found fault with the TSA’s use of PreCheck.

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