Newark Airport Screeners Fail To Find Hidden Weapons In Federal Test

The Star Ledger: OCT 27 – Screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport failed 20 of 22 security tests conducted by undercover U.S. agents last week, missing an array of concealed bombs and guns at checkpoints throughout the hub’s three terminals…

The Star Tribune: OCT 27 – “Does this pose a threat to security? No,” TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said. “Once they enter the screening checkpoint, that individual and his or her bags are screened for dangerous weapons and explosives.”

Screeners at Newark fail to find ‘weapons’ [The Star Ledger via Mere Rhetoric]

Article reprinted inside in case you don’t feel like handing over personal information just to read the second page.

Screeners at Newark fail to find ‘weapons’
Agents got 20 of 22 ‘devices’ past staff
Friday, October 27, 2006
BY RON MARSICO
Star-Ledger Staff

Screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport failed 20 of 22 security tests conducted by undercover U.S. agents last week, missing an array of concealed bombs and guns at checkpoints throughout the hub’s three terminals, federal security officials familiar with the results said.

The tests, conducted Oct. 19 by U.S. Transportation Security Administration “Red Team” agents, also revealed significant failures by screeners to follow standard operating procedures while checking passengers and their baggage for prohibited items, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is against TSA policy to release covert-test results.

“We can do better, and training is the path to improved performance,” said Mark Hatfield Jr., Newark Airport’s federal security director, declining to address specifics. “Test results are not a grade or a scorecard; they are a road map to perpetual improvement; any other characterization is simply misleading. We have to challenge ourselves to do better every day and be relentless in that pursuit.”

The poor test results at Newark come after heightened security procedures that the TSA put in place at U.S. airports in August, after authorities in Great Britain said they foiled an attempt by terrorists to blow up trans-Atlantic flights using liquid explosives.

One of the security officials familiar with last week’s tests said screeners at Newark missed fake explosive devices that were hidden under bottles of water in carry-on luggage, taped beneath an agent’s clothing and concealed under a leg bandage another tester wore.

Additionally, the official said screeners failed to use hand-held metal detector wands when required, missed an explosive device during a pat-down and failed to properly hand-check suspicious carry-on bags. Supervisors also were cited for failing to properly monitor checkpoint screeners, the official said.

“We just totally missed everything,” the official said.

When the tests are conducted, undercover agents hide prohibited items on their bodies or in their checked and carry-on luggage in an effort to slip those items past screeners.

The results point up the continued problems the TSA has encountered as it struggles to keep up with ever-present and changing terrorist threats, aviation security experts said. Those problems, they said, include inadequate training for screeners, pressure from the airline industry to keep passenger lines moving and shortages of security personnel because Congress has imposed a nationwide cap of 43,000 screeners.

“The failures of TSA are failures at the basic level,” said Steve Elson, a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s “Red Team” who resigned before 9/11 and has been a persistent TSA critic. He said top TSA officials have little aviation security experience and screeners are required to conduct too many tedious and obvious checks.

Like other security watchdogs, Elson advocates having the TSA take a page from Israeli aviation security by more broadly instituting behavioral profiling techniques in which travelers are asked probing questions. The TSA has developed a limited version of the program at some airports, including Newark.

Without such expanded initiatives, the TSA is “going to fail, and they do, with constant, stunning regularity,” Elson said.

Newark Airport — which terrorists got through on Sept. 11, 2001, before hijacking United Flight 93, which later crashed in Pennsylvania — has been plagued by security lapses, screener shortages and testing failures since the TSA took over airport security from the FAA and private contractors in 2002.

From June to September 2004, for example, Newark Airport screeners missed one in four fake bombs or weapons that inspectors tried to sneak past checkpoints, according to weekly confidential inspection reports obtained that year by The Star-Ledger.

Such failings are not limited to Newark. An April 2006 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office reiterated previous widespread GAO findings of screeners failing undercover tests at airports across the country.

“TSA covert testing has identified that weaknesses existed in the ability of TSOs (transportation security officers) to detect threat objects on passengers, in their carry-on bags, and in checked luggage,” the GAO reported. The agency, however, did not provide failure percentage rates in its report.

Bogdan Dzakovic, a TSA employee who testified before the 9/11 commission about his experience as a member of the FAA’s “Red Team” before the attacks, said such poor results are predictable.

“TSA’s learned nothing since 9/11, because they still don’t know what a ‘Red Team’ is for and what to do with the information,” said Dzakovic, who retains federal whistle-blower protections.

Dzakovic said it is time for TSA “Red Team” agents to “start thinking like terrorists” in order to develop theories on what tactics might be developed next to bring down airliners, rather than focusing exclusively on past techniques.

“It’s still a good reflection of how poorly the screening checkpoints are doing five years after 9/11 and billions of dollars later,” Dzakovic said of the continued poor test results. “TSA is always going to be one step behind the bad guy. The only solution to that is human profiling.”

TSA officials at the agency’s Virginia headquarters also declined to discuss specifics of the Newark Airport results, but defended their policies.

“Covert tests are conducted by security experts who expect significant fault rates commensurate with the tests’ high level of difficulty,” said Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman.

“Those tests strengthen the screening system by challenging the work force and identifying factors that could lead to a breach,” Davis said. “TSA then uses test results to adapt and improve upon our screening protocols and training regimens.”