Homeland Security issues blistering audit of security weaknesses at JFK

24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Guns aren’t the only weapons passengers try to bring on planes.

Security officers at US airports seized a record number of firearms – most of them loaded – from passengers’ hand luggage last year while screening nearly two million travellers a day. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a blistering audit of security weaknesses at JFK Airport that sharply rebukes the TSA for stonewalling demands for data and trying to keep it secret from the public.”There was a 22 percent increase in firearm discoveries from last year’s total of 1,813,” The TSA noted on its blog. “Of those, 2,212 (83 percent) were loaded.” “Passengers always say they just forgot that it was in their bag,” TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein told The Denver Post in December. “It never ends up being something nefarious, but passengers end up paying the price.” TSA screened more than 653 million passengers in 2014, which is about 14.8 million more than in 2013. The Transportation Security Administration said inspectors found 2,212 firearms in carry-on luggage at checkpoints across the country, an increase of 22 per cent from 2013, when 1,813 were discovered, and a staggering 235 per cent from 2005 (660 firearms).

The inspector general’s audit was conducted between November 2013 and April 2014 and led to a 50-page report that identified weaknesses of the “technological infrastructure” of the airport and made recommendations on fixing them. Kennedy airport in New York, but it declared many of the details classified to try to hide the embarrassing information from the public, the agency’s internal auditor charged in a report released Friday.

The report focused on computer system vulnerabilities, including routers and servers; locked draws left opened; logs not properly maintained; lapses within the closed-circuit television and surveillance apparatus; and fire protection and detection, including a lack of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in critical areas. The guns were found at 224 airports, up from 203 in 2013, with the most being discovered at Dallas/Fort Worth (120), followed by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (109) and Phoenix Sky Harbor (78) airports. Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston and Denver led the list of 224 airports — 19 more than 2013 — where TSA inspectors stopped passengers from taking guns onto their flights.

Among the more notable 2014 discoveries are a homemade avalanche control charge found in a carry-on at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Alaska and an Mk 2 hand grenade in a carry-on at LAX. Among the weapons seized was an assault rifle with three loaded magazines in Dallas and a loaded .38 caliber pistol on the hip of a 94-year-old man at New York’s La Guardia airport. SSI markings should be used only to protect transportation security, rather than, as I fear occurred here, to allow government program officials to conceal negative information within a report,” Mr. They also uncovered an 8.5-inch (20 centimeter) knife inside an enchilada in Santa Rosa, California and razor blades hidden in a Scooby Doo greeting card in Newport News, Virginia. There was a saw blade in a Bible, rounds of .22-caliber ammunition inside a shirt cuff, and an entire machete concealed into a bag lining, per the report.

In a similar incident a loaded .380-calibre firearm was found strapped to a passenger’s ankle after walking through a metal detector at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Inspector General John Roth charged that the TSA stonewalled his original request for certain information for more than five months by not promptly responding. Every case resulted in a misdemeanor charge from airport police, said Michael Conway, spokesman with Detroit Metro Airport. “I can’t believe people can be that isolated that they don’t know that you can’t carry a weapon through passenger screening at an airport,” he said. “It just keeps happening and happening.” Any customer caught with a firearm at a checkpoint is arrested, questioned and cited, he added, and nearly every time that person misses his or her flight.

Under federal law, anyone who tries to take a gun onto an airline flight as a carry-on item — loaded or not — can face criminal prosecution and a $10,000 fine. Such lapses were marked by the TSA with a special security designation — known as “SSI,” for “sensitive security information” — requiring that they be redacted from Roth’s draft audit. The local penalty includes up to a year in jail and fines up to $1,000. “Whenever we detect a weapon or firearm, we immediately notify local law enforcement,” TSA Michigan spokesman Michael McCarthy said. “Metro Airport police takes possession and pulls the passenger aside.” TSA officers in 2014 found an average of six firearms per day in passengers’ carry-on bags or on their bodies.

The Terminal 1 checkpoint was shut while an explosive ordnance disposal team removed the grenade and transported it to an off-site location to be detonated. Roth appealed to former TSA head John Pistole, noting that the data he sought to publicize had “been disclosed in other reports” and posed no real threat if it was highlighted in his report.

That information, Roth added, merely contained “generic, non-specific vulnerabilities that are common to virtually all systems and would not be detrimental to transportation security.” “My auditors, who are experts in computer security, have assured me that redacted information would not compromised transportation security,” he added. The TSA said its officers are required to call in explosives experts to determine if the items are real, and that can cause significant disruption for travellers. Pistole referred the IG’s appeal back to “the head of the SSI program office — the very same office that initially and improperly marked the information” as warranting redaction. As a result, Roth blacked out portions of his report, forcing him to appeal to federal legislators who oversee the TSA, in a bid to make the data public in his final report. The agency seized more than $10 million in counterfeit Beats by Dre headphones, more than $1 million in counterfeit Gibson, Les Paul and other brand-name guitars, and more than $1 million in counterfeit soccer apparel with fake trademarks from popular teams such as Real Madrid, Celtic and Chelsea.

Pistole’s successor should personally review the redactions and find a way to release the full report. “Proper transparency is key to good governance and by insisting this report be partially redacted, TSA undercuts this transparency,” Mr. Thompson said. “Unfortunately, government agencies have all too often over-classified material under the pretext of security in order to sweep negative or embarrassing information under the rug.” The TSA referred questions to the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the agency, and which said it takes airport safety seriously, and has already begun to fix some of the problems the inspector general found. Watchdogs, however, have accused the TSA of using SSI designations to shield information that could be released, and often has been released in the past.

Roth said employees regularly left secure doors propped open, didn’t keep visitor logs of who entered sensitive communications rooms, allowed some supposedly secure data cabinets to be used for storing cleaning supplies as well. Investigators said of 21 TSA rooms they looked at, 14 didn’t have smoke detectors, another 14 didn’t have fire extinguishers and eight lacked automatic sprinklers.

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