The Transportation Security Administration abysmally failed an internal investigation into its ability to stop undercover Department of Homeland Security agents’ attempts to breach security with potential weapons or bombs, according to an explosive new report revealed by ABC News. The report notes that the test exposed the fact that TSA officers at “dozens” of US airports failed to catch DHS “red team” members armed with potential weapons or bombs in 95% of 70 attempts.
One such agent made it through security with a fake bomb strapped to his back despite setting off a magnetometer and enduring a subsequent pat-down.
“We know that the adversary innovates and we have to push ourselves to capacity in order to remain one step ahead. [O]ur testers often make these covert tests as difficult as possible,” read a 2013 TSA blog cited by ABC News describing the methods used by covert DHS red team agents, who attempt to blend in with passengers and sneak weapons through security to test the TSA’s capabilities.
At a 2013 congressional hearing, former TSA administrator John Pistole described the red team testers as “super terrorists” and said, “[Testers] know exactly what our protocols are. They can create and devise and conceal items that … not even the best terrorists would be able to do.” That same year, the TSA came under fire after a red team tester strapped with fake explosives was able to sneak through security measures, including a pat down and a metal detector, at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport.
A September 2014 TSA report also found security vulnerabilities in the bureau’s baggage screening system. That report noted the fact that, even with $540 million in spending on new screening equipment and $11 million spent for training, the TSA did not noticeably improve its performance following a prior 2009 review in which it also had performed poorly.
A DHS official told ABC News, “Upon learning the initial findings of the Office of Inspector General’s report, Secretary Johnson immediately directed TSA to implement a series of actions, several of which are now in place, to address the issues raised in the report.”