Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 20, 2006

TSA responds to new GAO report on aviation screening

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christian Beckner on March 20, 2006

The TSA Screeners website posted a letter on Saturday from TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, discussing a yet-to-be-released GAO report on aviation screening, the results of which were discussed in the media this weekend, notably the fact that screeners failed to detect bomb components at all 21 airports where tests were conducted.

From the letter:

In late 2005, just as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) initiated a study on detecting explosives at our nation’s airports, we began giving TSOs enhanced explosives detection training both in the classroom and on the job. Over 18,000 TSOs have already been trained to identify X-ray images of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) component parts. We continue that training on a daily basis.

We also test our many layers of security that identify potential terrorists well before they reach the checkpoint. All our security measures, those that are visible to travelers and those unseen, are driven by intelligence and the training needed to identify and intercept the most serious threats to commercial aviation, including IEDs.

Last year we changed our prohibited items policy to focus on detecting bomb components and spend less time searching for items that pose little threat of being used in an attack with catastrophic consequences. The change was part of a new risk-based approach to TSA operations. We have changed our protocols to improve passenger screening and better prepare our TSOs.

The GAO report, while still classified, supports TSA’s conclusion that we must focus on finding and stopping those who would bring bomb parts onto an aircraft.

It will be interesting to see whether the GAO releases an unclassified version of this report in the near future. Stay tuned.

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