Feds Probe Leak of Airport Screeners' Test Results

Federal authorities have launched an investigation to determine who leaked test results showing security screeners missed 90 percent of the explosives and guns agents recently attempted to sneak past checkpoints at Newark Liberty Int'l Airport.


Federal authorities have launched an investigation to determine who leaked test results showing security screeners missed 90 percent of the explosives and guns agents recently attempted to sneak past checkpoints at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The probe was launched by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration after The Star-Ledger of Newark, citing information from federal security officials, reported last week that screeners failed 20 of 22 covert tests and also violated standard operating procedures at the busy hub.

"An investigation is standard when security-sensitive information has been disclosed," Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman, said this week.

The probe was criticized by Gov. Jon Corzine and Rep. William Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

"It's a cause for action to improve the situation, not a witch hunt to find out who revealed there's a problem. Whistle-blowers are generally a good thing in our society," Corzine said.

"It's all about accountability. And people don't want to be held accountable. Those statistics were pretty stark," said the governor, who suggested the probe might backfire on the TSA. "Unfortunately, they're creating a bigger story by undermining the public's right to know."

The TSA defended its investigation.

"Every government employee with access to security information knows the responsibility of handling that information and the consequences of mishandling it," Davis said. "Revealing training methods and results with the public not only violates federal regulations, but it could compromise the integrity of the screening process and offer the terrorists an undue advantage."

The TSA's Office of Investigations formerly internal affairs is handling the case and anyone implicated in releasing the results is subject to potential criminal prosecution, said Davis.

Pascrell said he is concerned that top TSA officials are focused more on the leak than rectifying the security problems revealed by the poor scores.

"They're spending a lot more time on that and protecting their fannies than ... protecting the passengers," said Pascrell, adding that anybody who disclosed the information should have federal whistle-blower protection from prosecution.

Approximately eight high-ranking TSA representatives at Newark Liberty first learned screeners had failed 20 of 22 tests during a debriefing following the Oct. 19 tests, according to a federal security official familiar with the results and investigation. The debriefing was provided by leaders of a TSA "Red Team," which conducted the undercover tests at checkpoints for passengers and their carry-on and checked luggage in the airport's three terminals, the official said.

The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity given the matter's sensitivity, said details of the poor results spread soon after the debriefing to other TSA employees throughout the airport.

Pascrell also chided the TSA for such dismal results, even as it continues to tout its progress in aviation security since being created by Congress following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Newark Liberty was one of three airports used by terrorists that day.

"It's dangerous to be playing around with the safety of passengers and, at the same time, looking them in the eye and telling them everything is fine," Pascrell said.

Davis discounted Pascrell's and Corzine's criticisms that the TSA should focus on fixing the problem rather than determining who provided the information.

"We have the ability to do both," Davis said.



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