Warner Calls For Stricter Checks Of TWIC Card Applicants

May 01--Sen. Mark Warner on Wednesday called for stricter checks for Transportation Worker Identification Credentials, saying the cards are easier to get than a job at McDonald's.

The Transportation Security Administration issues TWIC cards to workers who must regularly access secure port areas, such as longshoremen and truck drivers. To get one, they must pass background screenings.

Questions arose about the TWIC program after a civilian truck driver, a convicted felon, entered Norfolk Naval Station on March 24 and shot and killed a sailor aboard the destroyer Mahan.

While Navy officials initially said Jeffrey Savage accessed the base with his TWIC card, it's no longer clear whether he showed it at the gate, although he did have a valid card.

Still, the shooting has shown problems with the TWIC program, Warner said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

"While the criminal investigation is not completed, and it may ultimately be determined that this shooting had more to do with inadequate training and procedures at the gate... our look into this tragedy revealed some obvious deficiencies in the TWIC program," Warner said.

Specifically, he said, there is "a widespread misunderstanding" that TWIC card holders are subjected to robust screenings. In truth, he said, applicants for fast food jobs typically undergo stricter checks.

"It's harder to get a job at McDonald's," Warner said.

The TWIC program was created after 9/11 to prevent terrorists from accessing the nation's maritime transportation system, namely ports. It wasn't until 2010 that the Navy began accepting TWIC cards for base entry. Truck drivers also are supposed to provide a business reason for being there.

According to the TSA's website, only a handful of crimes mean certain denial for a TWIC card: espionage, sedition, treason and terrorism. Savage got one despite convictions for a serious drug offense and voluntary manslaughter; he shot and killed a friend during an argument in a car in 2005.

Warner said the TSA has no way to find out whether a TWIC card holder is convicted of a crime after the card is issued. Only a terrorism watch list is periodically checked.

"If it's a criminal arrest or something, as Sen. Warner testified, that is not pushed to us," John Pistole, the TSA's administrator, told lawmakers. "That's one of those gaps."

Pistole said roughly a third of TWIC holders have criminal records.

Warner said the TSA needs to strengthen background screenings and conduct periodic checks.

Pistole also suggested that Savage might not have shown his TWIC card to get onto Norfolk Naval Station, despite initial statements by Navy officials.

"I think there is still some uncertainty as to the facts -- whether the shooter actually displayed the TWIC card to gain access," he said.

Savage shot and killed Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo, who was assigned to Norfolk Naval Station's security department. Savage was killed by security forces.

Corinne Reilly, 757-446-2277, corinne.reilly@pilotonline.com

Bill Bartel, 757-446-2398, bill.bartel@pilotonline.com

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