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Report: TSA Under-Reports Security Breaches

May 14, 2012
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 Due to unclear protocols and poor reporting and monitoring system, the TSA is only reporting an average of 53 percent of incidents to its headquarters, according to an article from The Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ. 

Pulling from a federal report set to be released Monday, the Star-Ledger reports that of six of the nation's top airports used for the report, Newark only reported 42 percent of their security breaches, while the average rate was 52 percent, and the highest rate was 88 percent. The report focused in breaches occurring at Newark Liberty airport from January 2010 through May 2011, but five other major airports were included for the same 16-month period. The actual number of breaches was blacked out. 

This lack of reporting makes it much more difficult to spot dangerous weaknesses in the national fight against terrorism, the report says, placing at least some of the blame with the TSA headquarters' poor reporting and monitoring system. 

"The agency does not provide the necessary guidance and oversight to insure that all breaches are consistently reported, tracked and corrected. As a result, it does not have a complete understanding of breaches occurring at the Nation’s airports and misses opportunities to strengthen aviation security." states the report as printed in the Star-Ledger, signed by Anne L. Richards, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant inspector general.

Among the breaches at Newark, a flight carrying a dead dog was allowed to continue to Los Angeles, even after the administrator had learned that the carcass had not been properly screened. Less than two weeks later, a knife made it past a security checkpoint in a carry-on bag, and officials had to shut down the airport for 45 minutes, the article says. 

In January 2010, even, a Rutgers graduate student sneaked past a vacated security post at a checkpoint exit lane to enter the secure area and kiss his girlfriend — an action that shut the airport down for six hours and disrupted air traffic around the globe, the Star-Ledger reports. 

Investigators found that local officials might not report issues because of confusion over what the national TSA guidelines require. The report suggests that the under-reporting is caused by variation on the definition of a breach: 

"For example, the report quotes one TSA operations directive, titled 'Management of Security Breaches,' as defining a breach as, 'any incident involving unauthorized and uncontrolled access by an individual or prohibited item into a sterile area or security area of an airport that is determined by TSA to present an immediate and significant risk to life, safety or the security of the transportation network.'

"But a different directive, involving the agency’s Performance and Results Information System, titled, 'Reporting Security Incidents via PARIS,' refers only to individuals’ gaining access improperly, not to prohibited items. The result, the report states, was differing interpretations of what constituted a breach among local TSA managers, resulting in inconsistent reporting, with only headquarters to blame," the article states.

The managing officer at Newark has been replaced by Donald Drummer, who provided an immediate morale boost which, according to the article, has been dampened slightly since Drummer ordered suspensions and retraining for dozens of screeners found not to be doing their jobs. 

Newark Liberty is the 14th busiest airport in the nation, handling 33.8 million passengers in 2011. It was also the airport were United Airlines Flight 93 took off on Sept. 11, 2001, before it was hijacked and crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all 44 people on board. 

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