DHS IG Identifies TSA Checkpoint Weaknesses

The inspector general (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security identified a number of vulnerabilities in passenger screening technologies and practices at airport checkpoints and made a number of recommendations to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to fix them, the IG Office said Tuesday.

The exact nature of the eight specific recommendations remained classified but the IG Office briefly acknowledged that it conducted tests and provided the results to TSA and Congress in a report, Evaluation of Newly Deployed and Enhanced Technology and Practices at the Passenger Screening Checkpoint.

"The number of tests conducted, the names of the airports tested, and the quantitative and qualitative results of our testing are classified. We have shared that information with the department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and appropriate congressional committees," the report stated.

The report revealed that the IG Office examined advanced imaging technology, advanced technology x-ray equipment and liquid container screening used to examine air passengers and carry-on luggage. The IG additionally evaluated the performance of transportation screening officers in their checks of passenger travel documents.

After examining those technology and processes at eight domestic US airports, the IG delivered eight specific recommendations to TSA to strengthen screening processes at passenger checkpoints.

TSA completely agreed with seven of the recommendations but only partially agreed to the eighth.

"When fully implemented, these recommendations should strengthen the overall effectiveness of the screening process at the passenger screening checkpoint," the IG report stated.

TSA reviewed a draft of the report and vowed to study the results of the IG audit "as part of its ongoing efforts to assess and improve passenger checkpoint screening."

The implementation of new passenger screening technologies to identify prohibited objects such as explosives and weaponry requires further improvements to keep threatening items out of secure airport areas, TSA said. As such, the agency indicated it would strive to increase the effectiveness of various technologies.

The Christmas Day bombing attempt of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has triggered heightened interest in investing in technologies that could detect explosives and other threatening objects, the IG report noted.

According to reports, Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up the flight before it landed in Detroit, Mich., with PETN explosive concealed in his underwear and thereby kill the 278 passengers onboard. The explosive failed to ignite properly and passengers and crew quickly subdued him.

Still, the smuggling of the powdery explosive by concealing it on an area of the body difficult to scan renewed interest in advanced screening technologies that could detect explosives and non-metallic objects.

"The use of new and innovative passenger screening technology is intended to prevent harmful and prohibited items from entering airport sterile areas and potentially onboard aircraft. To date, TSA has deployed a number of enhanced technologies and developed specific protocols at passenger screening checkpoints," the report said.

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