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Security theater closes another embarassing act, following failure to detect weapons at 95 percent of TSA checkpoints

In the wake of the tragic attacks on France, America is reevaluating its own security and the scrutiny is turning up some troubling oversights.  Among them, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated in a report [PDF] that 73 residents on the "Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist" were found to be working at U.S. airports in various unspecified capacities.

That could mean something as petty as working at a local fast food restaurant at an airport, but it could also mean people with suspected terrorist ties were in more sensitive roles such as security, luggage handling, or flight attendant positions.

The oversight, as Quartz nicely summarizes, was due to "two bureaucratic bungles—one caused by sloppy record-keeping, and the other by inter-agency red tape."

The sloppy record keeping part is the fault of the oft-embattled U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a bureaucratic enforcement construct known in part for its friendly pat-downs and the questionable antics of some of its employees/ex-employees.  TSA officials admitted that among its "thousands of records" of airport employee rolls instances were found of "potentially incomplete or inaccurate data, such as an initial for a first name and missing social security numbers."

Watchlisting guidance
[Image Source: The Intercept]

What's more the TSA goes on to admit that 73 workers on the terror watchlist "were cleared for access to secure airport areas despite representing a potential transportation security threat."

What makes the situation especially bewildering is that the TSA is blaming the incident, in part on an internal bureaucratic breakdown or "red tape" as Quartz termed it.  Specifically, the version of the DHS Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist that is given to various federal enforcement agencies (including the TSA) is incomplete.  It appears at least some of those that slipped through the cracks were on the unredacted list, but not the published version.

What makes this a bit stranger is a simple fact -- the TSA is a part of the DHS!

TSA Seal

Basically the DHS (and TSA) report admits that there is so much red tape and convoluted procedures that the DHS Cabinet could not pass information directly to its child agency on terror suspects.  So it gave them the same generalized communique destined for non-DHS agencies.  Bizarre.

For those who are a bit hazy on what the DHS is, it was a recent Cabinet (department) created under the Presidency of George Walker Bush (R) in late Nov. 2002, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.  The original premise was that the DHS would defend the homeland much as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) (the umbrella under which the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and military sit) is tasked with defending the nation against overseas threats and defending American interests abroad.
DHS seal
The DHS's role grew more specific in mid-2003 when it absorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), an agency which covered border patrol and various immigration-related security services.  The net result was three child agencies under the command of the DHS: The DHS also inherited the TSA, formerly a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The DHS has at times drawn fire for its size, budget, and mixed track record.  The DHS employs approximately 240,000 Americans making it the third largest Cabinet of the federal executive branch [source].  With approximately 180 million Americans working in the U.S. (12.2% gov. employees; 87.8% civilian sector) those numbers mean that the DHS employs roughly 1 in every 750 American citizens in the overall workforce [source: U.S. labor force; federal workforce].

TSA grope
TSA: I did it all for the nookie. [Image Source: Getty Images]

The TSA in particular has been one of the biggest perennial sources of embarassment to the DHS.  TSA employees have been stricken with accusations ranging from sexual harassment to elder abuse.  Many have been fired amid wide-ranging accusations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior.  The agency has also been mired in accusations of wasteful spending that bordered on fraud and with exposes revealing how poor security has been in actuality, at times.

The agency has implemented some more well-received policies such as its "Pre" system which provides quicker security pass-throughs for frequent travellers with a proven track record.

Still, the recent report -- combined with an even more security check -- cost the job of the TSA's acting chief Melvin Carraway.  Carraway was reassigned to a position within the DHS coordinating with U.S. state and local law enforcement.

TSA Chief
The scandals have cost TSA Chief Melvin Carraway his post. [Image Source: Telemundo]

Carraway's "reassignment" followed a DHS security test which found that TSA agents missed 95 percent of fake weapons and explosive in a series of trials staged at dozens of America's top airports.  So to recap, the TSA is struggling to figure out what airport employees might be terrorists -- and having even more trouble figuring out if people are smuggling weapons and bombs into airports.  That's not good.

As an addendum I will add that the "Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist" is imperfect and does not always accurately name actual terrorists. A number of sources have documented obvious mistakes in the list over the years, typically involving false positives -- people misidentified as threats who really weren't one.

Sources: DHS [report; PDF], [press release; TSA resignation]

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Not a surprise
By Bad-Karma on 11/20/2015 6:50:25 PM , Rating: 2
When I was stationed at Davis-Monthan our Wing Personnel Security Office was tasked to get the TSA initially operational and stood up for both Tucson & Phoenix Sky harbor airports. We had the unenviable job of helping the applicants get their background checks into the system; then going over with the TSA whatever the investigators unearthed during the process.

The applicants were mostly of the "lowest common denominator" sorts. Even when we found major issues in some of the applicants backgrounds the TSA was in such a hurry that they were waiving the issues pretty much carte-blanche.

We made some phone calls to other units round the nation similarly tasked with helping, out only to find that they were being treated the same way by the TSA top level. The DoD units were complaining enough that a few months after the TSA was stood up the DoD as a whole refused to go any further with the support and completely washed their hands of it.

A lot of very undesirable people were ushered into very lucrative jobs. I can only imagine what is taking place as they hire and promote managers from within that then hire with what they think is acceptable.

RE: Not a surprise
By Bill S. on 11/23/2015 7:45:14 AM , Rating: 2
I was pretty much under the impression that the early TSA employees were basically the old (failed) airport security folks, who were basically ushered into a nice Federal career, all in the name of "security".

And while I'm sure that TSA enjoyed the occasional influx of ex-military personnel (with real training in security, thanks to their military career), chances are that those same people, for the most part, soon found dealing with the bureaucracy of the TSA to be too much, and found greener pastures. (I know of one, for a fact, that did so, and basically used the TSA as a stepping stone into Federal employment)

This is a common issue with security, as the job is tedious (at best), and usually involves long hours. It seldom attracts the high energy, dedicated folks that you might want, for your security teams. And, as you pointed out, it makes it easier for the less savory types to attain positions of responsibility.

What is going on
By solarrocker on 12/14/2015 2:56:02 PM , Rating: 2
Used to come here to check the articles, now can be lucky if anything at all is posted.

Now usually what is posted has already been news days/weeks ago. And the quality is pretty much gone.

Guess this site will shut-down soon enough. Anybody know actual good tech news sites still out there?

Time for a name change:
By Manch on 11/20/15, Rating: -1
RE: Time for a name change:
By eBob on 11/20/2015 9:12:45 AM , Rating: 3
It has to do with tech because the watchlist is kept on a computer in a Microsoft Word document.

RE: Time for a name change:
By Argon18 on 11/20/2015 1:13:57 PM , Rating: 2
It was stored on a Microsoft computer?? No wonder, it was probably riddled with viruses and spyware, and caused the data to be corrupted.

RE: Time for a name change:
By arenaboi on 12/17/2015 4:21:18 AM , Rating: 2
I agree, and what happened to the amount of articles? I see one, MAYBE 2, every 2 weeks now? If they don't want to write articles on TECH, maybe they should just close this website and let it go quickly instead of this slow death watching it decay from what was once a useful and good source for actual TECH articles

RE: Time for a name change:
By Wiggim on 11/20/2015 11:27:53 AM , Rating: 2
How about DailyRant? AbsentTech? Or maybe just DeepThoughts? (you may have to negotiate the rights for that one)

RE: Time for a name change:
By superflex on 12/14/2015 9:46:51 AM , Rating: 2
Since no new stories have been posted for over a week,
I'd say Jason is home preparing gift baskets for the holidays and re-working his resume.
I'm sure some other websites would like to have a "tech" author who doubles as a SJW.
Way to take a great website and turn it to crap.

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