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TSA missed 73 terrorism-flagged airline workers

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners check passengersIn a recent article (www.politico.com) it was reported that the TSA Transportation Security Administration failed to identify at least 73 people employed in the airline industry flagged under terrorism-related activity codes. According to a recent report by its inspector general,  these people, including employees of major airlines, airport vendors and other employers, were all cleared to access secure airport areas even though their names appeared on anti-terrorist watch-lists.

Rather than conducting criminal-history and work-authorization checks itself, the TSA generally delegated individual airports to do these tasks, with very limited oversight.  According to the report “TSA lacked assurance that it properly vetted all credential applicants,”.  Additionally, thousands of records used to vet these workers had incomplete or inaccurate data.

Indeed this is not the first time there have been serious issues with airport employee and TSA background checks.  On February 4, 2015, CNN reported that airport employees accessing airplanes and tarmac areas did not undergo criminal background checks after the workers are hired.  “It’s fair to say that once an employee survives an initial background check … which gives them access to the airport … they don’t go back and check criminal history?” asked Rep. John Katko, R-New York, chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee.  “That is correct from my knowledge,” according to Gary Perdue, the FBI’s deputy assistant director of counterterrorism.

The agency “risks credentialing and providing unescorted access to secure airport areas for workers with potential to harm the nation’s air transportation system,” the report concludes.  The latest news comes a week after interim TSA chief Melvin Carraway was reassigned the same day a bombshell report surfaced, finding that officials failed to stop undercover TSA agents from smuggling banned weapons or fake explosives through airport security.

According to CNN, the senate subcommittee hearing followed three recent breaches in Atlanta, including a gun smuggling operation in December, involving a Delta baggage handler and passenger. The baggage handler allegedly brought the guns to work, entered the gate area and passed the weapons onto a passenger who had already gone through security.

In part these “incomplete and inaccurate records ”  occur because so called “nationwide” and “statewide” criminal records databases are themselves lacking large chunks of data.  Indeed every two years the U.S. Department of Justice releases an extensive Survey of State Criminal Record Repositories. The 118-page twelfth survey, released January 2014, shows that:

  • 17 states have over 1.8 million unprocessed or partially processed court dispositions
  • 13 states report 20% or more of all dispositions received could NOT be linked to the arrest/charge information in the state criminal record database. 14 states don’t know how many dispositions they have that cannot be linked.
  • 17 states reports there is at least a 60-day backlog between the time of a felony case is decided and when the record is entered in the criminal history database. 12 states do not know how long the delay is.

According to CNN, Mark Hatfield, the acting deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said the TSA is now examining the airport breaches to determine what investments and policy changes may be necessary.

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