Earlier this week documents from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) revealing more than 25,000 known security breaches since the agency took over airport security screening on the 13th of February 2002 became public knowledge during U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security hearings on TSA Oversight.
First off, keep this in mind … 25,000+ known security breaches accounts for approximately 0.00045% of the approximately 5,500,000,000+ passengers the TSA has screened since coming into existence. Secondly, the 25,000+ known security breaches aren’t broken down into minor breaches or major breaches, which means that the TSA discovering knitting needles when they were banned back in 2003 in the post-security sterile zone is the same as the discovery of a loaded hand gun according to these documents.
While airport security breaches can never completely be eliminated, because there will always be those actively seeking to navigate their way around security, there are a number of ways the TSA can close major gaps in its security. The agency often fails to acknowledge certain primary security gaps, which can be summed up in a statement made by T.J. Orr, Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s (CLT) Director of Aviation, that states the TSA operates with “a rigid attitude of arrogance and bureaucracy.”
Presently the TSA can reduce security breaches by changing its procedure and technology on two factors that lead to breaches in security being allowed to occur.
1) Boarding Pass Verification – Presently when passenger identities are verified by TSA Travel Document Checkers (TCD), a passenger’s drivers license, passport or other identification are verified, but not their paper boarding pass. While mobile boarding passes, in use by a limited number of passengers, and only available at a limited number of airports, are scanned by TSA TCDs for verification, paper boarding passes are not. TSA TCDs glance at a boarding pass to match a passenger’s name to their identification. Currently paper boarding passes lack key security features, such as an Aztec Barcode. Aztec Barcodes have existed for more than a decade, and are commonly in use every day, but the TSA has not worked with airlines to implement these impossible to forge barcodes and increase the verification of passenger identity.
2) Two Tier Security – The TSA’s current deployment of security at airports throughout the United States is not uniform, causing major lapses in passenger screening. Presently the TSA operates a significantly higher level of security at large airports and hubs, leaving smaller airports with fewer assets to identify and prevent a security breach.
Major airports are equipped with Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners, Behavior Detection Officers (BDO), Federal Security Director/Deputy Federal Security Director (FSD/DFSD). While some smaller airports have the controversial AIT scanners, and some smaller airports have the controversial BDOs and some smaller airports have an FSD or DFSD, there are many lacking all of these layers of security.
The smaller assets deployed at my home airport, Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport (HVN), for example provide a prime example of an airport that is susceptible to an undetected security breach. HVN is a tiny airport with only four to five flights per day, all on 37 seat Bombardier Dash-8-100 aircraft, and all flights only flying to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). While it is unlikely someone would undertake an act of terrorism ageist a tiny turbo-prop, once a person has passed through security at HVN, they have access to enter the travel stream to every major airport in the United States without having to clear security again.
The dual tiers of security are a clear and substantial divide between airport security appearance and effectiveness … this two tier security puts steal bars on the windows while leaving the back door wide open.
So, while the TSA admits to more than 25,000 known security breaches, the real question is this … how many unknown security breaches have occurred on the TSA’s watch? I personally know of hundreds of undetected security breaches that quickly come to mind.