Congressman says airports susceptible to attack
House panel reviews decade of breaches
WASHINGTON - US airports are still vulnerable to terror attacks, despite billions of dollars invested in security enhancements since 9/11, a Republican congressman said yesterday.
Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah led an inquiry into what he described as the Transportation Security Administration’s security deficiencies. He cited government statistics of more than 25,000 security breaches at US airports since November 2001 - an average of slightly more than five security breaches a year at each of the 457 commercial airports.
Officials of the TSA have said that number is misleading and represents a small fraction of 1 percent of the 5.5 billion people screened since the 2001 terror attacks. A security breach is broadly defined to include instances ranging from a checked bag being misplaced after it went through security screening to a person who was caught in the act of breaching security and immediately apprehended, the agency said.
Testifying before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, the director of aviation at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, T.J. Orr, said the agency is compromised by a “rigid attitude of arrogance and bureaucracy.’’
Orr was also critical of the lengthy amount of time it takes to get the TSA to engage in a security assessment of the airport.
The breaches since November 2001 include more than 14,000 incidents in which people found their way into sensitive areas and about 6,000 incidents in which travelers made it past government screeners without proper scrutiny, Chaffetz said.
The congressional interest comes amid the busy summer travel season and growing criticism of some of the TSA’s screening policies, such as security pat-downs for children and for travelers in their 90s. The TSA has defended its policies, citing terrorists’ persistent interest in attacking commercial aviation.
For instance, earlier this month, counterterrorism officials saw intelligence about renewed interest among terrorists in surgically implanting bombs in humans to evade airport security like full-body imaging machines. The TSA and FBI are even testing this theory on pigs’ carcasses to see how viable the threat is, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters.
Since the 2001 attacks, the airport screening workforce has been entirely revamped and billions of dollars have been spent on technology deployed across the country. But despite all the enhancements, there have been lapses. Most recently, a cellphone-size stun gun was found aboard a
Officials do not believe the stun gun was intended for use in some type of attack, but the FBI is investigating how and why it was on the airplane.
Earlier this month, a Nigerian American was accused of breaching three layers of airport security while getting on a cross-country flight with an expired boarding pass. And last year, a teenager was found dead in Milton, Mass., after he sneaked onto airport property in Charlotte and stowed away in the wheel well of a jet.
Orr, the Charlotte airport’s aviation director, was critical of the TSA’s handling of the investigation into how the teenager was able to sneak onto the Boston-bound plane and said officials couldn’t “prove or disprove’’ that there was a security breach.
Sixteen-year old Delvonte Tisdale fell to his death when a
Representative William Keating, Democrat of Quincy, has pressed the Department of Homeland Security to heighten security around the perimeter of the nation’s airports.
Keating was the Norfolk district attorney at the time of Tisdale’s death.