American airport screeners missed detecting banned weapons and explosives 95% of the time in mock tests conducted by undercover agents, according to a report that has sent shock waves through security circles in a country whose 9/11 catastrophe changed airline security protocol across the world.
The undercover probes were conducted at several US airports by Homeland Security Red Teams, posing as passengers, to test the system. According to officials briefed on the results, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with so-called Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.
In one test, an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer, but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down.
The fallout was immediate. The acting TSA chief was ousted (‘reassigned’ was the official explanation) and changes were ordered in screening procedures to address the loopholes. All of which could mean even more torturous and tortuous time for passengers at airport security. A new TSA chief, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Pete Neffenger, has been nominated for some weeks now, but he is awaiting confirmation from the US Senate in a uniquely Washington process that is as tortured as the lines at airport security.
Obama administration officials, however, maintained that security was still sound with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson insisting that the government has long conducted internal testing of the aviation-security network, and that “the numbers in these reports never look good out of context, but they are a critical element in the continual evolution of our aviation security.” Nevertheless, he ordered a series of unspecified measures even as rippled passengers expressed resentment about wasted tax dollars and misplaced priority.