Auditors, NOT Elite Agents, Smuggled Fake Weapons Past TSA
The undercover agents who managed to sneak fake weapons past the Transportation Security Administration were auditors with no specialized training, not “super terrorists” with tactical expertise.
During a hearing Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs he was surprised by media reports claiming elite “Red Teams” were responsible for testing the effectiveness of TSA screeners.
In fact, Roth claimed, “the testers we use are auditors … [who] don’t have any specialized background or training in this kind of work.”
Last week, ABC News revealed that undercover Homeland Security agents were able to sneak fake weapons and explosive past TSA agents on 67 out of 70 attempts, leading to the dismissal of the agency’s acting administrator. An unidentified source leaked news of the 96 percent failure rate, which is included in a classified inspector general report on the effectiveness of TSA screening procedures.
According to the article, the tests were conducted by DHS Red Teams, which former TSA administrator John Pistole described during a 2013 congressional hearing as “super terrorists” trained to exploit specific weaknesses in TSA security.
Red Team members “know exactly what our protocols are,” Pistole told lawmakers at the hearing. “They can create and devise and conceal items that … not even the best terrorists would be able to do.”
Roth, however, told Republican Sen. Ben Sasse that while he could not comment in an unclassified setting on the specific methodology that DHS employed, the investigators who conducted the recent inspections do not fit the description the media has given them.
“We don’t identify ourselves as ‘Red Teams,’” Roth stated. “These are auditors we use who are members of the inspector general’s office.”
Roth speculated that the terminology might have resulted from confusion with the TSA’s own inspectors, saying, “Red Team, I think, is a term-of-art that TSA uses to do internal testing, but we don’t identify ourselves as Red Teams.”
“The public is taking some comfort in the idea that this investigation was supposedly done by ‘super terrorists,’” Sasse noted, implying the TSA’s failure rate is even less defensible given that it was duped by more-or-less ordinary individuals.
Throughout the exchange, the issue of secrecy surfaced repeatedly as Roth sought to answer Sasse’s questions without revealing additional details of the still-classified IG report.
Prior to the hearing, Sasse penned an op-ed for USA Today Monday claiming the classified details of the report, which have been shared with committee members, “are even worse” than the 96 percent failure rate that has already been leaked.
Sasse urges President Barack Obama to “responsibly declassify” the rest of the report, which he believes will generate the public outrage necessary to induce transformative changes in the TSA’s strategy and leadership.
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