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Ayotte: Holes in TSA vetting procedures for workers 'mind boggling'

By DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 09. 2015 12:40PM

Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth testifies about the Transportation Security Administration on Capitol Hill Tuesday. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)



Holes in the Transportation Security Administration's vetting of workers are simply "mind-boggling," U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in an oversight hearing Tuesday.

Ayotte questioned John Roth, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, regarding a report that the TSA's vetting process failed to identify 73 aviation workers found to have had terrorism-related links.

An inspector general's investigation, designed to test airport screening, also saw undercover auditors smuggle simulated explosives or weapons past security checkpoints 95 percent of the time, according to media reports of classified information.

A spokesman for Manchester's airport said they were not aware of any of those tests being conducted locally.

Ayotte, as a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said it was inexplicable why the TSA was not vetting workers against the FBI database.

"I think all of us are quite shocked by this in terms of basic common sense," she said.

Ayotte pointed to the inspector general's report, released June 4, which stated that current law and FBI policy do not authorize the TSA "to perform recurrent criminal checks of aviation workers because aviation worker vetting is considered to be for non-criminal justice purposes."

Ayotte said that bureaucratic steps should be taken post-haste to fix or update what the TSA refers to as the "interagency watchlisting policy."

Ayotte chairs the Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, which has jurisdiction over civil aviation safety and security, with specific oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration and TSA aviation security.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday also heard from TSA administrators and from whistle-blowers, including federal air marshal Robert J. MacLean.

MacLean, who was fired for being a whistle-blower before later being reinstated, testified that the TSA should take additional steps to secure airline cockpits.

He said "pre-check" should be expanded in order to free up personnel to perform additional security checks around the airport.

"I hope we don't need another 9/11 to prove that we were accurate."

Rebecca Roering, assistant federal security director of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, told the committee of agency dysfunction and how some aviation workers with limited background checks had unimpeded access to secure areas of airports. She also said "pre-check" screening clearances were handed out "like Halloween candy."

"The culture that exists at TSA is one of fear and mistrust," she said in conclusion.

The TSA has nearly 50,000 officers, 20 percent of whom are military veterans, who screen around 660 million people every year.

Roth said his office reviews more than 16,000 complaints a year. "Whistle-blower disclosures have saved lives as well as taxpayer dollars," he said.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will soon hold a confirmation hearing for Admiral Peter V. Neffenger, the nominee for TSA administrator.

dtuohy@unionleader.com


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