Why is the TSA failing so many security tests? What we know about the ‘disturbing’ undercover operation

11:40 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 Homepage
A TSA agent instructs travelers on traveling through security lines at Pittsburgh International Airport November 24, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

recent undercover operation from the Department of Homeland Security found airport screeners, other security equipment and Transportation Security Administration procedures failed more than half the time.

At a public hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday, TSA administrator David Pekoske, along with members of the Department of Homeland Security, officials revealed the results.

“We found that briefing disturbing,” Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CBS News.

Though the specifics of the operation’s results remain classified from a prior private briefing, CBS News reported the committee was told that more than 70 percent of the time, undercover agents were able to walk through TSA checkpoints with mock knives, guns and explosives.

“This agency that you run is broken badly and it needs your attention,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) told Pekoske. 

The DHS suggested eight classified recommendations following the operation and, according to CBS News, lawmakers and TSA officials plan to replace old check point scanners with new CT scanners, which Pekoske said is equipped with the most effective technology.

The technology, which has already been tested in TSA checkpoints in at least two airports, according to ABC News, includes 3D imaging for baggage, allowing more effective ways to spot threatening items.

However, that investment in CT technology requires funding above what TSA currently has, Pekoske said.

“We have the technology and resources to do it, but we're not doing it because ... we're paying for a wall,” Rep. Bill Keating (D-Massachusetts) said, questioning how the agency’s funding has been diverted to build President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Frank Cilluffo, former director of the Homeland Security advisory council, told CBS News that as long as terrorism is a threat at airports, “the TSA cannot be complacent.”

“They're looking for vulnerabilities that can be exploited, and we need to make sure that we can push that as far as we can to minimize the risk,” he said. 

TSA officials said in a statement that the agency “concurs with the DHS OIG findings and is committed to aggressively implementing the recommendations.”

The report comes just two years after a similar operation found the TSA failed 95 percent of its tests.

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