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Context of 'July 20, 2007: TSA Issues ‘Dry Run’ Terror Alerts Based on Bogus Information'

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At a Congressional hearing, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials admit that almost half of the background checks for US airport screeners have still not been completed. Of the 30,000 screeners who have been checked, 1,200 were fired. Even scores of federal air marshals have been put on leave for discrepancies in background checks. [Time, 7/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Transportation Security Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following tests of the standard of security at US airports (see October 9, 2003), the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a private company provide a series of classified briefings to the House Aviation Subcommittee, saying the security is currently lax, bureaucratic, and no better than it was 17 years ago. After the briefings, committee chairman John Mica (R-FL) says, “We have a system that doesn’t work.” Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who supported the federal takeover of airport security, says, “The inadequacies and loopholes in the system are phenomenal.” A 2006 book by investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento will say that the new federal screeners are “much worse” than the old private ones. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official will say that the “private sector was held to a standard of somewhere between 80 to 90 percent” for weapons detection, but now at one airport “they ran eight [tests] and we missed four of them.” He will add, “But what is really alarming to me is that they said we’re above the national average so they recognize you for a job well done.” Another official will complain about the lack of testing in the federal system, saying that the new screeners even have difficultly recognizing explosives when they appear on a screen, “And when you run an actual [improvised explosive device], they don’t know what it is.” The Trentos will attribute some of the blame to the way the security staff are trained, noting, “the TSA certifies and tests itself and classifies the results as secret.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 172-4]

Entity Tags: Government Accountability Office, US Department of Homeland Security, Susan Trento, Transportation Security Administration, Clark Kent Ervin, John Mica, Joseph Trento, Peter DeFazio

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) issues a national security bulletin based on four recent incidents in San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston, and Baltimore. The bulletin creates the impression of imminent terrorist plots targeting the aviation sector. The TSA warns that terrorists are testing the possibility of smuggling bomb components on to an airplane. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe says the agency has noticed an increase in unusual items in checked and carry-on luggage, including “wires, switches, cell phone components, and dense clay-like substances” - including a block of cheese. [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] The incidents all turn out to have innocent explanations. On July 27, Brian Todd of CNN reports “That bulletin for law enforcement eyes only told of suspicious items recently found in passenger’s bags at airport checkpoints, warned that they may signify dry runs for terrorist attacks… it turns out none of that is true.” One such case was that of Sara Weiss, who was detained in San Diego after two ice packs covered in tape and containing clay were allegedly found in her baggage. Weiss, who works for a faith-based organization, was also carrying a survey about Muslim Americans. Weiss says she was held for three hours and questioned by San Diego Harbor Police and two other men who did not identify themselves. She says she was asked if she knew Osama bin Laden, which she described as “a ridiculous question.” Todd reports “The FBI now says there were valid explanations for all four incidents in that bulletin, and a US government official says no charges will be brought in any of these cases.” The FBI maintains “they were right” in putting the bogus reports on the TSA bulletin, which is distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The TSA says that security officers must be trained in identifying suspicious packages, even when those packages turn out to be innocuous. [CNN, 7/27/2007] Defense for the TSA bulletin comes from a number of sources. “This is what TSA should be doing whether it turns out to be a whole bunch of harmless coincidences or part of a plot,” says James Carafano, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who in the past called for TSA’s abolition. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, also a critic of the TSA, agrees the agency is handling this appropriately: “To stay ahead of potential threats to our aviation system it must use all of the intelligence available as part of its daily operations.” However, the bulletin is questioned by San Diego Harbor Police Chief Kirk Sanfilippo who says officers found two ice packs wrapped in clear tape, not duct tape, and there was no clay inside. “It was not a threat. It was not a test run,” Sanfilippo says. “The whole thing was very explainable and understandable.” [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] He characterizes the bulletin as “a little bit off.” Local TSA Security Director and chief of the airport police Michael J. Aguilar says it was quickly determined the ice packs contained the usual blue gel. Aguilar says he doesn’t know why the TSA memo, issued in Washington, reported the substance as clay. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, CNN, Brian Todd, Bennie Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Transportation Security Agency, Sara Weiss, James Carafano, House Homeland Security Committee, Kirk Sanfilippo, Ellen Howe, Michael J. Aguilar, San Diego Harbor Police

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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