House report slams major security gaps at airports

Posted at 6:54 PM, Feb 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-06 18:54:23-05

A new congressional report says the systems in place to vet the nearly one million people who work within US airports are insufficient.

The House Homeland Security subcommittee report, which CNN obtained Monday, found inconsistent screening of airport employees, insufficient TSA access to intelligence information used to vet individuals and inadequate control of access to sensitive areas of airports.

“The disturbing reality is that it takes just one individual with the right access to cause catastrophic harm,” the report warned, though it also noted progress on many fronts following years of devastating reports.

The report cited a slew of headlines from media reports on times people with security clearances smuggled guns or drugs in airports or were associated with militant groups like ISIS. It also highlighted a number of specific cases where the government said dozens of aviation employees had possible ties to terrorism and thousands of employees had incomplete records.

In addition to summarizing its own investigation, the report referred to many previous government and media reports about startling shortcomings in airport security.

Among them was the mention of a leaked government watchdog report showing a 95% failure rate from covert tests of the TSA screening process. Almost all banned items made it through airport security in that report from 2015.

The subcommittee cited this glaring failure in the main public function of the TSA as one of several reasons for more covert tests.

The subcommittee recommended tightening the process for granting airport workers credentials and instituting regular reassessments, as well as airports and air carriers look at the “costs and feasibility of expanding the physical screening of employees.”

The report also repeatedly called for increased cooperation from the FBI with the Department of Homeland Security leading the way as different government organizations monitor the nation’s airports.

The authors of the report said they were “concerned” about the FBI’s slowness to involve other agencies and said the FBI had not been “forthcoming” to the Homeland Security Committee.

The subcommittee called for airports to implement the FBI’s RAPBack program, a background check database that constantly monitors and updates employers on the criminal backgrounds of employees.

The report cited specific progress in the vast increase in “physical employee screenings” for the TSA and said, “88% of domestic airports have reduced their total number of access points.”