GAO rips airline security, says it easily got bomb making materials past TSA screeners

With only a week before the busiest airline travel day of the year the Government Accounting Office today issued a scathing and chilling report on airline security: Bomb making materials costing less that $150 were purchased and carried past airport security screening in 19 US airports.

GAO investigators said they succeeded in passing through Transportation Security Administration security screening checkpoints undetected with components for several improvised explosive devices (IED) and an improvised incendiary device (IID) concealed in their carry-on luggage and on their persons.

The components for these devices and the items used to conceal the components were commercially available. Specific details regarding the device components and the methods of concealment GAO used during its covert testing are classified by TSA; as such, they were not discussed in the GAO’s report.

According to the GAO its investigators devised methods to conceal the components for these devices from TSA transportation security officers, keeping in mind TSA policies related to liquids and other items, including prohibited items. By using concealment methods for the components, two investigators demonstrated that it is possible to bring the components for several IEDs and one IID through TSA checkpoints and onto airline flights without being challenged by transportation security officers.

In most cases, transportation security officers appeared to follow TSA procedures and used technology appropriately; however, we uncovered weaknesses in TSA screening procedures and other vulnerabilities as a result of these tests, the GAO stated.

The GAO said it provided TSA officials with two timely briefings to help them take corrective action. While we understand that TSA faces a significant challenge in balancing security concerns with efficient passenger movement, we are recommending that the Secretary of Homeland Security consider several actions to improve aspects of TSA’s passenger screening program, including elements of human capital, processes, and technology.

The GAO continued: We understand the challenges TSA faces in balancing security risks with the efficient movement of passengers; however, from a strict security standpoint, current policies allowing substantial carry-on luggage and related items through TSA checkpoints increases the risk of a terrorist successfully bringing an IED, an IID, or both onto an aircraft undetected. Even if current carry-on luggage policies are left unchanged, our testing shows that risks can be reduced through improvements in human capital, improved processes, and continued advances in technology.

The scathing report pretty much takes a dump on any good-feelings President Bush tried to elicit today when he ordered steps to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays that have left passengers stranded. The most significant change is that the Pentagon will open unused military airspace from Florida to Maine to create "a Thanksgiving express lane" for commercial airliners. 

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