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US overhauls airport security after screeners fail tests

world Updated: Jun 03, 2015 00:10 IST
Yashwant Raj
US airport security

US authorities on Monday launched a major overhaul of airport security around the country to address stunning lapses discovered by undercover government inspectors.

They had cleared security with weapons and mock explosives 67 of the 70 times they tried, according to findings of an internal report of the department of homeland security (DHS). That’s a 95% failure rate, unacceptable anywhere in the world, least of all in a country that continues to grapple with questions about 9/11 attacks that claimed 2,977 American lives.

One undercover agent was stopped only after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer, but screeners missed a fake explosive device taped to his back during a pat-down. There was no information available on the time period of these coverts tests. But officials told local news media outlets they were all conducted recently.

The department of homeland security, which oversees airport security, refused to confirm or deny these numbers but announced corrective steps that confirmed its concern.

“We take these findings very seriously in our continued effort to test, measure and enhance our capabilities and techniques as threats evolve,” said DHS secretary Jeh Johnson.

The overhaul includes getting a new boss for the Transportation Security Administration — those men and women in blue shirts, that directly run security at US airports. DHS has ordered a complete overhaul of operating procedures to fix the “vulnerabilities”.

And to test and train personnel and it’ll continue random covert testing to check on the effectiveness of the new measures. These tests are carried out by red teams, who have been described as “super-terrorists”, for their superior knowledge of TSA procedures and weaknesses, which they exploit.

In 2013, an undercover agent carrying a fake bomb made it past the metal detector and the pat-down without getting caught at New Jersey’s airport.