Lawmakers Question TSA On Security Breach
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Homeland Security officials expressed contrition today over the posting online of an airport screening manual. It contained detailed information about procedures at airport checkpoints. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers at a hearing that travelers were never at risk. The department is placed five of its employees on administrative leave, pending a review.
NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The 93-page screening manual was posted on a government Web site last spring. The sensitive bits were supposed to have been blacked out. But anyone could copy and paste the redacted elements into another document and they would become readable. This included information about the settings for airport metal and explosives detectors, which travelers were subject to additional screening, what proper ID badges looked like for CIA officers and members of Congress.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine called the manual's posting shocking and reckless.
Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): This is important if we're talking about making sure that people who would do us harm don't have the ability to falsify documents. We've given them a textbook on how to do so.
NAYLOR: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appearing at another Senate hearing said personnel actions had been taken against the TSA employees responsible and that an internal review was under way. But she downplayed the manual's importance, saying it had been revised six times since it had been posted.
Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Homeland Security Department): The security of the traveling public has never been put at risk. And that the document that was posted was an out-of-date document. Nonetheless, the posting of it did not meet our own standards for what should be available on the Net and not available on the Net.
NAYLOR: While much of the information disclosed in the manual is merely embarrassing, much, as it is clearly labeled, is sensitive security information. Former Homeland Security assistant secretary, Stewart Baker.
Mr. STEWART BAKER (Former Homeland Security Assistant Secretary): Statements about the kinds of equipment that don't get screened for explosives, they're really going to have to change their procedures, I think, to introduce some new uncertainty about that because you simply can't tell people: Put your explosives here and we won't check them.
NAYLOR: The result, says Baker, is at the very least travelers will be put through more inconvenience because of the disclosure as screeners more carefully look at IDs and thoroughly examine carry-ons. Other procedures have already been revised. Baker says the incident only serves to confirm many people's worst impressions of the agency.
Mr. BAKER: It's a very public black eye. And TSA already has a lot of public detractors who are going to take some satisfaction from this.
NAYLOR: And it's another bit of unpleasantness for the department of Homeland Security, which is already dealing with the fallout from the would-be reality TV stars who crashed a White House state dinner last month.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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