Code Red: The TSA’s Response to Crimes Just Waiting to Happen

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What is the difference between survival and prosperity if we are an American in 2012? Just this month we have yet another breach that makes us less the owners of prosperity.  And yet, I keep asking myself is it really a breach or a curse? What is clear to all are people sitting around after a lock down of Terminal C at Newark Airport. What is unclear to all is how can we separate checking in from lockdown. A three-hour lockdown, which began on August 5th at 8:45am, left many travelers shaken but it had my heart breaking not shaking. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. is just one chess piece in this game of immediate and residual security that holds the answer. We need more Rep. Peter Kings stepping in.

During the immediate aftermath of August 5th, Rep. King wrote a 2-page letter to the head of the TSA demanding detailed explanations by August 20.  And if he is not satisfied with the answers he always lets the TSA know. God Bless politicians like Rep. King because they seem to understand that we are not just customers at will, rather we are part of an organizational culture. Rep. King has said that if the TSA does not make improvement, he would ask the head of homeland security to cut off the TSA’s funding. For instance, Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the breach of a $100 million fence around Kennedy Airport by a Queens man on August 10th a serious security breakdown that could be the focus of congressional hearings. I am going to have to agree with Rep. Peter King’s fury. I would be furious too if I was addressing the same $100 million security system that is anything but secure. Why?  Because the same fencing and electronic surveillance system (PIDS), is also used at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, and Newark Liberty and Teterboro airports in New Jersey. I think that the Homeland Security Department is trying to cut costs more than acquiring additional layers of security. Rep. Peter King is not on any kind of witch-hunt against communism or extremism. He just wants hardball question answers to make their way into tangible solutions.  I think this picture says it all. You see disappointment, shame and a scared self, just like you will find in you and I.

 

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In an effort to cut costs in 2010, the DHS drafted a strategy to merge two agencies, the U.S Coast Guard and The Homeland Security Department’s respective systems for recording plane logistics and maintenance work. However, while auditing progress saw their coordination in maintain helicopters in May, the department’s inspector general discovered that Customs and Border protection wants to go it alone all along with a separate system hosted by NASA or IBM. This jumping of the fence is ironic yet plenty scary. Customs and Border Protection current tool for documenting operational status, inventory and other maintenance functions is written in archaic computer language. The situations and clandestine reports we continue to receive from the private sector sure seem acceptable on first take but we must look deeper.

Reports coming from private sector do not necessarily convey the threat to landscape because the private sector is not required to report anything to Homeland Security and DHS in the first place. Only in response to a company asking for help. Deploying team onsite to a security threat is always conducted at the request of the asset owner or operator and when appropriate thresholds have been met. There have been 25,000 airport security braches in the US since 2011. Ask former Vice President Al Gore how easy breaching security is and he will tell you.  He inadvertently breached security at Nashville Airport when an American Airlines employee led him and his entourage around security, a clear violation of policy August 15th. Gore and his group of two others made their way to security, waited for him to come through the check area, then saw him clear past security in a secure area. Gore and his group bypassed the medal detectors a blatant security breach. But how serious is serious? Should we be ranking levels of seriousness to each separate incident like we do terrorist color code alert system? We did. The color-coded threat levels were criticized years ago when they were first implemented by people, that they did not tell people what they can do, just what they could feel which was fear. Now the same fear that we did not want to feel is back. And I believe sadly that no other road to ‘recommendations are still under review’ which was DHS' plan after elimination works. Colors are not ridiculous nor are the lives they represent. NJ Sen. E. Lautenberg has voiced his own disdain with a statement that made my head shake. By TSA only responding to 42 percent of the security breaches it says were reported between January 2010 and May 2011 at Newark International Airport, this is not a group freedom worth bragging about if we are winning America’s hearts and minds. How completely and utterly sad.

Newark Liberty is the 14th busiest airport in the nation, handling 33.8 million passengers in 2011. Need I remind you it was also the airport United Airlines Flight 93 that took off on Sept. 11, 2001. Yes The Transportation Security Administration named a new security chief for Newark Liberty International Airport in April of 2011 however let us just evaluate Mr. Donald Drummer’s success shall we? Misplacing pieces of unchecked luggage that had also tested positive for explosives and couldn’t find it for 45 minutes is not success. Neither does having a bomb squad clear the bag after nearly three hours be acceptable nor a success. We have see it in movies growing up as kids, the key to successful operations was keeping airplanes safe and always had been stopping acts of sabotage while the ‘bad guys’ stalled on the planning stages. What we need are more letters like the letter Rep. Peter King addressed to TSA Administrators through John Pistole, demanding Transportation Security Administration (TSA) immediately report on the actions TSA has taken to address the security breach. One way I think would be is to hold a media conference together with the concerned pubic. Gather a few experts like unbiased pilots who can speak and clear the air.

[i]By fixing this problem of failed response through sound reporting, we will be stealing less from the people.  We will be saying that differing interpretations are o.k. and that formally we have an interpretation of guidance we can follow. We will be presenting people with clear opinions on which to risk their own lives. There should be no secrets.  Congressman Peter King has said he does not believe that there needs to be a hoopla over who is actually connecting the dots between intensity of rhetoric. However, if we have one dot that is so large it can not be masked, for example, the Nigerian banker coming into the American embassy and turning in his own son, it becomes a question of connecting dots fast enough not just freezing accounts.  If this is indeed a war on terrorism that we are seeing at Newark I believe in Rep. King’s position that treating security itself is not a court of law. He does not relish in individuals losing their jobs. So many obvious mistakes show the severity of moving plots.  With all this wonderful infrared and architecturally advanced technology we have today, shouldn’t we not be feeling tedious, fanatical screening of passengers and carry-ons? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe not.


[i] Department of Homeland Security. 2012.

 

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

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