Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More Details Emerge on TSA Gaffe: It's More Embarrassing

A day after President Obama spoke out yet again on the failure of American intelligence-gathering communities to communicate and work together on key issues regarding the failed Christmas Day groin grenadier, more details have emerged on what occurred in Newark's Terminal C Sunday evening. The new details paint a clearer picture of what happened, though they do not make the TSA look any better.

To begin with, it came to light that the TSA waited over an hour to even contact the Port Authority Police Department, the law enforcement arm of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the operator of the airport. Computer logs uncovered by MyFox New York show that the breach occurred at 5:20 PM and that PAPD was not called until 6:40 PM; an interval of 80 minutes. For contrast, the man who entered Terminal C's sterile area without first being screened was in and out of the terminal in 20 minutes.

While the TSA said that the intervening 80 minutes between breach and calling authorities who might be able to do something about their screw-up was "the right thing," because it involved verifying the bystander's claims of what happened and going up the chain of command, the true cause may be due to the faulty security cameras operated and maintained by the troubled agency. The PAPD said that a security camera that caught what happened was only streaming live video and not recording footage, which forced the TSA to turn to Continental Airlines and ask to use the cameras operated by the airline to verify what happened. How long has that camera been broken? The TSA has no idea. I have a feeling that the 80 minute delay was caused by the TSA's inability to verify the bystander's claims rather than the whole "chain of command" excuse.

But the real question here is why was no one at the spot to make sure this exact type of thing did not happen? Sources tell the Daily News (now, remember, it's the Daily News) that the reason that the now-suspended officer was not at his post was because Mr. Hollywood was on his cell phone. Now, if true, this speaks volumes on the TSA's ineptness. Think about it, for this guy to leave his post to take a phone call, wouldn't other TSOs in the area notice it? Shouldn't the complete vulnerability of the exit lane in a secure area concern some of the nearby TSOs? Look at the picture of the security area of Terminal C; it does not look like the exit lane is so isolated that nearby TSOs would not be able to see (through the clear glass wall) that the post was abandoned.

As far as our elected officials feel about the ineptness of the TSA, don't bother trying to call their offices to find out. Three calls to Senator Jim DeMint's office in the past three days have garnered an aide's promised response from the senator's press person regarding Senator DeMint's reasons for blocking the nomination of Erroll Southers, the former FBI agent nominated to head the TSA. Does DeMint's only concern about Southers regard his possible willingness to allow TSA workers to organize (and now jumping on the bandwagon of Southers accessing files 20 years ago), or does it have to do with his ability to competently run the security agency? Does Senator DeMint have any other candidates that he would suggest that the White House nominate?

Additionally, Representative Peter King's office has been less than forthcoming with King's stance regarding the TSA's certification of the Lagos airport that the Christmas Day cajones cremator originated out of, given his statements that "Nigeria [has] inadequate security to begin with." Was King aware of the TSA certification? If so, did he do anything to try to have it reevaluated? If not, will he ask for a reevaluation of other TSA certifications in light of what happened and his opinion of the TSA-certified airport in Lagos? Two calls and voicemails in two days to King's press guru have yielded nothing.

So fallout from the Terminal C debacle continues for the TSA. Next we'll find out that the TSO being disciplined for screwing up has a past disciplinary record or arrest record that shows that he should not be trusted with national security. A leadership-less agency with bare minimum requirements for officers tasked with the massive undertaking of airport security that has a sketchy track record to begin with; it seems we may be getting what we are paying for. The TSA needs to be fixed. The question is, who is going to step up?

Photo - Terminal C at Newark (notice the two guards) (Daily News)

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