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"GAO/ US Airports Still Vulnerable To Terrorists"
Tuesday, June 8, 2004
GAO/ US Airports Still Vulnerable To Terrorists
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP)--The government's efforts to prevent terrorists from
gaining access to commercial airports are still incomplete and
fragmented, a congressional report says.
The Transportation Security Administration has focused on screening
passengers and baggage while paying less attention to limiting access to
sensitive areas, identifying gaps in security and reducing risks posed
by airport workers.
"Airports remain too vulnerable to terrorist attack," said Sen. Joe
Lieberman, who requested Tuesday's report from the General Accounting
Office, Congress' investigative arm. "This level of unpreparedness is
The Democrat said he was especially concerned that the TSA doesn't
require airport employees to be screened before entering secure areas
such as runways.
About 1 million people work at about 450 U.S. commercial airports,
including catering employees, refuelers, cleaning crews and baggage
handlers. The TSA has made sure that nearly all of them have had their
criminal histories checked against their fingerprints.
But some workers who occasionally need access to secure areas - such as
construction workers - haven't undergone the fingerprint checks, even
though the law requires them to.
The GAO report recommended more comprehensive checks because those based
on fingerprints have limitations. For example, a federal investigation
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks found more than 4,200 airport
workers had falsified information to get hired and to get unescorted
access to secure areas. Some had passed the fingerprint-based checks.
The TSA has expanded background checks for about 100,000 airport workers
to look for links to terrorism, and is considering ways to fund
additional checks for more.
But the agency is not requiring airport workers to be screened before
entering restricted areas, as the law requires.
The agency has inspected airports - the exact number is classified - to
determine the adequacy of such security measures as fences, surveillance
cameras, sensors to detect intruders or fingerprinting equipment.
Last year, the TSA identified threats to the security of the perimeter
and access controls at each airport it inspected, the report said.
Between October and February, the agency issued 106 warning notices and
123 letters of correction, which requires airports to take immediate
action to avoid a penalty. The agency also recommended 67 civil
But the GAO said the agency hasn't analyzed whether those penalties were
effective, nor does it have a plan to continue further inspections.
The TSA suspended the inspections in January so it could deal with a
higher priority: assessing airports' vulnerability to shoulder-fired
The TSA also missed a congressional deadline of May 2002 to recommend
technologies to prevent unauthorized access to secure parts of airports.
It missed another deadline a year later to develop a strategy to acquire
commercially viable security technology at the 20 biggest U.S. airports.
Some airports told the GAO they were waiting for TSA guidance to upgrade
their security. Others said they were going ahead and testing various
technologies independently of the TSA.
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