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"TSA defends hunt for Newark airport whistle-blower"


 
Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Feds defend hunt airport whistle-blower 
Probers are trying to learn who leaked details about Newark Liberty security
problems 
BY RON MARSICO 
The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger


The U.S. Transportation Security Administration yesterday defended its
ongoing probe into who leaked confidential reports about security problems
at Newark Liberty International Airport. 

Saying the TSA normally does not confirm or deny such inquiries, TSA
communications director Mark Hatfield said it has become "common knowledge"
that internal affairs investigators are trying to determine who leaked
information that showed airport screeners missed one in every four
explosives or weapons in weekly tests this summer. The Star-Ledger obtained
the reports and published the results in its Oct. 7 edition. 
     
Top TSA officials at Newark Airport have been warning subordinates they will
be fired if they speak to the media about the airport's security problems.
Additionally, the internal affairs investigators -- up from the TSA's
Virginia headquarters -- have threatened some employees with lie-detector
tests and possible loss of their jobs or jail time, according to an
individual familiar with the probe. 

Last week, U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Reps. Robert Menendez (D-13th
Dist.) and William Pascrell (D-8th Dist.) chided the TSA for trying to
identify whistle-blowers instead of fixing the recurring security problems
at Newark. Corzine promised to "stand up for them" if any individuals are
exposed. 

Hatfield, however, said that TSA protects whistle-blowers who handle
classified or sensitive security information properly, but noted the leak of
such confidential material to the media is not protected. 

Asked about the comments of Corzine, Menendez and Pascrell, Hatfield
responded: "Every TSA screener and employee has whistle-blower protection.
To call this a witch hunt ... is political hyperbole." 

Hatfield said the investigators are "not being pulled from any security
function or screening function at any given airport." 

"Any TSA employee has a responsibility to treat classified or sensitive
security information in an appropriate fashion, and failure to do that is a
dereliction of duty and it's a punishable offense," Hatfield said. "In terms
of highlighting shortcomings in the system or bringing issues to the
attention of higher-ups that affect security, that's a responsibility as
well. We applaud screeners who are diligent in their work and they enjoy
whistle-blower protection." 

David Wald, a spokesman for Corzine, said yesterday the senator stands by
his earlier comments. "The point is to have a TSA that is at the top of its
game, and that its resources are focused on security," said Wald.


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