CNN Exclusive: Informant denounces that US airports they have become more insecure because the TSA decreased control measures to accelerate the review
(CNN) – An informant from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is setting alarms about reducing security at U.S. airports, blaming senior agency officials for prioritizing speed at Passenger controls on the review by reducing the sensitivity of metal detectors, deactivating technology in some X-ray machines, issuing orders to keep the conveyor belts moving in certain circumstances and requesting policy changes that result in less revisions
Jay Brainard, the highest-ranking TSA official in Kansas, has notified the upper levels of the TSA, as well as external federal regulatory bodies, but says that little is being done about it. He believes that the decline in security measures that have been implemented in recent years puts American passengers at risk.
"My biggest fear is that something that costs American lives will happen and I didn't report it or stop it," Brainard told CNN this week. “It is not a question about whether it will happen but when. We have been waiting for an attack for a long time, ”he completed.
In a previous complaint, he urged the TSA to take action after revealing that agents have not been tested to identify whether they suffer from color blindness properly. This situation poses a safety problem because X-ray operators must be able to differentiate colors to detect possible explosives in luggage. As a result of Brainard's complaint in 2017, the TSA is reassessing its employees about their “color vision”, but the process will not be completed until the end of 2020, according to what is scheduled.
Brainard complaints occur precisely when US airports experience a record number of passengers. On December 1, the TSA examined more than 2.8 million travelers, which made it on the busiest day in agency history, according to Airlines for America, a commercial organization of the industry and a lobbying group for major US airlines. The TSA estimates that 42 million passengers will have to go through checkpoints at the country's airports between December 19 and January 5, an increase of 3.9% over the same period last year, the agency said in a press release.
Meanwhile, TSA officials – which was founded in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks – They recognize that American airports remain an objective.
David Pekoske, head of the TSA, told CNN in response to the allegations of the complainant that his agency is not prioritizing waiting times over security.
"If you go back and look at my testimony before the Senate Commerce Commission, my confirmation, in June 2017, one of the first things I said is that security is the most important thing for the TSA," he said. "And that performance is secondary to our process," he added.
The TSA reduced the waiting time by reducing security measures, reports an informant
Waiting times are a complex issue in the world of commercial aviation since 2016, when they became a national headache, which led some legislators to demand the resignation of the then head of the TSA, Peter V. Neffenger. Since then, they have improved significantly, according to a recent Los Angeles Times analysis. Although the passenger count in the 444 airports of the country has increased by 15% in just three years, waiting times in general only increased in that period, increasing in less than half a minute.
The TSA attributed the improvement in waiting periods to several factors, including reinforced inspector personnel, better communications with airlines and airports, and tripling the number of passengers – reaching 9 million – who pay to use the known accelerated lines like the PreCheck lanes since 2016.
But Brainard believes that the TSA has also reduced wait times by improperly decreasing security measures.
Brainard said he has taken his complaints about metal detectors, X-rays and review procedures to the US Office of the Special Prosecutor.
The special prosecutor saw merit in his complaint and ordered the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, to begin an internal audit in July 2018, according to documents obtained by CNN. But Brainard explained that there seems to be no hurry in the procedure: the initial 60-day period for review has been extended repeatedly.
Brainard received a response from a special prosecutor's attorney last July informing him that part of the National Security Department investigation was complete, but that he would not be ready for review until the completion of the full report in September. Brainard argues that the report has not yet been published.
"To obstruct an investigation for more than 500 days is to act without a sense of urgency and purpose," he told CNN.
Contacted by CNN this week about the status of the investigation, the Office of the Special Prosecutor declined to comment.
Among Brainard's specific complaints are:
- The configuration of metal detectors in all US airports it was modified to one of reduced sensitivity, below the levels during the years after September 11. Something that, Brainard says, could allow bomb components, 3D-printed weapons and other suspicious items to pass through these controls. Brainard notes that sensitivity levels have not been altered in body scanners.
- The TSA has instructed its officials to keep the X-ray conveyor belts moving on the PreCheck accelerated lines, which hinders their ability to concentrate on questionable items inside the suitcases.
- Automated configurations on X-ray machines on conveyor belts in PreCheck that alert suspicious items to employees who operate the devices have been turned off, thus eliminating a computerized tool that helps them identify threats.
- Before the end of 2017, the TSA could not adequately review whether its officials suffer from color blindness, a condition that disqualifies for work in the agency because employees must be able to differentiate colors in order to detect possible explosives when using the machines X-rays.
- The TSA has ordered agents to allow some passengers with medical devices, such as casts or prostheses, to check themselves after deactivating the alarm. The decision was made for sensitivity to people with medical conditions. Although they are allowed to do their own check-up, they must also go through an explosive detection test and give a sample of their hands to check for evidence of explosives.
- The TSA allows passengers who are not in the PreCheck category to enter those fast lanes to speed up the process. The agency told CNN that it is in the process of eliminating that practice. While this situation was suspended at smaller airports, the practice is still in force at the terminals where the highest air traffic occurs. The TSA administrator told CNN that passengers who are not from PreCheck and end up passing through those lanes Rapids are not chosen randomly and that the agency uses "a methodology that I cannot discuss."
Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board and CNN aviation analyst, said shooting down a plane or causing loss of life on a flight is the terrorists' top priority.
"It's the crown jewel," he said. “And if we decrease the sensitivity (in detectors) to increase speed, we are putting people at risk. And in particular to flight crews in the cabin … They are the last line of defense. If they realize… when they realize that this is happening, there will be a protest from them. ”
Chief of the TSA: The level of detection is based on the risks that passengers represent
In one example, Brainard said that in X-ray machines for luggage conveyor belts on PreCheck lanes, the TSA has deactivated an automatic configuration that alerts about suspicious items and is known as "bounding boxes."
"Simply put, when the item passes through the machine, a box appears that surrounds the item and says‘ hey, stop and look at this, "he explained to CNN.
This, Brainard continued, means that successful prevention against someone carrying an explosive or dangerous object through a PreCheck lane lies solely with the TSA agent operating the machine, without the help provided by automation.
Pekoske acknowledged that passengers belonging to “reliable travelers” programs, such as PreCheck, are subject to less scrutiny than other passengers, but noted that it is for good reason.
"The TSA seeks to provide a level of detection based on the risks a passenger presents," he said. "Because those people signed up for a program and gave us their background information and we did a complete verification of them, then we can somehow modify the security procedures we use," he added.
The TSA has been criticized for security breaches in recent years. In 2015, agents of the Department of Homeland Security, who were posing as passengers, managed to introduce with false explosives through the security lines of several of the country's busiest airports. During the test, TSA officials did not identify 67 of the 70 fake weapons that went through the controls, a 95% failure rate. As a result, TSA's chief administrator, Melvin Carraway, was reassigned to a program that coordinates with local law enforcement agencies under the Department of Homeland Security. Brainard said these security vulnerabilities began before Carraway took over as head of the agency.
Two years later, auditors of the Department of Homeland Security discovered that the TSA still had failures in the detection of dangerous items at checkpoints.
Brainard, who is in charge of a medium-sized airport, said he began to notice the change in priorities in 2012, but that this increased in 2017, when the head designated by the TSA, David Pekoske, took the reins of the agency .
"In the last two years, the approach to sacrificing security for waiting times has increased tremendously," Brainard said. “That is the reason I have denounced. It's happening so fast that it's hard to keep up with the notes, ”he completed.
Brainard said he sent his concerns via email to Pekoske, who, according to Brainard, acknowledged the failures but has not yet resolved them.
During a 2018 audience at the CapitolPekoske said it is the task of the TSA management, not the officials, to worry about waiting times.
"It makes no sense that many people quickly pass through a check with poor security," he told a legislator who asked if waiting times are more important than security.
Brainard, a veteran who has been with the agency for 17 years and who has hired a lawyer, said he is prepared for retaliation.
"I am hoping the first discussion they have is about how they can fire me," he said.
In his annual performance reviews, Brainard explained that he has been recognized for "achieving excellence" every year of his term. His last review, completed in October and obtained by CNN, is marked with a handwritten comment: "Great year, Jay, thank you!"
Over the past few years, the TSA has faced accusations of retaliating against whistleblowers, to the point that Congress approved additional protections for agency employees in 2012. But since then, more employees have filed retaliation charges.
Brainard also ensures that the TSA exerts undue pressure on directors to reduce waiting times. In the last couple of years, he said, the TSA has sent thousands of “wait alert” emails to all federal system directors to signal any airport experiencing long waiting times.
"You can have a waiting time of 30 minutes at an airport that processes 60,000 passengers per day, and they treat it as if it were a national emergency," he said, noting that alerts have not yet been identified in its coverage area. "It is a tool of intimidation," he said.
When asked about Brainard's complaints, Pekoske said that while the complainants "provide a very valuable service … it is our responsibility to thoroughly investigate those concerns to see if they represent a security risk – under the TSA perspective – valid. or not".
“The system cannot take more risks”
Brainard noted that TSA agents are not to blame for the high rate of failures in the 2015 test made by undercover officials of the Department of Homeland Security, or for the most recent policy changes that he said prioritized speed over security .
"Agents are doing precisely what senior leadership tells them to do," he explained. "And scapegoats are made every time a red team report comes out of the abysmal results of our tests," he added.
He believes that airports are less secure than five years ago due to “diluted” security procedures, a trend that, he says, has accelerated over the past two years.
"They have desensitized machines, disabled security functions," he explained. “You don't do those things when you have a 95% failure rate in your undercover detection. All they are doing is introducing more risks into the system, when the system cannot take more risks, ”he insisted.
Goelz warned that vulnerabilities in the TSA security system can lead to a catastrophe.
"There are no doubts … if all the gaps line up, you're going to have a crisis," he warned. "And with these types of failure rates, it's simply a matter of time."