The TSA failed to spot 73 aviation workers on the US government’s terrorism watchlist

Looking in the wrong places.
Looking in the wrong places.
Image: AP/Nati Harnik
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In a recent audit of the US Transportation Security Administration’s methods for screening airport employees, the Department of Homeland Security found that the TSA was unaware of a whopping 73 workers with alleged links to terrorism, according to the DHS itself.

How could this happen? A combination of two bureaucratic bungles—one caused by sloppy record-keeping, and the other by inter-agency red tape.

The DHS report says (pdf) that the TSA repeatedly cross-checks its own list of “aviation workers with access to secured areas of commercial airports” against the DHS’s “Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist.” The problem is that the first list isn’t comprehensive, and the second list was not made fully available to the TSA.

The TSA’s list of workers who need to be repeatedly screened—including airline staff and airport workers—contains “thousands of records” with “potentially incomplete or inaccurate data, such as an initial for a first name and missing social security numbers,” the report found.

And due to the ”current interagency watchlisting policy,” not every name on the DHS Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist is included in the version of the list that the TSA uses to screen and re-screen aviation employees.

That’s how 73 people ”were cleared for access to secure airport areas despite representing a potential transportation security threat.” It is not yet clear what will happen to those employees, but it is another strike against TSA’s already-sullied reputation. The agency’s acting administrator lost his job last week amid news that undercover investigators were able to easily smuggle mock explosives, weapons, and other prohibited items through multiple airport security checkpoints.