U.S. airport security improves since screening lapses

Travelers stand in line to go through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) check-points at Los

(Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working to improve airport screening after major lapses last year, a U.S. government investigator said on Tuesday, adding that the agency has embraced oversight.

“As a result of our audit reports … TSA is now, for the first time in memory, critically assessing its deficiencies in an honest and objective light,” said John Roth, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the TSA’s parent agency. “We are generally satisfied with the response we have seen at TSA.”

“We went from a cultural situation where we were fought at every turn to one in which they now embrace oversight in a way that I think is … positive,” he added, in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee.

In a covert audit, department staff succeeded in bringing banned items through airport checkpoints and raised concerns about the TSA’s vetting of its workforce.

The TSA has cut back on directing travelers into faster lanes that let them keep shoes on and laptops packed. That change along with low staffing levels and more flyers had sparked long lines this spring.

Roth, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, said the TSA has come up with nearly two dozen ways to improve procedures.

“Over the past 11 months, we have undertaken a systematic and deliberate transformation of TSA,” Administrator Peter Neffenger, who took the TSA top job after the lapses, said at the hearing.

Neffenger said the TSA has retrained staff and is vetting employees daily.

In addition, he said TSA is working with about a dozen airports to increasingly automate screening and create a “true curb-to-gate security environment, as opposed to just focusing it all around that checkpoint.”

Delta Air Lines Inc and Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest, opened two lines last month that automate the distribution of bins for carry-on bags at checkpoints, to avoid screening bottlenecks.

Neffenger said the lanes have improved efficiency at the checkpoints by 30 percent.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York and Julia Edwards in Washington; Editing by Bill Rigby and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. security union wants more screeners to ease airport delays

Passengers make their way through a terminal at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The union for transportation security officers on Tuesday urged the U.S. Congress to pay for 6,000 more full-time workers who conduct screenings to alleviate long lines at U.S. airports, a problem that caused a shakeup in the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s management.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the officers’ union, asked lawmakers to approve emergency legislation to fund additional screeners needed after years of staffing cuts and growing numbers of passengers, it said in a statement.

“It’s time for Congress to stop the waiting games and give TSA the resources it needs to meet growing demands at our nation’s airports,” J. David Cox Sr., the union’s national president, said in the statement.

Long security lines at U.S. airports this spring have frustrated travelers and caused thousands of passengers to miss flights. The TSA has blamed the problem on a lack of security screeners and an increase in passengers.

In a letter last week to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, 22 Democratic senators and one independent also asked for more TSA funding to help address long wait times.

Republican U.S. Representative John Katko, chairman of a House transportation security subcommittee, called on the Senate to act on his TSA PreCheck proposal, which would streamline screening for low-risk passengers who undergo an assessment.

The TSA’s head of security was removed from his position after the agency was criticized for long lines at airport security checkpoints.

Kelly Hoggan, who had been TSA assistant administrator for security operations since May 2013, was replaced by his deputy, Darby LaJoye, on an interim basis, according to an internal memo from agency head Peter Neffenger.

The TSA has about 42,000 officers, down from 47,000 in 2013, the union’s statement said.

Meanwhile, the volume of passengers has increased 15 percent to 740 million currently and is projected to exceed 800 million this year, the union said, citing federal data.

Neffenger told a news conference on Friday that his agency was accelerating plans to add security staff and bomb-sniffing dogs at Chicago’s two major airports after a “breakdown” that included not having enough checkpoint lanes open.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Lisa Von Ahn)

TSA discovers record number of firearms in carry-on bags

Nearly 2,200 people attempted to bring loaded firearms through airport security checkpoints in the United States last year, the Transportation Security Administration announced Thursday.

The discoveries were part of a record number of firearms that TSA officials found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints across the country, the administration said in its year-end report.

The TSA said it found an all-time high of 2,653 firearms in carry-on bags in 2015, and 2,198 of those weapons were loaded. The number of loaded firearms discovered almost equals the 2,212 loaded and unloaded firearms that TSA officers found in 2014, the former record number.

Travelers aren’t allowed to pack weapons in carry-on bags, but the TSA reports seeing a significant rise in the number of firearms it finds while screening the bags at checkpoints.

Officers found just 660 firearms in 2005, yet that has more than quadrupled in the years since. There was a 20 percent increase in the number of firearms discovered between 2014 and 2015.

TSA Administrator Peter V. Neffenger issued a statement on the discoveries, saying better training has helped officers become “more adept at intercepting these prohibited items.”

The statement didn’t address if there were any other potential factors for the increase, such as a possible rise in the number of people who were trying to fly with weapons in their carry-on bags.

Travelers can transport firearms in their checked bags, the TSA says, but the guns must be unloaded and properly packed. Travelers also must inform the airline that the luggage contains a firearm.

Still, the TSA said it’s finding the firearms in carry-ons at more airports — 236 last year, up 12 from 2014.

TSA officers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport found more firearms in carry-on bags than their counterparts at any other airport, the TSA said, with 153 discoveries in total. Officers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (144) and Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (100) each recorded 100 or more discoveries.

Denver International Airport (90), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (73), Nashville International Airport (59), Seattle-Tacoma International (59), Dallas Love Field Airport (57), Austin-Bergstrom International (54) and William P. Hobby Airport (52) rounded out the top 10, the TSA reported. Five of the top 10 airports with the most firearm discoveries are located in Texas.

The discoveries came the same year amid a troubling year for the TSA.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson removed the administration’s former acting administrator, Melvin Carraway, from his post in June after the Inspector General’s office conducted tests in which auditors tried to bring prohibited items through security checkpoints.

Inspector General John Roth testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in November, saying the results of their most recent tests yielded “disappointing and troubling” results.

“Our testing was designed to test checkpoint operations in real world conditions. It was not designed to test specific, discrete segments of checkpoint operations, but rather the system as a whole,” Roth told the committee. “The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error. We found layers of security simply missing.”

Johnson issued a variety of new directives after receiving the preliminary test results in an effort to boost airport security and correct some of the shortcomings the auditors identified.

Department of Homeland Security to Step Up Airport Security in Wake of Russian Plane Crash

The Department of Homeland Security is ramping up airport security following the suspected bombing of a Russian plane over Egypt. The new security focuses on certain overseas airports.

As Egyptian authorities investigate whether an airport insider may have planted a bomb on the doomed airliner, U.S. lawmakers and aviation officials are raising questions about security at American airports. They say dozens of current airport employees are being screened for possible ties to or sympathies with extremist groups.

According to news reports, surveillance video at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport is being scrutinized for someone with access to the plane on the airport ramp. While no official determination has been made, U.S. and U.K. officials have said they believe it’s likely a bomb brought down the flight last Saturday, killing more than 200 people.

With the recent congressional reports and hearing on airline security due to an undercover operation revealing that the TSA failed 95% of the time when detecting fake explosives, new action is being called into place.

“It’s no secret that people interested in harming America are coming up with creative ways to circumvent the existing security measures,” House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said at the hearing.

In airports both here and abroad extra attention will be paid to bags, including extra scrutiny of the list of passenger names to make sure they match the name on all the checked baggage.

Security will focus on airport workers who are poorly paid and could be susceptible to terrorists bribes.

Latest Airport Inspections Find Some Security Layers “Simply Missing”

The TSA has been under the microscope for months after a report was leaked showing investigators were able to sneak banned items in airport security past the TSA officials in checkpoints on 96 percent of their attempts.

A federal watchdog told Congress on Tuesday that a recent convert audit of U.S. airports found layers of security were “simply missing.”

A report by the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security General John Roth shared information regarding the checkpoints that were monitored at eight undisclosed airports in September.The findings were revealed during a House hearing on TSA problems where new Administrator Peter Neffenger also testified on what he’s doing to fix them.

“The results were consistent across every airport. Our testing was designed to test airports across the country in real world conditions. The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human errors,” Roth testified.

Congress has expressed great concern on the problems in security at our nation’s airports.

“In looking at the number of times people got through with guns or bombs in these covert testing exercises it really was pathetic. When I say that I mean pitiful,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) “… Just thinking about the breaches there, it’s horrific.”

TSA Administrator Neffenger explained in the hearing that the challenges that have been created by more and more people carrying on their luggage instead of checking them due to large baggage fees make it difficult to try to spot potential security threats.

While many at the hearing wondered if the problems were unfixable, General Roth said new TSA leadership has promptly began addressing some of the issues in the reports and he is optimistic about airport security being improved.

TSA Reports Record Number of Guns Found in U.S. Airports

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) stated that 67 firearms were found in carry-on luggage during a week that ended September 17.

Of those found weapons, 56 were loaded and 26 had a round in the chamber. The TSA stated that the old record was 65 firearms that had been found in a week in May 2013.

During the most recent week that ended on September 24, U.S. airport security agents found 64 firearms in carry-on bags, of which 55 were loaded and 22 had a round in the chamber.

In July, the new TSA administrator, Peter Neffenger, stated to a congressional panel that his top priority would be better security at airport checkpoints, more specifically closing gaps in airport security.

Nationwide, TSA officers have found guns in carry-on and regular luggage. Recently, TSA agents stopped a man in a New York airport who had a gun in his carry-on bag. The day before, September 23, another loaded firearm was found in a passenger’s carry-on at the Des Moines International Airport in Iowa. The TSA reported that they have found more than 2,000 guns at airport security checkpoints this year.

The report comes just a few months after news agencies reported that TSA agents failed security tests that consisted of undercover investigators smuggling in weapons and mock explosives. The agents failed 95% of the trials. One of the tests even set off an alarm, but the agent wasn’t able to detect the fake explosive that was taped to the investigator’s back.

California Airports Increased Security Over ISIS Threat

A number of California airports increased security measures over the weekend after intelligence officials intercepted messages about a possible terror plot against the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security did not release details of the threat other than saying they had intercepted chatter and other information that raised concerns.  They also confirmed the chatter was connected to ISIS.

“Over the last few months, we have made a number of security adjustments, including enhanced screening at select overseas airports and increasing random searches of passengers and carry-on luggage on flights inbound to the U.S., reflecting an evolving threat picture,” a spokesman with the department told CNN.

In addition to the airport security upgrades, DHS confirmed they had been increasing security at federal installations since February.

“The department has conducted significant outreach efforts … with state and local law enforcement partners regarding these trends and engaging in a series of meetings and events with local community leaders across the country to counter violent extremism,” the spokesman stated.

The TSA alerted local law enforcement that the airlines might not be the target but rather an individual actor focusing on uniformed personnel at various locations.

The increase in DHS actions and security comes after the head of the FBI admitted they have intelligence of people in all 50 states with sympathy toward the terrorist organization ISIS.

“Those people exist in every state” Comey said at a law enforcement event. “I have homegrown violent extremist investigations in every single state. Until a few weeks ago there was 49 states. Alaska had none, which I couldn’t quite figure out. But Alaska has now joined the group, so we have investigations of people in various stages of radicalizing in all 50 states.”

Al Qaeda Bomb Recipe Causes Airport Security Change

If you will be flying anywhere in the United States over the next few months, prepare for a few extra minutes in the security line.

Al Qaeda published a new “online recipe” for creating bombs that cannot be detected by the current security measures in place at airports.  The result is that the TSA will be conducting random spot checks of carry on baggage at all airports.

Jeh Johnson, head of Homeland Security, met with airline officials to provide them the details of the terrorist thread.  The guidelines from Al Qaeda not only included the bomb mixture but also told bombers where to sit on the planes for maximum damage.

“We have no specific, credible intelligence of an attack of the kind in Paris last week being planned by terrorist organizations in this country,” Johnson said in a statement. “But, the reasons for these measures should be self-evident to the public: the recent attacks in Paris, Ottawa, Sydney, and elsewhere, along with the recent public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on Western objectives, including aircraft, military personnel, and government installations and civilian personnel.”

“The chief Al-Qaeda bombmaker Ibrahim Al-Asiri is innovative in his designs and isn’t to be underestimated,” security expert Ryan Mauro told FoxNews.com. “For Al Qaeda, it is still somewhat of a victory if they can get an explosive on an airliner or even just inside an airport, regardless of whether the device ignites properly.

LA Airport Gunman Faces Death Penalty

The man believed to have carried out a gun attack at Los Angeles International Airport could be facing the death penalty if convicted of the charges against him.

Paul Ciancia, 23, has been charged with murder of a federal agent, violence at an international airport and multiple other charges. He remains hospitalized after being shot in the mouth and legs by police.

LAX has reopened fully after the investigation on-site was completed.

Police reported that the gunman did not initially kill 39-year-old TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez, the first TSA agent killed in the line of duty. Ciancia had wounded Hernandez before shooting at other agents then returned to kill the fallen agent.

The FBI says Ciancia carried a handwritten note stating he made the conscious decision to kill TSA employees to “instill fear into their traitorous minds.”

He pushed through screening gates and was 100 yards into the secure area before law enforcement reached him and he opened fire near a food court.