WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration is still working to close what it described as a security gap that allowed 73 people to obtain federal approval to work in secure areas at airports despite having unspecified connections to terrorism, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general assured Congress on Tuesday.
"To the extent that there was a vulnerability, I believe it has been closed," Inspector General John Roth told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. But Roth didn't say whether those workers have been fired or whether their access to secure areas has been revoked. The workers would have been employed by airlines, airport authorities or airport vendors.
Roth said his investigators found that 73 job applicants for airport jobs had terrorism-related activity codes associated with their names in a government terrorism database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Roth said TSA still does not have access to that information but asked for it last year.
"It's a process that apparently is taking some time," Roth told Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. "So it isn't quite there yet, but I think they're moving quickly on it."
Roth said TSA was provided the 73 names and he believed the agency was "following up on each of those."
The security gap was disclosed in a report Roth released last week. In an unclassified version of that report, TSA acknowledged that would-be employees whose backgrounds included some undisclosed terrorism-related category codes would be considered "a potential transportation security threat."
TSA has been under fire from lawmakers since last week when it was revealed that auditors from Roth's office were able to sneak mock explosives, weapons and other prohibited items past security screeners in 67 out of 70 attempts at airport checkpoints.
In the wake of that disclosure, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson re-assigned the acting TSA administrator, Melvin Carraway, to another job within the department. Acting Deputy Director Mark Hatfield was selected to lead the agency on an interim basis.
Roth told lawmakers that details of that undercover effort were classified and could not be discussed in an open hearing. He said his office is investigating how the information was leaked to the media.
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