House report: TSA airport security standards could fail to prevent insider threats

The House Homeland Security Committee released a report Monday finding a lack of employee screening and vetting for those working in the TSA - uncovering examples of “insider threats” within America’s airports.

The committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Protective Security, which authored the report titled “America’s Airports: The Threat from Within,” said it had launched an extensive, bipartisan investigation.

That found many airport staff are able to bypass the traditional screening requirements that travelers visiting the airports undergo.

“This report is the result of two years of intense oversight efforts –at a time when we face increased threats from homegrown radicalization and lone-wolf terrorism, we must ensure that our airport access controls are strong and that we are doing all we can to mitigate the insider threat to aviation security,” Chairman of the subcommittee Rep. John Katko, R-NY, said in a statement.

Examples outlined in the report include an attempt by airport employees to detonate a bomb at an airport, gun and drug smuggling, an expressed willingness to smuggle explosives, as well as employees who became involved in terrorist activities overseas.

According to the report, there have been a number of “alarming” cases highlighting the threat over the last five years. The report outlined examples, such as the November 2014 instance of three men from Minnesota who worked at Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport who were recruited to fight for ISIS while having access to any plane that passed through the airport; the Delta Air Lines employee who smuggled a total of 153 firearms onto 17 Delta flights between Atlanta and New York City in 2014; and the January 2015 instance of a Federal Aviation Administration inspector who was arrested at New York’s LaGuardia International Airport after a TSA screener found a firearm in the inspector’s carry-on baggage.

The report concluded that without a comprehensive background check for employees, TSA does not have the ability to screen for individuals who may “harbor ill-will” toward the United States, or have connections to individuals who do.

“America’s aviation sector remains a crown jewel of ISIS and other terrorist groups targeting our homeland,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement.

The subcommittee also found that the overall understanding of threats facing U.S. transportation systems differs among airport officials across the country.

Chairman Katko introduced the Aviation Employee Screening and Security Enhancement Act of 2017 on Monday to serve as a roadmap for TSA, airports, and air carriers to close security vulnerabilities at U.S. airports.

“Our nation’s aviation system is interconnected,” Katko said. “We are only as secure as our least secure airport.”