WASHINGTON – Five U.S. Transportation Security Administration employees have been placed on administrative leave since it was discovered that sensitive guidelines about airport passenger screening were posted on the Internet.
The screening document was improperly on the Internet in a way that could offer insight into how to sidestep security.
But a former transportation official said the guidelines did not constitute "a road map for terrorists."
The peronnel move was disclosed as senators questioned administration officials Wednesday about the second embarrassing security flap at the Homeland Security Department in as many weeks. The Secret Service, also part of the sprawling department, is investigating how a couple of would-be reality TV stars were able to get into a White House state dinner without an invitation.
Assistant Homeland Security secretary David Heyman told senators Wednesday that a full investigation into the Internet security lapse is under way and the TSA employees have been taken off duty pending the results of that probe. He did not say how many employees were put on leave. A TSA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation said five employees were placed on administrative leave Tuesday.
The Homeland Security Department has also stopped posting documents with security information either in full or in part on the Internet until the TSA review is complete, Heyman told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.
"Even what appeared to be an innocent posting to help federal contractors can have serious consequences for our security," Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said Wednesday.
Heyman said he did not know who at TSA approved the document going on the Web.
The TSA removed the document from the Internet on Sunday after the lapse was reported on a blog.
Among many sensitive sections, the document outlines who is exempt from certain additional screening measures, including members of the U.S. armed forces, governors and lieutenant governors, the mayor of Washington and their immediate families.
It also offers examples of identification documents that screeners accept, including congressional, federal air marshal and CIA ID cards; and it explains that diplomatic pouches and certain foreign dignitaries with law enforcement escorts are not subjected to any screening at all. It said certain methods of verifying identification documents aren't used on all travelers during peak travel crushes.
TSA said the document is now outdated. It was posted in March by TSA on the Federal Business Opportunity site. The posting was improper because sensitive information was not properly protected, TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said.
Noting that the transportation agency uses multiple layers of security, Lee said, "TSA is confident that screening procedures currently in place remain strong."
The document also describes these screening protocols:
— Individuals with a passport from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, or Algeria, should be given additional screening unless there are specific instructions not to.
Former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said the document is not something a security agency would want to inadvertently post online, but he said it's not a road map for terrorists. "Hyperventilating that this is a breach of security that's going to endanger the public is flat wrong," Hawley said.