Terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants could be using America’s maritime ports and ships with government-issued credentials because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conducts shoddy background checks.
Agents from TSA’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA) have issued Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) to 3.5 million people during the last decade without knowing if those people have “major” criminal records, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (IG) report released Friday.
“Specifically, ineffective fraud detection techniques, inadequate guidance, missing quality controls, and insufficient planning for recurrent vetting reduce the reliability of TSA’s background check process,” the IG said. “OIA leadership relies on the TWIC Maritime Program Management Office to manage the program, but its focus is more on customer service than effectiveness of the program.”
There is also “a risk that someone with major criminal or immigration offenses maintains access to secured areas of maritime facilities,” the report said.
The TSA vetting process is supposed to flag any applicant with a criminal record, improper immigration status, documented mental health problems or potential ties to terrorism by crosschecking their information against multiple federal databases.
But TSA agents automatically approve anyone who shows up on no criminal databases and manually review those who do, according to the IG.
The problem is agents’ vetting gets too little oversight. At the Colorado Springs Operations Center, for instance, supervisors don’t review an agent’s decision when the agent decides an applicant isn’t a terrorist threat, so the process is open to “unintentional errors and insider threats.”
The investigators also found a TSA agent who renewed credentials for someone charged with assault with a weapon. (RELATED: America’s Security Problems Start With The TSA, But They Certainly Don’t End There)
Friday’s release isn’t the first time federal watchdogs have chastised the TSA for poor TWIC background checks. Such problems the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified in 2011 and 2013 audits remain unfixed. Those audits revealed TSA had no way to make sure credential holders maintained their eligibility and found issues with the biometric electronic card reader programs at ports.
Security gaps have plagued TSA since its inception two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. TSA agents in 2015 failed to detect undercover DHS agents’ fake explosives and other weapons in 67 of 70 field tests.
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