DHS: 'Sensitive security information' disclosed by House

Sensitive national security information was made by public by a House committee this week before a hearing to look in reports of airport perimeter breaches, according to a letter from the Department of Homeland Security obtained Friday by The Hill.

The House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations held a hearing this week to take the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to task over reports that there have been tens of thousands of security breaches at U.S. airports in the past decade. The meeting was called at TSA admitted that there had been 25,000 breaches of secured airport perimeters reported since November 2001.

But Department of Homeland Security Deputy General Counsel Joseph Maher wrote to the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) in a letter dated Wednesday that sensitive security information (SSI) was made public in the run-up to the meeting.

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"In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our aviation system, Congress provided the government with specific authority to protect SSI concerning transportation," Maher wrote.

"The purpose of SSI is to protect the traveling public by ensuring that security information is made available to those who seek to do our country harm," he continued. "The document publicly disclosed by your subcommittee contained information about past security breaches: a topic of particular interest to our adversaries." 

Maher called the disclosure "a matter of serious concern."

He added that the DHS, which oversees the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), would continue to provide documents when they are requested by Congress, but the two sides "must work to find common ground on the manner in which sensitive security, classified and national security-related information is handled and protected."

"We will be in contact with you this week to establish common protocols and procedures to better protect this type of information," Maher's letter concluded.

Chaffetz's office confirmed receipt of the letter Friday, but did not immediately comment on it.

This post was clarified at 3:41 p.m. to show that the documents were released before the House hearing.