Former Administrator John Pistole said a report earlier this week that found Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents failed to find fake explosives and weapons in internal tests at almost all of America's busiest airports is “disconcerting.”
The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general documented a series of undercover stings in which agents tried to pass through security with prohibited items earlier this week.
The undercover agents made it through security in nearly all the tests — 67 of 70 — including one instance where a TSA screener failed to find a fake bomb, even after the undercover agent set off a magnetometer. The screener reportedly let the agent through with the fake bomb taped to his back, having missed it during a pat-down.
Pistole said in an interview with NPR that the news of the failed bomb tests is concerning because improvements were made to the TSA’s procedures during his tenure at the helm of the nation’s airport security agency.
“It's obviously very disconcerting,” he said. “We know that no system is 100 percent, but it's a great concern that that would be the result, given all the improvements that have been made over the last several years.”
Pistole retired from the TSA at the end of last year. He noted in the interview this week that the group of TSA workers who conducted the tests, known as “Red Teams,” are trained specifically in security evasion.
“The distinction between the Red Team testers and actual terrorists are the Red Team testers do know the standard operating procedures,” he said. “They know the technical capabilities of the machines so they can actually construct things that can be used” to escape detection.
He also sought to assuage lawmakers who have raised concerns about terrorists identifying weakness in airport security from reports about the failed tests.
“The key here is that there's no intelligence about anything bad going on because they're covert testers,” he said. “When you take that out of the equation, it makes it more of a test of a very narrow part of those multiple layers of security.”
Pistole gave current TSA officials credit for moving quickly to address the concerns that were raised by the failed bomb tests.
“That why they're, I think, really looking at a back-to-basics approach to say what did we miss, how did we miss it, and how do we move forward here in an efficient and professional way that facilitates the free movement of people and goods,” he said.
Pistole left the TSA at the end of 2014 after more than five years at the helm of the agency. He was replaced by Melvin Carraway, who was removed from office after news of the failed bomb tests.