Bomb blasts in Brussels two weeks ago have caused U.S. security officials to do a reassessment back home, meaning summer travelers will likely see a bigger police presence and more random searches before flying this year.
TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told reporters Friday that the agency has significantly stepped up its visible presence after the Brussels blasts, just one effort to deter would-be copy cats from targeting U.S. airports and train stations.“Visibility is a deterrent factor and it’s a disruptive factor too,” he said.
“I care about lines, it’s not that I don’t … [but] we have to do our jobs. We learned that last year,” he added, referencing a series of security failures that embarrassed the agency.
An internal investigation that leaked Monday, first reported by ABC News, revealed that undercover agents had been able to carry mock explosives and weapons through security checkpoints undetected 67 out of 70 times. The report led to a reshuffling Monday night in which Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson removed TSA acting chief Melvin Carraway.
But even with more security patrols, bomb-sniffing dogs and bag checks, Neffenger wouldn’t say for certain that a Brussels-like attack couldn’t happen in the U.S.
The Brussels terrorists picked nonsecure areas of the city’s airport and metro system to set off bombs that killed at least 32 people and injured hundreds of others.
And though TSA’s main responsibility lies beyond the security screening barricades, Neffenger said there is “a lot more patrolling of public areas here than I believe was the case in Brussels.”
Nelson said the Atlanta airport worker gun smuggling ring uncovered in December 2014 and more recently, bombs snuck onto commercial planes overseas, make it imperative that TSA push airports to tighten up access and screening for their employees.
“Atlanta, Miami and Orlando,” have thorough worker vetting in place, Nelson said. “What about the rest of the 297 airports nationwide?”
Neffenger said the agency and airports have taken significant steps in recent months to tighten worker access — but Nelson wasn’t satisfied.
“The only person that is going to get the airports off their duff to limit the access into their airports is going to be you and your administration,” Nelson said during the hearing Wednesday.
Three airports have a process in place for vetting airport and vendor employees who have access to secure areas of airports. Otherwise, it’s up to the employers and local police to make sure that terrorists aren’t sneaking onto airports under the guise of being “service employees”.
Because we know that the local police and employers have much more extensive resources than the federal government.
Neffenger defended the agency during his meeting with reporters Friday.
There are “a lot of players” in airport security, he said, not just TSA. Therefore, he said, it’s up to everyone — including local police and employers — to vet airport workers and cargo, such as catering equipment, that enter secure areas.
“I think that’s a shared responsibility. There’s no way that TSA could — we don’t have the current resources to physically check everybody,” Neffenger said.
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