The TSA, which was formed after the September 11, 2001, attacks,
annually screens about 640 million travelers and 1.5 billion bags on
domestic and international flights leaving U.S. airports.
Several incidents, including a shooting in November at Los Angeles
International Airport that left one TSA official dead, have put the
agency under close scrutiny from lawmakers, the public and the
The recent stowaway case happened just weeks after the TSA inspected
the San Jose International airport, located in the San Francisco Bay
Area, and declared it to be in compliance with its security systems.
"If a 15-year-old can do this, who else can do this? What if it was
someone else with an explosive that got on that plane?" Senator
Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, asked TSA Administrator John
Pistole, who testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science and Transportation.
Lawmakers also questioned the agency's employee security clearance
system, which may have been a factor in the killing of a Navy
security officer at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia in March.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, noted that the shooter, a
truck driver named Jeffrey Savage, used his TSA-issued
Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC) to gain access to
the station, although he had a history of criminal offenses.
Once issued, the TSA expects TWIC-cleared employees to self-report
any criminal incidents, a system that lawmakers said risks giving
criminals access, as was the case in the Naval Station shooting.
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"DHS (Department of Homeland Security) officials have told us that
job applicants in the fast-food industry typically undergo a more
robust background check than applicants for a TWIC card," Warner
Pistole said the TSA is continually working to improve the way it
protects travelers and to train its workers, but needs Congress to
clear funding for some programs.
"We could require airports to do much, much more, but the question
is who pays for that," he said.
Since the TSA was formed, there has not been any successful
terrorism incident carried out on U.S. airlines. Even so, Senator
John Rockefeller, chairman of the committee, said the recent
security breaches underscore the need to continually reevaluate and
improve the agency's security measures.
"The looming question now is whether Congress is ready to give up
its stubborn hold on resources the TSA needs to meet its mission,"
(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; editing by Leslie Adler)
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