Weaknesses in homeland security Efforts at airports

Terrorism has continued to pose a major threat to the security not only of the United States but to the whole world as well. Our airports have become very easy targets for these threats and have been used as corridors to achieve deadly attacks on innocent civilians and key installations. One such attack is the bombing of the World Trade Center commonly referred to as 9/11. This was perhaps the deadliest terrorist attack anywhere in the world’s resulted into loss of thousands of lives and property. It is ironical that the terrorists innocently passed through the well secured airports undetected by the security apparatus.

This was indeed was a major security lapse. Homeland Security Homeland security is a term that is used to refer to all aspects of government’s efforts directed towards protecting the territory of the United States from all forms of threats both internally and externally. Homeland security from the definition of the National Strategy for Homeland security is “a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce Americas vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do not occur” (www.

whitehouse. gov/homeland book/index. html ) Thus homeland security is a very important element of the national security system that ensures that the security of nation is upheld. However, major threats are faced at the airports which are very vulnerable as gateways to the rest of the nation. Because of the increased number of threat that face these airports sometime the homeland security is unable to cope, making it extremely challenging for them leading to pockets of weaknesses. At these airports, airport security is meant to serve two purposes

-Protecting the airports - Protecting the aircrafts from attacks. Weaknesses There are various weaknesses that have been identified which this paper is going to discuss i). Information Security. According to the reports done by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) dated July 2007. “Significant weaknesses were identified in the systems supporting the US – VISIT Program. US – VISIT program stands for United States Visitor and Immigrant States Indicator Technology.

The program covers “the pre-entry, entry, status management and exit of foreign travelers that enter or leave the United States at 285 air, sea and land points of entry” From this report it is clear that technological advancement should be ahead of pace with the changing facets of the threats that the airports face. The technology that was used yester years should be upgraded constantly to ensure it meets the demands, which are placed on it. ii) Lack of proper implementation of security guidelines

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which is an arm of the Homeland Security has set clear guidelines on how security incidents are identified and then reported to the TSA headquarters. It is also the responsibility of the TSA to carry out covert testing on all airports to ensure that the personnel and systems are fully equipped to detect items that are classified as dangerous and harmful. (http://www. gao. gov/docsearch/featured/homelandsecurity. html) However, for such guidelines to be implemented at the ground level, clear instructions are supposed to be given out including thorough training of personnel.

Reporting of security incidences are very important especially in updating the systems to cope with new incidences of security threats. Thus when such incidences are not properly reported then the security of these airports are compromised. One such incident was mentioned in a report entitled “Review of Allegations Regarding San Francisco International Airports”. The report found out that the TSA guidelines were not clear and at least one security incident was misreported to the headquarters of TSA. (http://www. gao. gov/docsearch/featured/homelandsecurity.

html) The report further indicated that TSA and certain security agents of a private security contractor at the airport compromised security by notifying screening personnel, at check points of an eminent covert testing exercise This incident although happening in one airport indicates a major weakness that can be utilized to bring harm. Thus proper training and understanding the guidelines is a very important factor. Also the personnel on the ground should be properly incentified to encourage them to become compliant with the reporting and testing procedures.

iii) Bureaucracy and lack of motivation for the homeland security personnel The homeland security is part of the federal Government and rated as the most “troubled cabinet level agencies in the federal government” Because of the bureaucracy that is associated with the government the department is ill equipped to deal with the challenges if faces. (www. wilsonenter. org) According to surveys conducted by the federal government on its own employees the department is rated as the “worst place to work in the government” (www. wilsonenter.

org). It was rated the lowest among the 36 federal agencies, for such important issues as job satisfaction, management and leadership. The department faces a myriad of problems that makes it very difficult to work in. It faces high turnover, excessive internal, “bureaucracy struggles” and various challenges of structure after its formation after the 9/11 attacks. (www. wilsonenter. org This coupled with the challenge of under funding plus inefficiency in achieving its goals has had a severe spiral effect on the security of airports.

The unit is understaffed and thus makes it ineffective to manage the security of the airports. This is because more personnel are required to assist in clearing many cases of immigration backlog, handle thorough screening of passengers and so on. There should be comprehensive and effective training program for airport screening employees, investment in better technology to detect various forms of hidden explosives including liquid bombs, accurate and comprehensive watch list of potential terrorists.

The department to be more proactive it requires huge investment in areas of intelligence capability which makes it more proactive in arresting any security threats in the airports. Homeland security was created immediately after 9/11, Therefore the agency was assembled in a great hurry to contain the eminent threats that the nation was facing, obviously this had some political undertones. Thus 180,000 employees from about 22 distinct government agencies with a budget of $43 billion were put together to form this dysfunctional unit.

Homeland security was “born in a fever of necessity and politics” The “agency may have a mission statement, but it lacks a unified mission. ” (www. wilsonenter. org) Testimony by Inspector General for Homeland Security Clark Ervin, and GAO Managing Director, Norman Rabkin, at the House Aviation Subcommittee also revealed certain weaknesses. It was revealed that TSA screening personnel performed “poorly compared to the inexpensive private rent –a – cop contractors. (www. wilsonenter. org) From the testimony TSA is seen as a major obstacle towards sustainable airport security because of its incompetence and failure.

As Ervin put it “TSA’s tight controls over the pilot program restricted flexibility and innovation that the contractors may have implemented to perform at levels exceeding that of the federal workforce. TSA needs to establish a more robust pilot program that allows greater flexibility to test new innovations and approaches” (www. wilsonenter. org) iv) Defective Detectives From 1978 reports of the percentage of threat objects that passed undetected through security screeners, it was only 13% yet today with more sophisticated equipment the figure has shot to 20 %. (www. homelandsecuritygroup. info).

After the alleged transatlantic bomb plot that was detected by Britain in August 2006 the transportation security Administration (TSA) upgraded its passenger screening policies. These upgrade resulted in the restrictions on amount of liquids, gels and aerosols that could be allowed through check points (www. homelandsecuritygroup. info). Following this upgrades the committee requested GAO to test whether security gaps still existed in the screening processes for passengers. GAO investigators’ task was to pass /smuggle devices that terrorists would likely use to cause damage to passenger airplanes.

Covert testing was undertaken for 19 airports across the country. After this tests GAO investigators were able to smuggle the components in their carry-on luggage and on their bodies without being detected at the TSA security screening check points. (www. homelandsecuritygroup. info). It was then concluded that it is indeed possible by using such checkpoints to airplanes without being challenged by the security. v). External factors Other weaknesses that can be identified at the airports are external in nature and are dependant on other variables that affect the airports directly.

One variable are the processing time for passengers International and domestic passenger and cargo growth is quite evident, with this comes the challenge of quickly and effectively processing passengers plus luggage through the screening checkpoints. Air port securities sometimes are overwhelmed especially when there are sudden surge of passengers at specified time for example during the Christmas season when air travel is at its peak. In most cases there is always shortage of enough security personnel. They are therefore overstretched and overwhelmed thereby compromising the security concern of such airports.

Another security issue posed to the airports are cases where passengers could use fake boarding passes and identify cards. Airport security is threatened by such technologies; a good example is the case of Christopher Sorghoian who had created a fake boarding pass generating website (www. newstarget. com) The website enabled anyone with access to internet to create and print fake boarding passes for Northwest Airlines. This could be done for free, once in possession of such passes passengers could get through airport with ease.

This boarding passes could also be used to fly on another person’s ticket which posses a very serious security concern. Besides, airports had to be reinstate “easy – to – print” passes after being pressurized by airlines for the convenience of their customers allowed them to print them at home from their computers. This process of printing such passes at home had been abolished after 9/11 only to return again (www. newstarget. com) Another critical external factor that makes the airports more vulnerable to security threats, are the errors detected in the federal watch list

In a data privacy and inequity Advisory committee Jim Kennedy the director of Transportation Security Administrations redress office, revealed that about 30,000 airline passengers’ names were in this list. The passengers were required to fill “Passenger Identity Verification Form” to aide in evaluating the authenticity of their documents. The evaluation exercise would take approximately 45 – 60 days (www. news. zdnet. com ) Of the 30,000 passengers none was kept away from flying because their names were put in another list called “selectee list” which calls for additional screening.

Such anomalies especially in the airports are very serious because apart from distressing innocent passengers, they are glaring loop holes that can be taken advantage of. Also terrorists could indeed be among the more than 30,000 passengers but trying to identify them would be like searching for a needle a haystack CONCLUSION After 9/11, security in airport came a under more severe scrutiny both to the government passenger, airliners and terrorists who passed great danger. And because of security complications the airports are becoming more vulnerable by the day.

It security systems are not carefully vetted for effectiveness then the airports become ever more vulnerable. It is very important for the homeland security agencies to keep pace with the technological advancement in ensuring that most gaps are sealed to sustain safety. These calls for mobilization of an increased number of security agents who should undertake rigorous trainings to equip them with requisite capabilities not only to detect, prevent and arrest any security concern, but posses’ adequate intelligence facilities.

The department needs to be more proactive rather than reactive. Work Cited www. newstarget. com: Fake boarding pass generation website shows weaknesses in airport security measures. Accessed on 28th November 2007 www. homelandsecuritygroup. info Aviation security Bombs smuggled through airports. It was then concluded that it is indeed possible by using such Accessed on 28th November 2007 www. news. zdnet. com Tens of thousands mistakenly matched to terrorist watch lists Accessed on 28th November 2007