"This shocking breach undercuts the public's confidence in the security procedures at our airports," said Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., ranking Republican member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "On the day before the Senate Homeland Security Committee's hearing on terrorist travel, it is alarming to learn that the TSA inadvertently posted its own security manual on the Internet."
"This manual provides a road map to those who would do us harm," said Collins. "The detailed information could help terrorists evade airport security measures." Collins said she intended to ask the Department of Homeland Security how the breach happened, and "how it will remedy the damage that has already been done."
A TSA spokesperson says the document posted online is an outdated version "improperly posted by the agency to the Federal Business Opportunities Web site wherein redacted material was not properly protected."
"Screening is like a big puzzle and this SOP gives you directions on putting the puzzle together," said Robert MacLean, a former Federal Air Marshal who was fired for revealing holes in TSA's security after the 9/11 attacks. MacLean added that TSA's assertion that the documents posted are old holds no merit. "How much in screening procedure changes in 17 months?" asked MacLean. "It's a one-dimensional process." Such glitches are made more likely, say critics, because there is no one at the helm of the TSA.
"One of the problems I see is we don't have anybody in charge," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "We've been without a TSA administrator a good part of this year."
The TSA was created after the 9/11 attacks as a response to the ease with which hijackers were able to get through airport security. But it has been a troubled agency from the beginning.
"I'm afraid to say that there has been a pattern of incompetence and ineptitude on the part of the TSA over the years," said Ervin. "There have been improvements in TSA, but it appears as though these kinds of things happen again and again."
In a written statement the TSA said the inadvertently released screening manual is an outdated version of procedures from last year that has since been updated six times. Even so, the TSA has launched a full investigation. One thing officials have already learned is that if they had blacked out the sensitive parts with a magic marker, instead of a fancy computer program, there would have been no way for this breach to happen.