Dec. 8, 2009 -- In a massive security breach, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inadvertently posted online its airport screening procedures manual, including some of the most closely guarded secrets regarding special rules for diplomats and CIA and law enforcement officers.
The most sensitive parts of the 93-page Standard Operating Procedures manual were apparently redacted in a way that computer savvy individuals easily overcame.
The improperly redacted areas indicate that only 20 percent of checked bags are to be hand searched for explosives and reveal in detail the limitations of x-ray screening machines.
"This is an appalling and astounding breach of security that terrorists could easily exploit," said Clark Kent Ervin, the former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security. "The TSA should immediately convene an internal investigation and discipline those responsible."
"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 Transportation Security Administration (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."
TSA Document Leaked Online
A TSA spokesperson says the document posted online is an outdated version "improperly posted by the agency to the Federal Business Opportunities Web site wherein redacted material was not properly protected."
The TSA requested the document be taken offline, but by then it had spread around the Internet and is still available today.
The document contains a list of items for which screening is not required including wheelchairs, footwear of disabled individuals, casts and orthopedic shoes.
The redacted portions also indicate which law enforcement personnel are specially screened or exempt from some screening procedures, and indicate what requirements they must meet to be eligible for special screening.
TSA screeners are also told to require extra screening for any passenger whose passport was issued by Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen or Algeria.
The document also reveals that during peak travel times, TSA screeners who check identification can reduce from 100 percent to 25 percent the times they use black lights to authenticate documents.
"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."
The TSA says it is taking the release of the sensitive information "seriously" and is conducting a full review.
"TSA has many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe and to constantly adapt to evolving threats," the agency said in a statement. "TSA is confident that screening procedures currently in place remain strong."
The document also provides a glimpse of the special treatment available for governors, lieutenant governors and the mayor of Washington, D.C., as well as their spouses and family and staff.