Who's in Charge at the Transportation Security Administration? Nobody

Critics blame mistakes like release of screening manual on TSA leadership vacuum

ByABC News
December 8, 2009, 8:35 PM

— -- In a massive security breach, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inadvertently posted online its airport screening procedures manual, including closely guarded secrets regarding special rules for diplomats and CIA and law enforcement officers.

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 most sensitive parts of the Standard Operating Procedures manual were apparently redacted in a way that computer-savvy individuals easily overcame.

The 93-page document shows sample CIA, Congressional and law enforcement credentials, which experts say would make it easy for terrorists to duplicate them.

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.

"When you don't have someone at the top, you have many of these issues that we're dealing with now," said Thompson.

DeMint Blocks Nominee

The previous TSA dministrator, Kip Hawley, stepped down on January 20, 2009. The acting administrator is Gale Rossides. President Obama tapped Erroll Southers, currently assistant chief for homeland security at Los Angeles airport, to become the TSA's permanent director back in September.

But Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) placed a hold on the Southers nomination earlier this month. In October, Sen. DeMint had sent a letter to Southers asking him for "a clear answer" on whether he would permit unionization of screeners at the nation's airports, which DeMint opposes.