The acting head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was removed from his position on Monday after undercover Homeland Security agents successfully smuggled dozens of fake explosives and banned weapons through airport security checkpoints. With a failure rate of 96%, Acting Administrator Melvin Carraway has been reassigned to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) headquarters while his acting deputy director has been assigned take over his responsibilities. After spending $540 million for equipment and $11 million for training over the last six years, the TSA has failed to make any improvements since 2009.
Posing as passengers, DHS Red Teams regularly conduct internal investigations by attempting to smuggle fake weapons and explosives through TSA security checkpoints in order to test the limits and weaknesses of both their personnel and equipment. According to a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests conducted by undercover Red Teams. During one of these tests, an undercover DHS agent with a fake bomb taped to his back set off a magnetometer, but TSA screeners failed to detect the mock explosive device while patting him down.
In response to the Inspector General’s findings, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson reassigned Acting Administrator Carraway to serve in the Office of State and Local Law Enforcement at the DHS headquarters. Acting Deputy Director Mark Hatfield will replace Carraway as the new Acting Administrator.
“I thank Melvin Carraway for his eleven years of service to TSA and his 36 years of public service to this Nation,” Johnson wrote in a statement on Monday. “The President has nominated Coast Guard Vice Admiral Pete Neffenger to be the next Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. I urge the Senate to confirm this nomination as quickly as possible.”
In a separate incident in 2013, an undercover DHS agent successfully smuggled a fake bomb through a metal detector at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport. Although TSA screeners administered a pat down, they were unable to detect the mock explosive strapped to his body.
“Over the past six years, we have seen TSA consume an enormous amount of government resources, but I’m not convinced we have much to show for it,” stated Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “After spending over $540 million on baggage screening equipment and millions more on training, the failure rate today is higher than it was in 2007. Something is not working.”
The concept of utilizing covert Red Teams to test security and counter-terrorism techniques originated during the 1980s. Former commander of SEAL Team Six, Richard Marcinko led Red Cell teams tasked with infiltrating naval bases, ships, airports, and nuclear submarines. After the tragic events of 9/11, the DHS adopted the use of Red Teams to test their own security measures and prevent terrorists from smuggling weapons or explosive devices aboard civilian airliners. But after spending $551 million on equipment and training since 2009, the Inspector General found that the TSA has failed to make any improvements in the last six years.