Letter to The Honorable Kip Hawley, Adminstrator Transportation Security Administration

Letter

By:  Dick Durbin Barack Obama II
Date: Oct. 19, 2007
Location: Unknown

Obama, Durbin Demand Security Improvement At Our Nation's Airports

U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) today called on TSA Administrator Kip Hawley to immediately improve the bomb detection capabilities at Chicago O'Hare International Airport and our nation's other airports. According to yesterday's USA Today, a recent report by the TSA revealed that undercover agents posing as passengers carrying materials for fake bombs were able to walk through airport security undetected at alarming rates during tests last year. Two other airports—Los Angeles International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport—joined O'Hare as the testing grounds for detection of bomb materials at passenger security checkpoints. Of the 75 passengers who carried fake explosives through screening stations at O'Hare, nearly 60% passed undetected. These test results are a frightening reality check for travelers about the screening capability of our nation's airports.

In the letter, Obama and Durbin call on Administrator Hawley to provide information as to what steps have been taken to address these recent security deficiencies, what measures have been taken to improve screener training, and how bomb detection equipment will be improved.

"Since our country was attacked on 9/11, strengthening security at Chicago-O'Hare and other airports has been a top homeland security priority," said Senator Obama. "Reports that airport security at our country's busiest airports failed to detect fake explosives prove that TSA should immediately step up security. It's time for the Bush Administration to guarantee the safety of travelers and the security of our country."

"I am disappointed in the results of the TSA report and want to see that the proper steps are being taken to correct the screening deficiencies at O'Hare," said Durbin. "Passengers facing long lines at the airport should not have the stress of traveling compounded by a concern for their safety. Senator Obama and I are asking the TSA to explain how they plan to improve screening to ensure the safety for the millions of travelers who use O'Hare."

The text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Kip Hawley
Administrator
Transportation Security Administration
601 South 12th Street
Arlington, VA 22202-4220

Dear Mr. Hawley:

We are writing to request quick action to improve the detection of bomb materials at Chicago O'Hare International Airport and our nation's other airports. Our letter is prompted by the recently released Transportation Security Administration (TSA) report indicating that undercover agents posing as passengers carrying materials for fake bombs were able to walk through airport security undetected at alarming rates during tests last year.

According to yesterday's USA Today, TSA carried out these tests at three of the nation's busiest airports, including O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Two other airports—Los Angeles International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport—joined O'Hare as the testing grounds for detection of bomb materials at passenger security checkpoints. Of the 75 passengers who carried fake explosives through screening stations at O'Hare, nearly 60% passed undetected. These passengers were able to slip past security with false detonators and explosive materials by hiding materials under their clothes and in everyday items such as CD cases, briefcase linings, and toiletry kits. These test results are a frightening reality check for travelers about the screening capability of our nation's airports.

Although some progress has been made since 9/11, the threat posed by terrorism is still real and is still evolving. Materials to make bombs can come in all shapes and sizes, can be hidden with common household items, and can be difficult to detect. It is critical that the TSA respond to these new challenges to stay ahead of the threat. In your October 16 testimony before the Senate Commerce, Transportation, and Science Committee, you stated: "A lesson from 9/11 is that we must be proactive—we must anticipate threats that continue to grow in sophistication and complexity."

Yet, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report this month noted that although the TSA has recognized the need for better technology to detect such materials, this technology has not been deployed successfully. In its assessment, GAO rated the TSA's ability to "deploy checkpoint technologies to address vulnerabilities" as "generally not achieved."

We believe that the 60% failure rate at O'Hare demonstrates a failure that goes far beyond "generally not achieved."

The Department of Transportation conducted similar covert tests in 2002 and found that screeners missed 60% of simulated bombs at that time. It is unacceptable that this number remains unchanged five years later. While we commend the TSA for continuously running these covert quality tests and for acknowledging the deficiencies in technology to detect explosives, these efforts are futile unless real changes are made.

We would like prompt answers to the following questions.

1. In last year's tests, what types of deficiencies were identified that led to the poor testing results? What steps have been taken and will be taken to address those deficiencies?
2. Were any deficiencies identified that were particular to O'Hare Airport? What steps have been taken and will be taken to address those deficiencies?
3. What steps have been taken and will be taken to better train screeners so that they will more effectively detect bomb materials?
4. What steps have been taken and will be taken to improve the performance of detection equipment to assist screeners in finding bomb materials?
5. What targets have been established for improved performance in future tests?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We would appreciate a response within two weeks.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator