Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clarification on Covert Testing at Newark (EWR)

You’ve likely read various media accounts of how our TSOs at Newark (EWR) missed an IED during covert testing -- training. I’d like to take a few moments to talk about covert testing at TSA since this has drawn so much attention.

TSA undergoes covert testing by The GAO, the DHS Inspector General, TSA’s Office of Inspection, and Local TSA staff. The aforementioned test was conducted by the TSA Office of Inspection. You’ve probably heard them referred to as the “Red Team.”

The goal of the Red Team is to build tests that push the boundaries of our people, processes, and technology. We know that the adversary innovates and we have to push ourselves to capacity in order to remain one step ahead. With that said, our testers often make these covert tests as difficult as possible. It’s not like they’re using a cartoonish bundle of dynamite with an alarm clock strapped to it. These items are extremely hard to spot.

You might be wondering why our testers run tests that our Officers are prone to fail? It’s because we want to see if our procedures, technology, and policies are or are not working. We also are constantly looking for ways to improve our performance. When a test is failed, we don’t simply check a tick mark in a box and move on. Nor do we take punitive measures as this testing is a learning experience. The results are shared with TSA leadership at the airport and HQ, as well as the officers who were part of the test, noting areas for improvement where warranted. The findings from these covert tests can result in changes to our policies and procedures, or even tweaks to our technology.

Also, it’s important to note that this specific covert test was only testing one of the 20 layers of security. It was checking one aspect of the Checkpoint Transportation Security Officer SOP. These other layers include behavior detection officers, travel document checkers, intelligence gathering and analysis, checking passenger manifests against watch lists, random canine team searches, and more security measures both visible and invisible to the public.  In a normal setting, all 20 layers would be working in concert; however, all layers cannot be tested in the same way. 

Since we’re on the topic of Newark, an article with comments from an alleged anonymous former Transportation Security Officer from EWR was posted over the weekend by the New York Post. It’s amazing how much credence a newspaper can give to someone who is not accountable for what he or she says. With that said, much of what this alleged former TSO had to say is just uninformed generalizations painted with a very wide brush. In the past, we have seen former employees who were terminated for wrongdoing quoted in stories like this one. As you might imagine, we think they have a credibility gap.

The TSA workforce carries out the agency’s transportation security responsibilities in support of our Nation’s counterterrorism efforts with responsibility and dedication. The Agency’s responsibilities include security screening of passengers and baggage at 450 airports in the United States that facilitate safe air travel for 1.8 million people per day. That is why we train for success.

Bob Burns 
TSA Blog Team

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