9/11 Commission Report Card: Aviation Screening System ‘Falls Short’

9/1/2011
By Stew Magnuson
Despite the Transportation Security Administration rushing billions of dollars worth of screening machines into airports after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a report card on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations says the nation is “still highly vulnerable to aviation security threats.”
 
“We are not satisfied with TSA’s explosives screening capability,” the National Security Preparedness Group, a bipartisan collection of former members of the commission, said in a Sept. 1 report.
 
The report, “Tenth Anniversary Report Card: The Status of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations” said the explosive detection technology lacks reliability and lags in its capability to automatically identify concealed weapons and explosives.
 
The report’s co-authors, Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean, vice chairman and chairman of the 9/11 Commission respectively, noted that al Qaida and its affiliates continue to see aviation as a prime target.
 
“Our conclusion is that despite 10 years of working on the problem, the aviation screening system still falls short in critical ways with respect to detection,” the authors said. They cited numerous Government Accountability Office reports that outlined ill-defined requirements, poorly designed test and evaluation procedures and the premature deployment of technologies into airports that cost the taxpayers “significant amounts” of funding.
 
As far as the full body scanners that reveal a subject body underneath clothing, health and privacy concerns have not been fully addressed, they added.
 
“Given the threat we face to our transportation systems, we cannot afford to perpetuate these mistakes,” the report said.
 
The Department of Homeland Security since its creation has struggled with a number of technology initiatives, although many of them were spurred by legislation initiated by Congress rather than commission recommendations. DHS recently announced plans to cancel efforts to scan every incoming shipping container for radiation. The technology simply did not work. The so-called virtual fence on the Southwest border also failed to live up to expectations.
 
Three of the commission’s recommendations involving technology have also fallen short, but more for bureaucratic and policy reasons rather than DHS research and development efforts.
 
The building of a nationwide, interoperable communications network for first responders has not made much progress, the commission noted. The Federal Communications Commission has a plan to reallocate the D block, a swath of spectrum made available after the end of analog television broadcasts, by auctioning it off to commercial providers. Many members of Congress oppose that plan and want the D block exclusively for public safety agencies, but they have not been able to advance legislation.
 
A recommendation for states to standardize the issuances of birth certificates and identification cards such as driver’s licenses is also moving at a snail’s pace. The REAL ID Act of 2008 established standards, but almost two-thirds of the states have not been able to comply and the deadline has been moved back several times.
 
“No further delay should be authorized; rather, compliance should be accelerated,” the report stated.
 
While the authors lauded the improvement in the collection of data on those who enter the United States legally, it noted that there has been no progress on verifying who has left the nation.
 
“Such a capacity would have assisted law enforcement and intelligence officials in August 2001 in conducting a search for two of the 9/11 hijackers that were in the U.S. on expired visas,” the report said.
 
The US-VISIT program, which collects the entry data, made several attempts to figure out ways to collect exit data, including kiosks in airports, and radio frequency identification chips in passports, but the pilot programs revealed serious flaws. A plan to have airlines collect the data received strong opposition from the airline industry.   

Topics: Homeland Security, Air Transportation, DHS Policy

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