TSA still covering up airport security incompetence

Another former Federal Aviation Administration special agent has come forward to say that the agency covered up lapses in security prior to September 11, 2001 and that the practice continues today at the Transportation Security Administration.

Brian Sullivan, who worked for FAA security in the New England region prior to 9/11, and is now retired, wrote this week that the FAA, and now the TSA, is using so-called “sensitive but unclassified” designators such as Sensitive Security Information, not to keep critical security information away from terrorists, but to keep knowledge of embarrassing failures and wrongdoing away from the American people.

“TSA’s abusive overdesignation of documents as ‘Sensitive Security Information’ (SSI) is an endless source of frustration to 9/11 family members determined to learn the truth about how their loved ones died, to watchdog organizations determined to hold our government accountable, and to distinguished jurists determined to mete out justice,” Sullivan wrote in an editorial published Monday.

In the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, Judge Leonie Brinkema was astounded that TSA refused to provide 9/11 family members with evidence it gave to the convicted terrorist’s lawyers. “It’s quite extraordinary that TSA has a tougher policy on disclosure than the CIA or the FBI or the NSA,” she said from the bench. After Judge Brinkema ordered TSA to share these documents with 9/11 family members, TSA refused to comply, tying it up in Appeals Court for the foreseeable future.

In my many years at the FAA (TSA’s aviation security predecessor), I saw how the interests of our real bosses, the American people, sometimes took a back seat to other concerns, including the pleadings of airline lobbyists. This was evidenced further by TSA Attorney Carla Martin’s alleged collusion with aviation industry attorneys, which nearly sabotaged the Moussaoui prosecution.

Indeed, ample evidence demonstrates that TSA’s refusal to release pre-9/11 documents is not based on legitimate anti-terrorism grounds but rather on evading accountability. For example, in 9/11 aviation litigation, TSA restored much language it had originally marked as SSI and removed from documents provided to the families. One look at this made clear TSA was protecting itself from embarrassment, not the public from harm. — Brian Sullivan

Former federal air marshal Bogdan Dzakovic testified before the 9/11 Commission about lapses in airport security before September 11. As part of the so-called “Red Team,” his job was to find holes in airport security. “We breached security up to 90 percent of the time,” he told the 9/11 Commission. “The FAA suppressed these warnings.”

The Project on Government Oversight has collected numerous documents relating to “the Transportation Security Administration’s dubious Sensitive Security Information secrecy category.”

Language in Section 525 of the House version of the homeland security appropriations bill, H.R. 5441, would require the TSA to justify keeping information designated as SSI if it wanted to keep it from the public for more than three years, as well as set standards on what information would qualify as SSI.

The Senate version, which omits the reform, was “likely shaped by DHS and TSA,” wrote POGO investigator Nick Schwellenbach, “would be a slap in the face to 9/11 victim families and allow the continued use of excessive secrecy to minimize accountability at TSA.”