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Fri, Nov 16, 2007

GAO: Investigators Able To Sneak Bomb Components By Screeners

Is "Bungle" Too Strong A Word Here?

A report by the Government Accountability Office casts further doubt on the effectiveness of airport security, reports CBS News.

To test vulnerabilities in the passenger screening process, GAO investigators conducted secret tests at 19 airports earlier this year... and were able to sneak through TSA checkpoints, undetected, with components used to assemble makeshift explosive devices, according to the report.

"Our tests clearly demonstrate that a terrorist group, using publicly available information and a few resources, could cause severe damage to an airplane and threaten the safety of passengers," the report states.

During the tests, investigators snuck through parts used to make two probable terrorist devices -- an improvised explosive device (IED) consisting of a "liquid explosive and a low yield detonator," and an improvised incendiary device (IID) "created by combining commonly available products (one of which is a liquid) that TSA prohibits in carry-on luggage."

In each case, bomb parts were purchased over the Internet or a local store for roughly $150, according to the GAO... and undercover agents were able to transport the components "through TSA checkpoints and onto airline flights without being challenged by transportation security officers."

That's not to say TSA screeners weren't looking for suspicious items... just that, perhaps, they weren't looking for the right ones. The report details one interaction between a TSA officer and an investigator, in which the TSA screener confiscated a small, unlabeled bottle of medical shampoo -- a "legitimate toiletry item," according to the report.

(Prepare now to smack your forehead in disgust -- Ed.)

"However, a liquid component of the IID -- despite being prohibited by TSA -- was allowed to pass undetected through the checkpoint."

The GAO does state more advanced technology, such as "backscatter"-type imaging systems now under development and in testing, might help screeners see the forest through the trees. But those systems are still a ways away from being deployed en masse... which means for now, the TSA will have to rely on undercover testing to keep screeners on their toes, as it were.

CBS News security analyst Paul Kurtz says the GAO report underscores fears a team of terrorists could easily thwart the TSA's finest, six years after the 9/11 terror attacks.

"If you start to break up all the components over several different people, and you bring them in in different ways, on your person, in your carry-on luggage, how is a TSA screener supposed to put all those pieces together?" Kurtz asks.

FMI: www.gao.gov, www.tsa.gov

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