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Published: Friday, 11/23/2007

Bombs away for TSA

JUST in time for the busiest travel season of the year comes yet another indication of flawed security operations at the nation's airports. It does not inspire confidence in the government's ability to protect the flying public.

Federal investigators were able to smuggle liquid explosives and other bomb-making materials past screeners at 19 airports across the country.

We don't think there are any valid excuses, considering the six years and billions of dollars that have been invested in the Transportation Security Administration's mission to screen passengers after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Worse, the report by the Government Accountability Office on its covert security tests explained how easy it was to buy materials online to make bombs, learn TSA screening procedures, and conceal incendiary components in carry-on luggage.

In some instances, the investigators were able to hide explosive materials on their person even after screeners did both hand-wand and pat-down searches. "Our tests clearly demonstrate that a terrorist group, using publicly available information and few resources, could cause severe damage and threaten the safety of passengers by bringing prohibited bomb components through security checkpoints," the GAO said.

All indications are that while the terrorist threat to the nation's airlines is constantly evolving, the TSA isn't keeping up, isn't staying on the offensive.

Kip Hawley, TSA's combative administrator, countered that no system is perfect and that his agency knows its vulnerabilities and conducts many tests on its own security officers. And while the agency may adopt some of GAO's recommended changes by taking a more aggressive, visible, and unpredictable approach to airport security, he insisted that significant improvements in equipment and personnel training already have been made.

Mr. Hawley's pronouncement that every security system has its flaws and TSA is merely engaged in "risk management" seems a little too casual, given the potential danger to the flying public.

A dismissive attitude in the face of serious problems has been, unfortunately, a trademark of an administration that has a thousand excuses for failure but few workable solutions.

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