The TSA proudly announced that they confiscated thousands of guns and weapons (and a Chihuahua) recently. However, along the way they and other agencies under the Department of Homeland Security lost a big cache of their own weapons, badges, credentials, and other potentially damaging items that pose serious security concerns.
According to new inventory reports, more than 1,300 badges, 165 firearms, and 589 cell phones were lost or stolen from 2012 to 2015. We can’t imagine lost or stolen property at a public facility is a headline-grabber, except that these belong to federal agents charged with keeping us safe or enforcing law. The lost or stolen items could lead to hundreds of deaths in the wrong hands.
Most of the lost credentials belongs to Customs and Border Protection and the others to agencies working on immigration processing or enforcement. The lost or stolen guns belonged to CBP, TSA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Experts worry about what could happen if somebody with bad intentions obtained any of these items:
“It’s scary that you’d have that number of credentials out there that someone could manipulate,” Tim Miller, a retired Secret Service special agent, told FoxNews.com.
While Miller said the phones are likely to have enough protocols in place to prevent them from being used for nefarious purposes, the badges and credentials are an entirely different matter and could allow access to sensitive areas such as cargo.
“The thing that’s particularly concerning is that if you get real credentials, it’s very easy to manipulate them, and you’ve got someone else’s picture on what law enforcement would see as valid," Miller said. "Then you factor in terrorism, it’s a significant concern that people would run around with authentic credentials and be able to access areas they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.”
DHS does not dispute the inventory report, but claims they strive to be “good stewards” of government resources and have improved oversight protocols to reduce the number of lost and stolen items.
If that doesn’t inspire much confidence in them for you, you’re not alone.
Lawmakers also have expressed concern about the safety of DHS property in the past. In December, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved legislation that would tighten screening of TSA workers, review security protocols and increase fines and enforcement requirements related to missing credentials.
“Officials entrusted with protecting the American public cannot consider the loss of sensitive items normal or routine," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the committee, told FoxNews.com.
"When the Commerce Committee looked at lost and missing airport security credentials, we discovered that existing rules weren’t being effectively enforced. Mistakes happen, but if we don’t work to eliminate them and insist on accountability, then we’re left with unacceptable risk,” Thune said.
A good question is whether these items were really lost or whether agents took them for their own use or gain. Lax oversight and no fear of investigation or punishment create a big incentive for agents to profit on these valuable items.
On another front, members of Congress brought TSA officials to face questioning on the improper tracking of official badges and IDs, as well as failing to record basic security details for thousands of employees.
According to DHS’ inspector general some 87,000 active aviation workers (10 percent of the total workforce), are missing Social Security numbers in their records. Another 75,000 active employee credentials claim to be a non-U.S. citizen but don’t include passport numbers and of that number, 14,000 workers also did not list an alien registration number – they could be here illegally.
Lawmakers describe the TSA as operating “in chaos” as the Washington Free Beacon reports:
TSA’s inability to properly screen and track employees has been well documented for years. However, the administration has failed to enact multiple reforms aimed at tightening security and making it more efficient, lawmakers said.
TSA still cannot verify their employees’ criminal histories and immigration statuses, according to disclosures made by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.
“Even 15 years” since the 9/11 terror attacks, “we still see a system that has not complied with the laws we have passed multiple times … and we see failures,” said Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), chair of the House Transportation Subcommittee.
Officials additionally could not account for “hundreds and thousands of IDs” that had gone missing, including TSA security badges, airport identity badges, and officer identification.
“Everything you can imagine stolen, or missing, or unaccounted for,” Mica said. “Here we are in 2016, 15 years after 9/11, and we don’t know who’s going in and who’s going out. There’s no way to ensure it.”
According to the watchdog report, TSA did not have appropriate checks and balances in place to properly credential workers, yet they did so – potentially putting Americans at risk by granting access to those who at best shouldn’t be working for the TSA and at worse could have dangerous motives.
The TSA can do no better than Homeland Security. These failures are not just in one agency but across the board.
Beyond a one-time reform, these agencies should regularly listen to the audits of their processes from their internal inspectors general to identify gaps and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, the inherent problem with big government is that it doesn’t respond to reports of its failures and lacks the nimbleness to adjust compared to the private sector.