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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TSA: The Stupid Agency? TSA Breach Exposes Passenger Screening Manual



By Stefanie Hoffman, ChannelWeb
8:21 PM EST Tue. Dec. 08, 2009

A redacted U.S. Transportation Security Administration manual posted online inadvertently revealed agency secrets regarding airport passenger screening practices, The Washington Post reported.
The breach made the TSA's most sensitive screening practices public. Altogether, the 93-page TSA screening manual revealed how TSA employees should do their jobs, including how bags are checked for explosives, who should be screened, and how to deal with CIA agents.

The document also included images of numerous identification cards that screeners would be required to recognize, including those used by member of Congress, the Federal Air Marshals, the CIA and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in an effort to discern and catch individuals who attempt to illegally replicate them.

The TSA Standard Operating Procedures manual initially was published online in redacted form, however digital redactions were inadequate and hackers were able to uncover the blacked out information this week. Users started blogging Sunday that the complete version of the TSA manual had been posted online.

TSA officials said the agency failed to adequately post the report on the government Web sites by simply overlaying black boxes to the PDF document, which enabled users with a fundamental knowledge of Adobe (NSDQ:ADBE) Acrobat to easily remove the redactions. Federal officials called the incident an 'embarrassing mistake.'

"The release of a Standard Operating Procedures manual for TSA officers is an embarrassing mistake that calls into question the judgment of agency managers," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman, in a statement. "A security manual, redacted or not, is not the type of document we want to share with the world. That it was incompetently redacted only compounds the error."

Additionally, the manual stated that travelers from 12 different countries, including Cuba, North Korea, Somalia and Yemen, are always subjected to additional and more intensive screening.

The TSA manual also provided details such as to how often to conduct hand searches, the technical limitations of the screening and surveillance equipment and procedures used for various protected foreign officials.

TSA officials have stated that the manual, which was issued in May 2008, was out of date. Since then, the document has been updated six times, the agency said. However, TSA officials asserted that the screening manual was intended for insiders and should never have been made available online for the public knowledge. The agency is currently investigating the security breach.


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