Knives, guns, fake bombs elude airport security
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Security screeners at 32 U.S. airports failed to detect most knives and simulated explosives -- and one of every three guns -- that federal investigators tried to smuggle past security checkpoints in tests after the September 11 attacks, a government official said Monday.
In hundreds of undercover tests conducted between November and February, security screeners missed 70 percent of knives, 60 percent of simulated explosive devices, and 30 percent of guns. Overall, screeners failed 48 percent of the time.
The tests were run by the inspector general of the Transportation Department following a November 9 order from the White House.
Results of the tests have not been released, but a government source confirmed the details, first published Monday by USA Today.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the findings showed why the federal government decided to take over the airport security system.
"This was done in order to provide the Department of Transportation with a realistic assessment of the needs that we have at the airports," Fleischer said.
Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act passed in November, the government has until November 19 to have federal screeners in place at all 429 commercial airports in the United States.
Fleischer said the first wave of senior federal security screeners will be in place this week, and 1,200 will be trained over the next four weeks. In all, the federal government plans on hiring 30,000 workers to take over the screening of passengers at the nation's airports.
"I think it's fair to say that as a result of the legislation enacted by the Congress last year and its implementation throughout the course of this year, security gets better at the airports every day," Fleischer said.
Department of Transportation spokesman Lenny Alcivar said the tests reflected the problems with the old security system.
"Things are not getting worse," he said. "This is really a wake-up call for those who don't understand why we are going through a top-to-bottom review."
The memo from the inspector general said the federal investigators conducted 738 tests at airport screening checkpoints and hundreds of additional tests to test security in other parts of the airports.
In cases where investigators sought to bypass security to gain access to the tarmac or to secretly board an aircraft, they succeeded 48 percent of the time.
Former FAA security chief Billie Vincent told The Associated Press the report was not surprising, considering the checkpoints were staffed by the same low-paid, poorly trained screeners who were there before September 11.
In addition, Vincent said, current equipment cannot detect explosives, nor can it detect many varieties of cutting tools.
"The technology at the screening points is not there," Vincent said. "The current metal detectors won't do the job. If you turn it high enough to detect that much metal, you will have an alarm on every person going through."
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