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EXPOSÉ: America's Investigative Reports
EXPOSÉ 2008 Season
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Introduction KHOU KNXV-TV Covering Airport Security Watch the Episode CIR Blogger Notes Web Resources
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ORIGINAL REPORTING

KHOU in Houston
"Is Houston a Sitting Duck for Terrorism?" (First aired 02/01/07)
11 News Investigates reporter Jeremy Rogalski reveals the dangers of lax security at three general aviation airports around Houston's chemical alley.

KUSA in Denver
"Undercover agents slip bombs past DIA screeners" (First aired 03/29/07)
9News investigative reporter Deborah Sherman learns from inside sources that screeners at Denver International Airport have failed to detect explosives in TSA tests.

KNXV in Phoenix
"Serious security questions at Sky Harbor Airport" (First aired 07/20/07)
The Investigators' Lisa Fletcher discovers that non-TSA security guards routinely do not screen employee bags and other items entering secure areas during a 4.5-hour overnight period.

(Click here for Houston and Phoenix video segments available on the Exposé site.)

AVIATION SAFETY IN THE NEWS

"Most fake bombs missed by screeners," By Thomas Frank, USA Today, 10/17/07
According to a classified Transportation Security Administration report obtained by USA Today, screeners at two of the nation's largest airports missed many of the simulated explosives that passed through checkpoints during TSA tests last year. At Los Angeles International Airport, screeners missed the fake explosives and bomb parts hidden under the clothes or in carry-on bags of personnel posing as passengers 75% of the time, while at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, screeners failed about 60% of the time. A third airport included in the report, San Francisco International, had a 20% failure rate. USA Today broke the story on its website on 10/17/07 and published a front-page article the next day.

"TSA Ex-Employees Say They've Been Blackballed For Revealing Problems," By Ron Marisco, The Star-Ledger, 10/14/07
The Star-Ledger of New Jersey details numerous cases of apparent retaliation against TSA whistleblowers. Cases include the following: an air marshal fired for denouncing to the media TSA's decision to make major cutbacks on marshals guarding cross-country flights; two security training officers laid-off for reporting lax baggage screenings at Buffalo Niagara Airport; and an Oregon Medford Airport second-in-command employee terminated and later reassigned to a new airport for complaining about an assault weapon brought to work by her boss.

FEDERAL AGENCIES & GOVERNMENT SOURCES

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Established on November 25, 2002, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is responsible for protecting the country from terrorist attacks and responding to natural disasters. In September of this year, the Department of Homeland Security launched a blog on its website to "open a dialogue with the American people" about the country's security and to collect "fresh ideas and constructive criticism about the Department." A recent posting by Kip Hawley, lead administrator at the Transportation Security Administration, addresses TSA screening mechanisms beyond the checkpoint.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FAA is a federal agency responsible for managing all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S. Prior to the creation of the TSA, the FAA oversaw the so-called Red Team, an elite squad that tests airport security by staging mock undercover hijackings, attempting to sneak bombs past airport screeners and trying to board planes with fake passports and IDs. In May 2003, Bogdan Dzakovic, a former Red Team leader (and expert used in Deborah Sherman's reporting), testified in front of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that before 9/11 the Red Team was able to breach security in U.S. airports up to 90% of the time. Testing of screeners is now done by the TSA, which, according to KUSA reporter Deborah Sherman, will not confirm or deny the existence of Red Teams.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Created in 2001 as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the TSA oversees security for highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, ports, and 450 U.S. airports. Although the TSA officially refuses to comment on any classified or "security sensitive information," including the results of tests conducted on TSA screeners, the TSA does issue statements to the media on particular security concerns and sometimes comments, although not always directly, on media reports. Without citing the source, for example, the TSA website recently responded to the "myth" that "At San Diego International Airport, tests are run by passengers who local TSA managers ask to carry a bomb." That myth came from Cris Soulia, a screener at San Diego International and official in a screeners' union, and was reported in USA Today ("Tougher TSA bomb tests raise stakes for screeners," 10/17/07).

"Efforts to Strengthen Aviation and Surface Transportation Security are Under Way, but Challenges Remain" Government Accountability Office (GAO), October 16, 2007
The latest GAO report on U.S. aviation monitored the progress of the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration in making U.S. commercial aviation safer. According to the study, the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA have generally achieved most of the GAO's expectations, but further improvements are necessary, including enhancing the passenger pre-screening process at airports nationwide, implementing new technologies to screen air cargos and strengthening security around airports.

RELATED SOURCES

Aviation Insecurity
Created by transportation security expert Andrew Thomas, this blog provides a variety of news links on aviation security.

Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)
A non-partisan law enforcement organization, FLEOA represents the interests of 25,000 federal agents. Last year, FLEOA filed a legal petition with the Office of Special Counsel for investigation of the Federal Air Marshal Service , claiming "gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, violations of law, and a substantial threat to air safety, created by repeated disclosures of operational tactics and FAMS policies that compromise the identity of individual air marshals."

Project on Government Oversight
The Project on Government Oversight is a non-profit organization aimed at exposing corruption and wrongdoing in the federal government. With the help of government insiders and corporate whistleblowers, POGO investigates Congress, federal agencies and federal contractors. POGO's Homeland Security investigations "focus on the allocation of dollars and resources in America's homeland defense."

The Whistleblower Protection Act
Although they play a crucial role in informing the public about wrongdoing in federal agencies, whistleblowers often undergo reprisal, ostracism and even job termination when they go public. The Whistleblower Act has been designed to prohibit retaliation against federal executive branch employees who report a violation of law at the federal level. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007 , introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman and others, would extend whistleblower protections, among others, to federal employees who specialize in national security issues. Passed by the House, the Act is currently on hold in the Senate; citing security reasons, President Bush has however threatened to veto it. Whistleblowing leaks are reviewed and evaluated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that protects federal employees from "prohibited personnel practices."




This Week's Episode
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COVERING AIRPORT SECURITY
MEET THE REPORTERS
THIS JUST IN...
PRODUCER'S NOTES
THE PLANE TRUTH
AIR 105