WASHINGTON — U.S. airports are still vulnerable to terror attacks, despite billions of dollars invested in security enhancements since 9/11, a Republican congressman said Wednesday.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, led an inquiry into what he described as the Transportation Security Administration's security deficiencies. He cited government statistics of more than 25,000 security breaches at U.S. airports since November 2001 — an average of slightly more than five security breaches a year at each of the 457 commercial airports.
The TSA has said that number is misleading and represents a small fraction of 1 percent of the 5.5. billion people screened since the 2001 terror attacks. A security breach is broadly defined to include instances ranging from a checked bag being misplaced after it went through security screening to a person who was caught in the act of breaching security and immediately apprehended, the TSA said.
Testifying before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, the director of aviation at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, T.J. Orr, said the TSA is compromised by a "rigid attitude of arrogance and bureaucracy." Orr was critical of the lengthy amount of time it takes to get the TSA to engage on something like a security assessment of the airport.
Among the breaches since November 2001 are more than 14,000 people who have found their way into sensitive areas and about 6,000 travelers who have made it past government screeners without proper scrutiny, Chaffetz said.
The congressional interest comes amid growing criticism of some of the TSA's screening policies, like security pat-downs for children and travelers in their 90s. The TSA has defended its policies, citing terrorists' persistent interest in attacking commercial aviation.