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Security fears after airport screening manual released online

WASHINGTON: Closely guarded secrets regarding airport passenger screening practices have been revealed inadvertently by the US Transportation Security Administration when it posted a document online when soliciting a contract, the agency said.The 93-page TSA operating manual details procedures for screening passengers and checked baggage, and it reveals technical settings used by X-ray machines and explosives detectors. It also includes pictures of identification cards used by members of Congress, CIA employees and federal air marshals, pointing out what elements determine their validity, and it identifies 12 countries – Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria – whose passport holders are subject to added scrutiny.TSA officials said the manual was posted online on a federal procurement website, but computer users were able to highlight and copy inadequately blacked-out passages and paste them into a new document or an email.The TSA said the manual, dated May 2008, was outdated and was never implemented.Security officials said the breach was troubling, and exposed TSA practices that were implemented after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and which were expanded after the August 2006 disruption of a plot to destroy transatlantic aircraft using liquid explosives.Checkpoint screening has been a fixture of the TSA’s operations, as well as a lightning rod for criticism of its practices.A former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Stewart Baker, said the manual would become a textbook for those seeking to penetrate aviation security, and its loss was serious.”It increases the risk that terrorists will find a way through the defences,” Mr Baker said.”The problem is there are so many different holes, that while [TSA] can fix any one of them by changing procedures and making adjustments in the process … they can’t change everything about the way they operate.”The TSA’s congressional overseers were scathing in their criticism. Senator Susan Collins, the senior Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, called the document’s release ”shocking and reckless … This manual provides a road map to those who would do us harm”.Senator Joe Lieberman, the panel’s chairman, called the breach ”an embarrassing mistake” that impugns the judgment of managers at TSA.The document, dated May 28, 2008, is labelled ”sensitive security information,” stating that no part of it may be disclosed to persons ”without a need to know” under threat of possible legal penalties.But another former Department of Homeland Security official called the loss a public relations blunder but not a major security risk, because TSA manuals are shared widely with airlines and airports and available in the aviation community.”While it’s certainly a type of document you would not want to be released … it’s not something a determined expert couldn’t find another way,” the official said.The Washington Post
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