By MARY WISNIEWSKI
April 14, 2008
Uniforms belonging to U.S. Transportation Security Administration
officers were left out in the open at an O'Hare Airport checkpoint last
month, as were sensitive security information and a cashbox.
While the TSA said the items were in the area past security checkpoints
and that no security was breached, an aviation security expert said it's
a "serious" situation because uniforms could be stolen and used by
people trying to get through security without being checked. Unsecured
items were found at six O'Hare checkpoints.
"Regulations require them to keep [uniforms] secured," said Mary
Schiavo, a former inspector general of the U.S. Department of
Transportation who sued the airlines over 9/11.
Since 2002, the TSA has been charged with guarding against terrorist
attacks by screening people for weapons and explosives before they get
on airline-operated planes.
Schiavo said stolen TSA uniforms present a problem because at some
locations, TSA employees are waved through without having to show
A Chicago Department of Aviation report dated March 14 at 1:38 a.m.,
which was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, also reported two TSA
radios with access to a secure channel were found unsecured at
Checkpoint 8, as were unlocked break room doors at checkpoints 8 and 9.
The officer filling out the report was told the Checkpoint 9 door had
been broken for "a while."
TSA spokesman Elio Montenegro confirmed that the report was genuine. He
said all of the items described were "within the sterile area,"
referring to the area passengers enter after the checkpoints. He could
not say exactly where the various items were found.
Schiavo said it was "ridiculous" to think it's safe to leave uniforms
unsecured if they're past the checkpoints. "If they took the uniform out
of the sterile area, they could use it on another day," Schiavo said.
Montenegro said a person could not pass a checkpoint wearing just a TSA
uniform. He or she would have to have a valid Secure Identification
Display Area badge, he said.
He added that even if there had been a misplaced uniform, "it seems that
immediate action was taken to remove the items."
Montenegro said the TSA works closely with local law enforcement,
including the Department of Aviation and the Chicago Police Department.
"When something is brought to our attention that needs improvement, we
engage in discussion with them and take steps to improve security
procedures," Montenegro said.
Cathal Flynn, a consultant and former associate administrator for civil
aviation security, said he didn't see unsecured uniforms as a "serious
vulnerability," though it's a "real nuisance having your uniform
stolen." He said he doesn't think TSA officers get waved through
But Flynn agreed that the incident needed to be investigated. "People
need to lock the doors," he said.
Unsecured items found at Checkpoint 1 included three lockers and two
mini-lockers, seven TSA maroon sweaters and one blue uniform shirt, five
TSA jackets and one pair of blue uniform pants, according to the report.
The report said the items were placed in a garbage bag by a TSA manager,
presumably after their presence was pointed out by a city aviation
The report said the uniforms at Checkpoint 1 were "in plain view."
Unsecured uniforms were also found at checkpoints 2 and 9.
"Sensitive security information" materials, documents and blotter
reports were found unsecured at Checkpoint 3. Also cited for unsecured
items were checkpoints 4a, where a cashbox was found, and 2.
The Chicago Department of Aviation declined to comment on the matter
because it's "sensitive security information," said spokeswoman Karen
A 2006 Channel 5 report found that over five years, TSA employees lost
3,674 badges and uniforms nationwide. TSA employees at O'Hare lost the
most ID badges, 189, along with 188 uniforms.
Contributing: Fran Spielman
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