The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) just underwent another round of government inspection, and the results are decidedly not good. The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report on Monday stating that the TSA failed to identify 73 individuals with “potential links to terrorism” who work in our nation’s airports.

These airline workers, who have access to secure and restricted areas, should have been flagged by the TSA before they were hired. However, the report states that the TSA “did not identify these individuals through its vetting operations because it is not authorized to receive all terrorism-related categories” under current government policy.

While the report praised the TSA for running a “robust” and “generally effective” screening process, it noted a major gap in its monitoring capabilities. The TSA currently screens all prospective hires through a large extract of the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), the largest, most comprehensive database of terrorism information the U.S. uses. TIDE includes unverified and unsubstantiated information, which is why only subsets and extracts of this database are used in vetting processes.

The TSA does not have access to all of the TIDE and did not have access to the specific “codes” or categories of individuals that held the 73 terrorism-linked workers. The TSA administrator, however, noted that these individuals are still potential security risks. The five particular codes, which were redacted in the report, can be accessed in the TIDE system by an approved agency.

The TSA is now requesting access to those codes, so that it can expand the number of records it uses to cross-check workers. The request is expected to be processed by the end of the year.

While the DHS report is not good, it could, however, have been much worse. There are two important facts to consider given recent news reports:

  • The airline workers are not TSA employees. The TSA is responsible for screening all of its employees and any workers that operate in secure areas of our airports. The individuals with terrorism-related links were all employed by “major airlines, airport vendors, and other employers” in the private sector. Thus, the employees had access to restricted areas, but did not work for the TSA itself.
  • The workers themselves are not known terrorists. None of the 73 employees are known terrorists. The missing codes suggest that they are linked to other people, organizations, or events that have caught the attention of the U.S. intelligence community. The report officially refers to the individuals as “having potential links to terrorism,” which were not individually verified or confirmed.

The names of the individuals have been shared with the TSA, which is following up on the situation.

Also included in the report were findings that the TSA lacked “effective controls” to block the hiring of applicants with criminal backgrounds or illegal status. The DHS Inspector General issued a list of six recommendations for the TSA to immediately act on, which were all accepted.

So while the finding is certainly not good, the TSA is not hiring terrorists as initial media reports indicated. However, this weakness, together with other recent failures, should drive Congress and the TSA to reform U.S. transportation security to better serve and protect Americans.