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USA Today: Tougher TSA bomb tests raise stakes for screeners

USA Today: Tougher TSA bomb tests raise stakes for screeners

Old Oct 18, 07, 10:22 pm
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USA Today: Tougher TSA bomb tests raise stakes for screeners

LINK

How the reporter managed to keep a straight face while interviewing for this story ...

WASHINGTON When covert agents test how well airport security screeners find homemade bombs, they pack a detonator, timer and battery inside a cluttered toilet kit, stuff it into a suitcase and carry it through a checkpoint.

Agents also hide fake sheet explosives in briefcase linings. They stash watch timers inside hollowed-out books. They cram detonators in back braces and smear plastic explosives on shoelaces.

The Transportation Security Administration's special operations division devised the testing to raise the stakes for airport screeners and test whether they can spot bomb parts hidden as a terrorist might try to get them on an airplane, according to a classified TSA report obtained by USA TODAY.

The testing in the past year is far harder than it was before and shortly after the TSA took over airport security in 2002, agency spokeswoman Ellen Howe said. In earlier tests, covert agents would put a gun or a large assembled bomb in an otherwise-empty briefcase, she said.

Howe said the increased difficulty explains why screeners at Los Angeles and Chicago O'Hare airports failed to find more than 60% of fake explosives that TSA agents tried to get through checkpoints last year.

The failure rates about 75% at Los Angeles and 60% at O'Hare are higher than some tests of screeners a few years ago and equivalent to other previous tests.

"We want to have higher failure rates because it shows that we're raising the bar and the tests are harder," Howe said. Using a basketball analogy, she added, "You might score more points against a high-school team, but your skills are going to be improved if you're playing against an NBA team."
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Old Oct 18, 07, 10:49 pm
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"We want to have higher failure rates because it shows that we're raising the bar and the tests are harder," Howe said. Using a basketball analogy, she added, "You might score more points against a high-school team, but your skills are going to be improved if you're playing against an NBA team."
I laughed so hard, I cried
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Old Oct 18, 07, 11:54 pm
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Originally Posted by bocastephen View Post
I laughed so hard, I cried
My friends and I could play an NBA team for years and we'd never get any better.

You get better when the better player has somewhat more skill than you. Enough of a challenge that it pushes you yet not too difficult that you want to quit.

Only TSA could consider failure a good thing. What the test shows is that their screeners are incompetent. The checkpoint is not the place to be playing games and hoping they get better. Train them, and train them well.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 12:15 am
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I don't get how this is a good thing?? Is she related to Baghdad Bob?
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Old Oct 19, 07, 1:14 am
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Raise what stakes? There's no accountability, so there are no "stakes".
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Old Oct 19, 07, 5:01 am
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Just to clarify some misconceptions in here and to put some know-it-alls in their proper place....

When a TSO is newly hired, upon completion of the basic screener training course, that new TSO has to pass an x-ray imagery test. Upon completing 60 hours of on-the-job training, that TSO has to pass another x-ray imagery test but at a higher standard. From that point on, that TSO takes a quarterly x-ray imagery test that he/she must pass at an even higher standard. And on top of that comes an annual skills certification test that includes yet another x-ray imagery test but at the same standard as the quarterly test. If they fail to meet TSA standards during any one of these tests, the TSO is terminated.

When a TSO fails to detect a Red Team test bag, that TSO undergoes remedial training. At the end of remedial training, the TSO must pass an x-ray imagery test. And again, if that TSO fails to meet TSA standards, then that TSO is terminated.

For those of you who think that the TSOs who failed to catch those bombs only received a slap on the wrist, please do yourselves a favor and think again, cupcakes.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 5:38 am
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Originally Posted by Bart View Post
For those of you who think that the TSOs who failed to catch those bombs only received a slap on the wrist, please do yourselves a favor and think again, cupcakes.
I don't think any of us thought they received a slap on the wrist. I do think most of us think they should be spending their time looking for the stuff they failed to find and not stuff like water and shampoo.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 5:41 am
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Originally Posted by xyzzy View Post
I don't think any of us thought they received a slap on the wrist. I do think most of us think they should be spending their time looking for the stuff they failed to find and not stuff like water and shampoo.
I suggest you re-read some of these posts in this and other related threads, particularly from those who think TSOs ought to be automatically terminated whenever they fail one of these tests (the implication being that they are allowed to continue to work the x-ray with pro forma remedial training).
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Old Oct 19, 07, 5:51 am
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Originally Posted by Bart View Post
For those of you who think that the TSOs who failed to catch those bombs only received a slap on the wrist, please do yourselves a favor and think again, cupcakes.
I'm sure all these threats of remedial training will be of great comfort to those affected by the TSA's inability to detect explosives if someone really wants to conceal them as they waltz past a porous, inefficient, harassing checkpoint.

This disgrace of an agency has no accountability for its stupid and ineffective policies. Its employees receive "remedial" training when explosives get by but receive no discipline when they dump a terminal or otherwise screw up.

Congress, please show the TSA to the street.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 6:26 am
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So they stopped testing with "bombs" that look like those cartoon ones on the prohibited item signs, eh?
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Old Oct 19, 07, 6:47 am
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Originally Posted by exerda View Post
So they stopped testing with "bombs" that look like those cartoon ones on the prohibited item signs, eh?
Actually, the old FAA standard was the stereotypical Wile E. Coyote time bomb consisting of three sticks of dynamite, standard alarm clock with the bell on top, hardened detonator and 9v battery. TSA did away with that and presented much more realistic configurations.

In my opinion, I think TSOs do have the capabilities of detecting IEDs. I think they miss them on these Red Team tests because they are rushing at the x-ray monitor. I say this because whenever some of the TSOs take the computer-based x-ray imagery tests, they're quite thorough analyzing the bags. And that's because they know it's a test, they know they must catch a certain percentage in order to pass, they know they can expect x-number of threat bags (although they don't know the exact number). And while TIPS is designed to keep them on their toes, there's still the tendency to cave in under pressure and rush the bags through whenever the lines get long.

My challenge as an instructor, of course, is to break that pattern.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 7:43 am
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Originally Posted by Bart View Post
Actually, the old FAA standard was the stereotypical Wile E. Coyote time bomb consisting of three sticks of dynamite, standard alarm clock with the bell on top, hardened detonator and 9v battery. TSA did away with that and presented much more realistic configurations.

In my opinion, I think TSOs do have the capabilities of detecting IEDs. I think they miss them on these Red Team tests because they are rushing at the x-ray monitor. I say this because whenever some of the TSOs take the computer-based x-ray imagery tests, they're quite thorough analyzing the bags. And that's because they know it's a test, they know they must catch a certain percentage in order to pass, they know they can expect x-number of threat bags (although they don't know the exact number). And while TIPS is designed to keep them on their toes, there's still the tendency to cave in under pressure and rush the bags through whenever the lines get long.

My challenge as an instructor, of course, is to break that pattern.
Aren't they breaking down these "test bombs" into component parts as well, and making that the test?

It would seem to me, with no experience is screening, that it would be harder to find a component than the thing itself.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 7:57 am
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Originally Posted by law dawg View Post
Aren't they breaking down these "test bombs" into component parts as well, and making that the test?

It would seem to me, with no experience is screening, that it would be harder to find a component than the thing itself.
And in those instances, virtually anything a traveller has in his/her bag could be viewed as a component.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 8:03 am
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Originally Posted by law dawg View Post
Aren't they breaking down these "test bombs" into component parts as well, and making that the test?

It would seem to me, with no experience is screening, that it would be harder to find a component than the thing itself.
And this absolves them of responsibility or performance requirements how?

Bart, how the screener is retrained, tested and then handled from there is not the issue in this thread - it's the spin - the almost mind-numbing stupid spin your senior management put on this release.

Saying 'of course we're failing, it's hard!' is not what us taxpayers and travelers - the ones paying for these 'services' - want to hear. If the release stated 'we're highly troubled by the pattern of repeated failures by screeners to find hidden threats during these tests. We will begin investigating everything from our hiring standards to our training methodology to find out where the weaknesses lay, and how to improve our performance. We will engage the GAO to perform audit checks 3, 6, 9 and 12 months from now, and will expect to report to Congress the existence of an improving trend from the 6th through 12th month with the goal of at least a 50% improvement in test scores at the 12th month.'

Release that statement and I doubt there would be any ridicule going on here, just legitimate criticism of poor performance.

Again - what is the TSA lacking? Accountability. The press release they put out proves they hold themselves accountable and responsible to no one.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 8:26 am
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Originally Posted by Bart View Post
When a TSO is newly hired, upon completion of the basic screener training course, that new TSO has to pass an x-ray imagery test. Upon completing 60 hours of on-the-job training, that TSO has to pass another x-ray imagery test but at a higher standard. From that point on, that TSO takes a quarterly x-ray imagery test that he/she must pass at an even higher standard. And on top of that comes an annual skills certification test that includes yet another x-ray imagery test but at the same standard as the quarterly test. If they fail to meet TSA standards during any one of these tests, the TSO is terminated.
If TSA's standard of a 60-90% failure rate is acceptable, then TSA needs to be terminated. Seriously, if a TSO passes all those "tests" and the checkpoint still leaks likea sieve, we have big problems.
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