Expert says airport security still lacking

BY RON MARSICO
Star-Ledger Staff
Aviation officials have reneged on an agreement made more than five years ago to improve covert se curity testing and results at the nation's airports, a prominent federal whistleblower alleges in a complaint scheduled to be filed Monday.

Bogdan Dzakovic, who testified before the 9/11 Commission after raising concerns about airport screening operations before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is raising the allegations against the U.S. Transportation Security Administration in papers to be submitted to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

Dzakovic, a former member of the Federal Aviation Administration's undercover "Red Team" that conducted pre-9/11 airport security tests, now works for the TSA. His case is being handled by the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., dedicated to helping whistleblowers.

Tom Devine, a GAP lawyer, said Dzakovic had prepared a "Lessons Learned" report for the TSA, based on his FAA experiences, that was to be used by the TSA to help fix problems with its covert security testing and results of those tests.

"Not only was the report ig nored, but Bogdan became persona non grata for any work related to airline security," Devine said.

In papers submitted to the Government Accountability Project, Dzakovic wrote that "the gist of my report...is that all these technological 'layers' of security that FAA espoused can be fairly easily circumvented by would-be attack ers; and that TSA is basically doing the exact same thing as the FAA before it.

"But rather than learn from the past, hold people accountable and fix the bureaucratic problems which contributed to the ease with which the terrorist(s) succeeded on 9/11, TSA plunged the roller coaster of security to new depths," he wrote.

TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said the agency was not aware of Dzakovic's pending filing. But, she said, his current position with the TSA "is not in any way related to covert testing."

She added: "TSA's covert test ing program today is very different from the program in 2002," when Dzakovic challenged the federal agency after it took over from private screening companies.

Dzakovic is a principal security inspector with the TSA at the agency's Virginia headquarters, but has for a long time accused superiors of giving him insignificant du ties because of his protected whistleblower status. He advocates a greater emphasis on behavioral profiling of passengers rather than relying on technology to thwart terrorists, while also reducing rote methods of conducting tests.

In a 2003 letter to Congress and President Bush, then-U.S. Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan praised Dzakovic for his "courage" and said his allegations had been verified in a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general.

That report, Kaplan wrote, "substantiates the crux of Mr. Dza kovic's allegation: that the Red Team program was grossly mismanaged and that the result was the creation of a substantial and specific danger to public safety."

Kaplan said the inspector general determined "the Red Team consistently found and reported -- throughout its existence -- high rates of test failure, reflecting often stark localized and systemic secu rity vulnerabilities."

Post 9/11 U.S. Government Accountability Office investigations have repeatedly shown screeners miss high percentages of bombs, guns and other prohibited items.



Ron Marsico can be reached at rmarsico@starledger.com or (973)


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