TSA's Secrecy Is 'Absurd' According to Agency's Own Watchdog

TSA lines at Reagan National Airport (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The TSA isn’t any American’s favorite agency. They take naked pictures of you and still let about 95 percent of fake bombs and weapons through unnoticed during government audits. But now even the agency’s chief watchdog is hopping mad at the TSA. And it has nothing to do with the “freedom pat-downs” we’re all so fond of.

Every federal agency has an Office of the Inspector General (OIG), intended to be the watchdogs of their own actions. The goal of each OIG is to cut waste, fraud, and abuse—whether it’s at the IRS, the DEA, or the Department of Agriculture. And this morning, the Department of Homeland Security’s OIG issued one of the most blunt reports I’ve ever read, alleging that the TSA’s secrecy hindered accountability and “bordered on the absurd.”


John Roth, the DHS Inspector General testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform just a couple of hours ago. And Roth wasn’t pulling any punches. He flatly stated that the TSA was interfering with the OIG’s ability to keep tabs on the agency, redacting important information unnecessarily, and actively harming potential future whistleblowers through their actions.

And none of this was terribly new, Roth said.

“TSA has a history of taking an aggressive approach to applying redactions, particularly with respect to a category of information known as Sensitive Security Information, commonly known by its acronym, SSI. This problem is well-documented,” Roth testified this morning.

How absurd are their redactions? They repeatedly blacked out information in reports that was already public knowledge.

Screenshot from a Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General report issued March 2, 2017 showing unnecessary redactions (DHS OIG)

The goal of all this unnecessary redaction? The OIG alleges that the TSA has been “conveniently using the security classifications to avoid having public discussions about certain things that may be unpleasant for them to discuss in public.”

However, the most egregious thing about the secrecy and unnecessary redactions wasn’t that it has been going on for so long, but that the agency has repeatedly stonewalled their own watchdog organization to address the issue.


Roth testified that it took six months to simply get a response from TSA about their absurd secrecy, and even then the agency still kept putting up roadblocks to reform. Most damning was the OIG’s assertion that none of the redactions made anyone safer.

“TSA’s refusal to remove unsupportable SSI designations—including designations pertaining to previously published information—raises serious questions about its stewardship of the SSI program,” Roth testified.


“None of these redactions will make us safer, and they serve to highlight the inconsistent and often arbitrary nature of TSA’s SSI designations.”

The TSA obviously needs to clean house. But we’re not holding our breath that such a thing will happen under the Trump regime. Given everything that we’ve seen at Custom and Border Protection, even after the Muslim ban had been temporarily lifted, people with positions of power and secrecy in government seem to view this as the dawn of a golden era.



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Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog