President Obama has to declassify the facts.
June 8, 2015
Last week, a classified inspector general investigation was leaked, delivering the shocking news that the Transportation Security Administration failed to stop weapons and explosives from passing airport checkpoints 96% of the time.
As a member of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and — more important — as a dad who frequently flies with my kids and wife, I am appalled by this inexcusable national security lapse. But outrage is not enough.
Before they board another flight, the American people deserve the truth. Without giving our enemies specific technological or strategic information that would expose new vulnerabilities, President Obama has an obligation to declassify the inspector general's investigation and to publicly release everything else the administration knows about TSA's failures.
Here is what the public already knows: TSA failed to stop undercover individuals from smuggling weapons and explosives past checkpoints 67 times out of 70 attempts. Our families are only as safe as our weakest TSA checkpoint. After 9/11, it became inescapably clear that, although we have to be right every time, terrorists need to succeed only once. What happens when we are wrong 96% of the time?
Here is what keeps me up at night: The publicly available facts are disturbing, but the classified details are even worse. Millions of families will soon fly to summer vacations, but if moms knew what members of Congress have learned behind closed doors, they would march on Washington demanding an urgent, top-to-bottom reevaluation of airport security.
Until last week, Americans were led to believe that jihadi terrorists could never again weaponize commercial airliners. After last week, it is time to rethink that. We are not safe. It is time to start effectively protecting U.S. flights from those hell-bent on killing us. The administration needs to responsibly declassify what its members know.
Right now we do not have a strategy, and security theater accomplishes little. To be clear: I have tremendous respect and gratitude for many front-line TSA employees who work a difficult job. This is a failure of the agency's vision, structure and leadership. I have spent much of my career executing strategy projects for businesses and, frankly, I have never seen anything so inept.
Washington has a lazy and destructive habit of building bureaucracies instead of setting strategies. By demanding transparency in this investigation, the American people can force Washington to break the "bureaucracies first" habit, and begin a serious conversation about true, risk-based planning. We cannot do that without more sunlight and without leaders who are willing to come clean with the American people about what is really happening and not happening.
If the administration levels with the American people and aggressively shines light on the failure of even basic screening operations, it is then going to take bipartisan leadership to tackle these problems. We need the president to honestly describe the growing threat of global jihadi terrorism and the urgent need for a smart and vigilant homeland security. We need a robust debate about goals, about strategies and about performance metrics for airline safety.
We are fighting a long-term war against global jihad. Washington cannot hide this conversation from the fact that we face a more dangerous world today than we did on Sept. 10, 2001. Threats have multiplied exponentially in the past 14 years. We must harden our defenses to win this war, and to do that, we must prioritize intelligence to inform strategic decisions. We must also take a longer-term view of which overseas operations can most effectively disrupt the bad guys' planning and recruitment.
Government needs to do its job. When it does, I am confident that the American people can and will meet these new security challenges with clear debate and constant resolve. TSA's failures have not undermined the individual heroism and bravery that subdued the would-be shoe bomber in December 2001 on American Airlines Flight 63. In the years since 9/11, as threats and technology have rapidly evolved, our American character remains unchanged.
The American people are strong and resilient — we proved that in the World Trade Center's stairwells, the Pentagon's hallways and the Pennsylvania skies. We will face this challenge, but we need Washington to speak clearly and to act decisively. President Obama owes the public a transparent account of TSA's failures so that together we can fix them.
This article originally ran in USA Today.