Sasse Statement on False TSA "Red Team" Narrative

“DHS is treating this like a PR crisis instead of a homeland security threat.”

June 9, 2015

After it became clear during a Senate Homeland Security Committee that, despite multiple media reports and the Department of Homeland Security's own press release, so-called “Red Teams” were not used by the inspector general to expose the TSA’s security lapses, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse issued the following statement.

“Washington hasn’t leveled with the American people and DHS is treating this like a PR crisis instead of a homeland security threat. TSA’s recent 96% failure rate was not the result of sophisticated so-called ‘Red Teams.’ The administration has an obligation to responsibly declassify the inspector general's investigation and to publicly release everything else it knows about TSA's failures.”


Although numerous media reports on TSA’s breathtaking security failures have cited specialized “Red Teams,” DHS Inspector General John Roth today testified that “the testers we used are auditors—these are members of the OIG workforce, they don’t have any specialized background or training in this kind of work.”

Below is a partial transcript of Senator Sasse’s exchange with Inspector General Roth. Video of the exchange can be found here.

SASSE: “Do you have a ‘Red Team’ that reports to you?

ROTH: “We do not. No. ‘Red Team,’ I think, is a term-of-art that TSA uses to do internal testing but we don’t identify ourselves as ‘Red Teams.’

SASSE: “So, in my understanding, the leaked report of last week showed that there have been 70 attempts by your investigators to smuggle weapons or improvised explosive devices—or fake explosive devices—onto planes the failure rate was 67 out of 70 times—a 96% failure rate. The public is taking some comfort in the idea that this investigation was supposedly done by ‘super terrorists’—is the term that’s reported in the media for the ‘Red Teams.’So the ‘Red Teams’ are not yours? And this leaked report is yours?

ROTH: “Again, I can’t confirm or deny any of the specific results or the specific methodology by which we did our testing. As I said, we don’t identify ourselves as ‘Red Teams.’ These are auditors that we use who are members of the inspector general’s office.

SASSE: “I appreciate this and I appreciate the classified briefings that you’ve given a number of us. I think what we hear you doing is clarifying that, in your employ, there are no ‘Red Teams.’”

ROTH: “Correct.

SASSE: “Do you understand how the department—how the stories are out there that says that these were ‘Red Team’ investigations?”

ROTH: “We don't. I was as disturbed as anyone by the fact that this information got into the media. We have done a number of classified penetration testings with absolutely no incident of leakage. We have started an investigation—preliminary investigation of this to try and determine exactly where the source of the leak was.”

SASSE: “Do you have any discomfort with the communication strategy of the department that appears to be echoing these media testimonies?

“I'll quote one from Secretary Johnson last week: ‘’Red Team’ testing of the aviation security network has been a part of the TSA mission for 13 years.’”

“There are indeed ‘Red Teams’ at the DHS. You're not going to, in a non-classified setting, clarify the nature of your investigation that was leaked, but I think we heard you clearly say that your employees were mostly auditors.

ROTH: “That's correct.