The Transportation Worker Identification Credential had few public allies inside the Beltway in recent years as delays, enrollment slowdowns and technological foul-ups ticked off truckers and other port workers.
Following last month’s fatal shooting at a Virginia port naval facility, both of the state’s U.S. senators have questioned the beleaguered biometric security card program.
On Monday, March 24, Jeffrey Tyrone Savage, 35, of Chesapeake VA, used his Transportation Worker Identification Credential to enter the Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval installation. Savage walked onto Pier 1 and was intercepted by naval security personnel when he tried to access the USS Mahan.
Savage was killed by Navy security officers after he wrestled a gun away from a petty officer watching the ship. Savage shot Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo, who also was working security at the Naval Station Norfolk.
Navy officials have said Savage shouldn’t have been allowed onto the port, which requires paperwork like a manifest in addition to a TWIC card to gain entry. Savage was a convicted felon who served time in prison shortly before receiving his TWIC card.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, has called for a review of security procedures at U.S. military installations. In a March 28 letter to the Secretaries of the Navy and Homeland Security, Warner asked for a review of the TWIC program.
Four of Warner’s five questions focused on TWIC specifically, including whether any red flags in a TWIC card applicant’s history would trigger a review of military base access.
Warner asked whether Homeland Security had performed internal assessments to determine TWIC’s effectiveness, and said the shooting “jeopardized the security of the ships on Pier 1.”
“Lapses such as this one could potentially lead to a terrorist attack,” Warner wrote. “Did naval security personnel appropriately clear this person, and was there attention paid to security protocols?”
“Our military men and women who willingly serve in harm’s way overseas should have a reasonable expectation of safety on a U.S. military facility here at home,” Warner wrote in the letter.
On April 2, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, asked an assistant naval secretary whether the government was “doing what we need to do” with the TWIC program during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services panel.
“We will take a strong, strong look, including the type of documentation he had, this so-called TWIC card, to help him gain access through the main gate,” said Dennis McGinn, assistant Navy secretary.
The issue of felons receiving TWIC cards has been controversial since it began enrolling truck drivers, longshoremen and others in 2007. Several congressional representatives have commented on the need to determine whether applicants were security threats as opposed to having less serious felony convictions on their record.
TWIC cards were originally planned to securely carry biometric identification details, including fingerprints, birth records and other information. The details could be read remotely by security personnel at ports and other major commerce centers that could be potential targets of terrorism.
Problems with remotely held card readers have led most port facilities to use them merely as flash cards, though card readers are reportedly used at some facilities. A report issued by the Government Accountability Office in May 2013 pointed to multiple failures of the program in recommending Congress scrap the 10-year program for a new card system.
Savage was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for a shooting in North Carolina in 2005, and was released from prison Dec. 30, 2009. In the 2005 shooting, Savage reportedly left a friend on the side of a highway after the friend died from a gunshot wound.
In 1998, Savage was sentenced to prison for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. The Associated Press reported Savage served nearly five years behind bars before entering a halfway house and eventually home confinement. After his supervision was revoked in 2010, Savage went back to prison until he was again moved to a halfway house in February 2012.
TWIC cards are issued by the Transportation Security Administration. Felons are eligible to receive TWIC cards if they’ve been out of prison for at least five years. Savage’s prison record appears to make any granting of a TWIC card in the last five years illegitimate.
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