Federal government overseers of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential say a convicted felon who used his TWIC card to gain access to a Navy Pier in March wouldn’t have been automatically granted the credential after changes were recently made to the application process.
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 and killed Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo, who also was working security at the Naval Station Norfolk. Investigators later found Savage had served multiple years behind bars after a manslaughter charge in which Savage left a friend dead on the side of a roadway.
“How did this happen?” Sen. Tom Coburn asked Wednesday.
Steven Sadler, assistant administrator for intelligence and analysis at the Transportation Security Administration, said TWIC applicants with a voluntary manslaughter charge would be initially denied a TWIC, though the applicant could fight the denial with appeals or a civil lawsuit.
The change in the TWIC program was discussed during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs titled: “Evaluating Port Security: Progress Made and Challenges Ahead.”
The two-and-a-half-hour hearing revealed the frustrations of several senators over billions of dollars spent on port security since 9-11, security that has gone largely unmeasured.
“There’s $5 billion we’ve spent, and we have no assessment of what we’ve gotten from that money,” said Coburn, R-OK. “In general, I think it’s unclear to know how much progress we’ve actually made in securing our ports.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, said the goal of the TWIC Program screening port entries through background checks and biometric identifiers makes sense, but the program itself raises questions.
“Are we really doing anything with TWIC?” Ayotte said. “How are we enhancing port security overall?”
The Government Accountability Office has issued multiple stinging rebukes on the TWIC Program, even questioning last year whether the program should continue at all. On Wednesday, Stephen Caldwell, director of GAO Homeland Security and Justice Issues, struggled to find good things to say about TWIC.
“We had concerns with the program pretty much since day one,” Caldwell said. “The pilot – we thought the evaluation of that was done quite poorly. What were the problems? Was it the card itself? Was it the card reader? Was it the person at the gate? They didn’t include the kind of detailed data you need to get that answered.”
On the March shooting by TWIC cardholder Savage, Caldwell said TWIC program leaders claim to have fixed potential loopholes that would allow shootings or terrorists to access secure areas.
“There has been an assertion that it has improved security, but we just don’t have strong evidence,” Caldwell said.
“Are we doing better?” Ayotte said.
“Compared to nothing?” Caldwell said. “You don’t have people getting the cards who have committed espionage against the U.S. or who have committed terrorism crimes, but that’s a pretty high bar.”
Sadler said the TWIC program has allowed the government to identify the 3 million workers who go into port areas.
“I’m not sure before who knew nationally who was going in and out of the ports,” Sadler said. “Every single day we have one common standard, one credential with one common background check. In some places, you once had to buy multiple credentials in the same state.”
TWIC card readers are used at some facilities, Sadler said, and they’ll become more common as technology and funding allow for TWIC to be more than a simple flash card.
Coburn complained about statistics showing as little as 2 to 3 percent of cargo shipping containers being examined for potential terrorism weapons.
The GAO’s Caldwell pointed out that the 9-11 Commission recommended 100 percent of all air cargo be scanned.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection works with foreign ports to enable security checks before U.S.-bound freight ever leaves their port of origin, said Kevin McAleenan, acting deputy commissioner with CBP.
In reality, Caldwell said, the security of foreign ships depends largely on that nation’s relationship with the U.S. and whether the cargo leaves immediately after an inspection.
“If that truck has to drive three to five miles, a lot can happen in that time,” Caldwell said.
TWIC cards originally were designed to securely carry biometric identification details including fingerprints, birth records and other information that 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.
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