BALTIMORE (WJZ) — After a damning report last year found airport screeners missed a staggering 95% of suspicious items, the TSA has now revamped training.
The agency granted Investigator Mike Hellgren exclusive access to a session here in Maryland where screeners got to see the devastating impact of hidden explosives. It’s a story you’ll see only on WJZ.
If these TSA screeners have any doubt about being the first line of defense, a training session in Carroll County shows them what they’re up against.
The TSA granted WJZ rare access to the exercise, where a team of specialists set off explosives hidden in underwear, bottles and tubes of toothpaste. All are methods terrorists have used in the past that could blow up a plane.
“The terrorist only needs to get it right once but we have to get it right 100% of the time,” said supervisory transportation security specialist Darrin Watson.
The screeners also undergo extensive lessons in the classroom. Recently, the TSA standardized training across the board. It’s now been moved to a facility in Georgia, the fallout from an embarrassing report by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general last year, showing screeners failed to detect 67 of 70 suspicious items brought through airport checkpoints.
“What the inspector general results have told us is that you can never take your eye off the mission,” said TSA administrator Peter Neffenger.
WJZ shot footage at one of the TSA’s last training sessions in Maryland.
“To get to see the results, it really hits home,” said Andrew Hairston. “It makes the job a lot more meaningful to me. At the end of the day, I know I wouldn’t want my family to be on that flight.”
It is eye-opening.
“ISIS has been executing people, wrapping cord around their necks and setting it off like that,” Watson said.
Easily disguisable cords, sheets of explosives that can be cut to fit inside shoes. Some could be molded to look like a cake or cookies and hidden inside luggage.
Trainers say it’s like a strategic chess game, where they’re always trying to stay one step ahead of terror.
“There’s that fraction of a percent that seeks to do harm and seeing something like this brings it all back to perspective,” Watson said. “You may see that true terrorist event once in your career but it’s that one time that it’s really going to matter if you missed it or caught it.”
New TSA hires go through a two-week, hands-on course. The new training facility in Georgia cost $12 million.