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Shocking TSA failures lead to agency shakeup

Homeland Security agents were able to smuggle fake weapons and bombs through TSA airport security checkpoints in 67 out of 70 attempts — a 95% failure rate.
Passengers make their way through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) check point at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo by George Frey/Bloomberg/Getty)
Passengers make their way through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) check point at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 23, 2014. 

In 67 out of 70 attempts, undercover agents were able to smuggle fake weapons, fake bombs or contraband through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at some of the nation’s busiest airports, according to a recent internal investigation made public Monday by the Department of Homeland Security. That represents a 95% failure rate.

The alarming finding led to the immediate reassignment of TSA head Melvin Carraway, the acting administrator for the TSA. He will be replaced by Acting Deputy Director Mark Hatfield until a new acting administrator is appointed. Carraway, an 11-year TSA veteran, has been moved to Homeland Security headquarters, where he will work to coordinate federal programs with local law enforcement agencies. 

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President Obama nominated Coast Guard Vice Admiral Pete Neffenger to be the next administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. “I urge the Senate to confirm this nomination as quickly as possible,” Homeland Security Secretary Johnson said in a statement Monday. 

The investigation at the nation's airports involved so-called “Red Teams” of undercover agents who posed as passengers. They concealed various fake contraband in an attempt to smuggle them through security checkpoints. At one point, an agent triggered an alarm and was patted down, but the TSA agent failed to find a fake explosive taped to the pesudo-terrorist’s back.

Undercover agents have conducted similar investigations during the past 13 years, and, in the past, they have been able to smuggle weapons through security screenings. What’s remarkable in the most recent incident is the frequency with which they were able to bypass TSA security.

"The numbers in these reports never look good out of context, but they are a critical element in the continual evolution of our aviation security," Homeland Security officials said in a statement.

Carraway's reassignment is part of the larger response announced hours after the embarrassing report became public. Johnson went on to enumerate various ways in which the he has directed the TSA to reform, including revision of standard operating procedures, additional training of TSA officers, and the continuation of “random covert testing,” among other actions. Some measures are reportedly already in place.

"It's disturbing news.The question is how we can best mitigate that that vulnerability in a way that doesn't prohibit the free movement of people and goods," John Pistole, a former TSA administrator, told NBC News' Tom Costello. "That's just something that there's no perfect answer for."