WASHINGTON – US senators called Wednesday for a swift probe into the release on the Internet of a highly sensitive airport security screening guide, which one lawmaker likened to a "textbook" for terrorists.
"This was a serious breach," said Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, scolding senior officials at a hearing on keeping extremists out of the United States.
"We will await with real interest and, I would say, impatience," the results of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) investigation into how the manual could have been public "apparently for months," said Lieberman.
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TSA has pulled the information from its website, initiated two parallel investigations into the breach, and placed some staff "on administrative leave," said David Heyman, an assistant US secretary of homeland security.
TSA posted the more than 90-page document on a government contracting Internet site with insufficient digital safeguards to prevent relatively easy recovery of sensitive sections the agency believed it had blacked out.
The document reportedly included procedures for screening passengers and checked luggage, as well as some information about x-ray machines and devices to detect the presence of explosives.
Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the committee, expressed outrage that the breach had revealed what formal credentials look like for agencies like the CIA, US Marshals Service, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the US Senate.
"There are pictures of the actual IDs and of the badges," she said.
"If we're talking about making sure that people who would do us harm don't have the ability to falsify documents, we've given them a textbook on how to do so in this manual, because we've showed them exactly what documents look like for individuals who are likely to receive less screening," she said.
Rand Beers, undersecretary of homeland security for national protections and programs, told lawmakers "there's no question" that the information was posted inappropriately, but sought to play down the potential damage.
Beers said the document was for supervisors, not "frontline screeners" and that "it is an older document. It is six versions ago."
Heyman said TSA had discussed the problem with the agencies affected by the lapse.
TSA, on its official blog, said the document "was neither implemented nor issued to the work force" and that "there have been six newer versions" since the one that was released.
"A full review is now underway to ensure proper procedures are followed in the future," it said.
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