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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine


by Mike Neuenschwander ~ October 14, 2008.
Permalink | Filed under: Hybrid Vigor, Social Trust Online.

Next time you stand in line at an airport, take a moment to reflect on how your driver’s license is more likely to be accurate than the badge displayed by the TSA employees. A front page story in Monday’s USA Today reported on how the United States Office of the Inspector General (OIG) chastised the TSA in an an audit report for improperly managing badges, uniforms, and passes issued to personnel.

The agency overseeing security at the nation’s airports failed for years to track security passes and uniforms of former employees, creating widespread vulnerability to terrorists, says a government watchdog report obtained by USA TODAY.

The Transportation Security Administration lacked centralized controls over the secure passes issued to some of its employees, according to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner. The passes grant people access to the most sensitive areas of an airport, such as where baggage is screened or planes are parked

Investigators found numerous cases in which former employees retained their passes long after they had left the agency.

The investigation also found that TSA uniforms were frequently not collected when employees left or were transferred.

People using improper badges, IDs or uniforms — particularly in combination — “could significantly increase an airport’s vulnerability to unauthorized access and, potentially, a wide variety of terrorist and criminal acts,” the report said.

For all the effort the Department of Homeland Security has devoted to constructing a nationwide identification system (such as Real ID and New York’s “enhanced driver’s license“), the revelation that even the TSA can’t properly manage identification for its own employees highlights the absurdity relying on identity systems for security. It’s a Catch-22: the more a security system relies on IDs for access, the more valuable the IDs become to attackers. After all, why would a terrorist bother to infiltrate an airport as a mere traveler when it’s easier and more effective to infiltrate as a TSA official?

The TSA responded to the OIG report by claiming the infractions were overstated and that the TSA already has made important changes to its programs. The TSA also points out (rightly, in my opinion) that their security program doesn’t rely entirely on badging but depends heavily on the social trust and social capital (my terms) that exits among coworkers in an airport setting:

While TSA has more than 43,000 security officers in airports nationwide, each airport has teams and shifts of employees working regular shifts who trained to look for threats and things that don’t look right.  If a former employee or someone impersonating an officer showed up at a checkpoint or a sterile area of an airport, they would be subject to the eyes and ears of on-duty officers and random employee screening throughout the airport.

In short, a badging system that aids social processes for trust will be reasonably effective at thwarting attacks; but a badging system that attempts to replace social trust (as I think the Real ID Bill would do) is destined to fail and desimate social capital in the process.

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