Daily Archives: February 1, 2013

GAO questions TSA using dogs to screen passengers

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Katie, a bomb-sniffing dog, watches travelers go through the TSA security checkpoint.(Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

The report raises questions about TSA training of the dog-sniffing teams.

USA TODAY | Jan 31, 2013

by Bart Jansen

WASHINGTON — Federal auditors are raising questions about Transportation Security Administration plans to deploy bomb-sniffing dogs to screen passengers — in addition to cargo — in airports.

The TSA plans to field 120 canine teams at airports nationwide to sniff for explosives on passengers by the end of the year.

The TSA has tested canine teams in closed areas of airports in Miami last June and in Oklahoma City in August. Another test is scheduled in February at Washington’s Dulles airport. In recent months, TSA has experimented with screening passengers at airports in Tampa and Indianapolis.

But a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday says that canine teams repeatedly fail to meet a requirement to get for four hours of training every four weeks. And GAO says that after short-notice tests of the teams, TSA doesn’t keep track of where dogs were most effective or with which types of explosives.

“TSA has not deployed passenger-screening canines — trained to identify and track explosives odor on a person — consistent with its risk-based approach, and did not determine (the canine) teams’ effectiveness prior to deployment,” the GAO concludes.

The TSA says that beyond its ongoing testing and evaluation, it will update its website that monitors the program in March to better track the passenger screening by dogs in the same way it does for cargo.

“TSA has developed a risk-based deployment methodology that it continues to evaluate and modify, as needed,” Jim Crumpacker, director of the agency’s liaison with GAO, wrote in reply to the report. “TSA will deploy future teams to the highest-priority airports as identified by both operational and risk-based analysis.”

The TSA effort is called the National Canine Program, which began in 1972 after a bomb threat on a plane. The program now has 762 teams of dogs and officers. The program is growing: Funding doubled to $101 million in the past three years, and there are plans for 921 teams.

Officers go through a 10- or 12-week training course at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas or at Auburn University’s Canine Detection Training Center in Alabama. The dogs include German shepherds, Belgian Malinoises, Vizslas and other types of dogs with good noses for the work.

Dogs began screening aviation cargo in January 2008, and there are now 120 TSA teams doing that. Hundreds of other dogs work with local law-enforcement officers patrolling airport, bus and ferry terminals. By the end of the year, TSA plans to have 120 teams of its inspectors paired with dogs to search for explosives on passengers in airports.

TSA Administrator John Pistole explained in a December presentation that the dogs are part of a program called “managed inclusion,” where passengers can qualify for expedited screening called Precheck if the dogs approve. On the day before Thanksgiving in Indianapolis, Pistole said 31% of the passengers were able to go through Precheck leaving on their shoes and jackets, and leaving laptops in their bags, rather than the typical 5%.

“We can make sure that TSA Precheck lanes are being fully utilized during the checkpoint hours because frankly most of them are not being fully utilized during the checkpoint hours,” Pistole said.

But the GAO says seven unnamed airport operators have declined dog-sniffing teams for passengers because of concerns about how they would deal with suicide bombers.

If TSA received a specific threat against an airport, the agency says it would deploy the teams despite the opposition. But in general, TSA is trying to work cooperatively with local authorities.

GAO also visited two “high-risk” airports with TSA canine teams used for cargo screening or training because TSA hadn’t reached an agreement with law-enforcement officers about how to respond if the dogs found a bomb.

TSA inspectors don’t carry weapons, although local law-enforcement officers do. An unidentified group of law-enforcement officers recommended that TSA dog teams be accompanied by law enforcement officers, GAO says.

The cost to TSA for a canine team with a law-enforcement handler is $53,000 and a TSA handler is $164,000, according to GAO.

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The coldest winter in 20 years for Syrian refugees

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This region has seen its coldest winter in 20 years.  Earlier this month, Lebanon and Jordan faced severe winter storms and heavy snow.

independent.co.uk | Jan 31, 2013

by Caroline Gluck

With a a massive flow of refugees, there is still a long way to go before they get the support they need

As donors met in Kuwait, to pledge millions of dollars in help to those affected by conflict in Syria, I spent the day in Jordan’s Zataari camp,  now home to more than 70,000 Syrian refugees.

Kitted out in a padded down jacket, jumper, scarf and goretex boots, I still felt the biting cold.  Around me young children, their faces red and raw from the low temperatures, played around.  Most didn’t have proper shoes but ran around barefoot wearing plastic slippers.

This region has seen its coldest winter in 20 years.  Earlier this month, Lebanon and Jordan faced severe winter storms and heavy snow.  It was an especially miserable time for the refugees, many of whom fled with just the clothes they were wearing.  Large numbers are living in tents, damp unfinished buildings, or makeshift self-built shelters without heating or electricity.  In Zataari, many tents collapsed or flooded in the heavy storms.

Oxfam and other agencies have been providing warm blankets, mattresses, heating oil and stoves to try to provide some relief during this difficult time of the year.

Parents complained their children were getting sick – coming down with colds and bronchial infections.

The children still played outdoors – seemingly resilient to the horrors many had witnessed back home. But watching some youngsters in one neighbourhood sheltering refugees in Lebanon, playing mock war-games with sticks and hiding behind building blocks to escape mock sniper fire, I realised that the scars of conflict will take a long time to heal.

Five year old Mahdi, a sweet-faced boy with twinkling eyes, has very real scars that his family showed to me. He was shot at by a sniper. Miraculously, the bullets exited his back, leaving ugly scars but no other serious physical damage.

Children like Mahdi need more support than they’re getting now – not just now but probably for a long time to come.

The UN and aid agencies have been struggling with big funding shortalls, hampering their ability to provide the scale of aid that’s needed  to respond to what’s become a massive flow of refugees – more than 700,000 at the latest count.  In the past month alone, more than 40,000 Syrians have crossed the border seeking safety in Jordan.

Today’s promises of large-scale aid are encouraging.  But promises and pledges must be quickly turned into real aid on the ground so that families quickly get the help they so desperately need.

Japan ex-minister warns of Okinawa secession

“Okinawa has long had a history of independence movements and movements for self-governance. I hope those things will not blaze up.”

– Shozaburo Jimi

AFP | Feb 1, 2013

By Agencies

display_image.phpA former Japanese minister has warned domestic terrorists could strike Tokyo if the government fails to address anger in Okinawa over a heavy US military presence there.

Shozaburo Jimi, minister in charge of financial services and postal reform under the last government, suggested Wednesday that residents of the sub-tropical island chain may also push for secession from Japan.

“Okinawa has long had a history of independence movements and movements for self-governance. I hope those things will not blaze up,” he told local media.

“There’s a possibility that Okinawa will say it will become an independent state,” Jimi said. “Domestic guerrilla could occur as a result of separatist movements,” and “terrorist bombings could occur in Tokyo, depending on how the state handles” the issue.

Jimi’s statements, which came ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s weekend visit to Okinawa, were seen as an attempt to press the government to ease the burden on the southern Japanese prefecture, reluctant host to more than half of the 47,000 US military personnel in Japan.