Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth is protesting the censorship by Transportation Security Administration officials of portions of a report by his investigators on airport security that is critical of the censors.
Roth's staff reviewed the security controls for the federal government's information technology systems at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Their report was censored in multiple places by TSA officials who classified the offending material as Sensitive Security Information. The SSI classification puts the affected passages off-limits to the public.
Roth protested the censorship to then-TSA chief John Pistole in November and December last year but reluctantly published a redacted version of the report earlier this month that contained numerous recommendations for improved technology security at the airport.
In an extremely unusual move by an IG, Roth made his protests public Friday by issuing a statement to the media.
“Over-classification is the enemy of good government. SSI markings should be used only to protect transportation security, rather than, as I fear occurred here, to allow government program officials to conceal negative information within a report,” said Roth. “I believe — and the computer experts on my staff confirm — that this report should be released in its entirety in the public domain.”
In his protests to Pistole, Roth noted that TSA officials were slow to complete their review of the report, which they received in draft form last July.
Previous IG reports had included materials on the same issues and were not censored by TSA, Roth said. A complete un-redacted version of the report was provided to the congressional committees with oversight authority for TSA.
“Our mission is to inform the public, Congress, and the DHS leadership about fraud, waste, and mismanagement in DHS programs and operations. Issuing full reports without redactions is key to accomplishing that mission,” Roth said in his protests to Pistole.
A TSA spokesman has been asked for a comment today.
The inspectors general are appointed by the president but report to Congress. They were established by Congress in 1978 as the government's first line of defense against waste, fraud and abuse in federal programs.
The SSI label was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Roth was one of 47 inspectors general who signed a letter to Congress last year protesting multiple examples in which executive branch officials have obstructed their access to important government documents and witnesses. The letter also cited excessive classification as an obstacle to fulfilling their duties.