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TSA to expand number of employees who will have secret clearances

By Jeanne Meserve, CNN Homeland Security Correspondent
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • TSA chief John Pistole wants to give frontline employees greater access to intelligence
  • "Secret" clearances give employees access to information that is classified
  • Employees must pass background checks to get "secret" clearances
  • It's expected to take two years to do that for the expanded group of 10,000 TSA workers

Washington (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration is expanding the number of employees with "secret" clearances to 10,000 -- one sixth of the agency's workforce.

TSA Administrator John Pistole, former FBI deputy director, believes that giving frontline workers greater access to intelligence will help stop terrorist attacks and make the public safer. The clearances give TSA employees access to information that has been classified as "secret" -- information that is not put out for general distribution in the agency.

Speaking before a House Homeland Security Subcommittee, Pistole said "a key lesson I took from my 26 years at the FBI is that one of the best tools we possess in our effort to combat terrorism is accurate and timely intelligence. Our enemies constantly evolve their methods and their tools...and it's our job to stay ahead of them."

The agency has been slowly ramping up the number of employees with secret clearances from fewer than a thousand. It is expected to take two years to do the necessary background checks and paperwork on 10,000 explosive specialists, behavior detection officers, supervisory security officers and transportation security managers.

Pistole says having the latest information on terrorist tactics, planning operations and threats will "better inform their judgments and decisions."

Also on Thursday, Pistole spoke to group of aviation industry representatives. He said expanding the number of personnel with secret clearances was part of an effort to sharpen TSA's focus on counterterrorism, and become a risk and threat based organization.

Pistole also announced the creation of an office of professional responsibility at TSA to help adjudicate disciplinary issues at the agency which has 60,000 employees.

Earlier this year, the TSA launched an internal investigation at an air marshal field office in Florida where supervisors were alleged to have used a crew assignment board to ridicule and keep score on women, gays and minorities. Pistole told lawmakers that one agent had been "removed" and that other personnel actions are pending.