Congressman wants probe of Jackson, Miss., airport security after reports of lapses

Published 4:38 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Mississippi congressman is calling for an investigation of security at the Jackson airport because of newspaper reports of lapses and thwarted inspections.

Several current and former Transportation Security Administration employees, including some who would not go on the record for fear of losing their jobs, claim TSA management used inside information to alert security screeners of undercover tests for improving airport security, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reported Monday.

The newspaper said the employees also allege that a lax atmosphere has allowed dangerous items or questionable passengers to slip through security checkpoints at the Jackson-Evers International Airport. Questions about TSA’s operations in Jackson were first raised in May after reports that Jackson Mayor Frank Melton posed as a police officer so he could board an airliner with his guns.

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U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, told Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner in a letter dated Monday that the revelations “paint a truly disturbing picture of how security is being administered at the Jackson-Evers International Airport. If these allegations are proven to be true, they have enormous implications for the integrity of our entire aviation system.”

“It is vital that you dig deep and get answers. We may not be happy with them, but we need them,” Thompson said.

In a letter Tuesday to TSA chief Kip Hawley, Thompson aid he thinks the security situation in Jackson warrants placing Federal Security Director Larry Rowlett on administrative leave until an investigation is complete. Rowlett is in charge of aviation security in Jackson and seven other airports in Mississippi.

On Monday, Rowlett defended TSA’s Jackson operations.

“We know our mission. We know our mission well. We will not falter,” Rowlett said in a written statement. “We’ll get it right and we’ll get it right every time.”

Besides asking Skinner to investigate whether workers were tipped off to covert inspectors and who was responsible for leaking that information, Thompson asked that investigators examine procedures used to ensure that dangerous items found at checkpoints are properly reported.