Report says Jackson TSA employees cheated on inspections

Published 4:19 pm Friday, September 21, 2007

Transportation Safety Administration workers cheated on secret security inspections at Jackson-Evers International Airport, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general said in a report.

A copy of the report from Inspector General Richard Skinner to Transportation Security Administration director Kip Hawley obtained by The Clarion-Ledger newspaper of Jackson said TSA managers and screeners were given advance notice of undercover inspections to test security procedures.

“We could not identify, with absolute certainty, where the advance information originated from, but this information was communicated to certain individuals at all levels of TSA personnel at the Jackson-Evers International Airport,” the report said.

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U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, asked Skinner to look into allegations after an internal TSA investigation found no wrongdoing.

Investigators also cited TSA for not keeping proper records when passengers claiming to be police officers brought firearms aboard commercial flights.

Twice in 2005, Jackson Mayor Frank Melton flew armed out of Jackson after having stated he was a police officer.

The report criticized TSA for not considering whether supposed law enforcement officers had a legitimate need to bring their guns aboard.

TSA spokesman Christopher White defended the agency’s covert testing program and described the incident in the inspector general’s report as isolated and involving a contract employee.

“TSA has one of the most robust covert testing programs in the nation including multiple layers of testing,” White said in a written statement.

White said the report “mirrors TSA’s own internal inquiry” into the 2004 incident, although last fall TSA officials said the agency found allegations of cheating on the tests “to be without merit and no disciplinary action warranted.”

Officials from the inspector general’s office would not comment on the report, which has not been officially released to the public, the newspaper said.

TSA transferred former Mississippi Federal Security Director Larry Rowlett to a position overseeing disaster preparedness in the Southeast before the inspector general’s inspection.

Former Hattiesburg Police Chief David Wynn has been federal security director since February.

Skinner said in a letter to Thompson that the probe is continuing and has been expanded to other airports because of problems found in Jackson.

A final report will come after several more months of fieldwork.

Thompson said he will hold hearings on TSA’s management of the airport.

“We all want to make flying out of the Jackson-Evers airport as safe as possible,” Thompson said. “We don’t want anybody on an airplane that is not fully authorized to carry a weapon. We want our system of checking whether or not the screening process is accurate not to be compromised at any point.”