Investigation looks at airport-screener testing

ByABC News
October 5, 2007, 4:34 AM

WASHINGTON -- A federal investigator has launched a probe into whether security screeners at six airports have cheated on covert tests run by undercover agents trying to sneak weapons through checkpoints.

Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner said he is investigating whether screeners were tipped off to tests that determine how well airport workers find guns, bombs and knives.

The broad investigation follows Skinner's findings that screeners at airports in San Francisco and Jackson, Miss., had been told in advance of undercover tests in 2003 and 2004. Skinner is investigating "whether (screeners) at other airports received advance notice of any covert testing," Homeland spokeswoman Tamara Faulkner said Thursday.

The probe was welcomed by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Last year, he called for an investigation into Jackson-Evers International Airport in his home state after media reports of wrongdoing.

Cheating "weakens our security systems at airports," Thompson said.

Thompson said Skinner's office told him it was looking at six airports that it would not name.

Faulkner said only that Skinner "selected several airports" for the investigation, which should be finished by late fall.

The Transportation Security Administration "will do whatever we can to facilitate the investigation," agency spokesman Christopher White said. The TSA employs both airport screeners and agents who run undercover tests.

The tests aim to bolster security by analyzing screeners' ability to find weapons and requiring screeners who fail them to undergo remedial training.

A report from Skinner's office found that screeners in Jackson "received advance notice of covert testing" by TSA agents in February 2004. The screeners were tipped off by fellow TSA employees at the airport, who described the gender and race of the TSA agents, the type of weapons they were trying to get past screeners and where the weapons were hidden in checked and carry-on bags, Skinner found.