- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

An investigation of airport security at Mississippi’s Jackson-Evers International Airport shows screeners cheated during a covert test, prompting the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general to expand his investigation to other airports.

The preliminary investigation by inspector Richard L. Skinner released yesterday said Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees were alerted before what was supposed to be a surprise inspection in February 2004 and were told to “be on our p’s and q’s, the Red Team is in the area.”

Screeners were told the sex and race of the undercover passengers, and knew “the location of test items in the checked and carry-on baggage or the location of such items on the tester,” Mr. Skinner’s report said.

“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.

The report did not indicate the location or number of additional airports under investigation, but said inspectors “performed a site visit of the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Virginia to obtain an operational perspective of TSA’s management of aviation security activities.”

Press reports indicate San Francisco International Airport is also under scrutiny.

A TSA official did not respond to a call for comment.

Bogdan Dzakovic, a former leader of the Federal Aviation Administration’s covert Red Team, said the initial findings are not surprising and that he experienced the same sort of cheating before the September 11 hijackings.

“If you are an airport TSA manager or federal security director, the last thing you want is to look bad. That’s just the way bureaucracy works,” Mr. Dzakovic said. “The typical response if they have a heads-up will be to alert everyone else so that they wind up looking better.

“In one case they even had our names so when our names popped up at the ticket counter they knew what we were up to,” Mr. Dzakovic said.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, requested the initial investigation after whistleblowers alerted him to ongoing security lapses.

The investigation was expanded after reports of suspicious activity aboard commercial aircraft in the United States and abroad.

Panamanian police detained one Cuban and six Syrians on Wednesday after a Copa Airlines flight from Cuba. Authorities said the men tried to open the cockpit door and were suspected of taking a knife during the breakfast serving.

A “disturbance” by two passengers aboard an American Eagle flight last Friday initially was classified as a “terrorist threat.” Federal authorities detained and questioned passengers on the flight from Jacksonville, Fla., to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, but the FBI later said no one was arrested and the case was closed.

On Sept. 9, nearly two dozen passengers belonging to two families were detained from a Delta flight out of Florida’s Orlando International Airport to Atlanta then on to Saudi Arabia. The flight was held for several hours before taking off without the families.

The detained travelers were questioned by the FBI and released. According to the Northwest Intelligence Network, which tracks suspicious incidents, the families’ luggage tested positive for traces of explosives and screeners found suspicious items in their luggage.

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