Lawmaker wants more info on TSA's covert testing

Rep. Bennie Thompson wants details about investigation into whether screeners were tipped off


WASHINGTON -- The Homeland Security Department is keeping secret the results of an investigation into whether airport security screeners have been tipped off in advance about tests in which undercover agents try to slip weapons by them.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said a report on the investigation released Oct. 24 is useless because it omits findings and recommended improvements. He is urging the department to make them public.

"All the stuff that has meat to it is classified," Thompson said. "The department is notorious for overclassifying information."

A six-page unclassified portion of the report by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner said his investigation found "some areas of concern" and recommended 12 ways to improve aviation security. No specific recommendations were cited in the public portion of the report.

Thompson, who has seen the classified version, said some recommendations could be made public without compromising security. "Some of the stuff just doesn't make sense why it's classified," he said.

Skinner spokeswoman Marty Metelko said the inspector general's office may release more information, but she gave no timeline.

Skinner's investigation began two years ago after reports that screeners at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Mississippi were told in advance that covert agents would be trying to sneak guns, knives and simulated bombs past them at security checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration regularly runs tests at airports to test for holes in security.

A preliminary report by Skinner last October found that screeners in Jackson had "received advance notice of covert testing" in 2004. Skinner expanded his probe in October to include other airports. He expanded it again a month later to investigate whether airport screeners were told in advance about covert tests by agencies other than the TSA, such as the inspector general's office itself and Congress' Government Accountability Office.

TSA spokesman Christopher White declined to address Skinner's recommendations and emphasized that covert testing is "truly important" to expose security weaknesses that need correcting.