Tougher TSA Bomb Tests Raise Stakes for Screeners

Constant checks sharpening skills, agency asserts

At San Diego International Airport, tests are run by passengers whom local TSA managers ask to carry a fake bomb, said screener Cris Soulia, an official in a screeners union. "It's nobody we would ever expect," Soulia said.

Screener Don Thomas of Orlando International Airport has noticed changes in testing.

Until a few months ago, covert tests were hardly ever done at the airport, said Thomas, president of the screeners union. A few weeks ago, Thomas was tested three times in one week, including one test at a checkpoint that screens only airport workers.

"I kind of like it," Thomas said. "It keeps you a little bit sharp, and you don't feel pressured, like you're going to get fired or written up." Screeners who miss fake bombs are pulled aside, shown the piece they missed and are ordered to complete training.

The classified TSA report illustrates the tests' difficulty. In the fake bomb hidden in a toiletry kit, the battery and timer "are not discernible amongst the other clutter," the report says. But the "distinct image of a detonator is clearly visible."

The CD player filled with fake plastic explosives is "not readily discernible" but should be spotted by screeners because "the dense organic mass is visible in the upper left-hand corner of the bag," according to the report.