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TSA gets tipped off about undercover security testing

Quality assurance, for airline security at least, typically relies on the basis of anonymity. Security agents work undercover, anonymously, usually sporting fake IDs, altered boarding passes, and other red flags to test security screeners at our nation's airports. In theory, screeners don't know when or where the tests will be administered, or who the agents are.

That all fell by the wayside on April 28, 2006, reports the Associated Press. That day, TSA screeners were alerted of an undercover test via email, in which Mike Restovich, assistant administrator of the TSA's Office of Security Operations, detailed the evaluation, including what the anonymous testers looked like, what types of IDs they would be using, and the slight alterations to their boarding passes that should catch screeners' attention. Advance warnings negate the effectiveness of running such undercover operations in the first place. It's like knowing about a "surprise" pop quiz the day before, so you'll have time to study.

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TSA spokesperson Ellen Howe claims the TSA does so much testing that this incident shouldn't be consequential. However, Congressional representatives such as Bennie Thompson, D-MS, disagree, and have asked for further information.

If there's any branch of the TSA I'd like more alert and on their toes, it's the screeners at the airport. And while I understand they're already overextended, giving them buffers such as this doesn't make travelers any safer or more secure—if anything, I'd think it breeds more complacency. Here's hoping Thompson, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, can get some concrete answers.

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