By BRENDAN J. LYONS
July 4, 2007
COLONIE -- Federal inspectors were able to slip a fake bomb through a
checkpoint at Albany International Airport during a test of the
facility's Transportation Security Administration screeners, according
to individuals familiar with the incident.
The unannounced inspection by TSA officials took place early last week.
The airport's security measures failed in five of seven tests, most of
the problems occurring at the passenger checkpoint, the sources said.
In one test, TSA inspectors hid the components of a fake bomb in
carry-on luggage that also contained a bottle of water. Passengers are
prohibited from carrying containers holding more than three ounces of
liquids, gels or aerosols through airport checkpoints.
The screeners at Albany International confiscated the water bottle but
missed the bomb. In all, the inspectors slipped four banned items
through the main checkpoint during the test, sources said.
The TSA, which took over security at the nation's commercial airports
after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, conducts random tests of its
workforce on a regular basis and failures are common, officials said.
Paul Varville, the TSA's security director at Albany International,
could not be reached for comment.
Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman, declined to discuss the circumstances of
the covert test at Albany International.
"We don't discuss the results because they tend to paint an inaccurate
picture of the competency of our work force," she said. "The tests are
designed to be incredibly difficult and TSA does anticipate a fair level
Screeners who flunk the test routinely receive immediate training on the
mistakes to improve their detection skills, according to officials
familiar with the spot checks.
Last October, the Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark, citing unnamed
federal security officials, reported screeners at Newark Liberty
International Airport flunked 20 of 22 tests, including failing to
detect bombs and guns in luggage at checkpoints.
The TSA responded to the report by launching an internal investigation
in which federal employees were interrogated about whether they had
leaked the results, the newspaper said.
Not all of the TSA's checks are done at passenger checkpoints. In some
instances, TSA inspectors try to gain access to restricted airport areas
and see how many employees they can get by before someone asks to see or
verify their credentials.
At two airports in Houston last month, TSA officials swarmed the
facilities as security and "behavior detection" officers conducted
random screening of approximately 5,200 employees and passengers at
boarding gates, according to the TSA.
Five employees with expired airport security badges were found as were
two who did not have credentials. The expired badges were confiscated
and the employees in violation were escorted off airport property,
according to a TSA news release.
Davis said security screeners who fail tests must undergo extra training
in addition to annual recertification exams.
"These covert tests conducted by security personnel simply augment their
training regimen," Davis said.
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