There’s good news:
This year, the TSA for the first time began running covert tests every day at every checkpoint at every airport. That began partly in response to the classified TSA report showing that screeners at San Francisco International Airport were tested several times a day and found about 80% of the fake bombs.
Constant testing makes screeners “more suspicious as well as more capable of recognizing (bomb) components,” the report said. The report does not explain the high failure rates but said O’Hare’s checkpoints were too congested and too wide for supervisors to monitor screeners.
At San Francisco, “everybody realizes they are under scrutiny, being watched and tested constantly,” said Gerald Berry, president of Covenant Aviation Security, which hires and manages the San Francisco screeners. San Francisco is one of eight airports, most of them small, where screeners work for a private company instead of the TSA. The idea for constant testing came from Ed Gomez, TSA security director at San Francisco, Berry said. The tests often involve an undercover person putting a bag with a fake bomb on an X-ray machine belt, he said.
Repeated testing is good, for a whole bunch of reasons.
There’s bad news:
Howe said the increased difficulty explains why screeners at Los Angeles and Chicago O’Hare airports failed to find more than 60% of fake explosives that TSA agents tried to get through checkpoints last year.
The failure rates—about 75% at Los Angeles and 60% at O’Hare—are higher than some tests of screeners a few years ago and equivalent to other previous tests.
Sure, the tests are harder. But those are miserable numbers.
And there’s unexplainable news:
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.
Someone please tell me this doesn’t actually happen. “Hi Mr. Passenger. I’m a TSA manager. You know I’m not lying to you because of this official-looking laminated badge I have. We need you to help us test airport security. Here’s a ‘fake’ bomb that we’d like you to carry through security in your luggage. Another TSA manager will, um, meet you at your destination. Give the fake bomb to him when you land. And, by the way, what’s your mother’s maiden name?”
How in the world is this a good idea? And how hard is it to dress real TSA managers up like vacationers?
EDITED TO ADD (10/24): Here’s a story of someone being asked to carry an item through airport security at Dulles Airport.
EDITED TO ADD (10/26): TSA claims that this doesn’t happen:
TSA officials do not ask random passengers to carry fake bombs through checkpoints for testing at San Diego International Airport, or any other airport.
TSA Traveler Alert: If approached by anyone claiming to be a TSA employee asking you to take something through the checkpoint, please contact a uniformed TSA employee at the checkpoint or a law enforcement officer immediately.
Is there anyone else who has had this happen to them?