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Airport Security Fails The Test

There's a sense of insecurity at the nation's airports after new undercover tests that show security screeners repeatedly failed to spot weapons like guns and bombs. The tests were done by the federal agency now in charge of airport security, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Undercover agents from the Transportation Security Administration didn't even take special steps to hide their fake weapons, yet were able to sneak them past airport security 24 percent of the time on average in tests at 32 major U.S airports.

In Los Angeles and Sacramento, security missed the weapons 40 percent of the time. And at three airports — Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla. — undercover testers got weapons past security at least half the time.

“We're always going to have holes in our security system, but the terrorists shouldn't be able to walk through gaping holes. There has got to be measures in place to ensure passenger safety,” said former FAA enforcement official Frank Granito, Jr.

In February, the Transportation Security Administration, rather than the airlines, began supervising airport checkpoints, but the screeners continue to work for private companies. Federal employees are supposed to replace them by Nov. 19.

Transportation Department spokesman Leonardo Alcivar said the security agency is going to retrain screeners at airports with high failure rates.

“The preliminary results of the testing of security screeners are unacceptable and reflect the failures of the aviation security system inherited by the federal government,” Alcivar said. “The TSA will subsequently return to these airports and conduct unannounced retesting of security screeners at those airports.”

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Mari K. Eder said the agency continues to test how well the screeners find weapons and explosives to help the agency improve security.

The test results were first reported Monday by USA Today.

Currently, government employees are screening passengers at only three airports — Baltimore, Louisville, Ky., and Mobile, Ala. — but the security agency said last week it will begin overhauling checkpoints at more than 130 other airports this month. That's the first step toward replacing the private screeners with an all-federal work force.

But progress toward hiring screeners may be delayed unless Congress approves a supplemental spending bill that includes some $4 billion for the agency, said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

In a letter to lawmakers, Mineta warned it would be “nearly impossible” to meet the Nov. 19 deadline if the money was not approved. In addition, he wrote, the security agency would have to suspend purchases of explosive detection equipment and delay reconstruction of airport checkpoints.

Office of Management and Budget spokesman Trent Duffy said the White House would transfer at least $250 million to the Transportation Security Administration until the supplemental bill passes. In May, President Bush transferred $760 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The airport tests revealed screeners found hidden simulated weapons or explosives at least 90 percent of the time in Miami, Newark, N.J., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Honolulu.

Overall, the screeners failed to detect prohibited items 24 percent of the time.

The Transportation Department's inspector general office earlier conducted its own undercover tests of 32 airports after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and found screeners missed knives 70 percent of the time, guns 30 percent of the time and simulated explosives 60 percent of the time, said a person familiar with the report. Those tests were conducted before February, when airlines still supervised security checkpoints.

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