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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Frequent Flyers Beware

By Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers
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Editor's note: CNN's Jeanne Meserve and producer Mike M. Ahlers recently went along with a Transportation Security Administration official on an undercover test of airport screeners. Here is what they witnessed. CNN agreed not to disclose the name of the tester.


A mock bomb -- as slim as a wallet -- gets placed in a back support of a TSA tester going undercover as a passenger.

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TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- Jason -- that's the name CNN was asked to call him -- slides a simulated explosive into an elastic back support. The mock bomb is as slim as a wallet; its fuse, the size of a cigarette. He wraps the support around his torso, and the bomb fits comfortably into the small of his back.

It's hard to tell he's concealing anything; harder still when he dons a black T-shirt and a maroon golf shirt.

Then, with CNN's cameras in tow, Jason heads to Tampa International Airport, where he'll try to sneak the fake explosive past security screeners.

Jason, a covert tester for the Transportation Security Administration, has been probing airport weaknesses for five years, beginning with big mock bombs before switching to ever smaller devices as the TSA adapts to evolving terrorist threats. Video Watch the tester slip past security ยป

As jobs go, this one comes with its own unique set of satisfactions and tribulations. Jason wants to succeed at his task -- and he wants to fail. Success is a measure of his stealth, hewn by 40 years in law enforcement. But failure is satisfying too, because it means airport screeners are growing more adept at detecting threats.

So Jason -- looking every bit the middle-aged man on an uneventful trip to anywhere -- shows a boarding pass and an ID to a TSA document checker, and he is directed to a checkpoint where, unbeknown to the security officer on site, the real test begins. [for more click on the heading]


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