Another TSA Folly: Screeners Allow Fake Bomb to Pass Through Security at Newark Airport


Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel work at the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, on March 4, 2013. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

If TSA critics needed any more fodder for questioning the agency, look no further than what happened in late February, when an undercover agent was actually able to smuggle an improvised explosive device through security at Newark Airport. Reports about the TSA’s undercover operation were just made available Friday.

The fake bomb, which was modeled after explosives devices used by “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, was hidden in the TSA agent’s pants, the New York Post reports.

Somehow, the special agent slipped by not one but two security screenings, including a pat-down, at one of the nation’s busiest airports before being given the green light to board a commercial flight. 

“This episode once again demonstrates how Newark Airport is the Ground Zero of TSA failures,” a source told the Post.

The undercover agent was one of a four-person team posed as everyday travelers utilizing Terminal B, which services American Airlines, JetBlue and Delta.

According to reports, only one member of the TSA’s undercover team was stopped for “carrying a simulated IED inside her carry-on that was inside a child’s doll.” The red-flag for airport screeners was the fact that the doll had “wires sticking out.”  

The agent with the IED in his pants, however, passed undetected through a magnetometer and an additional hands-on screening.

“He did have a simulated IED in his pants,” the source told the Post. “They did not find it.”

The TSA, meanwhile, said in an official statement that it would not reveal details of its undercover operations.

“Due to the security-sensitive nature of the tests, TSA does not publicly share details about how they are conducted, what specifically is tested or the outcomes.”

The TSA and how it conducts itself in America has been at the center of a long-standing debate on how best to secure travelers in a day and age where threats of terrorism are ever-present. Israel is often looked to as a model for efficient and, moreover, effective modes of screening passengers. The issue is that countries like Israel engage in profiling, which while successful, creates consternation among civil rights groups.