JANUARY 04, 2010
The president’s choice to head the troubled federal agency in charge of securing the nation’s transportation system lied to Congress to cover up that, as an FBI agent, he illegally accessed private information about his estranged wife’s boyfriend.
Never the less, Democrats plan to confirm the integrity-challenged Erroll Southers to head the beleaguered Transportation Security Administration and President Obama firmly backs him, despite news about his unscrupulous past made public over the weekend by a major U.S. paper.
As an FBI agent Southers twice violated the federal Privacy Act to access and download confidential law enforcement records about his wife’s new boyfriend. The law says that any person who knowingly and willfully requests or obtains any records concerning an individual from an agency under false pretenses shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000.
Southers initially lied to lawmakers about the violation, telling the Senate Homeland Security Committee that he asked a local police department employee in southern California to access the boyfriend’s records. But when the Senate panel approved his nomination in mid November, Southers admitted his account was incorrect due to “poor memory” and that he long ago accepted responsibility for a “grave error in judgment” in accessing confidential criminal records about his wife’s boyfriend.
This may not sound like a big deal for a regular civilian, but this is the guy President Obama has picked to lead a key Homeland Security agency which has failed miserably to fulfill its mission despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from Congress. Created mainly to secure aviation after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the 50,000-member TSA has repeatedly come under fire for its negligence and shameful lapses.
Just last month the TSA approved background checks for a dozen illegal immigrants who had presented fake Social Security numbers and other bogus documents to obtain "trusted agent" security badges required to work in sensitive areas of a busy U.S. airport. Weeks earlier the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General revealed that the TSA is failing to ensure the security of tens of thousands of cargo packages transported daily in the bellies of passenger planes, leaving aircraft at risk of a terrorist attack.
Previous Inspector General probes have over the years uncovered similar problems in the TSA’s dismal air cargo security system and exposed dozens of security lapses in other crucial areas nationwide. In 2007 TSA workers at three major airports missed hundreds of fake bombs during a covert exercise conducted to see if suspicious items could be smuggled into secure areas.
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