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Thu, Feb 07, 2008

MS Congressman Calls For Biometric Scans Of Armed Flyers

Wants TSA To Report On Progress By February 18

Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson has given the Transportation Security Administration two weeks to report to his committee what the agency is doing to positively identify police officers, before allowing them to bring their guns with them onto airliners.

"As you know, I have a strong interest in more being done to ensure that individuals who present themselves as law enforcement officers and seek to travel armed on commercial flights are identified and verified," Thompson wrote in a letter earlier this month to TSA chief Kip Hawley.

The Clarion-Ledger reports the letter follows the discovery Jackson Mayor Frank Melton was apparently allowed to board airliners with a gun, after presenting a gold-colored badge and letter from a former Jackson police chief.

Federal regulations require passengers to present an airline representative with a photo ID identifying themselves as a law enforcement officer, and a letter from their respective agency, before they are allowed to pass through security with their weapon. The regs don't require anyone to independently verify the person in question actually IS a law enforcement officer, however.

"As everyone knows, anybody can have an official-looking badge. Anybody can have a letter saying they are authorized to carry a weapon," TSA spokesman Christopher White said last month. "That is a problem."

Officials at Jackson-Evers International Airport put a stop to Melton's boarding with a firearm in 2006... but the loophole still exists. "How hard is it to fake letterhead from a police department?" said Hudson Institute senior fell Christopher Sands. "And you are putting that on an airline employee? What the heck do they know? They aren't federally trained."

In 2007, Thompson sponsored a bill ordering the creation of a biometric ID system for armed passengers by January 3, 2009. The law essentially requires a whole new high-tech system, for which TSA has no budget.

In that sense, Thompson's latest letter may actually be welcomed at TSA, as it could provide an opportunity to request that extra money. The letter requires TSA to respond to the congressman by February 18.

FMI: www.tsa.gov, http://benniethompson.house.gov/

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