Security agency backs Miss. official

Those workers allege that top management often was tipped off when undercover teams would test airport security, almost always assuring the airport of passing marks.

Other allegations, including claims that management at times showed a lax attitude toward dangerous items in carry-on luggage, appeared in a story Sunday in The Clarion-Ledger. The story came after a two-month investigation and having talked to a dozen former and current TSA workers.

"We welcome any investigation," TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said. "We have full confidence in our federal security director, who has a stellar performance record and a stellar background."

Koshetz said there was "no need to remove him from his position." Rowlett has been in the position since 2002, when TSA took over screening at Jackson-Evers.

But Thompson said he was "enormously troubled" by the claims and has asked TSA Inspector General Richard Skinner to investigate. "The more I looked into the allegations, the more concerned I became," Thompson said in a phone interview Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the inspector general acknowledged receiving the letter but offered no comment on whether an investigation would take place. Thompson said he has full confidence in Skinner to conduct "a very professional review" of TSA's Jackson operations.

Thompson said removing Rowlett from office for the duration of any type of investigation would show that TSA takes the allegations seriously.

"More broadly, it sends a signal across TSA to all employees at all airports that you will act boldly to ensure the integrity of our entire aviation security system," he wrote.

Concerns about security at Jackson-Evers came to light in May when The Clarion-Ledger learned that TSA officials had allowed Jackson Mayor Frank Melton to board commercial flights while carrying pistols.

Melton presented credentials indicating he represented the city and Jackson Police Department. Only law enforcement officers with a legitimate reason are allowed to fly armed. The TSA asked the mayor - who is not a law enforcement officer - in January to no longer attempt to fly armed.

Koshetz said TSA was unaware of any investigation being conducted at the Jackson airport aside from the internal review of Melton's armed flights.

"That has been resolved as far as an issue," she said.

TSA has denied The Clarion-Ledger access to 300 pages of documents related to Melton's armed flights in Jackson on the grounds that it would compromise ongoing or future criminal investigations.

The paper has appealed.

Current and former TSA employees say top management at the airport has created a poorly run security operation where a code of silence is more important than following federal security regulations. Carolyn Baldwin, a TSA screener at the airport, said Rowlett's administration is "horrendous."

"The place is unbelievable," she said.

Baldwin, who has been off work for the past several months because of an on-the-job injury, said supervisors passed along word of upcoming clandestine tests and covered up breaches in security to ward off criticism from Washington.

In one instance, Baldwin said a supervisor criticized her for holding a passenger who refused to be searched.

"I've seen some serious mistakes," she said.

Before coming to Jackson, Baldwin worked as a screener in several airports around the country but said Jackson's operations are the worst run she has experienced.

"I've never seen an airport that operates the way this one does," she said.

In his letter to Hawley, Thompson asked that TSA workers who have come forward with their concerns not be retaliated against. Unlike most federal employees, TSA workers do not have whistle-blower protection.

"I would like your word that the current and former staff that courageously came forward in good faith to bring attention to the problems at Jackson will not lose their jobs, be demoted or suffer some other form of retaliation for their participation in the story or willingness to assist in a forthcoming government investigation," he said.

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