TSA nominee questioned over FBI censure

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) questioned President Obama's nominee to lead the nation's airport security agency Tuesday about a censure he received from the FBI in 1988.

Erroll Southers, who was serving as an FBI special agent at the time of the censure, asked a co-worker's husband who worked for the San Diego Police Department to run a background check on his ex-wife's boyfriend.

Under questioning by Collins, Southers said that he has not misused government databases to receive personal information on anyone since the incident and that he would not do so in the future.

Collins did not describe the incident during Tuesday's hearing, instead referring only to an "issue" that led to the censure.

Southers gave a detailed account in his written responses that were released Tuesday by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"The boyfriend had moved in with my ex-wife, from whom I had separated only a short time before, and I was concerned for the safety of her and my infant son, who was also living with them," he wrote. "The database search revealed an outstanding warrant for his arrest, about which I informed my ex-wife."

"I recognize that it was a mistake to have used my official connections to investigate the matter," Southers said.

Southers worked as an FBI special agent from 1984 to 1988. He told lawmakers Tuesday that he left the FBI about six months after the censure for unrelated reasons.

The FBI has not provided a copy of the censure to the Senate committee, Collins said.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said he could not comment on the case for privacy reasons. A letter of censure could be filed for many reasons and would not necessary limit an FBI agent's advancement, depending on the offense and mitigating circumstances, he said.

Obama tapped Southers in September to serve as administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. He is currently chief of homeland security and intelligence for the Los Angeles International Airport police department and an adjunct professor of homeland security and public policy at the University of Southern California. He served as a homeland security adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) from 2004 to 2006.

Unless Southers's testimony is inconsistent with information provided by the FBI, Collins is likely to support his nomination, an aide said Tuesday. Southers's nomination has the support of law enforcement leaders from across the country, several California government officials, and labor unions eager to represent TSA's employees if they win collective bargaining rights.

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