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TSA nominee was censured over records check

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 4:01 p.m. ET

President Obama's nominee to lead the nation's airport security officers received a censure from the FBI in 1988 after asking a San Diego police officer to run a background check on his ex-wife's boyfriend.

Obama tapped Erroll Southers in September to serve as administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. Southers is currently chief of homeland security and intelligence at the Los Angeles International Airport's police department and associate director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events. He previously served as a homeland security adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.).

Southers worked as an FBI special agent from 1984 to 1988, and received his censure in 1988 after asking a co-worker's husband who worked for the San Diego Police Department to run a background check on the boyfriend of his ex-wife.

"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," Southers said in his answers to written questions from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "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 left the FBI approximately six months after the censure for unrelated reasons, returning to the Santa Monica Police Department, where he served before joining the FBI, according to his answers.

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.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) questioned Southers about the censure during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. The FBI has yet to provide a copy of the censure letter to the committee, Collins said.

Southers said he has not misused government databases to receive personal information on anyone since the 1988 incident and said he will not do so in the future.

"You have taken responsibility for your actions. You’ve acknowledged your mistake in the personal conversation that we had in my office," Collins said.

"It’s going to be important for the public to have confidence that you would not, in any way, misuse your access to the personal information in those databases."

Southers's nomination has the support of dozens of law enforcement leaders across the country, several prominent California officials and labor unions eager to represent TSA's employees if they win collective bargaining rights.

"I believe that the committee was satisfied with Mr. Southers’ explanation of the incident," National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement. "It occurred over 20 years ago and he has had an exemplary career." Kelley also said she looked forward to working with Southers on extending collective bargaining rights to TSA employees.

Southers' nomination required the Senate Commerce Committee to hold a confirmation hearing before referring him to the homeland security panel. Members of the commerce committee never asked Southers about his censure during an Oct. 15 hearing and the panel approved his nomination on Oct. 27.

Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 10, 2009; 10:05 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Confirmation Hearings, Revolving Door  
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dude, no kidding he had an active warrant for his arrest...a lot of black dudes have them.

just goes to show how trifling you are when a sister would trade you in for some no count negro.

please, you administrator of TSA?

Posted by: californicationdude | November 10, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Southers' chickens, comin' home, to ROOST!

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | November 10, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

A man moving in with my child - I would probably run a check too.

Posted by: overdrive_68 | November 10, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

"I recognize that it was a mistake"

Is that a non-apology apology, or what? He expresses no regret, no recognition that it was more than a "mistake" but a violation of professional ethics, a breach of his public trust, an abuse of his authority, and a violation of his solemn obligation to uphold the law.

No, it was just a "mistake." Because it's one of the unofficial perks of belonging to America's above-the-law "law-enforcement" class, every cop does it, and he'd do it again in a heartbeat. He'd just be more careful this time. He wouldn't make the "mistake" of getting caught.

No-way, no-how do I want this guy making ethical decisions at the TSA. Or anywhere, really.

Posted by: DupontJay | November 10, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Although I understand his argument, he broke the law.

Saying he would not do it again is a bit like a criminal on death row saying he would not do it again. You don't see too many of those guys getting out. We have one in VA tonight who I am sure would be willing to swear he would never to it again.

People in law enforcement should be a notch above me. Sounds like he is not even on my level.

Posted by: rcates | November 10, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't know. Everything is all goofed up. On the one hand, the guy paid his price for making a mistake (or committing a crime, however you have it), but, on the other hand, had this been a TSA screener who had this on her record, she'd probably never get hired in the first place.

I really am starting to think that all Dems and GOP must go. Clean house.

Posted by: jptjptjpt | November 10, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Tell me again why this man is nominated? Favours or competence?
jptjptjpt has it right..
no party in power is competent
Southers is a cop, and has no qualms about using his influence for personal matters: why anyone expects this to stop is a mystery, that's what cops do who go into politics...
and that's why Obama likes him.. no scruples

Posted by: irvnx | November 10, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The nominee demonstrated his disregard for the limits of official access to private information. And he was already approved by the Obama administration as the best of available candidates. Give me a break.

Posted by: steveconn1 | November 10, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

This was over TWENTY years ago...if this is all the man has done wrong in his life, then he'll be a great choice.

Posted by: squatty2 | November 10, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I think arrest warrants ought to be public knowledge. You don't normally get one of those by accident! If by chance you did accidentally get one, most people would want to clear it up ASAP, so you don't get hauled in after a routine traffic stop.

Can anyone tell me why an arrest warrant should NOT be public knowledge, available over the internet? As it is now, anybody CAN run a background check on anyone else, but you have to get their signature and then PAY some background-check agency to do it.

Why should they have to agree? And why should we have to pay?
Free the information!

And especially in cases where there is a child involved!! Both of a child's parents should have a right to know if somebody interacting closely with their child is wanted by the police.

I bet you'd get a lot more arrest warrants served!!!

(p.s. I'm not even an Obama supporter.)

Posted by: dmm1 | November 10, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

You have got to be kidding me with quoting Colleen Kelley. This is coming from a weak union President that calls the TSA FSDs (Federal Services Directors) "Field Services Directors."

As for working with Southers on TSOs collective bargaining rights, TSOs WANT AFGE!

Posted by: wazlaa | November 10, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I wouldnt expect anything else for TSA. TSA just needs to keep screening passengers and stay out of a whole bunch of other stuff they try to do, and then screw it up. What a worthless agency.

Posted by: gwtfo | November 10, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

You got to President Obama just as crooked as all the rest of the liars insied the beltway....or just an ignorant "tool" of the Corporate Democrats and Bush was....?

Posted by: susannelsen | November 11, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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