WASHINGTON (AP) A key overseer of the Bush administration's unsuccessful efforts to create a more comprehensive screening process for airline passengers resigned in disgrace four years ago from the New Hampshire Supreme Court to avoid prosecution over his conduct on the bench.
W. Stephen Thayer III, who left New Hampshire's high court in 2000 under a deal with prosecutors, is now serving as deputy chief of the Transportation Security Administration's Office of National Risk Assessment.
Thayer resurrected his public career with a stint at a conservative political group in Washington before landing the job last summer where he oversees the administration's Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System. The project encountered such technical difficulty and so much resistance from privacy advocates that it was sent back to the drawing board earlier this month.
The project, which was known as CAPPS II, was to develop software to bar any passenger from getting on an airplane if a computer analysis of unidentified government terrorist watchlists and private commercial electronic records judged him or her to be a security threat. The project has been sharply criticized by congressional auditors.
The administration's selection of Thayer made with no fanfare last summer has raised some eyebrows.
''To appoint someone who had to resign in public disgrace in lieu of being indicted is incredibly offensive,'' said Charles Lewis, executive director the Center for Public Integrity, a private ethics watchdog. CAPPS II has been ''one of the most sensitive projects in the U.S. government,'' because ''we are talking about data-mining the records of millions of Americans. The people in charge have got to be beyond reproach in every way.''
Thayer declined to be interviewed.
But TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said Thayer was qualified for the job because he helped the American Conservative Union organize a task force with other conservative and liberal groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to lobby on the government's handling of citizens' personal information, including CAPPS II.