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TSA: Computer glitch led to Atlanta airport scare

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Passengers wait outside Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after being evacuated Wednesday.

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Atlanta (Georgia)
Transportation Security Administration

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A bomb scare that led authorities to evacuate security checkpoints at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday was the result of a "software malfunction," Transportation Security Administration Director Kip Hawley said.

While screening carry-on luggage, a TSA employee identified the image of a suspicious device but did not realize it was part of routine testing for security screeners because the software failed to indicate such a test was under way, Hawley said.

Authorities evacuated the security area for two hours while searching for the suspicious device, causing flight delays and forcing travelers who could not get through to the terminals to wait outside the airport. (Watch what happens when the world's busiest passenger airport shuts down -- 2:30)

Willie Williams, the airport's federal security director, said the screener saw something suspicious and notified a supervisor. The two manually rechecked all the bags on the conveyor belt but could not find anything resembling what was seen on the screen, Williams said.

The information was passed on to the security director, who made the decision to ground flights and call in the Atlanta Police Department's bomb squad.

Hawley said TSA screeners are given tests around the clock to check their alertness. Images of bombs and other suspicious devices that are hard to detect are put up on the X-ray machine, followed after a brief delay by an alert that reads, "This is a test."

After reviewing a tape of the images, Hawley said the software failed to alert the screener of the test.

Hawley said all procedures were followed correctly.

The Atlanta facility was the nation's busiest passenger airport in 2005.

The airport's general manager, Ben DeCosta, said he was not satisfied with the way passengers were notified of the incident.

CNN's Rusty Dornin, Jeanne Meserve and Deanna Proeller contributed to this report.

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