Politics & Government

Congress should examine airport security breach, lawmakers say

By Tamara Lytle

The Orlando Sentinel


WASHINGTON - Congress should look into the security breach that allowed an airline worker to slip a bagful of weapons onto a flight from Orlando, Fla., lawmakers and security experts said Wednesday.

Several members of Congress, including Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat who represents part of Orlando, said they want hearings and new legislation to deal with screening employees at airports across the country.

The system at Orlando International Airport that allowed a Comair employee to smuggle 13 handguns and one assault rifle onto a Delta jetliner exists in airports across the country, they said.

"Given that an employee was willing to take the risk of smuggling illegal weapons and drugs onto a flight for a few thousand dollars would certainly lead one to believe it plausible that an airline employee could be bribed by well financed terrorists to obtain access to an airport's infrastructure," said Brown, a member of the House Transportation Committee.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said he will ask the committee to hold hearings to examine the screening process for employees with access to secure parts of airports.

Although passengers and flight crews pass through screening to get to their gates, mechanics, and many other workers come and go at the airport without screening. The two men, one arrested in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the other in Orlando this week had employee identification that allowed them to bypass screening when they brought a duffel bag with handguns into the airport.

"The back door is wide open here," said DeFazio, one of the top Democrats on the House Transportation Committee. "We need to move to the British model where anything and everything that passes through the airport is inspected."

DeFazio said TSA has said it's too expensive and airports have resisted because of the logistics of screening workers. "If it's a little bit expensive, so be it."

David Gillies, spokesman for Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, said his boss will look into whether better screening is needed for employees. Lawmakers on the subcommittee have a classified briefing Thursday with Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley, and the Orlando arrests will be discussed, he said.

Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, Fla., the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said screening every employee every time they enter a secure area is impractical.

"There are a thousand ways to subvert the system," he said. "They're a couple of airline employees who went bad. The good news is they're not terrorists. The system is layered and they were caught doing their bad deed."

Background checks are designed to cull out workers who would pose security problems, he said.

But Mike Boyd, aviation security consultant with the Boyd Group in Colorado, said background checks don't solve the security risk. "What do you do for a 20-year-old kid for a background check, call his English teacher?"

Boyd criticized Mica, the former chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, for not doing enough to bolster security. "In 2001 we only had 19 bad apples out of 600 million who flew. That was all we needed," he said of the suicide bomber terrorists.

"What happened at Orlando is one more warning another 9-11 event can take place," Boyd said.

Rich Roth, executive director of CTI Consulting and a former Secret Service security specialist, said the logistics of screening tens of thousands of workers a day is daunting. It could cost $3 million to $10 million per airport each year, leading to higher ticket prices and longer security lines.

"Is it worth the risk to have the delay and the cost of your ticket going up?" Roth asked.

Mica said he wants to investigate the incident further.


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