CNN: ‘Insider Threat’ Is Gaping Security Hole at Airports

An investigation found that only two major airports in the U.S. require all employees with access to the airfield and other secure areas to pass through metal detectors.

ATLANTA – The vast majority of airport employees with direct access to the tarmac and airplanes in the United States do not go through any daily security screening, according to an investigation by CNN. Furthermore, only two of the nation’s major airports have systems in place that require all employees with secure access to pass through metal detectors.

CNN reports it was given exclusive access to one of those, Miami International Airport, and on a recent afternoon, employees lined up at a checkpoint where they passed through a metal detector as they reported to work.

They gathered their belongings, swiped their badges and opened a door that leads down to the airport’s secure ramp area.

“One of the greatest vulnerabilities for this airport and probably any other major airport like MIA is the insider threat,” Lauren Stover, the airport’s security director told CNN.

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Miami has four checkpoints for employee screening, five vehicle access gates manned by airport workers, random background checks of employees and a mandatory security awareness class for all employees among a myriad of other security measures.

The only other major airport that conducts full employee screenings is Orlando, Fla., according to interviews with aviation officials.

There is no federal requirement that the baggage handlers, mechanics, cleaning crews and other employees with access to the airfield and other secure areas get screened as passengers do, according to CNN. They are typically subject to a criminal background check and might get randomly screened while at work. By contrast, those who work at the gates, such as restaurant employees, pass through TSA security checkpoints.

The topic was scheduled to be discussed on Tuesday (Feb. 3) at a hearing of a House Homeland Security subcommittee and follows a high-profile case in Atlanta.

Federal agents broke up a gun smuggling operation at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in December, arresting a Delta baggage handler and passenger. The baggage handler brought the guns to work, entered the gate area and passed the weapons onto a passenger who had already gone through security, according to CNN. The passenger transported guns on about 20 Delta flights from Atlanta to New York last year, according to the arrest affidavit.

Atlanta, unlike Miami and Orlando, does not use metal detectors to screen workers with access to secure areas. A spokesperson told CNN, “We have expanded random inspections and increased our police presence.”

In addition, the general manager of Atlanta’s airport is expected to announce security changes at the upcoming hearing, according to a source familiar with his testimony.

Delta declined to discuss specifics, but a spokesman said “safety and security are always Delta’s top priority.”

CNN contacted 20 major airports across the U.S. to ask about security protocols for the so-called “back of the airport” employees.

A spokesperson for Seattle Tacoma International Airport said employees with access to restricted areas do not have to pass through metal detectors but do carry badges verified by biometric scanners.

Representatives of other airports, such as Los Angeles International Airport, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, said some employees with restricted access pass through metal detectors while others do not.

“Not all employees are required to go through metal detectors,” Sgt. Karla Ortiz with the Los Angeles Airport Police told CNN. “There are several layers of security that are in place and part of that is training everyone that we are all responsible in ensuring the safety of our airports.”

Representatives from eight airports deferred CNN’s questions on metal-detector screenings for employees to the Transportation Security Administration, which did not provide further information on the topic. Logan International Airport in Boston, Philadelphia International Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston did not respond to CNN’s repeated requests for comment.

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