News 5 Investigates

Jan 14, 2014 6:09 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Some bypass airport security checkpoints while you wait in line

Before boarding a plane, we all have to wait in long lines to be screened. While you wait, News 5 discovered some people are to bypass those checkpoints.

TSA workers and airport employees are able to skip the normal screening process, opening what some aviation experts call a security loophole.

Whether you travel out of DIA or the Colorado Springs Airport, all passengers go through the screening process. That process often includes taking off your shoes and jackets and going through a metal detector or body scanner.

Just feet away from those checkpoints, News 5 captured airport employees and maintenance workers entering secured areas of the Colorado Springs Airport with a simple swipe of a key card without any security checkpoints.

"Some airports have decided to take on screening (for employees) but we don't screen employees," Assistant Aviation Director John McGinley said. "To this day, the federal government has never mandated 100-percent employee screenings."

He's right! We checked and found there are no federal or local rules requiring workers to go through checkpoints. While screening employees would add an extra layer of security, McGinley believes it's not necessary because of pre-employment hiring practices.

"If you get hired as an airline employee, ground support, or as a municipality running an airport, you are required to go through the same background check process as any other airport in the country," McGinley said.

That process includes checking into an applicant's criminal history along with conducting a security threat assessment. McGinley says combined, the two will weed out undesirable candidates.

But take Rolin Escober for example. He passed both background checks and got hired at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston where he smuggled more than 14 kilos of heroin concealed in bags that didn't need to be screened. He was arrested after making a deal with an undercover Homeland Security Agent, pled guilty, and was sentenced to 9 years in prison.

"If they wanted to do harm, they could do it whether they went through a checkpoint or not," aviation security expert Jeff Price said.

In theory, an employee could just as easily smuggle guns, or knives through the airport and onto a plane. Price says additional screenings could prevent these crimes, and believes there's room for improvement with badge screenings as well.
"Some airports have tied that badge into biometrics so that you can't just put a badge up to a reader and it opens the door," Price said. "With biometrics, you would have to put the badge to the reader and then give it your fingerprint in order to access that door. Without biometrics, anyone you give a badge to is like giving a key to your car."

Badges only log the time an employee enters a secured area along with their location, but without employee checkpoints or advanced screenings, there's no way of knowing who may be abusing the system.

"The legislation that passed after 9/11 stopped short of requiring airports to implement biometrics," Price said. "My perception of the industry is many in the airport industry are ready for biometrics. They've been anticipating it and some airports have already went and implemented it, but without a congressional law forcing everyone to go do it, it's hard to justify the cost."

As far as implementing biometrics at the Colorado Springs Airport, McGinley says it's likely not to happen anytime soon.

Orlando and Miami are the only two airports in the nation that currently require all airport employees to be screened. This added security measure is estimated to cost both airports $3 to $4 million each year.



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