Airport Security Lapses
Hank Investigates: Airport Security Lapses
Everyone in the airport sees them everyday. Intimidating signs warning restricted area, no admittance. Behind these doors is access to the airfield, to baggage, and even access onto planes. That's why without a special badge, it's strictly off limits.
- Dr Richard Lanza, MIT/Security Expert
"Access is important because if you have access, you can put things on planes which will not go through the so-called choke plane for passengers."
But these federal audits obtained by 7News prove officials have known for years that these restrictions are no real barrier. They reveal undercover investigators walked unchallenged through off-limits halls, gates, elevators, jet bridges, through fence gates, and right onto airplanes.
- Mary Schiavo, Former Inspector General/FAA
"When I was inspector general, my employees could actually get the codes on the doors just by watching for a few minutes."
Bottom line, this investigation reveals, is that security was breached a total of 117 out of 173 times, or 68 percent. The 1999 report concludes airport operators and air carriers have not successfully implemented procedures for controlling access.
- Mary Schiavo
"There are so many vulnerabilities and weaknesses that it's impossible for us to realize how much security was really based on perceptions."
Here's one of those weaknesses: the backgrounds of the thousands of often low-paid employees that staff the crowded tar mats and terminals. This 2000 audit report obtained by 7News reveals, not only are the FAA's background investigation requirements for issuing airport ID's ineffective, but also that federal oversight of the current regulations needs improvements.
When they chose airport employees at random, they found that 35 percent had improper background checks. Which airports, no one is saying. That information is being kept secret. Bottom line, the airports knew, the feds, the airlines knew, the security systems just weren't working.
- Hank Phillippi Ryan
"This looks like a lot of paperwork with no real results. Why is that?"
- Dr Richard Lanza
"There's money involved, there's costs involved, and the question is who's going to pay them?"
Federal investigators told me they had planned to do undercover follow ups to these investigations. In fact, they told me, before the hijackings, one had already begun! That is now on hold.