- WASHINGTON (AFP) - Government
agents working undercover. Bad guys duped. It had all the elements of an
FBI sting operation. But it was just a report released Thursday by the
US Department of Transportation (DOT).
- The "bad guys" were merely hapless aviation
officials, airport security managers and airline staff, whose only "evil"
was that their job performance was found lacking.
- The DOT report, blandly entitled "Airport Access
Control," deals an embarrassing blow to the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) and to several major US airports by describing the ease with which
undercover investigators got past security checks and boarded planes without
- "During our testing, we successfully penetrated
secure areas," says the inspector general's report, a copy of which
was obtained by AFP. "In some instances, we were seated and ready
for departure at the time we concluded our tests."
- Inspectors slipped by undetected "by piggybacking
(following) employees through doors; riding unguarded elevators; walking
through concourse doors, gates and jetbridges; walking through cargo facilities
unchallenged; and driving through unmanned vehicle gates," the report
- "After penetrating secure areas, we boarded a substantial
number of aircraft operated by US and foreign air carriers."
- Out of 173 attempts, the ticketless inspectors actually
boarded planes undiscovered 117 times. Among the planes they boarded, 35
different airlines are represented, including both US and non-US firms.
- In 43 cases, there were no personnel at the gate when
inspectors boarded. In 43 other cases, personnel were there but the inspectors
were able to go aboard without being noticed. In 13 cases, they were caught,
but only after three minutes or more had passed. And in only 18 cases were
they caught immediately.
- According to the Washington Post, which broke the story
in its Thursday edition, some of the United States' biggest and airports
were among the ones found lacking in their security procedures.
- New York's John F. Kennedy airport was one. Washington's
Reagan National Airport was another. Others included Chicago's O'Hare airport,
as well as airports in Miami, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Honolulu.
- FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler said Thursday that the
FAA had conducted its own tests after reviewing the report, and had already
compelled airlines and airport authorities to eliminate the problems identified.
- But she added: "The challenge now for us and the
industry is to maintain this high level of attention. It is very difficult
because it's all human factors," she said.
- Indeed, perhaps the "good guys" in this story
do, after all, hail from the Federal Bureau of Investigation:
- When Mary Schiavo, a former DOT inspector general, was
asked Thursday morning by ABC why there haven't been more terrorist incidents
in the United States, given the apparent lack of security at airports,
she gave credit to those agents so notorious for their black suits and
dark sunglasses ... at least in the movies.
- "You have to give credit not to the FAA but to the
FBI ... Fortunately, we have a good intelligence network through the FBI
and they are really the ones that we can thank for a lot of the security
we enjoy," she said.
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