You may recall two months ago, a CBS News hidden camera investigation showed how airport workers across the country can go from a parking lot right onto an aircraft without so much as a second glance. Meaning, they can carry whatever they want onto or around a plane without anyone knowing. The reason: TSA does not require any of the 452 commercial airports, where it operates checkpoints, to physically screen airport workers like they do passengers (and most pilots and flight attendants.) Instead, ground workers at airports across the country enter restricted areas through back doors using airport identification cards.
Ironically, last week two Comair employees at Orlando International airport were arrested after smuggling 13 handguns, an assault rifle and 8 pounds of marijuana onto a Delta flight from Orlando, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico with 163 passengers and six crew members onboard. The employees used their uniforms and airport IDs to pull off the scheme. Several law enforcement sources tell CBS News that it may be part of a larger smuggling ring.
Meanwhile, today TSA says it has launched what it is calling a "security surge," deploying 160 security officers to randomly screen airport workers at five airports: Orlando International, Tampa International, Miami International, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International and Luis Munoz Marin International in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The intense random checks will last at these airports for the next several days and then the TSA says the "security surge" will move to other airports nationwide, continually rotating around. In a press release TSA administrator Kip Hawley is quoted saying: "Every employee should have a reasonable expectation that they could be screened at any time, at any access point within the foot print of the airport."
TSA spokesperson Christopher White tells CBS News the new "intense" screening will include the help of federal air marshals, K-9 patrols and aviation security inspectors to reduce the number of access points employees have and they will also be auditing airport records to see where workers are going and why.
But security experts are still concerned. "It's barely a band-aid on a bigger problem," says security analyst Charles Slepian. He adds: "what you are seeing is a spot check. A spot check is not good enough. You don't spot check passengers. We certainly should not be spot checking workers."
Captain Tracy Price of the Passenger Cargo Security Group – an airline industry trade association - says it's hard to know what impact this new random screening will have. "The focus should be on dangerous people rather than dangerous things," he says. In response, TSA tell us watching out for 'dangerous people' is part of their mission. But, many industry insiders say they are concerned about the growing number of ground workers who are contract employees. The fear is that these workers may not be getting the same intense background checks even though TSA says they are.
One thing no one seems to dispute is that the access employees have at airports nationwide is of concern to everybody.