Security gap exposed: No inspections of trucks entering airport - CBS46 News


Security gap exposed: No inspections of trucks entering airport grounds

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Each day, construction workers, plumbers and delivery drivers roll onto the grounds at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to provide services and products that keep the world's busiest airport operating.

But a CBS46 investigation found that while thousands of passengers are screened every day, there is no security screening for many outside contractors and vendors who are allowed in restricted areas.

"If I was security director at Atlanta Airport, I don't know how I would sleep," said Wayne Black, an airport security expert. 

The concern over a lack of screening of airport employees received heightened scrutiny after an airline employee was charged in December for his involvement in a gun smuggling ring between Atlanta and JFK Airport in New York.

But Black said few are paying attention to the large trucks and work vans that are permitted into secure areas without any inspection of what they're carrying. 

"You don't lock the front door and leave the back end open," said Black. "The risk is [a driver] could transport weapons or some explosives and bring it right up to the plane.

On three different occasions, a CBS46 camera caught dozens of work vans and box trucks rolling past Gate 59, not far from the southern most runway.

Each time guards checked to ensure drivers have the appropriate identification, which shows they've passed the needed background check and received clearance to enter the airport.

Guards also check the license plate number and sometimes walked around the vehicle.  At no point did a guard ever open a door or glance inside a vehicle to see what it was carrying. 

Black acknowledged that approved contractors have passed background checks but pointed out that Eugene Harvey, the now former Delta baggage handler accused of smuggling guns, had been cleared to bypass security as well.  

Lauren Stover, security director at Miami International Airport, said the insider threat is one of her biggest concerns. MIA is one of the only airports to require that all employees be screened before they enter restricted areas, including most contractors entering through the gate.   

Miami-Dade Police and agents with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol provide another layer of security through its random but regular stops. They use K9 officers to sniff for bombs and drugs in trucks entering and exiting the airport gate. Stover wouldn't say how often these operations happen but said it led to the firing of airport contractor two weeks ago for failing to notify the airport of his recent arrest. 

Stover acknowledged that most airports don't employ the same level of security because it's costly and not required by the TSA. Black said that's a bad reason not to do so.

"Budget-driven security will always fail," said Black. "If you design security by how much money you have or how much you're willing to spend, you're going to lose." 

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell declined to be interviewed for this story. Spokesman Reese McCranie issued the following statement pointing out the airport meets all federal security requirements.  

"We take the safety and security of everyone at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport very seriously. Vehicles entering the airfield are inspected in accordance with our current TSA approved security plan and like all plans, we are constantly improving and making adjustments. As part of our ongoing security program to maintain the safest possible environment, we are enhancing vehicle inspections and will continue to strengthen our overall security screening inspection programs."

Miami International instituted employee and contractor screening after a drug smuggling ring involving employees was busted in 1999. It seems Atlanta may be learning the same lesson sixteen years later. 

"Airports have to consider the cost of security but you have to weigh the costs versus the consequences. And for us the consequences are enormous," said Stover. 

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