The discovery of a gun-smuggling ring at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this year brought immediate scrutiny of airport workers nationwide, and a top federal official said Tuesday that the attention would intensify in the months to come.
The Transportation Security Administration was embarrassed in January when a former Delta Airlines baggage handler was charged with helping another man carry 18 handguns onto a flight from Atlanta to New York City.
FBI investigators determined the gun-running scheme had been in operation for several years, fostered by airport workers whose identity badges gave them access to areas off-limits to passengers. They said that between May and December of last year, 129 weapons, including two assault rifles, were smuggled to New York.
“We take this seriously,” said Peter Neffenger, who became director of the TSA this month. “We’re looking at ways to improve our ability to identify insider threats.”
The TSA responded by reducing access points to secure areas, increasing the frequency of criminal background checks, subjecting workers to random screenings and sending airport workers flying as passengers through regular security checkpoints.
After the Atlanta incident, the TSA turned to its internal Aviation Security Advisory Committee, made up of aviation stakeholders, to review airport security practices for airport personnel. The committee delivered a 30-page report with 28 specific recommendations.
“These recommendations should significantly improve our ability to identify insider threats going forward,” Neffenger said.
On Tuesday, Neffenger said the agency would comply with all 28 of the committee’s recommendations.
“We have periodically discovered criminal activity among the aviation workers,” he said. “The vast majority are trusted workers who do a great job, but there’s a criminal element in any population, even a trusted one.”
Among the recommendations, the committee said TSA and airport contractors should keep better track of the badges which allow workers access to secure areas.
“What we’re trying to do . . . is to systematically, across the range of activities that occur in the issuance of a badge, the oversight of a badge, the continuous screening of those areas to which the workers have access, to ensure that if we have bad actors we identify them and take the appropriate action,” Neffenger said.