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"What one U.S. airport is doing to address insider threats"


 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

 

What one U.S. airport is doing to address insider threats

By Robert Harding

The Auburn (NY) Citizen

 

A Miami-Dade police officer, left, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, right, patrol outside of the departures area at Miami International Airport, Friday, July 1, 2016, in Miami.

 

A two-year congressional investigation led by U.S. Rep. John Katko found employee access controls lacking at the nation's airports. But one airport has launched a pilot program that could serve as a model for how other aviation hubs address insider threats.

 

Miami International Airport, in coordination with global security firm Smiths Detection, launched the employee screening initiative in January. The airport screens its employees using the latest explosive trace detection equipment and X-ray technology.

 

Mark Hatfield, a former Transportation Security Administration deputy administrator who now serves as assistant aviation director and chief security officer at Miami airport, touted the pilot program and said it boosts the airport's security capabilities.

 

"It folds in very well to the ongoing operation that we have here which requires that all employees going into controlled areas — the (security identification display areas) of the airport — are subject to daily screening, as well as identity screening," Hatfield said in a phone interview.

 

The pilot program will serve as a case study for screening employees. Miami, along with Smiths Detection, is utilizing other technological equipment. Smiths provided algorithms that enhance the airport's security capabilities and bottle screening is available to test backpacks, bottles and other items that can be easily passed through in secure areas.

 

Stephen Esposito, vice president and general manager of government and commercial solutions for Smiths Detection, lauded Miami International Airport for taking a leadership role in determining new ways and using upgraded equipment to combat potential insider threats.

 

"All the newest and latest technologies that are out there right now that can really provide that full screening capability and fit the needs that we believe are being asked for by places like Miami," Esposito said.

 

The report released by Katko, R-Camillus, in February detailed a wave of incidents involving aviation employees allegedly using their security clearances to commit crimes.

 

There have been drug rings that were aided by airline and airport employees. A Delta Airlines employee allegedly played a role in a gun smuggling operation.

 

Katko's report referred to the arrest of a Kansas man, an employee at the Wichita airport, who was accused of building a bomb using wiring acquired from the airport.

 

"At a time when we face increased threats from homegrown radicalization and lone-wolf terrorism, we must ensure that our airport access controls are strong and that we are doing all we can to mitigate the insider threat to aviation security," Katko said in a statement last month.

 

What's missing at many U.S. airports is employee screening at access points leading to secure areas.

 

Hatfield, who was a TSA employee for 14 years, noted that there's no federal requirement in place mandating that airports conduct full employee screening. Miami's pilot program is a voluntary effort.

 

The program builds on Miami's existing employee screening program, which Hatfield said predates the Sept. 11 attacks. The security procedures were adopted as a crime-fighting effort. After 9/11, the initiative evolved and now serves a dual purpose.

 

One explanation for why airports haven't adopted full employee screening is the price tag. According to Hatfield, Miami's program has annual recurring costs of more than $3 million. There's also a personnel requirement to ensure that the employee screening checkpoints are adequately staffed.

 

"We feel it's an important part of our overall security program here," Hatfield said. "Absent a federal requirement to do so, other airports have to make that decision based on their own fact sets and analysis of the threats."

 

While Miami has its own program, there are questions about whether the federal government will require all airports to have full employee screening in place. The costs, as shown in the Miami case, are a challenge.

 

There are ways the federal government can support employee screening programs at Miami or other airports. Esposito said encouraging communication can be beneficial to the parties involved.

 

"I think that the things that we see coming from the (transportation security subcommittee) and Chairman Katko's activities, we're communicating the results of that analysis," he said. "Organizations like TSA and then airports and then industry can get together and truly talk through them to determine where we can find some best practices and then bring those best practices to the table."

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