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"U.S. airport workers would be screened like passengers under bill"

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Airport workers would be screened like passengers under bill
The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. - Federal lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would
close a gaping hole in airport security that enabled two baggage handlers to
bypass screeners and carry a bag containing guns and drugs on a commercial
flight from Florida.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey D-N.Y., would mandate that
airports screen all workers with access to secure and sterile areas to the
same scrutiny that passengers face.

"It's unfathomable that more than five years after September 11th, a measure
as fundamental and simple as this one still has not been implemented," said
Lowey, who serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security. "Meticulously
screening passengers but giving workers open access is like installing an
expensive home security system but leaving your back door wide open."

Law enforcement officials have remained tightlipped as to exactly how the
Comair baggage handlers managed to carry a duffel bag with 14 guns and 8
pounds of marijuana onto a Delta flight headed for Puerto Rico on Monday.
Court documents show the two used their employee uniforms and airport
identification cards to enter restricted areas and bypass screeners.

Zabdiel J. Santiago Balaguer, 22, of Kissimmee, boarded the airplane, but
was taken off by security screeners after police received a tip. He was
released when no weapons or drugs were found on him, according to court
records. Authorities arrested him Tuesday.

Thomas Anthony Munoz, 22, of Kissimmee, was arrested in San Juan when he got
off the plane at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. He was found
carrying the bag containing the guns and drugs, said Carlos Baixauli, a
Miami-based special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives.

Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in 2001, which
required the Transportation Security Administration to implement full worker
screening. More than five years later, TSA has failed to implement this
basic policy or even set a deadline for doing so, Lowey said.

"It's a security gap we should definitely close," said David Stempler,
president of the Air Travelers Association, a passenger advocacy group.

However, a spokesman for TSA, said that airport employees are adequately

"We conduct comprehensive background checks," spokesman Christopher White
said. "And we have very detailed security plans with roving groups of
officers that randomly screen employees, their vehicles and their property."

Munoz and Balaguer were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and
possessing firearms in interstate commerce during a drug trafficking
offense, court documents said.

"Specifically, the fact that airline employees are not required to go
through the same security checkpoints as other passengers leaves a huge gap
in our aviation security system," said Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown.

Some security experts, like Jim Carafano with the Washington, D.C.-based
Heritage Foundation, say passengers need to manage the risks of additional
safety plans.

"Security systems are going to fail," Carafano said. "No one can guarantee
perfect security. It's unachievable and it's not affordable."

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