A recent Government Accountability Office report (click here for the report) showed TSA personnel sleeping, showing up late to work, abusing leave time and other lesser infractions, but along with those they also found TSA personnel guilty of theft, and allowing friends and family to bypass the screening checkpoints.
The GAO office identified more than 9,000 cases of misconduct in the past 3 years. 56 incidents of the theft and 1,936 incidents of bypassing checkpoints or related security issues. All this comes a time when TSA is making another controversial decision by attempting to transfer the security of the sterile area exit lanes to the airport operator, traditionally a screener function.
Regarding personnel sleeping on the job and abusing sick leave, while these are lesser sins if they are not addressed properly it allows a culture of unaccountability to take place. Employees discover what they can get away with so they start pushing the envelope to see what else they can get away with. It is the “broken windows” theory.
What particularly bothers me is that many the historical attacks on aviation have either been carried out by an insider or an insider has helped facilitate the attack. I noted in some of my media interviews interviews both the Pan Am 103 and PSA 1771 tragedies to name just a few, but the list goes on and on. On Pan Am 103 a Libya an airline employee who was also an intelligence agent of the Libyan government placed the bomb in a bag and the bag onboard the aircraft. On PSA 1771 it was an airline employee who is been placed on administrative leave who smuggled a gun onto the aircraft where he proceeded to kill the supervisor who is commuting on the flight, and both pilots. The plane crashed and killed all 44 onboard.
There have also been incidents where hijackers have dressed as security guards and customs agents, catering personnel have smuggled guns and grenades onboard the aircraft and a case where an air cargo pilot attempted to hijack a plane he was deadheading on. A few years ago federal air marshals were arrested for smuggling guns and drugs on aircraft by using their FAM credentials.
Some people say that there will never be another 9/11 style attack again. That the passengers will rise up to fight back and prevent the attack. But we forget that the next attack will not likely look like the last one. It will probably not be five guys with pocketknives. The next hijacking might be 15 guys with automatic weapons and hand grenades that were smuggled onboard by catering personnel. The next bombing might be from a bag that is placed there by an airline ramp agent.
Employees at an airport, whether they work for TSA or the airport or airlines, routinely, as part of their jobs, bypass the aviation security systems that are in place to prevent passengers and others from attacking the system. Their airport identification badges and other credentials serve as the keys to both the front door (screening checkpoint) and the back door (the airport access control system) of the airport.
Unfortunately, most U.S. airports are not designed to handle the volume of employee traffic through a screening checkpoint. Nor am I advocating this as a solution. This would require major redesigns and a lot of money that may not get us the benefit we’re looking for. But there is another way.
The industry needs to revisit biometric access controls for airport / airline employees and ensure that all employees are trained in suspicious awareness, so that we can keep an eye on one another. Maybe we don’t need another $5.6 billion solution to the problem when a fraction of that would go a long way in preventing an insider attack.