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Tue, Jul 24, 2007

Undercover Report Uncovers Security Weaknesses At PHX

Airport Security Expert Calls Findings A "Frightening Situation"

While the cat's away, the mice play at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. That's according to an investigation by ABC affiliate KNXV-TV Channel 15 in Phoenix, which recently wrapped up an undercover investigation at PHX that focused on the four-and-a-half hour time frame at night when airport security is turned over to a private company.

Apparently when the Transportation Security Administration agents go home for the night, so does airport security, the report found.

Anyone with an employee badge can go anywhere in the airport -- unsearched and unquestioned. People entered through the back door with coolers, backpacks and suitcases on foot and even on a bicycle into supposedly highly secure areas. No one seemed to notice much less care.

Not only that, but the undercover cameras caught closed metal detectors, X-ray machines turned off and even a security officer sleeping while people walked right on by.

Airline security expert Larry Wansley is the former head of security for American Airlines and currently consults for the U.S. Government and airports around the world. He was brought in by the television station to review and comment on the tapes.

"It's a frightening situation, I've just simply never seen anything like it," he said. "I really honestly have not.
It is not security. It truly is not security. Anything can be going through there. I don't get it."

A PHX employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity told KNXV she was afraid to even show her face while talking about the subject. "I'm telling you Sky Harbor's not safe and hasn't been for a long time."

For several nights, the undercover camera caught activities like a flight attendant with three suitcases flash her badge and go in, unsearched; a large load of newspapers on a cart pulled past a guard without a search; a man on a bicycle with a crate on his back admitted with a flash of his badge.
The airport employee said she is afraid.

"No one's doing anything about it," she said. "Management knows. I know management knows. I know my superiors know. I know the security guards know. Everybody knows what's going on, but nobody's doing anything about it."

"Clearly this is a very, very imminently dangerous situation," Wansley said.  "You've got the front door, TSA that has locked it up for the better part of the day, the majority of the day. And then you throw open the back door to be exploited by those that would simply destroy us. And I simply do not understand it and I'm appalled. I'm shocked and I'm amazed."

A TSA memo obtained by ABC 15 requires those controlling airport access follow federal guidelines that "provide security against an unauthorized weapon, explosive, or incendiary onto an aircraft."

But PHX officials hired an outside company in 2005 to handle airport security during that four-and-a-half hour time period. The documents indicate guards would not search personal items or people.

ABC15 said they've obtained documents that say all agencies and facilities involved have known about this set-up for at least two years and both the airport and the TSA refused on-air interviews.

ABC 15 asked a TSA employee why airport security does a Cinderella and reverts to normal procedures at 4:30 every morning when the TSA agents resume their airport security duties.

"We have no control over what the City of Phoenix does," he said.

So, should passengers feel safe at PHX?

"That's up to the passengers to determine that," he said. 

Wansley said this problem needs to be fixed -- now. "You've got all sorts of items that are going into the secure part of an airport unchecked," he said. "I think that presents a very, very dangerous situation that can be exploited that can lead to disaster. That concerns me."

 "I'm trying to explain how unsafe Sky Harbor Airport is so that you and I and everyone else don't get blown up on a plane that everyone else seems to have access to," the airport employee said. 

As a result of this investigation, ABC15 says Transportation Security Administration administrator Kip Hawley told them security procedures are now being reviewed, PHX's Federal Security Director has been placed on administrative leave and the airport will resume 24-hour screening of airport employees as of Monday night.

FMI: http://phoenix.gov/aviation, www.tsa.gov

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