Airline Worker Background Checks Still Not Enough to Curb Wrongdoing

By Michael Klazema on 7/24/2015
Last year, when FBI discovered that airline and airport workers in Atlanta were running a gun running scheme, the Transportation Security Administration vowed to increase criminal background checks and overall security for inside employees. The case involved airline workers who were using their identity badges to get guns past security, into secure airport areas, and onto planes bound for New York City. It was because security was so lax for these employees that they were able to smuggle contraband onto airplanes.

Fast forward more than half a year, and wrongdoing and corruption are still running rampant among airport and airline employees. Despite the TSA's pledge to increase the number and frequency of background checks, to require airport and airline employees to face the same airport security measures as passengers, and to make secure airport areas even more secure, stories not unlike last year's gun smuggling conspiracy are still making news headlines.

One example recently led to the indictment of 46 people involved with a drug smuggling ring run through Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. According to a report from the Associated Press, that case was actually an undercover FBI sting operation set up by Federal agents with the full knowledge and cooperation of the airport. Court documents say that an undercover agent delivered fake drugs (including phony heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine) to an airline worker who had claimed that he could smuggle drugs onto flights.

The airline employee then gave the drugs to a relative, who was able to transport the contraband without being caught thanks to placement on an employee flight list. Family members of airline workers can have their names put on this list, which exempts them from the security and "scrutiny faced by other passengers," according to the Associated Press.

Federal documents state that four people were central to the drug smuggling operation, while at least another eight helped to launder the money that undercover agents paid to have the drugs smuggled. The rest of the 46 people indicted in the case were the friends and family members who actually carried the drugs onto airplanes and smuggled them to various destinations. While Dallas-Fort Worth was the heart of the operation, different drug shipments were smuggled to Chicago, Las Vegas, Newark, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Wichita.

Charges for the 46 defendants range from drug-trafficking conspiracy to money laundering. The drug-trafficking charges carry maximum sentences of life in prison. Still, while this case should go a long way toward cleaning up corruption at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, and showing dishonest airline/airport workers elsewhere that the FBI can orchestrate a sting of this variety, the core problem still sits with TSA security guidelines.

According to a recent report from an ABC News affiliate in San Francisco, there is only one airport in the United States, the Miami International Airport, that requires all workers to go through the same airport security checkpoints as passengers. The report also detailed numerous arrests of baggage handlers, ramp agents, and other employees at the San Francisco and Oakland International Airports in California, all for drug smuggling.

The clear message is that the TSA needs to place less trust in airline workers and airport employees. Bottom line, if anyone is coming to an airport to get on an airplane or stray past security checkpoints, they should have to go through the metal detectors and bag screenings that passengers do. Such requirements, when combined with in-depth criminal background checks of all air travel employees, would help to curb the wrongdoing in the industry.


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