US Airport Security (lack thereof)

Rohit Khare (
Sun, 11 Aug 1996 00:30:32 -0400 (EDT)

Donahue said the baggage-handling arrangements at U.S. airports posed
"glaring problems," adding, "It's not realistic to expect people to be
screening access or working security when their primary job is to load
cargo or pave potholes in the parking lot."

That vulnerability was graphically demonstrated less than a week after
the crash when a local law enforcement official pinned on a small
plastic badge and took a remarkable stroll through Kennedy that he
should never have been allowed to complete.

The official was testing claims that the airport's system for checking
an employee's identification was easily breached. The badge, issued to
a ticket taker at a small commuter airline, theoretically allowed
access only to a low-security section of the terminal. But the
official, who is not directly involved with the TWA case, used it to
roam the facility at will.

He wandered into the baggage area, where unattended luggage was stored
before being stowed in the plane. He went downstairs onto the tarmac,
where porters and caterers were tending to the aircraft. He even
walked onto the plane itself, a Delta Airlines flight.

No security guard or airport employee asked him who he was. No one
questioned why a white male was wearing a badge with the photo of a
black woman.

"It was incredible," said the official, who spoke on condition of
anonymity. "I suppose if I wanted to I could have sat down in the
pilot's seat and drove away with the thing."

The former TWA executive said the system at Kennedy and other
U.S. airports contrasted with security at airports in Europe, which
United States airlines have traditionally considered a high-risk area
for terrorism. At those airports, the baggage is constantly under the
supervision of armed guards from the time it leaves passengers' hands
until it is loaded aboard aircraft.

"The bags are under the watchful eyes of security people from the time
they are checked in," the former executive said. "You will have
security people who actually work in the baggage area."