Thousands go unscreened into secure areas at Nashville airport - WSMV Channel 4

Thousands go unscreened into secure areas at Nashville airport

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found while there are thorough screenings of pilots and passengers at Nashville International Airport, hidden camera video shows how easy airport employees bypass security, many carrying bags that are never checked.

Two former Transportation Security Administration employees came to the Channel 4 I-Team with concerns about what they call serious security problems at Nashville's airport.

The employees said security is too lax at the areas where airport employees are allowed to enter the secure areas without going through checkpoints.

The Channel 4 I-Team was able to capture video of employees entering through a door while never having to have their bags checked or their bodies screened. Less than a minute later, we watched them enter the secure area of the airport.

Our video showed the employees flashed badges and entered a secure hallway.

Without a guard looking to verify who was carrying the badges, the employees punch in a code and are allowed access into the concourses of the airport where the planes take off.

Former TSA supervisor Gerald Smith said it is a clear security problem.

"Anybody can have anything in their pocket, in their shoe, or conceal on them. And everybody should be going through the same scrutiny as far as security is concerned," Smith said.

Another former TSA worker, who asked us to conceal her identity for fear of retaliation, said Nashville International Airport is not a secure airport.

The Channel 4 I-Team documented the employees entering the door in the early morning hours at the airport as well as mid-afternoon.

"They have access to the bags, the planes; they have access to the entire airport," said the former TSA employee.

Emily Richard, spokeswoman for Nashville International Airport, confirmed 5,500 employees are granted the badges and allowed to enter through the doorway.

Those employees include everyone from TSA employees to gate security, but Richard said employees of restaurants and stores should be screened through the checkpoint.

The employees granted the badges do undergo criminal background checks, but a recent congressional report questions if those background checks are thorough enough.

A May 30 Congressional report from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, shows TSA employees from all over the United State have criminal backgrounds or have been arrested for criminal violations.

Two employees at Nashville International Airport have been arrested, including one man for statutory rape. Another female employee later pleaded guilty to drug charges.

"Who knows what these other people are carrying in?" said the former TSA employee.

The concern isn't just about the employees, but also who might use those employees to slip items by security.

To determine this, the Channel 4 I-Team watched a janitor leave his cleaning supplies outside the door and entered.

The Channel 4 I-Team took a harmless pen and dropped it into the clean supplies and then walked away.

The janitor then came back out the door, picked up his supplies and carried it right into the secure area.

The Channel 4 I-Team showed our video to aviation security expert Jeff Price.

"If they're a bad operator, then they can clearly get something there regardless," Price said.

Our investigation also found that this isn't the first time employees at an airport have been caught on camera bypassing security.

In 2007, a TV station in Phoenix, AZ, captured video of airport employees at Sky Harbor Airport carrying bags and backpacks, again just flashing their badges and getting access to the secure area of the airport.

"It's a frightening situation. I've simply never seen anything like it," said airport security expert Larry Wansley in 2007.

After it was exposed, the TSA at Sky Harbor immediately started screening all employees.

"[Airport employees] need to be physically screened, and it looked like from the report that they were not," said TSA administrator Kip Hawley in 2007.

Sky Harbor's federal security director, Paul Armes, was then placed on administrative leave and ultimately left the airport.

Armes left that airport and came to the same position at Nashville International Airport.

A big difference in what was caught happening in Phoenix and what the Channel 4 I-Team found at Nashville's airport, is that at Sky Harbor Airport, there was a guard checking badges against faces, and in Nashville there is no guard.

"We need to make sure that the person using the badge is that person," Price said.

Richard stressed that employees have to enter the code once they flash the badge.

"This additional security measure prevents anyone from finding a lost badge and entering the sterile area," Richard said.

But the two former TSA employees who have been arrested for crimes at the airport had the codes at one time as well. And our hidden camera video showed how easy it was to slip an item through the door.

No one from TSA or the managers of Nashville International Airport would answer our questions on camera. A TSA spokesman also said Paul Armes refused to speak to us on camera.

The former TSA employees said even now when they fly out of Nashville's airport, they're a little unnerved.

Price said what we've uncovered exposes the greatest debate in the airline industry, often referred to as the "back door."

Price said airports are struggling with deciding how to screen employees. The airports in Miami and Orlando screen all employees at all times.

A TSA spokesman said employees who use the door at Nashville International Airport are subject, from time to time, to random screenings once they enter the secure area.

In a statement, Emily Richard, spokeswoman for Nashville International Airport, said:

"Safety and security are the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority's highest priorities. We work within U.S Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration regulations and security directives, as part of a multi-layered security approach. Any deviations to these regulations or directives result in an investigation and possible civil penalties.

We have more than 5,500 active badge holders at MNAA. All airport employees, airline employees and TSA employees have authorization to use the card-reader access hallway. The first doorway has a proximity card reader that interrogates the badge for proper authorization. The second doorway also interrogates the badge plus each badge holder must enter a unique pin number to access the sterile area. This additional security measure prevents anyone from finding a lost badge and entering the sterile area. Employees who work for tenants in the concourses do not have authorization to enter the sterile area via the card-reader access hallway.

Multi-layered security approach:

1. TSA has approved the MNAA Airport Security Plan.

2. All badged employees have undergone criminal history records' checks by the FBI.

3. All badged employees have undergone a security threat assessment by TSA.

4. Badged employees don't get past security by using or "flashing" the badge. Every badge is interrogated as he/she passes the card readers and for the sterile area he/she must also enter a pin number.

5. All employees are subject to search by Law Enforcement Officers or TSA personnel.

6. The MNAA badging office is required to track and audit all badges.

7. Lost, Stolen and Terminated badges are deactivated immediately and destroyed within 24 hours."

The TSA also released a statement to the Channel 4 I-Team:

"Airport operators are responsible for developing and implementing a security plan which includes procedures to provide airport and airline employees with access to an airport's secure areas. TSA approves each airport's security plan and conducts comprehensive inspections to ensure compliance. As part of TSA's multi-layered security approach, all airport and airline employees undergo a security threat assessment prior to receiving credentials and access privileges. Employees are then subject to continuous vetting. Transportation security officers and inspectors are deployed on a random and unpredictable basis to screen airport and airline workers as they enter or work within the secure area. If employees fail to follow proper procedures in accessing secure areas, they may be restricted from future access, disciplined or subject to civil penalties and criminal charges."

Copyright 2012 WSMV(Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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