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After Brooklyn gun smuggling investigation, TSA adding new security measures

April 22, 2015 By Charisma L. Troiano and Alicia A. Caldwell, Associated Press Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson (right) and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (left) urged the TSA to implement a national requirement that all airports physically screen airline and airport employees after a gun-smuggling event in December 2014. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is tightening security rules for airline and airport workers in the wake of a Brooklyn criminal case in which an Atlanta baggage handler was accused of smuggling guns on commercial jets, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday.

In January, following the December 2014 arrests, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer urged the TSA to immediately implement a national requirement that all airports physically screen airline and airport employees each day before they enter secured areas of airports.

In two separate January letters to TSA Director John Pistole and TSA Acting Administrator Melvin Carraway, Schumer called for the security breaches and reassessment of TSA security protocol to be reviewed in all  “due speed.”

A day after Schumer’s January letters, Johnson announced a 90-day review of security measures, and now the agency is closing some security gaps the review highlighted.

“[Monday’s] announcement by Secretary Johnson is a prompt response and a significant first step to closing the gaping loopholes in airport security, especially with regard to reducing access points and enhancing criminal background checks,” Schumer said in a released statement.

Among the changes announced Monday are new rules requiring real-time, recurring criminal background checks for aviation workers, including airline employees. Additionally, fingerprint-based background checks will now be conducted every two years for airport employees who hold Secure Identification Display Area badges.

Johnson said airport and airline workers traveling as passengers will also have to go through TSA screening before boarding a flight. The number of access points to secure areas will be reduced to an “operational minimum,” he said.

“I applaud Secretary Jeh Johnson’s decision to institute new security enhancements at our airports,” Thompson told the Eagle.  “His swift action to address the problems found at various airports as a result of a gun-trafficking investigation by my office, is necessary to ensure the safety of passengers, flight crews and employees.”

For Schumer, the changes are at least a step in the right direction.  

“More is needed,” Schumer said Monday.  “[W]e will work with DHS and stakeholders to press for further security improvements.”

The security review and subsequent changes were made in the aftermath of a Brooklyn gun smuggling investigation involving an Atlanta-based baggage handler who was accused of helping smuggle weapons from Atlanta to New York on passenger jets.

“The ease by which airport employees are able to smuggle weapons and other contraband onto our commercial airliners is troubling and warrants immediate scrutiny and inspection,” DA Thompson said in January.

Thompson’s investigation uncovered a breach in security at Atlanta and New York-area airports where airline employees allegedly brought backpacks and carry-on luggage loaded with firearms onto commercial flights. Through the course of an eight-month investigation, more than 150 guns were recovered that had been smuggled through Atlanta-New York airport routes.

Thompson’s investigation also revealed an airport security loophole.

Prior to the new security protocols, pilots and flight crews were required to pass through the TSA metal detectors, as well as passengers. But many employees who work in the secure sections of airports were exempt.

Johnson said the new security changes will greatly reduce “the potential insider threat” posed by aviation employees.

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