Cover Story: Airport security exposed

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Are hundreds of lives worth $100?

That's how much an undercover TSA investigator slipped a Jet Blue Airways employee in Charlotte to make sure a package got on a Boston-bound plane.

JetBlue told us they've fired the worker, but that's little solace to experts who say this is cause for major concern.

More alarming this security blunder happened four days after this teenager somehow snuck onto the tarmac at the airport and climbed into the wheel well of a US Airways jet.

The fingers point everywhere - at the airlines, at the airport and at Transportation Security Administration.

It's certainly another black eye for all those involved at all levels of security at Charlotte Douglas Airport.

The Jet Blue ticket agent was caught in an undercover probe that we're just now finding out about.  The probe was initiated last November in the days after the Tisdale stowaway case came to light.

Pat downs that some say cross the line.  Forcing you to take off your shoes.  Confiscating liquids before you go through the security checkpoint.  So much focus is put on passenger screening.

But in both the case of 16-year old Delvonte Tisdale who apparently stowed away in the wheel well of a US Airways jet and fell out of the sky over Boston and this latest example involving a jet Blue employee who was caught in a sting operation - bribed into accepting a package in violation of aviation security procedures both were outside the parameters of the checkpoints.

But both expose apparent holes in Charlotte Airport's security protocol.

"No matter what policies you set up individuals are still in the middle and they're the ones who's going to have to stick to the rules."

Ron Moore used to work as checkpoint screener at Baltimore Washington Airport with the TSA - the Transportation Security Administration - the federal agency that oversees airport security.

It's not just a Charlotte problem.

Experts complain that security officials tend to focus more on equipment than on the integrity of airline and airport workers.

It's why the TSA says it routinely conducts undercover tests to ensure employees at all levels comply with security procedures.

It was through an undercover sting that the Jet Blue ticket agent was caught.

"We were not only aware that we could be tested at any moment.. we were also aware that there are a lot of eyes on us that passengers can't see," said Moore.

When it comes to airport and airline security no one authority is responsible for everything.

  • The TSA for example oversees security checkpoints.
  • The airlines are responsible for their employees and equipment.
  • And guarding the airport's perimeter among other tasks is the job of airport officials.

Each is responsible for its own jurisdiction which critics say like anything can make for holes in a system.

"I think it's pretty serious because we're only as strong as our weakest link in terms of security," Moore said.

What if the package the Jet Blue ticket agent was bribed into accepting had been a bomb?

The TSA isn't commenting on the incident itself however says any packages or luggage taken at an airline ticket counter is screened for explosives.

Jet Blue confirms the worker was fired.

The airline's not talking.  Neither is the airport but the TSA says its investigation is continuing.

Could this airline worker face criminal charges?  The TSA has authority to bring cases to the US Attorney's office when violations fall within its parameters.

Certainly there seem to be some charges the feds could bring against this ticket agent but again since it's a continuing investigation no one's saying whether anyone has been criminally charged or will be charged.

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