You won’t board an airplane unless you clear security. But at airports across the country, tens of thousands of workers have IDs allowing them airport access - often without any physical screening. Those IDs help workers access even the most secure areas.
It’s a problem first reported by our station in Dallas.
From March 2013 to March 2015, NBC 7 Investigates found 276 ID badges from Lindbergh Field employees or contractors were reported missing. NBC 7 investigates found more than 20 of those ID badges were missing for six days or more before they were reported. In one case 8-months went by.
Last May, one company said three of its former employees failed to turn in their badges after being given a deadline to do so. In September 2014, one man accused his roommates of possibly stealing his badge.
“It's very, very serious. Without question,” said Larry Wansley who used to head security for American Airlines. Although he adds that a stolen ID would not necessarily mean an unauthorized person could access a secure area. “Just because one aspect of it has been compromised, there are a whole lot of other backups that come into play.”
Experts say the odds of someone gaining access with a stolen badge are low. IDs are deactivated when they are reported missing or stolen.
But others believe missing badges make airports vulnerable.
"That is a big number. And there is just no excuse for it,” said Senator John Thune, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
He said the number of missing badges is a problem in San Diego and other US airports.
“Who knows what could happen in that amount of time?” he added.
Thune and three other Senators sent a letter to the TSA asking the agency to provide “The percentage of ID badges unaccounted for in each of the last five years at each airport.”
“We got to make sure that at least going forward the TSA is going about this in a way that that ensures that those are accounted for. Put a process in place,” Thune said.
The TSA told NBC their Acting Administrator will respond directly to the Senators. But a representative did send NBC the following, in part:
• TSA is currently working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to establish a system that airports can use to conduct recurrent (continuous) criminal history checks. Recurrent checking will alert airport operators to criminal activity by employees who may not have disclosed such activity following their initial criminal history review. In the interim, TSA will take the immediate step of requiring fingerprint-based Criminal History Records Checks every two years for all airport employee SIDA badge holders. (An amendment to an existing security directive was issued in late April).
• Once TSA has completed the check, the information is provided to the individual’s prospective employer with access either granted or denied based on the results of the Security Threat Assessment.
• TSA also continuously checks all SIDA badge holders against the terrorist screening database in case there are any changes to an individual’s status.
The San Diego Airport Authority declined NBC 7 Investigates request for an on-camera interview, but did send this written statement:
“The Airport Authority takes all possible steps to ensure airport security, including daily audits of contractors and tenants to match current employment status with all active airport badge holders. The Airport Authority requires tenants and contractors to provide accurate data regarding the current status of their employees and will work with the information provided to further minimize potential security risks. The more than 7,000 Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) and Sterile Area active badge holders are trained to abide by both the federal mandate to report their badge lost or stolen to the airport operator within 24 hours as well as all Airport Authority codes and policies as a privilege of being issued a badge.”
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