There have been a number of high-profile airport security breaches in the U.S. by employees during the past year. The Transportation Security Administration says it is working with industry associations like Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives to close the gaps. In the meantime, the promise of biometrics remains on the horizon, as does the Congress-mandated 100 percent employee screening pilot program. Tenant operations, represented by the National Air Transportation Association, continue to express frustration regarding the background check process, particularly as it relates to firms with multiple bases.
One of the more prominent airport employee breaches was last November at O’Hare, when a raid led to the arrest of 28 workers. Temp agency Ideal Staffing had given the undocumented workers fake identity badges — in some cases, deactivated badges were used to get them through security.
Bob Cammaroto, acting general manager of the transportation sector network management — commercial airports at TSA, says the incident illustrates the concerns that arise around employee access control and badging.
“The value of those situations to us, whether it’s the incident at O’Hare or any others, is that they point out to us and remind us of what we already know, and that is that vulnerabilities exist and vulnerabilities continue to exist no matter what we do,” says Cammaroto. “But it helps us, especially under the current leadership, to focus our resources in the right areas where our vulnerabilities may be most visible, and helps us to tweak areas and set the priorities. Because we, — like everybody else in this business — have limited resources, we try to focus those resources on the holes. And a situation like the one that happened at O’Hare does help us figure out where some of the holes lie, and it give us a little more impetus to close those holes.”
Charles Chambers, senior vice president of security and facilitation at ACI-NA, agrees. “There’s always a high level of concern about employee badging and screening and incidents do occasionally occur. Our dialogue with TSA and our airport members has always included that element as a very important part of the security situation at airports.”
Cammaroto says the incident could really be viewed as nothing new. “That’s the old worry, that you can’t legislate morality.”
He says many regulations currently in place have come out of similar breaches, many of which he sees as beginning in the ‘80s. “Certainly now, in the post-9/11 world, we recognize that really smart, capable people are really out there trying to do us harm. They’ve got a great deal of patience, a great deal of professionalism, and a great deal of qualifications to do long-term planning on their own timeline and their own way. We’re always in a reactive mode because you can’t ignore the last incident.
“We’re also trying very hard to stay ahead of the next incident. That comes down to risk assessment, and where we find ourselves most exposed.
When something like the incident at O’Hare occurs, it gives us pause to stop, and maybe we’re looking at one aspect of security but that helps jolt us back to reality and helps us not forget about the other pieces. It has to keep us focused, and that’s helpful.”
The Technological Advantage
Cammaroto sees technology, and biometrics in particular, as the best opportunity for improving access control and badging.
“We’re at a cusp right now,” Cammaroto says. “We’re really moving from the late ‘80s, early ‘90s type of approach to a more technological approach. The science and technology has caught up to where we want to be theoretically, so it’s really an exciting time for us.”