Christmas vacation 2014 reminded me of the hassles of post-9/11 commercial flying. One of the invariable highlights is Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security, which basically requires me to pull myself apart, load the loose parts onto a conveyor, stand in a magical “bad-thing” detector with my empty hands above my head, gather my loose parts and put myself back together. I expect that and am fine with it: I’d gladly endure far worse for safety’s sake.
I did not know that at least at some airports, baggage handlers and airline employees are not required to go through TSA screening. Ask the nearest Kindergartener, “Would that let people sneak dangerous things into the airport and onto a plane?” He/she would quickly answer, “YES!” Nevertheless, that loophole has existed since 2002, reportedly to cut costs.
That loophole recently allowed a Delta Air Lines employee named Eugene Harvey, who worked for Delta at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and a former Delta employee named Mark Quentin Henry to smuggle guns at least 20 times between Atlanta and New York City from May – December 2014.
Ask that same Kindergartener how gun smuggling could be accomplished with that loophole. He/she would say something like this: Employee Eugene Harvey brought a bag of guns and ammunition into the airport, using his employee badge to bypass security; passenger Mark Quentin Henry went through TSA security with no guns; employee Harvey texted passenger Henry; they met in the men’s room; passenger Henry picked up the bag containing guns and ammunition; passenger Henry boarded his flight and flew from Atlanta to New York with the guns and ammunition. That’s just how it was done, more than 20 times.
The smuggling operation began to unravel when one of Henry’s and Harvey’s NYC co-conspirators sold some of the smuggled guns to an undercover New York police officer. Then TSA, Delta, the airport and the FBI watched Harvey and Henry. After gathering considerable evidence, the authorities arrested employee Harvey at his home in Atlanta and passenger Henry when he landed at New York’s JFK Airport with 18 handguns, seven of which were loaded. In all, authorities seized 153 guns, including assault rifles.
As Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson stated, “If they can put guns on the plane this time, they could have easily put a bomb on one of those planes.” True and even if one forgets the bomb possibility, the loaded guns themselves are mighty dangerous.
Now, I don’t want to be a poor sport but if all us passengers have to endure extensive security screening, admittedly for excellent reasons, then baggage handlers and airline employees should also undergo extensive security screening. An airport spokesperson states, “[A]ll employees must pass extensive criminal history record checks, security threat assessments, and security training prior to being approved for access to secured areas. Additionally, employees are subjected to continuous vetting and random inspections.” Well, that’s obviously insufficient because a bright child could bypass that security, Harvey & Henry did just that, and they smuggled loaded guns on at least 20 flights between Atlanta and New York City.
That loophole should be closed, even if it takes significant manpower and money.
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