Airport drug smuggling arrests expose gaping security hole

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ByVic Lee KGO logo
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Airport drug smuggling arrests expose gaping security hole
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Several airport workers have been arrested at Bay Area airports for smuggling drugs onto planes, but it reveals more than just a crime.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Several airport workers are accused of smuggling drugs through security at San Francisco International and Oakland International airports. However, ABC7 News has uncovered even more cases which point to a gaping hole in airport security that could affect your safety.

Keith Mayfield and two other baggage handlers were arrested in May, charged with smuggling marijuana through Oakland International Airport.

The FBI says they used their security badges to access secured areas with bags of marijuana and then handed the bags to passengers. Ten others were also arrested.

ABC7 News obtained court documents which reveal two other incidents at Oakland Airport.

In April, the FBI says Southwest baggage handler Christopher Cross used his security clearance to carry bags loaded with methamphetamine and cocaine into secured areas and onto planes. Two other airport workers were also arrested.

In May, there was another drug smuggling arrest at Oakland Airport -- this time it involved a ramp agent from Alaska Airlines.

But it is not just a problem in Oakland. Two security screeners at San Francisco International Airport are accused of receiving bribes in return for allowing carry-on bags with methamphetamine to pass through security in March.

"They let the bags go through regardless of what they saw on the screen," U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said.

Regardless, Haag says there's a bigger issue here than just drugs. She told ABC7 News, "Well, the issue is really airport security. We would certainly be concerned if anybody used that access to the airplanes to smuggle on guns and explosives, absolutely."

It's already happened at the worlds' busiest airport -- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. More than 100 guns were smuggled onto Delta flights from Atlanta to New York last year. Federal agents arrested Eugene Harvey, a Delta baggage handler, who they say used his security badge to bring the guns into secured areas. From there, they say an accomplice took the bags onto flights.

"There are so many people that have access to the airports and that have the ability, quite easily, get around airport security and bring whatever they want," Haag said.

Typically, baggage handlers, ramp agents and other workers with access to secure areas go through background checks and maybe random screenings.

They enter secured areas by using their security badges to open doors reserved for employees. But none of the airports in the Bay Area require all its workers to go through metal detectors. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration does not require airport workers to go through full screening.

Only one major airport in the country does -- Miami International Airport. All its airport and airline workers have to go through the same screening process as passengers when they report to work and that includes metal detectors.

Security analyst Rick Smith, a former FBI special agent, said, "To not have screening, it seems to me it's kind of a preliminary first line of defense to have screening for airport workers. It's unacceptable not to have that."

Airport officials we contacted, including Oakland's, tell ABC7 News full screenings are too costly.

"I think lack of funding, if that's been expressed as a reason not to do it, is a lame excuse. You need to come up with the money," Smith said.

The TSA, which sets security policies for airports, referred us to one its reports which concluded that, "100 percent physical screening would not completely eliminate potential risks, but would divert critical resources from other critical security functions."

Put another way, there's not enough money.