by Stephen Dean, KPRC Channel 2 Houston
Washington, Jan 20 -
HOUSTON -- With travelers facing heightened security nationwide, hidden cameras found airport screeners' own bags being allowed to avoid any screening, Local 2 Investigates reported Wednesday.
Transportation Security Administration workers were recorded passing by X-rays, metal detectors and explosive-sniffing machines that other people face at airports. They often carry purses, lunchboxes, backpacks and even large luggage into the secure areas of the airport.
"I would say that we're not traveling securely because anybody could put something in there," said Houston visitor Theresa Kusak as she headed in for pat-downs and having her own bags searched at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
"I think their luggage should be screened like the rest of us," she said.
U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Houston) agrees, saying, "If this is TSA procedure, they are absolutely missing the point on airport security. It's absurd to let them go through without any type of screening and then you've got, right next door, you got grandma having to go through full body scanners. It doesn't make sense. It's total incompetence as far as I'm concerned."
Poe watched the hidden camera video from Local 2 Investigates, showing TSA workers hauling luggage and backpacks into a back door exit as they begin their shifts each day.
"They're bringing in bags, suitcase-size bags, backpacks. We don't know what's in there," Poe said. "It's never looked at by anyone, doesn't go through any machine and who's to say that one of these TSA employees won't be compromised by some outside group to bring some dangerous item into the airport?"
Airport police told Local 2 Investigates that they've noticed TSA workers at both Intercontinental and Hobby airports avoiding security by the dozens each day at shift changes.
In a written statement, TSA responded: "TSA employs a risk-based approach to security and focuses resources where threats are the greatest. Our officers are a thoroughly vetted group of trained professionals entrusted to keep the traveling public safe. TSA holds its work force to the highest professional and ethical standards and does not tolerate misconduct in the workplace. Our officers work in teams, in public areas and are under direct supervision."
Poe responded after viewing the Local 2 Investigates video, saying, "Just because they pass a background check doesn't mean that they shouldn't be screened. If anything, you ought to be screening TSA employees more than anybody else because they have access to much more than the passenger does."
TSA officials told Local 2 Investigates that is "impractical" to screen workers' bags because they pass back and forth from the secured areas so often in each shift. The agency relies on its workers being thoroughly vetted, and since they are "trusted members of the Homeland Security anti-terrorism team, they did not require daily screenings," the agency said.
TSA admitted it stopped screening workers' bags nationwide as a matter of policy in 2007, when workers switched to their current bright blue uniforms.
Another member of Congress, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee and a terrorism subcommittee, plans to call for oversight hearings to change what Local 2 Investigates uncovered.
"I just went through a scanner the other day and got fully patted down and, you know, I think that's the way it should be," said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Katy). "I think when you start exempting people, you increase the vulnerability within the system. Any terrorist could bribe these officials to bring in a weapon of mass destruction through the airport, whether it be a nuclear device, a chemical explosive, which is what they seem to be focused on these days, but certainly the larger the bag, the more explosives that could be brought in and the more devastating the damage."
He said he planned to push for hearings to force all TSA workers to have their bags screened nationwide.
"An oversight function, you can effectuate change almost overnight," McCaul said, while he pointed out that a bill may take years to pass into law.
TSA leaders pointed out that bags brought to work by its workers usually contain their lunch, clothing, work equipment and personal property that is often stored in employee rest areas or break rooms.
The agency said any bag can be subject to random inspections by TSA managers.
But McCaul insisted hearings were needed to end the policy right away.
"This is where the investigative reporting does us a great service and the American people, to call attention to what are vulnerabilities within the system, and informs Congress so we can do our job (with) oversight," McCaul said. "I know that this is an issue that, once it hits the airwaves, is going to get a lot of attention, and I think the American people will expect us to hold hearings on this, and we should."
To view this story online as well as watch the coverage, visit http://www.click2houston.com/news/26554618/detail.html.