Talk about a major security breach in U.S. airports.
Fourteen people, including three Southwest Airlines baggage handlers, have been charged with violating airport security to smuggle several hundred pounds of marijuana around the country, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.
The complaint claims that the people were part of a drug ring that abused the special access granted to them as baggage handlers at the Oakland International Airport to bypass security.
The baggage handlers were able to bypass TSA security and enter a secure area of the airport with the drugs concealed in carry-on bags. They then used their badges to enter the airport terminal and handed off the bags containing the drugs to a passenger, who had already passed through airport security. Then the drugs were transported to various cities, distributed, and sold, according to the complaint.Marijuana (Getty Images)
The 11 suspects accused of transporting the drugs face charges of conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. The Justice Department claims the conspiracy began as early as July 2012.
These concerns were also highlighted last week at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth testified that badges issued to airport employees, including baggage handlers, is a “massive challenge.”
“When you talk about the number of SIDA badges that are out there — for example, in 2012, we reported that there were 3.7 million badges for secured areas. So the idea of trying to keep that secure, with that size — 450 airports across the country — it’s just a massive job.”
SIDA stands for “Secure Identification Display Area,” and all employees working in secure airport areas, including baggage handlers, runways attendants, and even McDonald’s workers, receive a badge after a background check.
However, this isn’t the first time security badges have been an issue in airports.
As recently as March, two TSA security screeners were arrested for allegedly operating a drug-smuggling conspiracy at San Francisco International Airport. In December 2014, two Delta Air Lines employees were arrested for smuggling guns on at least 20 flights from Atlanta to New York over an eight-month period.
In September 2013, a TSA employee and five other people were scheming to smuggle undocumented immigrants into the United States.