At Hartsfield-Jackson airport terminal, it isn’t always the travelers who pose the security risk

At Hartsfield-Jackson airport terminal, it isn’t always the travelers who pose the security risk

In ’09, federal agents received some advice that Devon Samuels, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Worldwide Airport terminal, was smuggling drug money with the airport terminal in return for a charge of around $5,000. However the scope from the Stockbridge resident’s misdeeds, investigators soon found, was much broader. His position permitted him use of a safe and secure database known as TECS (Treasury Enforcement Communications System) that he often see which of his drug-trafficking buddies appeared to be investigated. Undercover agents hired Samuels to hold cash-filled luggage or clothing to Jamaica, where he delivered it to agents pretending to be traffickers. Another time, Samuels smuggled five handguns with the Atlanta airport terminal and in to the hands of the undercover officer he thought is at cahoots having a Mexican drug cartel.

When federal agents checked what they are called in Samuels’s TECS searches against air travel passenger lists, they happened onto a colourful cast of drug runners, mostly from suburban Atlanta, with nicknames like “Nigel the Barber,” “Fatman,” and “Damage.” The joint analysis between several federal agencies also implicated an old DeKalb County officer named Jesse Bristol. The resulting 2010 takedown netted among the largest domestic seizures from the party drug BZP in U . s . States history. In June 2011, a federal judge sentenced Samuels to eight years imprisonment.

Surveillance footage showing Samuels (circled below) using his ID to smuggle money and guns into the airport
Surveillance footage showing Samuels (at door) using his ID to smuggle money and guns into the airport

“Operation Rude Animal,” as investigators created the bust that started using the Samuels tip, isn’t the most publicized smuggling situation involving employees at Atlanta’s airport terminal in recent memory. That dubious recognition visits the arrest of Eugene Harvey, a Delta baggage handler from College Park, who’s charged with using his security badge this past year to bypass screening to be able to smuggle 153 firearms-most of them loaded-onto 17 passenger planes.

Harvey allegedly would enter public restrooms and provide gun-filled bags to former Delta worker Mark Quentin Henry. Prosecutors say Henry then travelled the weapons to New You are able to, where these were being offered in the pub until an undercover NYPD officer made the purchase, which brought towards the arrests of both suspects, who now await trial in Atlanta. Kenneth Thompson, the Brooklyn da, known as it an “egregious breach of security,” an assertion that, to Hartsfield-Jackson officials, was as apparent because it was embarrassing. The main from the problem, Thompson was adamant, was poor screening for Atlanta airport terminal employees. If your baggage handler could smuggle assault rifles onto planes, he could easily sneak aboard a explosive device, he stated.

“That type of trafficking-whether it’s money or guns-inside the airport terminal, it makes yet another layer of injury towards the community,” states John Horn, U.S. attorney in Atlanta. “The airport terminal is really an enormous institution to [Atlanta] we’ve the duty to make certain that it is safe.”

That’s precisely what airport terminal and air travel officials insist they’re attempting to do now. Even though the safety clampdown continues to be quick, officials acknowledge that ATL’s sheer vastness-with a large number of “access points,” for example locked doorways towards the airfield that need security badges for entry-doesn’t lend itself to 1-size-fits-all solutions.

Airport terminal gm Miguel Southwell talks about Hartsfield-Jackson like a small city. Indeed, on a day, some 63,000 employees are accountable to the world’s busiest airport terminal, to help, feed, and safeguard greater than a quarter million passengers-enough individuals to fill the Georgia Dome almost 4 . 5 occasions. Of individuals employees, about 43,000 happen to be approved to gain access to secure areas, including the concourses and also the airfield. They appear and disappear night and day.

Anybody wishing to operate inside a secure area-from concessions employees on up-must pass a fingerprint-based criminal record check conducted through the FBI that stretches back greater than a decade along with a security threat assessment that checks terrorist data-bases and immigration records, in addition to undergo training to be able to get the ID badge. Applicants who wish to use worldwide flights in all forms must pass a far more stringent Customs and Border Protection probe. Any one of about 30 kinds of criminal convictions will disqualify a job candidate.

Before the headline-grabbing arrests last December, screening protocol for airport terminal employees was indeed laxer than today, though airport terminal director of policy and communications Reese McCranie is quick to indicate the “multilayered security plan” have been authorized by the Transportation Security Administration. At that time, all employees who have been boarding planes-aside from known crew people and air marshals-were needed to become screened by magnetometers as well as their bags x-rayed. Harvey allegedly exploited a loophole within the TSA protocol that permitted him to bypass concourse screening-simply visiting work and getting guns in through the “backdoor method,” as security experts have known as it. That old theory went that submitting every worker to full screenings every single day could be cost-prohibitive.

The smuggled guns that led to Samuels’s bust
The smuggled guns that led to Samuels’s bust

By March, though, Hartsfield-Jackson officials had whittled 70 worker access points round the airport terminal lower to 17. Doing this implies that a large number of employees have experienced their access restricted and should now enter with an alternative inspection or screening area. Once inside, they’re also susceptible to more frequent checks of the possessions-“random pullovers, for a moment,Inches Southwell states.

Several Atlanta police officials were used in fill vacant airport terminal security positions, and vehicle inspections for workers and construction workers entering the perimeter fence were ramped up, Southwell states. Construction of the employees-only checkpoint-one which won’t lengthen public lines at TSA scanners-covered with August for around $seven million. It’s run by about 70 recently hired and independently contracted screeners.

By September, the airport terminal had begun screening all employees and air travel workers except individuals who work with Delta-having a objective of screening 100 % before 2016. (Delta is on the right track to screen all employees by year’s finish, too, states spokesman Morgan Durrant, while applying other “covert measures” he can’t discuss.) Doing this will make Atlanta the 3rd of 452 commercial airports within the U.S. (behind Miami and Orlando) to screen employees overall.

The boosted safety measures will definitely cost the airport terminal about $5 million yearly, mostly to cover the brand new inspectors. The extra cash will range from airport’s half-billion-dollar operating budget, officials say, not from added costs or charges for travelers.

Southwell is confident the alterations have tamped lower the opportunity of insider threats. “We took the steps to supply the general public with assurance that it’s safe to fly through [Atlanta],” he states. Regardless of the amount of employees, Southwell states violations of security protocol are “still a fairly remote occurrence.”

Flight stats


guns allegedly smuggled by two delta workers in 2014


Airport terminal employees


annual price of additional safety measures at atl


new security screeners for airport terminal employees

This short article initially made an appearance within our December 2015 issue underneath the headline “Security Breach.”


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