Security Breach at Our Airports

July 2nd, 2011

Jophan Porter, a 38-year old flight attendant for American Eagle Airlines, was recently arrested for carrying phony identification, including a fraudulent passport, and charged with six counts of identity theft, three counts of forgery, and three counts of possessing stolen driver’s licenses. Porter, who is a native of Guyana, was carrying multiple forms of false identification, including several driver’s licenses, a Department of Transportation identification card, and a passport.  

Though it is unclear how long Porter was using false identification, officials know that he used a stolen ID to get hired by American Eagle Airlines in March, and had made several flights as a trainee since then.  As such, he had access to many areas of commercial planes, which is a cause for concern.  According to CNN, one federal official with knowledge of the case downplayed the severity of the security breach:  “An airline ID card does not grant you access to the secure areas of the airport,” stated the official, who asked not to be identified.  Additionally, the official “pinned responsibility to check backgrounds of flight attendants on the airlines that hire them.” Really?!  Is this unidentified federal official serious?  Isn’t the airplane that we board a secure area of the airport?  What about the pilots?  Are the airlines responsible to make sure that the pilots they hire have clean backgrounds and did not get hired by using fraudulent identification and passports?  According to the unidentified official, the responsibility for proper employee screening rests solely with the airlines, as he went on to say, “It is the obligation of the airline to verify each potential employee’s identity, employment eligibility including legal status and to verify that employee is using valid, legitimate identification.”  

Research conducted by one of our research assistants appears to clarify the federal government’s role in this process:  It is the airline employer’s obligation to conduct an extensive background check on all prospective employees, while it is the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ensure they are complying with these regulations.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this breach is the fact that the false identity Porter used to obtain the job with American Eagle was from a man named Anthony Frair.  Astonishingly, Mr. Frair has an arrest record! “Frair was arrested four times … between January and October 2008 on charges of criminal mischief, domestic battery, witness tampering and battery with a deadly weapon.”  So Porter, using the identification of Anthony Frair, who has a criminal record, still somehow managed to pass a security background check before being hired.  This was presumably a massive failure by the company who conducted the background check for the airline, as it is doubtful the airline would intentionally fail to comply with TSA regulations.  Of course, this means the blame will probably ultimately fall on the airline’s shoulders.

We all should be alarmed, both about this latest breach of security, and that a federal government official is downplaying the breach.  Now that we know there is a gap in the airlines’ ability –or more appropriately –, inability to properly screen prospective employees, shouldn’t the airlines and the federal government collaborate to close the security gap instead of playing the blame game?

Airport travelers have to be scratching their heads over this most recent security breach.  We all have been subjected to an extensive screening process at our nation’s airports.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect individuals, and on occasion, mistakes happen. However; this security breach, in my opinion, is a huge problem.  If it is TSA’s responsibility to screen millions of passengers each year, why can’t they partner with the airlines to assure that the employees they hire are not potential terrorist operatives whose sole mission in life is to kill more Americans?  The National Criminal Information Computer, NCIC, can reveal in a matter of seconds if an individual has a criminal record. Obviously, no such check took place in this case.  The war on terror is not being fought by just the police and the federal government; it is being waged by every citizen, every business, and every airline that has an investment in this country and in our safety.  How can we employ our citizens to “see something and say something,” when we have security gaps that occur right before our eyes and the government’s only response is that “is the obligation of the airlines…”

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