Airports give security badges to just about anyone, even dogs

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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It doesn’t take much to get an airport security badge these days, even if you are a dog.

In an examination of a database of more than 1.1 million security badges for roughly 900,000 airport workers at 359 US airports, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found omissions or inaccuracies in 96,000 records, such as missing security status, birthdates and birthplaces. In one instance, a security badge was issued to a dog.

The badges are issued to airport workers and give clearance to secure areas. Applicants must pass a criminal background check and a security threat assessment from the Transportation Security Administration.

Airport operators are responsible for collecting employee data and submitting it to the nation-wide database, but TSA is responsible for requiring applicants to be properly vetted. Approximately 890,000 employees with 1.2 million active badges have access to secure areas of airports.

The report said TSA only enforced limited oversight over the badge offices. It did not require airports have quality assurance procedures or give proper training to badge offices, not did it require inspectors to verify airport data during their reviews.

As a result, airports have been lax in record-keeping, and the central database is incomplete, making it difficult for TSA to confirm information. (RELATED: TSA screeners confiscate pregnant woman’s insulin)

For example, the report noted one airport worker had three active badges providing access to secure areas of three different US airports. He listed three different places of birth on his applications for those badges — the United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States.

The TSA “was unable to accurately vet the applicant against immigration information to determine legal status, yet the airports issued the badges,” the report said. The DHS inspection revealed he was a US citizen born in the United Kingdom.

But one doesn’t even have to be human to apply for a badge.

“At one airport, a record contained a questionable date of birth,” the report said. “However, the record belonged to an airport canine. According to airport officials, they had issued badges to working dogs in the past. Although we were informed that this is no longer standard practice, this canine was still listed as an active badge holder at the time of our visit.”

The DHS IG also contacted individual airports. Only 193 of the 280 airports contacted were able to provide reports showing active badge holders for their locations.

But this is not the first time serious flaws with security badges have been discovered.

In 2008, TSA’s Office of Inspection reviewed the badging process after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a search at one major airport and arrested 23 workers with unauthorized airport access. The search also identified more than 100 temporary employees possessing fraudulently obtained security badges.

Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called on TSA to increase its oversight of airport worker credentialing.

“I urge TSA to adopt to improve its oversight process, follow the OIG’s recommendations and reduce vulnerabilities in airport worker credentialing,” Thompson said in a statement Wednesday. “By making the vetting process for airport employees more thorough and comprehensive, we can improve security.”

The TSA said it is working to comply with the DHS recommendations.

“TSA is already implementing solutions that address several recommendations contained in the report,” TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a written response to the report.