The Transportation Security Administration director in the Valley has been placed on administrative leave and security procedures at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were beefed up Monday after a local news organization uncovered potential midnight security lapses.
A report by KNXV, Channel 15, found that when passenger services ended at midnight, the TSA shuts down checkpoints leaving security guards in charge of who gets through them until the TSA takes over again at 4:30 a.m.
The KNXV report claimed it witnessed employees, who often toted large bags and coolers, flash badges at the security guards and get waved through without anybody checking the contents of their bundles.
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, clearly on the hot seat, defended Sky Harbor’s safety and security on TV, but later requested changes from the federal watchdogs. New procedures replacing security guards with TSA personnel were initiated within 24 hours.
But if employees toting bags of stuff are the main concern, there are plenty of additional entry points into secured areas without anybody watching them.
Many employees get access to concourses — and even the airfield — by swiping their ID cards at unmanned access doors, said Deborah Ostreicher, Sky Harbor’s deputy aviation director.
The new procedures don’t do anything to examine who passes through those doors or what they carry with them.
The airport issued the following statement Monday: “Effective today, all employees entering the concourse area through the checkpoints at Phoenix Sky Harbor will be screened by the TSA 24/7. In addition, the city has increased police presence at the checkpoints.
“The TSA federal security director at Phoenix has been placed on administrative leave. A senior TSA official has assumed interim responsibility as the TSA federal security director at Phoenix Sky Harbor.”
TSA spokesman Greg Soule said turning checkpoint access over to private security forces is, “not standard, but it is also not uncommon,” in other U.S. airports
The government agency works out a security plan with each individual airport, he said.
The Phoenix security force was hired by Sky Harbor under the direction of the TSA, Ostreicher said. The TSA did not require that the security guards examine bags of employees with badges, she said.
The TSA issued the following statement regarding the Sky Harbor procedures: “While initial indications are that the airport was in compliance with local TSA agreements, a joint, thorough review of all security procedures at Phoenix is underway. There is no indication that passengers were endangered or that there is a current security vulnerability.”
Soule also confirmed that the Sky Harbor hoopla has caused the TSA to examine procedures at all U.S. airports.
The change to the middle-of-the-night procedures is just another of the many changes initiated by TSA on a regular basis, Ostreicher said. Some are behind the scenes, and others, such as the recent approval of butane lighters in carry-on bags, are visible to passengers, she said.
“We rely on the TSA to advise us of what is necessary, and we feel we are always in 100 percent compliance with the federal regulations,” Ostreicher said. “In fact, we go above and beyond what’s required by the TSA.”