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Wed, Feb 07, 2007

Chicago TV News Program Exposes ID Badge Problem At O'Hare

Missing Or Unaccounted-For Badges Number In The Thousands

In a report with sweeping implications, Chicago TV news station CBS2 uncovered a problem with security badges at the city's O'Hare airport. The station found that persons with a security badge get into the airport through an employee side gate lacking any of the security measures employed by TSA to screen airline passengers.

So what, you say, as long as those persons are authorized to be there it shouldn't be a problem, that's what the badge is for right?

In its report, however, CBS2 says since 2004 the city's Department of Aviation has recorded 3,760 missing badges issued to airline, private contractor and government employees. The badges were not returned by employees who quit or were reassigned and include among them Illinois state police officers, FBI agents, federal air marshals, US customs agents and workers at the city's Department of Aviation office itself.

Although the badges are eventually deactivated electronically, which prevents them from opening any gates, it can sometimes take weeks for the system to update. And even though the TSA runs random checks of personnel entering through the gate, security isn't permanently stationed there. That means anyone with a badge can let someone else without a badge through the gate.

TSA acknowledges they wouldn't know if a person gained access to the airport's secure area using badge that's supposed to be terminated.

In one case, the station tracked down a former employee, Obang Omat from Sudan, who quit in September last year, but the city's aviation department records showed his badge as activate until November 14. He says he sent his badge back to the company in September by mail from Minneapolis.

Omat has a criminal record in Chicago's Cook county showing seven arrests including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was eventually convicted on charges of resisting arrest and reckless conduct. The city's aviation department still lists his badge as missing.

Aviation security expert Charles Slepian told CBS2, "It should be a matter of law. If you keep your badge after you have been terminated it should be a criminal act. I guess the bottom line is, the badge, in and of itself, doesn't provide a heck of a lot of security."

The station said it first learned of the gaping security hole when confidential records containing sensitive employee information -- FBI fingerprint and signed badge application forms, employees' social security numbers, addresses, copies of birth certificates, etc. -- were tossed, unshredded, in an airport dumpster by Scrub Inc., an airport contractor.

Omat is a former Scrub employee.

TSA deputy assistant administrator Earl Morris told the station, "First of all we take that very, very seriously because we work closely with airports across the country. We will work with the airport to fix the problem. It is not something we condone or think is acceptable. It is totally unacceptable. I can’t reiterate strong enough that is totally unacceptable."

A spokesman for Scrub refused to discuss with the station specific questions regarding Omat or the other 148 missing badges the company hasn't returned to the city's aviation department saying, "It is Scrub Inc.’s position that we cannot discuss any security matters related to O’Hare International airport."

FMI: www.tsa.gov, www.ci.chi.il.us/aviation

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