- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating the use of non-U.S. citizens who have worked as baggage handlers and security screeners at Washington Dulles International Airport.
The investigation, which began in July following complaints to the agency, was stepped up last week after terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon. The flight, which had 64 persons on board, originated at Dulles airport.
The DOT inspector general and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are trying to find out if noncitizen workers were allowed into secured areas of the airport. People without citizenship or resident alien status are forbidden from secured areas of the airport.
"We are looking at security issues," said David Barnes, a spokesman for the DOT inspector general. "We began the investigation in July. We found after the events of last week we needed to step up our efforts a bit."
He declined to say if any arrests have been made or if any employees were found to have been working illegally in secure areas. An inspector general's statement said investigators were interviewing only employees who were not U.S. citizens to be sure they had the proper credentials to be working at the airport.
The focus of the investigation appears to be employees of Argenbright Security Inc. of Atlanta, whose employees worked at security checkpoints and as baggage handlers at Dulles. Argenbright, one of the nation's largest airport security companies, was hired by United Air Lines, which is the largest airline flying from Dulles.
Argenbright spokeswoman Sara Jackson said the company is cooperating with investigators. She said she has been told Argenbright is not the target of the investigation even though it is the only company that provides security screening at Dulles.
In April 2000, Argenbright agreed to pay $1.2 million in fines and costs, and be placed on three years probation as part of a settlement for violating Federal Aviation Administration rules by failing to conduct background checks on 1,300 of its security employees at the Philadelphia International Airport. The company also conceded that it did not properly train its employees.
Argenbright employees falsified diplomas and test scores, and hired at least 14 airport security workers with criminal convictions.
Argenbright also provided security at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, where United Airlines Flight 93 originated. That flight also was hijacked by terrorists last Tuesday and crashed in western Pennsylvania. It had 45 persons on board.
A former Argenbright employee who worked security at Dulles said the company provided little or no training and no semblance of background checks. The woman, who did not want to be identified, said she was able to work for Argenbright although she had been convicted of felony drug charges.
She said many of the security personnel hired by Argenbright were not trained and some spoke only limited English.
"It was mainly foreigners," said the former employee. "They couldn't carry on a conversation with you. Some of them couldn't say much more than 'hello' or 'good day.'"
United Air Lines spokeswoman Jenna Ludgate said the investigation is ongoing and would not comment about Argenbright. "We are meeting all the government security directives," she said.
Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said she could not comment on the matter since it is under investigation.
She also said it is not the airports authority's responsibility to provide security for the airlines the FAA requires the airlines to provide security, adding that United, as Dulles' largest provider, hired the security company.

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