- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Federal authorities have arrested 50 persons employed at Salt Lake City International Airport in connection with questionable information they gave authorities in receiving airport security badges.

The 50 were among 69 persons against whom arrest warrants were issued this week as authorities sought to ensure security at the airport in advance of the Olympic Games, scheduled for Feb. 8-24.

The arrests, outlined in indictments returned last week by a federal grand jury, are part of "Operation Safe Travel," a coordinated city, state and federal effort to prevent acts of terrorism.

"We will prosecute aggressively to secure the safety of the public. Americans who pass through our nation's airports and who travel on our nation's airlines must and will be protected. The Justice Department will enforce the law fully and vigorously to protect Americans," Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

The 69 persons are employed by private companies operating at the airport. They work for companies who provide security screening; food services; fueling of aircraft; cargo handling; cleaning/housekeeping services inside the airport, on ramps leading to planes and on airplanes; airplane service and maintenance; and maintenance and construction in secure areas at the airport.

"This is not simply a prosecution story," said U.S. Attorney Paul Warner in Salt Lake City. "This is an effort to prevent and disrupt potential opportunities for trouble at the airport.

"While there is no evidence that anyone indicted as a part of Operation Safe Travel has attempted any kind of terrorist activity at the airport or that the airport is anything less than completely safe, in today's environment we are not going to wait around for something to happen," he said.

Of the 69 persons charged, 61 individuals have the identification badges that allow them access to highly secure areas of the airport, including access to planes, runways, ramps leading to planes, and cargo areas. Three of those indicted are airport security screeners.

The 61 security officials were charged with violations of federal law relating to U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and Social Security issues. The charges include making false statements; using counterfeit, altered or fraudulent Social Security cards; using false alien registration cards and numbers; using false alien registration information; and making false representations about citizenship status to obtain employment and security badges.

All are believed to be in the country illegally.

"These are people who have misrepresented who they are," Mr. Warner said. "Through their use of false information and altered or counterfeit documents, they were able to obtain security badges that put them one card-swipe away from access to the most secure areas of the airport. We cannot have individuals who have been untruthful in obtaining security clearances working at our airport."

In addition to these 61 persons, two others with public access badges also were indicted on similar charges. Public access badges give employees access to airport concourse areas. Six others were charged with making false statements about their criminal history. Justice Department officials said if the accused employees had been truthful about past criminal conduct, they would have been disqualified from receiving security badges.

Operation Safe Travel began in the weeks following the terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, with initial independent investigations by INS and Social Security Administration inspector general's offices in Salt Lake City. Both agencies were conducting audits of employees at the airport when they noticed irregularities with Social Security numbers and citizenship status.

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