Dozens of people have boarded flights with corkscrews, knives and other prohibited items at Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports, according to passengers and federal officials.
Numerous passengers interviewed by The Washington Times said they have been able to pass through security checkpoints at Reagan and Dulles airports with forbidden items in their carry-on luggage. Those items later were confiscated or destroyed at other airports across the country. All of the passengers interviewed requested anonymity.
In one case, a man traveling to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a Delta flight on Oct. 24 was able to pass through a security checkpoint at Reagan Airport with a money clip that had a nail file and 2-inch knife attached to it. Both items are prohibited under Federal Aviation Administration rules. Security at Reagan Airport is maintained by Atlanta-based Argenbright Security Inc.
On his return trip to Washington on Oct. 28, a Globe Security Inc. security guard at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport told the man that “the money clip would either be confiscated or the knife and file would be taken off.”
The man elected to have the knife and file removed from the silver money clip, but he said the experience left him wondering about security at Reagan Airport.
“National is supposed to be the gold standard,” the man said.
During a two-week period, The Times also observed security guards at Reagan Airport and Dulles waving passengers through without thoroughly checking purses and other carry-on bags. At Dulles, metal detectors would go off routinely, but security personnel would not ask the person to go back through the checkpoint.
Security services at Dulles which is where American Airlines Flight 77 originated before crashing into the Pentagon on September 11 also are provided by Argenbright. The company has been fined several times for federal security violations, including hiring criminals and illegal foreign workers.
Over the past weekend, seven of its employees, including a supervisor, who work at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, were fired for allowing a man carrying several knives and a stun-gun to pass through security.
And on Oct. 13, federal agents arrested a man with a knife who was able to pass through security at one of two checkpoints at Dulles.
During a recent spot check of security at Dulles, the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s office also found that seven out of 20 screeners at Dulles were not able to pass a basic skills test. More than 80 percent of the security personnel at Dulles are not American citizens, which is disturbing because most of the workers there speak broken English, making it hard for them to communicate with passengers.
One passenger flying from Dulles to South Carolina’s Charleston International Airport two weeks ago unknowingly left a corkscrew and a six-inch knife in his briefcase. The security guards at Dulles did not pick up on it, he said, even though the briefcase went through an X-ray machine.
However, the man was stopped by a security guard at the Charleston airport and made to remove the corkscrew and the knife from the bag after the items were seen through the X-ray machine. The items were confiscated and the man, who lives in South Carolina, said he would pick them up when he returned.
Airports around the nation moved to tighten security after suicidal terrorists hijacked jetliners full of fuel and passengers nearly two months ago and slammed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but a senior FAA official conceded that security at Reagan and Dulles is still seriously lacking.
“It’s inconsistent,” the official said. “In some places you can take your nail clippers, and in some places you can’t.”
Paul Takemoto agreed there is inconsistency in security measures around the country and said that is why the FAA began cracking down on lapses last week through a “zero tolerance” policy. He said a situation over the weekend at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where an entire section of the airport was closed after a security breach, shows that its efforts are paying off.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a statement yesterday, however, that “dramatic failures” still exist in airport security despite the FAA’s crackdown. He noted the situation at O’Hare and an incident on Sunday at an airport in Louisville, KY., where “some passengers weren’t screened at all.”
“These failures are evidence to me that the airlines are still not making the necessary investments in security,” he said.
Mr. Mineta also urged that fines be levied against United Airlines for the O’Hare security breach since it was responsible for maintaining security at the airport and the contract with Argenbright. United also is the company responsible for security and the contract at Dulles.
Dawn Deeks, a spokeswoman for the 80,000-member Association of Flight Attendants, agreed that “there is no standard” of security measures, especially those that are supposed to prohibit items from being taken aboard airline flights.
U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican who represents Dulles, said there is ample anecdotal evidence that security is not as tight as it should be.
“I think there is a concern with a lack of uniformity,” Mr. Wolf said. “There has been example after example of poorly run security [at Dulles].”