- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Federal authorities yesterday arrested more than 100 workers at three Washington-area airports on charges of lying to obtain restricted-access badges giving them entry to high-security areas.
A federal task force arrested 94 persons in raids at Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. In a separate operation, 10 workers were taken into custody at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, seven of whom were charged with lying on their employment applications.
Ninety-three of the 94 workers at Reagan and Dulles were arrested at the two airports. An additional 44 are being sought, and arrest warrants have been issued for them.
The raids were part of an ongoing nationwide anti-terrorism crackdown that has netted more than 400 arrests in six cities since the September 11 attacks on America, including operations in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and San Francisco.
"Today, we have acted decisively to make our nation's airports more secure," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in announcing the arrests. "To those who would do us harm, the message is this: Our vigilance is steadfast.
"There will be zero tolerance of security breaches at our nation's airports," he said. "What this investigation uncovered should be a wake-up call for every airport in America."
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, who formed a task force five months ago to investigate the airport workers, said the probe targeted those who had illegally gained access to secure areas at the two facilities.
"Here in Northern Virginia, we are painfully aware of the potential threats to air travel," Mr. McNulty said. "Five hijackers boarded American Airlines Flight 77 at Dulles, resulting in the death of 189 innocent people, and Reagan Airport was incapacitated for a substantial period of time following the attacks of September 11.
"Because of this operation, I can report to you now that the two major airports in Northern Virginia are safer places for both the traveling public and the employees who work there," he said.
Mr. McNulty said those taken into custody, who were employed at the airports by 60 different companies, were charged with Social Security fraud, falsifying criminal history records, making false statements and immigration violations.
He said they lied on their applications to obtain restricted-access security badges known as Security Identification Display Area badges that allowed them access to airplanes, loading docks, cargo ramps and runways.
At least 21 of those taken into custody had been subject to deportation orders for immigration violations and, Mr. McNulty said, some already had been ordered out of the country but had returned. In addition, he said, four of those arrested were identified as fugitives from justice on pending state charges.
There was no immediate evidence that any of those arrested had ties to the September 11 terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000 people, or to other terrorist organizations, Mr. McNulty said.
But, he added, task force investigators were continuing to check the airport workers against existing terrorist lists.
Mr. McNulty said that criminal history checks also were run on the employees and that 30 of them were charged with lying about their criminal backgrounds, including 15 who had been convicted of felonies that included drug charges and sexual assaults.
Although he said the majority of those arrested worked in custodial, construction or food-service jobs at the airports, he also said that at least one person arrested in the Dulles-Reagan operation was employed as a baggage screener and that others worked in airline maintenance and cargo.
The task force investigation, coordinated by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Morton, examined the employment records of nearly 15,000 people working at Dulles and 5,000 at Reagan Airport.
Mr. McNulty told reporters that when the task force probe began, he was not sure where it would lead and he was "somewhat alarmed" by the large number of workers who had lied on their applications for security badges.
The task force included agents from the FBI, the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General, the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, Social Security Administration, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Marshals Service, Virginia State Police, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
Those arrested were named last week in indictments handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. If convicted, they face prison sentences of two to 10 years and fines of up to $250,000.
In addition to the 94 under arrest in the task force probe, another 115 persons employed at Dulles and Reagan have been referred to the Transportation Security Administration for a review of their security badge status.

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