- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

A federal grand jury in North Carolina yesterday returned indictments charging 66 persons working at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport with making false statements to employers and airport authorities when they applied for and received airport-security badges.
The indictments, handed up in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, are part of "Operation Access Denied," a coordinated city, state and federal law-enforcement effort aimed at preventing acts of terrorism.
Those named in the indictments were employed by private companies operating at the airport that provided food services; aircraft refueling; baggage handling; cleaning and housekeeping services inside the airport, on ramps leading to planes and on airplanes; airplane service and ramp operations; and ground-crew operations.
"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," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "The Justice Department will enforce the law fully and vigorously to protect Americans."
The investigation uncovered no evidence that the airport was unsafe, according to Justice Department officials in Washington who announced the indictments, but they added that efforts had been taken to eliminate what investigators described as "vulnerabilities in our nation's transportation system."
The 66 employees were named on charges that included making false statements, using fraudulent Social Security numbers and using false alien-registration information, and making false representations to obtain employment and security badges. In addition, all were charged with entering an airport area in violation of the FAA security requirements.
Justice Department officials said all but one of the defendants are believed to be illegal aliens.
"Through their use of false information, these defendants were able to obtain security badges that may have put them one card-swipe away from access to the most secure areas of the airport," said U.S. Attorney Robert J. Conrad Jr.
All of the people charged had Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges, which allowed them access to highly secure areas of the airport, including planes, runways, ramps leading to planes and cargo areas.
The areas of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport designated under SIDA encompass such areas as portions of the terminals and baggage areas, as well as cargo facilities; areas beyond passenger security screening checkpoints; and jetways, taxiways, runways and airfields.
SIDA access badges are issued according to Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, which require individuals seeking access to SIDA-designated areas to possess the badges, as well as undergo a thorough employment background check and, often, criminal fingerprint checks with the FBI.
Operation Access Denied began in the weeks following the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and suburban Washington, with an independent audit by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of all airport employees who had been issued SIDA badges and were employed after November 1986.


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