WASHINGTON -- Commercial air travel is at risk from terrorists who quietly get jobs at airports so that they can attack from within sensitive areas, a top Homeland Security official told lawmakers yesterday.
There hasn't been such an instance, but a security supervisor at Newark Liberty Airport is charged with using the identity of a man who was killed in Queens in 1992. The incident raised questions about whether the Transportation Security Administration knows the true identities of workers in secure areas at the nation's airports.
The TSA said the man, Nigerian Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole, never worked for TSA, and the agency did not issue his security badge. The TSA requires a background criminal and terror check for employees who work at airports. He was screened through that process, but because he worked at the airport for so long, the TSA did not do a separate check that would verify his identification, the agency said.
The House Homeland Security Committee conducted an oversight hearing yesterday, and TSA assistant administrator John Sammon said he could not assure lawmakers there were no other such cases. "We don't know whether they are who they say they are," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).
People who pose a threat can obtain government security badges for U.S. airports because the TSA inadequately investigates the backgrounds of badge applicants, said the agency's acting inspector general, Charles Edwards. This includes missed signs that such people might be dangerous, or confirmation they are U.S. citizens, Edwards said.
Some security gaps could be resolved with a new rule that would require a criminal history check every five years and strengthen other ID reviews, Sammon said.