Fly At Your Own Risk: More Security Breaches Found

CBS News | June 25, 2007
By Dave Savini

(CBS) CHICAGO “Fly At Your Own Risk” is a CBS 2 continuing undercover investigation at O’Hare Airport, and it just got even more alarming. 2 Investigator Dave Savini reports on exclusive details.

Officials at O'Hare International Airport are refusing to interview with CBS 2 about our latest findings. The 2 Investigators have found more security breaches and a failure by authorities to investigate.

O'Hare is one of the busiest airports in the nation, and may be one of the most vulnerable.

The 2 Investigators have learned that 47 more employee access badges are missing, bringing the total we've discovered to 3,807 – the biggest security failure involving access badges ever to be exposed.

"Doesn't surprise me,” said Marcia Pinkston. “I am surprised you didn't find more."

Airport employees are allowed to go through a back gate. All they have to do is show their access badge. They are not searched.

"It's really scary just thinking that anyone can go into secure areas of O’Hare,” Pinkston said.

The latest missing badges belong to employees of Mesa Airlines, which operates flights for United Express. One of them belonged to Pinkston, who worked as a flight attendant.

She says she was fired for complaining about security. She says the airline never asked her to return her access badge and for months she could have used it to gain access to airplanes.

"Just anybody can go in there,” she said.

Last month, Pinkston told CBS 2 about other security failures, including employees sharing security codes or "piggybacking" by following someone through open doors to gain access to secure areas.

At the time, The Transportation Security Administration vowed to investigate.

But Pinkston tells CBS 2 that no one from TSA has contacted her even after she made allegations about piggybacking and code sharing.

She said it makes her feel "that they're just not doing their job."

Paul Maniscalco was New York City's chief paramedic in charge of EMS response to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. He's now a terrorism expert at George Washington University.

"You would think by 2007 we would have our arms around this issue,” he said. "When your investigation indicated that we had cards missing, unaccountability for the cards, people piggybacking, it was alarming."

Mansicalco says the threat of airport employees is real and points to numerous incidents including one in March at Orlando’s airport when two employees smuggled drugs and guns on to a plane, and earlier this month in New York at JFK Airport a former cargo worker was charged with plotting to blow up fuel tanks

"There is no security,” Pinkston said. “As long as you work there you can do whatever you want."

Thanks to the CBS 2 investigation, the Department of Aviation fined Mesa Airlines $47,000 because of the missing badges. That’s the first time any airline has been fined for this issue. The TSA has refused to say why they have not interviewed our whistleblower, Marcia Pinkston.

Mesa Airlines said the fine is just a proposal and did not want to comment.