|Whistleblower: Pilot Posts Video Exposing Airport Security Flaws
In An Exclusive Interview with ABC News, Pilot Says TSA's Reaction Was 'Overkill'
News | December 23, 2010
The airline pilot who was reprimanded by the TSA for posting videos showing security flaws at a major airport is speaking out exclusively for the first time, saying that it was the "fallacy of the system" that inspired him to take this action.
Late last month a 50-year-old pilot, who asked that his name and the airline he works for not be made public, took a series of videos with his cell phone to show major flaws he says still exist in airport security systems. The videos show how easily ground crews at San Francisco International Airport were able to access secure areas. "As you can see, airport security is kind of a farce. It's only smoke and mirrors so you people believe there is actually something going on here," the pilot says on one video.
The pilot says he has worked for his airline for over a decade, and was also an Army reserve helicopter test pilot. He was deputized by the TSA to carry a gun in the cockpit. But he said he'd had enough, and wanted to do what he could to draw attention to what he says is still a major problem in airport security.
"People don't understand that when they walk through the TSA checkpoints, well, they are getting, now they are getting a groping, but they don't understand that all those people you see outside, the ground personal, all the caterers, all the airline cleaners, they get virtually nothing," the pilot said in an interview with ABC News.
He uses the videos to make his point.
"I wanted to give you an idea of what type of security the ground crews go through, their screening is sliding a card and going through a door. Not screened at all," the pilot says in one clip.
This pilot is not the first person to raise these security issues. The unfettered access that ground crews, baggage handlers and others have at most major airports has been reported on in the past, especially after 9/11.
He first posted the videos to YouTube on November 28. Three days later, he says, four federal air marshals and two local sheriff's deputies showed up at his home to question him about the footage. The pilot filmed the conversation, during which the federal marshals confiscated his federally-issued firearm.
"I was surprised by the response. It was a bit of overkill. I could have just dropped my badge and weapon in a FedEx box and FedExed it in for 20 bucks," said the pilot. "They sent six people over to pick up a handgun and a badge. I said, that is your federal government with your tax dollars."
The pilot recieved a follow-up letter after the encounter informing him that his permit to carry the firearm was being reevaluated following the outcome of a federal investigation.
The pilot also recieved a letter directly from the TSA that said, "an administrative review into your deputation status as a Federal Flight Deck Officer has been initiated."
In a statement sent to ABC News, the TSA said it holds "all employees and those serving as Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDOs) to the highest ethical standards. The TSA responded and took action in this situation because the pilot in question was an FFDO. FFDOs must be able to maintain sensitive security information as a condition of the FFDO program. As the issuing authority of credentials and firearms, TSA reviews each possible violation of those standards and acts accordingly up to and including removing an individual from the assigned role. As to access control at SFO, TSA is confident in the tools the airport has implemented and reminds passengers there are security measures in place that are both seen and unseen."
Pilot Records TSA Airport Security Flaws
Reaction in the aviation community has been mixed.
I'm not aware of a commercial airline pilot going this far," said ABC News Aviation Consultant John Nance. "On one side every airline pilot in the country is virtually outraged at the insanity of putting pilots through security. On the other hand you've got people who can just swipe their way in or out." Still, Nance says others argue, "What we don't want to do is wave a red flag at our enemies and say, 'Hey, take a look at this vulnerability.'"
The pilot says he has not gotten into trouble with his airline, although they did ask that he remove any public access to his videos on YouTube, which he has done. And while he still remains under investigation by the TSA, the pilot says all he wanted to do was bring attention to the issue and that the government's response is what helped turn this into a news story.
"I just tried to address my concerns and voice it on YouTube," said the pilot. "Basically all you have to do, is we have an emplopyee line, you just put them through the employee screener."
ABC News' Susie Banikarim and David Muir contributed this report