Lax security at Honolulu Airport results in mass firing - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Lax security at Honolulu Airport results in mass firing

Honolulu International Airport. Honolulu International Airport.
TSA workers screening baggage. TSA workers screening baggage.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez TSA spokesman Nico Melendez

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – A "covert" investigation by the Transportation Security Administration has prompted the agency to begin firing 36 workers and suspend 12 more. The TSA found screeners at Honolulu International Airport were not adequately inspecting checked luggage during the last few months of 2010. The disciplinary action is the largest such action in the agency's history.

"It was a serious investigation. It is a serious incident. I think it is exemplified in the fact that we have begun the process to terminate 36 employees," said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez.

According to Melendez the lax security was a problem during the final few months of 2010 at just one area of the airport, a place where checked luggage is supposed to be screened.

"It was a morning shift in one terminal. It affected a small number of flights, I mean literally a very small number of flights, but again, one flight is too many," he added.

The agency uncovered the shoddy screening by interviewing more than 100 of its employees and by putting prohibited items, including weapons, in bags.

The workers being terminated did not notice the things they are trained to find.

"We have internal protocols, internal tests, that we're able to conduct to ensure that things are being done right. One of the very well known things that we do is covert tests. We do covert tests of our passenger check points. We do covert tests of our bag screening," Melendez told Hawaii News Now.

When asked if those "covert tests" included weapons he said, "Yea. I mean we have passengers go through a check point. We have things on them that they are not allowed to have to make sure that people can find them. (We do the) Same thing with checked bags," he answered.

Travelers at the airport told us they have confidence in the TSA, and were surprised when told screeners at Honolulu International Airport had compromised passenger safety by failing to properly screen checked luggage.

"That really shocks me because, like I just said, I thought they were doing pretty good with checking all the bags and everything. And then now for 36 people to be let go for not checking them the right way, that shocks me," said Keri Overton of Kaneohe.

"They should be let go because, I mean, it's not just for me and my kids, but for everybody else. We all expect that protection," she added.

Federal Security Director Glen Kajiyama is among those who is being let go. Kajimaya is a respected member of the law enforcement community who rose to Deputy Chief during a 30 year career with the Honolulu Police Department.

"The Federal Security Director, the Assistant Federal Security Director, security is their responsibility at this airport. They are the ones that need to make sure security is at the highest level at this airport and if a group of people, a large group of people, is not doing their job, then the management needs to be held accountable," Melendez explained.

The TSA has appointed Stanford Miyamoto, Deputy Area Director, to serve as Acting Federal Security Director at the airport and in the coming weeks the agency will hire new employees to replace those who are being fired.

The TSA believes the problem has been solved and all bags passing through the airport now are being properly screened.

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