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TSA tightens early morning security nationwide

The Transportation Security Administration put its Phoenix security director on administrative leave Monday after a television station showed video of an airport security guard letting workers into secure areas without searching them or their bags.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The government tightened early morning airport security nationwide after a television report exposed lax enforcement at Phoenix's airport, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday.

TSA administrator Kip Hawley said the action followed a Friday television report that showed employees at Sky Harbor International Airport walking into secure areas in the pre-dawn hours without being searched and only a cursory identification check.

The federal agency put its Phoenix security director on administrative leave Monday. Hawley said he believes the problem is limited to Sky Harbor after agency officials reviewed practices at other airports around the country.

"We've made very clear what the rules of engagement are," Hawley said Tuesday after an aviation industry luncheon. "Either close (secure areas) down (at night), screen the people going in there, or sweep it thoroughly before you open it up again."

Phoenix appears to be the only airport where none of those practices have been taking place, Hawley said.

"When we see a vulnerability we close it," said Hawley, who emphasized the need for "common sense" to prevail when evaluating security practices.

Phoenix ABC affiliate KNXV aired footage taken during the 4 1/2 early morning hours each day when Sky Harbor International Airport security guards, not federal inspectors, checked employees going into secure areas.

The hidden camera footage showed a guard routinely letting workers pass after they showed their badges, while TSA inspectors who went on duty later conducted more complete screenings.

The TSA said in a statement Monday that it will screen all employees 24 hours a day while the agency and Sky Harbor review the airport's procedures.

The airport has defended its practices, saying that badged employees have undergone background checks and that the airport's practices comply with TSA requirements. The airport also has said that Sky Harbor "has always complied with all federal security policies."

US Airways Group Inc. is based in Phoenix.