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TSA Cracks Down on Airport Workers After Massive Christmas Gun Bust

Airport employees are going through security and other holes are being fixed after the Christmas gun smuggling busts of airport workers, the TSA said.
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Airport and airline employees are now going through security just like everybody else, the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday.

That and almost two dozen other security weaknesses are being fixed under new rules put in place after last Christmas' breach involving alleged gun smuggling by airport workers in Atlanta.

The rules — some of which, like full screening for aviation workers when they're traveling as passengers — have been rolling out since April, the TSA said, expanding on congressional testimony Tuesday morning by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Johnson told the House Judiciary Committee that the 28 new rules are the result of an investigation of "potential vulnerabilities" after six people — including current and former Delta baggage handlers — were arrested Christmas week at Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and accused of smuggling guns and ammunition to New York.

RELATED: Ring Smuggling Guns on Planes Was 'Devastating' Security Breach

The TSA said it had fully accepted 26 of the 28 recommendations from its Aviation Security Advisory Committee and had partly accepted the other two, rejecting small sections of those for minor technical reasons.

Image: TSA screening at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
A passenger is screened at a TSA checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in March.ERIK S. LESSER / EPA — file

Five of the recommendations were immediately accepted when they were submitted in April, Johnson said:

For the last three months, airport and airline workers have been undergoing more frequent criminal background checks and trudging through TSA security, just like regular passengers who used to enviously watch them breeze through checkpoints simply by showing their IDs. They're also being subjected to random screening throughout the workday.

The TSA has also reduced "access points" to sensitive airport areas to what Johnson called "an operational minimum." And he said the TSA has launched an internal promotional campaign called "This Is My Airport" to create a "culture of situational awareness" among airport employees.

Other steps Johnson said are in the works:

  • More training of TSA and airport contractors and other partners to better use security information "while protecting civil rights."
  • Using technology to channel employees to "unpredictable checks" and to "enforce adherence to the standards."
  • Creating better tools to report suspicious behavior.

"The actions will increase TSA's ability to ensure that access to secure areas is only granted to those who should have it and is denied to those who shouldn't," the agency said.

In March, an NBC News investigation found that about 1,400 ID badges that let airport workers roam runways and boarding gates at Hartsfield, the nation's busiest hub, had been stolen or lost in the last two years. Johnson didn't address that breach Tuesday.