An investigation is underway of more than two dozen Transportation Security Administration officers at the Honolulu International Airport after security failures that could have allowed a terrorist attack on an airplane were allowed to continue for months, KITV 4 News has learned.
TSA employees told KITV 4 News thousands of checked bags were loaded onto flights at Honolulu?s airport in recent months without having been screened for explosives.
At least 27 TSA officers on the morning shift in Honolulu?s Lobby 4 are accused of not properly searching checked baggage before it was loaded on planes, sources said.
Baggage there was supposed to be opened up and checked for traces of explosives, but sources said many pieces of luggage were never checked. In some cases, TSA agents simply marked suitcases as having been screened when those checked bags had not been checked at all, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Sources said baggage checked on nine daily morning departures from Lobby 4 were not properly screened, a situation that could have lasted as long as four months, meaning thousands of suitcases went unchecked.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez released a statement to KITV 4 News that said the agency "is taking appropriate disciplinary action against several TSA officers following an extensive investigation into allegations of improper screening."
"We took immediate action and none of the personnel accused have been conducting screening duties since the allegations were made," Melendez said. ?TSA is proud to hold our workforce to the highest ethical standards and will not tolerate a deviation from the commitment to carry out our mission to protect the traveling public.?
The Rogers family from Cape Cod, Massachusetts checked in at Honolulu's Lobby 4 Tuesday night for a trip home on Delta Airlines. They were concerned when a reporter told them about the investigation.
?It?s a little nerve-wracking. Thanks a lot,? said Andrew Rogers, as his wife Michelle and two children prepared for a flight to Atlanta that connected to Boston. "We put a lot of faith in our TSA employees and it would be a shame, and scary for us, frankly, to find out that it wasn't being done the right way."
No improprieties have been reported about security screening at Honolulu airport?s passenger security checkpoints, where TSA officers check carry-on bags and passengers for potentially dangerous material before they board flights.
The TSA said the problems should be put in perspective because they happened at one of Honolulu airport's 12 baggage security screening areas and the 27 or so TSA employees under investigation make up a small fraction of the agency's 750 employees in Honolulu.
The nine daily flights where baggage sometimes went un-screened account for roughly 12 percent of the overseas departures from Honolulu airport on an average day. Approximately 73 daily international and domestic flights departed from the airport on an average day in February, according to Daniel Meisenzahl, spokesman for the State Department of Transportation. Another 110 inter-island flights took off from Honolulu each day, he said.
Sources close to the investigation said two Honolulu TSA employees tipped off officials to the problems, starting the probe, which has lasted two months.
One source close to the investigation said TSA managers were unaware of the screening deficiencies because TSA officers would always do their screening work properly when management was present.
But TSA employees point out two shift supervisors were in the lobby all the time and they had to know that checked bags were not going through the proper screening.
Accused employees have been given lie-detector tests and they could be fired, suspended or even fully reinstated, depending on the outcome of each of their disciplinary cases. TSA officials begin reviewing each of their files to determine their punishments, if any, on Wednesday, sources said.
The TSA has been using overtime to cover the shifts of the accused employees who?ve been removed from screening duties during the investigation for the past two months, sources said. They?ve continued to be paid and have reported to work in their uniforms but have been doing ?non-screening duties,? according to Melendez.
News of this investigation came on the eve of an important hearing for TSA officials in Washington.
Wednesday afternoon, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees the TSA, is scheduled to testify before the Homeland Security subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee about her department's budget request.