United States officials expressed concerns about the “insider threat” to American airplanes on Tuesday after a consensus of international aviation security experts said a bomb caused a Russian airliner to break in half mid-air over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula over a week ago. An ISIS affiliated terrorist group in Sinai is suspected of planting a time controlled bomb aboard the airplane.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson announced increased security measures at airports on Friday that will provide an additional layer of security for the traveling public. The new security measures include expanded screening for items on airplanes, Secretary Johnson said, as well as “airport assessments” conducted with the aid of other countries.
U.S. lawmakers and aviation officials are once again raising questions about security protocol at American airports, where dozens of current airport employees remain under scrutiny because of possible ties to or sympathies with extremist groups. Congress passed the Airport Access Control Security Improvement Act on October 7, 2015, after several hearings on Capital Hill addressing serious gaps in America’s air transportation system. In June, 2015, a report by the United States Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general revealed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners missed seventy three airport workers with links to terrorist organizations.
During a hearing by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security in February, lawmakers questioned several alarming security incidents at U.S. airports, including one involving a 15-year-old boy who breached security to hide in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 and flew from San Jose, California, to Maui, Hawaii. Rep. John Katko, who chaired the committee asked:
“What good is all of this screening at the front door if we are not paying enough attention to the backdoor?”
In April, after undercover federal agents said TSA screeners failed to detect mock explosives and weapons ninety-five percent of the time during routine screening tests, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson announced changes to TSA security that would greatly reduce “the potential insider threat” posed by aviation employees. Johnson said the new rules would require real-time, recurring criminal background checks for aviation workers, including airline employees. Fingerprint-based background checks under the new law will be conducted every two years for airport employees who hold Secure Identification Display Area badges.
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, an estimated $57 billion has been spent on revamping the nation’s airport security. Over the last year, the United States Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have repeatedly warned that ISIS is plotting attacks on American targets including airplanes. The U.S. air transportation system is blinking red, but TSA and lawmakers are struggling to implement important new safeguards to protect American citizens.