“Have a safe flight.”
How often will travelers hear those words uttered by friends and family members before departing from Chicago airports this week? With the busiest travel season of the year here, travelers can expect to maneuver through long lines at security, followed by having to remove shoes, belts and various items from their carry-ons.
But a Fox Chicago News investigation discovered a major loophole at TSA checkpoints at O’Hare and Midway.
During the past two months, Fox flew multiple employees – male, female, black, white, and Muslim – to different destinations around the country on different airlines.
The only requirement: They were not allowed to bring a photo ID. No passport. No driver’s license.
On every occasion, these Fox employees were allowed through security without a hitch as long as they showed that the name on their boarding pass matched the name on a couple of credit cards, according to Fox Chicago News.
“This is fascinating,” former FBI agent Anthony D’Angelo said after seeing hidden video of the Fox employees at the two airports. “To get a bogus credit card is one of the easiest forms of identification to get.”
D’Angelo, who previously oversaw security at Midway and O’Hare, said he was shocked that TSA wasn’t more thorough.
“If you’re a terrorist or doing surveillance to check out secure areas of the airport, it would be very easy to get into those secure areas without any identification,” he said.
It’s not as though TSA hasn’t been warned.
The federal Sept. 11 Commission’s final report included 10 pages that focused solely on the issue of terrorism and identity fraud. The report states: “Travel documents are as important as weapons. Fraud is no longer just a problem of theft. At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are.”
DePaul professor Tom Mockaitis, who researches terrorism, describes this potential breach in security as “one that’s exploitable.” He said it was another reason why terrorists believed that TSA was not as stringent as it used to be.
“I know there’s a laxness and complacency because it’s been eight years since we suffered this catastrophic attack, let alone any attack on the homeland,” Mockaitis said.
By checking credit cards rather than a photo ID, TSA simply was following its own rules, which vaguely state that passengers without an acceptable ID will have to provide “information” to verify their identity, according to Fox Chicago News. The guidelines also state that these passengers “may be subjected to additional screening.”
Only twice did a Fox employee have to go through additional screening, according to the Fox investigation. The first time was when reporter Mark Saxenmeyer tried to see whether he could get through by showing his Hallmark rewards card and Harrah’s Casino rewards card. In this case, Saxenmeyer had to wait 22 minutes before having to prove his identity to a TSA agent on the phone in Washington, who asked him a series of questions, such as where he lived and what kind of car he drove, Fox reported.
The second time was when a Fox producer tried to get through with just a couple of Blockbuster cards and a Bally’s membership card. Only this time, he got through without having to answer any questions from TSA, according to Fox.
The undercover investigation got the attention of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee.
“It troubles me because a valid ID is the entry point into our system,” Durbin said. Getting through with credit cards or a club membership “defeats the whole purpose.”
When informed of the investigation, TSA released a statement.
“ID verification is an important process and represents one of the many security layers, which also includes threat detection technology, behavior detection officers, and the physical screening that occurs at airports,” the statement said.
TSA administration also said that it immediately provided training when proper procedure was not followed.
That is a good idea, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said.
Schakowsky said she was so enraged after learning how easy it was to get through security that she since had discussed the matter with TSA three times.
“I have to say, and TSA would agree, this is unacceptable,” Schakowsky said. “That many people 100 percent of time getting through security without a photo ID is clearly a problem. We need TSA to come to Chicago and do the appropriate training and make sure procedures are followed.”
Watch Fox Chicago News report on TSA checkpoints at local airports at 9 p.m. today.