ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation has exposed smugglers still sidestepping security at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Every airport and airline employee at the airport gets an identification badge that gives them access to secure areas, but experts are now calling for stricter screening. They believe it’s necessary, especially after federal agents keep finding some workers are able to sneak past the checkpoints.
"What this tells me systematically is that one of our continuous fears since 9/11 is still very accurate," said aviation analyst John Nance.
Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Aaron Diamant spoke with Nance after immigration agents arrested Rasondo Norris last month on federal drug charges. Homeland Security agents said for a small fee, Norris, an AirTran baggage handler, would use his airport-issued employee ID badge to smuggle drugs and money through secure doors.
"It's certainly concerning that someone that green would take over an individual’s willingness to pretty much do anything to make a buck," Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Brock Nicholson told Diamant.
According to a criminal complaint, as part of the recent sting operation that eventually brought Norris down, undercover agents first gave Norris a backpack with five kilograms of sham cocaine. The complaint said he also received another backpack with what agents “represented to be $500,000” and "a MAC-11 automatic machine gun with an unloaded magazine and a .330 silencer."
"He was more concerned about the narcotics that he thought he was moving were wrapped up tight and that a dog couldn't smell them," said Nicholson.
Still, Norris got all of it, including the "machine gun," through the airport. Court papers show the informant who tipped off the federal agents about Norris' operation told them, "Norris carried backpacks around airport security approximately 51 times over the course of a year and a half."
"This individual, at the end of the day, seemed to be so routine in his expectation that no one was going to look at his activities that it's frightening," said Nance.
Diamant asked Nance what needs to happen next.
"My very first act would be to get everybody involved together and say, 'How did this happen? How did we not see this? What are all the different elements that failed here?'" said Nance.
Diamant found this is not the first time. In 2008, two TSA agents and a Delta Airlines employee went to prison for smuggling drugs onto flights to New York.
In 2010, customs agent Devon Samuels got busted for smuggling money and guns for a Mexican drug cartel by using his employee badge to get through secure doors.
Last August, two other TSA agents were busted for smuggling drugs past security checkpoints. After Diamant learned of Norris’ case, he contacted both TSA and airport leaders, who refused on-camera interviews.