'The insider threat is real': Gaps in airport security highlighted in new video

U.S. Security Officials Focused on Improving Gaps in Airport Security
U.S. Security Officials Focused on Improving Gaps in Airport Security

President Obama said Wednesday that the government is taking "every possible step" to keep Americans safe from terrorism -- but new video is raising questions about whether that's the case at the nation's airports.

At New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, used by more than 50 million passengers every year, NBC News' cameras captured employees simply swiping their electronic key cards to get into the facility this week. NBC News also obtained video from earlier this year that showed the same thing.

Unlike passengers, airline crew and employees who work in the terminal, the ramp agents in the videos did not undergo ID checks or bag checks, walk through metal detectors or get scanned for explosive materials, sources said.

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And that, some say, is cause for concern -- especially amid worries that an airport insider could have been involved in the bombing of a Russian Metrojet over Egypt three weeks ago.

"The insider threat is real," Marshall McClain of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association told NBC News.

His union has called for fewer employee access points and more worker screening at the nation's busiest hubs, but only two major airports -- in Miami and Orlando, Florida -- are screening every worker every day.

"The fact that there are two airports that are already doing it shows that it can be done," McClain said.

"It takes just one employee, one radical person, to beat the system and bring down a plane -- whether it's knowingly or unknowingly, putting something on a plane," he added. "And that's what we need to thwart."

McClain said airport workers have been caught in the past helping to smuggle drugs or guns on planes. A terrorist could exploit a corrupt worker and get them to unwittingly load a bomb onto a plane, he said.

Kevin Brown, vice president of SEIU 32BJ, the union that represents many employees at JFK, said most of them are subject to regular TSA security checks because they work inside the terminal.

"Safety and security is a huge issue for us," Brown said.

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McClain and his counterparts in New York wrote to the Transportation Security Administration three years ago to urge mandatory daily screening for all airport employees, including TSA officers.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that in April, he issued a directive ordering more security for workers.

"We're evaluating whether more is necessary right now," he told NBC News. "That's something that TSA and I have been focused on as recently as today."

One question is who would pay for the enhanced security. McClain said airports can't say it's too expensive when they spend billions on "aesthetic overhauls."

"Use that money for security improvements," he said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns JFK, said the airlines and the terminal managers should be monitoring the turnstiles the ramp agents were seen using on the videos.

The terminal manager, Schiphol Group, and its subsidiary, JFK Air Terminal LLC, did not respond to requests for comment.

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