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HOMELAND INSECURITY

Customs whistleblower: Airports still vulnerable

Fearing exploitation by terrorists,
fired agent takes case to Ashcroft


WASHINGTON – A U.S. Customs Department whistleblower says airports are as insecure from terrorist attacks because of unauthorized ramp access as they were before 9-11.

Former Customs Agent Diane Kleiman confirms what earlier WorldNetDaily reports have shown – that ramps or the “back side” of major airports, including specifically New York’s JFK, are wide open to penetration and have been used by alien and drug smugglers since Sept. 11, 2001.

Frustrated by what she sees as corruption in the middle management of her former agency, she’s now taking her case to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Four years ago, Kleiman, a former prosecutor in New York, took a job as a Customs agent. Her first big arrest broke up a drug-smuggling ring at JFK. The smugglers used an airline employee with keys to all exit ramps. But the day after the arrest, the employee was back at work, and Kleiman was in trouble for collaborating with a Drug Enforcement Administration agent on the case.

“Because I was new and didn’t know what to do, I was lucky to have a DEA agent located in Florida direct my investigation,” she wrote in a report written to a former top Justice Department official who is close to Ashcroft. “Within six weeks, I had made one of the largest drug arrests at JFK Airport. Customs was hoping I would screw up. Instead, just the opposite happened.”

Kleiman said her real troubles began when she refused to falsify official records with regard to the amount of money seized, $300,000, along with the 46.2 pounds of cocaine. She was also instructed to pretend the bust was the result of a random search rather than an investigation.

All that took place four years ago – before 9-11 – but Kleiman says her own independent investigation shows the airport security flaws that existed then remain.

During her time at JFK, Kleiman was amazed to discover that baggage handlers, maintenance workers, food service employees and ground personnel – many of whom have never had a background check – enjoy easy access to aircraft. Her findings have since been confirmed even by Homeland Security Department officials, as revealed in earlier WorldNetDaily reporting.

An internal Homeland Security Department memo obtained by WorldNetDaily advised airports and air carriers to tighten security over passenger aircraft and air cargo during the holiday season.

U.S. officials explained specifically, just as Kleiman asserted, that air cargo and the back side of airports – known as the ramp, where jets are serviced – are still relatively vulnerable to terrorism more than two years after al-Qaida terrorists hijacked and crashed four jumbo jets on the East Coast.

Specifically, the memo advised officials to tighten ramp, or airside, security, where the catering, cleaning, fueling and maintenance of aircraft takes place.

Kleiman is not the first Customs agent to blow the whistle on security lapses following Sept. 11.

As first reported in WorldNetDaily, former Customs Agent Darlene Catalan went public with terrifying charges of corruption and neglect with regard to the safety and security of 5,000 to 10,000 pressurized rail tanker cars that enter the U.S. daily.

Kleiman says she wasn’t just fired by Customs, she was blackballed and kept from meaningful employment for the last four years.

In her report to Ashcroft, she cites recent incidents at New York airports that, she says, illustrate poor security is still the rule:

“The method for smuggling the drugs into the country is the same as the method for smuggling surface-to-air missiles, firearms, biological, chemical or nuclear devices,” Kleiman says in her report to Justice.

Kleiman’s latest report, dated Jan. 27, 2004, makes it clear she believes nothing has significantly changed in airport security – even following the holiday period of heightened precautions and alert status.

“Today, when traveling on a plane, the public sees many people standing by the screening devices, and they are practically forced to strip naked,” she writes. “They get that warm, cozy feeling that the government has enacted safer mechanisms to protect them, which is the perception the government wants to give. But the fact is, the real security threats are on the ramps. And nothing has changed there to make it safer for the public, nor has the personnel changed. It’s all a facade.”

Related stories:

Study: Airport safety no better since 9-11

Feds fear air cargo, ramps open to terror

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