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Kenneth Mead, inspector general of the Department of Transportation, testified in Congress last week that 80 percent, or more, of the security screeners at Dulles International Airport in nearby northern Virginia are not U.S. citizens.

The hijacked American Airlines flight that smashed into the Pentagon on September 11 originated at Dulles.

At a Sept. 20 hearing, when asked the citizenship status of the screeners at Dulles, Mead said that “a substantial percentage of them are not U.S. citizens.”

“What percent?” asked Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

“I think it’s about 80 percent. It may be somewhat more,” said Mead.

“Eighty percent of the people checking for terrorists at Dulles Airport are not American citizens?” asked Rogers in disbelief.

“I believe that’s so, sir,” said Mead.

“What is wrong with this picture?” commented Rogers.

Federal law requires that such workers be either citizens or legal residents.

Argenbright Security, a subsidiary of the British company Securicor, holds contracts at 46 U.S. airports and provides about 40 percent of all U.S. airport security personnel. Before Sept. 11, according to a report in the Washington Times, the FAA fined Argenbright $1 million and placed the firm on 36 months probation for “failing to conduct background checks on its airport-security employees in Philadelphia.”

Argenbright did not return calls from Human Events.

The FBI reportedly found knives hidden between seat cushions on planes grounded on Sept. 11. Those knives, and the weapons actually used by the terrorists who seized the flights that day, could well have been planted by baggage handlers or other airport workers with access to planes.

Since Sept. 14, Mead testified, the government has “arrested 12 non-U.S. citizens who illegally obtained security badges necessary to gain admittance to secure areas at another major U.S. airport.”

The Government Accounting Office found in a report issued last week that the yearly turnover for baggage screeners exceeded 100 percent at most large airports. This means that the average baggage screener has very little experience, and that the firms that employ these workers have to hire new ones before they have had much time to check their backgrounds.

The Airport Security Improvement Act of 2000 requires FBI criminal checks for certain employees. This law is already in effect at larger airports but is not scheduled to go fully into effect at smaller airports until the end of 2003. It does not require checks on current employees, only new hires.

Mead testified that it may not be feasible to do good background checks on immigrants who have not been in this country for long. He said the government should consider requiring credit checks and proof of citizenship and employ “an automated profiling system that takes into consideration factors including an individual’s place of birth.”

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