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Recent RDU Arrests Have Travelers Wondering About Security

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MORRISVILLE, N.C. — Airport security is supposed to be tight. When people fly, they are searched, scanned and scrutinized.

But what about airport workers? How much scrutiny are they under?

More than 4,000 workers wear RDU security badges, giving them access to some of the airport's most secure areas. But this week, as part of a federal sting called Operation Tarmac, eight of them were arrested -- all of them illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Officials said all eight had falsified information on their RDU badge applications.

In order to get on a plane these days, travelers have to go through a variety of security checkpoints. But the recent arrests now have travelers wondering about the airport personnel.

"The fact that these people are here, working here, and nobody realizes they are not supposed to be here, how easy would it be for someone who wants to do something bad to get in and do that?" traveler Tara Roberts said. "That's scary."

Almost everyone who works at the airport is fingerprinted and undergoes a criminal background search. But the checks on the workers who were arrested came up clean.

"RDU does not have the authority to cross-reference social security numbers and INS numbers," RDU spokesperson Mindy Hamlin said. "The federal government has the authority, and that's what the investigation was about."

Most of the arrested employees worked for a cleaning service. One was a curbside baggage handler. They all had limited access to secure areas.

Airport officials said the arrests show heightened security measures are working. Some travelers agreed.

"I think it shows you they're keeping track of everything and checking up on folks," traveler Eddie Loving said.

Operation Tarmac has been in effect since 9-11 and netted more than 500 arrests nationwide. Last year, 66 workers were arrested at Charlotte-Douglas International.