With new technology now available to thwart rogue airport security personnel, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Wednesday that Buffalo Niagara International Airport would be the ideal place to test it.
During a brief airport stop, the senator told reporters that he supports anything that will prevent incidents like those that led to this month's arrest of Minnetta Walker, a Transportation Security Administration agent charged with helping drug dealers avoid security checkpoints at the airport in Cheektowaga.
A drug dealer's ability to avoid airport security with inside help, Schumer said, raises the specter of terrorists also slipping through the many levels of airport protection.
"What if a TSA agent helped a terrorist?" he asked. "The result would be a catastrophe."
Schumer emphasized the vast majority of airport security personnel are dedicated employees whom he credits with ensuring the safety of air travelers. But he notes that the Walker arrest now raises questions.
Walker, 43, was arrested March 1 on charges of tipping off a suspected trafficker that undercover drug agents were tailing him, and on other occasions, of accompanying alleged traffickers as they went through security screenings at the airport. She faces a felony charge of conspiring to defraud the government by interfering with security measures at the airport.
Now, Schumer says, innovations in airport security can help prevent similar situations by automatically linking electronic identification scanners to watch lists, removing the potential for human error or corruption. Set up at airport security gates across the country, Schumer said, the new device will:
*Scan and verify information provided by an airline passenger to board a flight.
*Electronically obtain the passenger identification and compare it to terrorist and no-fly watch lists.
*Scan passports to allow homeland security officials to focus interior enforcement resources on a far smaller pool of individuals who have overstayed their visa.
"What happened in Buffalo is a jarring wake-up call that we must do a better job at airport security, and launching this cutting edge, identity-verifying system is exactly the response needed," he said.
While the Homeland Security Department has already approved New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport for testing the new technology in a major airport, he said Buffalo fits the perfect criteria for a midsized facility.
"They haven't yet chosen a medium-sized airport," he said. "I want it to be Buffalo."
"The safety of Western New York families and business people is simply too important to wait," he added.
Schumer has now followed up on a June 2010 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano requesting the new technology with another letter outlining what he calls an urgent need.
"Unfortunately, as the events in the Buffalo airport have demonstrated, time is of the essence for getting these scanners up and running," Schumer wrote to Napolitano. "We can no longer wait for more criminal acts to occur at our airports to develop a sense of urgency with regard to installing these scanners."
On other topics, Schumer:
*Reiterated his call for President Obama to proceed with care in his deployment of military forces in Libya.
"My watchword is caution," he said. "I would be leery of going beyond where it is now, both in scope and in time."
*Announced that in response to the request from him and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., Research in Motion, the manufacturer of BlackBerry smart phones, will remove from its online store any applications that help drunken drivers evade police.