Media Watch: Media raises alarms about Miami Airport security

Miami International Airport (MIA) set off its own security alarm recently when the ATF and US Customs agents discovered that a large-scale narcotics and weapons smuggling ring had been operating right under the airport’s nose. Law enforcement officials indicted 58 people, many of them American Airlines (AA) employees or contractors at Miami International Airport. The suspects were reported to have used their security badges to sidestep security in their efforts to traffic drugs and firearms on commercial flights.

Miami International Airport (MIA) set off its own security alarm recently when the ATF and US Customs agents discovered that a large-scale narcotics and weapons smuggling ring had been operating right under the airport’s nose. Law enforcement officials indicted 58 people, many of them American Airlines (AA) employees or contractors at Miami International Airport. The suspects were reported to have used their security badges to sidestep security in their efforts to traffic drugs and firearms on commercial flights.

Miami International Airport (MIA) set off its own security alarm

recently when the ATF and US Customs agents discovered that a

large-scale narcotics and weapons smuggling ring had been operating

right under the airport’s nose. Law enforcement officials indicted 58

people, many of them American Airlines (AA) employees or contractors at

Miami International Airport. The suspects were reported to have used

their security badges to sidestep security in their efforts to traffic

drugs and firearms on commercial flights.



The media blanketed the public with reports of the sting. CNN broadcast

round-the-clock coverage as the story broke, and the following day

reports appeared on the front pages of The New York Times and the Los

Angeles Times, among others. CARMA investigated the drug bust’s impact

on the images of AA and MIA.



Media reports included stinging criticism of the inadequate security

measures used by MIA, which was cited as a major entry point for

narcotics coming into the country. US Attorney General Thomas Scott

denounced MIA’s security as ’dangerous ’ and ’insufficient’ (St.

Petersburg Times, August 26).



The Miami Herald (August 26) offered perhaps the harshest criticism.



It quoted MIA’s own security director agreeing to comparisons of the

airport’s security being like Swiss cheese and a Customs agent as

saying, ’If you can’t smuggle here, you need to find another

career.’



Whereas MIA abstained from any official comment on the sting, AA was

able to deflect much of the criticism by stressing the fact that they

had been aware of the smuggling and had been cooperating with law

enforcement officials since the inception of the undercover program two

years ago.



The airline’s security director, Larry Wansley, played up AA’s

cooperative role while distancing AA from those arrested: ’While we are

disturbed that a small group of employees were part of this smuggling

ring, their activities have been under surveillance by the federal

government and the company departments for quite some time.’ (National

Public Radio, August 25).



Pressure was also taken off AA by reports that no pilots, cabin crew or

management were involved in the smuggling. And other reports highlighted

the fact that other airlines face similar problems.



However, AA’s reputation didn’t emerge unscathed. There were several

reports that referenced past drug busts on the airline. An ATF agent

painted a picture that tied the airline’s name with a scenario that

would make future customers think twice about using the airline.

’Imagine loading up your family heading to Disney World on an AA plane,

and when you go to put your bag in the overhead you’re competing for

space with a bag loaded with a handgun and three hand grenades?’ (Fort

Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, August 26).



The sting was reported to be highly embarrassing to both AA and MIA.



AA appears to have partially deflected blame for the fiasco, while one

wonders if MIA could have diffused criticism by answering the charges

against it. Both will need extensive overhauls in their security

operations if they hope to reassure the flying public that their

security is airtight.



- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International Media Watch can be

found at www. carma.com.



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