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Authorities round up more than 80 illegal airport workers

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- In a massive crackdown, federal authorities Tuesday rounded up more than 80 workers at Washington-area airports on a variety of charges from illegal immigration to lying about a criminal background, government officials said.

The officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the arrests were continuing at Dulles International Airport, Reagan National Airport and Baltimore Washington International Airport.

The sweep is the latest in a series of arrests of airport workers who were not entitled to their jobs because they were illegal immigrants or had criminal records, the officials said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft was expected to announce the arrests later Tuesday, a joint effort that included the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, federal prosecutors and the Transportation Department's inspector general.

Similar arrests have occurred in recent weeks in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and San Francisco. In all, about 400 workers have been arrested since Sept. 11, including those on Tuesday, officials said.

The roundup is another sign of the problems in airport security that predated the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings.

Many of the arrested employees had access to high-security areas of airports. They have been charged with using phony Social Security numbers or lying about their past, according to the Justice Department and the Transportation Department inspector general.

The investigation, called Operation Tarmac, had spread to 10 airports before Tuesday's arrests.

Those arrested lied about past arrests, falsely claimed U.S. citizenship or submitted phony Social Security numbers, according to indictments already made public.

Many are illegal aliens and could be deported; others face prison terms or fines of up to $250,000, officials said.

Most of the workers arrested had security badges allowing them to get onto planes, ramps, runways and cargo areas, law enforcement officials said. They were employed by private companies, such as those that clean the airplanes or operate airport restaurants.

While law enforcement officials said none of those arrested have been linked to terrorism, some aviation experts said the workers were in position to help smuggle bombs or weapons aboard aircraft.

U.S. authorities believe that the Sept. 11 hijackers carried knives and box cutters past security checkpoints and there was no evidence that the weapons were put on board by rogue employees, a law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.


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