LAX Security Problems More Widespread than Officially Acknowledged

Sources tell NBCLA there are potentially hundreds of points where security at LAX could be compromised, allowing access to restricted areas of the airport, and it all has to do with problems plaguing a high tech security system.

By Frank Snepp
|  Wednesday, Jul 13, 2011  |  Updated 8:46 PM PDT
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LAX Security Problems More Widespread than Officially Acknowledged

Malfunctioning High-Tech Doors at LAX Could Be a Security Risk

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LAX Security Problems More Widespread than Officially Acknowledged

Sources tell NBCLA there are potentially hundreds of points where security at LAX could be compromised, allowing access to restricted areas of the airport, and it all has to do with problems plaguing a high tech security system.
More Photos and Videos

Maintenance and software problems are adding to the troubles plaguing critical high-tech security doors at LAX, according to new information provided to NBC4.

Following our initial report last week about the malfunctioning equipment, additional inside sources have told us that the problems could potentially compromise security at hundreds of restricted LAX locations where the doors control access.

The doors in question are known as “ACAMS doors” – ACAMS for “Access Control and Alarm Monitoring Systems” -- and are billed by airport officials as fool-proof early warning devices.

Unless you're cleared to enter these computerized portals -- and have the proper pin number and magnetic badge to activate the keypad controls – hidden sensors are supposed to send an electronic alert to the Airport Police.

But many tips received from insiders in recent days confirm NBC4’s initial finding that the system doesn't work very well.

Sources who have worked at LAX and who know the ACAMS system first-hand say that more than 600 security doors in the network are not computer-programmed to summon police directly if a terrorist or troublemaker tries to bust the lock.

They also say the stakes demand something better. By their account, some of these 600 doors provide access to what they call the “spinal chord” of the airport -- to electrical vaults, computer banks, phone and equipment rooms, all interior areas that should be off-limits to all but the most highly cleared personnel.

They also tell NBC4 that an even more sophisticated security-door system, which controls access to the tarmac itself, has problems of its own.

Each of these doors, known as “107 ACAMS doors,” has a direct automatic dial-up connection to the Airport Police dispatcher, enabling him to send an instant response team to 150 locations around the airport.

But, according to these sources, “the 107” doors are among the worst offenders identified in our report last week. They allegedly malfunction with troubling frequency, staying open when they should lock and often sending out false alarms or false all-clear signals.

Sources also say that no one does inspections or maintenance checks on the mechanical components of these doors, on the hinges and handles that can corrode in the sea air around LAX, except when a malfunction actually occurs – which could be too late to stop a terrorist.

What’s more, according to these sources, for nearly a month – up until very recently – a computer link-up, an “interface” vital to airport security, was on the blink. A simple software upgrade apparently caused the glitch, making it difficult for police computers to monitor security doors leading to some restricted areas. The system reportedly is now back in operation.

Not all the security issues facing LAX are technical, according to individuals providing insider information to NBC4. The Airport Police are overextended, they say, with only approximately 100 officers deployed inside the terminals during each shift – too few, they say, to cover all potential hotspots effectively.

And, these sources say, a recent security breach, in which a Nigerian-American student cleared screening procedures with an expired boarding pass, was everybody’s fault, with the Airport Police and other security officials all being caught off-guard.

Official sources, who prefer to speak only on background, tell NBC4 that the Transportation Security Administration is aware of the problems outlined in this story and is looking into ways of standardizing airline boarding passes so that TSA screeners can more easily recognize expired ones. They say that different airlines issue such different boarding passes that no screener can keep up with them or insure that he has read each one correctly. They also point out there are no electronic scanners at the screening stations to insure that a boarding pass is properly authenticated.

In a written statement, the LAX Airport Police say that questions posed by NBC4 for this story are based on “inaccurate” information. But they decline to specify what they have in mind, and add that they cannot discuss this information because it is “security sensitive.” They conclude: “the traveling public can be assured that security at LAX is not compromised.”

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