A pilot based at San Francisco International Airport has resigned from an anti-terrorist program that allows him to carry a gun onboard after he posted behind-the-scenes videos on the Internet showing what he considers lax security procedures for airport ground crews.
The pilot, a Sacramento-area resident in his 50s who has not released his name or airline, has been the target of a Transportation Security Administration probe since federal officials discovered the YouTube videos Nov. 30. The videos, which the pilot took with his cell phone, have since been taken down.
But snippets of the recordings the pilot gave to a Sacramento-area television station show that SFO workers on the ground are given access to passenger-restricted areas by swiping a security card. He claims their belongings and any cargo they are transporting are not checked, and there are no guards at the door.
"As you can see, airport security is kind of a farce," the pilot said in one video. "It's only smoke and mirrors so that you people believe there is actually something going on here."
Other footage shows him holding a large axlike weapon stored in the cockpit.
His attorney, Santa Ana-based Don Werno, said the pilot posted five similar videos on YouTube before authorities asked him to take them down. The sixth and final video he recorded featured four U.S. air marshals and two local sheriff's deputies visiting his home to take away his federally issued firearm as part of an ongoing investigation.
A letter the TSA sent the pilot, which Werno provided with his client's name redacted, said the Federal Air Marshals Service was suspending him as a federal flight deck officer pending a review.
The U.S. government created the flight deck officer program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to allow qualified pilots and other onboard personnel to carry firearms during flights and receive training from air marshals, enabling them to help protect against attacks.
The man will continue serving as a pilot, since the flight deck officer role is voluntary and doesn't come with any perks, said Werno, who noted the video was meant as a wake-up call.
"This is what he believes is a major national security problem," Werno said Friday.
It's unclear if the TSA investigation now becomes moot, since Werno said the pilot already resigned from the program. The letter said that release of sensitive information "may result in civil penalty or other action."
In a statement released Friday, the TSA said it took action because federal flight deck officers "must be able to maintain sensitive security information as a condition of the program."
The agency said that, because it issues the firearms and credentials as part of the program, it reviews each possible violation and "acts accordingly, up to and including removing an individual from the assigned role."
"As to access control at SFO, TSA is confident in the tools the airport has implemented and reminds passengers there are security measures in place that are both seen and unseen," the TSA statement said.
Still, critics of the agency claim the videos shine a light on what they say are holes in the security system.
"I believe these are brave maneuvers in order to expose the frailties that exist regarding TSA," said Kate Hanni, executive director of Flyersrights.org, who called the TSA reaction to the video ridiculous. "The TSA simply does not want anyone to know how ineffective they are."