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Arrests a 'wake-up call' for U.S. airports

100 workers arrested at D.C. area airports

From Kelli Arena and Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal authorities arrested more than 100 workers at Washington area airports Tuesday on a variety of charges, including immigration and security credentials fraud.

Attorney General John Ashcroft called the arrests "a wake-up call for every airport in America."

"These individuals are charged with gaining access to secure areas of our airports by lying on security applications, using false or fictitious Social Security numbers or committing various immigration frauds," Ashcroft said.

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The sweeps at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport were the latest in a nationwide operation aimed at tightening security among airport employees.

Operation Tarmac, which was launched after the September 11 terror attacks, has resulted in more than 330 arrests at 12 airports.

Ashcroft said 68 employees were arrested at Dulles and 26 at Reagan National. Three were fugitives from justice on state charges, he said. Another 10 employees at Baltimore-Washington were arrested, authorities said.

The workers were arrested on a variety of immigration-related charges, including visa overstays. The charges also include providing false information on employment applications and fraudulently obtaining security credentials for restricted access areas.

If convicted, many of the defendants face maximum penalties that range from two to 10 years in prison, plus fines of as much as $250,000 fine and deportation, Ashcroft said.

"Let me be clear: There will be zero tolerance of security breaches at our nation's airports," he said.

He hailed the operation as a multi-jurisdictional effort that has "come to define our effort to prevent terrorist attacks."

None of the workers arrested by INS officials is suspected of any connection to terrorism, officials said.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty noted that one of the hijacked airplanes on September 11 originated from Dulles and "that is why we formed this task force."

"Our goal was to identify as many individuals as possible who presented a risk to airport security and consequently to the traveling public," McNulty said.

As a result, he said, authorities investigated records of about 15,000 employees at Dulles and 5,000 at Reagan National.

"I can report to you now that because of this operation, northern Virginia's two major airports are safer places," he said.


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