Miami airport probe urged into 'security breaches' Feinstein says inspector reported problems to her

November 29, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

MIAMI -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is asking the Clinton administration to look into "numerous security breaches" Miami International Airport reported to her by a senior U.S. Customs inspector in Miami.

Feinstein, a Democrat, sent a letter Nov. 8 to the Treasury and Transportation secretaries outlining 22 security lapses at the airport allegedly committed by Customs, the Metro-Dade County Aviation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Recently, I have become aware of a very disturbing situation regarding the Customs Service's procedures at Miami International Airport," Feinstein wrote to Robert E. Rubin of the Treasury Department and Federico F. Pena of Transportation.

"It has been reported to me that there are numerous security breaches at the Miami airport which could or do allow drugs and illegal immigrants to slip through, and could allow terrorists to commit acts of sabotage."

Among the problems detailed in the letter:

* Unauthorized personnel roaming restricted areas with stolen IDs.

* An 11-hour gap when no Customs inspectors work on the

airport ramps.

* Lost or stolen magnetic keys that go unreported.

* A Customs sterile area that can be entered without detection through the American Airlines Admiral's Club.

* Inspectors "are discouraged from enforcing security regulations an effort by management to avoid negative response from the airline industry."

Customs spokesman Michael Sheehan in Miami said Customs would not give a detailed response until it had reviewed the letter.

"The Customs Service is in the process of responding to Senator Feinstein's letter," Sheehan said Wednesday.

"The issues raised in the letter are very serious and of great concern to the Customs Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies, both in Miami and throughout the country."

Metro-Dade officials said they were studying Feinstein's letter and had little to say Wednesday.

American Airlines officials took issue with the letter's assertion that the airline had received special treatment from Customs and had failed to uphold its security requirements.

"We would take vigorous exception to the whole notion that we receive preferential treatment at MIA," said American spokesman Becker.

Feinstein's letter does not identify the Customs official who contacted her office with the detailed list of security problems.

But the Miami Herald has reported that the Customs whistleblower is Croley Forester, 42, a senior Customs inspector who until a few months ago was in charge of a six-inspector Rover Team responsible for searching baggage coming off international flights into Miami.

Forester declined to be interviewed by the Herald.

Customs officials said they could not comment on Forester because his status as a whistleblower protects him from any official actions that might be perceived as retaliation.

Forester is known as an aggressive law enforcer who has been responsible in the past for several large cocaine seizures at the port of Miami and the airport.

Some sources familiar with airport operations described Forester a "disgruntled" Customs employee who was "overzealous" in his attempts to enforce airport security.

Some at the airport complained that Forester, a tall, 300-pounder, was physically intimidating to other airport employees.

But even his detractors concede that at least some of the information he gave to Feinstein appears to be accurate.

Several law enforcement officers who have worked with Forester say he was never belligerent on the job.

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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