A CBS4 I-Team investigation now raises serious security concerns about your safety when you fly.
Back in May the I-Team uncovered “Air Travel’s Dirty Little Secret” how often your luggage is ransacked and items stolen when you fly.
Now I-Team investigator Stephen Stock discovered those thefts include weapons that become loose in secure areas.
Packing heat means packing for survival for Eric Rowe.
“I was Security manager for the Miami Heat for three and a half to four years,” said Rowe. Then, “(I was) director of security of Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach.”
Eric Rowe owns his own private security firm based in North Miami-Dade.
“I became director of security at Bank of America tower in downtown Miami,” Rowe said.
That’s why Rowe IMMEDIATELY realized the serious security and safety implications when he discovered his pistol was stolen from his locked luggage after a flight from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale.
“(I) landed in Ft. Lauderdale, and immediately noticed that my bags had been tampered with,” Rowe recalled. “The bags were open, the TSA lock was off. I go over, open up the bag and take a look. My weapon is missing. “
It was a 9 millimeter Desert Eagle handgun worth about 600 dollars.
The gun was part of the arsenal that serve as the tools of Rowe’s trade. The guns are necessary in his job protecting some of the biggest names in the rap music industry.
“Immediately, I notified the airlines, made necessary phone calls to the Tampa police department and the air marshal,” Rowe said.
But Eric Rowe said he never heard back from anybody, not Tampa police, not US Marshals, not TSA. He heard from nobody until the CBS4 I-Team called.
CBS4 I-Team investigator Stephen Stock asked “Were you outraged, angry?”
“The dollar amount I’m not so concerned with,” Rowe replied. “What I am concerned with is, there is a weapon, with ammunition, in a secure area of the airport.”
An exhaustive investigation by the CBS4 I-Team has discovered that Eric Rowe isn’t alone, losing a gun to theft at the airport.
As the I-Team reported back in May, TSA keeps a list of tens of thousands of items reported missing or stolen from airplane luggage by airline passengers around the country.
After taking into account the millions of people who fly every year, the I-Team discovered that according to the latest TSA data available, Miami and Fort Lauderdale rank fifth and sixth respectively in the number of items reported stolen from luggage. The data shows both airports average more than one report of stolen or lost items from luggage every day.
The link to TSA’s raw data can be found in the Electronic Reading Room.
I-Team investigator Stock showed Eric Rowe the numbers that we found.
“Here are the TSA numbers of stolen items from luggage,” Stock said.
Eric Rowe shook his head in amazement.
“This is amazing,” Rowe said. “You know, someone needs to ask the question, what’s happening. Why do we keep turning a blind eye to this? This is staggering. I can’t believe it.”
Aviation security consultant Jim Butler had a similar reaction.
“This has been going on for a very long time,” Butler said. “And they (law enforcement) can’t get a handle on it. They haven’t been able to control it.”
Jim Butler spent more than forty years in law enforcement, including working as Coral Gables police chief, as well as working with federal drug, firearms and security agents.
Butler is now an international security consultant with Miami based Wayne Black and Associates, a firm that provides law enforcement and security services for financial, law firms and corporations worldwide.
“Well, I’ve talked to quite a few people who work in and around the airport and they’re concerned,” Jim Butler told the I-Team.
In fact, two federal law enforcement sources who asked not to be identified told the I-Team that roughly 600 guns a YEAR are voluntarily reported to federal agents as stolen from various forms of transportation across the United States.
That number includes stolen guns from airplanes, trains, buses even moving vans. Another federal source told the I-Team that between 15% and 30% or as many as a third or more of those reports are believed to involve missing or stolen guns connected to air travel.
“So far the security has not improved down there,” Jim Butler said. “And what bothers me is with the outsourcing of some of these airlines (to hire subcontractors to work in baggage.) Now, I would question what type of background they (the airlines) are doing on these people (when they hire them), which is very important. You have to know who’s working down there (in the baggage area.)”
“The implications that someone in a secure area has your weapon, your ammo, does that scare you?” I-Team investigator Stock asked Eric Rowe.
“Yes, absolutely,” Rowe said. “Everyone should be alarmed with the fact that a weapon can come up missing in a secure area and the airlines treat it as just another bag.”
TSA won’t answer questions about any of this.
A TSA spokeswoman repeatedly stressed there are TSA approved locks now available for your luggage which can only be unlocked by TSA employees.
But as the I-Team discovered, Eric Rowe’s case certainly demonstrates those locks can easily be broken, and security breached without an airline passenger ever knowing — until it’s too late.