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Flight attendant union faults airport security

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Airport security hasn't improved, even in the wake of the September terrorist attacks, the president of the nation's largest flight attendant union said Tuesday.

Speaking to CNN from O'Hare International Airport -- where a major security breach occurred over the weekend -- Dianna Rushing, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said she was disappointed, but not surprised, by the incident.

"Nothing has really changed -- the training, the personnel at our security checkpoints have not changed. ... If people had been vigilant and been doing their jobs, I believe, it would not have happened," she said.

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Saturday night, Subash Gurung, a 27-year-old native of Nepal, tried to board a plane with nine knives, a stun gun and tear gas. Gurung had carried two of the knives on his person, and they were confiscated at a security checkpoint. The others, however, were not discovered until his carry-on luggage was searched at the gate, shortly before he was to board the plane.

Gurung said he forgot he had packed the knives, and federal authorities have said they don't believe Gurung was involved in any terrorist activity.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, and Gurung -- who was re-arrested Sunday night by the FBI after being released by Chicago police -- is being held without bond on a federal charge of attempting to carry a weapon on an aircraft. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta recommended that United Airlines be fined and that security personnel be given more training. Eight airport security workers were suspended, including a supervisor. All work for Argenbright Security Inc., which said its employees followed proper procedures, but also said it will implement tighter security measures.

Gephardt: Greater need to overhaul security

In Washington, the federal government announced Tuesday it is hiring more security employees on a temporary basis to improve oversight of screening checkpoints run by private contractors at the nation's airports.

The FAA said the move would put more security workers on the job at airports within the next few weeks, in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, a heavy travel weekend.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) said the security breach at O'Hare gives "added emphasis" to the need for Congress to wrap up work on overhauling security at the nation's airports.

"We should have gotten it done, I thought, three weeks ago," Gephardt said in an interview with CNN. "But we gotta get it done now."

The House and Senate must resolve differences in their respective bills before any measure can become law .

'We need to have a total revamping'

Last week, the House approved an aviation security bill that will let the federal government oversee airport security, but does not make airport screeners federal employees.

The Senate bill -- opposed by the White House -- goes further by federalizing security workers at the nation's major airports.

The flight attendants' union supports the Senate version, and Rushing said she hopes lawmakers will "act now" to get the final measure through Congress and to the White House for the president's signature.

"We need to have a total revamping of the entire program," Rushing said. "This has not been taken seriously for many, many years, and now, we're at a crunch time."

In a separate development, authorities in London arrested four young British men returning from the United States after customs officials found combat knives, a stun gun and other weapons in their checked luggage.

Police do not believe the incident was related to any terrorism plots.

-- CNN Chicago Bureau Chief Jeff Flock and Correspondent Kathleen Koch in Washington contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 



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