ATLANTA — The breakup of a gun smuggling ring allegedly involving a current and former Delta Air Lines employee has exposed what a New York prosecutor described as an “egregious breach of security” at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said Tuesday that the investigation was “deeply troubling” — not only for the havoc the gun running unleashed on the streets but because of the vulnerability to acts of terrorism on air travel that it revealed.
“If they can put guns on the plane this time,” he told reporters, “they could have easily put a bomb on one of those planes.”
Two men worked together to smuggle guns and ammunition on at least 20 flights from Atlanta to New York from May to December, officials said.
“We have an egregious breach of security” at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport because airport employees “are not required to go through screening,” said Thompson.
In total, 153 guns were recovered as part of a complex investigation that Thompson outlined by using charts and surveillance video during a press conference in New York.
Eugene Harvey, who worked for Delta at the Atlanta airport, was arrested at his home in Atlanta on Monday, authorities said.
ccording to Harvey’s arrest warrant affidavit, here’s how the operation worked:
— Harvey used his security clearance to help provide guns to a passenger named Mark Quentin Henry after Henry cleared security.
— Henry, the former employee, allegedly brought the firearms in his carry-on luggage on at least five flights from Atlanta to New York between May 1 and December 10.
— During that time frame, Henry supplied 129 handguns and two assault rifles to co-conspirators in New York, the affidavit states.
— One of those co-conspirators ended up selling the firearms to an undercover New York police officer.
“Gun violence is tearing our country apart,” Thompson said. “In Brooklyn, far too many people have been victims of gun violence.”
Reese McCranie, spokesperson for the Atlanta airport, said officials have cooperated with the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration and other agencies and was reviewing its security.
“As part of the TSA- and airport-approved multi-layered security plan, all employees must pass extensive criminal history record checks, security threat assessments, and security training prior to being approved for access to secured areas,” he said in a statement. “Additionally, employees are subjected to continuous vetting and random inspections.”
In a statement, the TSA said it took “the potential for insider threats at airports very seriously.”
“TSA administers security threat assessments and airport criminal checks for all airline employees prior to receiving credentials and access privileges,” the statement said. “This is a recurring vetting process that involves random checks. TSA continues to closely partner with law enforcement on this investigation and, where possible, will use the findings from the investigation to improve current processes.”
Thompson praised Delta for being cooperative from start to finish of the undercover probe.
Henry was arrested in New York on December 10 after landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport with 18 handguns in his bag — seven of which were loaded, the affidavit says.
“The problem at this airport in Atlanta is that the employees don’t have to go through screening,” Thompson said. “Henry knew that. Henry would give Harvey the guns outside the airport. Harvey would go through. All he had to to was badge himself in … and he’s in the terminal with the guns.”
Henry told investigators that he had flown from Atlanta to New York with the 18 firearms and associated ammunition in his carry-on bag, FBI task force agent George Taylor wrote in the affidavit.