The Transportation Security Administration has launched an internal investigation after a security checkpoint at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport was left unattended and unsecured for 90 minutes earlier this month.
Three agents have been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
The agency said the agents left the checkpoint at Gate E8 from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Dec. 16. Personnel from the airport's Department of Public Safety discovered the gate was not secure during a routine patrol, the TSA said.
TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley called it a "serious and unacceptable security failure."
"An immediate review of closed-circuit television tapes verified that no passengers or items entered the sterile area while the gate was unsecure," the TSA said in a statement.
But Dallas-based aviation security expert Denny Kelly said an hour and a half is too long. It could have put thousands of travelers at risk, he said.
"When you leave a gate like that open, they can go anywhere they want all over the world and never have to be checked again," he said.
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Denny said the airport should have been emptied and rescreened passengers.
"They want to talk about our security, how good it is, but it's not good," Kelly said.
McCauley said the TSA is focused ensuring the lapse in security never happens again.
The TSA's complete statement on the incident:
On Wednesday, December 16, 2009, at the conclusion of screening operations at DFW, the "E8" checkpoint gate was not appropriately secured. Personnel from the DFW Department of Public Safety (DPS) discovered the unsecured gate during a routine patrol of the area. DPS promptly contacted TSA, at which time officers responded and properly secured the gate. An immediate review of closed circuit television tapes verified that no passengers or items entered the sterile area while the gate was unsecure.
TSA finds this unacceptable and has moved swiftly to conduct a complete investigation and take all appropriate corrective action.