Screen and Screen Again

Forget Victoria's Secret. Argenbright Security has a few secrets of its own.

If these well-paid screeners frisk her in a federally authorized way, that's all right with DeGette. The congresswoman is used to setting off security alarms, since she has a metal hip. "I've been patted down twice at DIA," she says. "I'd rather have it that way than the other way."

But at DIA, officials still seem more concerned with putting a touchy-feely spin to the pat-down policy than they are with Argenbright's sketchy past. "I don't believe there is any reason for you to be 'outraged' at the security procedures at DIA," airport spokesman Chuck Cannon wrote to one woman who was upset at the treatment. "Pat-downs are performed only when an alarm sounds during the wanding process. Every alarm must be cleared, or the person will not be allowed through the screening area.

"To clear an alarm, the attendant must pat-down the area that set off the alarm. The attendant wears rubber gloves and conducts the pat-down with the back of his/her hands. There are strict procedures that the attendants must follow, and supervisors are in the area. I have personally watched a number of pat-downs of both men and women and there was no prodding, probing, squeezing or groping involved."

And if there were, well, Argenbright is United's problem, anyway -- or at least it was until the Department of Justice re-entered the picture last week.

"All we are is the shell," says mayoral spokesman Andrew Hudson, reiterating the city's position that since Argenbright contracts with United to provide security screening, the city really has no control over the situation -- even though Denver owns the airport.

Fortunately for DIA concessionaires, the city takes a different approach to businesses that lease space within that shell; on Monday, Mayor Wellington Webb announced a four-point relief program for companies operating in and out of DIA that have been hit hard by recent events. And lately, the press office has been sending out helpful hints for travelers who want to avoid problems at security screening points: "The latest tip includes having travelers remove all jewelry from their entire body before walking through the metal detectors," last Friday's release offered. "This is especially important with jewelry involved in body piercing. Some of this jewelry is not always visible to the naked eye, yet it still sets off the metal detectors." (So far, jewel theft has not turned up on the list of Argenbright employee convictions.)

Besides, DIA officials have a few security issues of their own to worry about. The Federal Aviation Administration had given airports until October 10 to issue new security badges for all employees; about 3,000 of DIA's badges have yet to be revalidated. "To the airport's knowledge," the press office reports, "no airport employee failed to have a badge revalidated because the employee was a convicted felon..."

No, they probably thought it would be easier just to sign on at Argenbright, which last week was running ads in Denver's dailies promising security-screening wages of $12 an hour.

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