The September 11 hijackings suddenly and severely threatened the nation’s ability to travel by air. Ronald Ingleby, Special Agent for the Social Security Administration, developed an effective response to help keep the nation moving.
Within days of the attacks, Ingleby began verifying the employment status of thousands of Salt Lake City airport employees to find potential terrorists. To do so, he checked the national Social Security computer database and found that thousands of airport employees nationwide were working under false Social Security numbers. His work took on even greater meaning given the approach of the Winter Olympics, scheduled to be held in the city in February 2002.
Ingleby obtained airport badge application records critical to conducting an investigation of a large, international airport. Alarmingly, within a week Ingleby discovered that 59 Salt Lake City airport employees with high-level security badges and another 125 with lower-level badges were working under false or non-work Social Security numbers. He then arranged for Utah Homeland Security agents to research badge applications for concealed criminal histories.
Based on his findings, Ingleby and the US Attorney’s Office launched an investigative task force called “Operation Safe Travel” with support from Utah Homeland Security, the US Customs Service, Salt Lake City Airport Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. According to the local Assistant US Attorney, between 15 and 20 agencies in Utah were working on the project at its peak and Ingleby was directly at the center of that group effort.
On December 6, 2001, 59 airport employees who worked on or around aircraft and two security-screeners were indicted for misusing Social Security numbers on airport badge applications. Another eight employees were indicted for other federal violations. Five days later, the Operation Safe Travel Task Force arrested 50 of the indicted airport employees.
Ingleby’s work has significantly bolstered both domestic airline security and national security. Security operations based on his model are being conducted to ensure airport safety nationwide under the name of “Operation Tarmac.” To date, 29 airport operations have netted 729 arrests. The Justice Department also plans to use Operation Safe Travel as a model for investigating airports, nuclear facilities and military bases across the country.
This is not the first time Ingleby has made a difference through public service. He developed a method of utilizing the Social Security Administration records system to identify persons from terrorism-sponsor countries who are using false identities. During his 14 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Customs Service prior to joining the Social Security Administration, his work resulted in timely convictions of drug smugglers and money launderers, as well as seizures of their assets.
Ingleby’s leadership and ability to build a team from disparate agencies helped create a cohesive response to a catastrophic crisis. Our skies are safer and our nation is more secure because of his work.