Former security chief: O'Hare vulnerable to attack

March 3, 2010 5:20:02 PM PST
The former chief of security at O'Hare Airport claims it remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks, in part because the city ignored his warnings about security gaps.

The allegations are in a lawsuit filed against the city by James Maurer.

Mayor Daley is deflecting criticism of O'Hare's security. He says James Maurer is a disgruntled employee.

Maurer rose through Chicago's police ranks to become the chief of patrol. He retired and took over at O'Hare. Maurer says he wants to clear his name and highlight O'Hare's security problems.

"Extremely weak. It's defeatable. It's easily defeatable," said Maurer.

And that's one reason James Maurer is going public. After 41 years with Chicago Police, Maurer retired and took the security job at O'Hare in 2005. He says he was ready to target safety and security issues at one of the nation's largest airports.

When Rosemarie Andolino took over as aviation commissioner a year ago, Maurer says he asked -- several times -- to have a security meeting. Instead, Maurer's lawsuit alleges that Andolino and her top deputy, Ellen O'Connor, continually ignored, dismissed and shunned him.

"The commissioner of the busiest airport in the world, depending on who's taking the survey -- the busiest airport in the world -- never once had a meeting with the head of security," Maurer said.

Maurer says, and his lawsuit states, that he was worried a terrorist could exploit security weaknesses. He says, instead of security, Andolino and O'Connor were focused on the expansion of O'Hare Airport.

"They were more concerned about building new runways and throwing galas to celebrate the modernization project than they were worried about keeping what they had safe," said Keith Hunt, plaintiff's attorney.

Maurer says he kept trying to meet...and then came Sept. 11th, 2009. Maurer and other employees attended ethics training. Afterwards, he says there was a verbal confrontation between him and O'Connor. Two days later, he says O'Connor went to police, alleging he attacked her. Police never charged Maurer with any crimes.

"When she said I'm rude I looked at her and said, 'the rudest person I've ever met in my life is calling me rude?' And I threw up my hands and walked out. That's it," Maurer said.

Thirty minutes after that, Maurer says he was fired.

Wednesday, the mayor had this response to Maurer's lawsuit:

"I think O'Hare, seriously, is a good airport. He's disgruntled. You would be too," said Mayer Daley.

Maurer did not want to reveal too many details about O'Hare. But he did mention problems with the airport's perimeter and an employee parking lot. He claims that the security could be compromised with guns or explosives.

Statement from Rosemarie Andolino, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation:

"We cannot comment on the pending litigation filed today. We want to assure the public, though, that the number one priority for the Chicago Department of Aviation is the safety and security of individuals who travel through and work at O'Hare and Midway International Airports."