Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Wrong Lesson Learned

The security breach at Newark Liberty Airport two days ago was not the result of a lack of full-body scanners, but rather the incompetence of staff to secure an exit to prevent an individual from entering the secured terminal.

Yet, we now have calls to install full body scanners at the airport because the breach shows what exactly?
A security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport that exposed screening gaps — at a time of heightened alert — has led to calls for quick installation of electronic body scanners at one of the busiest jet ports in the nation.

Transportation and federal officials said the Transportation Security Administration must go beyond investigating the breach and quickly install additional body scanners or station bomb-sniffing patrol dogs near security gates.
Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport Monday morning following a security breach the night before stopping air travel.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg criticized the TSA for failing to prevent someone from walking into a secure area of Newark airport Sunday night — just one week after an attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound plane.

Meanwhile, the TSA said passenger screenings were halted about 7 p.m. and Terminal C was shut down more than two hours after an unidentified man entered the terminal through an exit door at 5:30 p.m. He was later seen on tape leaving the terminal about 20 minutes later.

A bystander waiting for relatives to arrive told a security officer assigned to the area about the man, but officials needed to analyze the surveillance tapes to confirm a security breach had occurred before making any decisions about stopping the screenings because the bystander was uncertain of what he saw, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.

The breach also grounded planes for six hours, creating a backlog that delayed some international flights for as long as five hours Monday, said Julie King, a spokeswoman for Continental Airlines.
The scanners might have been useful in detecting a terrorist carrying explosives on his person, like Abdul Mutallab, who tried to blow up the plane he was on with explosives sewn into his underwear and that would have been detonated with a liquid concealed in a syringe, but they would have been of no use for preventing the security breach at the airport.

In fact, this wasn't a screening gap, but a security cordon gap, where the perimeter of the controlled airport spaces were accessed by someone who didn't follow procedure. The TSA worker manning that control point has been reassigned, but we also have a blame game over why it took so long for security to be alerted and for various law enforcement agencies to be involved. It took two hours for federal authorities to lock down Terminal C after the security breach.
McCaffery told them the TSA officer at the gate had been momentarily distracted by a departing passenger’s question, as a rush of people came out the door from a flight that had just landed. While that was happening, an individual walked behind him, against the flow of people, apparently to talk to his girlfriend who had just cleared security and was already on the other side. TSA officials said the incident began some time around 5:20 p.m. but the lockdown was not ordered until 7:45 pm,

Lautenberg said the security breach and the TSA’s response were completely unacceptable.

"This security breakdown was inexcusable, especially when our aviation system was supposedly on high alert," said Lautenberg, calling for a full investigation to determine what went wrong and make sure it never happens again.

Menendez said he plans to specifically discuss with the Port Authority and TSA an expansion of the terminal’s video surveillance system, which is not operated by the TSA.
The video system was controlled by Continental Airlines, and it took time to locate the particular video showing the breach.

Meanwhile, security hasn't exactly been improved at all overseas airports that feed flights to the US, including those in countries that were put on a list for stricter scrutiny.

All the technology in the world can't secure the air traffic infrastructure and passengers if individuals can simply pass through the security perimeter unimpeded, or if the additional scrutiny on certain passengers is not initiated and carried out across the board. The gaps in security will persist.

This doesn't inspire much confidence either. Gothamist reports that metal detectors at JFK airport didn't sound when a woman with a titanium hip implant passed through on several occasions. She alerted TSA and they didn't respond by changing security procedures either.

I can't wait to hear the TSA excuse for this. Michael Yon facebooked that he got handcuffed at SeaTac (call it arrested or merely detained), but not for any national security issues, but rather refusing to answer questions unrelated to transportation security.
Got arrested at the Seattle airport for refusing to say how much money I make. (The uniformed ones say I was not "arrested", but they definitely handcuffed me.) Their videos and audios should show that I was polite, but simply refused questions that had nothing to do with national security. Port authority police eventually came -- they were professionals -- and rescued me from the border bullies.
Back to the tragedy of errors at Newark Liberty: The TSA video system was inoperable at the time of the incident, and the TSA didn't have the phone number to contact Continental Airlines to get their video feed.
That's because CBS 2 has learned that when an unidentified man breached a secure area at Newark on Sunday night, delaying thousands of passengers for hours, the TSA cameras weren't working.

That's right – they weren't even recording, sources said, and needed a reboot, which the agency apparently didn't ask for. That set off a chain reaction of even more missteps that caused needless chaos and inconvenience for several thousand hapless passengers.

With the cameras inoperable, the TSA tried to get a second set of surveillance video from Continental Airlines. But the TSA apparently didn't know the correct telephone number and the specific procedures to get the footage. That caused a two hour delay in identifying the intruder and closing the airport to look for him.

When they finally got the footage, they couldn't find the intruder, discovering later that he had slipped out another entrance 20 minutes after he arrived.

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