Last updated: Sunday January 10, 2010, 12:43 PM
BY FRANK LAUTENBERG
Frank Lautenberg is the senior U.S. senator from New Jersey.
The Sunday Opinion section went to press before Haisong Jiang was arrested in connection with the security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport. U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's commentary on airport security could not be updated to reflect that breaking news.
A WEEK AGO, Newark Liberty International Airport was filled with thousands of passengers flying in and out of New Jersey – returning from a visit with family, or traveling for work. Many had gone through security already, emptying their pockets and taking off their shoes, willing to do so to ensure their safety and security at the airport and in the air.
Meanwhile, not far from the gates and near an airport exit, an unidentified man was lurking. He wanted to get inside the airport, but not through the legal channels like everyone else.
Between this man and the rest of the airport and its innocent travelers stood a single TSA guard. That guard left his post, and the intruder glanced around, slipped under a rope, and snuck into the airport, where he was free to roam.
Make no mistake – this action was a crime. The man’s purpose and his very identity remain unknown. That is why we must find him and question him.
What happened at Newark Airport last Sunday night was completely unacceptable and must never be repeated at any airport. We are all too aware that terrorists are growing more sophisticated and will seek any way possible to smuggle deadly explosives aboard an airplane to kill our people.
It would seem obvious that the Transportation Security Administration is doing absolutely everything within its power to keep Americans safe from potential terrorists.
Need for improvement
But this security breach makes it clear that the safety measures this agency is using must be improved. Every single day, 90,000 passengers come through Newark airport; nearly two million passengers at airports across the country. Their lives and well-being are at stake, and we have to do better.
That’s why I met with TSA officials immediately after the incident, called for an investigation and, most recently, demanded that TSA release the footage of the breach. The sharing of this video will help us locate the interloper and further the ongoing probe. A Senate committee hearing on these events will also take place on January 20th.
In our shocked response to this threat, we found several steps that would have prevented this intrusion, or at least helped law enforcement act more quickly to eliminate the threat and apprehend the suspect. At the time of the breach, only one TSA agent was responsible for guarding terminal exits at Newark. That is not sufficient. Security at critical areas of the airport has to be beefed up.
Further, the security cameras used by the TSA weren’t working properly so the agency had to scramble to get its hands on Continental Airlines’ camera footage to determine what happened. There is no reason for any security camera used by TSA at Newark or any other airport to be broken. TSA has to ensure that all the cameras they use are working. I am pleased that on the heels of this incident, the TSA has ordered all regional security managers to guarantee that security cameras are functioning and are tested.
Nevertheless, security cameras are not required in our nation’s airports — and they are not in place at all checkpoints and exits.
At the same time, the TSA does not have immediate access to every security camera at airports. Security cameras must be standard, widespread and available to TSA.
Finally, the Port Authority police, who play a critical role in maintaining safety at Newark, were not notified of the breach until an hour after the security breakdown occurred.
That is inexcusable.
Communication and coordination between the TSA, the Port Authority, the airlines and other law enforcement agencies must be improved.
A week ago, Newark Airport was needlessly thrown into panic and chaos. For 20 minutes, an unknown individual who could have been armed with a gun or a bomb wandered through the airport. What’s more, more than 150 flights and 16,000 passengers were affected by major delays as a result of this breach.
One of those passengers was a member of the Armed Forces who feared he would be classified as AWOL due to the delay.
We have to enhance security at the airport to make sure this major failure in our security system never happens again.
Our aviation system is safe – but just one error can crack confidence in our system and have devastating consequences.
Our world changed forever on Sept. 11, and with that came the need for an impenetrable screen to protect our people from terror assaults. The cardinal principle must be the ability of our citizens to move freely without worry for the safety of themselves and their families.
Until that protection is 1000 percent, we dare not rest.