January 07, 2010, 8:40PM
The video of the Newark Liberty International Airport security breach that was finally released to the public on Thursday showed what people who had seen it earlier already described — and more.
The security officer leaving his post. The female passenger helping the man under the security ribbon. The goodbye kiss.
Video footage of the Newark Airport Security breach
The footage was grainy and the faces hard to make out, but security experts and others who looked at said the problems at the airport were clear.
"It’s a total screw-up in every sense," said Fred Cate, a professor and security expert at Indiana University.
Cate was one of many security experts who viewed the video for the first time Thursday; many of them found problems that had not yet been pointed out.
"You have people right up against the exit lane," Cate said, referring to secure and non-secure areas shown in the video being separated only by a rope. "In most airports, you have a corridor. But Newark doesn’t have room. They need some low walls to create an exit, so you don’t have people behind a taped barrier."
The video was made public after U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) demanded it from the Transportation Security Administration and Port Authority in an effort to get help from the public in identifying the mystery man who caused Sunday night’s breach inside Terminal C.
TransportationAn image from the video of the Newark Liberty International Airport security breach on Sunday.
Among the additional revelations, the video begs the question of how one TSA security officer could possibly keep track of so many people in the exit lane.
Nonetheless, it does show the officer was away from his post — a small desk near the area where people wait for arriving passengers — for 85 seconds.
While the officer is away from his post at the Terminal C-1 exit lane, a female passenger who had already been screened leans over the same desk to help a man get inside the secure area. The two embrace and walk away hand-in-hand, 30 seconds before the unsuspecting security officer returns to his post.
"I was enraged" by the video, Lautenberg said during a news conference at the airport last night. "To think, here’s a guard post and a narrow corridor — and this guy literally walked through. How could that happen?"
The TSA has said the man, who was not a passenger, later left the airport after seeing off the woman on her flight. Authorities are still trying to locate him.
"It really looked like there was some kind of pre-arranged planning — that he was going to go with her into the controlled area," said Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, who said his students pointed out problems revealed by the video all day.
The breach, reported by another passenger, shut down the major terminal at one of America’s busiest airports for nearly six hours, stranding thousands of passengers and tying up flights around the world.
When TSA officers went to review the security breach on a video surveillance recorder focused on the exit lane, they realized the camera system hadn’t been working for six days. That prompted them to try to access the video by Continental Airlines, the main tenant in Terminal C. But there was a delay because TSA called a number different from Continental’s operations center.
TSA was advised by Continental to call the operations center from now on, and TSA has volunteered to check the camera system regularly and work with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, to make sure their cameras are working properly.
Airport security areas should be standardized around the country, said George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com, a travel web site.
"And obviously, this guy should be fired immediately," Hobica said of the security officer. "He caused a huge amount of monetary damage — probably in the hundreds of thousands when everything is tallied up in missed vacation days, wasted jet fuel and police overtime."
The TSA officer has been placed on administrative leave, an agency spokesperson said.
TSA has also added an extra officer in the exit corridor and stationed the officers farther back in the corridor to give them a better view of people walking the wrong way.
TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said the agency is conducting a comprehensive review of the incident.
"The surveillance video from Newark Liberty Airport clearly shows that a TSA officer’s actions led to the Sunday incident," the TSA said in a statement yesterday after the video was released by Lautenberg’s office. "We will use this hard lesson to reinforce the sharp focus and tight discipline at all our stations across the country and ensure we maintain the public trust."
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) last night pushed for additional measures. He called for video surveillance that continuously functions and is continuously monitored, as well as additional security layers to compensate for human error, such as electronic sensor equipment or one-way gates.
Menendez called the breach "completely unacceptable" and cited horror stories from Sunday night, including a member of the Armed Forces who was caught up in the delay and feared he would be classified as AWOL.
Christopher Falkenberg, a former U.S. Secret Service agent and chief executive of Insite Security, a New York security consulting firm, said the TSA should consider installing turnstiles or revolving doors to restrict access to secure areas.
"It’s simple technology that exists in every New York City subway," he said.
Sunday night’s breach unnerved people for the security holes it exposed at Newark Liberty, more than eight years terrorists passed through the airport’s screening, undetected, on Sept. 11, 2001, and took over a plane that eventually crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania.
The TSA should use Sunday’s incident as an opportunity to improve, said Michael Wildes, an immigration attorney, anti-terror expert and former mayor of Englewood.
"A security system reduced to rote procedures and routine cannot suffice," he said. "We should use Israel’s system as a model. The airport should be a sterile experience, and security intelligence should begin when travelers book their tickets."
Douglas Laird, an aviation security consultant who formerly was director of security for Northwest Airlines, said finding the man who caused the breach might not be easy.
"In all my days at Northwest Airlines, we probably had 15 of these a year worldwide," he said. "In no place did they ever find the person who caused the breach."
By Mike Frassinelli and Joseph R. Perone/The Star-Ledger
Staff writers Brian Murray and Ted Sherman contributed to this report.