Newark airport security scrutinized during congressional tour

Last updated: Tuesday January 12, 2010, 9:06 PM
State House Bureau

Newark airport again served as a backdrop for national security concerns Tuesday as congressional leaders toured the facility to determine what led to last week’s security breach.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, called for an audit that would identify “security lapses that may be occurring or have occurred” at the nation’s 10 largest airports, including Newark Liberty International Airport.

Lee, joined by Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said the audit would determine what’s needed to prevent breaches based on threat levels and air traffic at Newark and elsewhere.

“There is no letting your guard down in securing the homeland,” said Lee, who heads the Transportation, Security and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the House’s Homeland Security Committee.

Lee followed U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and other congressional leaders who have appeared at the airport to call for changes after a man slipped under a security ribbon inside Terminal C on Jan. 3.

A security video showed the man slipped through after a guard briefly left his post. The guard, whom the Associated Press identified as Ruben Hernandez of Newark, has been placed on administrative leave.

Haisong Jiang, 28, a Rutgers University graduate student, will appear in Newark Municipal Court on Jan. 28 to answer a petty disorderly persons charge.

Lautenberg, who held two press conferences at Newark last week, also said Tuesday he wants Congress to require operable security cameras at all airport terminal checkpoints and exits, and increase the penalties for security breaches.

Lautenberg said the Jan. 3 incident “exposed a bigger problem, that our aviation security system has fundamental weaknesses.”

“I’m going to close these gaps in our homeland security shield,” he said.

The Jan. 3 security breach shut down Terminal C for more than six hours, delayed 108 departing flights and 50 arriving flights, canceled 27 flights and affected 16,000 passengers

Lee and Dent toured the site of the breach Tuesday and reviewed Newark’s security cameras before speaking at a press conference. There, they called on the federal government to perform an audit that would review training and security measures that are used to “protect the homeland.”

The audit, Lee said, could lead to more “behavioral profiling” that would compel security personnel to investigate individuals who act suspiciously.

“We should have a roadmap that takes into consideration what happened here,” she said, referring to Newark airport. “It’s very important for us to have something we can put our hands that indicates, ‘Here’s how we’re moving forward.’Ÿ”

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