Security measures doubled at Newark airport; chatty guard blamed for breach


Originally Published:Tuesday, January 5th 2010, 4:41 PM
Updated: Wednesday, January 6th 2010, 12:57 AM

Security at Newark Airport was upgraded Tuesday after Sunday's breach, which insiders blamed on a new boneheaded cause: a guard on a cell phone.

Two days after an unidentified man walked into a supposedly secure exitway at the airport - forcing a headache-inducing evacuation of the jammed Terminal C - security at every exit was doubled.

There will now be two Transportation Security Administration guards at all Terminal C exits, not one, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.

But maybe the agency should just take away their guards' cell phones.

Sources told The News that the TSA guard at the exit was spotted on security video chatting on his cell phone at the moment of the trespass. TSA officials refused to comment on the specifics of the failure, which delayed more than 100 flights for up to seven hours.

"TSA is reviewing all of the circumstances surrounding the breach and how it happened," Davis said. "And if there are lessons that can be learned here, we will take further actions."

Sunday's security blunder - coming nine days after a 23-year-old Nigerian with Al Qaeda ties made a botched, Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound flight - did nothing to ease fears about the nation's air safety. Jitters continued yesterday as portions of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were evacuated after a bomb-sniffing dog detected a suspicious bag, although closer inspection revealed nothing dangerous.

In Bakersfield, Calif., the airport was shut down for hours after routine swabbing of some bags tested positive for TNT. Inside, five Gatorade bottles filled with amber liquid were found - but the mystery liquid turned out to be honey, local officials said.

Newark's screwup began after an unidentified man was spotted by a sharp-eyed bystander on Sunday walking unchallenged into an exitway in Terminal C, where only screened passengers are supposed to be.

Video then shows the man, who appears to be Asian, meeting up with a woman in a white coat inside the terminal. He is then seen leaving from another exit about 20 minutes after he entered, sources said.

TSA officials spent 80 minutes looking at videotape to confirm the bystander's report - and only then called Port Authority cops to help evacuate the terminal.

Port Authority police were so outraged by the security bungle that they issued the TSA employee a citation for breach of Port Authority safety rules, a noncriminal administrative citation.

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