NEWARK,NJ — There was the dead dog that eluded screening; the knife that made it past the checkpoint in a carry-on; and the two passengers who strolled off despite problems with their full-body scans.
These incidents were among a string of five security lapses in 30 days at Newark Liberty International Airport, according to two officials with the Transportation Security Administration. Normally, according to one source, the airport averages about one security lapse every couple of months.
The TSA officials requested anonymity because agency employees are prohibited from disclosing security breaches.
The agency confirmed the five lapses. One of the sources said there were three other incidents which could also be considered security lapses, but the TSA characterized the other three as minor procedural incidents that did not jeopardize security. For example, one case involved a father who was allowed to escort his daughters to their gate. While the man should have had a gate pass issued by the airline, the TSA said he was screened.
The revelations came as the TSA’s regional director visited Newark Liberty Monday to discuss how to improve security at the airport. TSA Area Director Jim Blair, whose region includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, led a discussion that also included airport managers from around the region. A TSA spokeswoman, Ann Davis, insisted the visit was “very routine,” and declined to link it with the string of security lapses between Jan. 4 and Feb. 3.
“It’s really just a group of managers and supervisors who come to work with managers and supervisors at an airport that they’re less familiar with, and talk about how they would handle certain situations,” said Davis. “It’s good to have that input from your peers to help you improve on something, or use the best practices, take a different approach.”
Davis said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on what the peer team was reviewing.
The lapses began on Jan. 4, when a dead dog taken to an airport security checkpoint by its owner ended up being loaded onto a Continental Airlines jet without being screened. TSA officials had directed that the dog’s carcass be screened in Continental’s cargo area, but then learned after the jet took off that the screening had not taken place.
Despite fears that the dog could contain a bomb or carry disease, the plane was allowed to fly on to its destination, however, after the airport’s local TSA security director, Barbara Bonn Powell, deemed the unscreened carcass an acceptable risk in light of the $10,000 cost of forcing the flight to turn around and come back.
Other incidents included screeners in Terminal C missing a knife inside a carry-on bag on Jan. 16; an improper hand-off of a bag after being X-rayed on Jan. 30; a passenger in Terminal B walking through a disability area without being screened on Feb. 1; and, two days later, the two passengers who were allowed through a Terminal B checkpoint despite a glitch that froze the monitor of the full-body scanner they had passed through.
The security lapses are apart from the deliberate wrongdoing by TSA staffers that took place repeatedly at a checkpoint in Terminal B from September 2009 to October 2010, when prosecutors say a screener stole up to $30,000 in cash from passengers as they were screened.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark announced that a former TSA supervisor, Michael Arato, 41, of Ewing, admitted taking kickbacks from the screener in return for looking the other way. The screener, whose case is pending, was not identified, and the investigation is continuing, said Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Fishman.
Monday was also the day that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the TSA’s proposed budget for fiscal 2012, which raises spending 5.7 percent, to $8.1 billion. Much of the $459 million increase would go to hiring another 3,270 employees, for a total TSA work force of 58,401, most of them screeners.