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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Experts: Lax Security Screening of Trucks at Newark Airport


MYFOXNY.COM - An exclusive Fox 5 News investigation exposes what experts call a major security lapse at Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey.

While passengers go through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints that confiscate bottled water and even small tubes of toothpaste, large trucks and vans packed with cargo drive right passed security checkpoints onto the airport tarmac with little to no inspection.

Video captured by Fox 5 News has sparked action by one government agency and stunned aviation and security experts. Fox 5 News showed the video to J.P. Tristani, an aviation expert.

"Compared to what passengers put up with, this was a playground," Tristani said.

The Fox 5 investigation focused on Newark Liberty's Terminal C, specifically the cargo security checkpoint operated by a private national security firm called FJC, a company contracted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Every day dozens of delivery trucks pass through a security checkpoint to gain access to a tarmac, which is full of commercial aircraft carrying thousands of passengers.

The exclusive Fox 5 video shows FJC security guards stopping trucks at the checkpoint, then walking around the truck using a mirror to look at the undercarriage of the vehicle, but never actually examining the cargo inside the truck. Over and over, FJC guards do nothing more than glance inside trucks that are filled with cargo. The cursory inspections of the trucks' contents lasted about 5 seconds and never actually involved a guard entering a single vehicle. After which the FJC guards simply waved through each and every truck. It is a security process that totally surprises counterterrorism expert Bill Vorlicek, who screened the video.

"That's not what security is about," Vorlicek told Fox 5. "The worst-case scenario is an individual goes in with a truck filled with a sizeable amount of explosives."

Tristani had similar concerns.

"You could have an attack right there on aircraft nestled into the gateways at a terminal with serious loss of life," he said.

And explosives are a real concern, since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says an average delivery truck can carry anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 tons of explosives.

"My worst fear would be an attack on the infrastructure i.e. the control tower, if the tower gets knocked out then that airport is out of commission for a long, long time," Vorlicek said.

During the exclusive Fox 5 News investigation, bomb0sniffing dogs were never seen at the checkpoints. And according to a insider, once the trucks pass the checkpoint there's no further examination of the trucks inside.

Commenting on the video Tristani said: "The worst part of it was, that I saw no one ever in a small van, a large truck, ever go beyond an open door... no one had a flashlight, no one looked inside no one climbed inside no one had a surprise inspection that is shocking."

FJC also operates at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports, the company's website claims FJC specializes in Terminal Security, Aircraft Security, Searches and Breach Response, but both experts interviewed by Fox 5 say FJC is operating at dangerously low security standards.

"What you have here to me, is another private contracted security agency that has fallen down on the job and is not providing a pro-active and advanced type of security," Tristani said. "That tells me that they don't know what they're doing."

When Fox 5 reached out to FJC Senior Vice President Mark Coffino he refused to see the video or even discuss a single detail of the Fox 5 News investigation. The company would only release this statement: "For the safety and security of our clients we have no comment."

FJC's security at Newark Airport is not cheap; according to the Port Authority the company's deal for this year alone is worth $11.5 million. That does not include the company's contracts at JFK or LaGuardia airports.

Fox 5 News showed the exclusive video to Ernesto Butcher, the chief operating officer of the Port Authority. He was apparently not happy with what he saw, telling Fox 5 the security procedures of the FJC personnel in the video were "unsatisfactory" and "unacceptable." After Butcher viewed the video, an FJC employee was suspended and others were issued warnings.

"Vehicle inspections are just one of a series of multilayered checks to ensure the safety of cargo being brought to the secure side of the airport, but they are critical and will be continually monitored," Butcher said in a statement. "Port Authority officials have re-emphasized to all FJC security guards and their supervisors the need for continual diligence and proper inspection techniques during their shifts."

When it comes to lapses in security, FJC is no stranger to public scrutiny. In August 2009, two security officers that were supposed to be keeping an eye on the George Washington Bridge were caught sleeping on the job. They were later fired.

In October 2009, an FJC security guard at Newark Airport was arrested and charged
for making terror threats against President Barack Obama. The guard later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge

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