Congressman Eric Swalwell

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Swalwell Requests Nationwide Assessment of Airport Perimeter Security following San Jose Breach

April 22, 2014

HAYWARD, CA – U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15), member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, today requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issue an updated assessment of our nation’s airport perimeter security needs. The last report GAO issued evaluating airport perimeter security was published in 2009.

On April 20, a 16-year-old flew from Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) to Kahului Airport in Maui in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight after having climbed a perimeter fence at SJC undetected.

“Since the GAO last issued a report on airport perimeter security in 2009, there have been several instances of individuals breaching airport perimeters,” said Swalwell. “While we have made significant progress in airport security since 9/11, this latest incident near my congressional district in the Bay Area raises serious concerns affecting passenger safety. I join my colleagues on the Homeland Security Committee to call for an updated assessment of airport perimeter security so we can identify vulnerabilities, protect our perimeters, and prevent future breaches.”

The full text of the letter is below. A PDF of the letter can be found here.

April 21, 2014

The Honorable Gene Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:

In September 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on our Nation’s airports and their perimeter security needs.[1]  Since then, a number of high-profile perimeter security breaches have occurred at airports across the nation.  In 2012, a driver crashed through a gate and onto a busy runway at Philadelphia Airport; in New York a jet skier walked across two runways past security, cameras and motion detectors that the airport recently paid millions of dollars to install; and in Massachusetts, a 16-year old stow-away who breached airport security at Charlotte-Douglas fell to his death as the plane was nearing Boston Logan Airport.  Yesterday, we learned that a 16-year-old flew from Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) to Kahului Airport in Maui in the wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines flight after having climbed a perimeter fence at SJC undetected.

In the 2009 report, GAO determined that TSA had not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment based on assessments of threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences, as required by DHS’ National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP).  GAO further reported that without a full depiction of threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences, an organization’s ability to establish priorities and make cost-effective security decisions is limited.  As a result, GAO recommended that TSA develop a comprehensive risk assessment, along with milestones for completing the assessment.  DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendation and informed GAO that it would include an assessment of airport perimeter and access control security risks as part of a comprehensive assessment for the transportation sector—the Transportation Sector Security Risk Assessment (TSSRA).  The TSSRA, published in July 2010, included an assessment of various risk-based scenarios related to airport perimeter security but did not consider the potential vulnerabilities of airports to an insider attack—the insider threat—which it recognized as a significant issue.  To that end, GAO considers its recommendation unresolved.

On February 24, 2014, Committee on Homeland Security Ranking Member Thompson, Subcommittee on Transportation Security Ranking Member Richmond and Representative William R. Keating (MA-9) wrote to you requesting that GAO update their 2009 report on airport perimeter security and incorporate a review of recent high-profile breaches and any policy changes put in place since 2009 to bolster perimeter security.  They further requested that GAO conduct a review of the efficacy of TSA’s perimeter security activities, including the security assessments, enforcement actions, and stakeholder collaboration on perimeter security as well as an evaluation of perimeter security technologies, with a focus on our capabilities to detect and prevent perimeter security breaches.

After having consulted with and gained approval to join the request made by Ranking Member Thompson, Subcommittee Ranking Member Richmond and Representative Keating on February 24, 2014, I ask that I be added as a co-requester of GAO’s audit of TSA’s perimeter security activities at our nation’s airports.

If you have any questions about this request, please contact Andrew Ginsburg at or (202) 225-5065.  I appreciate your time and attention to this matter.


Eric Swalwell

Committee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Transportation Security

cc:       Stephen M. Lord: GAO, Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues


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