Congressman calls for pilot study of new airport security technology
SAN JOSE — A Bay Area congressman on Friday called for tougher security standards and a study of technology that could have spotted a teenager climbing a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport and stowing away in the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound airliner nearly two weeks ago.
“The problem is not the barrier,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Hayward, after a briefing on Mineta San Jose International Airport’s security system that was breached by the teen nearly two weeks ago. Swalwell said the problem is that someone can get across the fence unobserved.
Swalwell said he’s pushing for a pilot program to test radar and motion-detecting cameras and other technology that could detect intrusions and alert personnel automatically. The study could include San Jose, he said.
“San Jose has met the standard that TSA has set,” he said, referring to the Transportation Security Administration. “I don’t accept that those standards protect passengers.”
The San Jose fence is six feet high and is topped by an additional foot of barbed wire. The standard height for airport perimeter fences required by the TSA is six feet.
“Unless we increase the standards, they will continue to meet the standards but still be vulnerable to something like this happening,” he said. He said the Livermore National Laboratory has offered its technological expertise.
“We’re happy to offer our experience to try to help,” said lab spokesman Stephen Wampler.
Airport spokesman Rosemary Barnes said the airport would “welcome” any pilot study of better security technologies, “especially being Silicon Valley’s airport.”
Swalwell, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said technology could be used as “a force multiplier” and not require additional hiring.
But employees also have to be “more mindful” of who is on the tarmac, he said. “Clearly this individual was on the ground without i.d. and was not stopped,” he noted.
While no camera caught the teen scaling the fence, an unidentified individual was spotted wandering near the aircraft by a closed circuit television camera. No one at the airport saw the video until after the teen was found wandering around the tarmac at Maui’s Kahului Airport.
Swalwell said the airport now is adding cameras to the perimeter. He also disclosed that there was at least one other breach at the San Jose airport, but that “the person involved was caught in short order.”
Barnes, the airport’s spokeswoman, said “there have been a few over our most recent memory, but all have been identified and resolved right away by our law enforcement partners.”
Some questions remain about how the teenager breached the airport’s perimeter.
Swalwell said there’s no evidence of how the teenager got into the airport other than what he told federal officials in Hawaii.
“As I have been informed, there is no evidence of any breach, meaning we haven’t seen clothing that was ripped, or we have not seen any fences that have been pulled back or pulled up or any sign that barbed wire had been tampered with. That’s not to say that an athletic, strong individual could not accomplish that without leaving evidence behind, but in prior instances there was evidence,” he said.
Barnes said that until airport security officers are able to interview the youth, “We don’t know how he got into the airport.”
Swalwell spoke to reporters after a tour of the perimeter fence.
The airport could be fined for the “egregious violation of the airport’s perimeter,” John Pistole, TSA administrator, told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
Three weeks before the teen climbed the fence, the federal agency concluded a three-month inspection that found the airport’s security setup in compliance with its requirements.
Swalwell said a new investigation of airport perimeter security is being launched by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, at his and other congressmen’s request.