A set of security cameras owned by Newark Liberty International Airport were not functioning properly Sunday night when a person was spotted walking into a secure section of the airport, setting off a security alert and shutting down the airport for hours, ABC News has learned.
Now, the responsibility to operate those cameras -- broken since Dec. 28 -- has become a point of contention between the airport and the Transportation Security Administration.
The security cameras, owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the airport's operator, were rolling but not recording, forcing the TSA to seek permission to use a second set of surveillance cameras controlled by Continental Airlines.
"The Port Authority-owned camera was not working," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who plans to hold hearings on this subject later this month. "The TSA was the one that was supposed to notify the Port Authority that the cameras weren't working."
The redundant cameras have been in place since the pre-9/11 era when, the airlines were responsible for their own security. Continental provided the tapes to the TSA as soon as the airline became aware the TSA wanted them. The inoperable cameras caused a two-hour gap between the security breach and when the TSA was able to confirm it.
Newark was one of the airports from which one of the four jets used in the Sept. 11 terror attacks took off more than eight years ago.
The Port Authority said it pays for the cameras but does not operate them or maintain them, adding that it's up to the TSA to inform the Port Authority when the cameras are not working properly so they can be fixed. The Port Authority said that on Sunday night the cameras were rolling but not recording, therefore rendering them useless in the effort to determine whether a breach occurred, and that the TSA did not inform the airport that the cameras were out.
"That's a huge problem," said a government source familiar with the investigation, adding that this is "one of the biggest problems that we've found through this experience."
The TSA, however, which has the primary governmental responsibility to secure the nation's skies, says it has no independent control of any surveillance cameras at any airport in the country.
"It is an odd system," Lautenberg said.
The revelation that the cameras were nonfunctional comes as the TSA investigates the Sunday security breach that brought the Newark airport's busiest terminal to a halt for more than seven hours.
The breach occurred at approximately 5:20 p.m. Sunday, when a man was spotted walking the wrong way through an exit door leading to the airport's Terminal C secure area.
The incident was captured on Continental's surveillance cameras, but it took TSA officials two hours to confirm the breach. The response might have been faster, one source told ABC News, if TSA had better access to the tapes, calling this a "sticking point."
At many airports, the TSA does have immediate access to surveillance tapes. In the case of Newark's Terminal C, Continental runs the terminal and TSA was forced to go through the airline to obtain surveillance footage for review.