Video surveillance footage released today suggests that the man who caused the Sunday security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport, causing hours of delays for thousands of people, intentionally walked through an exit into a secure area of the airport to hug a woman.
The video, released by the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., shows an unidentified man standing for several minutes near Checkpoint 1 in the Newark airport's Terminal C, apparently waiting for a woman at around 5:20 p.m. The Transportation Security Administration officer assigned to the post appeared to be aware of the man's presence, and at one point, the officer instructed the man to move back.
A few minutes later, however, the TSA guard inexplicably got up from his podium and walked away for about one minute. That's all the time it took for the man to sneak through the exit lane, embrace the woman and walk off into the secure concourse.
"The release of this video will give law enforcement another tool to help find the person who breached the security gate," said Lautenberg.
It appears the man meant no harm and merely wanted to follow the woman into the secure part of the concourse to say goodbye. He is seen elsewhere on surveillance video leaving the airport about 20 minutes after he breached security. He has not been found.
The TSA has placed the guard on administrative leave.
"TSA initiated a review of the specific incident and local incident response plans," the TSA's Ann Davis said.
"The surveillance video from Newark Liberty Airport clearly shows that a TSA officer's actions led to the Sunday incident," Davis added. "We will use this hard lesson to reinforce the sharp focus and tight discipline at all our stations across the country and ensure we maintain the public trust."
The video images came from a backup set of cameras owned by Continental Airlines. The airport cameras that should have recorded the breach were not working properly. The TSA failed to inform the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey about the faulty cameras, which had been working improperly since Dec. 28.
It is TSA's responsibility to recognize the camera breakdown, but the Port Authority says TSA did not inform it about the faulty cameras until 6:40 p.m., at which point the TSA sought images from a redundant set of cameras owned by Continental.
"TSA has met with the Port Authority, who is responsible for the operation of the surveillance cameras, and will work with them to ensure consistent performance and confirm operational readiness," said Davis.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called the two-hour gap between the breach and the TSA's confirmation "unacceptable."
"This simple breakdown not only cost precious response time, it also prevented authorities from tracking the suspect and ensuring he was not a threat," Menendez said.
It took until 7:45 p.m. for the concourse to be emptied and a subsequent four-hour-long security sweep to begin. During that time, departing planes were delayed and arriving jets had nowhere to park, leaving passengers stranded on the runway waiting to deplane.