After stowaway, congressman seeks airport security perimeter review

A bipartisan aviation security bill that passed with little fanfare in the House in December would require the creation of an advisory committee within the Transportation Security Administration that, among other issues, would have a working group dedicated to airport perimeter security.

Workers move equipment near gates used by Hawaiian Airlines at Terminal A of Mineta San Jose International Airport, Monday, April 21, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. A 16-year-old boy scrambled over a fence at the airport, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner's wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii, Sunday. FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen did not remember the flight from San Jose. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Workers move equipment near gates used by Hawaiian Airlines at Terminal A of Mineta San Jose International Airport, Monday, April 21, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

It’s an issue that reemerged this week when a 15-year-old hopped a fence around San Jose Airport and hitched a ride to Hawaii in the wheel well of a jet. Naturally, the focus is largely on how the teenager survived the five-hour voyage over the Pacific Ocean, but it also is a bit alarming that it’s so simple to break onto a tarmac.

For Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), an original co-sponsor of the bill, the truth-is-crazier-than-fiction event took place not in his Bay Area district, but next-door. With the legislation unmoved in the Senate, Swalwell sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking the watchdog agency to audit perimeter security at U.S. airports.

Three members on the House Homeland Security Committee had recently made that request to GAO in February. With their permission, Swalwell copied and pasted their letter and resubmitted it, and asked to be added as a “co-requester.” The lawmakers want the GAO to update a report on airport perimeter security it did in 2009 and review “recent high-profile breaches and any policy changes put in place since 2009 to bolster perimeter security.”

“It’s pretty clear we’re not doing enough … It shouldn’t be that easy to cross a perimeter,” Swalwell told the Loop.

There are not enough resources to make billions of dollars in upgrades to all the nation’s airports, Swalwell acknowledges, and airports are massive spaces the size of small towns. The aim would be to assess vulnerabilities and begin making investments where they’re needed most.

“I think my job is to balance the threat against the resources we have,” he said.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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Colby Itkowitz · April 23