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Security breach at Newark airport included an embrace

By Associated Press
Friday, January 8, 2010; A18

NEWARK, N.J. -- Call it the airport embrace felt around the world.

The man who sneaked past a Newark Liberty International Airport security checkpoint Sunday when a guard briefly stepped away walked arm-in-arm with a woman into the secure area, according to surveillance video released Thursday.

The incident caused a terminal shutdown that delayed flights across the globe and called into question just how secure the nation's airports really are.

The video, made public by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who had pushed the Transportation Security Administration to release the footage, shows the man stationing himself near an exit lane, where departing passengers pass a security guard to leave the terminal. The security officer appears to walk over and tell the man to step outside a rope barrier.

A minute or so later, after the guard leaves his podium for several seconds, the woman approaches the exit from inside the terminal and motions to the man, who ducks under the rope to join her. The two then walk into the passenger-only area with their arms wrapped around each other.

The officer has been placed on administrative leave while the TSA investigates the breach.

"The surveillance video from Newark Liberty Airport clearly shows that a TSA officer's actions led to the Sunday incident," the TSA said in a statement Thursday. "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."

During a news conference Wednesday, Lautenberg was joined by Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Donald M. Payne (both D-N.J.) in criticizing the TSA for the actions of the guard and for the revelation that the security camera at the checkpoint was streaming live video but wasn't recording at the time of the incident.

Another surveillance camera showed the man leaving by a separate exit about 20 minutes after he entered. He has not been identified or located, but a TSA spokeswoman said he would face criminal charges if he is found.

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