A mock terrorist attack, in which a Federal Security Service agent carried fake explosives onto a plane at Voronezh Airport, has cast serious doubt on the authorities' assertions that airport security has been bolstered in the wake of two recent airplane bombings.
In a series of exercises on Oct. 1 -- the same day that tough new airport security measures came into force nationwide -- all three FSB agents who were tasked with breaching security at the airport successfully completed their missions.
Two days earlier, the FSB's Voronezh branch had alerted local law enforcement agencies that there could be an attack at the local airport, giving police even the license plate of the car that the suspects would be using, Izvestia reported Tuesday, citing FSB sources.
The first FSB agent managed to sneak fake explosives onto a Moscow-bound Polyot Airlines plane by concealing it in a body belt, Izvestia reported.
A second agent got onto the runway through a hole in a perimeter fence and strolled about in an employees-only area for almost for an hour, the paper said.
In the third incident an agent, using an invalid passport, managed to have a suspicious-looking package brought on board the same Polyot plane by bribing an airport baggage handler. The handler, identified in Izvestia only by his last name, Kolbasnikov, agreed to get the package on the plane in exchange for 500 rubles ($17). Kolbasnikov then gave the package to the pilot, who agreed to take it on board for 100 rubles.
Calls to the FSB's Voronezh branch went unanswered Tuesday.
According to Vladimir Malakhov, general director of the Voronezhavia company, which runs the airport, no one could have slipped through a hole in the fence.
"There are no holes whatsoever in the fence surrounding the airport," he said by telephone Tuesday.
Malakhov defended the performance of his company's security force, blaming the failure to avert the mock attacks on police.
"Our security worked well. It's the police that didn't act properly. For instance, our security man found the detonator on the guy who carried the explosives and asked airport police to search him, but they didn't."
Malakhov said that Kolbasnikov, who was fired on Oct. 3, had screened the package and handed it over to the plane's pilot after making sure it contained nothing dangerous. "But of course, he broke the rules. Still, I don't believe the pilot would accept a package for 100 rubles," Malakhov said.
A spooked Polyot Airlines, which is the main carrier operating out of the airport, initially threatened to reroute its flights elsewhere.
However, after holding consultations with the airport's management and the Voronezh regional administration, Polyot decided to stay on condition that security is boosted, a spokeswoman for the airline said by telephone Tuesday.
Among other measures, the airport has hired more staff, including psychologists who will be tasked with trying to identify potential attackers, Malakhov said.
He said that the airport's security service had performed well and that it was the airport police that should scramble to improve its performance. "The police's work should be improved," he said. "The Prosecutor General's Office has opened an investigation into the police's work and we hope to get some results from it."
The airport's police could not be reached by telephone Tuesday.
The airport's police chief, Viktor Levin, told Izvestia that with the equipment his unit had, they had done their job well. He also challenged the FSB's assertion about explosives, saying there were none.
The government has ordered security to be boosted at all airports after the Aug. 24 bombing of two domestic airliners, which blew up after departing from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, killing 90 people.
At Domodedovo, the two suicide bombers were stopped by police and sent for interrogation. However, the interrogator, whose beat was anti-terrorism, let them go and they subsequently boarded the planes, obtaining tickets from a scalper.
Among other measures, the police were instructed to take over responsibility for security and screening passengers from private companies. Bomb-detecting sensors were ordered for some airports.
The Transportation Ministry has recommended introducing psychological profiling for passengers, while also under discussion is the advanced passenger information system that was introduced in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.