Report Documents More Security Lapses at Newark Airport

Baggage screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport missed one out of every four fake bombs or weapons inspectors tried to sneak past checkpoints in tests this summer


NEWARK, N.J. -- Baggage screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport missed one out of every four fake bombs or weapons inspectors tried to sneak past checkpoints in tests this summer, according to confidential inspection reports obtained by The Star-Ledger of Newark.

Security screeners at the airport's nine checkpoints most often missed phony explosive devices hidden in carryon bags sent through X-ray machines, the newspaper reported.

The checkers at Newark, one of the airports breached by terrorist hijackers on 9/11, also failed to detect guns concealed in carryon bags sent through X-rays or carried under the clothing of testers who walked through metal detectors, the report said.

The airport's overall failure rate was 24.8 percent in covert tests conducted between June and September by the federal Transportation Security Administration, which hires the screeners and oversees the nation's airport security.

Of 327 tests, airport screeners passed 246 and failed 81, the TSA documents show. Workers who failed were given remedial training.

"We're working diligently to increase our explosive detection capabilities at our passenger checkpoints," said TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield. "The key point here -- testing is training."

TSA officials would not discuss specific test results, citing national security concerns.

Staffing shortages and worker retention remain issues at the airport, according to Rep. William Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, who called the results unacceptable.

Not all terminals were equally bad at the detection tests. The most failures occurred at Terminal C, where Continental Airlines flights originate and screeners missed 33 percent of contraband at the terminal's three checkpoints.

Screeners at the Terminal A checkpoint that was breached by terrorists on United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11, had a 27.8 percent failure rate, slightly higher than average.

The best results were logged at two checkpoints in Terminal B, where 15 percent of bombs or weapons got aboard the aircraft in the tests.

Test results also varied by week, with screeners scoring a stellar 97 percent pass rate in the week including the July 4 holiday, and a low 40 percent pass rate the week of Sept. 5.