Officials downplay threat of unticketed passenger at San Jose airport

Homeless woman was able to slip past guards, gate agent to board flight

Aug. 07--SAN JOSE -- Despite the second major security breach this year, San Jose airport officials and the Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday downplayed this week's incident in which a well-known trespasser somehow boarded a plane and completed a flight without a ticket.

But their explanation, that the stowaway posed no security threat because she passed a TSA screening, isn't flying with critics such as Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, the only California congressman on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

"We wouldn't have a no-fly list if that wasn't a concern," said Swalwell, who was also critical of a stowaway incident at the airport in April. "The reason a no-fly list exists is that we believe a layer of the security process is knowing who is on the plane. The woman was harmless, but there are people who I don't want on an airplane even if they go through security screening, who the public doesn't want on an airplane."

Marilyn Hartman, a 62-year-old homeless woman who was arrested seven times this year for trying to sneak aboard flights at San Francisco International Airport, bypassed two ticket checkpoints by sneaking past guards and went undetected throughout a Southwest Airlines trip from San Jose to Los Angeles on Monday. In February, Hartman was caught aboard another airline ready to take off from SFO when another passenger said she was in his seat.

A similar case has never been documented at San Jose airport but is not unheard of around the world. Experts say it shines a light on another potential hole in airport security -- apparently, the occasional inattention of airport workers such as TSA guards.

Richard Bloom, the director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, said potential terrorists "collect as much security and safety violations as they can because they may suggest vulnerabilities in the system."

Mineta San Jose International Airport officials said the breach was "extremely distinct" from an April incident in which a teenager hopped a fence at the airport and completed a flight to Hawaii tucked inside a wheel well. In this case, Hartman went though the TSA security line that frustrates so many travelers and apparently did not have any prohibited items.

"She was as safe as any other passenger that walks through here. She was fully screened like the rest of the 9 million passengers," that fly out of the airport annually, said John Aitken, the airport's acting assistant director of aviation. Airport Director Kim Aguirre did not make herself available to answer questions Wednesday.

But at least one city councilman, Pete Constant, a former San Jose police officer, also said he was irked by the airport's response and urged the city administration to take more responsibility.

A source briefed on the investigation said Hartman was able to sneak past the TSA ticket checkpoint, after three failed tries, by blending in with a family and then slipping past the guard. She tried to board at least one other flight, at an Alaska Airlines gate, but was rebuffed. She used a similar tactic of blending with other passengers to slip past the Southwest gate agent, and remained undetected once on board.

"Following an initial review by TSA at San Jose International Airport, the agency has initiated minor modifications to the layout of the document checking area to prevent another incident like this one," the TSA said in a statement.

Hartman, who authorities say has mental health issues, was only discovered after a head count by airline staff upon landing in Los Angeles. She was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and pleaded no contest Wednesday, prompting a judge to sentence her to two years on probation and three days in jail, for which she was credited for time already served and released. The judge also ordered Hartman to stay away from the Los Angeles airport unless she has a ticket to fly.

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