Swalwell wants airport perimeter security check

A Bay Area congressman wants an updated assessment of the nation’s airport perimeter security needs following a Santa Clara teen’s stowaway voyage in the wheel well of a jetliner taking off from Mineta San Jose International Airport.

The 15-year-old jumped a fence to get into the airport Sunday, and miraculously survived a five-and-a-half hour flight to Hawaii despite freezing temperatures and low oxygen levels.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, the only California congressman on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, notes there have been several such breaches since the Government Accountability Office last evaluated airport perimeter security in 2009. Several Democrats on the committee requested an update in February, and Swalwell wrote to the agency Tuesday to bolster that request.

“While we have made significant progress in airport security since 9/11, this latest incident near my congressional district in the Bay Area raises serious concerns affecting passenger safety,” Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in a news release. “I join my colleagues on the Homeland Security Committee to call for an updated assessment of airport perimeter security so we can identify vulnerabilities, protect our perimeters, and prevent future breaches.”

Read the full text of Swalwell’s letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, after the jump…

The Honorable Gene Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:

In September 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on our Nation’s airports and their perimeter security needs. Since then, a number of high-profile perimeter security breaches have occurred at airports across the nation. In 2012, a driver crashed through a gate and onto a busy runway at Philadelphia Airport; in New York a jet skier walked across two runways past security, cameras and motion detectors that the airport recently paid millions of dollars to install; and in Massachusetts, a 16-year old stow-away who breached airport security at Charlotte-Douglas fell to his death as the plane was nearing Boston Logan Airport. Yesterday, we learned that a 16-year-old flew from Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) to Kahului Airport in Maui in the wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines flight after having climbed a perimeter fence at SJC undetected.

In the 2009 report, GAO determined that TSA had not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment based on assessments of threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences, as required by DHS’ National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP). GAO further reported that without a full depiction of threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences, an organization’s ability to establish priorities and make cost-effective security decisions is limited. As a result, GAO recommended that TSA develop a comprehensive risk assessment, along with milestones for completing the assessment. DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendation and informed GAO that it would include an assessment of airport perimeter and access control security risks as part of a comprehensive assessment for the transportation sector—the Transportation Sector Security Risk Assessment (TSSRA). The TSSRA, published in July 2010, included an assessment of various risk-based scenarios related to airport perimeter security but did not consider the potential vulnerabilities of airports to an insider attack—the insider threat—which it recognized as a significant issue. To that end, GAO considers its recommendation unresolved.

On February 24, 2014, Committee on Homeland Security Ranking Member Thompson, Subcommittee on Transportation Security Ranking Member Richmond and Representative William R. Keating (MA-9) wrote to you requesting that GAO update their 2009 report on airport perimeter security and incorporate a review of recent high-profile breaches and any policy changes put in place since 2009 to bolster perimeter security. They further requested that GAO conduct a review of the efficacy of TSA’s perimeter security activities, including the security assessments, enforcement actions, and stakeholder collaboration on perimeter security as well as an evaluation of perimeter security technologies, with a focus on our capabilities to detect and prevent perimeter security breaches.

After having consulted with and gained approval to join the request made by Ranking Member Thompson, Subcommittee Ranking Member Richmond and Representative Keating on February 24, 2014, I ask that I be added as a co-requester of GAO’s audit of TSA’s perimeter security activities at our nation’s airports.

If you have any questions about this request, please contact Andrew Ginsburg at (202) 225-5065. I appreciate your time and attention to this matter.


Eric Swalwell
Committee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Transportation Security

cc: Stephen M. Lord: GAO, Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.