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Big security breaches at 2 airports
02:13 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Newark security cameras spotted a man in woman's clothes climbing over fence

Phoenix security arrested an 'inebriated' man who struck a jet engine with his hand

A multimillion-dollar identification system apparently fails to stop the intrusion in Newark

Expert: The security system has failed before and still needs fixing

CNN  — 

Anyone who climbs a high-security fence at an airport and scurries onto a runway would have to be drunk, on drugs or desperate, one might think.

Two men – at two separate airports in Newark, New Jersey, and Phoenix, Arizona – did just that on Christmas day.

One showed “indications of possible drug and alcohol impairment.” The other was wearing woman’s clothing and was not interested in anything at the airport – instead he was seeking safety from someone who frightened him, police said.

Both men were charged with trespassing and released.

The breach at Newark exposed a failure of a $100 million system designed to protect New York City area airports. The Phoenix fence hop was the fifth in a decade at that airport, CNN affiliate KPHO reported.

Fleeing in woman’s clothing

When Siyah Bryant, 24, allegedly mounted the barrier at Newark Liberty International Airport, it went unnoticed for a day. On Thursday, a review of security camera footage revealed his ascent, according to Port Authority police.

The cross-dressed suspect then ran across two runways to get to Terminal C, two police sources said. Nobody saw it, but he was literally on the screen at the time.

The security apparatus in the Perimeter Intrusion Detection System (PIDS) made by Raytheon Co. combines radar with video cameras, motion detectors and “smart” fencing, according to the maker’s website.

The technology part worked. Someone else may not have.

Cameras captured images of the intruder and an alarm went off. Police are investigating the actions of the person who monitors the images.

An airport employee nabbed the suspect, Port Authority Police Chief Louie Koumoutsos said in a statement.

He wants to know “why it took an unacceptably long time for officers to locate and take into custody a suspect who was being held by an airport employee.”

A law enforcement official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said Bryant told detectives he got spooked while in a car with someone and tried to get away, the official said.

The fright was apparently enough to drive Bryant over two big barriers. He allegedly scaled an eight-foot exterior fence and then a 10-foot, high-tech fence equipped with motion sensors and CCTV cameras, said Paul Nunziato, a spokesman for airport police officers.

Phoenix drunken folly?

Also on Christmas Day, police in Phoenix arrested 49-year-old Robert Bump after he allegedly ran onto the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, police said.

Tower officials saw a man climb over a fence and run onto the tarmac and taxiway, where he headed for a Southwest Airlines plane, Phoenix police spokesman James Holmes said.

The pilot shut down the plane’s engines when told the man was approaching. The suspect, who appeared intoxicated, struck the plane’s engine with his hands before heading toward the terminal, where he was arrested.

Deborah Ostreicher, deputy aviation director at the Phoenix airport, said Sky Harbor some years ago decided against installing PIDS fencing because it was costly and unproven.

“The technology was not something we felt was worth investing in,” she said. “It was extremely expensive and not something we felt was warranted.” The airport instead relied on layers of security, including barbed-wire fences, cameras and the eyes of airport workers.

Failures in PIDS, at Newark

The Newark breach marked the pricey system’s second recent flub.

A union official said the system did detect an intruder who scaled a fence at John F. Kennedy International Airport last week but the suspect wasn’t apprehended until 10 minutes after being detected by PIDS.

“If the system worked properly we would have caught the guy as he’s climbing the fence,” Nunziato said.

The PIDS system generates many false positives and some cameras don’t work properly in dark areas. “Sometimes when it rains, when the wind blows,” he said, “the system shuts down.”

In August 2012, the PIDS at JFK airport failed to notice a man who walked onto a runway, authorities said.

The man, who was arrested after being spotted by an airline employee, told police he was on a Jet Ski on Jamaica Bay adjacent to the runway and became stranded, according to the Port Authority.

The man climbed onto the tarmac from the water, but the airport’s security system did not detect him.

Nunziato said the authority resumed regular police patrols along the perimeters of airports after that breach.

Jeff Price, an aviation expert and professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the intrusion detection technology has been used around prisons and military bases for a long time but was relatively new to airports.

“In this case, you’ve got older technology that’s proven in certain areas, but now you’ve put it into a new environment, a new dynamic,” he said.

There are no fixed standards for the systems because the federal Transportation Security Administration doesn’t require them, Price said.

Security in and around airports, as opposed to gates and planes, is handled by local authorities, not the national Transportation Security Administration. All airports, however, report their security plans to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In 2012, the TSA was criticized for failing to report, track and fix other types of airport security breaches adequately, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

The agency’s report said the TSA “does not have a complete understanding” of breaches at the nation’s airports.

The report was requested by the late New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg after a series of breaches at Newark, including a knife bypassing TSA screening, passengers walking around security checkpoints and a dead dog transported without being screened for explosives.

The TSA took action to fix only 42% of the security breaches documented at the Newark airport, according to the report.

When compared with other airports studied in the report, Newark was the lowest-scoring when it came to fixing vulnerabilities.

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CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, Alexandra Field, Morgan Winsor, Ronni Berke contributed to this report.