WASHINGTON — A few weeks before a 15-year-old boy stowed away in the wheel well of a flight from California to Hawaii, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration conducted a review of San Jose’s airport and found its perimeter to be in compliance with the agency’s security requirements.
Now, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California is questioning the thoroughness of the TSA’s nearly three-month review given that the boy said he hopped a fence to get to the plane. Boxer made the case in a Senate hearing Wednesday that if a 15-year-old could get through security barriers, others could, too.
“What if it was someone else with an explosive?” Boxer asked
TSA Administrator John Pistole told Boxer that the agency’s review indicates that Mineta San Josi International Airport has the proper security systems in place, but it’s not a guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen.
Hoping to reunite with his mother, the boy breached the airport’s perimeter on April 19 by allegedly scaling a 10-feet-tall fence reinforced with barbed wire. He hid in a Hawaiian Airlines plane’s landing gear wheel well and remained there during the flight to Hawaii.
About three weeks earlier, the TSA completed what was described as a comprehensive inspection of the airport’s perimeter systems and other security measures. About 82 hours was spent on the inspection over the course of three months, according to a non-classified summary from the TSA that Boxer’s staff provided. The inspection included the airport’s badge systems, a review of law enforcement support and the fence line. The report also noted that the airport has an ongoing project to enhance the fence line and improvements would continue as time and funds permit.
Pistole said during the hearing that the airport’s fencing was in fine shape, and he noted that a previous secretary of the Department of Homeland Security once made the observation: “Show me a 15-foot fence, and I’ll show you a 16-foot ladder.”
“So there’s no perfect solution,” he said.
Pistole also said during the hearing that there were opportunities to make improvements to the airport’s perimeter security, such as through patrol dogs or second fences in some places. He also mentioned the potential for a fine.
“We have the ability to fine the airport for allowing this to happen because it is an egregious violation of the airport’s perimeter,” Pistole said.
Cheryl Marcell, a spokeswoman for the San Jose airport, responded to Boxer’s comments by saying, “We are in compliance with all the federal regulations and standards. That’s the same today as it was on Easter Sunday,” the day that the boy stowed away on the plane.
Marcell said the airport was still actively reviewing the matter and that it was still too early to discuss any potential changes to security protocols.