Arrests in JFK airport plot were no surprise, security experts say

June 4, 2007

The arrests Saturday tied to an alleged terrorist plot to blow up fuel lines at Kennedy International Airport held little surprise for aviation-security experts.

"We knew it was coming," said Michael Boyd of The Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo. "Fuel lines, fuel farms are highly vulnerable areas."

He said the arrests, as well as situations such as that at Orlando International Airport, when sensitive security documents were found recently in a dumpster, are evidence of just how easily dangerous information can end up in the wrong hands.

The aboveground, clearly marked fuel-storage areas in airports across the country, including Orlando, are particularly vulnerable, Boyd said.

The men arrested in New York had used the Internet to find satellite photographs of the JFK terminal, officials said.

"All they need to do is destroy a couple of pipelines at a few major airports, and within two days you've shut our air-transportation system down," Boyd said.

As is standard practice for commercial airports after 9-11, airport employees go through background checks, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey continues to vet employees' after they are hired, JFK airport spokesman Marc Lavorgna said recently.

But the revelation that one of the people arrested in New York was a retired airport worker with intimate knowledge of the airfield also shows how background checks and employee vetting are not the answer to protecting an airport from an inside job.

On-site surveillance and intelligence are more important, Boyd said.

"Looking for things that are out of line," he said. "Like: Why is a catering truck at a fuel farm? Things like that."

At Orlando International Airport, where 16,000 people work every day, TSA officers started physically searching employees entering the secure areas after the recent arrests of airline workers charged with smuggling guns and drugs on board a flight to Puerto Rico.

TSA officials initially agreed to perform the screening for 90 days at the request of airport administrators but have agreed to extend the 90-day period indefinitely. Some members of Congress are calling for all airports in the U.S. to screen workers every day.

On Friday, Orlando police said their investigation into the missing OIA planning documents -- labeled as sensitive security information -- was inconclusive. The documents were discovered in an airport dumpster by a teen, whose family then handed them over to the Orlando Sentinel.

The documents included information about the airport's fuel and utilities lines, which security experts said could be used as a terrorist planning tool.

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