Arrest made in Newark airport security breach
Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 1:23 a.m.
NEWARK, N.J. — The man believed to have caused a security breach that resulted in major delays last weekend at Newark Liberty Airport when he took advantage of a guard's absence to sneak past a checkpoint and walk arm-in-arm with a woman was arrested Friday night at his home, authorities said.
Haisong Jiang, 28, of Piscataway was taken into custody at 7:30 p.m. Friday at his home, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said. He was being held late Friday night at the airport by Port Authority police, who arrested him. The Port Authority said in a statement that Jiang is being charged with defiant trespass, and that the charge was determined in coordination with the Essex County prosecutor and federal officials, though it's not a federal charge.
It was not immediate clear whether Jiang has retained a lawyer.
Jiang, who is Chinese, is a doctoral student in a joint molecular biosciences program at Rutgers University, one of his roommates said early Saturday. He said Jiang was born in Jiangxi, China, and has been in the U.S. since 2004.
Jiang's roommate, who would only identify himself as Hui, said Jiang took his girlfriend to the airport Sunday. He said Jiang's girlfriend was a recent Rutgers graduate who lives in Los Angeles and was visiting for the holidays.
He said Jiang hadn't mentioned anything to his roommates about what happened at the airport and they were surprised when he was arrested. He said he felt Jiang didn't think what he had done was a serious matter.
Hui said the roommates were aware of the video of the security breach but didn't pay much attention.
Jiang lives in two-story home on a residential street of tidy, single-family homes near the Rutgers campus in Piscataway. His roommate said Chinese graduate students from Rutgers lived in the house.
"From every indication I've seen, everybody in there is good people," said Gene Wells, who lives next door to Jiang. "I've never had a problem with them."
Hui said he arrived home about 7 p.m. and two officers were waiting outside. He called Jiang, who was at the gym, and told him the officers were waiting. Jiang returned home, spoke to the officers and was arrested.
Lautenberg, who was briefed on the arrest, said authorities found Jiang with "sheer, hard police work" of sifting through records and following leads. But he expressed anger that Jiang faces a charge he described as a "slap on the wrist" and will only be given a fine of about $500.
"This was a terrible deed in its outcome — it wasn't some prank that didn't do any harm — it did a lot of harm because it sent out an alert that people can get away with something like this," said Lautenberg.
Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, had pressed for surveillance video of the security breach to be publicly released. He said he believes Newark airport is safe but will pursue airport security issues in upcoming Congressional hearings.
The breach led the TSA to shut down one of Newark Liberty International's three terminals for six hours Sunday, stranding thousands of passengers and contributing to long delays.
A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Friday that the Transportation Security Administration worker who allegedly left his post is Ruben Hernandez of Newark. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is in progress.
TSA employees are not unionized, but the American Federation of Government Employees is representing him, said union spokesman Derrick Thomas. The union declined to publicly identify him. The TSA has said the guard has been on administrative leave since Tuesday.
The officer, who has been with the agency for 2 1/2 years, previously received a commendation for job performance, Thomas said.
"He's been rated a model employee," he said. "We intend to fully represent him to make sure this whole investigation is handled correctly and that he's not made a scapegoat for all that's been going wrong with security at the airports."
The union is reviewing reports that the officer was called from his post to investigate a disturbance in the seconds before the security breach, Thomas said.
On a surveillance video released Thursday by the TSA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the guard is seen sitting at a security podium in an exit lane as passengers stream past on their way out of the terminal.
A man wearing a light-colored jacket stands inside a rope barrier, and the guard approaches the man, apparently telling him to move behind the rope.
Within a minute, the guard leaves the podium again and disappears into the crowd. A woman in a long white coat approaches the podium from inside the terminal; the man sees her and ducks under the security rope, and the two walk past, arm in arm.
The man was seen on a separate surveillance camera leaving the terminal about 20 minutes later, according to the TSA.
A bystander waiting for an arriving passenger noticed the breach and told the guard. TSA officials then discovered that surveillance cameras at the security checkpoint had not recorded the breach and were forced to consult backup security cameras operated by Continental Airlines.
Continental spokeswoman Susannah Thurston said Friday night that the airline had no comment on Jiang's arrest.
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