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TSA takes responsibility for Newark airport breach

From Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt , CNN
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Disarray at the TSA
  • NEW: Passenger alerted TSA officers about passenger who went wrong way
  • TSA didn't tell Port Authority about incident until 80 minutes later, source says
  • Federal official says cameras were running but not recording at time of security breach
  • Terminal C closed for hours Sunday after man breached checkpoint

New York (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration took full responsibility Wednesday for a security breach this week at the airport in Newark, New Jersey, a spokeswoman said.

On Sunday, a man walked the wrong way through security at Newark Liberty International Airport, prompting a security breach that shut down Terminal C for hours and forced the rescreening of thousands of passengers.

Spokeswoman Ann Davis said a passenger notified a TSA officer Sunday afternoon about a person who he believed had walked through the wrong way at a security exit. The passenger could not provide a description of the person, Davis said.

In an attempt to confirm the breach by videotape, from cameras that the TSA funded and the Port Authority installed and operated, TSA officials realized that the cameras were running but not recording.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, said at a news conference Wednesday that the camera recording system has been down since December 28, although a Homeland Security official could not confirm that. The Port Authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The TSA officials then scrutinized security tapes recorded by Continental Airlines' cameras and confirmed that an "Asian male" had breached security, Davis said. The TSA was unable to find the man.

Once they had confirmed a security breach, TSA officials notified the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the area airports.

An airport source said Wednesday that the TSA did not tell the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey about the security breach until 80 minutes after it occurred, which Davis acknowledged. She said TSA officials wanted to confirm the breach before taking further action.

A TSA officer was reassigned to non-screening duties after the breach, which happened about 5:20 p.m. ET Sunday. On Tuesday, the TSA officer was placed on administrative leave, the TSA said.

The unidentified man walked through an exit on the public side to the secure "sterile" side, the TSA said. A Homeland Security official told CNN that the TSA officer was distracted because "a passenger was asking for directions or something." The official said it's not uncommon for TSA employees to get "peppered with questions from passengers every day."

Davis said Monday that although the TSA was unable to locate the man, any threat he may have presented was eliminated "by rescreening everyone and re-combing the airport to make sure he didn't introduce anything to the environment or hand anything off to anyone."

Lautenberg called on the TSA to release the man's image to the public and media.

"After viewing video of the security breach I am even more outraged by the lapse that occurred," the senator said in a written statement.

"The video shows a clear picture of the suspect and provides an opportunity for the TSA to enhance the ongoing investigation. ...The more people who see this image, the faster we will find the person in question."

Video: 'Saw security chasing somebody'

The incident caused arrival delays mainly affecting Continental Airlines, the airport's largest tenant.

After meeting with the Port Authority about the breach, the TSA has volunteered to check the cameras daily to ensure that they are recording, Davis said.

She also said the TSA has changed the location of the officers' station at the exit lanes in Terminal C and added staffing there.

The airport source said the TSA "uses that [camera] system on a daily basis."

"They have that system at their workstations. They have the ability to check it. They need to check it and tell the Port Authority if it's not working," they said.

The airport source confirmed that Continental's cameras did show a man going the wrong way through security and later showed the same man leaving through a normal airport exit.

Newark was one of the airports from which the September 11 hijackers departed.

CNN's Jamie Guzzardo contributed to this story.