Security experts were shocked on Monday by the case of a man who swam ashore, scaled a fence and walked dripping wet into Kennedy Airport despite a US$100 million system of surveillance cameras and motion detectors.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees JFK Airport, quickly added police patrols to the airport perimeter and said it was investigating the security breach.
“Thank God it wasn’t a terrorist, but we have to look at it as if we had another attack,” said Isaac Yeffet, former chief of security for Israeli airline El Al. “That’s the only way we’ll improve the system.”
Authorities said the trouble began on Friday evening, when 31-year-old Daniel Casillo’s jet ski ran out of fuel in Jamaica Bay. Casillo swam toward the bright lights of Kennedy’s runway 4L, which juts out into the bay, then climbed a 2.4m fence that is part of the airport’s state-of-the-art Perimeter Intrusion Detection System, authorities said.
Soaking wet, wearing a bright yellow life jacket, Casillo made his way across two intersecting runways — an estimated distance of nearly 3.2km — before he was spotted on a terminal ramp by an airline employee, authorities said.
According to the police report, Casillo told a police officer at the scene: “I needed help!”
Casillo was released without bail for a court appearance on Oct. 2. A man who answered the telephone at the home of Casillo’s girlfriend said the couple’s lawyer had advised them to stop speaking to the media.
The intrusion-detection system, manufactured by defense contractor Raytheon Co, should have set off a series of warnings, Port Authority police officers’ union Bobby Egbert spokesman said.
“This system is made specifically for those types of threats — water-borne threats,” Egbert said. “It did not detect him climbing over a fence. It did not detect him crossing two active runways.”
Port Authority police interrogated Casillo and charged him with criminal trespassing. Authorities said the airport grounds were clearly marked with no-trespassing signs that indicate it is a “restricted area for authorized personnel only.”
“We have called for an expedited review of the incident and a complete investigation to determine how Raytheon’s perimeter intrusion detection system — which exceeds federal requirements — could be improved,” the Port Authority said in a statement.
The agency offered no explanation of what went wrong or whether it was human error or equipment failure.