NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police arrested a man Thursday in a security breach earlier this week at LaGuardia Airport’s busy central terminal.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, the man – Pano Kumar Varanasi – was charged with criminal trespass. Varanasi, 41, had been visiting family in New Jersey from India.
Police said they were able to track Varanasi to his brother’s home in New Jersey. He came back to the airport voluntarily and was arrested, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
On Tuesday night, Varanasi allegedly caused a security breach – apparently unintentionally. He walked into the Terminal B secure area through an exit – right past a Transportation Security Administration agent – who was supposed to stop him but did not.
Surveillance video shows the agent looking on.
“He has a bulge under his sweatshirt which clearly causes serious concern,” said security expert Anthony Roman. “For a critical checkpoint like this, it’s just unforgivable.”
According to the TSA, the guard on duty at the time is facing disciplinary action and may lose her job.
This wasn’t the only slip-up in the chain of events Tuesday, CBS2’s Magdalena Doris reported. Sources said there was a delay in getting this critical information to Port Authority police, who determined the terminal had to be cleared, searched for bombs and each passenger rescreened.
Port Authority police issued an alert for officers to “be on the look out” for Varanasi and scoured surveillance video which helped them match the man with an airplane ticket, Doris reported.
They determined Varanasi was a passenger from India in the area to visit family and that he was confused as he walked through the exit, Doris said. Police said Varanasi is cooperating with the investigation.
The breach raises serious concern and Roman says it could serve as an example for terrorists of what works.
“It is just as useful for terror cells planning attacks to observe weak points in that fashion as it is to run dry runs themselves,” he said.
People at the airport Thursday were disappointed in the situation.
“It’s terrible see something like this because you don’t know their intentions,” said Zach Fritzhand. “And it just goes to show that you never know what the person to your left or right’s going to do.”
“If his job is to keep people from passing through and someone passed through, yeah, that’s an issue,” said Quentin Hardy.
U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) issued a letter to the TSA demanding an explanation of what happened on behalf of the Homeland Security committee, calling the security breach “extremely serious.”
“We saw what happened in Manchester,” King said. “We have to constantly be on our guard, and this was a breach that has to be explained and corrected.”
King said terrorists could easily take advantage of a lax security situation.
“We have to have ironclad security, because ISIS is probing; they’re looking. They will see an incident like this, by the way, and try to take advantage of it,” he said.
Late Thursday, Varanasi’s wife and sister-in-law were at Queens Criminal Court waiting for his arraignment. They declined comment.
Varanasi is described as “cooperative” with police. He told investigators he got confused after flying to LaGuardia from Detroit, and didn’t realize he was breaching security.
The incident comes as the TSA is testing stricter policies at 10 airports nationwide, now asking passengers to remove items like food, paper and electronics bigger than a cell phone from their carry-ons into a separate bin.
Airport security expert Marshall McClain warns the process will cause back-ups and won’t likely act as a deterrent.
“To truly have something to deter, you’re still going to have to have armed police officers to do that rather than worrying about whether people have too many papers in their luggage,” he said.
The TSA has not yet extended that pilot program to airports in the New York area.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget eliminates funding for TSA agents at airport exit lanes. Many in Congress said they will fight to keep that $77 million in the budget.