TSA’s Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) Advanced Threat Local Allocation Strategy (ATLAS) team was conducting a countermeasure in a secure area of the airport when they began to wonder if they were being socially engineered by an airline employee.
After observing an airline employee entering the secure side with an untagged carry-on, ATLAS team member TSA Officer Dariusz Burow engaged the man.
“What’s the bag for?” asked Burow. “(The employee) said it was his personal suitcase for travel later. ‘It has a lot of valuables in it,’” Burow remembered the man saying.
The employee said he was bringing the bag to his office, and when he was ready to travel, he would bring it back out to the public side of the airport and go through screening.
“You can’t do that,” said Burow before the man began to staunchly defend his actions, saying that he and others do it all the time.
The employee’s explanation raised the suspicions of Burow and his other ATLAS teammates, TSA Officers Rebecca Fitzgerald, Israel Almanza and Canine Handler Leslie Runnels.
“I thought for somebody who does this all the time, I have never seen him before,” said Fitzgerald of the odd situation.
The ATLAS team immediately began to feel as though they were trying to be convinced of something they felt wasn’t true, yet the employee boldly upped the ante by requesting they call a TSA supervisor.
“Before I had a chance to call anybody, K9 Rusty screened the bag,” said Burow.
“He was standing there arguing,” said Runnels. “Rusty, the K9, was trying to get around the bag to get a good sniff. The man moved out of the way a bit, enough for Rusty to get a good sniff. He showed a change of behavior which is a sit response.”
When Rusty sat, the ATLAS team escalated the situation to an incident and made proper notifications.
“Rusty and I work with ATLAS pretty much every single day, at least twice a day at these doors and other areas,” said Runnels. “They know our dogs pretty well, too.”
“ATLAS training and experience has paid off,” said Almanza, confirming what Runnels mentioned about the frequency of the countermeasures which are visible to passengers and airport workers. “When situations like this present themselves, we are prepared to handle them.”
Within three minutes, Lee County police arrived and increased the perimeter of the incident, while ATLAS officers made sure the access area in question was restricted to emergency personnel.
Two-and-a-half hours later, the bomb squad gave the all clear sign. After further review by Investigations, it was discovered the employee used the bag on trips to the shooting range and residue left in the bag is what probably alerted Rusty.
“On behalf of Security Operations Executive Assistant Administrator Melanie Harvey and the entire team, each one of you should be extremely proud of the work you do, because it shows collaboration. It shows partnerships. It shows threat detection and your focus on that,” said Security Operations Deputy Executive Assistant Administrator Steve Lorincz. “It is very, very meaningful, and from all of us here, congratulations and well done on all fronts.”
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs