It pays to be a curious when clearing alarms.
When confronted with a peculiar and evolving issue in the baggage room at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), five TSA team members followed the facts and uncovered an attempted smuggling incident.
The culprit – an insider working for an international airline.
TSA Officer Kim Dove was in the EWR checked bag resolution area when she discovered seven laptops in one bag. At the same time TSA Officer Stephanie Oliksowycz got an alarm on a monitor at her station from another bag.
Examining the X-ray image, Oliksowycz noticed a boxed laptop resting above the monitor with an unknown item sandwiched between the screen and the keyboard.
“I heard the discussion of Kim’s bag and saw the laptop in my bag and just felt something was off, so I decided to check it,” said Oliksowycz. “I always do more [screening], not less.”
The item turned out to be five envelopes filled with cash in excess of $10,000.
When notified about the concealed cash, Lead TSA Officer Yvette Jordon took a closer look and became suspicious as she studied the tags attached to both bags. The passenger’s name was “RUSHBAG, RUSH.”
Taking her suspicions up the chain, Jordon notified Supervisory TSA Officer Jeffrey Jones, who contacted the Ethiopian Airlines station manager with questions about the bags’ owner. Research revealed the bags appeared to belong to an airline employee who made the tags and sent the bags down the belt.
“It was a coordinated effort of everyone working together, from thorough searches to engaging our network to escalating the situation to the supervisor,” said Jones about the situational awareness and teamwork displayed.
Jones elevated his findings to TSA Manager Bill Lynch, who called Customs and Border Protection (CBP). During an interview with CBP, Jones and Lynch, the airline employee revealed he introduced five unauthorized bags into the screening process. Three bags were believed to have made it to the plane.
CBP consulted Homeland Security Investigations, ordered the plane held and the bags in question retrieved. Each of the three bags pulled off the plane was properly screened and did not pose a threat.
"Although this did not result in the detection of a dangerous or deadly item, it was a great catch nonetheless – artfully concealed cash in electronics tendered to the airline by an airline employee who was not flying,” said Federal Security Director Thomas Carter.
The incident pointed out how damaging insider threats can be and why vigilance in exposing plots is important.
“We’re all supposed to be one team here at EWR,” said Jordan. “I was very disappointed when I found out the bags were a part of an insider threat incident involving an airline employee.”
Proud of his team, Lynch noted why it’s important to be on guard, not only on the checkpoint but in everything screeners do. “This was an incident of smuggling, but the tactics used are the same as terrorists use.”
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs