By NEIL GORDON
Fingers are pointing at contractor Raytheon Company after Friday’s incident at JFK International Airport when stranded jet skier Daniel Casillo managed to swim, climb, and walk his way to the terminal undetected by the airport’s high-tech security system. The construction and maintenance of the airport’s Perimeter Intrusion Detection System (PIDS), a $100 million network of fences, sensors, motion detectors, and video surveillance cameras designed to thwart terrorists, was contracted out to Raytheon in 2006 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The contract requires Raytheon to install PIDS at JFK and three other airports (Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, and Teterboro).
Here’s how Raytheon describes PIDS on its web site:
Raytheon’s Perimeter Intrusion Detection System (PIDS) creates a zone of safety around commercial airports and helps security staff make better decisions on potential threats with greater speed and precision. The system achieves this by detecting, observing, assessing and tracking intrusions to secure areas and by aiding airport security personnel in dispatching the appropriate response to the intrusion.
“The highly touted PIDS system…has proven to be a boondoggle, having never fully come online after a series of troubling delays,” according to the New York Post. Tests of the system in early 2010 found numerous bugs, including false alarms triggered by wind, rain, and squirrels. At the time, WABC-TV reported that the Port Authority had stopped paying Raytheon, putting it on notice for inadequate performance and warning that the project had reached “a critical juncture.” The negative press prompted U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez to call for an investigation and demand a refund from Raytheon.
Friday’s incident is the first major failure of PIDS. “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 told the media. The local police union warns that the security system relies on cutting-edge technology at the expense of “boots on the ground.” Tellingly, the Port Authority’s first reaction after the incident was to add police patrols to the airport perimeter. Raytheon has not issued a formal statement, but a company spokesman told POGO that they are working very closely with the Port Authority to determine what happened. Meanwhile, New York Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, says the incident could “very likely” lead to hearings.
Here’s a PDF brochure from 2007 promoting Raytheon’s Integrated Security System for Airports (ISSA) program, which includes PIDS. According to the Business Insider blog, Raytheon removed this document from its web site sometime in the last few days but apparently forgot to completely scrub it from its server. Given the brochure’s over-confident, boastful tone, it’s easy to see why Raytheon would try to bury it.
The downside of privatized security without adequate oversight has been amply demonstrated this summer. The JFK Airport debacle comes just two weeks after an 82-year-old nun and two accomplices were able to evade G4S security guards and break into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. G4S also made headlines in July for failing to provide the promised number of security guards at the London Olympics. Last week, another private security contractor, Academi (previously known as Blackwater, and later as Xe), paid a $7.5 million fine and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement to settle 17 criminal charges relating to weapons violations.
Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Image from Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.