Al Qaeda Yemen connection suspected in cargo plane bomb scares

The simultaneous bomb scares in Newark, Philadelphia and London are now being linked to al Qaeda activity, according to the latest reporting from CNN. On its live blog covering the suspicious item discoveries, CNN reports, “U.S. officials believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the plot that caused a security scare at English and American airports on Friday.”

In Washington, a diplomat from Yemen has said the government there is opening a full investigation into the alleged bomb, adapted from a toner ink cartridge, that was discovered in the United Kingdom at East Midlands Airport.

Look for tighter security all around at airports in the United States, some of which, according to CNN, will be “visible and passengers should expect a mix of security techniques.”

[photo by redjar via Flickr]

Planes in Philadelphia and Newark being swept for suspicious materials

Suspicious items have been found on cargo flights that landed in Newark, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania today. According to the Transportation Security Administration, the planes have been “moved to a remote location … out of an abundance of caution,” according to CNN.

The fire department’s hazardous materials units in Philadelphia responded to situations with two planes – one a UPS flight, the other a 757 with nobody on it. Officials say that the types of material that could be involved aren’t known.

My Fox New York adds:

Homeland Security officials said one of the crew on the cargo plane from Paris, France, landing at Philadelphia around 9 a.m. called authorities thinking a package aboard the plane could have a radioactive makeup, according to

According to My Fox New York, “There are unconfirmed reports that the Newark plane had arrived from Yemen.” Also, a plane bound from Chicago from Yemen was stopped in London when a bomb made from an ink toner cartridge was found.

In a statement, UPS said it’s cooperating with the investigation.

[photo credit: AP]

$11.5 million buys little security at Newark Liberty Airport

Security gaps are so big at Newark Liberty International Airport you can drive a truck through them. Literally. Inside the terminal, the TSA goes through bags and confiscates oversized fluid containers, but no inspection occurs when trucks and vans drive through security checkpoints and out onto the tarmac. Security company FJC is responsible for protecting the airport, reports Fox 5, for which it is paid $11.5 million. The company is also responsible for security at New York area airports JFK and LaGuardia.

According to Fox 5:

The exclusive Fox 5 video shows FJC security guards stopping trucks at the checkpoint, then walking around the truck using a mirror to look at the undercarriage of the vehicle, but never actually examining the cargo inside the truck. Over and over, FJC guards do nothing more than glance inside trucks that are filled with cargo. The cursory inspections of the trucks’ contents lasted about 5 seconds and never actually involved a guard entering a single vehicle. After which the FJC guards simply waved through each and every truck. It is a security process that totally surprises counterterrorism expert Bill Vorlicek, who screened the video.

The range of risks to which the airport, passengers and employees are exposed is wide. Explosives, in particular, could cause mayhem. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimates that “an average delivery truck can carry anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 tons of explosives,” reports Fox 5.

Port Authority COO Ernesto Butcher told Fox 5 the security lapses were “unacceptable.” The report continues:

“Vehicle inspections are just one of a series of multilayered checks to ensure the safety of cargo being brought to the secure side of the airport, but they are critical and will be continually monitored,” Butcher said in a statement. “Port Authority officials have re-emphasized to all FJC security guards and their supervisors the need for continual diligence and proper inspection techniques during their shifts.”

Newark wine bottle fiasco causes President’s Day shutdown

Ah, Newark. The same airport that brought us a multi-hour shutdown due to a couple in love has once again allowed a civilian to walk right past TSA.

This past President’s Day, a passenger had his bag scanned and the agent reportedly saw some bottles of wine and referred him to secondary screening. However, rather than getting screened, the passenger walked off. The airport was then shut down for an hour as TSA searched for this walker-awayer. They never found him, he never came forward and he presumably boarded his plane and — shocker — he did not use to wine bottles to harm anyone.

Three things:

First of all, I wonder what kind of person the perpetrator was — perhaps he didn’t speak English very well. I do speak English, regularly, and almost every time I’ve been asked to have my bag secondarily screened, I’ve been confused. “Me?” TSA is generally a messy kerfuffle, and I’ve nearly walked off myself. If the person didn’t speak English very well and wasn’t accustomed to airport procedure (which he probably wasn’t, considering he had wine bottles in his carry-on), I have no trouble believing that this was an honest mistake.

Secondly, I feel really let down by the TSA. How many times have we all reached our destinations and realized we had pocket knives, wine keys with knives, bottles of lotion and what-have-you with us in our carry-ons? We tend to feel a sort of thrill as we realize that we totally pulled a fast one on TSA, but really, we should be angry. Their need to inspect us for every little thing has become an epic, world-wide pain in the hindquarters … how dare they do it so poorly? Is there no one keeping score? If you think about the odds, it’s virtually impossible that a passenger walking away hasn’t happened before — but the agents probably shrugged and let him or her go. Why shut the part of the airport down this time?

Thirdly, hey Newark: invest in some more of this. It might save you some time. Thanks. Look, I even found you a discount code. You’re welcome.


Galley Gossip: Interview with musician Josh Wilson (The Hey, Jude Newark Airport guy)

On January 3rd, 2010, there was a security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport. As a result, all passengers in the secure area were required to clear the concourse and pass through security checkpoints a second time. This process took almost six hours. While most travelers were annoyed and frustrated, one imaginative traveler, musician Josh Wilson, decided to lighten the mood. This is his story.

Name: Josh Wilson

Occupation: Singer/Songwriter signed to Sparrow Records (EMI’s Christian Label).

I’m always saying, “This is your life, enjoy it — even if you’re stuck at an airport!” It looks like you know how to do just that based on your popular video making the rounds. So where were you traveling to the day of the Newark Security Breach? I was headed to Mumbai, India with my wife and some others doing mission work

I saw the video after someone forwarded it to me. They actually found it on Alyssa Milano’s Twitter Feed. What inspired you to do the sing-along? Things had gotten really tense in the terminal. We were at about the six hour mark in terms of the delay. Some kids were crying near us and I wanted to cheer them up and maybe get everyone else to relax a little. Someone in our group said I should break out my guitar, and after a little convincing I did. But in that situation, it’s only safe to play the Beatles. Anything else would have led me to being pelted by luggage

Now that’s funny! Have you ever played for a crowd of passengers before? You know, as a musician at some point you feel you’ve played ever possible type of gig. But I do think it was my first airport performance.

Feel free to perform on one of my flights any time! How do you manage to stay so upbeat while traveling? Well, the truth is I don’t. This time it was easy, though. There was clearly nothing we could do – I could choose to be angry or choose to accept it. The best plan was to take a sad song and make it better.

Any advice for travelers stuck in a similar situation? Do you remember that reality show about Southwest Airlines a couple years ago? I used to watch that show and wonder if people had any idea how ridiculous they look when they make a scene over being delayed. I think if we all had more compassion for the people around us and were less consumed with our inconveniences the world would be a better place. And I could stand to follow that advice more often, too.

Amen to that! To where are you traveling next? The next bit of travel is actually on a tour bus, so I’ll be trading terminal delays for traffic delays.

Where can I see you perform?
In January and February I’ll be in Florida a lot, but as the year progresses I pretty well make it everywhere. Check out MYSPACE.COM/JOSHWILSONMUSIC for tour dates.


Photos courtesy of Josh Wilson