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Westminster man walked through TSA checkpoint at BWI with knife, no boarding pass

A Westminster man managed to walk through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at BWI Marshall Airport with a knife in his waistband and no boarding pass on the night before the Fourth of July, authorities confirmed Thursday.

John Edward Hill, Jr., 23, was stopped just after 11:30 p.m. while trying to open a secured door at a gate in the airport’s international E Concourse — at which point airline employees realized he did not have a boarding pass, according to Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

MdTA police officers responded with a canine unit and patted Hill down, finding “a small knife” in his waistband, said an MdTA police spokesman, Cpl. Edward Bartlinski.

Hill was charged with interfering with security procedures, tampering with security systems, entering a restricted area without authorization and possession of unauthorized weapons prohibited in an airport, according to court records.

A trial has been set for Oct. 19 in Glen Burnie District Court.

Hill is being held without bond, according to court records.

The public defender’s office in Glen Burnie, which is representing him, has not yet assigned the case to an attorney. A man who answered the phone at a number listed for John Edward Hill, Sr., in Westminster, declined to comment.

FBI agents assigned to the airport assisted in the investigation, Bartlinski said. Authorities do not believe Hill was attempting to hijack a plane.

“We’re not quite sure what he was trying to do,” Bartlinski said. “There’s no nexus to terrorism here, I want to make that clear.”

Hill is not cooperating with investigators, he said.

The TSA immediately began an internal review to determine how Hill was able to walk through the security checkpoint without scanning a ticket — and how the knife went undiscovered during the screening process, agency spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in a statement.

“A review of this event determined that the individual intentionally circumvented the ticket document checking station,” Farbstein said. “Immediate measures were taken to review the techniques of the TSA officers who were working at the checkpoint, to ensure they are employing the proper protocols.”

The incident was a double failure on the TSA’s part, said Jeffrey Price, an aviation security expert and professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“The first failure resulted, obviously, in TSA not checking his documents,” Price said. “The second failure was the ability to get through a checkpoint with a weapon.”

Whether Hill went through a body-imaging X-ray machine or a metal detector or not, the knife should have triggered a pat-down search at the security screening, Price said. If it did, the search was insufficient, he said.

Given that Hill is accused of intentionally evading security with the weapon, Price said, the FBI likely will interview him to determine whether his motive was to show weaknesses in the system or test it for some future criminal purpose.

“In either case, the greater problem is that the enemies of our country and criminals willing to do criminal activity within aviation are all still paying attention to how this guy managed to penetrate into the sterile area, and learning from it,” he said.

The TSA is long overdue for an overhaul, Price said. He suggested more training for TSA officers, “so that they are more like Customs and Border Protection personnel.”

“It’s time to look at some new approaches to aviation security,” he said.

Farbstein said the airline employees who stopped Hill are one of the “multiple layers of security to protect the traveling public.”

Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, praised the actions of the gate attendant who stopped Hill and called police.

“In this instance, an airline employee acted quickly, and the airport’s physical security infrastructure operated as designed,” he said. “Law enforcement was able to respond promptly to remove any threat.”

The TSA takes the discovery of knives and other prohibited items seriously, Farbstein said, but noted “they are unlikely to cause catastrophic damage on an aircraft.”

“In today's post-9/11 security environment, intelligence tells us our officers’ greatest focus remains on the biggest threat to aviation today — explosives and explosives components,” she said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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