Video: ‘Unprofessional and silly mistake’

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    >>> coast, 6:00 out west. and we begin with a developing news story. slovak officials call it an unprofessional and silly mistake, a better description might be an absolutely stunning and dangerous lack of common sense. slovak authorities planted plastic explosives in a passenger's bag without his knowledge, all as part of an airport security test. nbc's tom costello is live for us in washington. and in light of what's been happening since christmas day, this is all the more unbelievable. what can you tell us, tom?

    >> this is concerning. what happened is, the slovak authorities in central slovakia wanted to test their own security, so what they did was they put plastic explosives , nine separate pieces of it, into passengers' bags. the passengers didn't know it. their dogs picked up eight of those packages. however, one package of plastic explosives , about three ounces worth, traveled all the way to dublin. and then this man, by the way, who never was told that they were putting plastic explosives in his luggage, he picked up the luggage and took it home. it wasn't until three days later that the slovaks notified the irish about this. the irish didn't immediately know that the man had been unsuspecting and had literally just picked this up. they sent the equivalent of a s.w.a.t. team to that location you saw on television there, an apartment building, they kcordon cordoned off the whole area, they went in, arrested him. and it wasn't until a couple of hours later that they actually learned from the slovaks , it was the slovak security forces who screwed up here, putting this plastic explosive into this man's carry-on without him ever knowing and now the slovaks have formally apologized to the irish and the slovaks have some questions to answer themselves. how was it that their dogs failed to pick up the plastic explosives that they themselves planted.

    >> and another reason that the united states really has its hands full, when it's looking at planes that are coming in from other countries. thanks so much. we appreciate it, tom.

    >> okay.

    >>> now, after bearing the brunt

updated 1/6/2010 5:45:28 PM ET 2010-01-06T22:45:28

A failed airport security test ended up with a Slovak man unwittingly carrying hidden explosives in his luggage on a flight to Dublin, Slovak officials admitted Wednesday — a mistake that enraged Irish authorities and shocked aviation experts worldwide.

While the Slovaks blamed the incident on "a silly and unprofessional mistake," Irish officials and security experts said it was foolish for the Slovaks to hide actual bomb parts in the luggage of innocent passengers under any circumstances.

The passenger himself was detained by Irish police for several hours before being let go without charge Tuesday.

The Irish were also angry that it took the Slovaks three days to tell them about the Saturday mistake and that the pilot of the airplane decided to fly to Dublin anyway even after being told that an explosive was in his aircraft's checked luggage.

After being informed by the Slovaks, Irish authorities shut down a major Dublin intersection Tuesday and evacuated people from several apartment buildings as Irish Army experts examined the explosive. The unwitting passenger was identified by Irish police as Stefan Gonda, a 49-year-old Slovak electrician who lives and works in Ireland.

The incident was bound to heighten flying jitters in the wake of the Christmas near-disaster where, authorities say, a 23-year-old Nigerian suspect tried to detonate an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, only to be foiled by a passenger who jumped over seats to subdue him.

'Crazy' test
Security experts said the Dublin episode illustrated the inadequacy of the screening of checked-in luggage — the very point Slovak authorities had sought to test when they placed bomb components in passengers' bags.

Yet Clark Kent Ervin, the former inspector general of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, called the Slovak test "crazy."

"It should be a controlled exercise," Ervin said. "It never should be done to someone unwittingly."

"It's unbelievable, it's astonishing," said Rick Nelson, a former Bush administration official who worked at the National Counterterrorism Center. "I'm not sure what they were thinking using an unknowing civilian rather than an undercover security official."

Their comments were echoed by experts in several nations.

Aviation analyst Chris Yates said someone should be fired, not only for the mistake, but for how the entire operation was designed.

Can you spot the threats?"The whole idea of putting devices in passenger bags scares the living daylights out of me, frankly. It leaves it wide open to a whole range of things, including theft," Yates told The Associated Press in London.

"Anything could happen," he said. "That bag could go through a different carousel in the airport, you could lose it and you get the situation where you have RDX plastic explosive loaded into the cargo hold of an airplane, flown to another destination and then you have to find (it)."

An aviation security expert in Israel was equally incredulous.

Rafi Sela, president of AR Challenges, a consulting firm specializing in security, said Israel conducts daily drills in which people try to smuggle mock explosives, but the explosives are monitored at all times and are handled by volunteers, never by unwitting travelers.

"Nothing has ever happened like that in Israel and it never will because we operate differently here," he told the AP. "It's extremely dangerous what happened there. We send people to try and get through security all the time to test the system but explosives are always closely monitored and would never end up unattended like that."

In neighboring Hungary, officials said placing explosives secretly in a passenger's luggage was against the law.

'Profound regret'
Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak expressed "profound regret" to the Irish government for the oversight and the delay in alerting them.

But his ministry, in a statement, still claimed that "no one was in danger (during the flight) because the substance, without any other components (detonators) and under the conditions it was stored, is not dangerous."

The ministry said it ordered an immediate halt to such tests and took steps to prevent a repeat, while Tibor Mako, the head of Slovakia's border police whose people carried out the exercise, offered his resignation. There was no word on whether it would be accepted.

"The aim of the training was to keep sniffer dogs in shape and on alert in a real environment," the ministry said.

Still, details emerging from the failed exercise heightened concerns that basic precautions were not taken, with the ministry saying that when Slovak authorities realized their error and told the pilot of the Danube Wings flight, he still decided to take off with the explosives on board.

The Slovaks say authorities at Poprad-Tatry Airport informed their Dublin airport counterparts during the flight that the explosive was onboard. The Dublin Airport Authority and airport police, however, said the information was sent to a private baggage company, not to them.

Even the basic facts of test were in dispute Wednesday.

'Silly and unprofessional mistake'
Irish officials said the Slovaks told them nine real bomb components were placed into the bags of nine different passengers at two airports, including Bratislava Airport and Poprad-Tatry Airport in central Slovakia. Eight items were detected, the Irish said, adding that one bag had two bomb components in it.

Slovak officials say they attached only two small packages onto the outside of one man's bag — one a small explosive cache and the other a dummy that smells like explosives.

A sniffer dog found the fake — but the police officer in charge failed to remove the second, which was not detected by the dog, from the bag because he was busy, the Slovakian interior ministry statement said.

That allowed 3 ounces of RDX plastic explosive to travel undetected through security at Poprad-Tatry onto a Danube Wings aircraft. The Slovak carrier launched services to Dublin last month.

"The police officer made a silly and unprofessional mistake, which turned the good purpose of protecting people into a problem," the ministry statement said.

Slovak border police subsequently traced the man and told him where the explosive was planted so that he was able to find it Monday evening, said the ministry. Kalinak, the interior minister, called him to apologize.

But the Slovak ministry admitted it did not contact Irish authorities and explain the situation until Tuesday. That prompted Irish police to raid the man's Dublin apartment and detain him for several hours.

Irish police said they initially were led to believe the man might be a terrorist until the Slovaks explained the situation further.

Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said Dublin police eventually confirmed that the explosive "was concealed without his knowledge or consent ... as part of an airport security exercise."

Mixed reaction
The Slovak statement criticized the Irish police.

"For an incomprehensible reason for us, they took the person into custody and undertook further security measures," it said.

Slovakia was considering "new forms of sniffer dog training" to avoid a repeat of the scare, the ministry said.

In the Slovak capital of Bratislava, people expressed mixed feelings about the mistake.

"It's a big deal, I think it's horrible," said Robert Maslej, 28, waiting for a flight to Manchester, England, at Bratislava airport.

But Neil Hamison, a 30-year-old IT engineer booked on the same plane, was far less perturbed.

"I saw it on the news but didn't really think about it," he said.

The incident was reminiscent of a French security exercise gone awry six years ago, when a bag of plastic explosives hidden intentionally in an unwitting passenger's luggage went missing.

Police had placed explosives in the side pocket of a suitcase in an exercise to train bomb-sniffing dogs at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. The bag, containing nearly 5 ounces of explosives, was never seen again.

French police said at the time there was no chance the explosives could go off since they were not connected to detonators, but the incident caused widespread criticism. The French subsequently stopped placing explosives intentionally into passengers' luggage for training.

 

 

 

Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak expressed "profound regret" to the Irish government for the oversight and the three-day delay in alerting Irish authorities about the Saturday incident.

The explosives never posed a danger to the flight, the interior ministry said Wednesday, even as it ordered an immediate halt to such tests and took steps to prevent a repeat of failed security test.

Tibor Mako, the head of Slovakia's border and foreign police whose people carried out the exercise, offered his resignation Wednesday. There was no immediate word on whether it would be accepted.

Security experts said the episode illustrated the inadequacy of security screening of checked-in luggage — the very point the Slovak authorities had sought to test when they placed real bomb components in nine passengers' bags Saturday.

"The aim of the training was to keep sniffer dogs in shape and on alert in a real environment," the ministry said.

Eight items were detected. But one bag had two bomb components in it. The sniffer dog found one but the police officer in charge failed to remove the second, which was not detected by the dog, because he was busy, the ministry said.

That allowed 90 grams (3 ounces) of RDX plastic explosive to travel undetected through security at Poprad-Tatry Airport in central Slovakia onto a Danube Wings aircraft. The Slovak carrier launched services to Dublin last month.

'No one was in danger'
"The police officer made a silly and unprofessional mistake, which turned the good purpose of protecting people into a problem," the statement said.

Slovak authorities realized their error and told the pilot of the Danube Wings flight, who then decided to still take off with the sample on board, the ministry statement said.

"No one was in danger, because the substance without any other components (needed to bring it to a detonation) and under the conditions it was stored, is not dangerous," the ministry said.

Slovak border police subsequently traced the man and told him where the explosive was planted so that he was able to find it Monday evening, said the ministry. Kalinak, the interior minister, called him to apologize.

The man was not identified. Slovak media said he is a 49-year-old electrician who works and lives in Ireland.

The ministry said it contacted Irish authorities and explained the situation on Tuesday, prompting Irish police to raid the man's Dublin apartment. A major north Dublin intersection was shut down Tuesday and neighboring apartment buildings were evacuated as a precaution while Irish Army experts inspected the explosive.

The man was detained for several hours then released without charge.

Irish police said they initially were led to believe the man might be a terrorist until the Slovaks explained the situation further.

Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said Dublin police eventually confirmed that the explosive "was concealed without his knowledge or consent ... as part of an airport security exercise."

The Slovak statement criticized the Irish police action.

"For an incomprehensible reason for us, they took the person into custody and undertook further security measures," it said.

Authorities in Slovakia were considering "new forms of sniffer dog training" to avoid a repeat of the scare, the ministry said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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