Va. man arrested at BWI with gun

Officials credit behavior-focused screening program

August 18, 2007|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

A Virginia man who appeared to be "exhibiting suspicious behaviors" was arrested at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport this month while carrying a concealed handgun with 30 rounds of ammunition, according to the federal Transportation Security Administration.

The Aug. 1 incident was not publicly announced at the time, but an account was later posted on the TSA Web site as an example of the success of its technique of screening passengers by closely observing their behavior. The program has been in place at BWI for almost a year.

According to the TSA, the behavior of the arrested man was consistent with that of a terrorist before an attack. But Cpl. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said there were no indications that the suspect was involved in terrorism or "feeling out" security at the airport.

Green said the department did not issue a news release at the time because it did not regard the incident as "a huge arrest." The spokesman characterized the man as someone who "made a bad decision and got caught."

He said the man told officers that he intended to get a permit for the weapon but had not gotten around to it.

The TSA said a behavior-detection officer at the airport observed a man who aroused his suspicions as the passenger stood at an airline ticket counter.

The officer, who had been trained through the agency's Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, notified Maryland Transportation Authority Police officers, who determined that the man was carrying a 9 mm Glock and ammunition without a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Thomas James Sackie, 45, of Falls Church, Va., was arrested and charged with having a handgun on his person without a permit, court records show. He was taken to Anne Arundel County District Court and released without bail.

A public records search turned up one listed address for Thomas James Sackie that was the same as that of Oakley Network Systems in Falls Church. The records list Tom Sackie as senior vice president of that firm.

According to its Web site, Oakley is a data security and investigative firm that specializes in protecting clients against "internal threats." The Web site boasts that the company's customers include Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Defense Department.

Sackie is quoted in a recent article on "Plugging Data Leaks" posted on the online edition of Military Information Technology.

"The majority of security rule violations are honest people who didn't know they were breaking the rules, but malicious users can be extremely dangerous," Sackie is quoted as saying.

Sackie did not return calls after messages were left at Oakley's office yesterday. Calls to the company's Salt Lake City headquarters also were not returned.

SPOT program launch

The TSA said the SPOT program was launched in 2003 in an effort to identify suspicious people before they reach secure areas. The agency said that officers in the program focus on behavior indicating high levels of "stress, fear or deception" instead of physical characteristics.

Greg Soule, a spokesman for the TSA, said the program is in effect at most of the nation's busiest airports.

The TSA expects to have more than 500 officers trained in behavior detection at airports and other transportation facilities by the end of next year.

The SPOT program has resulted in more than 275 arrests, Soule said.

The program has come under criticism from some civil liberties advocates, who consider it a form of profiling.

The TSA Web site bills the program as "a non-intrusive means of identifying potentially high-risk individuals."

The agency said the technique "adds an element of unpredictability that will be easy for law-abiding passengers to navigate but difficult for terrorists to manipulate."

Soule said SPOT is derived from a behavioral observation program pioneered by Israeli security forces and adapted to U.S. conditions.

`Proven effective'

"It's proven effective both in Israel and the United States in the short time it's been active," Soule said.

The incident at BWI follows one last year in which a couple were questioned after a block of processed cheese and a charger for a digital video disc player were found in their checked baggage. Officials played down concerns that the incident might have been a "dry run" to determine what screeners could or could not detect at airports.

On Sept. 22, the Transportation Authority Police became involved in another handgun incident when a loaded Raven Arms MP25 semiautomatic was found in a passenger's carry-on luggage.

September incident

Two Southwest Airlines concourses were evacuated after the passenger walked away from his luggage and disappeared into a gate area. The passenger later left the gate area and fled the airport.

DeJuan Hunter, 36, of Parkville was arrested more than a week later after police found his fingerprints on items in the carry-on bag.

Hunter was indicted in October on charges of attempting to carry a handgun onto an aircraft and a handgun violation. The charge of trying to smuggle a gun aboard an airport was dropped early this year.

In January, Hunter pleaded guilty to the handgun charge and was sentenced to three years with all but 30 days suspended.

He was placed on supervised probation for two years.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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