Pentagon watchdog: Intruder roamed 'unencumbered' for hours at Joint Base Andrews

Pentagon watchdog: Intruder roamed 'unencumbered' for hours at Joint Base Andrews
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A series of security flaws last month at the Maryland military installation that houses Air Force One allowed an intruder to roam "unencumbered" for more than five hours and board a plane designated for senior government leaders, the Air Force’s internal watchdog said in a report Thursday.

The man, previously identified as 36-year-old Joseph Armstrong, was able to gain access to the grounds on Feb. 4 when a guard on duty did not properly check his credentials before allowing him to enter, the Air Force Office of the Inspector General said in its report. He later made it past the flight line and entered the C-40 aircraft used to transport VIP passengers.

“There were three layers of breakdowns,” Air Force IG Lt. Gen. Sami Said told reporters on Thursday. “The first one, the one that really should have stopped this ball from rolling in the first place, is obviously the gate [where] we had a security forces airman. They were distracted and did not follow a procedure.”

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The gate guard, who was “fully qualified and trained” to work at the base’s access points, failed to properly identify Armstrong, who was not named in the report but described as a homeless man with an arrest record.

The gate guard, who also was not named, later told investigators that he was distracted by a personal issue that morning.

After gaining access to the base, Armstrong allegedly wandered “unencumbered” and visited the installation’s food court and passenger lounge. He “stumbled around for quite a while,” before accessing the flight line through a malfunctioning automatic gate that had not closed properly, Said told reporters.

Once in the flight line, military personnel posted there “failed to observe the man walking toward the aircraft,” and those who saw him on the aircraft “did not challenge his presence,” according to a summary of the report.

Armstrong was able to board the aircraft since it was open for aircrew training, the report said.

Two aircrew members training on the aircraft observed him board and then exit the aircraft a few minutes later. He was apprehended by 316th Security Forces Squadron personnel after someone in the passenger terminal alerted them. Armstrong was arrested for unauthorized access to the flight line and turned over to local authorities.

He was booked by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, given a federal summons for trespassing and turned over to local law enforcement in Virginia as he had two outstanding warrants.

When asked why he was at the base, “his response was, ‘I just wanted to see airplanes,’” according to Said, who noted that the man also said he had consumed alcohol before accessing the installation.

Said said the security personnel who failed to notice or challenge the intruder have not faced disciplinary action, though the security guard at the gate faced nonjudicial punishment from his command.

Following the incident, Joint Base Andrews tightened its security, with new measures including adding more security patrols.

The report determined that there were no systemic security issues at the base.