Newsday: Rep. King wants probe of JFK to LA stowaway
BY JOHN VALENTI
Federal investigators are trying to determine how a man claiming to be from Nigeria used an expired boarding pass to clear security at Kennedy Airport and board a flight to Los Angeles.
An FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday charges Olajide Oluswaseun Noibi with being a stowaway on Virgin America Flight 415 from New York to LA last Friday and describes how he cleared security screening and boarded the flight using an expired boarding pass not in his name.
Noibi's initial court appearance was adjourned until Friday. If convicted of the current charge, he faces 5 years in prison.
No further information on Noibi, including his age or where he lives, was immediately available.
Noibi's presence on the flight only became known after the flight crew noticed a person in Seat 3E that was supposed to be empty and alerted the lead flight attendant, who questioned Noibi, the affidavit says. Upon being questioned, Noibi retrieved the outdated boarding pass from his bag, as well as a University of Michigan identification card that showed his photograph and full name.
Those documents were given to the captain, who noted that the names on the boarding pass and the university ID did not match and that the date on the boarding pass was wrong, the affidavit says.
Noibi was not detained upon the flight's arrival in Los Angeles, the affidavit says.
He was arrested Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport as he attempted to board a Delta flight to Atlanta, the affidavit says, using another expired boarding pass.
He had more than 10 additional expired boarding passes in his possession, none of them in his own name, the FBI said. He had no money.
The University of Michigan said Thursday that a man by that name was an undergraduate student in the College of Engineering from 2004 until fall 2006. Spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said Noibi is not a current student, and university records do not indicate that he received a degree.
Authorities said Noibi has no obvious ties to any known terrorist organization, but that the investigation into his background is continuing.
However, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, immediately demanded a full probe. He said he is sending a letter to John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, whose agents are responsible for screening passengers at airports nationwide.
"Was he testing the system?" King said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Was this a series of coincidences? I think it has to be fully investigated."
King said, "From what we know so far, I've never seen a case with so many unanswered questions."
The TSA, in a statement Thursday about Noibi's flight from Kennedy to LAX, said: "Every passenger that passes through security checkpoints is subject to many layers of security including thorough physical screening at the checkpoint. TSA's review of this matter indicates that the passenger went through screening. It is important to note that this passenger was subject to the same physical screening at the checkpoint as other passengers. TSA cannot comment further on the specifics of the case given the ongoing FBI investigation."
However, federal sources acknowledged the case raises security concerns, especially coming barely two months before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Attempts to reach a Virgin America spokesman Thursday were not immediately successful.
The Port Authority, which operates Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports, where one of the jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center made its departure on Sept. 11, 2001, said Thursday it is not responsible for checking tickets and boarding passes and referred all inquiries to the TSA and Virgin America.
The complaint against Noibi states that the boarding pass he used to board the Virgin America flight belonged to a man who had flown Flight 413 one day earlier, on June 23 — and who told the FBI he had discovered that pass missing after taking the subway to Kennedy Airport.
The legitimate pass-holder was identified as "M.D." in the affidavit.
"M.D. said he folded the boarding pass in fourths and put it in his back pocket. M.D. took the subway to the airport. When he arrived at JFK Airport, he discovered he no longer had that boarding pass in his pocket. M.D. went and obtained a new boarding pass from a ticket kiosk and then boarded Flight 413. M.D. said he did not know Noibi," the affidavit says.
The boarding pass that Noibi used to board the flight also was folded "in fourths," the affidavit says.
The affidavit states that Noibi was discovered aboard Virgin America Flight 415 while the jet was en route to Los Angeles, having departed Kennedy last Friday evening. The flight landed at LAX on Saturday.
A flight attendant said he saw Noibi seated in seat 3E in the "Main Cabin Select" area of the jet — and noted the seat was supposed to be unoccupied. The attendant asked Noibi for his boarding pass, the affidavit states, and Noibi said the pass was in a bag in the overhead bin.
When the pass was retrieved, the attendant noted the date and flight were incorrect and Noibi said he had missed the flight the day before, the affidavit says. The attendant passed the document to the flight'a captain, who instructed the attendant to request further identification from Noibi. Noibi was "hesitant," the complaint states, but then provided the college ID from Michigan.
The card had a photo and name that did not match the name on the boarding pass.
Authorities said the flight continued to Los Angeles despite the security breach — and sources told Newsday that was because it was believed that Noibi had been security-screened.
The Los Angeles Department of Airports Police and the FBI were notified of the situation, the affidavit says. Noibi was not arrested when the flight landed.
Noibi was arrested Wednesday at LAX at about 6 a.m. after he attempted to use another expired boarding pass to board Delta Flight 46 to Atlanta, which was scheduled to depart at 6:10 a.m.
The FBI officer who wrote the affidavit said he, along with a task-force officer from the U.S. Custom and Border Protection Department, watched as Noibi showed a portion of a green boarding pass to the Delta agent. The agent returned the ticket, and then the task-force officer overheard the agent tell Noibi the pass was from the day before, and was not valid for that flight.
Noibi responded that he had missed his flight the day before and kept trying to hand the agent the boarding pass, the affidavit says. The agent twice told Noibi "no," the affidavit says.
At that point, the affidavit says, the FBI agent and Customs officer approached Noibi and asked to speak with him.
The affidavit states it was then that Noibi acknowledged he had not paid for the Virgin America flight. He said the reason for his trip to Los Angeles was "to recruit people for his software business," the affidavit says.
Noibi said he tried to get a Tuesday flight to Atlanta, the affidavit says, but " 'they' could not get him on that flight." He said he had a reservation for Wednesday, and that he had spent Tuesday night in the secure portion of the airport. He claimed he had been able to go through passenger screening by getting a seat pass, "and displaying his University of Michigan ID and a police report that his passport had been stolen."
It was not immediately clear whether such a police report exists and, if so, what police department may have issued a stolen passport report to Noibi.
A search of Noibi's two bags turned up more than 10 boarding passes in various names; no passes in Noibi's name were found, the affidavit says.
"Noibi said that he had no money on him and that he does not know anybody in the Los Angeles area," the affidavit says.
The affidavit says Noibi informed the arresting agent he was planning to return to Nigeria on July 7 and said he had a valid Nigerian passport "at home."
Noibi claimed he had a reservation on Virgin Atlantic to return to the U.S. from Nigeria on Sept. 9, 2011, the affidavit says.