LAPD Leaves Bag of Explosives at LAX

Times Staff Writers

Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s K-9 explosive detection unit left a bag containing explosive powder unattended at Los Angeles International Airport after a training exercise earlier this week, authorities said Thursday.

The error was compounded when a bomb-sniffing dog failed to detect the explosives in Terminal 6 and an airport police officer opened the bag in the presence of passengers, prompting officials to clear the area.

The incident began about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, when an FBI agent assigned to LAX noticed the computer bag unattended outside the offices of several federal agencies.


Thirty minutes later, the agent saw the bag still there and alerted airport police. Another 30 minutes passed before an airport K-9 officer and his dog arrived to examine the bag, said an airport police report on the incident.

Although the dog hesitated when it began sniffing the bag, it did not sit down next to it to signal that it contained explosives. But when airport police opened the bag, they found six 6-inch PVC pipes capped at the ends and evacuated everyone within 300 feet of the area.

By 9:30 p.m., LAPD detectives called to the area had determined that a K-9 explosives detection unit from their department had used the bag earlier that day in a training exercise.

“It’s scandalous,” said a federal counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s bad enough that someone would leave behind a bag like that. But to compound the problem, they bring in a dog that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.”

Authorities said the bag was one of several bomb decoys used in the training exercise. Officers inadvertently left it behind when they moved from one part of the terminal to another to avoid crowds that were gathering to watch the training.

“I am not going to make this pretty. It was unfortunate that this happened, and there will be an investigation to figure out who was responsible for what,” said John Miller, chief of the LAPD’s counterterrorism bureau.

“At the same time,” he added, “this isn’t the first time something like this has happened in the course of training anywhere in the world. Things have been left on planes and in other places, like public buildings.”

As a consequence of the incident, Miller said, the LAPD immediately adopted two new procedures for such anti-terrorism exercises.

The first is to appoint a safety officer responsible for keeping track of equipment and other devices used in such practice sessions.

The other is to notify other agencies, including airport police and the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration, when the LAPD is using such training aids.

It was unclear what sort of danger was presented by the simulated pipe bombs.

Miller and several other law enforcement officials familiar with the incident said several of the simulated bombs did include explosive powder but not fuses or blasting caps. Therefore, they said, the items could have posed a hazard only if someone ignited them.

The more nagging question was how the bomb-sniffing dog could have missed the explosive powder and what that could have meant if the devices had been set to detonate, authorities said.

“There was no fuse, but there was explosive powder in there, and that is a powder that the dog should have detected,” the federal counterterrorism official said.

The dog, recently trained and certified by the TSA, was handed over to airport police just last month but “taken out of service” after Tuesday’s incident.

“We’re concerned the dog missed it, but dogs aren’t 100% reliable any more than human beings are 100% reliable,” said Larry Fetters, TSA security director at the airport.

LAX officials, meanwhile, defended the decision to open the bag without clearing the area inside the terminal.

“Given the non-reaction of the dog, it was entirely within protocol for the officer to make a judgment call to inspect the device,” said Paul Haney, an airport spokesman.

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.