Wings Magazine

Security protocols broken in Edmonton pipe bomb scare

Jan. 17, 2014, Edmonton - Even after airport security in Edmonton realized a potentially dangerous pipe bomb had been seized from a departing passenger, they did not immediately call the RCMP, inexplicably ignoring the most basic safety and security protocols, sources with direct knowledge of the incident told CBC News.

January 17, 2014  By CBC News

The security personnel also did not follow protocol when they removed
the steel pipe bomb, with its nearly three-metre-long fuse, from an
X-ray machine instead of immediately shutting down the machine,
triggering an alarm, calling in a nearby RCMP officer and securing the
public’s safety.


Instead, a security guard, apparently not realizing it was a pipe
bomb, offered to return it to the teenage passenger who had
inadvertently carried it into the screening area in a camera bag. He
declined to take it and was allowed to board a flight to Mexico with his
family on Sept. 20, 2013.



“The gentleman should have been arrested on site,” said one of the
security guards, who spoke with CBC News on condition of anonymity. “But
the police had no idea this was going on, and they were never called.”


Security personnel placed the pipe bomb in a so-called “forfeit” bin
along with seized items such as scissors and toothpaste. Sources tell
CBC News that many security staff saw the pipe bomb. One security guard
who saw the device said it was obviously a pipe bomb.


“People don't carry a lead pipe with two caps on each end around with
them,” the guard said. “I mean, it is the perfect picture of what a
pipe bomb looks like. And that is what triggered me, when I saw it.  It
was so realistic that it scared me."


Sources in Ottawa told CBC News that Murphy arrived at the airport
with the pipe bomb wrapped in a bag from a "head shop" that sells drug
paraphernalia. The bag had pictures of marijuana leaves on it. The
wrapped bomb was inside the camera bag.


After the pipe bomb was caught by the scanner, the security screener
looked at the images on the bag and assumed the pipe bomb was some kind
of drug pipe. The inspector then swabbed the pipe bomb for drugs, but
not for gunpowder. It tested negative for drugs.


Souces say the pipe bomb was reported the same day to the management
of Garda, the security firm hired by the Canadian Transport Security
Authority (CATSA) to screen passengers at Edmonton International


Despite this, the pipe bomb sat in an office for four days, until
Sept. 24, when it was finally noticed by a CATSA official who called the
RCMP. The Mounties arrested 18-year-old Skylar Murphy from Spruce
Grove, Alta., when he returned from Mexico on Sept. 27.


Murphy pleaded guilty to possession of an explosive device and was
given a one-year suspended sentence, a $100 fine, and ordered to make a
$500 donation to a burn unit.


When contacted by CBC News, Murphy sought $600 for an interview,
saying he wanted the money to pay the fine and the donation. CBC
declined to pay and no interview was granted.


In emailed statements to CBC News, CATSA said an internal review was
conducted, changes were made to ensure this type of security failure
could not happen again, and employees were disciplined, including being


But the guard who spoke with CBC News on condition of anonymity said
only minor changes have been made to security protocols, and the
operator of the scanning machine, and others who were directly involved
with the pipe bomb on that day, were working as recently as this week. 


These latest revelations raise yet more troubling questions about not
only the safety of Canada’s airport-security screening system, but also
about how the incident was handled both by the agency responsible for
airport security, the federal government, the RCMP and Alberta Justice.


According to a transcript of Murphy’s court case, the RCMP believed
the teenager’s story that he didn’t intend to blow up an airplane
because of his “shocked reaction” when security screeners discovered the


The RCMP based this belief on surveillance video from the airport.


“I didn’t view [the video] but [RCMP investigating officer] Const.
[Jim] Kirkpatrick described to me, he said it was obvious on the
surveillance video, when the object was pulled out of his bag, the
shocked reaction he had,” Crown prosecutor Trent Wilson told the court
at Murphy’s hearing on Dec. 5.


The court also heard testimony
from the teenager that he obtained the gunpowder by stealing bullets
from his mother’s fiancé, an Alberta sheriff. Alberta Justice issued a
release saying RCMP had investigated the matter and found the sheriff’s
weapon and ammunition had been properly stored. 


Court transcripts reveal that another reason RCMP believed Murphy did
not intend to harm anyone was that he returned from the vacation
onSept. 27, when he was arrested by a large number of uniformed
officers, a SWAT team and bomb-sniffing dogs.


The transcript shows he and a friend built the pipe bomb because they intended to blow up a shed for fun.


“Mr. Murphy also said he wanted to photograph the shed when he blew
it up and that was why he had the bomb inside of his camera bag,” the
prosecutor told the court.


“When Mr. Murphy packed for his flight he placed his camera bag
inside his carry-on duffel bag. He emphatically denied that his intent
was to cause damage to the airport or any aircraft. He claimed that he
forgot the pipe bomb was inside his camera bag and he did not intend to
try to take it on the airplane.”


The court transcript describes how the explosive device was discovered at the airport.


“An object, which was later confirmed by the RCMP explosive disposal
unit members to be a fully functional pipe bomb was first identified by
an employee conducting an X-ray inspection of Murphy’s bag,” the
prosecutor said. 


Murphy confirmed he was the owner of the bag.


“Items were taken out of the bag in front of Mr. Murphy,” the
prosecutor said “The object was inside a small cloth bag and was made
out of a five and a half inch long metal pipe with two threaded end
caps. One end of the pipe had a fuse sticking out of it that measured
over nine-feet long. The pipe was filled with black powder.


“The pipe bomb was not given back to Mr. Murphy and he was allowed to
board his flight to Mexico,” the prosecutor told the court. The
transcript makes no reference to the security screener attempting to
return the pipe bomb to Murphy.


The prosecutor asked the judge to impose a one-year, suspended
sentence to a guilty plea of being in possession of an explosive device,
which the judge granted. 


Several American security experts told CBC News they were shocked
Murphy wasn’t charged with a much more serious offence and jailed. 


In sentencing Murphy, the judge scolded the teenager for stealing
from his mother’s fiancé and for his bad judgment in producing such a
dangerous device.


“Pipe bombs are used to kill people, to destroy property, they are
used in war, they are used by terrorists, they are used by individuals
who are in conflict, and they are very successful at killing people,”
the judge told Murphy.


The judge also told Murphy that had he carried the pipe bomb to Mexico, he might have been facing a different fate.


“If the authorities had missed that pipe bomb and you had gone, in
Mexico, through a screening device, you would not even get a trial, more
than likely,” the judge said. “You would be in a Mexican jail and your
grandfather and your family would be visiting you in that jail. And you
would probably be learning Spanish by now, if you survived. I doubt you
would have survived.”


The security guard who spoke to CBC said media coverage of the
security failure has undermined public confidence in the screening


“We have got passengers coming up to us and harassing us now
[saying], ‘Why are you searching my stuff or why are you taking my
liquids away? I mean you guys let a pipe bomb go,’” the guard said.



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