WICHITA, Kansas – Next month, Terry Loewen goes on trial. Prosecutors accuse him of plotting to blow up Wichita’s airport but he was actually convicted of another crime at Mid-Continent years ago.
“It’s alleged that he planned to pull the trigger on the explosives himself and die in the explosion,” said Barry Grissom, the U.S. Attorney for Kansas.
A potential suicide bomb plot that federal investigators say relied on Terry Loewen’s job at the airport and increased access to the tarmac that he claimed to get just a week before his arrest in an FBI sting.
“As he attempted to use his access card to enter the tarmac and deliver the vehicle loaded with high explosives, it was not a bomb that would ever explode,” said Grissom.
We want to know why Loewen had such high security clearance in the first place.
“He’d been an employee at this airport according to my records as far back as 2003,” said Brad Christopher, the Assistant Director of Airports.
As an avionics technician for Hawker Beechcraft services, Terry Loewen had to pass a criminal background check to get access to the airport’s secure areas. The TSA was then supposed to review his badge regularly.
When asked if Loewen would have to renew his badge annually or every two years, Christopher said he didn’t know.
After KSN’s interview, Christopher checked with TSA, who says Loewen was vetted every year, but couldn’t give us exact dates. One of the crimes that would disqualify an employee is carrying a weapon or explosive aboard an aircraft yet in February of 2009, TSA found a switchblade in Loewen’s checked bag at Mid-Continent Airport.
“[It] was not technically a federal violation. He would not have had access to that weapon during the flight,” said Christopher.
Forgetting a weapon in luggage is a common mistake according to Christopher.
When asked if airport employees should be more aware of the rules, Christopher said, “Should we have known that and taken that and seen that as a red flag? I don’t see the connection necessarily.”
So Loewen’s employment at Mid-Continent continued right up to the day the FBI says he tried to use a weapon of mass destruction.
KSN’s Stephanie Bergmann asked if looking back at the incident, the Assistant Director of Airports thinks that maybe they should have done something different.
“Obviously we’ve thought of that, and I would say this, first of all, everything we’ve done was in accordance with federal guidelines,” said Christopher.
In fact, he says the switchblade Loewen had in 2009 was only a city code violation, a misdemeanor, so we spoke to city councilwoman Janet Miller, who didn’t know of Loewen’s earlier arrest until KSN told her.
She was surprised but defended the airport’s decision as a right-to-employment issue.
“If a person were to sue because we denied them security clearance for an ineligible reason, we could stand to be the loser,” said Miller.
Bergmann also asked if the screening of new employees or renewal of badges, has the airport changed anything with that process or is it the way it has always been?
“The way I would answer that question we would be remiss, we would be derelict in our duties if we were presented with a situation like this and didn’t evaluate our system,” said Christopher.
He says Mid-Continent has made changes and more will likely come but he wouldn’t specify as to what.
TSA declined our request for an interview, but KSN has filed a “Freedom of Information” request to get the records on when TSA reviewed Terry Loewen’s security clearance.
KSN will stay on the story and keep you updated.