Reacting to a baffling incident at Lemoore Naval Air Station, Rep. Devin Nunes, the Tulare Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, on Friday said the “alarming security breach” must be fixed immediately.
The breach occurred late Wednesday when a couple fleeing law enforcement managed to drive onto the base and into a guarded area and crashed into an FA-18E fighter jet, killing both of them.
It remains a mystery how the Jeep Cherokee got past the guard gate and onto the airfield. So far, the Navy has said the vehicle “entered the installation” but is not elaborating.
The incident not only rattled the base but also raised eyebrows in Congress and among security experts, because Lemoore is the Navy’s largest installation for carrier-based jets.
Nunes’ language made it clear that such a breach, which a terrorist could exploit, cannot be allowed.
“Although at this time there are no indications of any links to terrorism, the incident involved an alarming security breach at Lemoore,” Nunes said in a statement while traveling overseas. “Base officials need to immediately review their security procedures and rectify any weaknesses that allowed this car to penetrate the base’s perimeter.”
The morning after the incident, Capt. Monte G. Ashliman, Lemoore’s commanding officer, said that multiple investigations would be launched to figure out how the couple were able to get onto the airfield.
Base spokesman Marcelo Calero said Friday that no new details would be released because the incident is under investigation.
A security expert with knowledge of military procedures said that “terrorists are looking at this.”
Mike Spicer of Hanford, a retired California Highway Patrol officer and former Marine who once worked at a Navy base as a gate guard, owns and operates a company called The Security Guru that does security assessments, audits and training for businesses and public institutions.
“I’m kind of stunned by this whole thing,” Spicer said. “It has exposed a severe security lapse. They really need to hit the reset button on their program.”
A terrorist would think, “If that knucklehead could get in” then maybe others could, he said.
This much is known about what occurred:
A couple from the Bay Area were found by CHP officers parked on the side of a rural Kings County road late Wednesday night a few miles east of the base.
As an officer approached their parked Jeep Cherokee on Jackson Avenue, the couple – driver Anthony Raymond Castillo, 29, of Campbell and passenger Melissa Marie Miller, 36, of San Jose – took off west, with the car weaving and crossing the center line, the CHP said.
The sport-utility vehicle went the wrong way on Highway 198 for a short distance, causing the CHP to briefly suspend the chase.
As Castillo and Miller entered the base from the highway, they turned off the SUV’s headlights and were able to evade security personnel.
Castillo drove onto a bypass road around the main entrance and its guard post and onto a long straightaway leading to the guard station at the entrance to the airfield.
The CHP officer giving chase lost sight of the SUV, and a CHP helicopter spotted the vehicle after it was past the guard gate.
Castillo somehow got past the gate, drove onto an open field and crashed into the rear of the $65 million aircraft on the tarmac.
No shots were fired, although it’s routine for a gate guard to carry an assault rifle.
Miller was pronounced dead at the scene. Castillo was flown to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, where he later died.
There was no immediate indication of drug or alcohol use, CHP spokesman John Tyler said. A blood sample will be analyzed to determine if Castillo was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.