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Officials: Woman repeatedly snuck into MacDill

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Published:   |   Updated: July 10, 2013 at 06:08 AM

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Sen. Bill Nelson has asked the Air Force for an explanation of how a woman snuck into MacDill Air Force Base four times in three months.

Nelson (D-FL) has asked for a "briefing on security," according to his spokesman, Dan McLaughlin.

Suzanne Jensen, 50, trespassed onto the base, home of U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command, between Oct. 1 and Jan. 4, according to federal court records.

The intrusions, which included at least two cases where Jensen said she scaled base fences, prompted a review of security procedures, according to a base spokesman.

"With over 6 million visitors to MacDill each year, our Security Forces go to great lengths to protect the people and assets assigned to the base," said 6th Air Mobility Wing spokesman Terry Montrose, who declined to elaborate on what measures were taken.

But one security expert says that review likely included a wide range of issues, from where cameras are installed to how patrols are conducted, with the view toward what could happen if a terrorist group, not a homeless person, snuck on the 5,700-acre base with seven miles of shoreline.

"No doubt conversations have taken place where they said, 'What if this were an al-Qaida operative?" said Fred Burton, vice president for intelligence with Stratfor, a Texas-based geopolitical intelligence firm whose clients include businesses, government agencies and other organizations. "The FBI usually knows about those people ahead of time, but let's assume they didn't in this case. So what do we do to shore up the physical security failures or protective intelligence failures?"

Last month, federal prosecutors filed four charges of entering the base without permission and one count of using a military identification without permission against Jensen.

Jensen's known incursions onto MacDill began Oct. 1, when a retired Air Force major named Barney Morris noticed a strange woman on his boat, moored at the base marina.

Thinking that people don't wander onto one of the most secure facilities in the country, Morris said he assumed Jensen, "was a dependent of someone on the base."

But when he tried to detain her, she jumped into the water. Morris, a postal security officer, called security forces, who then reached out to Tampa police, which provided air support and search dogs. After six hours, a soaking wet woman matching Jensen's description was found at Seascapes Restaurant on base, according to an affidavit.

When base security officers ran her name, they found that she had no base affiliation, but "an extensive criminal history involving other incidents of trespassing on other military installations."

She was cited for trespassing and held under a 72-hour involuntary commitment order known as a Baker Act, according to jail records.

On Nov. 18, Jensen was spotted on base again, this time at the gym. When she was detained, Jensen gave a photo identification she had taken from a locker, according to the affidavit. When security officers escorted her to the MacDill gate, Jensen showed them how she used a trash can she got from softball fields outside the gate to enter the base, flipping it over to use "as a ladder to get over the wall," the affidavit said.

She was cited for trespassing and unauthorized use of a military identification.

On Dec. 17, a security officer saw a "suspicious individual" hiding behind a parked car in the lot at Building 49. Jensen tried running from the officer, but then stopped. She had a backpack filled with clothing, which Jensen said she had taken from a drop box for donated clothes. Jensen was again cited for trespassing and removed.

A few weeks later, on Jan. 4, security officers saw Jensen on base again. She said she climbed a perimeter wall next to the MacDill Avenue gate, had been living inside a boat on a trailer in the base Family Camp for eight days and again had been taking clothes from the drop box.

She was cited for trespassing.

Burton said such incidents are familiar to those who provide security for bases and individuals.

"These things are looked at all the time in protective security arena," said. "Intruders that are persistent, fixated, fall into this category."

Base, federal and local security officials likely had "a pretty good idea of who she was by the second time," Burton said, but people like Jensen present a challenge for facilities more geared toward "prevention of a catastrophic major terrorist attack."

"It's tough to deal with, because crimes like these don't carry a stiff sentence," he said. "She is looked at as a protective security concern, not really one geared toward a threat. She was not armed, not carrying a knife or a hatchet. She is a persistent trespasser. You try to mitigate that by pushing her off base and into local systems and services to get the help she might need."

While the military does "a pretty good job" of preventing "weapons of mass destruction events," Burton said no system is fool-proof.

"There is no 100 percent security umbrella put in place," he said.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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