A U.S. Special Forces demolitions expert accused of having C-4 while trying to board an airplane New Years Eve in Midland apparently made the trip to the Permian Basin with the plastic explosive, court documents state, and had a smoke grenade confiscated a week earlier.
Trey Scott Atwater, 30, of Hope Mills, N.C., was set to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Counts at 4 p.m., Tuesday before he waived his right, Assistant U.S. District Attorney John Klassen said.
Jason Leach of Odessa was identified as Atwater’s attorney.
Atwater was charged with one count of attempting to board an aircraft with explosives on or about his person after, court documents state, he tried to go on American Airlines flight 3283 to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with C-4 in his carry-on luggage.
It is unknown when Atwater will have his next hearing in federal court. According to the Associated Press, the charge carries a maximum 10-year federal prison sentence.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a spokeswoman with the Midland County jail said Atwater was still being held there. No bond has been set.
According to federal court documents, Atwater was detained around 9:31 a.m. Saturday after Transportation Security Administration officers spotted a suspicious item in a carry-on bag during an X-ray screening. The airport was evacuated and closed for about an hour while local and government officials investigated and removed the item.
During the investigation Saturday, Atwater told FBI agents he was a demolitions expert who had returned from his third tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 7th Special Forces Group in April 2011, documents state. Atwater also said his team was supposed to carry at least two blocks of C-4 on any operation, documents state.
After returning home, Atwater told officials he did not remember seeing any C-4 in his bags when he returned home and did attend trainings that included the use of C-4 since his return, documents state.
As he prepared to leave for Midland, Atwater told investigators he packed the bag with children’s items, did not recall any explosives being inside and was “surprised” when they were found, documents state.
It is still not known how many explosives were in the bag or how they were obtained.
According to Odessa American reports, Atwater is a member of the Green Berets and was a 1999 graduate of Midland Lee High School. He joined the Army under the delayed-entry program at the Army Recruiting Station in Midland and went to Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., for basic training.
Lt. Col. Tom Bryant, a public affairs officer for the Army Special Operations Command, confirmed Atwater is a sergeant first class and assigned to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, which is at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Saturday’s event was not the first stop Atwater had with the TSA. Court documents state on Dec. 24 at the airport in Fayetteville, N.C., TSA officials reportedly found a smoke grenade in his bag, documents state. However, it is not clear if the grenade was found in the same bag the C-4 reportedly was.
The TSA confiscated the grenade and issued him a warning before he was allowed to continue his trip to Midland, documents state.
FBI spokesman Mike Martinez declined to comment on if the TSA would be investigated for not finding the C-4 on Christmas Eve.
Louis Casanova, a public spokesperson with the TSA, referred all questions about screening processes by the agency to a news release; however, the Odessa American received no such document Tuesday.
Security Expert and author of numerous books on airport security Bruce Schneier said one of the reasons the explosives may have made it through security in North Carolina is that standard detectors don’t catch high-grade explosives.
“C-4 is a plastic explosive so the metal detectors won’t catch it,” Schneier said. “It’s not a screening failure, it’s a security failure.”
Though he said it was good the TSA found the explosives, he said the organization was trained more at finding bombs than other types of explosives and called the current screening process “more for show.”
“If you move security levels back to pre-9/11 levels, we’ll be just as safe,” Schneier said.
Dotty Griffith, public education director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, also praised the seizure of the explosives as long as it was not invasive.
“Airport security that apprehends potentially dangerous material is to be commended,” Griffith said.