TAMPA — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who expressed alarm after reports that a homeless woman was able to sneak onto MacDill Air Force Base four times, is now satisfied that the base is well protected from security threats.
Nelson toured the base Friday and spoke with military officials about how they handle such threats.
He told reporters afterward that security at the base is sound and all previous breaches have been handled appropriately.
"I am convinced that they are doing what they can and it is sufficient for our national security interests," Nelson said. "I don't think you'll see any penetration of the base."
The senator's concerns arose after a Tampa Bay Times report this week chronicling the multiple misadventures of Suzanne Jensen, 50, who sneaked into MacDill four times since October 2012. In one case, Jensen told authorities she entered MacDill by turning a garbage can upside down and using it to climb a wall.
"Each time that she was found, she was deemed not to be a threat and then she was turned over to civilian authorities," Nelson said. "This lady was not a real threat."
He also said it appears Jensen did not stay on the base for days at a time. After her arrest, she told authorities she had been staying there for eight days. But security officials doubted her claim, Nelson said.
Jensen was charged last month with possessing a stolen military ID and four counts of trespassing. She has not yet been arrested on the charges and is not represented by a lawyer.
She has a history of trying to enter military installations. In August 2012, she pleaded guilty to a trespass charge after she was accused of illegally entering Fort Myer in Virginia. She was sentenced to time served.
In 2007, she was charged with two federal counts of trespassing in North Carolina in a case that was eventually dismissed.
Court records are unavailable and it is unclear if she was arrested for entering a military installation. But Jensen's address was listed as general delivery at Fort Bragg, a North Carolina Army base.
Had Jensen's jaunts over MacDill's perimeter wall proven to be anything more than cases of simple trespassing, the action taken would have been much more substantial, Nelson said.
After meeting with base leaders, he said his only advice to security officials was to heighten their awareness of all levels of base security and to talk to people on base about security concerns.
To illustrate the effectiveness of the base's multiple layers of security, the senator noted that in the last six to eight weeks, base authorities have responded to three different threats of unauthorized people trying to come onto the base. In each case, the threat was averted.
He declined to discuss specifics but provided one example in which base personnel received information about a man with a gun who was threatening to come to MacDill to kill himself. In that case, the man was caught before he ever got close to the base, Nelson said.
"In all three cases, it was an example of how well the system works," noted base commander Col. Scott DeThomas, who joined Nelson in a news conference.
Speaking of Jensen's case, he said, "This whole thing would have transpired very differently if we found something more than just someone with mental issues."