Terrorist Acts Will Trigger Security Overhaul

Air travel in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist acts against New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., has brought to the forefront failures in the airline and airport security systems that include underpaid, undertrained security personnel, facilities that are tough to monitor and numerous openings for someone to take on the guise of an employee and slip past security. In the near term, passengers likely will see visibly armed guards roaming airports and possibly stationed on aircraft, and they will experience much tighter controls as they move through metal detectors.

United referred questions to FAA, and American yesterday said it was still discussing what in-creased security measures it planned to take, but several other airlines said they would step up security, starting with a ban on all weapons, including knives, from aircraft. Media reports said terrorists used knives and cutters with retractable blades to hijack aircraft. A source in the counter-terrorism community who asked not to be identified told The DAILY yesterday that the attacks were made possible by “some sloppiness” in airport security and physical layouts that make it nearly impossible to cover all perimeters. “Dulles has these split-up terminals, and you can’t tell me all those guys that drive people movers are checked everyday for weapons,” the source said. “They can come in [and] leave a weapon in a so-called protected area” for later pick-up. There have been are numerous reports issued by the federal government showing security breaches at airports nationwide. Dulles has one major security checkpoint, which is placed before passengers board people-movers to outer terminals.

The Boston Globe in 1999 reported regular security breaches at Logan, and an airport spokesman said significant changes are underway, including more random identification checks, allowing only passengers into gate areas, increased surveillance by bomb-sniffing dogs and elimination of curbside checking, a step that was called for by DOT Secretary Norman Mineta. Jim Bennett, chief operating officer for the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, said yesterday the authority is “evaluating some guidelines that have been issued by FAA…and it is our intent to fully implement those provisions immediately.” Bennett declined to detail what those increased security measures would be or what measures the airports already have in place.

He said, however, that under FAA rules, airlines are responsible for passenger screening, and the airport is charged with perimeter security. “We’ve always had armed guards,” he said of security at Dulles and Washington National.

“What we need most is good intelligence-gathering capabilities, and that’s the necessary element for airport security,” said Darryl Jenkins, director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University. Screening devices are very dull instruments, and terrorists know better than to bring guns on planes where they have the probability of being caught.” Jenkins said screening devices help to “get rid of the crazies who will come on the plane with a gun. Those aren’t the ones I’m concerned about.” He added, “Security at any airport is Swiss cheese…I don’t know if anything we could have done would have stopped those guys” on Tuesday. In the future, Jenkins said, travelers will need “two things — a sense of humor and a very big bottle of Prozac.”

The anti-terrorist expert said U.S. aviation should “take a page out of the Israeli book, have a sharpshooter or at least a security guy on each plane.” He said Israeli sharpshooters train to “do a head hit at 100 yards from the tarmac.”

In fact, there has been some effort on Capitol Hill to implement a program of placing sky marshals on board aircraft, but those attempts died because of budget concerns, said Matthew Cherry, President of Intelex, Ltd. which works on security issues. “I believe the sky marshal program would have prevented this.” Cherry also believes that airlines need to pay and train security employees better. “We’re using $6-an-hour employees to scan X-ray machines. Maybe we need to rethink that and [provide] a higher level of training and competence than the average security guard achieves. He said baggage handling should be done in a dedicated secure environment and baggage placed in sealed containers. “There will be some inconvenience, but it will bring down risk.” Cherry admitted that airports “will whine about every dime. The question is what will Congress do in budgeting and allocation of funds because I think the airlines will do pretty much anything as long as they don’t have to pay for it.”

Jenkins predicts that Congress may overreact with something that “has the appearance of additional security. I’m not sure what we had [Tuesday] was a security breakdown,” although he also predicts that “we will see a lot of presence of guns in airports and probably on planes as well.” Cherry noted that since security is not part of the U.S. culture, it’s going to be difficult for travelers to deal with the upcoming changes. He said holes in the security system can be plugged, however, and the technology exists and is used at airports in Rome, Paris, London and Tel Aviv. But he noted that while technology is important “it can’t replace people with gut instincts to walk the rounds” checking for potential problems.

Copyright 2001 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.