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Viewpoint: Airport security: sieve or shield? Who did it?

July 1, 1993

Viewpoint: Airport security: sieve or shield? Who did it?

By Joe Baker

Airport security:

sieve or shield? Who did it?

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

In October 1996, President William Clinton signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 1996. It incorporated many of the recommendations of Vice-President Al Gore’s Aviation Security Commission.

Among other things, it authorized the installation of new bomb-detection scanners to inspect carry-on and checked luggage at major airports. It also provided for hiring new FBI agents to join airport security, boosted the inspection of airmail and increased the use of bomb-sniffing dogs.

The measure provided $19 billion for the FAA from 1996 to 1998. It also gave the National Transportation Safety Board the job of dealing with the families of those killed or injured in air disasters, as reported by CNN that year.

At the time of signing, President Clinton said: “(The bill) will improve the security of air travel. It will carry forward our fight against terrorism.” The events of last week proved that to be empty rhetoric and a forlorn hope.

Now here we are again, talking about airport security. In the last 10 years or so, there have been a number of federal reports and audits that were highly critical of airport security systems, but they weren’t enough to cause any changes.

Warnings from federal officials about vulnerability to terrorists went unheeded. Some congressmen have commented that security improvements were not implemented because the airline industry objected to the cost.

Now the Department of Transportation wants to return armed sky marshals to domestic flights while Congress wants a federal takeover of baggage screening and better security checks of airport employees.

The Washington Post quoted Mortimer Downey, a deputy transportation secretary in the Clinton administration. “At most airports,” said Downey, “the screeners do not strike you as a hardened security force, and we need to do better than a minimum wage person.

“Airports and airlines continually fight with each other on how to do it (screening) and who pays for it, but the one thing they agree on is that it should be as cheap as possible,” Downey said.

The Post reported screeners typically have

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high turnover rates, on average as much as 126 percent annually at larger airports. The General Accounting Office, according to the Post, said 90 percent of airport screeners have less than six months experience and are paid minimum wage or close to it.

A year ago, one security company, with 25,000 employees, was fined $1.5 million for making false statements to the FAA. The government said a background probe of company employees working at Philadelphia International Airport revealed records of kidnapping, drug dealing, aggravated assault and theft, according to a report from Airwise News.

Similar problems were reported by The Record of Hackensack, N.J. after one of its reporters easily penetrated security measures at Newark International Airport. That was in 1996. The reporter found security personnel napping on the job and nobody hand-searching or x-raying luggage.

CBS News said the two airlines involved in the Sept. 11 attack were repeatedly involved in security violations. In the final six months of last year, CBS said, American Airlines was fined more than $400,000 for 49 violations and United Airlines paid $356,000 for 38 incidents. Delta Airlines was even worse, according to the network, drawing fines of more than $600,000. In July, the FAA proposed an additional $99,000 in fines for American Airlines for infractions at several airports, including Boston’s Logan International, where two of the terrorist flights originated.

Michael Boyd, another security authority, told CBS: “Our security is very, very sloppy, not because the systems aren’t there, but because we don’t use them. People aren’t security aware.”

Last summer, Congress directed the FAA to draft new security requirements for airports to improve training for screeners and to hold security companies accountable for their performance. Those rules were scheduled to be announced this week.

Foreign security experts say the terrorists had an easy time of it. Key parts of international procedure—requiring bags to be accompanied and x-ray of checked baggage—are absent.

Security expert Daniel Plesch told the BBC: “Frankly, as one travels around America on internal flights, one can see only too well that the Americans don’t take security in their airports as seriously as we do in this country. There isn’t the same culture as there is in Israel or Britain to deal with these kinds of threats. America is just too open.”

One expert, looking at the failure to adopt the recommendations of Al Gore’s commission, commented it was “one of the most astounding decisions ever taken.”

The BBC reported Chris Yates, aviation security editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, told their reporter the attack would have been beyond the capability of ordinary security measures to halt it.

“This is perhaps the most audacious terrorist attack that’s ever taken place in the world,” Yates said. “It takes a logistics operation from the terror group involved that is second to none.”

The situation may be even worse than that. Chicago investigative journalist Sherman

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Skolnick claims there is another dimension to the tragedy. Skolnick asserts that the U.S. government knew a week before the attack that it was coming and approximately when.

Skolnick says the American CIA and the FBI were alerted by the Israeli Mossad and the French CIA that they had penetrated such a plot and, he says, they passed on the details to our government. Skolnick said his sources in these foreign intelligence agencies confirmed that that report is accurate and true. He asserts our intelligence agencies did nothing to stop the attacks.

The foreign agencies, according to Skolnick, told our agents that guns were to be planted on at least 10 domestic flights and that highly-skilled Iraqi pilots would use them to take over the aircraft. They had already informed our agents that 4,000 Iraqi officers are in this country, brought here by the senior George Bush after Desert Storm.

The Iraqi connection was reported several times by Jayna Davis, a television reporter in Oklahoma City, following the bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building. Skolnick said the television station was bought by an unnamed group, and she was silenced.

Skolnick further alleges that persons representing Iraqi officers spent a good deal of time in one of the World Trade Center towers a week before the attack.

Skolnick contends that behind this attack lies the fact that some foreign television networks were readying documentaries that would break a major scandal on the Bush family in conjunction with the Chandra Levy affair. He says this attack was intended as a diversion. Skolnick alleges the intent of the attack was not only to divert attention from the doings of the Bush family but to cripple the financial heart of the United States.

Financial experts aren’t sure if the American economy can be successfully restarted in the wake of this assault.

Skolnick reports foreign intelligence sources say Osama bin Laden is not the sole culprit in this drama.

Incidentally, Skolnick also alleges bin Laden is a business partner in a construction business in the Mideast with the family of Sharon Percy Rockefeller, wife of John D. Rockefeller IV.

This plot will become much murkier before it becomes clearer. The prime question in all this is, who stands to gain?

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