Viewpoint: Airports insecure

Viewpoint: Airports insecure

By Joe Baker

Airports insecure

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Editor’s note: This editorial is a follow-up to last week’s “Rockford’s airport opportunity, right now!”

With the battle between our Senators Durbin and Fitzgerald, the threatened legal action by residents near O’Hare and the fact that Congress will probably not pass the funding until this spring, Rockford still has great opportunity to bring airlines here and be part of the final O’Hare overcrowding deal. The deficit will not help Peotone, but a demand for lower spending will help Rockford—we already have everything built and planes can land today!

We have to move all of our clout to affect Chicago’s Mayor Daley and Governor Ryan. Local Democrats and Republicans need to really make their voices heard with the national and state leaders of their parties, quickly and forcefully.

But again, we can outflank politics as usual if we move to create a state-of-the-art, fast and friendly security screening system, right now! Remember, free parking will help seal an airline attraction deal.

Accordingly, here’s some more information that may help in our quest. F.S.

There’s been a quite a bit of talk in Congress recently about airport security. We have assigned National Guard troops to guard major airfields, and Congress has passed some legislation that attempts to deal with the shortfalls in security.

The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that the Bush administration nominated John Magaw as “undersecretary of transportation security with responsibility for overseeing the new federal security force for airports , buses, railroads bridges and ports.”

Magaw handled some security for Bush, Sr., and headed the ATF for Clinton after the Waco fiasco.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has criticized several deadlines for full baggage inspection and passenger confirmation. Those deadlines were established by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks. The first deadline is Jan. 18.

Recently at O’Hare, a man was arrested after he penetrated security carrying seven knives and a stun gun. Obviously, there are still major gaps in the system. Much more needs to be done.

Airport security has been impeded by several problems. One is that Western nations and the civil aviation industry have improved their security only enough to match the known methods of terrorist attacks, as outlined by Prof. Peter St. John in his book Air Piracy, Airport Security and International Terrorism (Quorum Books).

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Professor St. John said this approach results in a merry-go-round effect; namely, that terrorists breach an outdated security system, and then new security measures are put in place. They stay there, no matter what technological advances occur, until the system is breached again.

Paul Robinson, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, warned: “The number of things that a terrorist can do is far greater than can ever be defended against. We’ll always be in the position where deterrence supposes a rational adversary.”

Another difficulty, according to St. John, is that adopting more stringent security measures always is based on the perceived threat in a particular country.

A country just attacked tends to step up its security measures while one that hasn’t been sees no need to do so (much like the U.S. and Canada). We have raised the level of our security system, but Canada has stayed the same.

That has left international air travel rife with exploitable gaps in security. The Canadian government has largely refused to admit or face the problem, even with some incidents resulting in loss of life.

Yet another difficulty is that there is no concerted enforcement internationally of anti-hijack laws. At least three conventions and one declaration have been created to deal with air piracy, but many nations ignore them for political reasons. It’s been said that “once terrorists set out to attack civil aviation, their chances of achieving at least partial success are better than 75 percent.”

Professor St. John cites a fourth problem: the airlines themselves. The intense competition for market share has forced the airlines to put their resources toward that end rather than improving security. The pressure put even more effort into finding passengers and developing some kind of profit margin has put security even farther on the back burner in the aftermath of 9-11.

Lastly, the chain of airport security is only as strong as its weakest link. Terrorists have freely used airports at Beirut, Athens, New Delhi, Karachi, Tehran, Manila, Tripoli, Lagos, Algiers and elsewhere. This usage and the collusion of the governments involved, St. John says, make a mockery of any system of worldwide airport security.

One of the toughest systems of airport security can be found in Israel. The Israeli method provides a benchmark for Western nations to measure their own performance. The Israeli system has several parts, and it works.

No Israeli airliner has been hijacked since 1970! Here is how it operates:

l All passengers are told to arrive at the airport 2-1/2 hours early for a very thorough boarding check.

l Every passenger is searched and undergoes a psychological screening to see if there is any inconsistency in logic present in their stated purpose of travel.

l An extensive character check is done to confirm the passenger’s identity.

l Full identification is needed to buy a ticket on El Al. Passengers are grilled to a degree not matched by any other airline.

l Checked baggage is X-rayed and then put in a decompression chamber that simulates flight conditions. If there is a pressure-activated bomb in the luggage, it likely will explode. In addition, the cargo holds of all El Al planes are armor plated.

l Carry-on bags go into a special compartment at the front of the airplane, thereby stopping any hijacker from retrieving any weapon that may have slipped through the security checks.

l All flight crews are extensively trained in dealing with hijackers. Backing them up are two heavily armed sky marshals on each flight. One is at the front of the plane, the other at the rear so they can watch the entire cabin. They are trained in hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship and the psyche of the terrorist.

l Devices are installed under the aircraft’s wings that can divert a missile fired at the plane.

Admittedly, it would not be practical to try to implement all of these measures on large airlines with hundreds of passengers, but some of these steps could be employed. It is up to Congress to quit wrangling over the necessary legislation and require the steps be taken.

Who are these hijackers and how do they think? St. John says there are at least three basic types of terrorists: anarchic ideologues, nationalist-separatists, and religious fundamentalists. Many of these people are angry paranoids, he said. German studies have shown many would-be terrorists were failures at school or work. Often they are from dysfunctional or fragmented families and are socially isolated. They have low self-esteem and desperately want to belong to something, much like gang members.

Examples of ideologues, said St. John, are Italy’s Red Brigades and Germany’s Red Army Faction. Such groups are anti-authoritarian but demand unquestioning obedience from their members. They usually follow Marxist or anarchic philosophies.

Nationalist-separatist groups would include the PLO and the Irish Republican Army. While the ideologues are disloyal to their families and parents, this group is loyal to their families but opposes the establishment in their countries.

Radical religious fundamentalists are a recent and very serious threat to the West. They never question the moral authority of their group. A common rhetoric is strongly believed, and their language is absolutist-black and white. They see things in terms of “them” and “us.” That allows them to carry out the most violent actions.

Some terrorists are psychopaths. They have no sense of right or wrong. But they also have a strong sense of self-preservation and a desire not to be harmed. The late Larry Breen, a forensic psychologist at the University of Manitoba, said: “Most hijackers are psychopaths.”

When it comes to hijacking, St. John said he thinks first of Shiite terrorists, backed by Iran and by Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon. All of them have hijacked planes, and all are considered fanatics or deranged. Now there is al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, probably the most fanatical of all.

Raymond Kendall of Interpol said: “They prepare their operations very carefully. If I were a professional criminal going to rob a bank, I would behave in the same way. It is a criminal approach.”

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