Facing Up To The Facts

The World Trade Center clean-up has come to an end ahead of schedule. Public mourning of the killed at “ground zero” is over. Americans across the country are trying to put the 9/11 tragedy behind them.

For many families in the New York metropolitan area, the pain remains, and in some cases it will do so for a lifetime. In New York City, the depth of the feeling of patriotism, and the need to support efforts to prevent any repeated act of terrorism. may cut a little deeper because it’s so hard to find residents of this region who can’t claim a connection with the Twin Towers or those who were lost there. The slogans about love of country, the war against terrorism, or the visiting of revenge upon those who would dare attack us in our backyard are not needed in the New York area. Determination to fight back is written on faces seen in the streets of Manhattan: it’s heard in the singing of “God Bless America” at Yankee stadium: and it is found in eyes that look with pride upon our cops, fire-fighters, EMS technicians, and the pictures of those lost in the rubble of the World Trade Center that remain posted in Grand Central Station. The entire nation is resolute in the battle against terrorism — it’s just more apparent in New York.

My definition of a hero has been altered by the events of that day. So many extraordinary men and women stared down death as they fought to help others. Many surely knew they would sacrifice themselves in the process, but they carried on. Many of those who gave their lives to save others were not in uniform. They were our neighbors, friends, and co-workers. With that in mind, the bickering about who is to blame for not preventing 9/11 is unseemly. We are all aware that the seeds of this deed were planted long before 9/11, and trying to blame anyone other than the terrorists is undignified and an affront to the families and the memory of the dead. The intelligence community, the White House, and the Department of Transportation, past and present, could have and should have done a better job. If anything will give aid and comfort to our enemies, surely our public discourse on the incompetence of our intelligence gathering and our administrative agencies will. In time, we may even find some heroes in those agencies as well — men and women who have risked careers to correct agency deficiencies.

To add further to this public shame is the bleating coming from the same sectors of commercial aviation that stood by before 9/11 and gave only a wink and a nod to security. They may yet be called to answer for their misfeasance in our civil courts, and therefore, they would be wise to curtail their efforts to once again stop the attempts to bring security to our nation’s air travelers. Bemoaning their inability to comply with implementation standards they knew were coming six years ago and were set into law in the Aviation Security Act to protect a nation at risk, they deserve no further extensions.

We don’t have enough trained screeners, they say; we don’t have enough bomb detection imaging machines, they cry; the equipment is too big and our facilities too small to handle it, they wail; the technology needs more testing, they tell us. It isn’t as though airport operators didn’t know the size, shape, and weight of CTX bomb detection equipment years before 9/11, or about their false positive rates. They showed no interest in correcting those problems. Nor were those problems any news to those DOT personnel, past and present, who weren’t moved to take any action when FAA inspectors general and security chiefs warned of the repeated failures of the airport’s screeners to identify weapons in carry-on baggage.

More shocking is the temerity with which airline executives tell us, “We have too much security now! The public won’t fly because of the inconvenience.” That was the same argument they made against paying for real screening personnel instead of the minimum-wage workers they employed. Has American Airlines already forgotten it was their security contractors who allowed terrorists onto two of their aircraft to turn them into flying missiles on 9/11? The problem in today’s airports is not too much security — it is bad security. They might try making their bottom-line argument in a New York City firehouse for purposes of a reality check.

The manager of the Denver International Airport was quoted in the press this past weekend as saying about the TSA: “They never built anything; they don’t know a thing about airports.” His words have some merit, but they are too little, too late. As the public becomes more familiar with the sordid history of the FAA and the airlines in blocking the implementation of recommendations made by distinguished panels over the years, of the FAA’s foot-dragging in implementing Congressional and White House recommendations for airport security, and the FAA’s repeated ignoring of security breaches by both security and airline personnel, the successor agency, the TSA, will face increased pressure to perform and on time.

A nation so rich in talent, and so devoted to the liberty now under attack, should be ashamed to claim it cannot secure its airports in a timely fashion without throwing commercial aviation into turmoil. As I look out my office window and see iron workers going about their perilous work hundreds of feet above the street, I am mindful that they also gently sifted through thousands of tons of steel looking for the remains of victims in order to bring closure to families. Tell them you can’t fit a CTX machine in your airport because it’s too big and heavy. Try telling that Asian American police officer I saw doing crowd control duty at a street fair in front of an old synagogue in New York’s Chinatown that we can’t seem to find enough qualified people to train and employ in our airports as screeners. I have no doubt that he will recruit from his own community, which stands where the shadow of the World Trade Center used to fall, enough people to man all three of the airports serving that community.

Does anybody in authority really believe that we can’t physically screen every piece of checked baggage every day in every airport in America without crippling the system? Or that it will take months to install conveyor belts to carry those bags? Or that we can’t hire and train personnel to screen those bags adequately? That person was elsewhere while a small army of workers quickly removed the residue of two 110-story buildings from a few square blocks on a one-half-mile section of one of the world’s most densely populated islands.

Who really believes that the nation that built thousands of airplanes, warships, and tanks in a few months without notice more than 50 years ago could not build 2,200 CTX machines on six years’ notice with modern technology if it really tried? That person must work for an airline, or the FAA.

Who really believes that it should cost 105 million dollars to hire and train airport screeners in a nation that has hundreds of thousands of tried and tested former law enforcement personnel ready to take those jobs now? Where there is no will, there is no way.

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