After the shock of Pan Am flt.103 exploding over Lockerbee, Scotland in 1988, the United States was put on notice that Islamic terrorism had declared war on America, and that commercial aviation was its leading target. In the aftermath of this horrific slaughter, in which all 269 aboard a Boeing 747, mostly American college students on their way to New York’s Kennedy Airport from London’s Heathrow were killed in the sky at 30,000 ft. and debris from the airliner was spread over the little village of Lockerbie claiming 11 residents in their beds and raising the death toll to 270 victims, murdered by Libyan terrorists. This attack was followed by a torrent of promises from the United States and elsewhere that the perpetrators would pay for their crimes and that long promised improvements in commercial aviation security would be put in place to protect airports, airliners and the public from future acts of this kind.
Although billions of dollars have been spent, purportedly to keep the promises made after the Lockerbie disaster, commercial airlines around the world have continued to be victimized in flight by a variety of terrorist acts. As a result, American airports are now knowingly breaching their duty of reasonable security owed passengers and crews, and the world community, which so heavily relies on aviation to sustain its economies, throws money at a long list of failed security fixes rather than seriously attempt to fix them. Aviation security can be fixed, but doing the same things over and over again and promising a different outcome because we keep spending more will not achieve that fix. The Report The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9ll Report) contains most of the answers.
This past week, the Belgian government confirmed that Turkey had apprehended Ibrahim El Barkraoui, a Belgian citizen and one of the Belgium airport suicide bombers last June and had deported him to the Netherlands at his request only to have the Dutch government release him. The Turkish arrest, based on Barkraoui having been identified as a “foreign terrorist fighter” and a Belgian citizen might have thwarted the Brussels bombings had the Belgian government followed up on the information, according to Belgian authorities. and this is according to the Belgian authorities. The Belgian government should at least be commended for admitting its failure to protect its citizens from its own negligence unless its outraged citizens come up with an appropriate penalty. The failure to maintain vigilance for a specific of threat of harm provided by a reliable allied government source is an example of why Islamic terrorism has achieved consistent success in attacks in the West. The Belgian bombings this week are not just an example of how intelligence failures can cause catastrophic losses but also serve to underscore the danger of continuing to ignore foreseeable risks inherent in failing to correct negligence airport design and procedural security inadequacies manifest in airports world-wide.
The closed circuit cameras in the Brussels airport departure terminal clearly identified the bombers strolling along a ticket counter concourse in a non-sterile area. The bombers were wheeling heavily laden baggage carts with bags that had not yet been checked manually, electronically or by canine screening. The bags, as it turns out, contained the explosives that killed passengers and wrecked the building. The fact that fifteen years after 9/11, baggage and passengers are still not separated and screened immediately upon entering a terminal and before approaching ticked counters remains a critical system flaw. The fact that commercial aviation has still not employed electronic screening capable of determining the presence of explosives by their chemical composition through neutron examination is equally critical. If you can introduce an unidentified explosive into an airport building and or onto a public roadways that is evidence of serious security negligence.
While security systems designed to interdict the introduction of explosives into airports and onto airliners remain a major challenge, identifying and barring terrorists from airports and airliners runs a close second. The horror produced by the events of 9/11 is the most catastrophic in the history of commercial aviation; certainly the Brussels bombing though devastating is not of the magnitude of 911 but because it was easier to foresee and therefore prevent, its tragic impact should be measured not by the terminal damage or the numbers of injured and killed but rather by the negligence in allowing it to happen. This morning news cameras showed a handcuffed and intoxicated co-pilot being lead from an airliner he was scheduled to fly. A number of months ago, a German Lufthansa pilot being treated for depression, gained control of the flight deck and flew his passengers into a mountain. Some might say that events such as these are extremely difficult if not impossible to predict. But no matter how difficult, failure to prevent such an event because of negligence does have consequences for both a victim and the individual who owed a duty of care.
Charles Slepian headed a team of investigators retained by Trans World Airlines to examine and recommend issues of labor law violations; carrier property theft; employee fraudulent use of flight benefits; extortion; falsification of business records and other civil and criminal abuses. The team was made up of former and off-duty law enforcement personnel operating from cities on both coasts, the mid-west and on international flights.