The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), together with independent analysts, have catalogued over the years the very poor state of security at our airports. The most basic security precautions still have not been undertaken, even after the unbelievable events of September 11th. Yet Congress, as if in a trance, continues to look to the FAA for a way out, as though the FAA itself had no role in decades of security negligence. Despite the recommendations of two presidential panels and numerous credible reports of the likelihood of terrorism, as recently as August of this year, the FAA and airline representatives assigned a very low priority to improving airport security.
Recently, Jane Garvey, FAA Director, told members of Congress that a score or more of advanced CTX bomb detection machines were being warehoused because airports and airlines don’t want to employ them. At that point, Congress should have finally been put on notice that the FAA is both unwilling and unable to provide security for the traveling public. Coupled with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s notice that the leading airport security company, Argenbreit, continues to employ convicted felons to provide security at the airports, these actions are the final blow in a long chain of events that should have by now removed security from the FAA’s duties; an obligation owed to air travelers by Congress.
II. Related Airport Security Facts
- X-raying of all passenger-checked baggage was not to be achieved until 2014, according to FAA goals.
- Fingerprinting and criminal background checks of airline employees was only required for personnel hired after December 23, 2000.
- Direct oversight of training for airport security personnel was not to take effect until this year.
- Uniform security standards across the United States are not required at all. For all intents and purposes, enforcement of screening requirements is left to self-policing. Airlines, though required to carry out the screening process, delegate it to mainly foreign-owned security guard firms who pay minimum wages to a work force made up of as high as 90 percent non-citizens. This state of affairs has been okay with the FAA.
- We are still not matching passengers with bags; checked bags still fly without owners and owners without bags.
- workers still enter sterile areas without going through the same screening currently in place for cabin crews and passengers.
- Baggage theft and loss continues at the same pace. Passengers have a better chance of buying their lost bags back over the Internet than having them returned by the airlines.
There is no claim check match at baggage return in most airports.
III. Current Legislative Status
If the Congress votes to federalize all security workers at the airports through the establishment of an “airport security agency” manned by civil service personnel, the transition time from where we are now to where we would be going is likely to take years rather than months to implement. In the interim, the existing companies would be required to keep doing what they are doing, resulting in the perpetuation of the existing inadequate security over an unacceptable period of time.
- If the Congress adopts the proposal favored by the White House of federalization of the process under an existing or new federal office in the Transportation Department, but with employees employed by private sector security companies, the use of the existing companies will result in institutionalizing the inadequate security which now characterizes domestic airport security.
- If the Congress adopts a compromise proposal and creates a two-tier system which incorporates the first choice above for larger airports and the second for smaller ones, we are left with the problems identified with both choices and we lose the advantages of standardized airport security in the United States.
IV. Security Company Facts
Airport security in the United States is dominated by three companies each of which is owned by foreign corporations who now control the U.S. market.
- Argenbreit is the largest screening company in the United States and is owned by Securicor P.L.C., a British company which acquired Argenbreit last year. In May of 2000, Argenbreit pled guilty to numerous federal crimes involving attempts to falsify hiring, training, billing, and criminal background check records of its employees at the Philadelphia airport. The company and three of its employees pled guilty to crimes which, in their aggregate, could have resulted in sentences of up to 50 years in prison and 2.5 million dollars in fines. Under its new management, the company has been found, within weeks of the September 11th tragedies, to have violated the terms of its probation of three years and the Justice Department has asked to have it extended to five years. That the federal government has continued to allow Argenbreit to serve as a screening company in our domestic airports after its criminal conviction for crimes which, in the words of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, put in jeopardy the lives of airline passengers, is itself worthy of inquiry. To allow them to go forward after the passage of legislation designed to enhance airport security would be scandalous.
- ICTS International N.V. is the Dutch company that owns Huntleigh USA, the second largest airport security screening company. Huntleigh screened the passengers on the United Airlines flight that crashed into the second tower at the World Trade Center. The Chief Executive Officer of ICTS has been quoted in the New York Times (October 11th, 2001) as attributing the loss of aircraft to the low pay of his workers. “You have to look at the risk behind it, that we will lose an aircraft…” he said. It could be argued that the company should not work for a contract price which may result in salaries so low that an aircraft might be lost.
Securitas A.B. is the Swedish company that owns Globe, the third largest screening company in the United States. Globe security provided the screening of the passengers for the American Airlines flight that departed Boston’s Logan Airport and was the first to crash into the World Trade Center. While, to date, no evidence has been produced regarding the failure of Globe to detect prohibited items in the carry-on bags allowed onto the flight, we may never know what means were used by the terrorists to accomplish their crimes. Evidence of Globe’s hiring, training, and fingerprinting policies, as well as its turnover rates and the record of its performance on FAA tests, may yet indicate that it too is not suitable to provide the high security standards that have been promised the public.
Under the three available scenarios, for a minimum of 18 months, the air traveling public will be left in the same security state they were in on September 11th. The notion that bringing providers of security in Europe or elsewhere into the equation will somehow bring European efficiency into the U.S. system has not been the experience here. It appears that the European format of strict government oversight of standards and performance is what works, and not the fact that the providers are European. Without strict government supervision, the European owners have been no more effective than those from whom they bought their companies, nor have they, in the case of Argenbreit, demonstrated a higher ethical standard.
If the current parties, including the airlines, security firms, and FAA officials, are not guilty of criminal negligence for the unobstructed hijackings of four airliners committed on September 11th, the next time they surely will be unless corrections to our aviation security system are implemented immediately.
- A consortium of American companies be employed to immediately take over domestic airport security employing personnel with relevant law enforcement experience to fill an expanded screening responsibility.
- The new operating entity be run from an existing federal agency currently providing law enforcement services until such time that an orderly transfer can be made to the Office of Home Land Security so as to keep the agency independent of the FAA.
A job description for “airport screeners” be drawn up to include duties which provide for the screening of all airport and airline workers; all service personnel, including vendors having access to aircraft, baggage and cargo; and aircraft on the ground before boarding and loading. The screeners should have the authority to issue citations for the violation or rules which need to carry federally enforce penalties.