Security Planning For America’s Airports

Recently, the nation was alarmed to learn that terrorists attempted to take down an El Al airliner with a shoulder-launched missile as it departed for Tel Aviv from Mombassa, Kenya. Members of Congress and the media immediately commenced a dialogue on the subject of how to prevent such an event from occurring here in the United States, and what action might be taken to prepare commercial aircraft to deter such attacks while in flight.

The questions of the likelihood of such an event in this country; the availability of technology to deflect such attacks as is common aboard military aircraft; the cost benefit analysis of retro-fitting commercial airliners to protect them from missiles; and the steps to be taken to render airport perimeters and beyond secure from access by terrorists armed with SAM 7s and other hand-launched missiles were all considered. However, the public has not yet realized that the use of “sophisticated” explosive-detection CTX machines to examine of all checked baggage for explosives, which was supposed to occur by year’s end, will not occur as had been promised and required by the Aviation Security Act of 2001. Not to appear the Grinch at this Christmas season (yes, some of us still refer to this season as Christmas), it must be pointed out that the TSA did meet its deadline of hiring 44,000 screeners, and that over the Thanksgiving travel period they successfully confiscated six handguns, over 15,000 pen knives and one brick from passengers who were attempting to carry those items aboard aircraft. In anticipation of yet further airport security successes, the San Jose airport has been renamed in honor of the Transportation Secretary and is now called the Norman Mineta Airport.

The threat of missiles as a means of bringing down commercial airliners is not a recent discovery. The Gore Commission, created in response to the explosion aboard TWA 800 in 1996, considered such an event a real possibility; and as far back as 1993, the FAA acknowledged that SAMs pose a threat to commercial aviation (Jon Dougherty, World Net Daily, December 6, 2002). Indeed, there are many credible authorities who still believe that TWA 800 was such a victim.

But whether the flavor of the day among aviation security analysts is missiles, suicide bombers, reinforced cockpit doors, guns for pilots, or armed personnel at ticket counters (to name a few of our recent “pressing issues”), you can be sure we will talk the problem to death and move on before taking any substantive action. We still haven’t addressed the problem of access to sterile areas by workers whose background checks are regularly resulting in indictments by federal grand juries across the United States (another problem that has lingered before 9/11}. We have become very adept at changing the subject when it comes to discussion about creating the promised world-class security system for our airports promised after the attacks on New York and Washington by al Qaida almost 16 months ago. Sooner or later, events are likely to catch up with the rhetoric.

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