Securing the Airports
The notion of airport security is a bit of a riddle, almost a contradiction
in terms. On one hand, by virtue of their design and purpose, airports
invite millions of people a day to pass through quickly and virtually
anonymously. On the other hand, airports must keep out those who
would use them and the planes they service to unleash deadly chaos.
That's what happened here at Boston's Logan Airport last September
when Mohammad Atta and nine other men slipped easily into the morning
routine and boarded two jets that shattered the World Trade Center
towers -- and the nation's sense of security. Now, the job of resurrecting
Logan's reputation is the hands of people like Thomas Kinton, Director
of Aviation at Massport.
The challenge here is to do security in a very effective and
efficient way and allow the free enterprise system to continue
The most visible change here at Logan and at airports across the
country are the security checkpoints. Longer lines, thorough bag
checks, even routine inspections of shoes are all everyday practices
in the post 9/11 world. But Kinton says new security measures from
the airport perimeter to the boarding gates are also part of a new
So it's no longer a single line of defense if you will, going
to have to go through. There is a lot of depth to the security
process where a traveler is not aware necessarily of how many
checks he or she is going to have to go through
Logan is experimenting with new technologies including fingerprint
sensors, facial recognition systems and handheld computers to verify
employee identification, track terrorist suspects, and deter criminal
trespass. And the airport has hired Rafi Ron, an Israeli aviation
security expert. Ron cuts an elegant profile in his dark suit, but
he is blunt about the current state of security at Logan.
To tell you if we have reached where we want to be, the answer
is "not yet."
Ron says American airports can become secure again. The key, he
says, is passenger profiling, or what he prefers to call "behavior
You have to look at all aspects of security, part of which
is looking at the passenger, the person: who he is, where he
is, where he is coming from, where he is going, how did he prepare
for the flight. You have to make a distinction between who your
enemies are and who they are not and focus on your enemies and
not waste your time on the legitimate American passenger.
Aggressive profiling raises concerns that passengers will be harassed
based on their race or nationality. But Ron says a passenger's background
is only significant when it relates to other factors that raise
Once you know how legitimate people at the airport behave,
and you understand the illegitimate person, you can realize
the differences and you can try and trigger out individuals
to behave in a way that would expose their intentions.
Ron is helping to train state police at Logan in profiling as part
of a new anti-terrorist unit. He says random checks are a waste
of time and an unnecessary hassle for the public. And he's concerned
that nationally too much energy is being devoted to searching for
objects instead of people. Indeed the government's priority is to
beef up security checkpoints and install bomb detection equipment
in all airports to screen all checked bags by the end of the year,
a deadline many airport directors say they can't achieve. Again,
Today, most of the public discussion is focused on technology
and very little if at all is focused on looking at the passengers'
There's been as many or more failures of profiling as there
have been successes, so clearly we cannot rely on that as a
Paul Hudson is skeptical. Hudson directs the Aviation Consumer
Action Project and says there was a profiling system in place last
September and it failed.
Nineteen hijackers went through the system within an hour
on 9/11, even though supposedly nine were flagged by the existing
Hudson lost his daughter in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am
103 over Lockerby, Scotland. He says random passenger screening
is essential, if only to close at least partially the hole left
by an imperfect profiling system. And he says technology can do
The last time we had a major change in aviation security was
That's when X-ray machines and metal detectors were installed at
U.S. airports to confront a rash of hijackings to Cuba.
Most people said it wouldn't work. Once those systems went
in, hijacking went down by 90 percent. And within a couple of
years, it was virtually unknown in the United States. So to
say that defensive measures cannot work is is historically inaccurate.
Hudson believes the best security system is a layered system that
includes better technology, more air marshals, fortified cockpit
doors, armed pilots, and so on. Back at Logan Airport Israeli security
expert Rafi Ron agrees, but he says it's important not to become
obsessed with preventing the last attack.
After 9/11 the discussion focused on the screeners, when the
screeners had nothing to do with 9/11, which raises the question
you know the most money we're spending is on this program to
federalize the screeners.
Really. You have to run a balanced system. If you focus on
one side of it and not on the rest of it, then you are loosing
Well before September 11th there was growing concern about the
vulnerability of America's airline industry, including a General
Accounting Office report two years ago that warned that airport
security screeners, hired at minimum wage by the airlines, were
under-qualified, badly paid, and poorly trained. The events of last
September finally prompted Washington to act and assume responsibility
for security at the nation's 429 airports.
ANNOUNCEMENT: For security reasons, please do not accept any
packages or luggage that do not belong to you
This is a glimpse into the future of airport security. Baltimore-Washington
International, or BWI, is the first airport to have a fully federalized
What they came up with is a more controlled environment in
the security checkpoint.
John White, BWI's Director of Communications, says the new federal
Transportation Security Administration brought in its so called
"TSA Go Team," which included experts on security, conflict
resolution, customer relations, even an expert on how best to line
The first thing you'll notice as you approach the checkpoint
here at Pier C is the test site. It is a new line configuration
that resembles an amusement partk ride. Disney had one of their
consultants working on the TSA Go Team.
So thanks to the marketers of Mickey, Minny, and Goofy an orderly,
serpentine line of passengers shuffles beneath full-colored video
monitors that flash a menu of new security rules. The screeners
are courteous and efficient, dressed smartly in dark trousers and
crisp white shirts with shoulder patches that bear an eagle and
the stars and stripes. Passengers like Debbie Harab and Dennis Livingston
from Oklahoma welcome the new measures.
Well, it's a whole lot different, but it's required unless
you want your plane slammed up agaist a building.
BROOKS: So you feel pretty good that this is improving security?
It's a hassle but it's worth it. I think they're handling it
I'm fine with the waiting, I'd rather be safe than have something
happen. It's not too bad.
Now that security is no longer in the hands of the airlines, the
new federal workers are better paid, and better trained. But staffing
the nation's 429 airports will require 30,000 workers, a daunting
challenge, already falling behind schedule and costing more than
expected, and more than a few critics doubt that this adds up to
My impression is that we're just creating another facade of
security, and we are spending one heck of a lot of money.
This is Steve Elson, a former FAA security expert. Elson used to
probe the nation's airports for weaknesses and he found many. He
routinely carried fake knives, guns, and bombs through the security
checkpoints, and the screeners rarely found them. He's a former
Navy Seal, with a compact, muscular build to show for it. He says
the threat of another attack is probably low now, not because of
improved security, but because of the way terrorists operate.
Terrorists are special operation forces. One of the key elements
for a small force is the element of surprise. Well, to use a
common phrase, "they done done that." And what terrorists
know from watching the media is that passengers will get up
and beat the hell out of them, and their chances of taking over
a plane are very remote. So while I think security is worse,
the threat's lower.
Elson has pulled a baseball cap low over his brow and prowls outside
Terminal C at BWI like a cat stalking a bird.
Let me see what we can see over here...
He points to the curbside check in counter and an unattended baggage
cart loaded with checked bags.
The carts are wide open. They are easily accessible by anybody.
So, it would be very easy to remove a bag, already tagged, take
that bag over to your van, go into the van, take of that tag,
put it onto a bag with an explosive, set it down on the cart,
and you've got a bomb into the system.
Elson believes too much effort is being spent on the appearance
of security and too little on common sense. He says in this case
a simple screen made of duct tape and crate paper to conceal the
bag cart would dramatically improve security and deter terrorists.
But don't make it easy for them!
Inside the terminal, Elson reveals other vulnerabilities, including
the new, improved checkpoints. He says the obvious problem is that
their procedures and schedules are exposed to everyone from the
casual observer to the potential terrorist.
If you watch something long enough you will find those weaknesses,
so that's what we're looking for.
BROOKS: Should they be thinking about these checkpoints and
setting them up in ways that are not so easily observed?
Bless you, You remember Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,
they decided to go running out the door, and there's 50,000
Bolivians. If you can't see what the hell's going on, how do
you plan against it. See if they had done that with Mohammed
They know he looked. He took pictures of the plane,
he looked at the airport, he did exactly what we're doing, which
any idiot can figure out except for the TSA, and you can quote
me on that.
When you go to put it in the X-ray how are you going to put
the bag. Like that.
This is how Elson used to test security screeners for the FAA.
A lead-lined, X-ray-resistant film pouch tucked in a bag. The pouch
contains film, but the security screeners won't know that unless
they check it.
What they should do is stop the bag, open it up, take this
out, make sure it has nothing untoward in there. That could
have been a pistol.
At the check point the screeners carefully examine my recording
equipment bag, but the bag with the film pouch - it goes through
without a look. Again, Steve Elson.
That's the country's federalized showcase. Unfortunately he
missed a lead film shell bag which could have contained a 32
caliber pistol. I had some wires and different things they should
have looked at. They didn't. We could have gotten a grenade
in, a bomb in. So besides looking good with the neat emblem,
We had set up an interview with officials at the Transportation
Security Administration to ask them that and other questions, but
at the last minute they cancelled, and then failed to respond to
several requests to comment about what we saw at BWI. Robert Poole,
a security expert with the libertarian Reason Foundation is worried
about what he sees. Poole faults Congress for establishing a costly
bureaucracy focused almost exclusively on preventing a repeat of
September 11th. In the meantime, other potential terrorist targets,
from seaports and ship containers to the air cargo system, are being
And while it's completely understandable reaction, it's incredibly
boneheaded, because there are always going to be limited resources
and there's the vast number of possible threats, and possible
soft targets throughout our society. We've got to take a measured
approach, beefing up the weakest links and not go completely
overboard on one particular area because it was used once before.
But Congressmen Peter Defazio, a Democrat from Oregon, says the
need for a federal takeover of aviation security was long overdue.
We did a hearing, and the airline screener of the year came
in and said you know "nobody can afford to work in this
job." He said, it is the lowest rung on the ladder on the
way up airport to getting to MacDonald's or Burger King, or
cleaning airplanes. Aviation is the bottom, bottom, bottom rung.
That's what the airlines are buying prior to 9/11. We've changed
But Defazio concedes we're at the start of a long and uncertain
transition. Back at Boston's Logan Airport, Israeli security expert
Rafi Ron agrees and says it will take not months but years to redesign
a system to protect American aviation in a new age of terror.
Pre 9-11 the general perception of the threat was that there
isn't one, especially when it comes to domestic aviation. Now,
that has changed dramatically, and people are asking themselves
the question, "how far have we gone down the road dealing
with this problem, and I say that we have gone a long way, but
there's still a ways to go.