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Air Travel Security Hits Turbulence

by Ted Lang

It is doubtful if another terrorist attack will be as devastating as that of September 11th. Improvements in security monitoring techniques relative to communication and radar surveillance have undergone modifications and improvements providing for earlier emergency response to future hijacking attempts. But certain electronic enhancements and physical security objectives are not proceeding on schedule.

Recently, Congress extended the Transportation Security Administration’s original deadline for airport compliance for the installation of explosive-detection system [EDS] baggage monitors by the end of the current year. Airports admitted that they wouldn’t be able to meet the TSA deadline now extended to the end of next year. Additionally, the 33,000 employees estimated as required for airport screening positions is at only a fraction of that number.

The air marshal program is also behind both in terms of recruitment and training. According to an article in Government Executive on-line, “While the number of marshals stood at fewer than 50 before September 11, that figure has since exploded to a reported 2,000 (the Transportation Department maintains that the actual number is classified). But even with this increase, [which purportedly is “on schedule”] air marshals—who usually work in pairs or in groups of three or more—still sit on just a fraction of the nation's 35,000 daily flights.”

The June 4th article by Mark Murray originally appearing in National Journal, continues: “And for that reason, many members of Congress believe that armed pilots are a much better last line of defense. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., introduced legislation that would reverse the Transportation Department's decision and allow pilots to carry guns. Burns points out that in publicized aviation incidents since September 11 (such as the attempt by suspected terrorist Richard Reid to blow up an American Airlines flight in December), air marshals were nowhere to be found, and it was passengers and flight attendants who actually subdued the threat. ‘We place our lives in the hands of pilots every time we board a flight,’ Burns said, ‘so it only makes sense that we provide them with the tools and options they need to safely and effectively do their job.’” Murray points out that the “The message from the Transportation Department was obvious: Skilled air marshals – not pilots armed with guns – should be the last line of defense aboard commercial airliners."

[Former TSA] Director John McGaw announced the department’s decision to bar pilots from carrying guns. ‘It’s clear in my mind, when I weigh all the pros and cons, pilots should not have firearms in the cockpit,’ McGaw told the Senate Commerce Committee on May 21.” But according to Tom Barrett of ConservativeTruth.com, in his article “Extreme Views” posted July 14th, until late in 1987, commercial airline pilots had carried small arms as a matter of course on their aircraft. There was never a problem.

Most airline pilots receive their flight training in our armed forces, so they are well trained in the safe use of firearms.” Barrett reports that in spite of this, “a suicidal passenger broke into the cockpit of an airliner, killed the pilots and crashed the airplane.” It was this incident that motivated the FAA to disarm pilots,” an illogical reaction given the facts. GovExec.’s Brian Friel in his article “Marshal Draw,” dated August 1st, exposes yet another problem.

The drive by TSA to provide an adequate number of air marshals is causing a drain of officers in other federal law enforcement agencies. Air marshal pay and benefits are better than in other federal agencies reports Friel, and as a result, a large drain of talent from these agencies to officer positions at TSA is occurring. Agencies affected include Veterans Affairs, the Mint Police, Secret Service, Park Police, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Border Patrol, among others.

But the drain of law enforcement officers has most adversely affected the Border Patrol. Friel reports that, “In the wake of Sept. 11, [INS-Border Patrol] already had faced the massive task of hiring 8,000 employees this year. Now, with losses to TSA, the turnover for several occupations, including Border Patrol agents, has doubled. The Immigration and Naturalization Service lost 396 Border Patrol agents, 50 detention enforcement officers and 73 immigration inspectors to the air marshal program in just four months this spring.”

TSA has had a tumultuous beginning caused by problems implementing security procedures on schedule. In spite of the highly inconvenient, and in some cases, humiliating passenger screenings, an inordinate amount of knives, guns and dummy explosive devices have passed through airport security measures during efficiency checks.

The harsh inconveniences of passenger screening at the nation’s 429 airports has created delays as well as many publicized screener overreactions, including strip searches of the elderly and infirm, pat-downs of toddlers, and confiscation of plastic two-inch toy rifles. And air travel has suffered. Presently, US Air is proceeding with Chapter 11 bankruptcy, United Airlines is expressing concerns over revenue losses, and American Airlines has announced yet another 7,000 layoffs in addition to the 20,000 reductions that were made immediately after September11th.

© THEODORE E. LANG 8/14/02 All rights reserved

Published with permission of author and Sierra Times

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Ted Lang mailto:tlang1@optonline.net Sierra Times http://www.sierratimes.com

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