When Less is More – Airport Security Fiasco
once saw a bumper sticker that read: "If you like the Post Office, you'll
love socialized medicine!"
taken. Who hasn't visited the Post Office on lunch break, only to find that
nearly all the windows are closed – for lunch. This is not to say that we
don't have some fine people working at the Post Office, or that this or that
station is run efficiently and well. But few will argue that FedEx or UPS runs a
I know that the U.S. Post Office is the most efficient and best run in the
world. In a race of losers, however, even first place means very little.
you take the time to examine other government programs, you will discover
similar inefficiency and waste. It's inherent in the system, built into the
process, an inescapable part of doing business in the public sector. It's part
of the military as well – inefficiency – as any grunt, sailor, or airman
knows. Any Army clerk can tell you about multiple part forms: one for the
applicant, one for headquarters, one for the file, and one for the round file.
It's endemic, and we're not likely to change it dramatically any time soon.
why, four years ago, did everyone assume that by putting the feds in charge of
airport security after 9/11 we would get better airport security? Does anyone
really believe that the guys who run the Post Office, the Department of the
Interior, Immigration, and the Pentagon will suddenly start doing the job right
times in the wake of 9/11 I have examined the state of airport security and our
ability to set up highly effective airport and airline security screening. We
could have implemented this program within three months of 9/11 – three years
and six months ago. We could implement it three months from now. (See "Airline
Safety: Simple Steps for Better Security," DefenseWatch,
Nov. 14, 2001, "Security,
Common Sense and Gen. Joe Foss," DefenseWatch,
Feb, 20, 2002, "Another
Enemy Within - Agency Turf Fights," DefenseWatch,
June 26, 2002, "Airport
Security – An Update," DefenseWatch,
Nov. 20, 2002).
this is a good thing. Somebody finally has realized that airport security is not
going very well, and we are doing something about it – right?
the Post Office at lunchtime?
seems that work on this report has been underway for more than a year. As
reported by the Times, Homeland
Security Department spokesman Donald
W. Tighe said, "[The Report] is not gathering dust on a shelf. It is
translating into action."
Times did not indicate the
report's cost, but with both Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman working on
it for more than a year, you can bet it is in the tens of millions. So, what
have we gotten for out tax money?
the report: "There
is increasing pressure to increase the flow of passengers and their property
through security checkpoints. Unfortunately, our analysis has shown there are
significant security gaps at checkpoints as they currently exist."
– that observation has got to be worth a couple of million dollars.
report offers: "Widespread delays caused by security breaches could be
reduced by simply preventing passengers from dashing through exits leading from
at least another million.)
it concludes: "Checkpoints operated by the Transportation Security
Administration, [which oversees airport security] should have gates or lockable
doors at those exits."
... lockable gates .... Gee! And I suppose they should be locked!
months, several million dollars ... lockable gates. Okay; at least we're getting
to the report: "If, say, a handgun were discovered, the terrorist would
have ample ability to retain control of it. T.S.A. screeners are neither
expecting to encounter a real weapon nor are they trained to gain control of
report explains that T.S.A. currently has arrangements to call local law
enforcement officials when such a weapon is discovered, and points out that it
can take "several minutes" for an armed response. It proposes to
include armed personnel at each checkpoint.
with – like – guns, who – you know – know how to use them. Like, Gosh,
that must have cost another million or so.
report stated that most X-ray examining machines stood idle for about 30 percent
of the time, because passengers queued up to the screening table were delayed
waiting for another bin, or for a previous passenger to get everything prepared
to go through the machine. The report suggested longer tables.
me, but did that have to take a year to figure out? And cost another million?
When I have more than three guests for dinner, my kids are smart enough to put a
leaf in the table to make it longer. And I don't have to increase their
allowance to make it happen.
O. Hatfield Jr., another spokesman for T.S.A., told the Times
that steps were already being taken to solve these problems at airport
that's impressive. One whole minute at three airports for a year's worth of
effort. That really makes me feel better, and a lot more secure. One whole
minute; are these guys good, or what?
report, which consists of 214 pages of similar stuff, explains that the current
problems exist because government officials rushed to the task of better
protecting airports, and simply made some mistakes along the way – because
they were moving too fast.
the record: This is a crock!
years and seven months ago I wrote:
"We are wasting time and taxpayer's money debating ad nauseam fine points
of pork and details of turf. Endless amendments are being tacked on already
clumsy legislation in order to satisfy this or that benefactor, this or that
party faithful, this or that constituency. This is an outrageous abuse of
congressional power on the part of those charged with the responsibility for
pushing this legislation through. What we have ended up with is a nonsensical
mish-mash of pieced together legislation that no sane person could possibly
understand, let alone implement (see "Airport
Security – An Update," DefenseWatch,
now, years and millions of dollars later, we have a new report about locked
gates, longer tables, and guys with guns. And the lines are just as long, the
screeners just as stupid, they still confiscate my fingernail file and let me
keep my ballpoint pen (that I can kill you with in three seconds), and they
still strip search little old ladies, Medal of Honor retirees, and infants in
baby carriages – while a terrorist with half a brain can still get his stuff
aboard a plane and access it in flight with a bit of planning and some knowledge
of how the system works.
I have written several times, from the get-go, the problem we face is
fundamentally, profoundly simple. Strip away all the rhetoric and all the fuss,
and the problem becomes: Prevent any bad guys or bad stuff from getting on any
really is that simple.
again, here is the seven-point program I suggested in November, 2001, following
9/11. This program would have accomplished everything necessary in about three
months. It's now been three years and six months since 9/11, and we still don't
have effective airport and airline security at all airports. The plan includes:
assign security responsibility to airports, not the airlines or feds. The simple
reason is that each airport manager knows better than anyone else where and how
to install and effectively implement security in the various airport buildings
and terminals under his control. Remember the Post Office at lunchtime. Give the
airport managers the ball and let them run with it.
the feds should pay the initial costs for manufacturing the necessary equipment
- no matter how many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars this will take, and
pay for the initial airport security installations. This needed to be done
immediately, on a crash priority basis, like the bomber production during the
initial stages of World War II. But it still needs to be done, right now,
immediately! Then let passengers pay the final costs with a $25 per ticket
surcharge, eventually reimbursing the federal government for all costs, and
carrying the financial load going forward.
there should be immediate inspection of all baggage, including hold baggage,
using initial computerized screening to speed up the process, augmented by hand
inspections of items rejected by the initial screening. Software is either
available now to accomplish this, or can be generated in days to weeks, if
sufficient cash is thrown at the problem. With the crash production of the
various state-of-the-art machines that can carry out these inspections with
increasing automation, the long lines would soon give way to efficient passenger
processing. And – yes – make the tables long enough, and lock the gates.
screen all passengers against databases of known suspects, applying the latest
computer technology. Where possible, this screening can take place in advance of
travel, by comparing ticketed passengers against various databases. At the time
of check-in and boarding, face recognition technology and other state-of-the-art
methods can be used to ensure that every passenger is positively identified.
Bottom line is: If we don't know who you are, you don't get on that plane!
match both hold baggage and carry-on baggage to passengers using transmitting
chips on baggage, boarding passes, and the passengers themselves. This will
insure that every piece of hold baggage belongs to someone actually aboard the
aircraft. Attach a wrist band to each passenger and each piece of carry-on
luggage upon boarding (like a hospital ID band) that registers on a panel
available to crew members. The panel displays simultaneously the passenger's
assigned seat, the hold luggage, the passenger's actual location on the plane at
any moment, and the location of the passenger's carry-on stuff. This is mature
technology, needing only to be adapted to this specific purpose.
arm aircrew members with non-lethal weapons, or with weapons that will not
threaten the integrity of the aircraft, and train them to use these weapons
effectively. Which crew members and what weapons are to be involved can be
worked out during the initial implementation stages.
require all personnel associated with airport and airline operations to take
random, unannounced flights. Each person associated with any aspect of flight
operations where safety could be an issue will make periodic flights with no
advance notice. This process will ensure that no affected employee will perform
haphazardly, since the result of such poor performance could materially affect
that person's own safety. This follows the theory that if I am required to jump
the parachute I personally packed, I will ensure absolutely that it is packed
Congress passed legislation implementing this program immediately following
9/11, within three months or so every major airport and most smaller ones would
have been equipped with one or more of the machines necessary to implement my
suggestions. The software would have been created and debugged, and the
necessary building modifications would have been accomplished. By month six, the
entire program down to the smallest facility could have been on line. Even if
you don't buy my time line, by now, three years and six months later, we
certainly would not still be talking about the length of screening tables.
it would have cost a bundle, but probably not so much as the now three-year
six-month delay has cost – and we wouldn't have had to pay for a multi-million
dollar useless study to tell us about table lengths and locked gates. Sure it
would have affected the federal budget initially, but since the entire cost
would eventually be repaid, cost to the government becomes a non-issue.
have waited this long, and to have accomplished only federalization of the
inspectors (is this stupid, or what?) and a modest installation of a small
number of sophisticated detection devices is criminal. The Bush administration
should hire a kick-ass, technology savvy manager with the authority to implement
everything on this list, and then reward him with hefty bonuses for every week
by which he beats the schedule, and - of course - penalize him for falling
this now and do it right, and you will be safer in the air than crossing the