...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Thursday, October 30, 2003
      ( 11:17 AM )
A Security Show Worth an Oscar

I heard a pundit on one of the cable news shows a few nights ago talking about the kid who'd been arrested for planting the box cutters and bleach on the Southwest airplanes last week. This pundit was a security expert and basically said that while the TSA and the media were focused on keeping pointy things off the airplanes, there still hadn't been any true evaluation of security issues in airports across the country. Our local columnist-extraordinaire, Steve Duin, found to his surprise that this is all too frighteningly true.

Before the pilot called, I had all the usual
suspicions that airport security is selective,
specious and intended only to ensure that
the "flying public" -- i.e., we sheep -- sleep
well at night.

That the Transportation Security Administration
is still focused on box cutters more than two
years after Sept. 11 shows no respect for the
ingenuity of our enemies in the war on terror.
Most airport screening seems costly, superfluous
and misdirected, not unlike the plans to cap
Portland's reservoirs in the name of national security.

Then the phone rang, and a United Airlines pilot
invited me out to Portland International Airport
to point out one of the more dramatic holes in
the vaunted antiterrorist net.

The pilot invited Duin to go with him to PDX (Portland Airport) and see for himself the gigantic holes in the security apparatus set up by the TSA. As they stand and watch, employees get off a shuttle bus carrying all manner of bags, backpacks and other items, swipe cards through a security door and proceed into the most secure area of the airport without their bags ever being checked.

Once they pass through that door, the pilot
said -- and airport officials confirmed -- these
employees have unrestricted access to the
airplanes, runways and passenger boarding
areas. Yet neither they nor their bags pass
through a screening process or any other
security check.

"This," the man said, "is a scenario that
scares the hell out of pilots."

It's not the pointy objects the TSA is taking away from passengers that are the main cause for alarm - terrorists could use any manner of sharp objects already on the plane (ie, the wine bottles). The pilots are now behind reinforced doors and after 9/11, no passengers are going to sit still if someone were to produce a threatening object in the passenger compartment. The TSA is pretending that playing catch up to the terrorists' last method is good enough. It's not - what is going on is only a symbolic effort with no true security meaning. The pilot explains:

"Getting through a cockpit door would take
an heroic effort," the pilot said. "We're not
going to allow that. We have a crash ax up
there. That's why the most likely scenario we
see developing isn't nail files and box cutters.
It's an employee walking out onto the ramp
with some C-4 in an ice cooler."

In this scenario, an airport employee -- or
someone who jumped him in the employee
parking lot, stripping him of his security badge
and demanding his access number -- would
bring the plastic explosives and automatic
weapons through the unguarded doors. He
would then hide them on a plane, or walk
upstairs and pass the weapons to fellow
terrorists who have already cruised through

Once that gear is carried onto the plane, the
pilot said, the C-4 would be used to blow the
cockpit door and the guns would overwhelm
any federal marshals or co-pilots armed with
the ax.

So the pilots went to the airport hierarchy and complained about this hole in the security. What were they told?

Yet when the United pilot took his concerns
to the chief of security at PDX six months
ago, he said, he was informed that requiring
mechanics, janitors and the ground crew
to pass through screening would
"inconvenience" them.

So basically, the security checks that pilots and passengers are forced to endure do not apply to employees behind the scenes. A simple security pass is all that's needed.

"We need to get the flying public thinking
again," the pilot said. "The human brain has
an alarming capacity to forget. We've been
lulled into a false sense of security." He recalled
those weeks when the National Guard
patrolled the nation's airports, toting guns but
no ammunition. "It was all for show. And that's
what TSA is now. It's a show to make the flying
public think they're safe. And they're not."

Another big show brought to you from the administration-without-substance. Yikes.

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