WASHINGTON – Addressing charges of negligence by whistleblower agents, a Federal Aviation Administration official claims management had big plans in place to tighten airport security before Sept. 11.
In an exclusive WorldNetDaily.com interview, the official says the FAA was going to implement a computer system that would have given it more control over airport checkpoint screeners, who answered to the airlines.
“The rule that was about to go final at the end of September would have given us the ability to track screeners’ performance through TIPS – Threat Image Projection System – which pops up false images (of banned objects) on screeners’ (X-ray) machines, and then the screeners have to properly resolve them,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the Bush administration has asked the FAA not to respond publicly to the whistleblower charges.
“It would have allowed us to track a screening company’s ability to detect (banned) objects,” the official said.
But before the FAA could go ahead with its plan, the terrorists struck, the official says, and Congress passed a law creating a new federal agency – the Transportation Security Administration – to federalize screeners and take over airport security from the airlines.
The criticism by current and former agents that FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and other top managers, such as former security chief Cathal Flynn, didn’t do enough to plug security holes at the nation’s 429 commercial airports is unfair, the official asserts.
Still, the Transportation Department inspector general has agreed to investigate the whistleblower charges of Bogdan “John” Dzakovic, a 14-year veteran of FAA’s security division here.
Dzakovic, a member of the elite Red Team that conducts mock terrorist attacks against airports around the country, claims FAA management has ignored evidence of serious lapses in security at major international airports.
“The highest seats of authority in FAA were fully aware of this highly vulnerable state of aviation security – and did nothing,” he said.
He claims the Sept. 11 hijackings could have been prevented.
Former Red Team member Steve Elson, a veteran airport-security inspector, agrees – adding that FAA managers not only looked the other way when agents warned of security problems, but “covered up” the problems to appease the airlines.
WorldNetDaily asked the FAA official to respond directly to the whistleblowers’ charges.
Q: Former agent Steve Elson has been e-mailing members of Congress, accusing FAA managers of being “corrupt,” “dirty” and responsible for “murder by indifference” in the deaths of 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11. He’s also referred to Jane Garvey as “Osama bin Garvey,” and her spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler as “Propaganda Queen” and “Hitler’s sister.” His rhetoric is clearly over-the-top, but is his anger at all justified?
A: He seems to have some kind of personal vendetta going. The level of his rhetoric is a bit troubling. And I know it’s scared a number of people here, including Becky (Trexler).
Q: But what of his and Bogdan Dzakovic’s charges – that you ignored their warnings about security? Can you give me concrete examples of how you used Red Team findings to fix problems or change policies?
A: They were used in the development of the, um – they were used in, ah, in the development of the, ah, standards for the, um, screening machines – all of the, you know, uh, screening machines, in sort of determining what could get through the previous
screening machines – what was difficult for screeners to see. Ah, and … .
Q: What was one of the changes in standards?
A: Well, I couldn’t give you that information, because it’s considered security-sensitive.
Q: Well, is there anything you can tell me?
A: There was a rule that was about to go final at the end of September that was never implemented because of Sept. 11, and because the TSA (Transportation Security
Administration) was created. But it would have given us direct control over screening companies. Before Sept. 11, our regulatory authority was over the airlines. The screening companies acted as agents of the airlines. But when we carried out enforcement actions, we could only do so against the airlines, not the screening companies. And then it was up to the airlines to enforce the training standards and do everything with the screening companies. So we had no direct accountability with the screening companies. The rule that was about to go final at the end of September would have given us the ability to track
screeners’ performance through TIPS – Threat Image Projection System – which pops up false images (of banned objects) on (X-ray) screeners’ machines, and then the screeners have to properly resolve them. It would have allowed us to track a screening company’s ability to detect (banned) objects.
Q: But throughout the ’90s there were undercover stings conducted by the General Accounting Office, the inspector general and the Red Team that showed the “bad guys” were penetrating airport security 60 percent to 90 percent of the time. Why wait until the fall of last year to do something dramatic?
A: When Steve or Bogdan talk about bad guys getting items through security, it depends on the screeners’ ability to recognize an image that needs to be resolved. So screener training is a huge issue, and we didn’t have any authority over that.
Q: But they argue FAA regulated security at airports and therefore had authority over the airlines, even though they hired the contractors. They say you were more interested in appeasing the airlines, who complained of delays from heightened security, than enforcing security rules. Any truth to that?
A: All this stuff I’m saying to you, I have to say on background, because TSA has told us they want to give the public statements about the Bogdan situation.
Q: TSA said they don’t want you talking about the Bogdan charges?
A: Yeah, but please don’t repeat that.
Q: But TSA presumably doesn’t know all the background and history …
A: DOT (Department of Transportation) wants to handle the press.
Q: Back to the question – did FAA ever look the other way on security problems, because the airlines wanted you to?
A: Look, you know, Bogdan and Steve Elson are not the only security agents in our organization who care passionately about safety and security. All the rest of us feel the same way. And we’ve taken thousands of enforcement actions against airlines. If we’re in bed with the airlines, we wouldn’t be fining them at all.
Q: But they say only a fraction of the fines is actually paid by the airlines.
A: That’s because only a fraction of cases are proven. Security agents often can’t substantiate the allegations. They don’t have the proof behind it that our legal guys need to be able to pursue it.
Q: So these fines have been, in effect, settled with the airlines?
A: Yeah – well, no – I mean, under the civil penalty process, the law allows them to sit down and have hearing with us about the issues involved. And they may disagree with some of the allegations, and there is a process by which the fine is sometimes reduced.