WASHINGTON – Next time you take your seat on a
passenger jet, look out the window. You’re staring at
the part of the airport most vulnerable to terrorists
– the “ramp,” or “back side” of the airport, where
unscreened workers and vendors have access to baggage,
air cargo, food supplies, mechanics’ equipment and the
It’s the gateway to the next terrorist attack on U.S.
airliners, predicts a former airline security
Forget about hijackers getting on board your flight
with knives, or even guns, and start worrying about
bombs that may already be on board, says Charles G.
Slepian, a security analyst who worked for TWA and now
heads the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center in New
He says the most likely way terrorists will bring down
a jetliner today is by planting small plastic
explosives on board – in the ceiling of the lavatory,
in the pouch under your seat, in your food, or in the
belly of the plane where unscanned air cargo rides.
Talking to Slepian, who’s also an attorney, makes you
never want to fly again – at least not until the
Transportation Security Administration, or TSA,
buttons down the back side of airports as it’s done
the front side, where elaborate screening stations
have been set up. In a recent two-hour interview with
WorldNetDaily, Slepian debunked a number of myths
about aviation security as the nation approaches the
second anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.
MYTH NO. 1: Terrorists will hijack more U.S.
“That’s nonsense,” Slepian said. “The plane is not
going to be hijacked anymore. It’s not happening.”
Why? Because the TSA on Dec. 31, 2002, certified that
every cockpit door of every U.S. jetliner has been
reinforced with a steel crossbar to repel hijackers,
he explains. And the doors also are now supposed to be lined with bulletproof Kevlar.
What’s more, pilots have been trained not to open the
door under any circumstances.
“That’s the rule,” he said. “You keep it locked, and
you land the sucker if there’s a problem back there
(in the cabin). That’s it.”
Pilots can’t leave under any circumstances?
What about when nature calls?
“If the pilot needs to go to the lavatory, no one is
permitted to stand up in First Class, and all flight
attendants move forward of the cockpit door and
sometimes even put a food cart out there,” Slepian
said. The pilot “does a quickie, and he slams the door
“So all this effort to take away your Swiss Army knife
is just silly now,” he added. “We can put guys with
X-ray vision at the screening stations nowadays and it
really doesn’t mean a hell of a lot, because you can’t
take the plane anymore.”
The remaining option for terrorists is to blow up the
plane with bombs – and that’s not hard to do, he
MYTH NO. 2: Air cargo is scanned for bombs.
“For all intents and purposes, air cargo is not being
inspected, and that is a big concern. It is an
extremely vulnerable area,” Slepian said. “Yet TSA
essentially says: We’ll get to it when we get to it.”
Under the Trusted Shipper Program, airlines waive
inspections of cargo shipped by regular customers, he
And when a suspicious package is inspected for
explosives, it’s not scanned by one of the giant CTX
machines used in terminals for checked baggage. They
are configured to handle luggage, not irregularly
shaped packages and other cargo.
“So they may use [a trace] explosives detector,” he
MYTH NO. 3: Ramp workers are screened for weapons
and bombs when they report to the airport each
“They don’t go through any screening process,” with
the exception of ramp workers employed at the
international airports in Miami and Denver, Slepian
said. That’s just two commercial airports out of the
428 nationwide, he notes.
The vast majority of ramp workers are not searched, he
stresses. Nor are their lunch pails or backpacks.
Airlines trust they aren’t a threat because they’ve
“passed” a 10-year criminal background check.
Trouble is, ramp workers more often than not are
issued a Security Identification Display Area pass
long before their fingerprints are processed, Slepian
points out. That SIDA badge, along with door security
access cards or pass codes, allow them to bypass the
passenger screening process at the front of the
terminal and go through locked doors in the back of
the terminal – gaining largely unsupervised access to
baggage, cargo and planes.
The background checks “can take months and months, so
they’re walking around with a card” in the meantime,
he said. “That’s why so many of these airport
employees are arrested so long after the fact, and are
continuing to be arrested in sweeps by the Justice
Department. When the information finally does come
back, they see they’ve got somebody out there (on the
ramp) that has a felony and lied on his application,
or has a warrant out, or is in the country illegally.”
Slepian says ramp workers actually warrant more
security screening than passengers. And he should
know, having coordinated numerous undercover stings on
suspected criminals on the TWA ramp at JFK
International Airport in New York.
“Take a group of ramp workers at random, and take a
group of passengers at random, and I bet you’re going
to find there’s more reason to search those workers
after you look into their backgrounds than you would
if you checked the passengers’ backgrounds,” he said.
“Yet when we talk about searching passengers, we say
no exceptions – you can be 90 years old and we are
going to check you thoroughly,” he added. “When we
talk about employees at the airport, however, we call
them the ‘trusted worker program.’”
Not only has TSA failed to mandate that airports and
airlines search workers for weapons and bombs, as
required by post-9-11 law, it has inadvertently made
it easier for them to plant bombs on board planes,
A new TSA rule bars passengers from locking the
luggage they check on the flight. The reasoning behind
the rule was to make it easier for TSA workers
scanning those bags for bombs to open them and search
them by hand if they spot something suspicious on the
But it also made it easier for a terrorist to slip a
bomb in a bag as it comes down the ramp or is loaded
on the plane, Slepian says. The rule already has led
to more theft among ramp workers, he says. Reports of
stolen items are on the rise again.
Unsearched ramp workers can “come to work with a piece
of Semtex or C-4, an explosive, in their pocket, and
they can put it in checked baggage, which is now not
permitted to be locked,” he said. “So they just open
it up and put it in, and blow up the airplane.”
And the risk is greatest now, during the peak travel
months of summer, when airports and airlines hire
temporary workers who aren’t formally cleared for
security access but are given clearance anyway,
Slepian points out.
MYTH NO. 4: Food-service and other retail workers
in the airport are screened like passengers.
That badge you see Burger King and other airport
food-court workers wearing is the same SIDA badge worn
by ramp workers. And any airport worker with a SIDA
badge gets to bypass screening.
Though food-service and shop workers enter the airport
through security checkpoints at the front of the
terminal, they are not screened. Nor are the
belongings they bring to work.
“The TSA security people just wave them through. They
don’t go through the actual check,” Slepian said. “You
won’t see them standing in line with you when you’re
in an airport.”
“The only workers you see standing in line with you
are the pilots and flight attendants, who if anybody
had the opportunity to crash the plane, it would be
them,” he wryly added. “But we put them through
screening because they may have a pen knife.”
MYTH NO. 5: Airport workers must be U.S.
“There is no requirement that you be a U.S. citizen to
work in an airport, unless you are a federal
screener,” Slepian said.
After the 9-11 hijackings, it was revealed that nine
of every 10 security workers at Washington Dulles
International Airport were not U.S. citizens, and many
were from the Middle East. Many of the workers there
today are Mideast immigrants. The flight that hit the
Pentagon took off from Dulles.
Many working the security checkpoints at San
Francisco International Airport – even now, under new
federal rules – are not U.S. citizens, Slepian
MYTH NO. 6: Food-service and shop workers in
airports are subject to the same 10-year criminal
background check as ramp workers.
In fact, they don’t get the FBI check.
“Food chains are supposed to do a background check
that goes back only five years, which is really
meaningless,” Slepian said. “But there’s no 10-year
FBI background check.”
Airline contractors and vendors, including food
caterers, also avoid the 10-year FBI check, he notes.
MYTH NO. 7: Planes that remain overnight are locked
Called RONs, for “remains overnight,” such planes
should, at a minimum, be locked, and the jetways
connected to them should be moved away. The jetway,
separate from the gateway, is the portable flight of
stairs on the ramp that connects to a gateway door
adjacent to the plane door.
“Yet the plane is not guarded, and in fact, frequently
the door is open,” he said. “So if you have access to
the ramp, you have access to the plane. You just walk
up the stairs and you walk into the plane. And if you
want to plant a bomb, you can. And you leave the same
way and nobody is the wiser.”
MYTH NO. 8: Airline cleaning crews are screened for
weapons and bombs like passengers.
Not so. TSA has asked only that airlines make sure a
supervisor does a final walk-through of the plane
crews leave, checking for planted weapons or bombs,
Slepian says, adding he doubts any cleaning vendors
would know how to identify C-4 if they found it.
He says flight attendants also are not trained to
sweep the planes for such items, and focus instead on
restocking pillows and blankets and safety
instructions in the cabin.
Slepian points out that cleaning crews service planes
between flights, not just late at night. And he says
there are almost too many places to hide a bomb in the
cabin alone to check for them after each cleaning. His
solution: Screen all workers and their supplies
before they can get near the airplane.
Under existing security rules, “they can put a bomb on
board the airplane in a seat back, or in the lavatory
in the overhead just by popping the tile and putting it
in the ceiling, or in any of the storage areas in the
airplane, preferably somewhere near the wing or the
fuel tanks, and blow up the airplane,” he warned.
Another ideal place: the empty pouch underneath your
seat, where your life vest is supposed to be stored,
but usually isn’t. Many of the vests have been taken
by workers for their kids to use at pools, he said.
Occasionally, bomb-sniffing dogs are brought on board
planes to search for bombs in the cabin. But such
searches are usually done only on high-risk
international flights to the Middle East.
MYTH NO. 9: Food caterers and other vendors are
screened like passengers.
No, they too have unfettered access to planes,
allowing yet another means for bombs to get on your
flight, Slepian says.
“There’s still plenty of food that’s being offered on
airplanes, particularly on international flights,” he
said. “And now, some carriers are selling food on
He says terrorists – who have brought explosives on
board more than 100 flights around the world since the
1950s, including the shoe bomb of al-Qaida agent
Richard Reid – have devised what’s called the
“hamburger bomb,” which is Semtex or C-4 in the shape
of a burger or chicken patty.
“They put it on meals, and at 30,000 feet it blows up
the airplane,” he said.
Short of food, they can sneak explosives on board with
the beverage supply, which also is catered.
The largest airline food-and-beverage caterer is LSG
Sky Chefs, which employs numerous immigrants from the
Middle East, and in the recent past has employed some
suspected al-Qaida terrorists.
MYTH NO. 10: Workers need a security card to open
doors in the sterile area of the airport, including
the gates and the ramp.
Actually, many airports still use key-pad locks on
doors that merely require workers to punch in a
four-digit code that rarely is changed.
“Thousands of people have the code, and they don’t
change them very often because it would be chaos,”
Airports issue a separate code to each of its
carriers. Airline workers at their individual
terminals use the code over and over again – at the
gates, at the jetways, at the break rooms – in plain
view of passengers, and potential terrorists.
“If a terrorist happens to miss that flight attendant
who is opening the door at that gate that leads to the
plane, they can just hang around outside the flight
attendant break room,” he said. “Sooner or later,
they’re going to pick it up, because it’s the same
Until airports can install new door security systems
using card readers, former FAA special agent Steve
Elson has proposed taping cardboard over existing door
keypads to shield workers’ fingers as they punch in
Slepian says the ongoing lack of uniform gate security
at the airports is emblematic of the TSA’s reluctance
to focus on beefing up security at the back of
airports (including the perimeter, where he says
terrorists can get close enough to planes to down them
with shoulder-fired missiles).
“They need to mandate that the worker in the airport
go through the same screening process the passenger
goes through,” he said, adding that the focus should
be on bombs, not weapons, now that cockpit doors are
impenetrable. “That’s a huge gap in security.”
“I mean, the billions of dollars they’re spending
really amounts to flushing money down a toilet,”
Slepian added, “because the entire back of the airport
TSA spokesman Michael Fierberg said the agency could
not respond to issues raised in this story, because it
was too busy with the Northeastern power crisis.
Wonder why Osama bin Laden is still on the loose as we near the second anniversary of 9-11? Paul Sperry’s explosive new book, “CRUDE POLITICS: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism,” answers that disturbing question and others.