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A new study conducted by an aviation-security firm concludes federal efforts to safeguard airports, planes and the flying public have left the U.S. just as vulnerable to terrorism now as it was before September 11.

The white paper describing the study’s findings, entitled, “Missing in Action – Aviation Security in America,” was written by David Forbes, president of Colorado-based BoydForbes Security. It addresses what Forbes calls “persistent failings” in aviation security over the last three decades. He claims there are fundamental flaws in the system that have continued even in the wake of 9-11.

In the study, which took two years to complete, Forbes states: “Today we do not have anything resembling real security to protect the commercial aviation system and the traveling public. The sham pretence on stage now, and the implied direction for the future, is Oscar-winning material of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ variety.”

Findings presented in the white paper include:

  • Security “upgrades” aimed at show, not substance. Many of the actions taken to “improve” security since 9-11 have been more for public perception than for increasing safety, Forbes contends. This began with the stationing of “National Guard-like mannequins” at screening points immediately after 9-11, while leaving airport perimeters and other vulnerable areas largely unattended, the paper says.

    “This type of malfeasance continues in many areas,” Forbes said. “For example, the [Transportation Security Administration] using untrained outside vendors to accomplish ‘glance and go’ car searches at many airports when the threat levels are elevated to orange.”

  • Failure to replace incompetent management. Forbes claims Congress and various administrations were well aware of the material weaknesses and failures of the FAA aviation security program before 9-11, as cited in many studies and reports to Congress from the mid-1990s through 2001.

    “Yet many of the same bureaucrats – some of whom were proven to have failed in their responsibilities before 9-11 – were simply re-appointed to high positions within the newly-formed Transportation Security Administration,” the paper states.

    Enormous bureaucracy hindering security flexibility. “In a world threatened by multi-directional terrorism, aviation security must be directed by a short and rapid chain of command and communications,” Forbes said. “Major failures and security breaches since 9-11, including a college student easily introducing prohibited items on several aircraft in October 2003, prove that the TSA has become more focused on a reactive bureaucratic structure than on anticipatory and aggressive security.”

  • Continued lack of accountability. The paper says there is no system to hold TSA management accountable for failure to perform.

  • Lack of cohesion. The study notes the TSA approach to aviation security tends to be fragmented, poorly focused and reactive.

The white paper lists what Forbes says are the dangers inherent with the current government approach of self-monitoring the work of the FAA and TSA, underscoring the “continuing failure within the TSA and Department of Homeland Security to hold any high officials accountable for negligence or incompetence – the exact lethal flaw that was in place with the pre-9/11 security system.”

Forbes’ solution lies in changing the culture and standards of the bureaucracies charged with securing aviation. These include regular audits of TSA performance, wider security awareness by senior airport management and “a bottom-up, anticipative vulnerability analysis for each airport, including contingency and event-mitigation plans specific to the airport and to each vulnerability identified in the analysis.”

BoydForbes Security says the study was conducted with the help of airport managers, airport employees and security specialists, several of whom were at one time employed by the federal government in the aviation-security field.

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