Although the federal government has officially assumed responsibility for all airport security, experts say airport safety has not – and will not – improve because new measures are mostly for show.
Worse, experts say, because of the way new airport security laws are written, unhappy passengers have little recourse to complain; airport security personnel have been given absolute authority, and any passenger-caused problems, no matter how petty or minor, could result in prison terms of up to 20 years.
Though it came off largely unnoticed, the federal government officially took over airport security from the airlines Feb. 17. Personnel from private firms continue to screen passengers under the supervision of federal managers. Eventually, the newly created Transportation Security Administration will oversee a 30,000-strong force of higher paid, better trained screeners, the government said Monday.
“TSA will hire and deploy security screeners and supervisors at 429 airports over the next ten months,” says a Department of Transportation training plan. “Based on the dual requirements of protecting the system and moving passengers who present no threat through security checkpoints efficiently, the screener workforce is likely to exceed 30,000 people. In addition, TSA will employ thousands of Federal Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), as well as intelligence and support personnel.”
But Charlie Cutshaw, a firearms expert and editor for several publications owned by The Jane’s Information Group, told WorldNetDaily that the new security measures – including the new security personnel, stationing of the National Guard in airports and random frisks and searches – “do little toward actual security but set the stage for an incipient police state by acclimatizing people to being body searched for no real reason.”
Cutshaw, a former Army officer who commanded two nuclear-weapons facilities, relayed a recent personal experience as an example.
“I was recently denied air travel because I told the ‘security’ personnel that I resented their ‘random’ search as I was boarding the plane and that it added nothing to real security,” he said.
Last month, Cutshaw said he and his wife were set to travel from Alabama, where they live, to an annual firearms event in Las Vegas. After being searched by airport security personnel once, “I chose to protest a second random body frisk and partial disrobing search as I was boarding the aircraft to depart Huntsville.”
The screener “required me to remove my shoes and unbuckle my belt,” Cutshaw said. “I told the searcher that I resented this invasion of my privacy and that I was submitting only under protest.”
He described the rest of the incident to WND:
“She [the screener] asked if I wanted to fly. I told her that I really didn’t, but that I had no choice and thus was submitting only under protest. I had to go over to some seats to remove my shoes and when I did so, I tossed them over to the floor near the table where she was standing, as I didn’t know what else to do with them.
“That was a bad mistake, because I was accused of throwing my shoes at her, despite that fact that when she told me afterwards that I had to place them on the table, I did so without protest,” Cutshaw explained.
“By this time, I was pretty hot, having been frisked previously because the zipper in my jacket set off the metal detector. But I never took it to a personal level. I never used profanity. I just told her very firmly that I truly resented this process. I did everything that she asked me to do, including unbuckling my belt. No matter. Once I has passed through and I was on the plane, the cops and the National Guard came to remove me from my Delta flight because I was a ‘troublemaker’ and made all the other passengers ‘uncomfortable.'”
Cutshaw said he and the security personnel and troops “had a very interesting and genial professional conversation as we proceeded out of the terminal,” but explained to them that their presence – and the process he and other passengers now must endure – “is sheer idiocy.”
“At any rate, the bottom line is that you must not protest when they strip you down at the airport,” he said, because security personnel “have ‘zero tolerance’ for dissent.”
Another Delta flier – a police captain who asked to remain anonymous – said he, too, was singled out by security for a random search to which he objected.
“I reckon the badge, captain’s rank, and my comment – ‘I have the highest-dollar lawyer in the state in my pocket, and my cousin is a former state Supreme Court justice, and they will take my case pro bono’ – might have kept me from being thrown off the plane,” he said.
Like Cutshaw, the police captain says his abusive treatment was justified in the same way: “The FAA says we have to do it.”
The police captain told of a similar security experience that happened to a “white female” on his return trip.
“She had just been searched in the airport by a male, who reached through her blouse and felt her breasts while pulling her under-wire bra away from her body (the wire in the bra set off the detector),” the police captain said.
“After pulling her nearly off her feet to pull the bra away from her body, [the security officer] let it slam back into her body, pinching her breasts, somewhat painfully. When she asked for a supervisor, she was told she didn’t have a complaint, that the FAA rulings allowed the men to search women,” the captain said. “I begged her to hire a lawyer and sue their a–.”
“I will not subsidize this nonsense by acceding to it,” Cutshaw says. “There are better ways to achieve airport security.”
Cutshaw and the others may not be alone. According to published reports, most major U.S. airlines are still bleeding red ink months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
While most industry analysts agree that the attacks had much to do with those losses, they also believe that unnecessary airport hassles, overzealous security personnel and inappropriate searches will see the airlines continue to lose money as more people opt to travel by other means – or simply stay home.
But the FAA says it hasn’t received many complaints from passengers, though a spokeswoman, Rebecca Trexler, said the TSA was now in charge of dealing with security issues.
“I can’t address specific incidents, but I can tell you overall that these new complaints have not fallen under the aegis of discrimination, as determined by the Department of Transportation,” Trexler told WND. “But I don’t think they’ve gotten a whole lot” of complaints, she added.
“I think what we need to tell passengers is that anytime there is an alarm, our screeners have to resolve that alarm,” she said. “They have to do it with dignity and respect for the person. A passenger can always ask for a private screening, and if they need a pat-down, that must be done by a person of the same gender, unless the passenger consents to have it done by someone of the opposite gender.”
Some passengers have said they were afraid to complain too strongly because of fear they could be branded as troublesome by security personnel and either arrested or asked to leave the airport.
Trexler said the FAA hadn’t received those kinds of complaints, but said passengers would have to understand some of the new realities of flying.
“It’s a new world since Sept. 11,” she said. “Screening is a lot more rigorous than it was in the past, and screeners need to resolve every problem but need to do so appropriately. If they’re not, that’s a big problem, obviously.”
What recourse do passengers have if they have trouble with a screener?
“Passengers should speak to the ground security coordinator, who is in charge of the screening at each station,” Trexler said. “Or they can ask for the government manager that is there on site. It’s always better to do that while you’re there on site instead of waiting until later.”
Trexler said the FAA had not been approached by the airlines with concerns that increased security and the resultant complaints are causing increased revenue losses.
“I’m not aware of anything like that,” she said. “I think basically everybody feels like the public needs to be assured that everything that can be done is being done to protect the security of flights.”
“We have to do everything we can to make sure people are safe when flying,” she added. “By going through the security checkpoint, you are agreeing to have your bags and your person searched and scanned. That’s part of what you agree to when you fly. Now, you don’t have to go through the security checkpoints, but that’s part of what you agree to when you fly.
“TSA is now taking over this security,” she said. “But security won’t be any less. It may be more efficient, but it’s not going to be any less than it currently is.”
Though Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation creating the TSA and new aviation security measures, not all lawmakers were pleased with the final product, especially provisions governing screeners.
“While I was not pleased that the new law creates a new federal screening workforce, it is my hope that this provision will be altered in the future,” said Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation.
“Senate legislation focused narrowly on the baggage-screening process. However, the fundamental problems facing aviation security on Sept. 11 were not addressed in the Senate bill,” Mica said.
“On the day of the terrorist attacks, there were no federal rules in place regarding high standards, qualifications or background checks for screening personnel – despite six years and twice-passed congressional directives to do so,” he said.
What would work?
Cutshaw says there are a number of measures that could be taken to not only protect passengers and airports, but work to legitimately make it tough for potential terrorists to attack.
For one thing, he said, airports should eliminate random searches. “These measures add nothing and are simply harassment,” he said.
Also, Cutshaw says pilots should be armed, and that the banning of pocket knives and nail clippers is pointless.
Flight attendants should be issued pepper spray and/or tasers. “Train them in the use of these less-lethal weapons,” Cutshaw said.
“Encourage sworn police officers to travel by giving them a huge discount or even free travel if they bring their duty weapon and agree to act as an assistant security officer during the flight,” he said.
And, he believes, the National Guard should be sent packing because “their presence is a waste of the taxpayers’ money and is no more than a ‘feel good’ measure for politicians.”
“Conduct a background check on every person who buys a ticket in the same way that instant background checks are done when you buy a gun or are stopped for a traffic violation,” Cutshaw added. “‘Trusted traveler’ ID cards are another step towards a national ID and can be faked.”
Finally, he says the basic educational standards for all federal airport screeners should be raised, along with salaries.
“If we are going to pay the salaries for baggage screeners to be federal employees, eliminate all the high school dropouts who are only marginally capable of being burger flippers,” he said. “Set higher standards and train the personnel to be real security officers. Immediately eliminate anyone who gives the slightest hint of being on a power trip.”
History of security lapses
Cutshaw’s observations come as the Transportation Department begins an investigation into allegations made by a former FAA agent that his repeated warnings about lax airport security were ignored by agency brass.
According to USA Today on Monday, the government’s Office of Special Counsel has ordered Transportation to look into Bogdan Dzakovic’s charges that the FAA disregarded repeated warnings that airport checkpoints could easily be breached.
Dzakovic, an FAA special agent for 14 years, led an elite team that tested airport security. After his “Red Team” repeatedly – and easily – breached security measures at several airports, the paper said, an FAA supervisor began skewing the results of investigations “by announcing in advance that agents planned to test airport checkpoints.”
A former air marshal, Dzakovic also alleges in his complaint that top FAA officials, including security head Cathal Flynn, were “fully aware of the vulnerabilities in civil aviation security (and) of the terrorist threat,” but took no meaningful action to correct the problems before the hijackings Sept. 11.
And, he says, FAA supervisors instructed security experts not to return to airports that tested poorly and instead “tried to bury the information” without knowing whether security at those airports improved.
“My entire office files are replete with incident after incident of us documenting major problems in aviation security,” Dzakovic wrote in his letter to the special counsel. “There is not one single instance that I am aware of in which action was taken to correct these security loopholes.”
Dzakovic’s charges echo those made by former FAA inspector Steve Elson, who told WND last fall that the agency rigged its security tests.
“They [the FAA] design the tests so they can pass,” Elson said, adding that the agency’s undercover agents, who are “easily recognized by screeners,” try to slip through checkpoints with “stuff any moron can find.”
“The test objects are big bombs and big guns,” Elson said. “Everything is designed to pass,” he said.
Others agreed that security is poor and that the FAA is doing little to enhance it.
“Until somebody gets the FAA honest, we’re very likely to see [terrorist attacks] again,” Ralph Omholt, a pilot for a major airline, told WND.