Critics are lining up against an amendment to the landmark Homeland Security bill that would grant immunity to airport screening firms whose negligence may have contributed to the 9-11 attacks.
The amendment, introduced last summer by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, “has nothing to do with homeland security … and is nothing less than a special-interest gift to the airport screening companies,” said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., ranking minority member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in a July 25 letter to colleagues urging them to reject the proposal.
Specifically, the amendment “would eliminate the provision in the Airport Security Act that insures that negligent screening companies do not benefit from the statutory liability protections in the [Act] for airlines,” Oberstar wrote.
“The conference report from [airport] security bills passed Sept. 22 and Nov. 19 specifically excluded security companies from immunity,” confirmed an assessment by the National Air Disaster Alliance and Foundation.
If the final version of the Homeland Security bill, now in the Senate, were to include that provision, Globe Aviation Services and Huntleigh USA Corp., two firms responsible for providing security at Boston’s Logan International Airport – where 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers boarded two of four hijacked airliners armed with box cutters – could not be found negligent and liable.
Also exempted under the amendment is security firm Argenbright, responsible for security at Logan as well as Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
Airliners from Washington and Newark were hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania, respectively. Argenbright, which has an extensive history of security violations, was fined nearly $1 million last year for hiring convicted felons, among other breaches.
“Last year, when we passed the Aviation Security Act, we expressly decided that private screening companies should not be relieved of liability,” said Oberstar. “There were good reasons for insisting that these screening companies be fully responsible for any security deficiencies that played a part in the Sept. 11 tragedies.”
Worse, critics add, all three companies are foreign owned: Argenbright is a division of Securicor PLC, of Surrey, England; Globe Aviation Services is a unit of Securitas AB, based in Stockholm, Sweden; Huntleigh USA Corp. is a unit of ICTS International NV in the Netherlands.
Despite the Minnesota Democrat’s warning, the House passed H.R. 5005, the Homeland Security Act, on July 26. As the bill awaits further debate in the Senate, some analysts wonder if the Armey amendment will be overshadowed by a rift between the White House and the Democratic leadership over labor issues.
The president has promised to veto the Homeland Security legislation, which establishes a new Cabinet-level department, unless lawmakers give him and future presidents greater power to hire, fire and move around the proposed agency’s 170,000 workers. Bush also objects to Democratic versions of the bill that he says would strip his current authority to exempt workers from union bargaining agreements if it meant strengthening national security.
Democrats, on the other hand, want workers in the new agency to retain all the labor rights they possess in other government jobs.
Meanwhile, airport screening is slated to become federalized Nov. 19.
When he discovered the Armey amendment, Brian Sullivan said he “was furious.” A retired Federal Aviation Administration special agent, Sullivan, along with Steve Elson, another former FAA special agent and Navy counterterrorism expert, exposed serious security flaws at Logan just months before the Sept. 11 attacks – flaws that were featured in a special televised report broadcast locally.
Despite those revelations, however, “little or no action was taken to address the problem and, as a matter of fact, the airlines – aided and abetted by their fawning sycophants at FAA Security in Boston – actually took steps to thwart attempts to address the problem,” Sullivan told WorldNetDaily.
Richard Diamond, a spokesman for Armey, said the amendment only grants the same protections given to other sectors of the aviation industry.
“What we did is apply the same liability protection to the screeners … that was offered in the wake of 9-11 to everybody else involved in the aviation business,” he told WorldNetDaily. “So this was a matter of rectifying a prior oversight.”
The White House has been silent about the amendment, but Sullivan says Bush isn’t his primary concern. Rather, he says, it’s “the huge federal bureaucracy … which [Bush] has yet to hold accountable.”
“Ask yourself how many of the federal management types in the FBI, CIA or worse – the FAA’s Civil Aviation Security – have been held accountable” for 9-11, said Sullivan.
“It seems scary to me that we would remove labor rights from federal employees, while failing to hold management from the failed FAA Civil Aviation Security, [Department of Transportation], FBI or CIA apparatus accountable,” he said. “Without accountability, we risk subjecting federal employees to the leadership of some of the same dolts responsible for the vulnerabilities of 9-11.”
Steve Push, a spokesman for the group Families of September 11, said while there may be some “societal benefit” to bailing out the airlines, the same could not be said for the airlines’ security companies.
“If anyone was negligent in regards to aviation security, it was these security companies,” he told WorldNetDaily.
Push also dismissed Diamond’s explanation. “[The amendment] was no oversight,” he said.
In an Aug. 28 letter to all 100 senators, Gail Dunham, president of the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, said none of them “should unwittingly cast a vote to protect foreign security companies at the expense of injured and killed Americans.”
Dunham urged senators to reject the amendment. “This amendment shocks the senses of Americans,” she said.
Mary Schiavo, an attorney with Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Guilford and Schaivo – with offices in Washington and Los Angeles – says one of the worst offenders, Argenbright, has been reorganized “under new identities and has no intention of departing the aviation security arena.”
“With immunity from financial responsibility and liability beyond insurance coverage, and freedom to continue work in aviation security, 9-11 merely gave these negligent entities a raise for their incompetence, a raise which the families of the dead may not be able to touch,” said Schiavo, whose firm is representing the families of 40 victims killed aboard the hijacked airliners.
A suit has been filed on behalf of 37 of the victims in federal court in Manhattan.
On Friday, Armey – along with Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., Republican Conference chairman, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., urging action on the Homeland Security bill.
“Our enemies are not going to wait,” said the letter. “The threat we face has not diminished. This is the time for action, not excuses.”