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Airport Security

September 12, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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NORMAN MINETA: I have ordered a variety of security measures to be instituted at our nation’s airports upon reopening to improve the security of our aviation system. A thorough search and security check of all airports and airplanes will take place before passengers are allowed to enter and re-board aircraft. We will discontinue curbside check in at the airport, and passengers will be required to go to the ticket counters to check in. We will also discontinue off-airport check in. We can no longer allow passengers to check in for their flights at hotels or other venues.

Passengers must check in at the airports. We must reserve boarding areas for passengers only. Only ticketed passengers will be allowed to proceed past airport screeners to catch their flights, and all vehicles near airport terminals will be monitored more closely. I know that all Americans want us to move as quickly and prudently as possible to return our national air space system to normal, and we will, as soon as we can do so safely.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For more we’re joined by Douglas Laird, vice president at B.G.I. International, a consulting firm specializing in counter terrorism and aviation security– he is a former security director at Northwest Airlines — and Isaac Yeffet, chairman of Yeffet Security Consultant Inc., a security and investigative firm that focuses on anti-terrorism. He is the former director of security for El-Al, the national Israeli Airline.

Mr. Laird, what do you think of these new measures — and let me say there were a couple not mentioned by Secretary Mineta — a ban on all knives and other cutting instruments including plastic, for example, and uniformed and plain-clothes police patrolling airports among others.

DOUGLAS LAIRD: I was most important impressed by the order that only ticketed passengers could proceed beyond the screening shut points. If you think about this, that will allow the screeners a lot more time to more thoroughly check individuals entering a sterile area of the airport.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, overall do you think these are just about the right measures to be taken now?

DOUGLAS LAIRD: I think it’s very early to say what measures need to be taken. What we need to do is take a good hard look at how this event happened and then decide the best way to prevent such things in the future but there is no clear-cut easy answers to any of these questions.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Yeffet what’s your view and I hope I’m saying your name right

ISAAC YEFFET: Yes, you did.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What’s your view of the new measures?

ISAAC YEFFET: I’m glad to hear what the Secretary said but unfortunately it’s too late. 12 years I’m talking about the lack of security that we have around the country. I was testifying in the Congress for two days, I was promised that we would upgrade the level of security, it will be more tightened, will be more sophisticated and the reality, nothing happened. For a couple of days we react and we never pro-react. I hope that from now on this tragedy will teach us.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Yeffet, please look at what happened yesterday — what you know from your own sources and what you know from sources available publicly today and briefly — what could you think happened and what were the failures and what would be necessary that it not happen again? Were the measures today enough, for example?

ISAAC YEFFET: Number one, if you remember that the FAA procedures are that passengers with a knife long, up to four inches, can be sharp and so on, is allowed to board the aircraft, they call it knife, I call it weapon. What we should do it to stop using low level of people that we call them to be a security guy. We have to train them completely different. You cannot train people for a couple of hours and then they become the expert for the security. You cannot hire people for $6 or $7 an hour because this is what you get with this amount of money.

It’s time now to decide that we will choose the right people to be in our security system. We train them days and not hours. We have to test them every day. We have to make sure that they understand the heavy responsibility that they take on their shoulders when people are coming to board the aircraft. They are responsible for the life of innocent people. And we have to stop from now on to react only. Let us do whatever is necessary to prevent and not to react.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Douglas Laird, when you look at what happened yesterday, what do you see in what has to be done to prevent it and is what happened today enough?

ISAAC YEFFET: They wouldn’t be able to go based on the FAA procedures with a knife to the aircraft.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I’m sorry, Mr. Yeffet; I’m asking Mr. Douglas Laird now.

ISAAC YEFFET: Oh, I’m sorry.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That’s okay.

DOUGLAS LAIRD: I think we must understand that a lot of people are saying that the screeners failed. The screeners did not fail because of the way the regulations were written, knives up to four inches were until now allowed on aircraft. This has served us well since 1972. What I’m saying is we need to look at the future. It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback but let’s not find fault with the screeners who, in fact, were meeting the regulatory obligations. I think that the things that the Secretary mentioned today will help in the interim but, again, we have to look at the long term; we have to do a careful analysis of how to stop this in the future without crippling our aviation system.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Laird, is it possible to stop somebody under, I mean, whatever the stringent measures if they’re willing to die, if they are basically using the plane as a bomb and flying it into a building? They could just say they have a bomb, for example. They might not have any weapon.

DOUGLAS LAIRD: The last hijacking in the United States was in 1987 — hijacking, I mean when a person had an actual weapon. There have been several hijackings since when people bluffed their way by saying they had a weapon when they didn’t. It’s hard to prevent somebody from bluffing. We have to understand as a people that nothing is 100 percent and if you recall back when the — following Pan Am 103 — the commission, the presidential commission clearly stated that part of solution was the will of the American people and that’s even more true today. We as a society have to agree upon certain things that we are willing to surrender of our rights to search and so forth to make the skies safe. But at the same time if it takes five hours to process people to board a flight our entire economic system will collapse.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Yeffet, your response?

ISAAC YEFFET: My response is that I agree with the gentleman there is no 100 percent security. On the other hand with poor skills and nothing security serious there is a big gap between this and the 100 percent. We have to work hard to come close to the 100 percent as much as we can. And to think that we need five hours to make the flight possible, I think it’s illusion. We tell today people, come two hours ahead of time. With these two hours we can interview the people, we can ask them, we can check them and we can decide who is bona fide passenger and suspicious passengers. Let’s concentrate on the suspicion passengers and not with the bona fide. So therefore, we will not lose any money or we will collapse by thinking that we need five hours. Believe me I….

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Very briefly, Mr. Yeffet, let me just interrupt you — do you think we have to move toward something more like the El-Al system – I mean anybody who’s been through the Tel Aviv Airport knows what it is to have a stringent security check. I was questioned for five minutes by two people, for example. Do we have to move towards something that strict, just briefly?

ISAAC YEFFET: The El-Al system shows two hours is more than enough to take care of 450 passengers at 747. If we do it right here, believe me, that we can do it similar to El-Al or close to El-Al without having any problem to the passengers. We are worried about the conveniency of the passengers and my question is, conveniency by knowing that we risk our life or inconveniency by knowing that we save life the answer is very clear.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Mr. Laird, just briefly a response.

DOUGLAS LAIRD: Well when I talked earlier about the will of the people, if lines get very long at the airport, the public complains vehemently to the screeners and to the airlines. There has to be a happy medium. And I think through the use of technology, proper training and retaining screeners longer after they’ve been retained will allow their quality to a improve. I’m not trying to imply that they’re not doing a good job. The events of yesterday happened in spite of the fact screeners were following all of the regulations. There is no indication that there was any failure at a checkpoint.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you both, very much.