THE PRICE OF SECURITY
JULY 25, 1996
New and more effective technology exists for better airport security and airline anti-terrorism. But neither the government nor the private sector feels they can afford the expense. A panel of experts discuss who should pay for safer skies.
Listen to this interview with RealAudio. [14.4] [28.8]
JIM LEHRER: Now three people with special perspectives on airliner and airport security: David Plavin is the president of Airports Council International, a trade group representing more than 300 airports in North America. He was formerly in charge of aviation at the Port Authority in New York. Carol Hallett is the president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, the trade group of all major U.S. airlines. And Larry Johnson is a former deputy secretary at the State Department in the division of Counterterrorism for Transportation. He's now a security consultant.
July 24, 1996:
TWA President Jeffrey Erickson talks about the families of the victims, who are frustrated by the slow recovery of their loved ones' bodies.
July 19, 1996:
Threats To Freedom.
The planting of a terrorist bomb continues to circulate as one of the possible reasons behind the downing of TWA Flight 800. A panel of experts discusses attempts to balance security with personal freedom.
July 18, 1996:
It's unclear when authorities will know what caused the crash of TWA's Flight 800 that killed 230 onboard. As investigators hunt through 240 square miles of wreckage, a panel of experts considers possible scenarios.
Ms. Hallett, should responsibility for security be shifted from your--from you, the airlines, to the federal government?
CAROL HALLETT, Air Transport Association: Well, we're hoping the President's commission will be able to deal with that issue so that we will all be assured that the skies will be safe for all passengers and all crews. And I think it's a very important aspect of the President's commission that we hope to participate in.
JIM LEHRER: Is that the problem now, though? I mean, some of those folks in Tom Bearden's piece said that it is now part of the airline's bottom line and as long as security is down there, it's going to be not as good as it might otherwise be?
MS. HALLETT: I think it's an unfortunate charge because not only is the security very good, we, of course, have 22,000 departures every day, take-offs, from our airports, and that means with all those passengers, they are going through a security check, and we are working constantly to upgrade security with the FAA and, in fact, we welcome the changes that the FAA is making. We have worked with the FAA on the CTX-5000 machine, and we are hopeful that they will have that equipment fully certified at the end of this one-year trial in both San Francisco and Atlanta.
JIM LEHRER: Now, once that--let's take the CT--CTX-5000 as an example. Once it is certified, whose responsibility is it to buy those things and put 'em in an airport? Are your airports going do to that, or are the airlines, or--
DAVID PLAVIN, Airports Council International: I think that's one of the things that the Gore commission is going to look at. Under present FAA rules, they would mandate it, or they would certify it, and airport security for baggage is currently the responsibility of the carriers, and in some cases, the carriers do it for themselves, in some cases they have contractors to do it for them. In some cases, they have automated systems. In some cases, they have totally manual systems.
JIM LEHRER: So the airports do not pay for that?
MR. PLAVIN: Well the airports may pay for it, but usually, if they do, it's on behalf of the airlines.
JIM LEHRER: Meaning what?
MR. PLAVIN: Meaning that sometimes the airlines will get together and work with the airport to try to put in place a baggage system but ultimately the cost is the cost of the carriers and the carriers are the ones who operate it.
JIM LEHRER: So the, the changes that the President announced today, this is before the Gore commission, things that are supposed to go into effect tonight or tomorrow do not--will not be implemented by the airports, they'll be implemented by the carriers?
MR. PLAVIN: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: You all have no, no involvement in that whatever?
MR. PLAVIN: Not in baggage screening.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What do you think of the new changes, Mr. Johnson?
LARRY JOHNSON, Security Expert: I call them a short step in the right direction. It is not going to deal with the threat of a bomb. I mean, if you want to be very candid about it, we do not have the technology right now that's in place that the airlines use to prevent bombs getting on board. We have a system of assumptions about behavior. And that assumption is what's called passenger-bag match.
If a bag's going on board a plane, you want to assume that--you want the passenger to be on board the plane because if the passenger's on board and the bag's on board, you have a reasonable certainty--you hope that the person's not suicidal.
If the bag goes on board, as happened in Pan Am 103, with no accompanying passenger, there's a risk of a bomb. That system applies internationally. It doesn't apply domestically, and there is right now no system in place for that.
JIM LEHRER: Now, did I read the President correctly that under--under the new rules, there will be a matching system? Are you airlines not going to start doing that domestically?
MS. HALLETT: There is not anything that is specific about a 100 percent baggage match. There is baggage matching done now on international flights. There will obviously be many ideas that will be presented in the bipartisan commission that we hope to participate in to help further develop the best possible mechanisms, so that we will ensure the highest possible standards.
JIM LEHRER: But somebody getting on an airplane, a domestic flight in the United States tomorrow, is not going to be in a baggage matched situation?
MR. JOHNSON: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, you're not going to have to say, yes, that's my bag, and--
MR. JOHNSON: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MR. JOHNSON: If you're going to fly from Los Angeles to Washington, let's put it on the table--if you go to the airport right now, you can check your bag through and you don't have to get on the plane, but your bag will for domestic. And that's, you know, that--
JIM LEHRER: But if you go from say Washington Dulles to London tonight, you--
MR. JOHNSON: You cannot--you cannot go unless--your bag won't go unless you go.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Do you believe that there should be domestic matching?
MR. JOHNSON: I think--I don't want to put the airlines in completely--you know, they're the bad guys in this--because I think the point that Amb. Busby made is right on target. You have--you don't have a system, and David's answer earlier about who's responsible here illustrates the point. There is no one in charge of it.
It's a patchwork quilt system, and you have airport operators trying to do the best they can, airlines trying to do the best they can, but they have some false incentives in there. So-- JIM LEHRER: Like what?
MR. JOHNSON: Well--
JIM LEHRER: Getting off on time.
MR. JOHNSON: I call security directors the Rodney Dangerfields of their industry. They get no respect because when they walk through the door to the chief executive and say we need to spend money on this system, they're not seen as bringing value to the bottom line; they're seen as causing a cost. And I know of several instances in which the airlines have resisted changes to increase security, not because they're not in favor of security, but in their judgment, they don't think there's a threat there, and they don't feel it's warranted to spend the money.
JIM LEHRER: Somebody's overreacting--
MR. JOHNSON: One final point.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead. Sure.
MR. JOHNSON: I think what needs to happen--and I think Carol's right about the Gore commission--it needs to be bipartisan. Forty-five days is too short of time. It took the Pan Am commission, the President's commission on Pan Am 103, eight months. And I think you need to have a bipartisan effort. It needs to be taken out of the political sphere.
JIM LEHRER: We'll get to that in a moment, but as a good--based on your knowledge of the airports of America, what would be the practical effect of domestic bag checking, bag matching?
MR. PLAVIN: Well, I think there's an immediate effect, and the immediate effect is an enormous number of people will be waiting on line. The immediate effect is you will come to the airport earlier, you'll spend a lot more time on the queue, waiting to get through the screening system, and the airlines who do not now have a system to do this will have to do almost all of it manually.
I've been on the tarmac in an airport in Europe where we actually had to stand, point to our bag, and they said, all right, you go on the plane, and we'll take your bag and put it on the plane one at a time, and that process for a relatively small airplane took well over an hour. So it is almost assuredly the case that if this had to be implemented tomorrow with that level of detail, that the system would, would come to a very rapid deterioration.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MS. HALLETT: Well, I think that there are going to be instances where we have seen in the past that baggage matches are used when there is a specific threat. And that's really what we need to look at it because the airline industry works closely with the FAA and the FBI to respond to threats and clearly, the highest priority that this industry has is to protect and have a safe flight for the passengers and the crews, and so it is in our best interest to spend the money necessary to provide the equipment, as well as to carry out the security that will meet the needs to protect and provide that assurance to our travelers.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go back to some specifics. Mr. Johnson, you've mentioned one, domestic bag matching. What else--
MR. JOHNSON: Well--
JIM LEHRER: --could be done?
MR. JOHNSON: Another example is cargo is really left out of this. That is another major gap in the system. And my own view is--
JIM LEHRER: Explain that, please.
MR. JOHNSON: Right now down to the current level of security that airlines are not required to inspect cargo from unknown shippers. That means if it comes in from an unknown shipper, they're not required to do it. Some airlines have taken the decision on their own to start doing that. In the case of TWA--
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about domestic or international?
MR. JOHNSON: Domestic or international. One of the things that the Pan Am 103 commission looked at very seriously and noted as a major gap, you've got--nobody inspects the cargo, and we saw this in February 1995.
Ramzi Yousef, who's on trial right now in New York City for a plot to blow up 11 jumbo jet airliners in the Pacific, used two methods to get or try to get bombs on board. One he succeeded. He took the materials on board, himself, built the device in flight, left it on board, got off the plane. The measures--
JIM LEHRER: You mean so for the plane to explode after he's gone?
MR. JOHNSON: After he left. And the measures that President Clinton announced today for what's called a hard search of the airplane will counter that. The other thing--
JIM LEHRER: A hard--let me stop--a hard--what does that mean?
MR. JOHNSON: That means you go through, you pick up the seats, you look under there, you look through the tray tables, you go into the bathrooms, you push open the ceilings, you do a complete, thorough search of the airplane.
JIM LEHRER: Who does that?
MR. JOHNSON: The airline.
JIM LEHRER: The airline does that. And what I heard the President say was that every plane that takes off to an American destination will be given that?
MS. HALLETT: Every airline that takes off for a foreign destination, or coming to the United States, not domestic flights.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. That's what I meant.
MS. HALLETT: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: I said that wrong. But any international flight that has a U.S. destination will get that hard search?
MS. HALLETT: We already do that for every first flight of the day. And so that is something that will--
JIM LEHRER: First flight of the day defined as--
MS. HALLETT: Coming to the United States, every first flight of the day that our American carriers have, that plane is fully inspected. This now means that flights that let's say originate in Los Angeles, fly to New York, and then go on to Paris, that flight will again be inspected before it departs New York to go to Paris.
JIM LEHRER: And then if it comes back, it will be inspected again?
MS. HALLETT: That is correct. One other comment, if I may, about the baggage, I think this is so important as the former head of the Customs Service, I can tell you that those particular regulations with respect to the movement of cargo was established through the Customs Service to try and speed up the processing of goods going from one point to another.
And there has, in fact, been a process where particular freight forwarders, who are known and have been certified, they ship goods that are not inspected. I think we have to take another look at that.
JIM LEHRER: And is, is Mr. Johnson right, that this is up to the discretion of individual airlines right now?
MS. HALLETT: It actually is up to their discretion, although in the past because it was a regulation established by Customs, it is something that the airlines honored, and they did not open any goods that were sealed and had been preapproved.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Do--on these, these hard inspections that you all do now, and that will even be--more of them will be done now under these new, new rules as of today, are you comfortable with those being done by airline employees, rather than by security people who work for governments or airports?
MS. HALLETT: Well, many times these are security employees that we hire. We think this is an essential thing that needs to be done for those departing flights. Yes, it will take more time, but, again, one of the things the airlines have always done, they have immediately implemented any changes in security because they believe it is in the best interests of the traveling passenger and their crews.
JIM LEHRER: Now, let's go to the Gore commission. Mr. Plavin, if you're asked by the Gore commission, and I'm sure you will be, what would be the single most important thing that could be done to--there are two things here--as Ms. Hallett keeps saying--there is the reality of, of airline security, and then there's the perception that is, that is really out there right now. What could be done to improve both?
MR. PLAVIN: I think the President's gesture today in making this a high priority, presidential priority, is really critical from the point of view of public perception. I think that's been seriously lacking. The one thing that the Gore commission can do--
JIM LEHRER: But isn't that scary?
MR. PLAVIN: Oh, I think that people have been scared. I think they have been scared in some cases unnecessarily because the system, as Carol has pointed out, has been very safe over a long period of time. But what the Gore commission can do and almost assuredly will do is take the first really systematic approach to the issue of security.
Remember that this is really not only an aviation issue. Airports are a target because they're visible, because they're symbolic of the commerce of a great nation. So, therefore, they're an attractive target. But, for example, we have to look at things like who's doing the security, what kind of people are they, what do they get paid, what kind of training do they get? We have to look at the technology.
We saw a little bit about that before. We have to look at our ability to not only gather intelligence but to disseminate it, and then we have to look for a way to pay for the kinds of improvements that we all agree are necessary in the system. Nobody is going to challenge the need to make investment in the system if they have confidence that, indeed, by doing so we will create a real improvement in the quality of security for the system. JIM LEHRER: And not being done piecemeal, being done in an organized--
MR. PLAVIN: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: --way.
MR. PLAVIN: As part of an organized approach to it.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Johnson, you will probably also be asked by the Gore commission what are the most important things that could be done. What would you put on your list, the things you've just been talking about?
MR. JOHNSON: At the top of the list, it needs to be handled as a security system. And I think right now, the airlines are in a bit of an unfair position because they're told to implement security, but it's up to them to do it and pay for it. Airports, some are owned by counties, some are owned by cities, some owned by states, some owned by private entities. It is--it's a mishmash.
JIM LEHRER: Each with kind of different priorities, right?
MR. JOHNSON: Yeah. They have different--
JIM LEHRER: Reflecting the community's interests?
MR. JOHNSON: And there's really no--you know, I think if you start from the premise that there's some scapegoat out here or some bad guy, that's the wrong approach in this. There are lots of people trying to do the best job, but we have a system that is not designed right now to meet the challenge of the 21st century. And I think, at bottom, we need to start looking at aviation security as a national defense issue, not as a private security issue.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MS. HALLETT: Well, I think there's much to be said for what Larry has mentioned. I would also point out that consistency is so important when we have security as a No. 1 priority. Obviously, if terrorism is involved, it changes everything that we do. And that is a national priority. But we must be consistent across-the-board and make sure that we have the highest possible standards. That's what the airlines support.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe that the American people now support this? I mean, has the TWA 800, plus the ValuJet before that, added up to, hey, we're ready to do something, we're ready to pay for it, give us some national leadership, is that what's happened?
MS. HALLETT: Well, I think that the people of America who travel are not only willing to pay more but they're also willing to wait in lines, if that is necessary, or do whatever it takes, to ensure their safety. We want to work in a way with consistency so that they will be assured not only of that protection but also that we can do it in an expeditious manner.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe the public support is there?
MR. PLAVIN: I think it's there now. Uh, I think prior history would suggest that it's there for a while after a major incident, and then it begins to wane. I think the issue of paying for it is less the issue because I think they will pay for it.
But, remember, we could have a perfectly safe system, we could close it down, nobody would travel, everybody would be perfectly safe, but obviously we're talking about a balance here, and the balance has to be a way to make sure people can get through the system, commerce can flow through the system, and I'm not so sure that when the immediate attention to the most recent incident fades that people are going to be as sanguine about waiting on line for an hour or two in anticipation of a flight, certainly a short-haul domestic flight.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We'll see what happens. Thank you all three very much.
MR. PLAVIN: Thank you.