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Airline Security Shift

Airport screeners will increase random searches of passengers and focus more on detecting explosives, while loosening restrictions on what passengers can carry on board airlines. The director of the Transportation Security Administration and the president of the Association of Flight Attendants discuss the new rules.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    There's considerable controversy on Capitol Hill and within the airline industry over the new air security rules announced today. Small sharp objects soon will be allowed onboard planes, but travelers will be subjected to more extensive pat-downs and random screening procedures at the gate.

    We explore and debate the changes now with Kip Hawley, director of the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA — he announced the new rules today; and Pat Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which has spoken out against some of the changes. Welcome to you both. Mr. Hawley, the skies have been quite safe for the last four years, why change the rules now?

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    There are two things, really, Margaret. One is that the system is well understood by everybody, and it's a little bit too rigid and too predictable for to us feel comfortable with, so we want to add unpredictability to it so the terrorists cannot count on the same screening process everywhere, every time. And the other thing is the current threat of explosives we view as the top priority, and we want to especially work on that.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. Let's go to the most controversial provision, and the one on which the two of you disagree, and that is the one to permit some sharp objects on planes, for instance, scissors up to this size, four inches long from here to there. Now, why is that not a threat?

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    Well, we think it is not a great threat. And our total picture of the aviation system that the protections of the cockpit doors and the federal air marshals and we've got flight crew training, and just a lot of other protections in to protect both of passengers and the aircraft, that the explosive threat we think is really the option we need to put the most focus on.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right, you're on.

  • PATRICIA FRIEND:

    Well, we strongly object to introducing something that is so obviously a weapon into the cabin of the aircraft. The aircraft cabin, the occupants of the cabin, my members and those people who travel with us, are essentially defenseless. Any defenses on the aircraft are behind a locked cockpit door.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But does that mean that, in other words, the passengers on board the plane might be at risk but the plane could not be hijacked to, say, become a terrorist instrument?

  • PATRICIA FRIEND:

    Well, we're not at all certain that that's correct. The cockpit door is barricaded. And the procedures are that the pilots should not open the cockpit door, no matter what is going on in the cabin. But we've not tested that, and we really don't know what the human reaction is going to be by the occupants of the cockpit if in fact members of the crew and passengers are being murdered behind the cockpit door.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    What about that?

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    Well, I certainly understand the concern and have a lot of empathy for it, and something that we've talked about, and I respect the thought behind it and certainly for that — have heard that from families from 9/11 victims as well. But as we look at the total system that — you know, another factor in this is the active involvement of the passengers. And between all of the whole picture of the network system that the small scissors and tools we view as not a significant risk, versus the rest of the picture.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    One more prop, just why would scissors that are this big not be allowed — be allowed, but a Swiss army knife this size is still not?

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    Yes, the — no knives are allowed today, and they will not be allowed in the future, and that is something I believe that we agree on. The — the issue — I'm glad to get this out — is that the way that our x-rays work is very difficult for a transportation security officer to tell the difference between a two-inch, three-inch, four-inch knife, wherever you would want to draw the line if you did want to draw the line.

    Whereas the scissor community, as it were, is fairly easy to differentiate at about that level so that we do not have to open bags to determine whether or not it's a particularly long scissor or not. So it allows some efficiency in the process and does not add, to our view, a significant threat.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Miss Friend what, about Mr. Hawley's point that given — I mean, we're all in a world of finite resources, and the threat may be more from explosive devices, that the screeners' time and energy is better put into tougher and more arduous — and I'm going to get him to explain those in a minute — screening procedures, which are going to be maybe even more burdensome for passenger, but which will be more unpredictable.

  • PATRICIA FRIEND:

    Well, we certainly support greater emphasis on finding explosive devices, but not at the expense of another area of aviation security. We have been urging that we close these potential loopholes in security, not open up more. We still have another major loophole, and that is the issue of screened cargo on board passenger airplanes, and now we're opening another loophole.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But what about the point that they're just — that there just are finite resources?

  • PATRICIA FRIEND:

    Well, I guess that comes to the question of how much do we value our safety, security, and peace of mind, when we're using the U.S. air transportation system?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. Let me ask you about two things. First of all, what about the point about how cargo — the GAO just issued a report on that, right on the same passenger planes is unscreened cargo, not even screened for explosives.

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    Well, a lot of that cargo is screened for explosives. There's a cargo rule that going through the system but we have a lot of the changes we want it make that we've put in place with the industry, and we've — for instance, allocated another $7 million for additional canine teams specifically for air cargo, and, as you may know, we have technology that reaches back into the system, and it's an integrated process.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And your point is it's not sufficient?

  • PATRICIA FRIEND:

    That's exactly right.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. Let me get down to the more extensive pat-downs and the sort of random screening at the gate. What will be involved in that? These are two-minute fairly extensive pat-downs which certainly a lot of women don't enjoy. Are more people going to be subjected to this, and who's going to be chosen?

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    There are two ways to be chosen. One is the system in the so-called cap system before you arrive at a checkpoint has designated a certain number of people as selectees. And what we're adding to that is a random process at the gate that is done in a measured, legal way so it's not discriminatory, and that will be a varying procedure. So at one point it might be the trace detection for explosive on your shoes, another time a pat-down.

    But our pat-downs will now include arms and the lower torso which we do not do now, and we added that based on our view of potential vulnerability.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Bottom line is: will more people end up being subjected to this?

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    Well, more people will have some degree of secondary screening, and our sense is that the overall system — it will not increase the line lengths system wide. It will on a varying basis, you may be detained an extra minute or two yourself on occasion, but it will not be predictable.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But just to understand your point, the flight attendants don't have any objections to these other procedures. Do they, in fact, make you feel a little safer in the cabin to know that there's been a kind of more sophisticated screening going on beforehand?

  • PATRICIA FRIEND:

    It does. We would like to see a focus on who is bringing some of these items on, and more focus on who is actually getting on the airplane. But this new procedure doesn't weigh who's bringing on these four-inch bladed scissors or these seven-inch wrenches, screwdrivers, but simply allows anyone to bring them on.

  • KIP HAWLEY:

    There's a major thing here which is the work that we've done to improve the terror watch list, so people who are dangerous don't get near the plane.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right, Mr. Hawley, Ms. Friend, thank you both.

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