Monday, September 22, 2003

The Destruction of Air Travel by Domestic Terrorism?

9/11 is said to have changed America forever. It is said to have kindled the war on terror, required the dramatic assault on our civil liberties via The Patriot Act, and required the creation of a super agency known as the Department of Homeland Security.

The reality is that 9/11 did none of these things, but the ineptitude of our Government did.

Long prior to 9/11 our Government was warned repeatedly that terrorists would use aircraft to attack targets of national significance. The World Trade Centers and the Pentagon were mentioned by name. The World Trade Centers were attacked long before 9/11 so the handwriting was on the wall.

Hijacking of commercial aircraft in flight was specifically warned against.

FAA security personnel were warned that such attacks were likely, even imminent.

FBI personnel in two branch offices warned their superiors in Washington that persons of Middle Eastern descent were being trained to take off and fly large commercial aircraft but not to land them. A number of known terrorists whose intentions were to do ill towards the United States were allowed to freely move about and while some were on the mysterious” Watch List” none were being watched.

In the face of these explicit warnings the FAA announced four months before 9/11 that the air marshal program was ended, an open invitation to potential hijackers that they need not worry about being thwarted by armed law enforcement personnel.

In the face of these explicit warnings the FAA continued to permit knives and box cutters with blades of four inches to be carried aboard airliners.

Why attack the World Trade Centers. The symbol of U.S. capitalism? The center of political power? The location of U.S. financial markets? None of the above! The World Trade Centers were attacked because these buildings were constructed to a standard that epitomized the corruption of the political agency that built them. They were not earthquake tolerant. They were not damage tolerant. They were built like a house of cards that would come tumbling down once a single floor fell onto another. Unlike the Empire State Building whose steel infrastructure had already demonstrated tolerance to an airplane crashing into it, the World Trade Centers were certain to collapse.

The security system at the Logan Airport in Boston functioned as advertised. Screeners profiled the hijackers, took them aside and questioned them. All those young men of Middle Eastern descent carrying box cutters and no one thought that a strange coincidence. No one thought that so many box cutters with no explicable justification warranted detention and further investigation. The rest they say is history.

The blame was quickly laid at the feet of International Terrorism. The war in Afghanistan soon ensued, as did the War in Iraq, both ostensibly victorious as has been described as the progress in the war on terrorism. Really? Clearly those who publish such proclamations don’t ride the airlines much. Maybe they should.

The airlines have been so devastated by the ineptitude that led to 9/11 that they are but a shadow of their former selves. Flights no longer exist. There is no money for any semblance of service. The planes are dirty. The employees are disgruntled due to mandated pay cuts. Food is on most flights non-existent and on others inedible to a new level regardless of what class. Fares have skyrocketed due to the need to maximize such return as there might be and thousands of planes and tens of thousands of workers remain idled by the lack of customer demand. If this were the whole of it, it would be bad enough but the surface of the damage and risk to air travel in this country hasn’t even been scratched.

Security after 9/11 was taken away from the FAA and given to yet another agency, the Transportation Security Agency, TSA for short. Nobody in the old FAA security section lost their jobs nor for that matter at the FBI, CIA, NSA, INS or any other incompetent agency of Government but those in the private sector lost millions of jobs due to 9/11.

The air marshal program began again as if it were a new bright idea and stringent new security measures were instituted at airports around the country. Long lines at security checkpoints marked air travel post 9/11 with such indignities as having to remove your shoes, opening your belt, being patted down physically as if under arrest, removal of everything from ones pockets, taking off outer clothing, removing laptop computers for a solo ride through the magic machine, producing picture ID’s repeatedly, detailed searches in public randomly at the gate selected out for further official action. Picking up luggage at airports or those arriving from flights became an onerous affair since no vehicle can be allowed close to the terminals or God Forbid parked momentarily outside baggage claim.

We Americans, patriotic to the end, go along with the process, showing up absurdly early before flight time to get through security, accepting the indignities of searches and the delays associated with them, picking up the tab for machinery, uniforms and tens of thousands of new Government employees in TSA to perform the searches and for what.

Apparent security, is that it? Comfort that we will prevent a repeat of 9/11 by subjecting ourselves to this pain and destroying what was the most efficient, safest and most reasonably priced mode of travel ever known? Or is it the most cruel iteration of the “Truman Show” where what you see isn’t what you get.
The reality is that most of the pre 9/11 security at airports was a joke and virtually all of it post 9/11 will do nothing to prevent terrorism, nothing!

Picture ID’s are meaningless. Everyone looks at the picture on their drivers’ license and says what? “It doesn’t even look like me.” And it doesn’t. Many states require photos every five years and if you are like me, five years takes a huge toll on your appearance. Police authorities have long known that picture ID’s can be purchased and faked so what’s the use of looking at a picture ID, none!
Removing your laptop for separate examination is useless.

The machines that look at your laptop can decipher nothing that will prevent terrorism. Laptops are electronic devices as are modern fuses. Enough plastic explosive could be molded into a laptop cover to blow up any airplane and the machines used for routine x-ray are useless to detect either the fuse or the bomb. Removing your laptop for separate examination serves no useful security purpose whatsoever.
Metal Detectors are useless.

Metal detectors you walk through at the airport are useless unless you are the dumbest terrorist on earth. Carrying a metal gun is an absurdity this day in age as would be carrying a metal knife. Composites will not be detected by these machines either on one’s person or in carry on baggage. A metal pen of six inches in length is permitted which could be easily as lethal as a knife whether as is or modified to be even more dangerous. A composite firearm, disassembled, or a pointed object made of composites would arm any terrorist or group of terrorists as effectively as any on 9/11.

Personal Searches are useless, humiliating and destructive.

Should you have the misfortune of wearing your shoes, a watch, have change in your pocket or worse be wearing a belt with a metal buckle and set off the alarm of the metal detector you are subjected to something short of a cavity search reserved only for known drug smugglers. That search consisting of wanding every part of your body and patting you down if the zipper on your fly makes a noise near the other wand. All of this takes place in front of the world as if dignity is meaningless and fundamental freedoms are a bygone idea. What person who absolutely positively didn’t have to fly would undergo that level of useless, meaningless public humiliation usually saved for a felon caught in the middle of his evil act. No one should and very few are. Removal of your shoes is useless.
Sometime after 9/11 a would be terrorist bomber showed up at the American Airlines terminal in Paris and wanted a one way ticket to the U.S. He was Middle Eastern looking and dressed strangely and looked like a lunatic so he was declined a ticket but not arrested or investigated. A few days later he showed up again at the American counter. He still looked Middle Eastern and dressed strangely. He still looked like a lunatic but this time he was sold a ticket and boarded a flight. Over the Atlantic he removed one of his shoes and tried to light a fuse with a match. He was thwarted and later explosives were found hidden in his shoe. From this one event, the “remove your shoes and send them through the machine” procedure evolved. Now we take off our shoes dutifully, hopefully ones without shoelaces or worse yet lace up boots or sandals and walk through the metal detector in our stocking or bare feet while our shoes make their way by themselves. What terrorist, but a lunatic, would pack his shoe with explosives or fuse that could be detected by an x-ray machine? None! This absurd knee jerk ineffective reaction to a failure of security in Paris is another impediment to the dignity of us as Americans in air travel.

Profiling passengers with one way tickets is useless. Today if you should have the misfortune of not knowing when you are returning from your destination and thus purchase a one-way ticket it is like buying a one-way ticket to hell. You must be a bad guy because only a bad guy would buy a one-way ticket anywhere or so the illogic goes. The truth is that no terrorist with a brain would fail to buy a roundtrip ticket these days so it is pointless to profile a businessman who flies hundreds of thousands of miles a year because he bought a one way ticket. What does that profiling mean, useless invasive and humiliating searches that will find nothing to prevent a disaster?

The survey of perimeter security at airports to thwart shoulder- launched anti-aircraft missiles is useless.
The Government has launched a survey of U.S. airport perimeters to determine where shoulder launched missiles could be launched to bring down commercial airliners on takeoff or landing. This effort is useless and reflects a complete ignorance of these missiles’ capabilities. Shoulder launched missiles can bring down an airliner at fourteen thousand feet or more. Thus, thinking that a terrorist needs to be in hiding inside or just outside the airport perimeter to use such a weapon successfully is inexplicable. A terrorist with a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile twelve miles from the airport inside an SUV could bring down a 747 on climb out or descent.

Let’s get honest about 9/11
We Americans are such good and decent people that we try to be nice even when it hurts. We really don’t criticize our Government for 9/11 because some in Government believe that Freedom of Speech is only theirs to have and criticism is unpatriotic. We’ll never fix this if we don’t demand it. 9/11 happened because those we elected, those they appointed, those we depended upon didn’t do their jobs and still aren’t. It doesn’t matter what their political affiliation, 9/11 was the culmination of failure after failure of everyone who gets that blue check with “Treasury of the United States” imprinted on the top to do what they were elected for, appointed for, and hired for. Today our air transportation industry remains devastated because it is too much of a hassle to fly. It is too expensive to fly. It is too humiliating to fly; the security system makes it of questionable safety to fly. Virtually none of the measures introduced since 9/11 would have prevented 9/11 and none of the security measures pre 9/11 worked at all!

Let’s be realistic and save our Air Transportation System before it’s too late.
The battle against terrorism is lost once the terrorists get to the airport. For a fraction of the forty-three billion dollar price tag of the Department of Homeland Security, every known terrorist here or abroad could be monitored 24/7. While that may seem impractical, putting terrorists on the watch list and then not watching is equally unacceptable.

Suspected terrorists don’t belong in this country. A number of the 9/11 hijackers were known to have terrorist ties, were on the watch list, did not hold U.S. passports, had no known legitimate reason to be here yet were permitted to roam freely in this country. What possible justification could there be for allowing such a thing? The kind of bureaucratic malaise that allowed that to happen must be eliminated and those who did allow it should be one of the millions of people looking for a job because what they did or better said didn’t do put many of the rest of the unemployed there.

Intelligence Agencies like the NSA, CIA and FBI are too big, too full of bureaucrats with no accountability and disconnected from their primary mission, which is to protect America and Americans. They spend too many resources collecting statistics and too few collecting bad guys.

The local offices of the FBI need autonomy and funding to investigate terror suspects without receiving approval from Washington. If they had, 9/11 would have been just another foiled plot instead of a horrible reality.

The old INS now named something else must be bolstered and its mission enhanced to prevent anyone from entering our borders without a legitimate reason to be here. If that means sealing our borders with Mexico and Canada until both countries step up to their anti-terrorism responsibilities, so be it. If that means threatening to abrogate NAFTA until there is compliance then that’s what should be done. Most of the hijackers entered this country through Canada.

Countries that sponsor, shelter, fund or sympathize with terror must be sanctioned and most are not. Designating a country as a terrorist sponsor is meaningless without doing something about. No air travel, no commerce, boycotts, embargoes, no visas, no imports no exports and military action if necessary has to be the watchword because words alone don’t work. Until the infrastructure is put into place air marshals must be on most flights. A short while ago the Department of Homeland Security wanted to cut the funding for air marshals. That’s what preceded 9/11! Is there no one minding the store in Washington?

While Secretary Ridge said later it would not be implemented, you can be sure a reduction is funding is in place or on the way.

Profiling of passengers is vital through the ticketing process. A frequent flyer on business that is a native born American with a one way ticket hardly requires what amounts to a strip search but a young man of Middle Eastern descent with a passport from a country that sends money to terrorists does. It is unpleasant, unfair but necessary until those who are terrorists or support them are eradicated.

The Department of Homeland Security needs to be leaner, much leaner, meaner and more effective. Trained security professionals must be running that agency not a former governor of Pennsylvania. That selection alone was a stunning slap in the face to the victims of 9/11. While a nice guy, former Governor Ridge has no experience in antiterrorism, law enforcement or security. That choice was wrong!

It must be a war crime to sell, distribute, own, or use a shoulder launched anti-aircraft missile. The companies and countries that sell them must be sanctioned. Those in the hands of other than Governments must be bought, seized or captured. The penalty for the person using it and the country that allows it must be the harshest imaginable otherwise there is no risk. Sadly the country guiltiest for the sale, distribution and failure to account for such weapons is us as in U.S. Perhaps a treaty to make them operationally life limited and trackable with GPS is the answer.

Commercial airliners must be equipped with passive missile jamming technology. One system currently available senses the rocket exhaust of a missile and jams the seeker with a laser. It can be cheap to buy and install. It weighs very little and it works.

The reasons for terrorism must be examined and corrected. Terrorists come in all makes and models. Some hate us for our support of Israel. Some hate us because we have a presence in Muslim countries and are considered infidels, the latter being Bin Laden's oft cited reason. Some hate us because we are rich, some because of the Crusades of a thousand years ago. Some hate us because we are literate and literacy means we can read the Koran and know that it does not teach the hatred spewed by the terrorists. Some just hate us because they are so miserable from their lot in life they hate everybody and everything. Whatever the reason we must take these reasons one by one and seek to achieve solutions that reduce the level of hatred.
That is second however to providing a sensible approach to security that allows us to restore the air transportation system to what it was, the envy of the world. We need to roll back this security system that won’t work. We need to restore the system that allowed us to fly freely and our loved ones to greet us at the gate. We need to be able to bring our luggage to the door and pick it up there as well. We need to eliminate the hassle because if we do not, this system will fail. If we do nothing, we will have given up to terror, the domestic kind from our own ineptitude, and allowed the 100th anniversary of powered flight to be a benchmark for the further decline in the safest of all human endeavors…airline travel.

September, 2003
For further comment contact, contact Arthur Alan Wolk, aviation attorney and pilot at 215-545-4220.