Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Wages of Whistleblowing

No good deed goes unpunished.

That's the message I take away from the reported U.S. federal investigation of a commercial airline pilot who recently posted video footage of lax security at San Francisco International Airport, in hopes of improving the safety and security of travelers at airports around the United States. The mobile-phone video, posted on YouTube and since taken down, showed ground crews at SFO swiping cards at an apparently unguarded door to enter secure areas while airlineflight crews and passengers were subject to much more rigorous scrutiny. This, the unidentified pilot charged, creates an enormous loophole for would-be terrorists bent on attacking aircraft and airports.

In response, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration claimed that the pilot - who flies for an unidentified airline - has compromised safety by showing terrorists just how to penetrate security. The pilot's license to carry a firearm in the cockpit - a post-Sept. 11 measure - was revoked and his firearm was confiscated by federal agents.

All this has been done to a guy who was just trying to point out a glaring weakness - one that homicidal fanatics and religious and political extremists almost certainly already know about.

Airport ground crews at U.S. and international airports have ready access to sensitive areas - get a job at an airport and if you are homicidally inclined, you now have a great opportunity to do your worst. Along with unscreened freight on cargo aircraft, airport ground crews are the greatest weakness in aviation security. After years of lobbying by security-minded aviation-industry experts, cargo loaded in the belly of U.S. passenger planes is finally being screened. M0st cargo, however, flies on cargo planes. That's another area in need of serious revision.

There is ample evidence that terrorists are still intent on destroying lives and disrupting commercial civil aviation any way they can. Anyone who can help prevent them from doing that should be thanked, not punished. But the instinct of bureaucrats everywhere - guard your turf and cover your behind - has overriden common sense.

That is one reason travelers still remain at risk, more than nine years after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001.

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