Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why Airport Security Lines May Get Longer

So much brainpower and treasure have been expended since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States using hijacked aircraft that not enough attention has been paid to security on the ground at the world's busy airports.

The latest indicator that airport security - not just passenger screening ahead of flights, but control of the physical space at airports - is still too lax, is the shooting of four U.S. military airmen by an Islamic militant at Frankfurt International Airport who may or may not have acted alone. Two of the victims died, with the other two seriously wounded. The accused attacker, a 21-year-old German Muslim whose family came from Kosovo, worked in a post office at the airport.

This comes hard on the heels of last week's conviction of a former British Airways worker, a Bangladeshi man who emigrated to the United Kingdom five years ago, for plotting to sabotage BA computers or smuggle explosives onto an aircraft. His aim: to kill as many innocent people as possible in the name of politicized Islam. The would-be killer had Al Qaeda connections.

Just the week before that, another would-be bomber who had hoped to blow up fuel tanks and pipelines at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, was sentenced to life in prison. The 67-year-old plotter, also an Islamic militant, is a former worker at the airport.

That is not to forget, of course, the deadly bombing in Moscow's prime international airport in January that took still-more lives at an arrivals area just outside the airport security perimeter. That attack was blamed on separatists from Russia's restive far south.

This is not a political blog but it must be noted that while such attacks are occuring and being planned, the budget-cutting majority in the U.S. House of Representatives proposes freezing the budget of the Department of Homeland Security at last year's levels.

If that happens, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano warned Tuesday, the department will have to scale back plans to install more-modern explosive detection equipment and full-body X-ray scanners at U.S. airports. "It will probably result in increases in wait times for passengers in the air environment, and those could be significant,'' she told a U.S. Senate appropriations subcomittee, according to Reuters.

The miserable airport experience has become a fact of life, especially at U.S. airports. Extensive, sometimes intrusive and not always smart security measures aimed at protecting airliners from attacks has become a major turn-off for travelers. Yet, fair-minded people can see why extensive measures are necessary. No one wants to scapegoat entire nationalities or religions for the actions of a few extremists. Problem is, airport security workers have little clear idea in advance who may pose a security risk - thus the need to screen. Anything that makes it harder for them to do their jobs imperils travel security and coarsens the comfort of travelers.

If some airport workers are themselves armed and dangerous - whether members of organized groups or as vengeful lone wolves - it makes things even worse.

Reuters again - this time as posted on the useful Web site

"Chris Yates, an independent British aviation security consultant, said he had been arguing for years that airport security had been neglected in the rush to stop terrorists from getting onto planes.

" 'Many airports are wide open to anyone walking in and blowing themselves up. It's as simple as that,' he said.''

Then, this chilling coda:

"Some of the post-September 11 airport measures such as body scanners and intensive frisking spawn long queues, which in themselves offer a tempting, ready-made target for an on-ground militant attack, counter-terrorism specialists say.''

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