PROBLEMS IN AIRPORT SECURITY
The crash of TWA Flight 800 combined with increased terrorism in airports
had led to more rigid security measures. Anyone who has flown recently has
discovered that at most airports when you want to get your boarding pass,
you must show a picture identification. This same procedure is followed when
checking your baggage outside the terminal building.
Considering the bombing of the World Towers, the Federal Building in
Oklahoma City, and the bomb found in Atlanta Americans need to take security
for all public places more seriously. This is especially true at airports
where the security measures taken in other countries, such as Britain and
Israel, are far more rigid and effective. Given the alarmingly increased
numbers of terrorist attacks in the world, it is only prudent to institute
and comply with rigid security standards at all airports no matter where
they are located. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Most of the security devices being used in airports today are the same as
those used in the 1970s when the major concern was hijackings, not terrorist
bombings. These machines can detect metal but they cannot detect the
sophisticated explosive materials used in today’s world. Even more
frightening is the fact that most of the luggage and mail checked for
domestic flights is not even X-rayed (Fischetti 38).
Flagrant violations at many airports even in the United States have been
discovered during “spot-checks” of security measures. This paper will
discuss some of the problems found, the major problem areas, why terrorists
choose their targets and the various technological devices that could
dramatically improve security at all airports.
The airline that has the best reputation for security is El Al, the Israeli
national airline. Isaac Yeffet who was director of security for El Al for
six years was a member of a team that conducted a review of major airports
in the world in the late 1980s. The team found flagrant abuses and
violations of basic security measures in nearly every airport they visited
including the loading of uninspected baggage that had not even been x-rayed
(Barnes 135). The report was so well known, it is amazing that some of the
same violations found more than a decade ago still exist today.
Why Terrorists Select Specific Locations
Terrorist acts are typically a response to a specific political or military
act (Barnes 132). In recent years, terrorists have attacked on the
anniversaries of the death of a leader who supported their cause (Searle,
et.al. 2). They look for the weakest spots that will also create the most
fear (Barnes 132). Airports and airplanes are a prime target due to the
large numbers of people who are placed in jeopardy by their threats or the
large numbers who will dies as a result of a bombing. Airports, in many
cases, are easy targets for a variety of reasons: they are often
understaffed; security personnel do not receive adequate and ongoing
training; machines used to detect possible materials are out of date;
security measures that are in place are not followed (Searle, et.al. 2). It
is surprisingly easy to gain access to restricted areas in many airports in
the world, including areas that lead directly to the tarmac where planes are
Airports where significant problems with security can be found are not
limited to countries where internal strife has been present for years nor
are they limited to Asian or Arabian countries although the incidence is far
greater in these countries. For instance, there are periodic hijackings and
bomb threats on the route between Beijing and Taiwan, China; the security
measures and adherence to them vacillates between good and poor. But other
countries do not implement appropriate security measures at all; Athens,
Greece is one of those (Strecker 161).
Dulles International Airport is a major hub in the world. Dignitaries from
all over the world fly in and out of this airport located only 25 miles from
downtown Washington, D.C. In November 1997, a spot check of Dulles revealed
several problems were observed:
In the baggage claim area a door marked “”WARNING, No Trespassing,
Restricted Area” was left open for more than an hour with not security
guard present. These kinds of restricted areas are adjacent to the tarmac
where planes are packed and baggage containers are loaded into the planes.
Anyone could have walked through and planted an exploding device.
When the screening one person’s carry-on bag indicated a hand search should
be conducted, the person at the security check point began to unzip the bag
but when the person asked why the hand search was being conducted, the
screener quickly rezipped the bag and let the person move on without
examining the contents of the bag.
_The reporter doing the study passed through the carry-on baggage
checkpoints five times without holding a ticket or being asked for his
ticket. The FAA leaves this option up to the individual airlines and
airports but Denver, San Francisco and New York do not allow unticketed
persons beyond the security points.
AT one of the airline ticket counters that was being renovated, an area that
leads directly to the departure gate was left unguarded. A cordon of
construction tape was the only barrier to the area (Stoller 12).
Another reporter recently successfully walked past security guards at
Newark’s airport. Newark Airport is a hub for New York City and it is the
13th busiest airport in the United States. The reporter was able to enter
various baggage areas through unlocked doors and the only guard he saw was
asleep. He was able to walk onto the tarmac and right to a parked plane. He
was never stopped or asked what he was doing there (Fay 1).
Another flagrant violation observed concerned another passenger. The
security machine went off when he passed through it; he took off his jacket,
handed it to the security officer and then walked through without the bells
going off. The security officer then handed the passenger his jacket without
having the pockets emptied for investigation (Fay 2).
The reporter also observed luggage that was scheduled for different
international flights neither X-rayed nor hand-searched by any airport
personnel. In fact, he found the machines were there in the baggage rooms
but they were just not being used (Fay 1).
Checking checked baggage in the United States is not taken very seriously.
IN an investigation, Lane discovered that the federal government has spent
more than $200 million in developing technology to detect bombs since the
late 1970s but it has not implemented baggage screening machines that are
capable of detecting plastic-explosive bombs like the one that took down Pan
Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland eight years ago (6). More alarming is
the fact that baggage checked in the U.S. on domestic flights is seldom
screened at all (Fishetti 38; Lane 6) and on international flights, many
airlines use only conventional X-ray machines which are incapable of
detecting small amounts of plastic explosives (6).
The most serious problem airports face is connecting luggage to passengers.
The most glaring lack in airport security in the United States is screening
luggage. There are machines, however, that can do both but they are costly.
Security Devices Available
There are numerous hi-tech security devices available. For instance, STI has
developed an integrated security and safety system they call FotoTag. The
system allows operations and security personnel to track the movements of
visitors, passengers, employees, vendors and baggage from check-in to
boarding and more. The system requires a LAN in order to work. FotoTag uses
the latest technology to integrate digital images and bar codes. Passengers
are digitally photographed when they check in and is given a security status
while their bags and boarding passes are being assigned with corresponding
bar codes. The passenger and his or her bags can then be verified at any
security station at the airport. The same system is used to verify any other
baggage, cargo and even employees (STI 3).
The best X-ray machine available for screening bags is the CTX-5000 which is
a computer-tomography machine. It takes cross-sectional slices and combines
them into three-dimensional images. The process is fairly slow because two
machines have to operate in parallel fashion to scan the bags thus the
screeners are able to process only about 450 bags an hour. The cost is $1
million per machine. O’Hare airport in Chicago has two of the 50 machines
that are currently in use (Fischetti 43).
Although some companies are in the process of developing similar machines
that will cost about half that price, they are still very expensive and this
is the dilemma. Who is going to pay the price?
Airport security is a major concern across the world. Some airports are
safer than others, of course, but it would seem that here in the United
States several areas are not attended to as carefully as they should be.
Baggage screening is one of those areas. The technology exists but it is
costly and one question that is often asked is: is it worth it to spend that
amount of money. Perhaps, the officials asking this question should pose it
to the survivors of victims. There can be no doubt about their answer —
yes, it is worth it.
Barnes, Edward. “The Next Bomb: ‘No Airport In The U.S. Is Safe'” LIFE,
(1989): March 1, pp. 132 – 138.
Fay, Jim. “Terrorism.” Computer Sentry, URL:
Fischetti, Mark. “Defusing Airline Terrorism.” Technology Review, Vol. 100,
pp. 38 – 47.
Lane, Earl “Drive For Perfect Security Device Blocks Other Avenues.”
Newsday, (1996): December 19, pp. 6 – 8.
Searle, Clay, Kempshall, Dick and Hughes, Jim. “Profile System.” PLES
Professional Law Enforcement, (1997): URL: http://www.ples.com/index.html
STI “Breezecom Chosen For Revolutionary Airport Security System.” Software
Technology Profile, (1996): November, pp. 1 – 3.
Stoller, Gary. “Security Gets Better; Still Has Flaws.” USA Today (1997):
November 18, p. 12.
Strecker, Erica, “Cross-Strait Air Piracy: Its Impact On ROC-PRC Relations.”
(1994): An American Review, (1994): Vol. 21, pp. 148 – 171.
reening luggage. There are machines, however, that can do both but they are