Another Laughable Debate
Federal Airport Security

November 20, 2001


As the Congressional debate over airport security meanders along a typical Washington D.C. path of disinformation and misrepresentations, the flying public continues to be the true losers. 

As Congressman Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri, the House minority leader argued, “The companies that have been doing this (airport security) have failed the American people. They must, and I repeat, must be accountable for their failure. It is time for them to be accountable. It is time for them to be replaced.” 

And, the replacement that many Democrats have in mind is another 25,000 or so unionized federal employees. 

Again, from the Gephardt Holy Grail, “Federal law enforcement patrols the shores of the United States. They guard our borders. They track terrorists down. They're standing right now outside this chamber protecting us and the people in this building. They protect the symbol of democracy. I ask all of you, do you want to contract out the Capitol police? Do you want to contract out the U.S. Marines? Do you want to contract out the F.B.I. and the Customs Service? I don't think so. If it's good enough for us it's good enough for the American people.” 

At face value, the concept of certified federal agents as airport security personnel does give the flying public a warm and fuzzy sense of professional protection.  But, a retrospective peek at history reveals a truth that nobody seems to be debating. 

Myth #1 is the belief that the duty of the U.S. Marines is not contracted out to private security firms.  If Mr. Gephardt truly believes this myth then it is an indictment of how out of touch the Congress is with reality. 

A brief trip past the main entrance of the U.S. Naval Submarine Base New London (SUBASE NLON), located on the east side of the Thames river in Groton, Connecticut, will quickly dispel any myths about not contracting out military duties to private firms.   

During periods of maximum security, a mixture of mostly Marines and some private security guards protect SUBASE NLON.  At periods of reduced threat, the base is secured by almost 100% private guards without a Marine in sight.  This is also true at almost any other military base. 

And, have no doubts about it…SUBASE NLON is home to the U.S. Atlantic nuclear attack submarines and all of their nifty little weapons.  A maximum security base for certain! 

Perhaps it is time for Mr. Gephardt to either walk among his people or start to tell the truth.  It is a reasonable expectation for a member of Congress to be aware of the realities surrounding the governmental facilities for which they appropriate billions of dollars on an annual basis. 

And speaking of appropriations in the billions...Myth #2:  the infallibility of Federal agencies. 

As the events of September 11 unfolded, the F.B.I., C.I.A., N.S.A. and I.N.S. were happily spending the hundreds of billions of dollars appropriated to them annually to execute their mission of keeping this country and its citizens safe. 

As part of his retirement announcement on May 1, 2001 outgoing FBI Director Louis J. Freeh noted that, “Over the nearly eight years that I have been Director, Congress has increased the FBI's budget by more than $1.27 billion to the 2001 Budget Appropriation level of $3.44 billion. That is a 58% increase over 1993's budget.” 

Although the intelligence community likes to hide their budgets “for reasons of national security”, a sneak peek at a sample of their spending habits is provided by the Federation of American Scientists

Not to be outdone, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service constantly keeps upping the ante for keeping America’s borders secure with a 360% budget increase from 1993 – 2001:




And what wonderful results these billions upon billions of dollars in expenditures have produced for the security of the American people.  Look at the results:

  1. The Feb. 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center.

  1.  The 1995 bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed five U.S. military personnel.

  1. The April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 Americans.

  1. The 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 and injured 200 U.S. military personnel.

  1. The 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa, which killed 224 and injured 5,000.

  1. The 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 and injured 39 U.S. sailors.

  1. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with somewhere between 4000 to 6000 dead Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to the U.S. economy.

  1. The current and ongoing bio-terror attack on the continental United States.

By their own admission, federal agencies are unable to communicate or coordinate with each other. 

For instance, there is the case of terrorist hijacker Khalid Almihdhar.  Listed as a passenger in seat 12B of AA Flight 77, which left Washington's Dulles International Airport, bound for Los Angeles before being flown into the Pentagon. Almihdhar, a Yemeni national is known to have met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a senior aide to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. According to a law enforcement source, the CIA transmitted the information about Almidhar to the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and his name was placed on the INS watch list. However, he had already entered the United States by the time his name was placed on the list Aug. 24.

Yet, with a known terrorist loose inside the United States, the F.B.I, C.I.A. and I.N.S. were able to accomplish zero.  Had Almidhar been detained prior to September 11, history may well have been written differently.

Very few in Washington are speaking logically about the airport security issue.  Unfortunately, the debate appears to be politics as usual.  It is unfortunate to even imagine that Gephardt et al would be willing to deny real security for America’s flying public in pursuit of political agendas comprised of union voting blocs.

The best guarantees of a job well done are clearly defined performance criteria and the Damocles sword of accountability.  

The first mission of Congress should be to make the Federal Aviation Administration F.A.A.) do their job of establishing first-rate security guidelines.  As noted by John L. Mica, Republican member of Congress from Florida, “First we heard the minority leader come before us and give an eloquent speech, and I have the greatest respect for Mr. Gephardt. But he said the people failed, I heard him say that the screeners failed. And he talked about pocket knives.  Ladies and gentlemen, (the) F.A.A. set the standards. Up to four-inch pocket knives were allowed. The screeners who were in place in fact were dealing with laws which had been passed by federal employees, by (the) F.A.A.  Box cutters, there were no F.A.A. restrictions on box cutters on Sept. 11.”

Secondly, the Congress must ensure that whoever is responsible for airport security is accountable for their performance.  The American public has witnessed its law enforcement and security agencies incompetently performing their assigned missions for decades.  When exposed to the light of truth and the time of accountability, the result from these agencies is usually finger pointing and cover-ups that cast the incompetence into a black hole of unaccountability.

The most beneficial result arising out of the airport security debate is not who performs the security function but, rather, who monitors that security and certifies quality performance.  In plain English, who will be responsible for the quality assurance of security personnel?  Will they be granted the authority and required to levy severe fines and punishment for potentially catastrophic lapses in that security?

In the words of Gephardt, “The American people, the brave, decent, wonderful people of this country, deserve law enforcement in the airports.”  However, another “Rube Goldberg contraption” of unaccountable federal bureaucracies does not appear to be a magic solution.  Whether federal or private, the body inside the uniform must be accountable for job performance.  Otherwise, as so simply stated by Don Young, Republican from Alaska, “…you're kidding the American public.”


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