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How Safe Are The Skies?

Aviation security was not a major issue in the presidential campaign, but it should have been, given an Inspector General’s report that says air security is at 1980’s levels?despite the spending of billions of taxpayer dollars. After 9/11, Congress rushed to pass the Aviation Security Act. A hallmark of the act was the federalization of security screeners at U.S. commercial airports. Now, three years after the federal takeover, the bloated 45,000-member bureaucracy has been inundated with complaints about its performance.  Recently ABC News obtained a confidential report stating that federal investigators were able to sneak weapons and explosives past security in 15 airports. Would you like to know which 15? Sorry, but that’s classified.

Two weeks later, the Newark Star-Ledger obtained a confidential report stating that screeners were missing 25 percent of fake bombs and weapons that inspectors tried to sneak past checkpoints. The worst failure rates were at the same gate that some of the 9/11 hijackers got through.  Marcus Arroyo, the federal security director for the TSA at Newark Airport, declined to comment. “I’m not going to get into that?that’s security sensitive information,” Arroyo said. It appears the TSA uses the phrase, “That’s classified,” as a smokescreen to avoid admitting embarrassing failures and weaknesses. The media should not let them get away with dissembling.

Wonder how effective the million-dollar baggage screening machines are? Former FAA Red Team member Steven Elson says they can’t tell “a bomb from a bowel movement.” As a member of the flying public do you want to know more about their detection ability? Sorry, that’s classified.

Aviation expert Charles Slepian calls the current state of aviation security a national disgrace.  And he blames Congress. Slepian and other experts say that terrorists have been “casing” flights, doing “trial runs.” These experts believe the terrorists plan to carry a bomb in 3 or more different parts onto a plane, then assemble it on board. Despite this threat of terrorists striking Americans in the skies again, and the fact that aviation is not yet secure, the media failed to press this issue during the campaign. But it’s one of the most important issues the newly-elected president will have to face.

Why hasn’t there been more coverage of the issue? Slepian says major newspapers are not eager to cover the issue extensively because a significant part of their profit comes from travel industry advertising. He cites a New York Times reporter who did not want to hear his report of “bad news.”  This reporter wanted an upbeat story to tell. 

The public deserves to know the full truth about aviation security, the lobbyists who have profited from the billions spent, and the politicians who have given contracts to firms in which they own stock options.  The public needs the media to hold politicians accountable by exposing them, and pressuring them to fix the problems. Media have the power to shine an unsparing light on those who were charged with making the skies safe. They need to use that power, before our nation is shocked by another 9/11.