Missing the Obvious? Some Comments on the 9/11 Commission Report

In the past 17 years the U.S. Government has conducted one task force on terrorism

The Commission Report then noted that "CAPPS is still part of the screening process, still profiling passengers, with the consequences of selection now including personal searches of the individual and carry-on bags."8 This is the classic case of "closing the barn door after the horses have fled" It is not clear, however, that the Commissioners or the 9/11 Staff knew the history of the subject and the association with the Gore Commission.

Origin of U.S. Adoption of Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System

If the 9/11 Commission had delved deeply enough into the background for this failure, it would have discovered that the implementation of the CAPPS program was the outgrowth of a recommendation from representatives of U.S. airlines during the Clinton-era Gore Commission. CAPPS was one layer of what should have been a multi-layered aviation security system. It is an essential layer of our aviation security system as is the Full-Bag-Passenger Match process, i.e. both of these layers and others are needed for an effective system.

The Gore Commission was named in August 1996 to address what was thought at the time to be the failure of the U.S. aviation security system to prevent the destruction of TWA Flight 8009. It subsequently turned out that TWA 800's destruction resulted from an explosion of fuel vapors in the center-line fuel tank and had nothing to do with terrorism.

The sequence of events that led to the Gore Commission recommendation to adopt the CAPPS program began at the first meeting of the Commission attended by Vice President Gore. One of the 22 Commissioners, Ms. Victoria Cummock, lost her husband on Pan Am Flight 103 when a bomb that had been placed in a suitcase detonated killing all 259 persons on board the aircraft, plus 11 persons on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. A Libyan national was subsequently convicted of that act of terrorism. Ms. Cummock was acutely aware that the suitcase containing the bomb that destroyed PAA 103 was unaccompanied by any passenger.

In the first meeting of the Gore Commission attended by Vice President Gore on Sept. 5, 1996, Ms. Cummock convinced the Vice President to include in his press statement the Commission's intent to require U.S. airlines to conduct what was commonly referred to as a "Full Bag-Passenger Match". This meant that all baggage had to be matched to a passenger on-board the departing airplane. Should the passenger not be present, the bag(s) associated with that passenger had to undergo security screening prior to being loaded into the belly of the passenger aircraft. The distinction here was that an unaccompanied bag might present a danger to safe flight.

Vice President Gore made his announcement to "Begin implementation of full bag-passenger match" on September 5, 1996. In the following days he was besieged by U.S. airline industry representatives urging the Clinton Administration to back-away from the intent to require a full-bag match.10 The U.S. airlines claimed that they could not do a full-bag match and still maintain their on-time operations at their large domestic U.S. hub and spoke airports. The U.S. airlines' primary focus was on their on-time departures that affected their financial well being -- not security which cost them money. "Suddenly the Vice President was an advocate of partial bag match,11 a less expensive system that used computer profiles to identify the luggage of suspicious passengers who did not board the plane."12 Shortly afterwards Vice President Gore sent a letter to the Air Transport Association13 stating:

"I want to make it very clear that it is not the intent of this Administration or of the Commission to create a hardship for the air transportation industry"14

"The day after Vice President Gore wrote his letter, the airlines started to contribute heavily to Democratic Party committees, such as the Democratic National Committee, which acts as an arm of the presidential campaign during election years. In the election's closing weeks, the airlines gave the Democratic Party $585,000 -- which was more than twice what the airlines gave Democrats in a preceding 10-week period."15 Top airlines also reportedly contributed over $6.58 million in soft money to Republican and Democrat issues from 1997 through 2000.16