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


As stated elsewhere17 U.S. airlines have had an overwhelming influence on the FAA's failure to develop and implement stringent security measures to protect U.S. aviation. To the degree that the airlines have been successful in thwarting the development and implementation of these security measures they have been their own worst enemies. Trans World Airline's demise can be attributed in part to the successful penetration of host country and TWA's own security measures in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1970s and 1980s. Likewise Pan American Airways demise, which was already in serious financial trouble, was assured after the loss of PAA 103. Are we going to see the loss of another major U.S. airline as a result of a combination of factors, one of which was the failure to carry-out appropriate security measure on Sept. 11, 2001?

Effectiveness of CAPPS Identity Process on 9/11

According to the 9/11 Report on pages 1, 2, 3 and 4, as many as eight of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11/2001 were CAPPS selectees.18 The Commission's Report actually states "On 9/11, the 19 hijackers were screened by a computer screening system called CAPPS. More than half were identified for further inspection, which applied only to their checked baggage."19 The attack leader Atta was selected by CAPPS at the Portland, Maine airport.20 The Commission Report notes "the only consequence of Atta's selection by CAPPS was that his checked bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that he had boarded the aircraft. This did not hinder Atta's plans.21"

The Report also states that "three members of his (Atta's) hijacking team ?Suqami, Wail al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri - were selected (by CAPPS) in Boston. Their selection affected only the handling of their checked bags, not their screening at the checkpoint."22

Three of the Dulles International Airport hijacking team led by Hani Hanjour were selected by CAPPS (Hanjour, Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed). The remaining two members of the 5-person hijacking team, the Hazmi brothers, "were also selected for extra scrutiny by the airline's customer service representative at the check-in counter. He did so because one of the brothers did not have photo identification nor could he understand English, and because the agent found both of the passengers to be suspicious. The only consequence of their selection was that their checked bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that they had boarded the aircraft."23

The pregnant question these events raise is if they were CAPPS selectees "whose profile suggested that they might pose more than a minimal risk to aircraft."24 and CAPPS was "created to identify passengers who should be subject to special security measures"25 then why weren't they subjected to a full and thorough search of their bodies and their carry-on articles?

The answer is that the CAPPS identity program was adopted by the 1996/97 Gore Commission in lieu of a Full-Bag Match because the U.S. airlines opposed the domestic implementation of the Full-Bag Match program. When the FAA and the U.S. airlines implemented the follow-on security measures to the CAPPS profile identity system, they minimized its impact on the airlines by using it as a substitute to the Full-Bag Match, i.e. they only required a CAPPS selectee's bags to be "matched" to the passenger or that the bag(s) be security screened before loading - no special search of the passenger or their carry-on bag(s) was required. Yet, these people were identified as persons "who should be subject to special security measures."26

The FAA and U.S. airline's minimal implementation of the CAPPS follow-on security measures was without precedent. It was a "political solution" to a problem that the U.S. airlines claimed would be impossible to implement, i.e. the Full-Bag Match within the U.S. domestic commercial aviation system.27 A subsequent study commissioned by the FAA revealed that the U.S. airline's fears were not justified28 ? but the full-bag match has never been implemented in the U.S. So, the question remains: why didn't the 9/11 Commissioners address this issue in great depth; as their cursory examination of the subject clearly reveals that some of the hijacking teams could have been detected carrying box cutters or knives on their persons or in their carry-on bags? As CAPPS' selectees, they should never have been allowed to carry edged weapons onto their flights regardless of the length of the blades.29

According to the 9/11 Commission's Report, "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."30 Yet, the Commission stops short of specifically recommending the continuation of a CAPPS identity program.31 This is puzzling as it was one of the processes that actually worked on 9/11.