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 CAPPS system in place on 9/11 was not perfect but identifying more than half of the 19 hijackers is an excellent system test of any profile system. Are we to accept the several privacy advocates opposition and eliminate a proven process, i.e. CAPPS II "designed to identify passengers whose profile suggested they might pose more than a minimal risk to aircraft?"32

Public Citizen's Congress Watch researched the implementation of the February 12, 1997 Gore Commission recommendations and presented a side-by-side comparison as it relates to the Full-Bag Match issue (see Appendix A). The FAA and the airlines clearly implemented a deficient security measure that subsequently played a major part in the failure to detect and render harmless more than half of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. Where is the accountability?

U.S. Airlines and the FAA

It is quite significant that the 9/11 Commission's Report is short on data addressing the U.S. airlines' role in aviation security on 9/11. The October 2001 Public Citizen's assessment reports that the U.S. airline industry spent over $62.8 million in lobbying activities from 1997 through 2000.33 Public Citizen's Congress Watch October 2001 Report also labels the U.S. airline industry as "One of Washington's Most Powerful Lobbies."34 A longtime FAA security official described the air carriers' approach to security regulation as "decry, deny and delay" and told us that while "the air carriers had seen the enlightened hand of self-interest with respect to safety, they hadn't seen it in the security arena."35

"The FAA's 40-person intelligence unit was supposed to receive a broad range of intelligence data from the FBI, CIA, and other agencies so that it could make assessments about the threat to aviation. But the large volume of data contained little pertaining to the presence and activities of terrorists in the United States."36 On the same page in the next paragraph, the 9/11 Commission reports: "(T)he FAA's intelligence unit did not receive much attention from the agency's leadership. Neither Administrator Jane Garvey nor her deputy routinely reviewed daily intelligence, and what they did see was screened for them. She was unaware of a great amount of hijacking threat information from her own intelligence unit, which, in turn, was not deeply involved in the agency's policymaking process." 37

The FAA allegedly "knew of fifty-nine attacks that had occurred in airports throughout the world over the previous five years, including twenty-four bombings, fifteen attempted bombings, twenty shootings, and one mortar attack."38

The poor performance of the pre-9/11 U.S. airline passenger and carry-on article screening system was well known. Former FAA security Special Agents have taken the poor performance of the U.S. airline's pre-9/11 screening systems public and to the Congress. Some of these Agents have claimed that they were able to penetrate the pre-9/11 security screening points for passengers and carry-on articles more than 90 percent of the time.39 "The Department of Transportation Inspector General reported to Congress in April 2000 that its employees successfully penetrated security at airports in 117 of 173 attempts (68%). Yet FAA management ? specifically Cathal Flynn, then the associate administrator for civil aviation security ? told a Senate subcommittee in April 2000 that airport security stopped 96 percent of the FAA's attempts to penetrate aircraft."40

The dichotomy here appears to be that the Associate Administrator was referring only to attempts to penetrate aircraft while the former FAA Security Agents and the DOT IG were referring to successfully penetrating the airport security screening checkpoints, airport restricted areas as well as aircraft. Why did the FAA Associate Administrator use this statistic? Did he know that it was at substantial variance with other reports, i.e., the DOT IG Report to Congress and data in possession of his own staff?

The FAA was well aware (after the fact) of the "Bojinka" plot in the Philippines where Ramzi Yousef and his cohorts intended to simultaneously bomb 11 U.S. airliners in the Pacific region. The Bojinka plot was thwarted only because one of Ramzi Yousef's team made a mistake in mixing explosive compounds and started a fire. The FAA was also aware of the Algerian terrorists hijacking of an Air France A-300 in late 1994 and the terrorists purported intent to fly the aircraft into the Eiffel Tower in Paris which was reportedly denied by French officials.