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


Based on the recent release of CCTV recordings from the Washington Dulles International Airport on September 11, 2001, three of the five hijackers of American Flight 77 alarmed the primary metal detector at the Washington Dulles International Airport. These three hijackers were then subjected to a secondary walk-through metal detector screening. Two of these three hijackers alarmed the secondary metal detector, one at the thigh level and the second at the ankle level indicating the presence of metal.

The 9/11 Commission Report states that they "asked a screening expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the quality of the screener's work to have been ?marginal at best.' The screener should have ?resolved' what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and Hazmi, it was clear that he did not."52 I have personally viewed those tapes and I concur with this analysis ? it was clearly inadequate.

As the saying goes: "The saddest words that I have heard are: ?What could have been.'" We are facing that dilemma now, i.e. if the FAA and the U.S. airlines had stipulated the proper follow-on security measures for CAPPS selectees, as is reportedly being done now,53 and the security screeners at the Washington Dulles, Newark and Boston International airports, and at the Portland Maine Airport, had done a thorough job of screening of these selectees, at least some of the edged weapons should have been detected.

Any detection of selectees carrying edged weapons, or any other kind of weapon, should have been cause for confiscating those weapons. Additionally, if any of these weapons appeared to have been "artfully concealed", e.g. taped to a thigh or ankle, would have warranted the intervention of law enforcement and the detention of the individual(s). Given the alarms on the thigh of one of the hijackers on the video tape of the screening point at Washington Dulles International Airport, and the alarm at ankle level of another of the hijackers at Washington Dulles, it is entirely possible that they had taped the weapons to their legs. Detection of any artfully concealed weapons would have set off all sorts of alarm bells at the airports where this was discovered.

Sadly we return to "what could have been." If the CAPPS follow-on security measures had included "personal searches of the individual and carry-on bags,"54 AND the screeners conducting selectee screening had carefully and thoroughly done their jobs ? then as many as two or three of the four hijackings may have been prevented. I make this conclusion on the basis that if the hijackers had been stripped of their weapons and were still permitted to board the aircraft;55 it is highly unlikely that any of the terrorist teams would have proceeded with their plans. Was Atta confirming their plans to continue with the hijackings after successfully clearing the Portland and Boston Airport's security screening checkpoints when he took a call from Marwan al Shehhi at 6:52 AM, a member of the other Boston Airport hijacking team (United Flight 175)?56

Under the U.S. aviation security system in existence on September 11, 2001 the U.S. airlines were responsible for the screening of passengers, their carry-on personal articles as well as all checked bags. So, shouldn't an investigation be conducted of the FAA and U.S. airline actions in adopting a CAPPS follow-on security screening process where the "consequence was that bags, not people, were checked?"57 Likewise, shouldn't an inquiry be opened for "lessons learned" in a review of the actions of the Gore Commission that resulted in the adoption of the CAPPS process? Finally, a group of technical experts should be convened and given the charge to analyze whether the U.S. airlines and their lobbying organization are exerting an undue amount of influence and control over the U.S. aviation security system.

Summary

More than 17 years have passed since the completion of Vice President George H. W. Bush's Task Force on Combating Terrorism and over 14 since the issuance of President George H. W. Bush's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism. President George H. W. Bush's Commission and now the current 9/11 Commission reached some of the same conclusions ? so what have we been doing in the almost 15-year interval? Isn't it time to get serious about aviation security? Are we doing so when we back away from developing and implementing protection measures such as CAPPS II because of dubious privacy issues? Isn't it time that we select some hard courses instead of mucking around with "feel good measures'' that have all sorts of political implications?