Analysis: German Airport Security Faulty?

Mock terrorists in one out of three cases manage to smuggle weapons and explosives past security guards at Frankfurt International Airport, a German news magazine has said. The report has unleashed a quarrel between the German interior ministry and a police union over the price Germany should pay to safeguard its airports.

Checking those who should be checking you for knives, pistols or explosives is a practice regularly done at airports across the world. At Frankfurt International, one of the biggest air hubs in Europe, security guards at checkpoints were tested 367 times in the first half of 2006, with worrisome results, German news magazine Der Spiegel reports in its latest issue.

One testing period proved to be especially holey: Individuals managed to smuggle forbidden items past security checkpoints in 45 out of 123 attempts within three months in the beginning of 2006, Spiegel said. Forty-five people smuggling razor blades, knives, guns or even explosive devices past guards at airports is too much, observers say.

The test smugglers are especially successful when hiding weapons near the nether regions, thus exploiting weaknesses with security agents of Muslim belief, who often are ashamed of controlling men near the private parts.

"Roughly 40 percent foreigners work at these checkpoints, many of them Turks," a member of the FIS security company that controls luggage and travelers at Frankfurt International told the magazine.

Failing to find a weapon usually results being sent to more training or being fired; usually, however, the test results aren't published.

Spiegel said the workers at the security firms often work for little wages, with no real job security. Furthermore, the airlines are pressuring airport officials to speed up checks and shorten lines, because delays are costing the airlines money.

How Spiegel obtained the test results remains unclear, but the German interior ministry, which said it was "very unhappy" that the results became public, has a suspicion.

"It is obvious how these numbers got into the press," an interior ministry spokesman told United Press International. "The police union is interested in driving back the privatization of security."

In Germany, airport security was privatized roughly a decade ago, with the federal interior ministry paying security companies for checking luggage and travelers at airports across the country. At the time, terrorism was only a remote danger; those times have changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and in light of the continuing tendency of terrorists to preferably target mass transit systems. Before the privatization, federal police agents and interior ministry officials were responsible for the check-ups.

And indeed, the head of the Police Union, Konrad Freiberg, said Monday in a statement the security shortcomings at Frankfurt International were a result of the privatization of interior security.

"It was always clear to us that privatization in delicate security areas had to fail," he said. "The drive for profits, pressure from competition, wage dumping, inadequate work conditions and inadequately qualified personnel are a dangerous mix when dealing with the protection of body and life of human beings."

The interior ministry spokesman strongly disagreed.

"These numbers have been taken out of context and can't be judged reasonably," he said. "On a European and global level, we are doing well in Germany when it comes to airport security."

The police union, he added, was trying to influence "personnel policy with rather dubious means."

Ruediger Holecek, spokesman of the police union, told UPI that the police union hadn't forwarded any numbers to the press.

"And that's not the point," he said. "The point is that weapons are getting onto our planes."

The new European Union directive for fluids in hand luggage, which came into effect Monday, was only a tranquilizer for people in light of the apparent security shortcomings, the police union feels.

The rules, which among other things limit passengers to carrying no more than 100 milliliters of liquid per container, are a consequence of the foiled terror attacks earlier this year when a group of terrorists allegedly tried to blow up commercial airliners heading from Britain to the United States with liquid explosives.

"Passengers must feel like they're kidded if they have to dump out baby food, but mock explosives are making it onto the planes," Holecek told UPI. "We need qualified and adequately paid personnel to take over airport security."