Airport Insecurity

February 24, 2001

by Tom Barrett, Editor@ConservativeTruth.org

Shortly after The Day That Everything Changed I came out in favor of a federal government takeover of airport security. Many of my readers and most of my Editorial Board disagreed with my position. They were wiser than I was.

"Why would you be in favor of the government taking over anything?" they asked. "Our government is already much too big. Giving it more power is foolish. Besides, the government is inefficient, and usually makes things worse when it gets involved in anything."

All true. Normally I would oppose any expansion of government power. In this case I felt government control was a necessary evil for three reasons. The first, and most important, the Constitution charges the central government with providing for the common defense of the individual States that comprise our Union. It is not difficult to understand why our Founding Fathers determined that this was the best course. Of the original thirteen States, a few border colonies would bear the brunt of the defense of the rest if the costs were not distributed in this manner. With our thousands of miles of borders all but indefensible, in these modern times our airports have become our first line of defense. Constitutionally, airport security is a federal, not a State responsibility.

The second part of my reasoning is related to the first. There is no uniformity in security from airport to airport around the country. With a hodge-podge of regulatory authorities which include city, county and state governments (and in some cases port or airport authorities) making the rules, along with rudimentary oversight by a very inefficient Federal Aviation Administration, it is inevitable that security levels will be different depending on the airport. We saw on 9/11 how far terrorists exploited these disparities by entering the system at the airports with the most lax security. For instance, many of the 9/11 terrorists used the Boston airport, where few U.S. citizens are employed in the security process, and where they knew that many of the checkers were Arabs with no loyalty to this country.

My final reason for favoring federal control was that I assumed the federal agency controlling security would be either military or security related. Few would argue that billions are wasted by the Pentagon, the FBI, and the CIA; they are as inefficient as the rest of our bloated federal government. But few would argue that the United States has among the best (if not the very best) military and intelligence agencies in the world. If weíre going to over-spend anywhere, the safety of our nation is the place to do it, so I donít mind the money wasted by the Pentagon as much as the money wasted by hundreds of other government operations. Likewise, although I knew we would spend far more money than necessary to provide airport security, I felt that the federal government had proven its ability to protect us in other areas, so this area should be placed under its control.

I stand by the first two. I believe even the most vociferous Libertarian would agree that the federal government is charged by the Constitution with the common defense. Common sense dictates that airport security in these times must be included in what we understand to constitute the defense of our borders; to our knowledge most, if not all of the 9/11 terrorists entered through our airports. And uniformity of regulation is an absolute requirement for effective protection of both our traveling public and those on the ground who donít want to see an airliner crashing into their buildings.

The problem is with my third point. I made an assumption. I felt that the military, the FBI, and the CIA, with all their faults, have given this nation the best bang for our buck of any area of government. They have defended our nation very well over the years. I assumed that Congress would understand this logic, and place our safety in the hands of military and security professionals. Well, we all know what happens when we assume anything. Responsibility for airport security was given to he Federal Aviation Administration, a strong contender for the "Most Ineffective Governmental Agency in the World" award.

The FAA gave us the air traffic controllers strike caused by the agencies refusal to give the controllers adequate human and technical resources. Practitioners of arguably the most stressful occupation in government, air traffic controllers at major airports must juggle dozens of flights loaded with thousands of souls in air corridors designed years ago to handle one-tenth of todayís air traffic. The problems that caused the strike have still not been addressed by the FAA. There are too few controllers, equipment is antiquated, and there are near-collisions over our airports on a regular basis.

The FAA has refused to address the problem of over-loaded airports. No one anticipated the phenomenal growth of air travel when our airport systems were originally designed. But the FAA could certainly make better use of the limited resources available. They could force the airlines to distribute their flights so that the air space and runways were equally used 24 hours a day. Our airports are idle for precious hours each day, while dangerous bunching of flights occurs during peak times. The airlines have lobbied hard to continue scheduling flights strictly according to demand. The FAA should ignore the pressure and require the airlines to schedule flights in a way that would increase safety.

And of course, the FAA gave us that famous response to the 9/11 attacks. In a forceful and courageous move that ignored potential lobbying pressure from Burger King and McDonalds, FAA administrators decreed that all plastic knives would be banned from airports across the nation. This ensured that terrorists would be inconvenienced by having to stop by a fast-food outlet before reaching the airport to pick up their plastic knives.

Handing over authority for airport security to the bungling FAA is one of the most ridiculous, and possibly treasonous, moves the federal government has made in the last century. The FAA has no clue how to approach this huge task. They plan to keep the same useless private security agencies in place, but put them under federal control. They are completely ignoring the most obvious way to ensure airport safety: making U.S. citizenship a minimum requirement for employment in any area of airport security. The FBI would never hire a foreign national agent to protect us. Why should we trust the security of millions of Americans to someone who just stepped off a plane from Saudi Arabia, possibly sent here for the express purpose of allowing terrorists to board our planes?

Perhaps the dumbest FAA policy is their adamant refusal to allow pilots to be armed. Donít they realize that the majority of airline pilots are trained by our military, and are skilled in the use of firearms? This policy places us in an untenable situation. Many of the pilots of the fighter jets which will be required to shoot down airliners that threaten buildings are military reservists. Many of those reservists are the same airline pilots we canít trust with a firearm in the cockpit. So we are faced with the very real possibility that an airline pilot on reserve duty may be forced to kill all the passengers on an airliner, when his brother pilot on that craft might well have killed only the terrorist had he been armed. Memo to Congress: "What is wrong with this picture?"

Unless Congress acts swiftly to remove airport security from the buffoons at the FAA and give it to trained security professionals, I foresee disasters that will make the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks look small by comparison. The next airliner that crashes into a building could well be carrying nuclear material. To our Senators and Representatives: "You have the responsibility and the authority to protect us. Do it."

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  Tom Barrett has been an ordained minister for 28 years. He has written for local and national publications for most of his life, and has authored several non-fiction books. He has been interviewed on many TV and radio programs, and speaks at seminars nationwide. Tom is the editor and publisher of Conservative Truth, an email newsletter read by tens of thousands weekly which focuses on moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.

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