A BuzzFlash News Analysis
A BuzzFlash News Analysis
Thursday, November 8, 2001
Why Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and George W. Bush are Dead Wrong on Airline Security: Part 1
As the New York Times reported on Wednesday, "Subash Gurung certainly made a mockery of Tom DeLay's airport security plan" that opposes federalizing airport screeners.
On November 5th, five days after Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said there would be "zero tolerance" with regard to airline security problems, Subash Gurung, 27, a Nepalese man connected to suspects in the September 11th hijackings, made it through a United Airlines security checkpoint at Chicago's O'Hare airport with seven knives, a can of mace, and a stun gun.
That was after x-ray screeners took two folding knives from his pockets. If not for a carry-on baggage search at the terminal gate -- the last place he would have been checked -- Mr. Gurung could have boarded United Airlines flight 1085, headed towards Omaha, Nebraska, with more weapons than the hijackers were reportedly using on September 11th.
According to the Associated Press, seven employees of Argenbright, the company that handles security for United at O'Hare, were terminated for the security lapse involving Gurung. The Chicago Tribune reported on November 7th that three of those employees had criminal records, although Argenbright officials said fingerprint background checks "revealed no crimes that would disqualify them from employment."
"The largest U.S. airport security company," according to its privately-owned British parent company Securicor, Argenbright handles security for 54 airports in the U.S., including 17 of the largest 20 and Boston's Logan Airport, the departure point for two of the four airlines hijacked on September 11th.
Argenbright is a prime example of what is wrong with the privately-run U.S. airport security system.
"Argenbright was fined $1.2 million in October 2000 for numerous violations in Philadelphia, including falsifying records, performing inadequate background checks, and hiring airport workers with criminal records," reported Reuters, adding, "The government also alleged that Argenbright had violated FAA regulations at 13 airports."
"In Miami, a recent audit of Argenbright's American Airlines operation found no criminal background checks in any of the personnel files examined," Carl Hiaasen wrote in the Miami Herald today.
And according to the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday, one of the two knives taken from Gurung by Argenbright employees still has not been turned over to authorities and is considered "missing." Today the Sun-Times reported that three Argenbright employees have been fired for violating "company ethics while searching" Gurung.
According to the Daily News, on November 2, 2001, employees of World Wide Flight Services, owned by France-based Vinci, caused the closure and evacuation of the American Airlines concourse at Kennedy Airport in New York.
"'The employee was conducting pat searches but was not wanding passengers,' said American Airlines spokesman Dale Morris."
And again on Wednesday, the Daily News reported a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport was evacuated for 90 minutes "after Federal Aviation Administration officials found security at a passenger screening checkpoint was operating improperly."
As Norman Mineta told ABC News on November 3rd, "An unacceptable number of deficiencies continue to occur."
Additionally, International Total Services, Inc., an American-owned company which operates security for 113 U.S. airports, including Newark International Airport (where Flight 93 was hijacked on September 11th), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on September 13th while its former President and the board of directors publicly bicker about who mishandled the company's finances.
As the Daily News reported last week "The incident [at Kennedy Airport] occurred as the House passed a GOP-backed airport security bill that allows airlines to continue contracting out security operations to private companies."
Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and George Bush want companies like Argenbright, World Wide Services and ITS to continue protecting our airports. But, these privately-run companies, for many years, have had problems maintaining airport security, even while being "monitored" by the FAA.
"Long before [September 11th's] hijackings, the problems were apparent," reported the ABC affiliate in San Diego on September 17, 2001. "When the General Accounting Office sent undercover operatives carrying bogus law enforcement credentials to two major airports last year, none of them was stopped by security, CNN reported."
"In 1996, the Federal Aviation Administration began investigating a story in the Record of Hackensack, New Jersey, in which a reporter easily slipped through security at Newark Airport, walked freely around the baggage area, observed security guards sleeping at their posts, even made his way onto the tarmac and stood with his foot on the tire of an airliner." Matthew Duss wrote for Common Dreams on September 26th. "This story appeared in the Record on September 11, 1996. The FAA's conclusion? Security at Newark Airport is lax. Exactly five years later, that fact would be conclusively and terribly demonstrated."
"This system is not a good one. It's like a Swiss cheese -- we all know this. I don't think any of us would congratulate ourselves or anyone else who is involved in airport security with the job we have done over the last 10 years," airline consultant Darryl Jenkins told CNN on September 18th.
These security problems occur because airport security contracts are awarded to the lowest bidding company. As Texas Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson told APB News, on March 17, 2000, "You get what you pay for."
Screeners Earn Less Than Burger Flippers"
"The airlines are the ones that put the bids out, and the airlines are the ones that make the decision, and I can tell you that routinely they take the lowest bidder," said Tom Balanoff, international vice president of the Service Employees International Union told CNN.
To get the lowest bid and to assure a profit for their shareholders, security companies cut every financial corner they can, which often means minimum wage employees with no health insurance benefits and very little training.
In a report to a House Aviation subcommittee panel in March, 2000, Cathal Flynn, the Federal Aviation Administration's associate chief for security said, "While it is difficult to verify a correlation between better pay and better performance, we can all agree that properly trained and qualified people who are on the job longer tend to perform better.
Because of the conditions created by this privately-owned security system, most, if not all, of the security employees in airports today will probably not be there a year from now. As ABC News reported on Sunday, "turnover among baggage screeners at Boston's Logan International Airport was 207 percent last year."
207 percent turnover is a staff that changes completely every six months. That is a staggering thought when one considers that these are the people keeping our airports safe.
And today, the Federal Aviation Administration announced plans to "hire temporary security workers" to "help oversee operations at screening checkpoints across the country," presenting airline passengers with possibly even more threatening security lapses.
Yet, none of this seems to have persuaded Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and George W. Bush.
"The incomprehensible wrangling that has delayed enactment of an airport security bill has gone from being just annoyingly partisan, which was bad enough, to insanely ideological, which is obscene," said Cragg Hines said in the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday.
DeLay, Armey and Bush still contend that a security system based on the current sub-contracted model, with a little more federal oversight, is good enough for America.
But don't bet your life on it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
|DAILY BUZZ||FIFTH COLUMNIST||CARTOONS||SOUTHERN STYLE|
|MEDIA LINKS||LINK ARCHIVES||EMAIL BUZZFLASH||ABOUT|
otherwise noted, all original