All security systems–including those considered the best–are manned by humans. And humans are and will always be imperfect creatures.
So there will inevitably be times when security agents miss the assassin or terrorist intent on mayhem. For example:
- In September, 1975, two women–Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore–tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford on two separate occasions.
- Fromme was tackled by a Secret Service agent. Moore’s aim was deflected by Oliver Sipple, a Marine and Vietnam veteran, thus saving Ford’s life.
Gerald Ford being hustled from danger by Secret Service agents
Until these incidents, the Secret Service profile of a potential assassin didn’t include a woman.
- On March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley, a psychotic obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, gained access to a line of reporters waiting to throw questions at President Ronald Reagan.
- As Reagan got into his bulletproof Presidential limousine, Hinckley drew a pistol and opened fire. Wounded, Reagan escaped death by inches.
The Reagan assassination attempt
The Secret Service Service had failed to prevent the attack because no one–until that moment–had attacked a President from the section reserved for reporters.
- On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists armed with boxcutters highjacked four American jetliners and turned them into fuel-bombs.
- Two of the airliners struck the North and South towers of the World Trade Center, destroying both structures.
- A third hit the Pentagon.
- The fourth–United Airlines Flight 93–crashed when it was diverted from its intended target (the White House or Congress) by passengers who resolved to fight back.
- Three thousand Americans died that day–in New York City, Washington, D., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Until this day of catastrophe, no highjacker had turned a jumbo-jet into a fuel-bomb. Passengers had been advised to cooperate with highjackers, not resist them.
So how will the next 9/11 happen? In all likelihood, like this:
A terrorist–or, more likely, several terrorists–will sign up for one or more airline “VIP screening” programs.
They will be completely clean–no arrests, no convictions. They may well be respectable citizens in their communities.
They will probably have amassed enough “frequent flier miles” to ingratiate themselves with the airlines and convince the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) of their integrity.
Then, one day, they will breeze through their selected airports
- Without removing their belts and shoes;
- Without undergoing pat-down searches;
- Without being required to remove laptops and other electronic devices from their carry-ons;
- Without exposing their electronic devices to X-ray technology.
Then they will board planes–either as part of an individual terrorist effort or a coordinated one, a la 9/11.
And then it will be too late.
Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93
The TSA/airlines’ VIP programs are based on the assumption that someone who has completed a security check in the past need not be re-checked in the future.
This assumption has proven false for American Intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA.
- FBI agent Robert Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian Intelligence services for 22 years (1979-2001). He’s now serving a life sentence in Florence, Colorado.
- CIA agent Aldrich Ames betrayed American secrets–including those Russians who had shared them–to Soviet and Russian espionage agencies from 1985 to 1994. He is likewise serving a life sentence.
Even requiring an agent to undergo repeated security checks is no guarantee of trustworthiness.
When asked about how he repeatedly passed CIA polygraph tests, Ames said:
“There’s no special magic. Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner. Rapport, where you smile and make him think that you like him.”
Thus, as William Shakespeare warned in Hamlet, “one may smile and smile and be a villain”–or a highjacker.
The TSA introduced its Pre-Check program during the fall of 2011. By May, 2012, more than 820,000 travlers had received “expedited security” since the start of the program.
In early September, 2013, TSA announced that it would more than double its “expedited screening” program, Pre-Check, from 40 to 100 airports by the end of the year.
Nor is TSA the only organization giving big-spending fliers special treatment at potential risk to their country. For example:
- Delta Air Lines offers Sky Priority, described as providing “privileged access through security checkpoints” at select airports.
- Another private security program, Clear, collects several pieces of biometric data on well-heeled passengers. Once verified by a kiosk local to the security checkpoint, the passengers are allowed to skirt the security barriers that poor and middle-class folks must pass through.
- Priority Access, set up by TSA and the airlines, provides “expedited service” to first-class and business passengers. To qualify, you need only possess certain credit cards–such as the United Mileage Plus Club Card.
Some critics last this two-tier passenger check-in system as an affront to democratic principles.
“It’s stratifying consumers by class and wealth, because the people who travel a lot usually have higher incomes,” said Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and frequent business traveler.
But there is an even more important reason to immediately disband these programs and require everyone–rich and middle-class alike–to undergo the same level of security screening:
The 3,000 men and women who died horrifically on September 11, 2001, at the hands of airline passengers whom authorities thought could be trusted to board a plane.
Tribute to the vanished World Trade Center