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Insight on the News

Insight on the News - Fair Comment Issue: 06/10/03 DOT, FAA and Airlines Share Blame for 9/11 Security Lapses By Brian F. Sullivan

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Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta was on the hot seat before the Senate Commerce Committee on May 21 and attempted to explain why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) failed to include security recommendations when it sent multiple warnings to the airlines between January and August 2001. Mineta said that the intelligence information available was vague and that there was no evidence to indicate that alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui was part of a wider conspiracy. Perhaps if Mineta or his subordinates had taken the time this past summer to conduct a simple but realistic risk assessment, like the one we'll do together in the following paragraphs, the odds would have been improved for avoiding the tragedy of 9/11. We didn't have to shut down the aviation system. All we had to do to present a deterrent, or at least send a signal to the terrorists that we were paying attention and not asleep at the wheel, was to fix what already was broken in our aviation-security system and afford the American traveling public the protection they deserved. With the recent revelations about terrorist-threat information in the months preceding 9/11, the finger-pointing from Democrats and Republicans has done our country a disservice. A routine risk assessment of aviation security in the early fall of 2001 allows us to see who was most accountable. The intelligence gaffes of the FBI and CIA have been addressed in the media, as has the need for the National Security Council to ensure closer coordination, cooperation and information-sharing among those agencies. However, too little attention has been paid to the FAA and the Department of Transportation (DOT). Basic Security 101 teaches us that in order to assess risk we must look at three components: 1) How important is the operation we are trying to protect?; 2) how vulnerable is that operation?; and 3) what is the threat to that operation? Let's examine these in the context of what we knew at that time and apply that analysis to the aviation industry. No one is unaware of the importance of the aviation industry to the economic well-being of our nation. Shut down the aviation industry and the impact would be felt throughout our economy. As such, it becomes a vital component of our national security. Although it is easy to evaluate something ex post facto, the damage to our economy and sense of security as a result of the 9/11 attacks is obvious. Any honest assessment of the aviation industry most certainly would consider it a critical part of the U.S. economy. As for vulnerability, the evidence available in the summer and fall of 2001 was voluminous. The Government Accounting Office, the DOT Office of the Inspector General and two presidential commissions clearly had detailed the shortcomings in our aviation-security system. These reports were available to the public — so much so that one such report was found by U.S. troops in an alQaeda cave in Afghanistan translated from its English version. The enemy was aware of our deficiencies in this regard and unfortunately appeared to be paying more attention than we were. In addition, if we look at Boston's Logan International Airport, where it all began that fateful September morning, we see the Boston Globe having reported more than 136 security violations in 1999. That same year a teen-ager climbed the airport's perimeter barrier, boarded an aircraft and flew to England before being caught — not a great indicator of tough security.

http://www.insightmag.com/global_user_elements/printpage.cfm?storyid=253643

5/30/2003