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This is the Sept.

11 story I discuss in Writing as You Report, showing that you can use the technique even under deadline pressure. Copyright 2001 Omaha World-Herald Reprinted with permission September 12, 2001, Wednesday SUNRISE EDITION SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 4A; HEADLINE: Critics have warned repeatedly of threats to air security By Stephen Buttry WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER Federal investigators warned Congress last year that the nation's air travel system was vulnerable to a terrorist attack. "The threat of terrorism against the United States remains high," General Accounting Office executive Gerald Dillingham told a Senate subcommittee in April 2000. GAO and other critics of the airport security system warned repeatedly that it relies on people who receive too little pay and training for tedious but important work. Dillingham said the screeners protecting travelers from terrorists commonly earn lower wages than workers at airports' fast-food restaurants. "Screeners are not adequately detecting dangerous objects," he testified. After Tuesday's attacks involving hijacked jets, international security consultant Wayne Black said, "This is no surprise to anybody that's ever done anything with airplane security." Just Monday - the day before the attacks - the Department of Transportation's inspector general launched an investigation "to assess (the Federal Aviation Administration's) efforts for improving passenger and carry-on bagging screening at security checkpoints within the United States," according to an internal Department of Transportation memo. This came nearly two years after the inspector general warned the FAA of lax airport security, saying it "has been slow to take actions necessary to strengthen access control." Six weeks ago, the FAA announced that it was seeking $ 99,000 in fines for security violations by American Airlines, which lost two planes in Tuesday's hijackings. The violations included one at Boston Logan International Airport, the origin point of the American and United Airlines jets that crashed into the World Trade Center Tuesday morning.

In an inspection on June 25, 2000, FAA agents found violations on six American flights, including failure to check passengers' identification, failure to ask security questions about checked bags and improperly transporting unaccompanied bags. From 1997 through 2000, the FAA fined American Airlines $ 3,513,225 for security-related violations. For the same period, United had $ 2,030,750 in fines. Overall for that period, the FAA issued $ 18.5 million in fines for security-related violations. More than half of the FAA's 5,400 enforcement actions during that time were related to security. Sneaking a weapon onto an airplane "is not that difficult," said Black, owner of Wayne Black and Associates in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "We've been asleep at the wheel." The federal government sets standards for security but does not directly provide airport security. Airport authorities and local law enforcement agencies provide security around the airport, and airlines screen passengers and their baggage. The airlines generally hire private companies to operate the metal detectors and X-ray machines at airport checkpoints. Dillingham told the Senate that screeners at many of the nation's largest airports receive starting wages of $ 6 an hour or less. Some receive the minimum wage of $ 5.15. The employee turnover rate is frequently 100 percent a year or higher. "It's outrageous that we put that security in the hands of a minimum-wage person," said Charlie LeBlanc, managing director of Air Security International Inc., a consulting company based in Houston. In any field, LeBlanc said, higher pay helps retain and motivate workers. He noted that in addition to providing security, screeners must deal with angry passengers who are impatient about security delays. "Not only is it tedious work, but on top of that it is extremely difficult and stressful." The GAO studied screening practices in Belgium, Canada, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Those nations pay their screeners more and have lower turnover rates. Richard Auletta, a Denver businessman who was bound for a convention at a hotel near the Pentagon before his flight was diverted to Omaha on Tuesday, said the multiple hijackings certainly raised questions about the quality of airport security.

"I've flown in and out of all the airports involved," he said. "I've always thought the security didn't look quite right." Don Smithey, executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority, declined comment Tuesday. The local office of ITS Inc., the company that screens travelers for the airlines in Omaha, also would not comment. A local employee referred questions to a phone number at corporate headquarters, but no one answered that number.