Airline security: no place for amateurs
Recently, we explored how to be responsible airline passengers by dressing for survival in case of mishap – caused by terrorists or for any other reason. Now, let’s talk about airline security.
As privately-owned companies, the airlines can exercise great discretion in determining who is and who is not allowed to board their aircraft. Unfortunately, many airlines have chosen to hire amateur security companies who hire amateur security screeners to whom they pay the wages of amateurs.
Ironically, the pilots, mechanics and flight attendants are highly professional and are compensated accordingly. But the security screeners who determine if you get blown to bits or not are amateurs.
Wait, it gets worse. Congress, in the panic following the September 11th attacks, voted to federalize airline passenger and baggage screening personnel. This is both wrong and stupid for three reasons:
One, our government is in the process of converting the exact same private firm security screening amateurs into federal employee security screening amateurs. In other words, the same poorly-trained, poorly-motivated people are going to be doing the screening only with a much higher wage and benefits package.
Two, should they mess up, as they undoubtedly will, these highly-paid, federalized, amateur, security screeners will be virtually impossible to fire.
Three, the federal government is bound to adhere strictly to the U.S. Constitution and the provisions of the 4th Amendment against unlawful searches and seizures. The 4th Amendment will severely limit what the newly-federalized, amateur, security screeners will be able to do in terms of who gets screened and who does not.
Anyone who looks like the terrorists of September 11th will be handled with kid gloves lest the government be sued, which it will, for racial profiling. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will see to that. Meanwhile, needing to look busy and justify their improved pay and benefits package, the federalized, amateur, security screeners will have to focus their attention on someone – probably blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians.
Instead of the folly outlined above, the Congress should mandate that the airline companies, which have an absolute right to deny the boarding of their aircraft to anyone for any reason, must hire security screeners from the vast pool of readily available retired police officers and non-commissioned military officers. Such personnel would quickly absorb the training needed to function properly and efficiently as security screeners. Some weapons safety refresher training would, of course, be prudent. But if they made it to police or military retirement, they are probably not likely to shoot the innocent or themselves.
You may have noticed that some passengers, at the boarding gate, are stopped and subjected to a more detailed security screening. Unarmed, airline ticket agents are performing this “extra” screening. What if an unarmed and untrained ticket agent tries to deny boarding to someone who has somehow slipped a weapon passed the initial screening station? Now, everyone in the waiting area is at extreme risk.
The debate over federal or non-federal security screeners aside, “profiling” is an absolute necessity. The so-called shoe-bomber, Richard Reid or whatever his Muslim name is, should have been stopped because: he bought a one-way ticket, he paid in cash, he checked no baggage, he looked like he was from one of the 60 or so countries known to sponsor terrorism and he looked spaced-out. Meanwhile, a U.S. Secret Service agent is denied boarding a Texas-bound airliner to go guard President Bush in Texas because he looks Middle Eastern. A professional law enforcement officer would have known the difference between a potential terrorist and a credentialed fellow law enforcement officer.
Obviously, common sense is in short supply and these recent incidents just prove the need to have “street smart” law enforcement professionals in position to make these security checks and to make these critical decisions. Congress should worry less about creating more unionized, federal jobs and start addressing our real security needs.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn – a novel about terrorism in the Colorado high country.
©2001. William Hamilton