Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Will We Take Airline Security Measures More Seriously Now?

Aug 11, 2006

The Sept. 11 Commission issued a "report card" grading action on proposed security reforms. The grades were atrocious.  MOST AMERICANS take for granted that airline security issues have been fixed, and that terrorists no longer plan to target our aviation system.

Both assumptions are horribly wrong.

Yesterday's announcement that British authorities had thwarted a plot to blow up airliners destined for the United States showed us once again that our aviation system remains an attractive target to al-Qaida and their affiliates.

I recently attended a Homeland Security Committee assignment in the United Kingdom to learn about British security efforts. Today we must fully realize that it is long past time to close the gaps that remain in American aviation security infrastructure.

We know that the enemy will find and exploit any weak spots in our security. Though positive steps have been taken to secure airline travelers, significantly more needs to be done.

As many remember, in the summer of 2004, the Sept. 11 Commission made urgent recommendations to the federal government. These bipartisan recommendations were the result of their investigation into the failures that allowed the terrorists' plot on 9/11 to succeed.

Failing grades

In December 2005, the commission came together for the last time to issue a "report card" grading action on those reforms.

The grades were atrocious.

And the most glaring failures included airline security.

Airline passenger screening, for example, received a grade of F.

"Few improvements have been made to existing passenger screening since right after 9/11" the commission ominously warned, and even now, five years after the attacks, we have no consolidated terrorist watch list.

Airline screening checkpoints to detect explosives faired slightly better, but still performed poorly with a grade of C.

The fact remains that more advanced screening technology needs to be developed and the Transportation Security Administration needs to move faster to install current explosive detection devices.

No sense of urgency

Finally, the commission gave checked bag and cargo screening a grade of D, noting that "improvements here have not been a priority." Even today, virtually none of the cargo in a passenger plane is ever checked before the flight takes off. The TSA has not displayed a sense of urgency.

We still have serious risks and vulnerabilities when it comes to aviation, and the leadership in Washington needs to confront them head-on.

If we are to finally accept that homeland security is the No. 1 priority of our government, we must understand and admit that it will be a costly, enormous undertaking to address our weaknesses.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.