Oregon Consultant Sniffs Out Danger at Airports

Charles Slepian is founder of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center that consults and advises on a spectrum of security and risk situations. But he does not accept payment for work related to aviation security.


Mar. 13--On the D concourse at Portland International Airport, a gaunt 67-year-old man arrives from New York City bearing suitcases that appear heavier than he is.

He pauses, dropping his bags, and passengers flow around him. Their worst nightmares are his life's work: terrorism, explosions, airplane hijackings. He sees dangers they don't.

He recalls giving a workshop on airport security in San Francisco about a month before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

"I knew our airport security was at risk," he says. "And quite frankly, most of the people in the room thought I was nuts."

He is Charles Slepian, a nationally known authority on security -- particularly aviation security. He writes, lectures widely and is interviewed frequently on national television. Danger is his stock in trade.

In November 2000, an article by Slepian, "Security Up in the Air," appeared in Security Management, a publication of ASIS International, an association of security professionals.

Slepian wrote that airports remained vulnerable to attack, and he criticized fragmented authority for security, which he said should rest with the federal government.

"Before 9/11, he was talking about the risks that were out there that predated everyone else's alarm about the aviation industries," said Michael Gips, a senior editor of the magazine.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the nation's security apparatus has been reorganized. But to Slepian, airport security, despite money and federal reorganization, "remains in condition red."

"We were able to fight World War II in less time than it has taken us to secure our airports," he says.

Slepian divides his time between a four-bedroom Tudor-style home on Bull Mountain near Tigard, where he has lived since 1991, and a studio apartment near the Empire State Building in New York City, a mile from the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood.

The terrorist attacks on the towers changed his life. Despite early concerns about airport security, he says he didn't foresee an attack of that magnitude.

"It was probably the single most important life-changing event in my 67 years," he says. "I have dedicated a portion of my life to paying back my country for this experience."

Slepian is founder of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center that consults and advises on a spectrum of security and risk situations. But he does not accept payment for work related to aviation security.

"I did not feel comfortable working for a client in the industry when I am commenting on that industry," he says. "And I have some strong personal feelings about what happened on 9/11."

A New York City native, Slepian received his law degree from Fordham University School of Law and served as director of tourism and also as deputy chief of protocol for New York City under former Mayor John V. Lindsay.

When he left city government in 1973, he gradually became immersed in security-related issues, acting as security consultant to clients including Trans World Airlines and several New York City hotels.

He moved to Portland in 1991 with his then wife, Jeanette, who was from Oregon. The Slepians achieved a degree of media attention in 1992 when they became vocal defenders of Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., who was fighting the official and sexual misconduct allegations that eventually wrecked his political career.

Charles Slepian says they were not defending the senator's actions but believed he was entitled to a fair hearing.

Slepian is lucky to spend a few days a month in Portland now.

"Had it not been for 9/11, I would be spending more time in Oregon than I am," he says. "But (New York) is where the media is, and that is where I have to be."

"I would say he is pre-eminent in the field," said Joseph Sweeney, a Fordham law professor who asks Slepian to address his classes. "His specialty is what we call foreseeable risk analysis. There are very few people who attempt to cover the subject matter that he does."

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend