Security Up In The Air

Would screening all airport employees make flying safer?


Officials at Tampa International reacted coolly. The proposal for 100 percent screening checks of employees entering secure areas is unworkable, airport director Louis Miller said. Tampa International has 6,300 employees with security credentials.

"A lot of airport employees go from unsecure areas to secure areas many times during the day," assistant director John Wheat said. "We would have to shut down quite a few access points."

TSA officials declined formal comment on pending legislation. But the agency did say its security at airports, including random checks of employees, TV surveillance and other security procedures, has been effective.

"We are better off with a layered approach than just using 100 percent screening checks," TSA spokesman Christopher White said.

Trade Group Wants Broader Tactics

Officials with Washington-based Airports Council International-North America, a trade group for airport officials, said it is too early to summarize its members' positions on Lowey's screening proposal.

However, the group acknowledges that to successfully thwart terrorists, any airport's security must go beyond defensive tactics.

That would include a commitment to intelligence gathering, said Debby McElroy, ACI senior vice president of government affairs.

An example when an offensive approach worked would be last year's prevention in Great Britain of a terrorist plot to destroy numerous trans-Atlantic flights.

But to be even more successful, officials would have to go further yet, into the realm of social and cultural issues, retired Canadian Air Force Lt. Gen. Scott Clements said.

Clements became director of the Regional Airports Authority in Edmonton, Alberta, after a military career as a fighter pilot and commander in Canada's Air Force for two years. He now serves as a private business consultant and visited Tampa in 2004 to offer the keynote speech at the Tony Jannus commercial aviation award luncheon.

"In the context of protecting airports, we must understand those [airport] folks think short term and not long term," Clements said in a telephone interview from Calgary.

"We need to bring up the wider issue of why do we have 17-and 18-year olds somehow thinking that killing themselves and lots of other people is a good thing. That has disturbed me for some time," he said.

Clements suggests completing the equation of counterterrorism strategies with a focus on the worldwide issues of treating hunger and basic survival needs of youngsters.

Clements deems airport security and intelligence gathering measures necessary, but he sees a basic problem that confronts airport officials who are not allowed to take charge of security efforts.

"My red flag goes up when I see divided authorities," Clements said.

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